Notes from a dinner, with friends and Boston Wine Expo attendees.
Muré Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Alsace) – Balanced and medium ripe, showing apples and light cream. This is one of the better of the basic crémants from Alsace, and previous vintages have proven that the upper-level bottlings from Muré (not, to my knowledge, available in the States) are even better.
Muré’s fame, at least in the States, rests on the Clos St. Landelin and its occasionally heavy, but usually majestic wines. But they do a reliably fine job across their lineup, including their négociant range, and here’s one that will probably fly under the radar for most people. From equal amounts of pinot blanc, riesling, and auxerrois. Disgorged: 12 March 2004. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kacher. Web: http://www.mure.com/.
Viñedos de Nieva “Pasil” 2004 Rueda “Pie Franco” (Castilla & León) – Lightly spiced chalk and soda water, showing clean and pure. Quite refreshing.
100% verdejo, from older vineyard material available to this (relatively new) winery. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela. Web: http://www.vinedosdenieva.com/.
Bossard “Domaine de l’Ecu” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Expression de Granite” (Loire) – Like licking a stone tablet (not necessarily while it’s being held by Moses), sharp and tight yet building gracefully on the finish. A second bottle, tasted the next day after extended aeration, is more generous and introduces youthful, malic fruit characters, but is no less mineral-driven.
It’s curious that the French word “granit” is translated to English for this label, yet “de” remains from the French original. Ah, the mysteries of labeling. Bossard remains one of the area’s best producers, and with the trio of soil-specific bottlings whence this comes, one of the best at showing how incredibly revelatory melon de bourgogne is of terroir. Alcohol: 12%. Biodynamic. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela.
Trimbach 1995 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – Creamy, salt-cured dried leaves and crushed oysters. Highly-advanced vs. other examples from this vintage, and while obvious signs of pure heat damage aren’t necessarily in evidence, something has brought this wine to an early retirement. Better-stored bottles are still not even close to ready.
From the Osterberg and Geisberg vineyards that form the backdrop to Ribeauvillé and to Trimbach itself, and while the same house’s Clos Ste-Hune deserves its reputation as the finest riesling in Alsace, it is more on this wine that the widespread appreciation for Trimbach’s rieslings rests. The fact that it’s less than 25% of the cost of CSH is certainly the primary cause, but the Clos Ste-Hune can be so impenetrable and strange in its youth that it can turn people away from its glories; the CFE is no less restrained at first glance, but the liquefied steel character is at least varietally recognizable. What also helps is that these wines, like most upper-end wines at Trimbach, are late-released and regularly re-released after further maturation, which undoubtedly helps sell the ageability of these all-too-frequently majestic bottles. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Seagram. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Deiss 1997 Gewurztraminer St-Hippolyte (Alsace) – Smoky and sulfurous, with bacon fat and raw rosette de Lyon characteristics, and ultra-ripe lychee jam slathered over everything. The finish is sweaty, and nothing is entirely dry. This is a valid expression of gewurztraminer, and will find some fans, but for me it is far too graceless…an odd thing to say about gewurztraminer, perhaps, but such things are relative.
St-Hippolyte is a village – a pretty one, but then in Alsace most of them are pretty (pity poor, poor Epfig) – not far from Deiss’ home town of Bergheim, and right at the northern end of the arbitrary political border between the Haut-Rhin and the Bas-Rhin. It does, however, suffer a bit from an even more arbitrary notion…this one in the minds of fans of Alsatian wine…that the “important” vignoble of Alsace ends somewhere between Ribeauvillé and Bergheim, and everything north is chilly roulette. This is, of course, nonsense.
It should be pointed out, in the interests of revealing bias, that I am rarely particularly appreciative of the wines at Deiss. (It should also be pointed out that many do not share this view.) The proprietor, Jean-Michel, does possess a certain brilliance (just ask him), but I mostly find it misdirected. Much is made of the current mania for multi-variety single-site blends chez Deiss, but this only serves to amplify the previous problem at this domaine: an obsession with impact over transparency. Transparent wines certainly do not have to be light, nor to they have to be underripe (as Jean-Michel so arrogantly implies in a June 2005 letter), but they can’t obscure varietal and site character in a thudding whoomp of body and thick, sludgy anonymity either. Working from lesser material, Deiss might be able to assert that he alone is expressing his sites correctly…but this doesn’t work in his corner of Alsace. There are too many good winemakers around to make such a ridiculous claim. Personally, I would consider it a victory if he was able to actually express some facet of a site more than once or twice per vintage, because one suspects that his success rate is as much accident as design. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kacher. Web: http://www.marceldeiss.com/.
Faiveley 1990 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru (Burgundy) – (French bottling.) Not dead, but not particularly alive either, with lots of acid, hard tannin, and only the faintest suggestion of berries on the finish. Well past it.
This is part of a large stock of Faiveley wines owned by a French relative, who regularly serves them at full maturity (usually with wild boar) and equally regularly sends some home with me. Unfortunately, the take-home bottles have almost routinely been disappointments vs. their in-France counterparts, and I wonder if the rigors of travel aren’t to blame. In any case, my success rate with the wines – as gratefully received as they are – is poor. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: French bottling, sourced from the domaine. Web: http://www.bourgognes-faiveley.com/.
CVNE “Viña Real” 1981 Rioja “Gran Reserva” (Center-North) – Dill and espresso dusted with chocolate powder, beautifully rich vanilla, and baked earth, finishing with a dessert-y dulce de leche character. I am nearly alone at our table in not loving this, but there’s just nothing but wood (and dill-flavored wood at that).
Tempranillo and graciano. I accept that antipathy towards old Rioja is one of my failings, especially since I usually don’t prefer wines with more obvious fruit. Perhaps it’s the American oak, perhaps it’s my Norwegian aversion to an abundance of dill (familiarity breeds contempt, as too often dill plays the role of “the vegetable” in Norwegian cooking…and before I get letters: yes, that’s a joke (then again, maybe it’s not)), or perhaps it’s just an issue of personal taste. What makes it more painful is that I have a very good friend who adores these wines, and opens them all the time in apparently vain attempts to convert me to their glories. Every once in a while, he succeeds, but then a wine like this comes along…which, as said in the actual note, everyone else appears to like…and my suspicion re-rears its ugly head. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vieux Vins. Web: http://www.cvne.com/.
Jaboulet Aîné 1990 Hermitage “La Chapelle” (Rhône) – Meatfruit and firm, tight, unyielding structure. There’s a phrase about tightness and nuns here that I won’t repeat, but that applies in spades to this wine. The question is: given the precipitous fall in Jaboulet’s quality over the nineties and beyond, is waiting for this one a foolish choice, or will it eventually reward the patience? This wine doesn’t provide a clear answer either way, though my guess is that there’s sufficient stuffing but there’s at least a one-in-three chance that it won’t outlast the structure in any useful way.
Côte-Rôtie provides the Burgundian ambiance (albeit particularly pork-like), Cornas is the rustic and loud country bumpkin with surprising hidden sophistication, Crozes-Hermitage is a minefield, and St-Joseph introduces some fruit to the equation…but it is Hermitage that shows syrah in its sternest, most masculine glory. The problem there is that if one doesn’t get fruit of a high enough quality, or mishandles it in the cellar, one is left with a big slurp of liquid structure with nothing to support. That’s just one of the things that’s befallen Jaboulet in recent years (ownership has changed, and improvements could finally be on the horizon), though this wine is reputed to be one of the holdouts from past glories. I guess we’ll see. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Importer: Frederick Wildman. Web: http://www.jaboulet.com/.
Delorme “Domaine de la Mordorée” 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pâape “Cuvée de la Reine des Bois” (Rhône) – Pretty, verging on beautiful, but still highly primary, showing spiced clove, oak (and oak tannin), and a rich, full-bodied mélange of spices and sun-baked fruit. It needs a lot of time.
Every time I have a good CdP, I wonder why I don’t drink more of it. I guess the price has something to do with it (nothing drinkable is priced at everyday levels, unless you’re loaded), but CdP is a fascinatingly flexible wine, in that it (with certain high-structure exceptions) shows well at most stages of what can be a pretty long life. This one’s grenache in the starring role, with mourvèdre supporting and cinsault, counoise, syrah and vaccarese as bit players, from old vines (though in the context of old vine-heavy CdP, perhaps not all that old…60 years or so). Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela. Web: http://www.domaine-mordoree.com/.
Conti Sertoli Salis 1999 Valtellina “Canua Sforzato” (Lombardy) – Lightly sweet prunes and rose hips with graphite-like structure. It’s an odd combination of aromas and sweetness, but it works somehow.
Sforzato (sometimes sfursat in dialect) means that this nebbiolo-dominated wine is, in contrast to regular Valtellina, made from dried grapes that raise both the potential alcohol and the probability of residual post-fermentation sugar. An actual raisin wine, if you will, vs. all the New World wines essentially made from nearly raisined grapes in a misguided pursuit of “ripeness.” Except for the rose hips, there’s little that says “nebbiolo” about this young wine, though careful examination of the overall structure and balance might lead one to envision an aged version of this wine that will, indeed, be highly varietally-revelatory. Alcohol: 14% (though I think it has to be 14.5% by law). Closure: cork. Importer: CHL International Trading. Web: http://www.sertolisalis.com/.
Touchais 1976 Côteaux du Layon (Loire) – Honey and sweet syrup with brioche butter. Seemingly past it.
Sweet and botrytized chenin blanc, from a domaine that regularly does late releases of their wines…which explains their ubiquity on the marketplace. Rarely are they as good as they probably could be, to my tastes, with several producers in Layon doing much better work at ageable chenin. What I’ve never had, however, is a youthful Touchais, so I have no idea what they’re like at bottling. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vieux Vins.