Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A 2007 Spätlese Trocken From Huff

HuffEric Asimov and crew just reviewed several 2007 German spätlaesen but I want to tell you about a dry (trocken) wine I had earlier this month. Not only is it terrific in its own right, at well under $20 it's considerably cheaper than the modestly sweet examples that the NY Times panel focused on, and spectacular given the price.

Georg Gustav Huff Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2007
The name's a mouthful, but so is the wine. This hails from the esteemed Niersteiner Hipping vineyard, about which I unfortunately know little, except that it's a steep, ESE-facing vineyard in the heart of the Rheinhessen. You'll find a more comprehensive discussion on the terroir of the vineyards near Nierstein at The Wine Doctor.

You may know that 2007 is considered a "spätlese vintage" in Germany, as in many cases the spätlesen are extraordinarily balanced. I unfortunately have no experience with Huff's trocken prior to this one, but I can tell you that this wine has lovely aromas of green apple, ripe peach, and smoky gray sea salt. The palate more than equals the nose: it is simultaneously rich, fruity, dry, precise, delicate, and complex. Subtle — but not shy — notes of herbs, smoke, lime, and rocky minerals join the party on the finish.

The presence at midpalate is particularly impressive, and with its fruit and body this paired well with a cracked pepper-heavy quinoa pilaf. The real question is, what would I not pair this with? Thanks to its beautiful fruitiness, minerality, and complexity, the Huff Spätlese Trocken is a food lover's dream: it should pair very well with everything from spicy Thai takeout to complex, fastidiously prepared cuisine, from ultra-fresh vegetarian dishes to cured or grilled meats.

The only caveat here is that it's bottled with a plastic cork, so drink up.

Friday, March 20, 2009

BSG Bubbles

President RoslinTonight's series finale of the new Battlestar Galactica marks the end of an era. Gotta have some bubbles to help wipe away our tears and to accompany all the deliciously evil acts that we'll undoubtedly witness. My friends need something deliciously drinkable and the bottle can't be too expensive — we're gonna watch TV, for cryin' out loud — but I'm not willing to sacrifice depth.

The Château d'Orschwihr Crémant d'Alsace is the perfect solution!

The bottle I drank earlier this month was fresh and alive and subtle. It's aged on its lees for three years, which gives it a lot of creamy depth. Apple, nuts, yeast, and poached pear show up on the nose — lovely stuff. The mousse is robust and fine, sweet crunchy white fruit shows on the attack, the palate is creamy, and it all finishes with subtle toast and toffee notes along with a vivacious minerality and lingering apple cider acidity. Unfortunately there's no info on composition or disgorgement dates ("L. 9002" is in tiny print on the back, if that means anything) but in any case, this $20 sparkling wine is a fabulous value and just what I need.

Goodbye Kara Thrace, goodbye Adamas Lee and Bill, goodbye President Roslin, goodbye Caprica Six, goodbye goodbye goodbye. We'll be raising a glass to y'all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WBW 55: North vs. South, Chablis vs. St. Aubin

It was difficult to meaningfully fulfill the North vs. South theme of Wine Blogging Wednesday 55. It sounds simple: Wine Case asked us to focus on "vinegrowing climate" and compare "how more northerly and more southerly vineyards produce different results with the same grapes."

And thus the challenge. If I can find a syrah from the Northern Rhône easily enough, can I find a pure syrah from the same vintage from the Languedoc or the Southern Rhône? How can I measure the effects of climate if the winemaker in the more northerly vineyard picks her grapes at much higher brix than the winemaker down south? Mesoclimate is more important than macroclimate, but even on a larger scale, everything's upside down in places like California: traveling north to south, Mendocino is warmer than Rutherford, which is warmer than Carneros, which is warmer than Santa Cruz, which is warmer than Sta. Rita Hills.

My solution was to compare somewhat similarly styled wines from the same vintage from two appellations that experience meaningful climate differences: Chablis and Saint-Aubin. Chardonnay is grown in both places but Chablis is a slightly cooler region, with July temperatures at least one degree F cooler than in the Cote d'Or. Rain is also more prevalent at harvest. (Of course, the Kimmeredgian chalk of Chablis isn't the same as Saint-Aubin's limestone, and in contrast to the Saint-Aubin the Chablis I consumed saw no oak, but let's just move forward, OK?)

2006 was a low-acid vintage in both the Cote d'Or and Chablis. If the wines weren't blowsy, they were atypically round and ripe, and men better than me say you have to choose carefully with the 2006 whites. But both these wines were successful examples of the good side of 2006.

Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis 2006
I really dug this. It has a beautiful nose of lime, orchard fruits, chalk, and smoky gray sea salt — the Chablis terroir really comes through. The wine is zesty and creamy in the mouth, but there's plenty of taut acidity to power the lemon and Fuji apple fruit to the back of the palate, leaving a pure, mineral energy in its wake. This does fade a bit quickly at midpalate but this is otherwise a complete wine. This'd be perfect with light fish.

Sylvain Langoureau Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2006
I admit that I drank this last summer, but I think the notes apply. This Langoureau, like the Chantemerle, is neither fat nor blowsy, and it also shows a pure minerality that really hums on the finish. Still, its frame is larger, in part because this received an artful touch of barrel toast — it's subtly smoky and nutty — and in part because the fruit is inherently more generous. The finish also shows cinnamon-inflected spice, which is quite different from the higher-toned finish of the Chantemerle.

In sum, while both wines are minerally and transparent, the Chablis shows a tautness that the Saint-Aubin does not, while the latter shows more voluptuous fruit and brown spice on the palate. One is not "better" than the other — each is excellent in its context. But the best I can tell, they do show the north-south climate difference fairly well.

Given that both wines are ultimately from northerly latitudes, it seems right to conclude with this video from Antipodean superstars The Bats. Just scroll back to the top of this post to see it — appropriate given that so much about this theme is, or can be, upside-down.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Renaissance's New Releases: Syrah and Roussanne

Looking down at Renaissance's roussanne vinesTransparency isn't just good for government and for financial institutions (cough, AIG, cough), it's good for wine. I like fruit as much as the next guy and don't usually take to truly austere wines, but my favorite wines show mineral energy and the stamp of place.

As I've explained ad nauseum, Sierra Foothills producer Renaissance makes terroir-driven wines: the grapes are organically farmed (they're now converting to biodynamics), harvested at roughly 24.5 Brix, fermented solely with native yeasts, and rarely aged in new oak. Because of these winemaking decisions, their wines are not just balanced and (often) elegant, they really show the rocky minerality that's unique to their steep, Hermitage-esque hill of decomposed granite, no matter how much ripe fruit the wines have.

This is certainly true of the newest Renaissance releases: the 2005 Syrah, the 2006 Roussanne Estate, and the 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives.

I sampled the wines over two nights. The first night I made ravioli using fell-off-the-bone beef short ribs, steamed potato cubes dressed in cracked sea salt and pepper and olive oil, and a simple green salad tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. The second night I fixed roasted yellow pepper salad and broiled lamb chops that had been marinated in fresh meyer lemon juice, fresh rosemary, garlic, and cracked sea salt and pepper. Roquefort and grapes followed.

Speaking of transparency, you should know that I received these bottles as press samples (my first ever).

Roussanne Estate 2006
I was able to taste some 2006 reds from barrel during my visit to the winery last fall and was extremely impressed by the wines' balance and depth. As it turns out, the whites aren't so shabby, either.

The Roussanne Estate smelled a touch muted and musty when first popped, and I feared this was corked. All it took was a few minutes and a good vigorous swirl for the wine to unwind, and in fact this is hugely aromatic: the rich and intense aromas of tarragon, coriander, chai, baked fruit, and soy candle wax are lively and powerful. I also smell fresh rain on warm stone. The wine is wonderfully spicy on the palate and tastes of cardamom-dusted poached pears and lemon-splattered rock.

What's truly gobsmacking, though, is that for all the suggestions of richness, the wine is weightless. Ethereal is actually the better word. At the same time, the wine is persistent and focused. Certainly the relatively low (12.8%) alcohol level helps, but I think the bulk of the credit goes to the strong minerality. Whatever the cause, this paired well with even the meats, although it paired most majestically with the earthy, steamed potatoes.

Syrah 2005
I have had some lovely, balanced, and just plain excellent California syrah from producers such as Unti and Lavoro. But balanced or blowsy, the usual calling card for CA syrah is serious, dark fruit. This is different.

The 2005 Renaissance Syrah, which sees no new oak, has beautiful aromas of violets, fresh rain on stone, grilled meat, and sweet boysenberries. It is aromatically intense. It is not fruit-driven and shows less black fruit than any other Renaissance syrah I've had. Instead, the spicy, peppery, fine-grained tannins deliver leather and blackcurrant (!) flavors. The acidity is strong and masculine and gives the wine great lift on the palate, even as tannins coat the tongue. And there's a nascent, elegant richness that slowly shows with air.

Given how well this went with my broiled lamb chops, I could say that this primary, evolving wine is drinking well now. But I'm going to give my purchased bottles the time they deserve to develop — this should last at least two decades. And if I can't keep my hands off it, I'll decant it 24 hours before my meal.

Roussanne Vendanges Tardives 2006
When was the last time you had a late harvest Roussanne? Never? Yeah, me either. This is utterly, completely different than the Roussanne Estate. Of course, the grapes were harvested in early December 2006, a full three months after the Estate grapes, so that's not a surprise. And whereas the Estate was aged in young barrique, the VT was aged solely in large, neutral oak ovals that Renaissance imported from Germany at least a decade ago.

The nose is not unexpected for a VT — I'm talkin' pineapple, fresh and dried flowers, caramelized honey, and browwwn sugar, sugar. But here comes the surprise: it's practically dry on the palate. If it were German, you'd call it halbtrocken. It's barely sweet on the attack and is clean and very minerally on the finish. In between, the full and spicy flavors of pear, white pepper, brown spices, and rock persist on the midpalate for at least 30 seconds. It's really quite intense! A secondary surprise is that the acidity feels more acute than with the dry Estate wine, although the numbers (see below) would suggest otherwise.

Clearly, this isn't a dessert wine, so I paired this with a Roquefort cheese and fresh muscat grapes. It didn't work so well with the grapes, which were much sweeter than the wine. But while I wouldn't say you should forget Sauternes, this was terrific with the cheese, as the spiciness of each played well with each other, although it'd likely be even better with a slightly less intense cheese like Rogue River Blue.

the new Renaissance releases

2005 Syrah14%3.26.47 g/l0.25%24 months in 1-6 year old barrique, then 9 months in large, neutral oak oval
2006 Roussanne12.8%3.186.9 g/l0.4%9 months in new and 1-2 year old barrique
2006 Roussanne VT14.4%3.4ns1.2%14 months in large, neutral oak oval

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Quick Note on a Renaissance Roussanne

I will soon have much more to say about the crop of new Renaissance releases, but just a quick note to say that their 2006 Roussanne Estate is just unreal. One of the most aromatically intense wines I've ever had and yet strikingly weightless. Yes, a weightless roussanne. More soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Demi-Sec Faceoff #3: Richter vs. Aubuisières

It's been an eon since the last demi-sec faceoff — high time for bout number three! In this corner we have a 2005 Vouvray from Domaine des Aubuisières, and in that corner a 1990 Spätlese from VDP producer Max Ferd. Richter. Touch gloves, gentlemen!

Of course, this isn't actually a competition. These are of course very different wines, not least of all given the obvious age difference. Rather, I love to explore the virtues and distinctions of demi-secs — to see what makes them tick, to see how they differ and how they relate, and to test them with food.

In this pairing, the issue of acidity really came to the fore. Chenin blanc from Vouvray and riesling from the Mosel can be some of the most thrilling wine on earth, but if they don't have enough acidity, the wine will lack clarity and the ability to pair well with certain foods, or even end up simply and overly sweet.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2005
Bernard Fouquet is a highly regarded winemaker who pursues a "less interventionist" approach: the vines receive minimal treatments, the grapes are harvested by hand, and sulfur is applied in small doses. The Les Girardières is grown in silex-based soils, rather than the limestone tuffeaux typical in Vouvray, and it's fermented in vat rather than oak.

Aubuisières should be applauded for posting good technical info to their web site. Many people have noted that 2005 Loire whites seem to lack acidity, and Aubuisières's numbers tell the story: while the 2007 Les Girardières has 8.1 grams per liter of acidity, the 2005 vintage has but 4.8 grams per liter — nearly half a more typical "classic" vintage. Despite this, the residual sugars in the two wines (which I really wish I could compare head-to-head) are quite similar: 26 g/l vs. 28 g/l in the 2005.

As with many other white Loire wines, the lack of acidity here is apparent. The aromas show apple, honeydew, and faint hints of beeswax and wool. I get sweet apple and canteloupe flavors upon entry, a soft round body, and the wine finishes with good minerality, tangy citrus and a pleasing hint of bitter herbs. But despite the tang, a lack of adequate acidity turns a potentially very good and complex wine into one that's a bit flabby and simple-sweet, and as it didn't improve over five days, I doubt this wine's aging potential. Despite the sweetness, this didn't work so well with a spicy Malaysian noodle dish, although that might be due to the bitter herb characteristics.

Max Ferd. Richter Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 1990
At 18+ years old this is remarkably fresh. This would surprise me in any case, but all the more so because the crusty, blackened cork demonstrated evidence of heat damage, as the wine had leaked up and over the top of the cork. When you look at the photo above right, you might just feel the alarm I felt. Yet appearances can deceive, and this wine was actually in very good shape. Whew!

I have no specific knowledge of how the acid-to-sugar ratios in this wine stack up, but the Richter web site does post numbers for more recent vintages, and their 2007 Spätlesen average roughly 70 g/l of residual sugar and 8 g/l of acidity. Of course, this Erdener Treppchen would have tasted much different 15 years ago — much sweeter by comparison — but I'm looking at that acidity number (again, not that I know the 1990's stats, but this is an instructive guideline).

Enough with numbers! I only mean to use them as signposts. They can't tell us anything about the grapes, the vintage, the vineyard, the winemaking, and the years that have passed. To the glass!

The nose on this Erdener Treppchen is rich with petrol, mango, and fig, but for all its aromatic voluputousness, it's trim and nicely proportioned on the palate. Apple and peach dominate, although the fruit is buttressed by lovely herb, lime, and spicy-sweet mango notes that show good length on the crunchy finish. That said, we come back to the acidity issue. While it is by no means bereft of acidity, it is slightly blurry on the palate, and I feel it could use a touch more acidity and more apparent mineral transparency. It's therefore not as precise as I would hope from a $40 wine — and I tasted this over five days to be sure.

Still, it's at its most complex and expressive on day 5, and in contrast to the Les Girardières Vouvray, this paired well with the Malaysian noodles. So if you have a bottle of this, why not hold it for a while and see what happens? It is very fresh, and it may yet go where it needs to be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Drink Your Green Vegetables!

2006 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande VignolleDo you like a hit of eucalyptus or mint in your cabernet sauvignon? Do you appreciate the green bell pepper flavors you can find in Loire cabernet franc? I sure do. Such qualities are rightly damned when they reflect underripe grapes or the dilution caused by overly high yields, but in the right proportions these characteristics can be interesting, worthy, and true.

I look for a hint of vegetables in my Loire cabernet franc, and I find them in the 2006 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande Vignolle. This wine, which comes from the eponymous vineyard that's romantically sited between the Loire River and chalk cliffs into which houses have been carved, tees off with aromas of sweet smoke, roasted meat, ground pepper, purple flowers, green olive, and tart red fruits. Fabulous. As it's a bit on the dark side I wasn't surprised that the fruit is fairly concentrated, though not overextracted, and that the tannins are still a bit aggressive. In other words, it's got some oomph, but I expect that it'll be deeper and silkier in a year or two (good Loire cabernet franc needs at least three years to unfurl its flag). Finally, it has very nice acidity, a healthy dose of minerals, and of course the vegetable flavors — particularly broccoli and green bell pepper — are a feature rather than a bug, as they accent the drinking experience nicely. Meat and vegetables in one wine: it's like a meal!

Whereas I look for vegetables from a Saumur-Champigny, I would not expect that vegetable flavors would be welcome in a Northern Rhône syrah, and yet in the case of the 2005 Cave de Tain L'Hermitage Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, they are. It's varietally correct, with aromas of bramble, stems, black pepper, violets, and blackberries, but it also includes a hint of fresh, juicy, green bell pepper. These characteristics are delivered to the palate with some really nice acidity and spice. There's plenty of ripe black fruit in this barely-medium bodied wine, and a clean, rocky, bell peppery finish. I do want to emphasize that the fruit is certainly ripe; the vegetable component is subtle and it is a feature, not a bug. So while the wine is not complex, it is balanced and very satisfying.

The kicker? It's only $10. Oh wait, there's a second kicker: the alcohol level's only 12%. You can drink this on a Monday night, as I'm doing this very moment.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Soucherie's 2000 Savennières Clos des Perrieres

Soucherie's 2000 SavennièresI can't get over how my friend Erin can't get over the notion that Savennières is, in Mike Steinberger's words, a wine like a cat. But then, I can't get over Savennières, period. Loire chenin blanc is one of my big touchstones so naturally Savennières is in turn one of my big touchstones. From these schist soils springs a wine like no other: expressive yet reserved, honeyed yet uncompromisingly dry, captivating yet not so interested in being caught. Like, um, a cat. Or as McDuff said, like The Fall.

More prosaically, a good Savennières has a strong personality but goes great with a wide variety of food. And if you give these wines the age they deserve, so much the better.

The 2000 Chateau de Soucherie Savennières Clos des Perrieres is a case in point. It's ready to drink but still very young. When I put my nose in the glass, there's a lot of there there, and yet the essence of the wine is elusive, just out of reach, mysterious. Sure, I could list all kinds of descriptors — cinnamon-dusted pears, honey-glazed rocks, strawberries wrapped in mint leaves — but that only gets me halfway there. It's likewise elusive if long on the palate: the mineral energy is terrific, the body is full yet precise, the fruit is chalky and lemon-tart and sweet, the finish is riddled with herbs like tarragon, but I cannot truly capture what it all means. It's strikingly pure, and I am shocked to learn that this was aged in oak, given its delicate force, its weightless weight.

I am not shocked, however, that this goes great with a spicy, turmeric-doused root vegetable soup, nor that it's a fantastic match with pan-fried cod seasoned with salt, pepper, and a healthy squeeze of lemon. I think I'm going to have to buy several more bottles so I can enjoy this over the next 20 years!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Salmon and a Mâcon

Jean-Claude Thévenet in MâconA few days ago I popped the 2007 Jean-Claude Thévenet Mâcon Pierreclos to see what was what. I promptly stoppered it: it was tighter than a bug's butt. Still, I liked the minerality I found and I figured, or at least hoped, the fruit would unfurl with a bit of oxygen.

Yesterday I decided to give it another whirl and with it in mind I stopped by a nice take-out deli, where I picked up a filet of salmon with slightly sweet chili sauce and a mushroom risotto cake. I figured, or at least hoped, that the Thévenet's body, minerality, and orchard fruit flavors would lean nicely into these medium-bodied foods.

Jean-Claude Thévenet should not be confused with the more famous Jean Thévenet of Clessé. Whereas J.T. produces some botrytized, late harvest Mâcon, our J.-C. T. produces athletic, unoaked whites that are imported by the Rosenthal cabal. As you can see from the photograph at right (which I nabbed from the Rosenthal site), the soil includes red clay marl as well as limestone. The grapes are manually harvested, fermented in stainless steel, left on their lees, and complete malolactic fermention. Given all this, you would figure, or at least hope, that the wine would be clean yet still show some creamy depth.

This Mâcon Pierreclos fulfilled my hopes. The nose sets things up nicely, with rich aromas of lemon oil, waxy yellow apple, peach, and passionfruit, but the pairing was successful because the lemony acidity, the medium-creamy body, and the well-integrated stoniness were nice foils for the oily fish, while the fruit matched the barely-spicy mango sauce. In fact, the wine itself shows just a hint of zesty spice on the finish and maybe, just maybe, a suggestion of hazelnut. And that same combination of creaminess, acidity, and minerality worked with the risotto cake.

I found the Thévenet so apt a pairing that I'm wondering what could be better with this particular preparation of salmon than an unoaked white Burgundy. A spicy Oregon pinot gris? A nice Roero Arneis? I'd love to hear your suggestions. In any case, this wine did the trick.