Saturday, December 13, 2008

Two Satisfying Piedmont Reds

I can't afford to drink the greatest Piedmont reds with any consistency — I have but three bottles of Barolo stashed away — and even the barberas from producers like Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno are special treats. Still, I'm not willing to settle for a simplistic wine; even a modestly priced dolcetto or barbera needs to be more than just juicy and vibrant. So I'm glad I recently found one of each variety that hit their typicité marks and still deliver that something extra at around $15.

Vivalda Massimiliano Monferrato Dolcetto d'Asti 2006
I've been too often disappointed by dolcetto to invest much time finding the better examples, but this one happens to be quite nice. Vivalda grows their fruit in Nizza Monferrato and vinifies the wine simply, using steel exclusively. I was a bit surprised to learn this, for the cherry fruit in the '06 dolcetto purrs rather than shouts and is balanced by a somewhat complex earthiness. The mouthfeel is complete. If you're serving risotto or truffle-flecked pasta and you don't have a Barolo handy, you could happily pop this cork instead.

Tenuta Arnulfo Barbera d'Alba Costa di Bussia 2006
Tenuta Arnulfo's vineyard is sited within Barolo near the commune of Monforte d'Alba. While Monforte soils are typically Helvetian, the soil at Arfulfo is mostly calcareous Tortonian marl. Arnulfo does not specifically state that this barbera comes exclusively from estate-grown grapes (the label says "estate bottled by..."), but barbera is planeted to a few hectares there and it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that some proportion of the wine is made from these grapes. Whatever the source, this cask-aged barbera is young, juicy, and vibrant, with soft yet structured tannins, but there's more going on here than simple vitality, for the subtle earth, cola, and spice notes suggest nascent elegance. These subtler pleasures make all the difference, and I'd love to track this over the next two years.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

BYOB Excursion 2: Coast

Many moons ago several of us went to Coast to eat sushi, drink wine, and celebrate my friend Kyle's birthday. What is it about women and sushi? We were some of the only men in there, and it's a pretty large restaurant. Maybe I should be asking why the men were so few. The sushi was fresh, the ingredients creatively assembled, the tempura perfectly light and crisp (I usually avoid tempura), and of course you can bring any damn wine you please.

Huët Le Mont Demi-Sec Vouvray 2002
By the time I had arrived the boys had already opened this to sip in the waiting area. I would have placed this third in line, but I sure as hell wasn't going to refuse a glass. Not surprisingly, this was pretty tight and had only begun to open by the time we polished off the bottle, but even so it showed gorgeous purity, with lovely acidity, just a hint of sweetness, and long, gorgeous minerality. This youngster's really gonna be something someday.

Soutiran Grand Cru Champagne Brut n/v
Undoubtedly the wine of the night for me and for my dining companions, who oohed and ahhed as we noshed on light and crunchy vegetarian maki. I have no idea which vintage this was based upon, nor do I know the disgorgement date, but in any case this Ambonnay brut, which is dosed at 10.6 grams, was perfect. The bready / yeasty notes were not overly toasted one whit, and they were perfectly integrated with the chalky red and white fruit. The mousse was full and elegant, while the cut was marvelously precise. The energy here was phenomenal. The grapes (60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay) for the Soutiran are not subject to chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Chateau Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 2004
This is the wine I would have had us start with. Following up the Soutiran with this trim and reserved wine could have been disappointing, but the Carbonnieux had no problem holding its own. It was green-gold rainwater in the glass, so right away you can see that a light hand was used during the oak regime. The hay and apple aromas were somewhat muted, yet the balance and presence here is impeccable. The citrus and minerals on the palate were nicely sustained, and it paired nicely with the heartier plates we ordered. Still, if I had more of this, I'd wait another three to five years to let this develop further.

Austin Hope Rousanne 2004
We ended the night with this late-ish-harvest rousanne from Paso Robles producer Austin Hope, who sources the grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands. In retrospect, we should have waited to digest our meal before moving on this this 4th bottle, as it was too big and heavy coming on the heels of the food and wine that had preceeded it. In fact, if I was to do this all over again, I would have paired this with braised pork and not have brought it at all to a sushi joint. Ah, but nothing ventured, and all that.