Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ho-Hum vs. Humdinger in White Burgundy

My cat may ignore white Burgundy — he prefers beer and will happily if naughtily lick the lip of any open bottle — but I do my best to keep these wines in my orbit. With Burgundy's endless numbers of producers, most of who produce wines from a large number of climats, it's difficult for me to wrap my brain around the region. So my approach is to take it slow and tackle just a few producers at a time.

Domaine Jean Touzot Mâcon-Villages Vieilles Vignes 2007
Between the vintage and the fact that this reasonably priced ($15) Mâcon is sourced from old vines, I had hopes that this wine would show good energy and character. Alas, this fell a bit flat. It's clean and unoaked and hardly fat, but there's just not a whole lot going on — it's neither energetic nor voluptuous, neither creamy nor precise. Noblet's lightly oaked Mâcon at the same price point is a much better bet, as is Thévenet's unoaked Mâcon that costs just a few bucks more.

Unfortunately, I can't find any usable information online about this producer or his methods.

Yves Boyer-Martenot Meursault Les Narvaux 2005
This is a big step up from the Touzot in neighborhood and price (close to $40), and given that it's also from a different vintage and is aged in oak, it doesn't seem quite right to pair these two reviews.

But I'm going to go with it, anyway, because while the sweet kiss of oak gives this wine notes of cream, nuts, and a hint of tropicalia, this is fabulously transparent and precise. The nice long finish of pear, lemon, coconut, and stones fades ever so slowly to a pure and clean tone of mineral and acid energy. That energy seemed to flag a bit on the second night open, but it came roaring back on nights three and four. Provided this doesn't fall prey to the dreaded prem-ox problem that reputedly afflicts too many white Burgundies, this should hold up for quite some time.

The Narvaux vineyards are high on the Meursault slope, just above the 1er cru vineyards. The Skurnik web site tells us that Yves Boyer ferments using only wild yeasts and that roughly one-third of the oak barrels are new.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Day Late for Earth Day

I'm a pretty green guy — never owned a car, ride my bike to work, buy organic produce, drink mostly natural wines, blah blah blah — but even I'm a bit startled by how Jim Loire is going on an absolute tear over the use of chemical weedkillers in the Loire (see here, here, and here, to name just a few) and compares such weedkillers to Agent Orange. Really, he puts Alice Feiring to shame — a compliment, by the way.

But what's most startling is this post wherein it's noted that when it comes to "wine regions using herbicides as the only mean of weed management (in percentage of the whole area)," the Loire is actually worse than Bordeaux. So many of the higher-profile Loire wines we get here in the States (Huet, Puzelat, Joly, Domaine St. Nicolas, Clos Roche Blanche, the list goes on) are made naturally that I never would have guessed...

On a related note, I'll point you toward Dr. Vino's latest update on the carbon footprint of wine as it travels from point to point. I don't swallow the conclusions whole because A) he makes no attempt to determine what percentage of wine shipped from California is delivered via more efficient, green-friendly train vs. the assumed truck and B) makes no attempt to include ground transport in Europe, just an assumed boat ride from Bordeaux. Nevertheless, his work is valuable as a starting point for thinking about how wine drinkers can consider their footprint.

Moving away from wine entirely, I wish I'd known sooner about Nike Grind, a pretty cool recycling initiative that turns shoes into track and playground surfaces. I'll be taking my worn sneakers in for recycling soon!

By all means, though, lay into me for refusing to buy green-friendly boxed wine. Ain't gonna happen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Eyrie's Autumnal Length

The Eyrie Vineyards 2002 Reserve Pinot Noir2002 is an oft-hyped vintage for the Willamette Valley, but is it even true, and what do people mean when they say it?

I dunno about the first part of the question, as I don't have enough experience with the vintage. I can tell you that I'm skeptical of vintage guides. Many observers rank the warm (err, hot) 2006 vintage in the Willamette Valley considerably higher than the cool 2005 vintage. I, on the other hand, find that the 05s are not only apt to be fresher and more transparent than the forward 06s but also deeper. Even when the fruit in the 2006s isn't slightly cooked, gobs of fruit can smother elegance.

The 2002 vintage was warm and dry but lacked heat spikes, while September rains refreshed the grapes prior to harvest, so the rap on these wines is that they are (or were) both full and structured, with good acidity. True?

The Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Reserve 2002
I of course can't make judgments about the vintage overall from just one wine. Besides, in their pursuit of very quiet elegance the Letts are the exception in Oregon and not the rule. What I can tell you is that this reserve wine, which comes from vines that were at the time 35+ years old, shows a gorgeous autumnal depth that is, yes, full and structured, and I've never had a finer Oregon pinot noir.

As you can see in the above photo, this seven year old is showing brick-to-orange colors at the rim; not shown are the aromas of dried cherries and dried flowers. But there's nothing tired about this wine, and it shows tremendous if quiet energy on the palate. It's downright silky and everything is in harmony, from the graceful acidity to the light earthiness to the dried fruit characteristics. Moreover, the wine shows excellent presence at midpalate, great length, and X factors of elegance and complexity that are difficult to describe but simple are.

Between its autumnal characteristics and the fact that it's drinking so well right now, I'm hesitant to say you can or should hold this for a particular amount of time, although the energetic acidity suggests you can hold for some time. Eric Asimov would be the better guide here, and his relatively recent experience with Eyrie reserves at ages 19 and 28 suggests that holding is hardly a problem.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dirler Riesling Bollenberg 2004

Dirler Riesling Bollenberg 2004I am generally skeptical of effusive happy talk, so I'll just warn you in advance that I have had a series of remarkable wines that can only encourage purple prose.

For example, I cast as cold an eye as possible on the Dirler Riesling Bollenberg 2004, but all I could think was, "How can such a ridiculously beautiful, delicate, and multifaceted wine not be from a grand cru vineyard?" Dirler is a producer that never boarded the residual sugar train and while not austere, this frankly doesn't even show a lot of fruit. What this does show is an elegant and classic minerality. That is, it doesn't taste particularly eccentric, nor is the acidity particularly sharp. Rather, it's a dry and remarkably transparent wine with great length that pairs brilliantly with a wide variety of food, from pan-seared pork to steamed green beans.

The nose shows crisp green apple along with subtle hints of petrol, melon, and cow milk cheese. OK, there is a rush of fruit to the palate at first, but this is one of those rare cases where delicacy is aggressive, as the fruit is quickly supplanted by that gorgeous, filagreed, and very long minerality, courtesy the pink sandstone that surrounds the village of Bollenberg.

On the other hand, the white orchard fruit does show prominently when paired with a firm, slightly aged, and deliciously creamy goat cheese from the Pyrenees called chabrin. I thought of this wine when I smelled the cheese in the store, yet I got more from the pairing than I bargained for.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Visit to Terroir

Guillaume in Terroir - is he posting something to his new blog?Why yes, you silly bean, I in fact did visit Terroir when I was in San Francisco. It was a windy and gorgeously sunny Friday afternoon — days in the city hardly get better — and after walking the Mission and then perusing a lot of art downtown (the SF MOMA, the fabulous Crown Point Press gallery) I was ready for a glass or two. So I trotted down Folsom to pay the boys a visit.

Guilhaume and Luc are extremely friendly as well as knowledgeable. And sweet beard of Zeus, they pour Vin Jaune by the glass! When I asked how wines by Tissot compared to those from Puffeney (Tissot's Vin Jaune was the first of his I'd had), they explained that while Tissot's wines may be more strictly natural, Puffeney's are more transparent and delicate. In any case, I loved my tasting pour of the 2000 Tissot Vin Jaune and its beautiful, complex nut notes. If that weren't enough, they also gave me a tasting pour of a fino sherry from Gran Barquero, a beautiful and very dry wine of typicité that, unusually, has no spirit added!

Did I know that the Bretons made a dry sparkling Vouvray? I did not. It wasn't complex, but it was pure and minerally. Did the Sirch schioppetino they recommended to pair with salume work out? Why yes it did. Had I ever tasted a red wine from the Canary Islands made of a grape called listán negro? No, and I was surprised that this fresh and spicy little number reminded me of northern Italian reds like teroldego; it wasn't at all hot or clumsy. Yep, these guys know how to pick 'em, and they do so in a really nice space, which is just the right mix of comfy, clean, and rough.

Good thing I don't live in SF; I'd lose my shirt in this place. I'm talking major bailout funds, people. Better, after a fashion, to just read Guilhaume's new blog The Wine Digger from afar.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

2006 Crochet Sancerre with Pasta Fagioli

Berry Falls in Big BasinI visited a friend in San Francisco, and among other things we camped overnight in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I'm in pretty decent shape but hiking up and down and up and down the Santa Cruz Mountains left my calves feeling a bit sore even two days after the fact. So when I returned to Chicago, I decided to feed them a nice plate of noodles and beans pasta fagioli. I had a meyer lemon handy so I dressed the fagioli in herbs and lemon juice and popped open Lucien Crochet's 2006 Sancerre.

I rarely drink Sancerre, or any sauvignon blanc for that matter, so I was inclined to compare it to the '07 Vacheron I so recently adored. But I thought the better of it (different vintage and all that) and decided to let the Crochet stand on its own delicious merits.

Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2006
According to importer Neal Rosenthal, Crochet sources his "basic" Sancerre from a variety of vineyards, harvests the grapes manually, ferments exclusively in steel tank, and avoids malolactic. In 2006 this led to a wine that ably straddles the gooseberry-grass divide and, more importantly to my palate, is simultaneously creamy and precise.

The aromas suggest lemon and white flowers, while delicate hints of smoke and chalk add intrigue. On the palate the wine is quite ripe but also firm, zesty, and energetic. This shows great poise and the minerality on the finish is pure, clear, and fairly long. Interestingly, I found that a great white pepper note emerged when paired with the lemony — and well-peppered — pasta fagioli.

In other words, the 2006 Crochet fulfilled one of my essential wine commandments: that wine be self-posessed and true but marry well with an appropriate pairing. And at the end of the day — or at least at the end of a hike — what more could I ask for?

Speaking of commandments, happy Easter and Passover to all y'all...