Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Decanter (or, Anticipation)

Decanting Baumard's 2005 Cuvee le PeonHappy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm hosting a gaggle of people and I've been merrily planning and cooking for the last several days. For example, I've already made the broth for the mushroom risotto, baked the Indian sweet potato pastry spirals, cooked the fiery sweet potatoes which I'll broil right before the meal, and made the Indian-spiced bean and vegetable salad. Later today, I'll make another vegetable salad (daikon, carrot, and green bean, blanched and julienned and dressed with a soy-based sauce), squash stuffed with bacon and apple, and tofurkey. Hey, I like tofurkey!

While these dishes may not sound traditionally Thanksgiving-ish, they are earthy much like the more traditional fare. So I still need to serve earthy, medium-bodied wines, just as I would for a more obviously traditional feast.

To that end, I've lined up the gorgeous 2002 Dirler Schimberg Pinot Gris, the elegant 2005 J.K. Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and for those who want a more full-fruited red wine, the 2006 Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou, which is a Vin de Pay d'Oc from a 200m high vineyard in the Malepere appellation north of Limoux (see Google map) that's 55% syrah, 40% grenache, and 5% cinsault. We'll actually start the meal with a shot-sized pour of Isastegi Basque cider to accompany an arugula salad, and then at the close of the meal, I'll serve the 2005 Baumard Cuvée le Paon, a botrytised Layon wine that Baumard makes in only the best vintages. (Backup wines in case of extra guests or cork taint: Carriere's 2005 Chardonnay and the lovely 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Rosso from Mt. Etna.)

The Carriere pinot has great structure and acidity and I will definitely need to decant it a few hours before the meal. The Paon, however, really needs a decant — it's outrageously young and the Baumard house style is reductive — so 12 hours ago I decanted it into... an old glass coffee carafe that I salvaged from a dead coffee maker. Yep, that's my decanter. It's perfect: it's wide, easy to clean, features a pour spout that makes double decanting a snap, and was absolutely free. And it of course works. I'm happy to report that some of the Paon's cavity-inducing baby fat has been shed and it's growing deeper and more complex, with excellent acidity and those quiet and remarkable tones of bitter herbs that I love in chenin.

OK, it's time to start the last of my cooking — no time to lose! Happy Thanksgiving to all of us.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Loire Transmitted Via Baudry and Puzelat ca. 2007

My cat doesn't like having a dog in the houseAfter I fell in love with dry and demi-sec Vouvray some years ago, I was driven to learn more about Loire chenin, and so I crossed the river to Montlouis and went downriver to Savennières. I began reading about reading about the nearby appellations, and soon enough my palate was making loop-de-loops throughout the Loire. Hello, Bourgueil, hello, Chinon, pleased to meet you. I was initially more intellectually engaged by Loire reds than emotionally engaged, but then I found some that changed that dynamic, although doubtlessly my palate became more open to these wines simply by virtue of exposure.

The rains of 2007 in the middle Loire did not necessarily cause dilution, but acid and tannin levels are typically lower than in the more structured vintages that surround it, and people more experienced than I say that 2007 Loire reds are early drinkers compared to 04, 05, 06, 08, and (it is thought) 09. That is, while my favorite producers' wines are transparent in every vintage, the wines from 2007 will likely express the terroir and the vintage more quickly and are less apt to last. I continue to put this received wisdom to the test.

Thierry Puzelat Le Telquel (lot 2007)
It's now more common for American shoppers to see Loire reds made from grapes other than cabernet franc, and among the 500,000 cuvees that Thierry Puzelat makes, both with his brother under the Clos Tue Boeuf moniker and on his own, is this 100% gamay, a negociant bottling sourced from a variety of vineyards in the central Loire. Back in August of 2008, Mr. McDuff reported that there was "no mistaking it for anything other than Gamay" due to its pure and bright red fruit. With a further year's evolution under its skinny belt, I actually could mistake this for something other than gamay, but I would not, I think, mistake it for anything but the Loire.

Certainly with its nose of black cherry, smoke, roasted barley, black olive, and worcestershire sauce, I wouldn't peg this as Beaujolais — the olive note in particular recalls, say, Saumur, although the barley and smoke notes push this wine closer to the Clos Roche Blance 2007 Gamay. The Telquel is fairly concentrated and the texture is more rustic than refined, and driven by robust cherry-tart acidity. There's plenty of primary, non-sweet fruit on the palate — tangy plum, mostly, with a hint of olive — yet it's just starting to turn autumnal, with aspects of dried leaves and brown earth minerality.

Is this an expressive early drinker? You betcha. I suspect the acidity will seem harsh after the fruit fades but I expect this to drink very nicely over the next 6-12 months.

Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges 2007
Baudry's entry-level Les Granges, per the excellent profile at The Wine Doctor is "a wine produced from 6 hectares of vines planted on alluvial sand and gravel soils on the banks of the Vienne between 1985 and 1988; when the Vienne bursts its banks the vineyard can flood, and Baudry has been known to undertake pruning from a rowing-boat." Um, wow.

Les Granges is meant for early drinking — at least by Baudry standards. I'm not sure whether this sees oak or not. The Baudry web site mentions nothing about oak aging, but I've read elsewhere that it is aged in older, more neutral oak. It hardly seems to matter, as I am consistently bowled over by the purity, elegance, and transparency of M. Baudry's wines (even the 2003 Les Grézeaux was astonishingly elegant given the crushing heat of the vintage).

My rule of thumb is to wait three years before opening better Loire cabernet franc, a rule that even this meant-for-early-drinking wine validated to some degree, as it was fairly tight when first opened. But no worries: over the course of the evening it slowly revealed aromas of coffee, smoke, candied ginger (!), sweet black cherry, and especially iodine. It also became very expressive on the palate, as the flavors of cherry, graphite, and blackcurrant are nicely framed by (and integrated with) both acidity and tannins. Finally, there are fine, pure, iodine-rich minerals on the medium-long finish.

It's a mystery to me why I don't have more Baudry in my life. I think that's a mystery I should solve.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

If Acid Is Your Crack

Seguinot-Bordet Chablis 2007If acid is your crack, then set down that glass of Muscadet, stuff $20 in your pocket, and find the friendly local dealer who has a bottle of the 2007 Domaine Seguinot-Bordet Chablis to sell you. "Nervous" barely begins to describe it — it's more like electric. Zap!

You may want to pick up some mussels on your way home and steam them with butter, for this is a delicate wine that's easily overwhelmed by heartier fare. For example, I tossed sauteed onion and ginger into quinoa and the wine worked well with this dish, but it got lost when I paired it with roasted vegetables (potato and carrot), even though I did a simple prep of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

That surprised me a bit, as the wine has a chalky, smoky top note of caramelized lemon peel that I thought would work well with the roasted veggies. It's also creamy on the palate — the acidity isn't tart or underripe — and rich in iodine, particularly on the long and poised finish. It also has great structure. But for all its smoky exuberance, it's definitely delicate, at least at this point in its young life.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Zinfandel Counterprogramming

It's a shame that zinfandel, a grape that even when rendered well does not make my favorite wines, is subjected to so much abuse by too many California winemakers. Most of these wines strike me as way overripe and overblown, and I've tasted a few that go even beyond that, as if they were chaptalized with blackberry pancake syrup. Too few producers, such as Ridge, produce more balanced renditions.

I'm happy to say that Graziano made a balanced 2004 from the Eddie Graziano Vineyard, where the grapes are grown organically. Black pepper is far and away the dominant characteristic here, and that's because the fruit is not big and bruising and overripe. The wine does have one big flaw: per the fact sheet (PDF) it was aged in 30% new, heavily-toasted oak barrels, which gives it a sweet polish that obscures the ruddier aspects of the wine much like cellophane obscures your grandma's nice couch. (And now I want more than ever to taste the Dashe L'Enfant Terrible.) But even so, this went well with spinach lasagna and a cheddar-inflected risotto cake.

Better yet and cheaper still ($14) is the 2006 Monte Rosso Primo Rosso, also made by the "Graziano Family of Wines," which is a blend of zinfandel, nebbiolo, carignane, sangiovese, and negroamaro. Its slightly sweet tannins are balanced by slightly tart orangey acidity, while the medium-bodied mouthfeel is soft yet nicely structured. There's a nice zing of black pepper to compliment the generally red-fruited flavors (esp. currant), while a darker note of slightly bitter licorice provides a welcome complication. In other words, it's more interesting and complex than its big brother, and it worked well with enchiladas.