Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Terrific Australian Pinot

Australia isn't the first place I look for Pinot Noir — or for any other varietal, for that matter — but Dean assured me that the 2005 Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir from Victoria was practically Burgundian. I agree. This has a cherries-in-a-barnyard aroma, while its medium bodied mouth (cherries again) delivers impressive acidic lift and a nice zing of spice. Furthermore, its lovely, slightly bitter note of orange peel gives it that extra something special. Its tannic structure is delicate, verging on elegant. Interestingly, the finish sits either upfront or toward the back; I wouldn't go so far as to say there's a hole at the midpalate, but the finish is less present there than elsewhere.

Kooyong is based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria; it's practically due south of Melbourne and it juts out into the ocean. The Massale, their entry level Pinot, is made from 100% estate fruit (handpicked, destemmed), ferments with ambient yeasts, and sees only 15% new oak for 12 months. Given that the Estate is similarly made, albeit with 30% new oak over 18 months, I'd love to try that someday, too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Overlooking the Obvious: White Bordeaux

In my quest to walk roads less traveled I sometimes overlook obvious paths of pleasure. For too long have I forsaken white Bordeaux, seduced instead by, say, Godello from Valdeorras, or Asirtiko from Santorini. Partly this is because less-known regions can offer amazing value and interest; correspondingly, I figured that I'd have to settle for mediocre Bordeaux Blanc unless I was willing to pay a modest ransom.

I came to realized I was acting, or rather not acting, out of prejudice and ignorance. The more I thought about it, the more I also realized that it would be really interesting to explore how my palate reacted to varying blends of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

What I found should please most any food and wine lover. All three examples I tried delivered significant pleasure for under $20, and all would pair well with a wide variety of food.

Château Graville-Lacoste Graves 2006
The Graville-Lacoste is brought in by Kermit Lynch and cost a tick under $20 so I figured it would be a good place to start my Bordeaux Blanc exploration. It was, in fact, stunning, with a beautiful and complex nose of peach, rose, tangerine, gooseberry, lemon, paint, cinnamon, honey, and a hint of wet gravel. All these aromas coalesce in the mouth to form a singular, creamy, yet delicate experience. It's incredibly clean, with soft but mouth-smacking acidity and a barely-perceptible minerality. This is incredibly well-balanced and I could see pairing this with a delicate, lemon-tinged whitefish or with a buttery vegetable pilaf. Possibly 80% Semillon?

Château Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc 2006
This almost certainly has more SB in the blend than the Château Graville-Lacoste Graves, which is also vinified by Herve Dubourdieu, and it's also a simpler wine, less layered and expressive. But it's still very good. Apple, pineapple, and hay aromas predominate and the follow-through is very clean. This would be particularly good in summer accompanied with a light Mediterranean meal and/or cold summer vegetables.

Château Guiraud Le G Bordeaux Blanc Sec 2006
This esteemed Sauternes producer also makes this dry white from a whopping 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. It's larger-framed than either of Dubourdieu's wines, surely thanks to the nine months of barrel aging and occasional lees stirring, but it also features more typically SB characteristics of lemon and a hint of gooseberry — although it's not as piercing as, say, a typical Sancerre. This paired nicely with white risotto. The topsoil in the vineyard is sandy gravel; subsoil varies from sand to gravel to red clay to limestone marls.

In sum, I'm hardly going to give up my beloved Loire Chenin Blanc or hold a crucifix up to Oregon Pinot Gris, but I'm intrigued enough to continue my exploration; and I have even socked away a 2004 Château Carbonnieux from Pessac-Léognan for a special occasion. Of course, with a cool spring night being the perfect time for a fish in cream sauce, I might have to create that special occasion sooner rather than later...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Packt Like Sardinia

While I'm on the subject of Italy (see below), I'd rather like to talk about the Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2004. I wasn't familiar with the Cannonau grape but I learned that it is an adapted form of Garnacha brought over from Spain way back when and grown on the sandy, eastern side of Sardinia. Sella & Mosca are one of Europe's largest wine growing estates and I see no indication from their web site that they make wines naturally or with any sort of non-interventionist streak.

So it pretty much flips my wig that this 13.5% abv Cannonau Riserva reminds me more of a Teroldego or some such other northern Italian red rather than a cheery, broad-shouldered, alcohol-rich Castillian, as is apparently the rep of Sardinia wines.

Tangy orange peel and pepper notes join marzipan, pomegranate, sweet and sour cherry, and wet earth in this bright, high-toned wine. Robust acidity provides more of the structure than do the tannins, which are fine grained. What's particularly impressive about this is that it achieves this structure despite being aged in oak casks for two years, i.e. the oak is very well integrated. It's broad in the mouth and not particularly focused but it has good staying power at the midpalate. It also tastes about as good on day three as on day one. I'm not gonna go off the deep end and tell you this is the end-all, but for $13 this is a heckuva wine.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Molise, Molise, Molise

One of the great things about Italy is that there's always a new grape to discover, or even a whole region. For example, Molise was a region unknown to me until just a few weeks ago, although I can tell you it's on my radar now.

So where the heck is Molise, you ask? Well, if Italy's a boot, Molise is a small knot of muscle on the midcalf, sandwiched between Abruzzo and Puglia on the Adriatic coast. Wikipedia says it's a highly educated if largely abandoned region of mountains and rolling hills with a good number of ethnic Croats and Albanians. Beyond that, I am having a hard time finding much information about Molise, at least as it regards wine. The winters are cool to cold, the summers warm to hot, and the soils seem to range from sandy clay to loamy clay. How's that for specific?

While I may be frustrated by the lack of readily available information, I am anything but frustrated by the following wines.

Borgo di Colloredo Molise Rosso 2003
Let's start off on a deceptively modest note, shall we? Molise was politically integrated with Abruzzo until the mid-1960s and it will thus not surprise you to know that Montepulciano is grown here; and this wine is 100% Montepulciano. The Borgo di Colloredo has an intriguing nose I could describe as candied dirt and cherries. It is a really nice, drinkable wine of red fruit and spice, with modest tannins and medium weight, with excellent mineral definition: mineral spring clean and structured at the same time. The acidity is very food-friendly and it was great with the pizza that my friend Mark and I ate as we watched Barack and H***ary debate in Texas.

One of the most interesting turns this wine made was the fact that it doesn't easily turn, even though this sees no oak. I forgot about it for four days, then popped it open with the assumption that I'd be pouring it down the sink. Not so fast! So I paired it with a quick dinner of peppery tuna and pasta and it was quite nice. All this for $14? Let's call this a Tuesday-plus wine: good for Tuesdays, plus any other day.

Di Majo Norante Contado Aglianico 2003
My friends, this is where things get serious. This wine wants to have a talk with you. Don't let Robert Parker's praise of this wine dissuade you; Wicker Parker is here to tell you that yes, this organically-grown number is a real wine.

The 2003 Contado is, in short, terrific. Its black fruit is deep and dark, but so is its minerality, which tastes volcanic to me. It's very pure and full-bodied, with a long finish. It was even better the second night, when the minerals were stitched ever more comfortably into the fruit. A certain something has traveled upward from deep vines; and whatever it is, this wine shows us what it is. You can see the show for around $17.

Di Majo Norante Contado Aglianico 2004
And then I had the chance to nab the 2004 vintage. Whereas the 2003 is black, the 2004 Contado is purple. I'm talking violets and boysenberries here. It's also a bit more delicate than the 2003, with higher-toned acidity and a clean minerality that strikes me as more granitic than volcanic, if that makes any sense.

Again — here we go — this deepens markedly on the second night, and its strong but delicate presence reminds me of an Hermitage. OK, I've had very little Hermitage, so call me on this if you want; but I'm getting granite, delicacy, violets, and a deep spinal power that puts overextracted wines in their place. This wine could be paired with anything this side of broiled white fish. It's neither sweet nor bitter nor overly tannic; and thanks to its body and spine of acidity, it was great with a hearty veggie lasagna.

The weird thing is, it declined markedly on its third night. It became blunted somehow, a bit meaner. Whatever its long-term prospects, I would give this 'til 2010 to fully blossom; and since this vintage is also $17, you might be able to afford to sock a bottle or two away.