Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Corked or P.Moxed?

I opened a bottle of Vincent Dauvissat's 2001 Chablis recently and I was looking forward to trying it, particularly as I've never had his classic wines. It was ruined! But was it corked, or was it prematurely oxidized? I couldn't tell.

Now, I have problems identifying corked wines from the get-go; it typically takes me anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to really know if a wine has that wet newspaper / cardboard smell, as opposed to mustiness that might just blow off. But I get there. As for p.mox'ed wines, I would expect it to taste flabby and tired, but I'm not sure I've truly encountered such a beast (as opposed to a wine that's over the hill).

This Chablis should still be drinking very well, but it was flabby, although not particularly dark. On the other hand, there was a damp and rotting smell, but it was the smell of rotting fruit, and not the smell of rotting paper. To add to the intrigue, the cork was a bit stained, although not egregiously so. Should I blame heat damage rather than TCA or p.mox? I'm at a bit of a loss. Or rather, I'm at a lot of a loss, as no matter the cause, I had to pour what should have been a beautiful wine down the drain.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sagrantino Love at a Cookout

Ahhh, it's finally summer. For real. You'd think I'd bring a crisp white to a warm weather cookout but, ever the contrarian, I brought the 2006 Domenico Pennacchi Colle di Fontivecchie Umbria Rosso instead. It was a big hit. Noses dove into bowls, mine especially. "This is just stupid good," said my friend Erin, which sums it up if you're into the short version.

The longer version is that this somewhat mysterious wine — neither the producer nor the importer seems to have a web site, and the Chicago distributor has minimal details on theirs — is a damned spicy wine that's made of 30% sagrantino, 25% montepulciano, 25% merlot, and 20% ciliegiolo. The latter grape is a parent to sangiovese and my Oxford Companion says it's named for its cherry-like flavors and aromas. But it's the spicy sagrantino that really makes this wine.

This shows good red fruit, pleasingly brisk acidity, and most remarkably, a delicate red earthiness. Like I said, I had my nose stuck in the glass all night, and the notes of jalapeño, black pepper, earth, and cherry were complex, well-integrated, and lovely. It's medium-bodied — it's not at all light — but it's light on its feet, and it totally worked for a summer bbq. For one thing, the refreshing acidity never weighed me down despite the summer heat. For another, it went well with everything from grilled asparagus (really!) to grilled burgers to peppered halibut steak to earthy blue potato salad. Yes, I'm a pig polite, I ate a bit of all the above.

This drinks great right from pop and pour but has enough acidity and tannic structure to go for a few more years, or at least to go with the burgers you grill, like, tomorrow. (Meanwhile, if you know anything about this producer, give us the 411 in the comments section.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Demi-Sec Faceoff #4: Foreau vs. Schwibinger

It's time for another Demi-Sec Faceoff! In this corner we have an '01 spätlese from the Rheinhessen's own Fritz-Josef Schwibinger, and in that corner we have Philippe Foreau's '02 demi-sec from Vouvray.

As a recap, my intent in conducting these faceoff tastings is not to declare winners and losers or otherwise place disparate wines into competition. Rather, my intent is to celebrate how distinctive, lightly sweet wines can, in their own unique ways, work so well at the table when they're balanced by acidity and minerality.

That said, I distinctly prefer one of these wines over the other.

Weingut Fritz-Josef Schwibinger Niersteiner Ölberg Riesling Spätlese 2001
The grapes from this wine come from the highly regarded 2001 vintage and are harvested from the steep, southeast-facing Ölberg vineyard, which is located smack in the middle of the most highly thought of part of the Rheinhessen. Whereas the Mosel is all about slate, this is sandstone-and-clay country; the "Roter Hang" (Red Hill) is named for its iron-rich soils.

Can we credit the sandstone for this wine's pillowy texture? Someone with more knowledge than I would have to weigh in about that; I can only describe what I smell and taste. This large-bodied yet nicely proportioned spätlese has a decent amount of acidity to match its soft texture, and this shows good presence across the entire palate. The aromas and flavors are both on the powdered sugar / tropical / banana side of things and as that might suggest this is broad rather than precise; the modest shot of minerality here is buried under some rather thick fruit.

This is a nicely-made wine and certainly this is tasty and balanced. But if I'm going to spend $27 on German riesling, I'd prefer something with more cut and verve, particularly when served with food. This just shows too much overt banana for my taste, at least for now. Over time, as the overt fruit qualities begin to recede, perhaps this will be a better dining companion. But today, it shoves up against, rather than dances with, food such as goat cheese and spicy, vegetable-driven Asian stir frys. This was true over the several days I sampled this.

Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec Clos Naudin 2002
I believe that most observers consider 2002 the best vintage in the Loire of the past ten years, and Foreau is considered one of Vouvray's very top producers. So I came to this wine expecting a lot.

I got everything I could hope for and more. This wine shows remarkable — remarkable — precision on night one. Everything is in its place: the aromas of apple and honeydew and lychee and beeswax, the fine acidity, the diamond-edged structure, and a sweetness level that resembles a sec tendre more than many a demi-sec. The minerality really stands out on the endless finish and is subtly redolent of chalk, cocoa powder, and spring herbs.

Over the course of several days the remaining wine broadened and lost some of its precision; the beeswax / honey aromas came on more strongly and the apparent sweetness level rose just a notch, although the wine remained firm and complete, and its presence across the palate never flagged.

Given the low apparent sweetness level, you could pair this with a wide array of foods. Think duck in a citric reduction, or a lighter protein in beurre blanc, or just a simple grilled fish — not to mention a slightly aged chevre. Ahhhh...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paolo Bea's Santa Chiara Bianco

A friend turned 30 (oh, to be 30 again!) so I flew to NYC to help him celebrate. During this brief trip we went to August in the West Village for some dinner. Everything about the experience was terrific. We were ushered to the covered atrium out back and sat under a gorgeous, pale blue sky; the potted grasses lining the room lent a rustic feel without overdoing it. Correspondingly, we were served lovingly cooked food at reasonable prices. The wine list was tended with equal care, and they even served our amazing bianco at roughly 55 degrees — ahhh, perfect.

The wine in question was the 2006 Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Bianco, which is a blend of malvasia, grachetto, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and garganega. Slap me silly and call me names, but I didn't know that Bea made a bianco; I'd only seen his rossos and have only had his "entry level" rosso — but it was fabulous, and the sommelier encouraged us to try it given that I already loved his rosso. He even told us that if we didn't like it, we could select another bottle, and the staff would drink the Bea at the end of the night.  (A rather amazing offer, but then, they'd get the wine...)

Sadly for them, my friend and I hogged the whole bottle. With a wine this fascinating, how could we not? I'd describe it as being halfway between a full-bodied Roussillon blanc and a Tondonia reserva, if that makes any sense. It's a very dark, sherry-colored wine, yet it's only slightly (and deliberately) oxidized. On the palate it's delicate rather than obvious or aggressive, and it finishes with terrific minerality.  It was frankly awesome with my bone marrow crusted cod, which was oh so tender under its delicate crust, and it also worked really well with our starter of roasted beets and goat yogurt panna cotta.  The wine was not inappropriate with my friend's duck carbonara, but it was slightly overcome by it, if that tells you anything about the weight and delicacy of this wine.  I must have this wine again!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Ruedafication of Rioja

Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are now officially allowed in the Rioja DOCa. "With these new varieties we are trying to make Viura more fruity and fresh as that is what consumers want."

Actually, that should be some consumers want fruity and fresh white Rioja, just as some television viewers want to watch Maury Povich.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Three Recent Values

Wow, I have not been keeping up on the blogging like I should. Here are some notes on a few good values I've had recently until I can get a more coherent article together.

Willow Crest Pinot Gris Yakima Valley 2007
A lot of pinot gris in the Northwest, and when it's done well, I really like it for its spicy orchard fruits. In too many bottlings, though, it lacks the zip and the verve I look for. So I wasn't expecting a lot from this $10 bottle, which is grown in Washington state's Yakima Valley — quite far from Oregon, where most domestic pinot gris is made. But this wine hits all the marks for Northwestern pinot gris. It has those pear and spice flavors, a hint of smoke in the aroma, fresh acidity, medium weight, and good balance. So it outperforms many $15 bottles of this type.

Château d'Assas Coteaux du Languedoc Cuvée Classique 2006
It's lovely to find a $13 red from the Languedoc that shows good balance, character, and weight without any trace of heat or overripe fruit. I feel somehow that the universe is being kind to me. This blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre shows aromas of violet, blackberry, clove, and orange zest. The palate's where this really shines, as brisk, citric acidity helps lift this full bodied wine over the palate, while the minerality, solid tannic structure, and black fruits show good staying power on the finish. Oh, and it's only 12.5% abv.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2008
We're getting to the $17 price point now, but it's hard to find a decent Vouvray for less. Happily, this is much better than decent. Bernard Fouquet makes this wine in the sec tendre ("tender dry") style, with just enough residual sugar to temper chenin blanc's high acidity. This is an extremely satisfying bottling, with slightly smoky aromas (that'd be the silex talking), gorgeous acidity, and minerality up the wazoo. The fruit is pure and creamy and suggests flavors of apple, pear, and grapefruit; the latter fruit is particularly prevalent on the finish and "talks" perfectly with the flinty minerals and gingery spice. If I had three arms, I'd give this three thumbs up. And given the great acid structure here, this should age very nicely.