Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feelin' Groovy

Groovy!I'd like to deliver a big Bronx cheer to the distributor or shop (whichever applies) for ruining not one but two bottles of 2005 Chidaine demi-secs — both were heat-damaged beyond drinking — which incidentally ruined my planned "demi-sec faceoff" post. Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty groovy this week. Health care legislation passed, I'm planning a trip abroad, March has (excepting today) been particularly warm in Chicago, and I haven't yet been laid off from my job. In that vein, here are two wines I've had recently that I thought were pretty groovy.

i Clivi Colli Orientali del Friuli Galea 1999
Winemaker Mario Zanusso (see the controversial interview on Mondoaspore) aims to make wines that are both natural and clean, and this shows in this 10+ year old blend of Friulano and Verduzzo. This is still fresh and clean to its core but it's also, thanks to its age, on the umami side of things. I actually couldn't name any specific fruit flavors in this wine; I wouldn't say it tasted like pear, for example, or apple. The fruit's definitely there, but it's been sublimated. It's a subtle wine, fairly full on the palate, and chalky-dry. The structure here is beautiful. I paired this with a turmeric and coriander-inflected vegetable stir fry, although a lavishly-prepared pork dish with a reduction would have done the wine more justice, but both the wine and I were well-served nevertheless. A very impressive wine.

Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blanc 2004
Speaking of aged whites, I really liked this white Burgundy, too. It's not often that you see an Hauts Cotes de Nuits blanc in the US, or at least not in Chicago, but here it is. The domaine has a rep for making quite oaky reds, but this blanc is nice. It shows flowers, brown spices, and just a hint of vanillin oak on the nose. More spice crops up on the palate, with tart pear fruit and the tiniest hint of mushroom, and it's still very fresh tasting, with terrific acidity. It's linear and focused and still shows good presence and balance across the entire palate. And there are plenty of minerals on the long finish. This one I did match with pork (dry rubbed and roasted), and it was a good match.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Snapshot of Two Oregon Pinots

How do you prefer to refer to the lowest-priced and most broadly available wines available from a winery? I don't like the term "entry level" as it says more about the relative price point than the wine. "Basic" doesn't work, as it implies mediocrity when that may not be the case, and the terms "domaine" or "estate" only work if the grapes are estate grown and if other estate-grown wines are made from particular parcels or vineyards.

However you term it, such wines should act as a calling card (to borrow Terry Theise's term) and represent the winery well. They should also honestly reflect the vintage and the terroir and not be price-driven into mediocrity. So maybe I should call such wines "standard bearers," or "standard" for short. Unless, of course, they're not the standard. Regardless, I recently decided to check in on a couple such Willamette Valley pinot noirs.

Yamhill Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2007Yamhill Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2007
Ah, 2007, a vintage where growers in the Willamette Valley had to fight rain at harvest and make lighter, lower-alcohol wines, such as this 12.2% pinot. Yamhill's wines are typically dense thanks to their heavy, clay-rich soils, but this one you can file under "tasty bistro quaffer." It's the color of translucent rose petals, light bodied, and it delivers juicy raspberry and cherry flavors with slightly sharp acidity that mellows slightly on night two. There's a pinch of earth here, and the wine gets bonus points for showing notes of Canadian bacon, of all things!

I'm not sure where all the grapes for this wine come from. Yamhill typically bottles a McMinnville AVA-attributed "Estate" wine at this high-teens price point, but this one is labeled "Oregon." In any case, this does represent the vintage and on that merit is fairly successful.

J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Provocateur Willamette Valley 2006
The Provocateur is J.K. Carriere's lowest-priced pinot noir but is usually made in much smaller quantities than its more expensive big sib, which is simply called "Willamette Valley." Likewise, it's made from grapes purchased throughout the valley, and in 2006 was raised solely in used (primarily thrice-filled) barrels.

The trick in this hot vintage was to avoid making soft, fat, uninteresting wines. Here, winemaker Jim Prosser pulls that trick off. This Provocateur did not show well this time last year, but it's clear that it was going through a sullen and awkward adolescence; it's only now coming into its drinking window, and barely at that. It's now promisingly pale, yet the fruit is still very primary, speaking of black cherry flesh and black cherry skins. There's some red earth and cherry wood smoke on the nose and just a touch of heat, although the heat is not evident on the palate. The balance is much better now compared to last year, the quite dry finish is longer, and complexity is emerging in the form of earth, sandalwood, sweet grapefruit, and herb tones. I like the refreshing acidity, the firm structure, the medium-full texture. The tannins are fine yet slightly raw.

I very much regret that this was my last bottle of the '06 Provocateur — this could become quite elegant — but I at least know now to keep my hands off the '06 WV bottling for at least two years, and preferably longer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guiberteau's Fabulous Saumurs

Guiberteau Saumur BlancWhy the blogs are not abuzz over the wines from Saumur's Domaine Guiberteau is beyond me. Nothing from even Jim's Loire or any other Loire-friendly, English language blog out there that I can see. The wines are a tad pricey (mid-20s), but they're worth it as far as I'm concerned. I'm very happy that my friend Erin turned me onto them!

The wines are ultra-clean, but they are also naturally-made, transparent, and completely expressive of place. If I (and Google Translate) interpret their French-only web site correctly, the domaine hand-harvests both their organically-grown chenin blanc and their cabernet franc from 25+ year old vines to the tune of 45 hl/ha. Romain Guiberteau ferments the wine solely with native yeasts, eschews all enzymes and stabilizers, and ages the basic "domaine" level wines in two to four year old oak barrels (the top wines do see some new oak, but I've not had them). The soils are clay and calcareous silex.

The first wine I experienced from Guiberteau was the 2005 Saumur Blanc, and it's stunning. The aromas of lavender, paraffin, and apple skin show great clarity. The wine is dry and utterly precise on the palate, with a come-to-jesus delivery of elegant concentration (and concentrated elegance) — the pear and melon fruit is layered with chalky minerality, stony lemon, rainwater, and firm, well-structured acidity. The texture is full and nicely defined — the angles haven't been overly sanded down — and the finish is long.

2007 may have been a more difficult vintage, but the 2007 Saumur Blanc is, in its own way, just as successful as the 2005. It's very firm and dry as befits the vintage, but there's a richness underlying the steely, high-acid structure. It's slightly chalky on the nose; otherwise, it's quite closed aromatically speaking. It's more expressive on the palate, with flavors of melon, tart apple, honey, and nuts, and it's very dry on the long, citric finish. It's exceptionally well balanced and has the bones to age, and it should blossom as it does — it's just a baby!

Finally, I was gratified to comes across the 2006 Saumur Rouge on the wine list at the vegetarian-focused Green Zebra. This 2006 was just barely coming into its drinking window, as you'd expect from a concentrated, well-made Saumur rouge from this structured vintage, but expressive it was: a twinge of herbs, some black olive notes, beautiful acidity, and good earthiness. It was a great companion with my green papaya salad, my earthy dal, and even the pan-seared scallops served with braised mushrooms. Meanwhile, my dining companion, who's not geeky like me but enjoys solid reds with good fruit, very much liked it as well.

Do these wines represent the Platonic ideal of excellent Saumur? Maybe! I've never had the Saumur-Champignys of Clos Rougeard, for example, so I'd rather not spout such things off. But I'm happy to spout off about Romain Guiberteau's wines in general.

Friday, March 12, 2010

QOTD, March 12

Jim Budd on the insane proposal to limit Appellation Controllee Touraine to only sauvignon blanc:

Sauvignon Blanc is popular now but a SOS (Sod off Sauvignon) movement may soon appear!

I'd like to become a charter member. Where do I sign up?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar Buzz

Lallement Grand Cru BrutI'm not sure why I'm watching the Oscars tonight — I don't like Steve Martin and several winners are practically preordained — but I nonetheless popped the cork on the Jean Lallement Grand Cru Brut green label (disgorged April 21, 2009) to help us along. Such a great wine, such great texture. It's like I'm biting into the crunchy texture and flavors of orchard fruits and honeycomb to release the plush texture of cream, nuts, and bread crumbs toasted in butter. It's also subtle, detailed, delicate, refracting herbs and chalky soil. All told, it's vivacious and totally alive; far more alive than I expect Steve Martin to be...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vajra's 2007 Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & Fossati

2007 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & FossatiWhen I first got into wine, and when I first found out about the reds from the Piedmont, I drank more barbera than I did dolcetto. And why wouldn't I? The neophyte follows the expert, and check out what the eminently reasonable Robinson and Johnson say in The World Atlas of Wine: "Barbera is now Piemonte's second most glamorous red grape... Piemonte's third red grape is Dolcetto." The sentiment is repeated more or less strongly in every wine book I've read. All such authors go on to praise dolcetto, but the hierarchy is clear, and as the usually-reasonable price points for the wines are usually not so different, why wouldn't have I opted for what should be the better wine?

The hierarchy, I found out, is meaningless to me, for I've experienced terrific wines made from both grapes. I value good barberas for their acidity and their peppery spice notes, and I value good dolcettos for their sweet fruit, their slightly bitter citric qualities, and the way they're apt to convey dusty earth notes. It's a matter of what I'm in the mood for and what I'm eating. And all things being equal, I find that dolcettos are more flexible at the table. The better examples hit all the marks: a pinch of earth, just enough tannic structure, lovely but soft acidity, refreshing bitterness, and plush yet firm fruit, the way a black plum or black cherry is plush yet firm. So I opt for Piedmont dolcetto a bit more frequently than I opt for Piedmont barbera. Sorry, Jancis!

Still, as much as I've grown to appreciate dolcettos from the Piedmont, I wasn't quite prepared for the 2007 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & Fossati. At $35 this is far more expensive than any dolcetto I've had but it's also hands down the best. As the name implies, the grapes come from two vineyards in Barolo proper. This, my friends, is respect, respect for a grape that doesn't have to be third-tier. The soil in both vineyards is Tortonian, and from what I've read it's thanks to these calcareous marls this wine is indeed open and aromatic (the harder sandstone soils in the eastern part of Barolo are less friendly to early wines).

The Vajra shows depth and beautiful structure. Gorgeous, dusty boysenberry aromas waft from the glass. As for the palate, when McDuff had Vajra's 2006 Lange Nebbiolo, he noted the wine's "firm grip and slightly chalky tannins wrapped around a core of bright red fruit." Dolcetto is not nebbiolo, and I think the Dolcetto d'Alba comes from different vineyards, but substitute blue fruit for red and this description nails this to a T.

Dolcetto's modest tannins help it play well with substantial fishes, and the multilayered, elegant Vajra was great with a slab of sable that I pan seared and topped with shallots sauteed in a balsamic reduction. The wine's acidity cut through the fish's oily texture and the tannins were firm yet delicate enough to aptly frame the fish's sweet, fleshy meat. Meanwhile, the barely-sweet fruit played well with the reduction, while the earthy notes parried nicely with the fish's saltwater notes. I'm pretty sure this would also play well with roasted pork, mushroom risotto, pasta with tomato sauce, toasted polenta...