22 February 2006

Magnum, P.I. (California, pt. 1)

12 November 2005 – Los Altos, California

[pool at Sheraton]Sheraton San Jose – Actually in Milpitas, and way harder to get to from the San Jose airport than it should be, thanks to closed onramps and construction around the airport. It’s a good, solid business hotel with a lovely pool area, as “near to stuff” as anything can be in this sprawl.

Jeff & Lisa Cuppett’s house – We’re very close to fresh off the plane, so a low-key gathering chez Cuppett, with Jon Cook and Kira Maximovich (and the Cuppett’s sleepy progeny) in attendance, is just the thing. There’s crab “cakes” with remoulade, steaks on the grill, broccolini and blue cheese/bacon potatoes, but mostly there’s wine and conversation.

Christophe Pichon 2001 Condrieu (Rhône) – Pine needles, sweet white flowers, and floral spice with light, rindy bitterness on the finish. There’s good acidity, but this is generally a light-bodied and soft wine; not necessarily a criticism, though it’s not quite up to my other experiences with C. Pichon. It’s still one of the best available, however.

Bollinger 1992 Champagne Brut “Grande Année” (Champagne) – Very full-bodied (no surprise there), with biscuits, burnt peach skin and baked orange supported by big acid. I like it, but it’s either in an odd stage or not my favorite vintage Bolly, because I don’t love it.

mystery wine – From unlabeled magnum and from Thunder Mountain…that’s all we know at uncorking. The wine shows sweaty plum liqueur, strawberry eau de vie, and a soft, light-fruited but high-alcohol palate with low acid and little remaining tannin. Jon opines that it’s zin and either a ’93 or ’96, while Kira is certain that it’s a ’96 and that she knows the source. Bowing to their vastly superior experience, then, this is a Thunder Mountain 1996 Zinfandel Dusi Ranch (Paso Robles).

Freemark Abbey 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché (Napa Valley) – It’s my once-per-year positive tasting note on a Napa wine! Gorgeous, mixed powdery peppercorns with bright cherry and lovely tobacco notes. Balanced and structured (less tannin than acid at this point). I’ve had decidedly mixed experiences with Freemark Abbey – some horrible, some reasonably positive – but this is a really nice wine, and ready to go now (though it’s probably in no danger of immediate death, either).

Edmunds St. John 1994 Syrah Durell (Sonoma County) – Boozy and flat, with smoked leather and a heavy payload of tannin. Dead and hot. Something’s wrong here, and I don’t know that “closed” quite covers it.

21 February 2006

Mud and melancholy (New Zealand, pt. 10)

[Marty thieving wine samples]Light petting

“Which turn is it?”

Sue consults her notes. “The one to the petting zoo.”

I press the brakes, glance in my rear-view mirror. “What?

“The petting zoo. Look, there,” she points, “up that road.”

“You know, I’ve driven this road a dozen times, and I’ve never noticed that.”

We turn. A few forlorn animals – mostly sheep, and where can one possibly find those in New Zealand? – stare balefully at us from behind a short fence. They don’t look particularly eager to be petted…but given a total absence of potential petters, there doesn’t seem to be much danger of that. Nor of ticket-taking, or indeed of any two-legged habitation whatsoever. So are these just a bunch of animals in a pen? “Hey, come pet them if you want!”

The sheep provide no answer, though they do continue to stare.

An end to summer

Most visitors to Waiheke Island’s Mudbrick will not set foot or wheel anywhere near a petting zoo. That’s because they’ll be at the winery’s eponymous restaurant, highly-regarded among Waiheke’s limited dining options, which is situated quite close to the Matiatia ferry wharf. Instead, we’re amongst tree-lined vineyards somewhere not too far from Stonyridge, still with Sue & Neil Courtney in tow, in a clean, functional winery completely removed from the touristed byways of the island. We’re joined by Nick Jones, co-owner of the property, and a youngish chap (yet another!) named Marty, who turns out to be the winemaker, and we’re here to taste some wine.

Nick wears a light blue “Playboy 50” t-shirt with studied insouciance, while Marty attends to the actual business of tasting. They’re relaxed, jovial, and inclined more towards humor than serious wine talk, which is just fine with us after a long day of wine visits. We thus skip the preliminaries and get right to tasting, with our quartet interjecting the occasional question into the casual levity.

(Continued here…)

20 February 2006

A passage to insight (New Zealand, pt. 9)

[David Evans Gander]A wrinkle in vine

“How do you go back to the place where everything changed…?” I asked, once, and from that question a travelogue was born. The “place” I had in mind was Milford Sound, on which much more can and will be written many narratives hence, but certainly other interpretations are possible. Here’s one:


David Evans Gander pokes his head around a doorway. He’s casual in working shorts and shirt, knee-deep in one of those endless tasks that consume every morning, afternoon, and night of a winemaker’s existence. “Just a moment.”

We wait. It’s dark and cool inside, strangely silent outside.

A half-dozen moments later, he re-emerges with bottles in hand, ducks behind the counter of the now-closed winery café (really more of a pizzeria, to the apparent delight of most visitors) to retrieve some glasses, and groups us around a picnic-like table.

“So…how was Stony Batter?”

Rock is their forté

My first day in New Zealand was a bit of a blur. Not so much from jet lag as travel lag, a sense-dulling miasma of displacement and the nasty, filmy feeling of twelve hours of recycled airplane air battling the onrush of a world of new experiences and sensations. Among those sensations was a marvelous little wine – just a glass – shared with Theresa and Sue Courtney at Nourish. I’d spent the morning at Goldwater and Stonyridge, tasting a lot of wines that were – whether better or worse than I’d expected – familiar. But here, at this terrific little bistro, was a glass of sun-filled viognier that rose above all my expectations, especially for this highly cranky grape. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Passage Rock 2001 Viognier (Waiheke Island) – One of the rarest of wine discoveries, a delicious viognier from somewhere other than Condrieu. Not that it tastes like Condrieu. There's the requisite midpalate fatness, but it's braced on both sides with excellent acidity and a lovely floral delicacy. Best of all, there's no alcoholic heat.

Passage Rock. Few wineries I’ve not visited hold a special place in my heart, and none whereat I’ve tasted only one wine. And yet, there was something about that deliciously brief taste of viognier…well, if I ever got back to Waiheke Island, I vowed to visit. To see what it was all about, to get at the heart of the matter…no, I must admit, my aim was more personal: to try to recapture and relive that memory.

Sue talks about our morning while Evans Gander pours the wine and I study our surroundings. Passage Rock would be, in the absence of Stony Batter, the most remote of Waiheke Island’s wineries, and the facilities obviously represent a sort of haphazard expansion; needs-based, rather than designed. And while the vines fanning out from the main buildings replicate a descent to the sea found at our morning visit, it’s a gentler, slower, shallower descent to a much more distant shore. Which only adds to the feeling of isolation.

Soon enough, however, the first wines are in front of us and we’ve work to do.

(Continued here...)

18 February 2006

Sheep attack! (New Zealand, pt. 8)

[Stony Batter bottles]Flocking together

A large, flightless mass akin to a colorful heirloom chicken scuttles across the yard, pausing every few feet to investigate a potentially edible morsel. Cliff and I emerge from our apartments at the same time to watch, which only serves to increase the velocity of its scampering and nibbling.

“It’s a weka, I reckon,” opines Cliff.

Swans, geese, ducks and gulls congregate in multiracial harmony on a beach that adjoins the Matiatia ferry wharf. Neither begging food from passersby nor twitching in fear from same, they bask in the sun, preening and squalling as the ferry noisily chugs, groans, and squeaks into its berth. Our guests have arrived.

A not-so-stealthy and rather ridiculous-looking black, blue, and white bird with a vivid orange beak and grossly un-proportionate legs stumbles around the roadside, occasionally veering onto our already too-narrow road. Were there ever need for a visual link between the bird and the dinosaur, this sight would settle all doubts. We slow down, then swerve as best we can to miss it, but it seems not-at-all put out by the cloud of dust that now encompasses it. Neil Courtney, concise as ever, answers my unspoken query: “pukeko.”

New Zealand is for the birds

Stony dancer

It’s a sunny, hot day on Waiheke Island, though cooling ocean breezes keep the temperature just a shade short of uncomfortable. We’ve picked up Auckland-area wine writer Sue Courtney and her husband Neil for a day of wine tasting, a reversal of our usual arrangement (in which they cart us around mainland wine regions), and definitely some sort of payback for Sue’s guidance on our previous visit. That is, assuming the Americans’ driving on remote gravel roads through the wilds of Waiheke doesn’t give them both premature heart attacks. I do note that Sue’s breath seems a little quicker than usual, though Neil is his usual stoic self.

Sue’s arranged for us to start our day with a tour at the reclusive and remote Stony Batter winery, and it’s impossible to turn down the opportunity. Built on the massive expanse of an historic reserve better known for its old gun emplacements and tunnels, Stony Batter is less a winery than a all-encompassing agricultural project that covers a rather large percentage of the northeastern quadrant of the island, a project unlike any other on Waiheke. The owner, apparently an unimaginably wealthy gent, has an obvious desire for privacy (the entrance to the reserve is blocked by a forbidding gate, though through apparent negotiation hikers are once more allowed on the property as long as they don’t touch, look at, smell or otherwise offend the vines), but has equally obviously spared no expense in covering the area with a crazy-quilt of experimental vineyards.

(Continued here…)

09 February 2006

Boston Wine Expo notes pt. 3 -- Portugal

Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Because of the rather large number of notes, the usual supplemental material has been eliminated; contact me if you have specific questions about a wine. Also, please keep in mind that this was a large, crowded tasting at which a certain efficiency was a necessity; these are notes based on short takes (except where noted), and not necessarily the ideal conditions in which to render definitive judgments.

Part 3 – Portugal


Quintas de Melgaço “Terra Antica” 2004 Vinho Verde (Portugal) – Crisp lime and green apple. Very pure.

Castelo Branco “Quinta da Murta” 2004 Bucelas (Portugal) – Gorgeous, full-fruited green apple.

Quinta do Serrado “Solar” 2004 Vinho Verde Alvarinho (Portugal) – Creamy lemon and apple; smooth to the point of being sticky.

Herdade Grande 2004 Alentejano (Portugal) – Mercaptans and fizzy, ripe apple. Crisp and long, this eventually gets better despite the skunk.


Quinta do Alorna 2003 Ribatejano (Portugal) – Chewy peanut butter overwhelmed by dense, wood-like tannins (though I don’t know that this wine has actually seen any wood).

Quinta da Cortezia “Vinha Concha” 2003 Estremadura (Portugal) – Sour cherry and plum. The acid is low, but otherwise this at least makes a nod in the direction of balance.

CA do Sanguinhal “Peninsula” 2003 Estremadura (Portugal) – Sulfur on the nose; thick, purple and fruity with mildly green tannin on the palate.

CA do Sanguinhal “Quinta de S. Francisco” 2001 Óbidos (Portugal) – Hard blueberry skin and strawberry seed; tough but good in its angry way.

SA do Casal de Tonda “Quinta dos Grilos” 2004 Dão (Portugal) – Black leather and blackberry with ripe tannin and nice balance.

Herdade Grande 2002 Alentejano (Portugal) – Gorgeous plum and black cherry over black earth-flecked morels. Lovely and structured with a long finish. Terrific.

Bastos Estremox “Dona Maria” 2003 Alentejano (Portugal) – Spicy and almost pétillant. Fades and thins quickly to plastic on the finish.

Vinhos Douro Superior “Castello d’Alba” 2003 Douro “Reserva” (Portugal) – Solid, purple and grapey with oddly stewed tannins and slight greenness (manifesting as thyme). The acid’s a bit high and not entirely integrated, either.

Erdade de Malhada “Casa de Santa Vitoria” 2003 Alentejano (Portugal) – I’m not confident that I’ve correctly transcribed the name of this winery. Fruity blueberry and some cotton candy smoothed by a vanilla sheen. Good, if a bit tannic.

Quinta Nova da Nosa Senhora do Carmo “Casa Burmester” 2002 Douro “Reserva” (Portugal) – Earthy porcini, black cherry and chocolate with excellent balance and structure. A more modernistic style than many of the previous wines, but quite good.

Caves do Salgueiral 2003 Douro Andreza (Portugal) – Coconut and soupy, overripe fruit with hard tannin.


Gould-Campbell 2000 Porto (Douro) – Dark cherry and sweet walnut spice. Beautiful. Perhaps too beautiful.

d’Oliveiras Madeira Doce (Portugal) – Mildly oxidized celery and other assorted yet weird vegetative aromas. There’s good palate balance, but I don’t much care for what’s being balanced.

d’Oliveiras Madeira 10 Anos (Portugal) – A touch spritzy, with spice and loads of baked carmel apples. Complex and long, with the usual great acidity.

d’Oliveiras Madeira 15 Anos (Portugal) – Dusty spiced cedar with more body but also more wood than the 10-year, showing roasted walnuts, roasted pecans and fresh cashews with a zippy, long finish.

Burmester “Jockey Club” Porto “Reserva” (Douro) – Faded and gummy sweetness with fake-tasting Juicy Fruit™ flavors. No good.

Burmester 20 Year Tawny Porto (Douro) – Very spicy banana. Long, sweet and simple, but tasty.

Burmeister 1985 Colheita Porto (Douro) – The usual mélange of baking spices with slightly papery oxidativeness; balanced and fine but not superior.

Burmester “Sotto Voce” Porto “Reserva” (Douro) – Sticky blueberry and plum with cherry residue. Overly syrupy.

Burmester 2000 Vintage Porto (Douro) – Very fruity, showing blackberry and black cherry. There’s excellent sweetness and fruit presence, but it lacks structure. The finish is long and quite sweet.

07 February 2006

La terre parle

Edmunds St. John 2000 Syrah (California) – A bit truculent at first, relaxing to mere surliness, then finally…perhaps most of all after 24 hours of air…showing its inner colors of leathery blackberry skins, hints of smoked meat, and a thick, solid structure. This is aging nicely, if perhaps a bit slower than I’d anticipated, and appears to be willing to be held for a few more years at least.

I was surprised to see a bottle of this hiding amongst ostensibly longer-aging syrahs during a recent cellar reorganization, and immediately moved it to the “drink now” rack. I needn’t have panicked. What Steve does better than just about any California wine maker is pick grapes with the inherent balance for gentle, Old World-style aging and then nurse them – rather than doctor them – from crush to bottling. It’s not the only path to success in California, and winemakers can certainly do excellent work in bigger, riper idioms without falling victim to the excesses of their brethren, but Steve’s wines have a special presence all their own, and age in a way unlike – and, sadly, all-too-frequently superior to – any other California wine. For this, an inexpensive blended syrah, to age in this particular fashion would be an achievement in the Rhône, a miracle elsewhere, but for Steve is merely another step along the path. Alcohol: 13.7%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/.

Leydier “Domaine de Durban” 2002 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône) – From 375 ml. Sweet crystals of apple, lemon, tangerine and melon, full of shattered quartz-like minerality and slashing needles of glass. Absolutely the most striking muscat there is in this region. Simply majestic.

It is an open and acknowledged bias of mine to prefer strong minerality to overt fruit. Leydier’s wines are so mineral-driven – the red Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Beaumes-de-Venise even more than this – that it’s virtually predestined that I would love them. This, a lightly-fortified sweet muscat, is made from gorgeous vineyards on the sweeping hillsides above the Dentelles de Montmirail, at a winery with one of the more frightening approaches in southern France (which, on our visit, probably wouldn’t have been quite so frightening had a truck not been barreling towards us from the other side of a land bridge). Nonetheless, the views are worth any moment of terror, and the wines even more so. Alcohol: 15%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch.

Winery B72564 “by Michel Rolland” 2003 Clos de los Siete (Mendoza) – Full-bodied and full-fruited in the anonymous New World style, with all the grapes having their say: chewy, dark and tannic fruit from the malbec, cassis and structure from the cabernet sauvignon, fruity lushness from the merlot, and smoked leather notions from the syrah. The equal partner here is oak, expressing itself in vanilla, chocolate, toast and butterscotch forms. It’s a massive, heavy, thoroughly placeless wine with no apparent flaws, and will undoubtedly be very popular. For those who don’t exist on this style, however, it will be at its most pleasurable at first sip, and then quickly decline to relentless monotony.

40% malbec, 20% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah. I think, based on my preferences, that most people would expect me to hate this wine. I don’t. It has its place, and will please a lot of people. The familiar and obvious objection (so obvious that this is the second time I’ve made it) – that it could be from anywhere – is, I think, a correct one, but that in itself doesn’t invalidate the wine. To those who would argue that this wine is superior to most of the often raw and harsh vinous products of Argentina, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but would instead pose this question: since it is plainly apparent that this sort of wine can indeed be made anywhere given sufficient funding, workable grape sources and enough knowledge in the cellar, wouldn’t the most important differentiator to the otherwise-indifferent consumer be price? Wouldn’t the first goal – the only goal – be to find this wine at its cheapest? Maybe that’s Argentina’s role here, and maybe it’s not (though with Michel Rolland attached, I doubt this will ever contend for the bottom of the pricing barrel), but I suspect that “we can make drinkable New World-style wine more cheaply than anyone else” is not a title on which Argentinean viticulture wishes to permanently hang its hat. In any case, the Aussies will be mightily miffed at the competition for their crown. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Dourthe. Web: http://www.monteviejo.com/.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2003 Touraine Sauvignon (Loire) – Fairly classic riper sauvignon blanc characteristics (melon, overripe gooseberry, sweaty tropicality verging on pineapple alongside more typical grass and tart citrus aromas) with the Touraine chalk, though the latter is muted under the wine’s overall weight; a substantial gain in heft over previous vintages that I’m not sure works entirely to the wine’s benefit.

This is a wine that’s usually much more marked by its site than by its varietal composition. In hot 2003, the grape asserts itself in a not-unpleasant way, though it is certainly still incapable of muting the Touraine signature. Where things go wrong, as noted above, is that the form of the wine is off-kilter as a result; there’s certainly “more,” but there’s no counter-balancing structure (mostly, this would need acid). All that said, there’s little that’s unpleasant here, and one could happily drink this while waiting for better vintages to round into form. Alcohol: 13%. Organic. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner & LDM.

06 February 2006

Whites only (New Zealand, pt. 7)

Ask not what your winery can do for you…

The aquamarine rippling of the Hauraki Gulf throws shadows and highlights onto the trees below us. A breeze gently ruffles the leaves, then stills, freshening the quiet air but leaving nothing but memory in its wake. I hold up my glass of sauvignon blanc, which shines bright and clear in the sunlight, and take a deep, luxurious sniff. All is right with the world.

Though not quite as much is right with the wines.

We’re on the patio at Kennedy Point, looking down a rather precipitous cliff to the ocean, and working through a tasting conducted by a friendly young Californian. But after the sauvignon blanc, I’m afraid it’s all as downhill as the below-patio slope.

(Continued here…)

How dry I'm not

Bisson 2004 Prosecco dei Colli Trevigiani (Veneto) – Bone-dry, perhaps excessively so, with a powdery, misty texture and the bitterness of citrus rinds. Severe. I almost like it, but in the end I think this would be improved with just a hint of residual sugar.

Prosecco can be good, bad or indifferent, but in its most everyday form (the kind that arrives in unlabeled bottles on Venetian tables, for example) it is rarely without a dollop of softening sweetness. It’s one of prosecco’s great appeals. Bone-dry prosecco, for reasons that aren’t clear to me but that are almost certainly related to the inherent characteristics of the grape, is a bit of a high-wire act, and the result can easily cross the austerity line and end up in the realm of severity. That is, to an extent, what’s happened here. That’s not to denigrate the wine’s essential nature, which is fine in its idiom, but I’m just not convinced that bone-dry prosecco is often the best expression of the grape. Alcohol: 11%. Closure: cork. Importer: Rosenthal.

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – What one wants from a Kiwi sauvignon: gooseberry, some herbs, the hint but not the bite of capsicum, riper melon notes (but not overripe into the tropical range), in a clean, balanced package. Nicely done.

90% sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, 10% sémillon from Canterbury. The sauvignon for this wine is not consistently sourced, but the wine is fairly consistently made in a style that is both approachable and resists the modern New Zealand trend towards sauvignon blanc with obvious residual sugar, yet also avoids the traditional problems of the underripe, pyrazine-laden wine that, for better or worse, made Marlborough famous. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Meadowbank/Empson. Web: http://www.maindivide.com/.

[Redfield]West County Cider Redfield (Northern Berkshires) – Strong, dark and ripe apple with a slight tannic bite, good acidity, and a faint sparkle. The structure gives this persistence and wipes away the sticky residue that sometimes lingers from everyday cider. Vivid and intense.

Well-made varietal cider is as interesting as varietal wine – why should it be any different? – so it’s exciting to taste this version, from a getting-rarer variety that adds a bracing touch of skin bitterness to what is already a dark, intense cider. The producer softens it a bit with just a grace note of sugar and leaves a bit of residual (and natural) sparkle, which makes this one of the more fascinating ciders I’ve tasted in quite some time…not made by Eric Bordelet, that is. Alcohol: 5.3%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.westcountycider.com/.

Clergot “Château Courtiade” 2002 Bergerac Sec (Southwest France) – Striking, showing earthy melon, ultra-ripe apple and white grape aromas with touches of sweaty gooseberry and a pulsating mineral underbelly. Long and delicious, this is a rather stunning wine for its price.

50% sauvignon blanc, 50% sémillon. Way, way back in the dim vestiges of memory, I recall a Bergerac opening my mind to entirely new horizons of taste in my first, tentative explorations of wine. But given the wine’s general absence on the local market, I’m not surprised it took me this long to come back to the region. If this bottle is any indication, the next absence will be brief. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Grand Vintage/Nadine & Allan.

Peillot 2003 Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Unsurprisingly lush vs. other vintages, but showing balance and poised fullness throughout, with aromatically floral red fruit still on the vine, traceries of lavender jam, and a silky, smooth finish. It’s atypical, perhaps, but it’s far too good to worry about atypicity.

Were it not for the yeoman efforts of crank individualist importers like Joe Dressner, I doubt I’d be particularly familiar with this grape (apparently more regularly a blending partner for gamay than a solo star). Mondeuse is one of those relentlessly rustic varieties that always has some lack vs. the modern vision of a “complete wine” (a vision I don’t share, by the way), but I’d be surprised if anyone could much object to the 2003 version of this wine. Yes, it lacks the delicate yet mildly abrasive qualities of the wine in more authentic years, but it’s just so purely delicious in this guise, how could anyone except the stubbornly closed-minded resist its charms? Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

05 February 2006

Box lunch

Boxler 2002 Pinot Blanc L20R (Alsace) – Surprisingly non-spicy for Boxler, replacing the auxerrois-derived exotica and weight with vivid crystalline pear and piercing intensity. Very nearly perfect.

Boxler's arcane system of lot numbering goes beyond my knowledge here – the R stands for either a vineyard or a separate cuvée, but I don't know which – though whatever it is, it's a decidedly different approach to the grape. Actually, "the grape" is a misnomer at Boxler, as it is at most Alsatian domaines; virtually all pinot blancs are actually blends (often, but not always, 50/50) with auxerrois, a grape much more like pinot gris in its spicy, often-sweet intensity unless deliberately picked early (as at Trimbach). Plus, Boxler's pinot blancs are usually decidedly off-dry; this has only the slightest hint of sweetness...more softness than sugar...though it doesn't lack the intensity and clarity this producer is regularly known for. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Chadderdon.

03 February 2006

Boston Wine Expo notes pt. 2 -- USA

Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Because of the rather large number of notes, the usual supplemental material has been eliminated; contact me if you have specific questions about a wine. Also, please keep in mind that this was a large, crowded tasting at which a certain efficiency was a necessity; these are notes based on short takes (except where noted), and not necessarily the ideal conditions in which to render definitive judgments.

Part 2 – USA

Adelaida 2004 Roussanne/Grenache Blanc The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Honey and wax gum with fatty cashews and a slightly sweet aspect. Decent.

Adelaida 2004 Viognier The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Sweet honeysuckle and apricot. Nice.

Adelaida 2003 “Rhone Style Red Wine” The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Earth, ripe plum and a touch of bubblegum with a nicely floral finish, though overall it’s fairly hot.

Adelaida 2003 Syrah “Reserve” Viking Estate (Paso Robles) – Hard leaves and perfumey blueberry blossoms. Strident.

Adelaida 2003 Syrah “Reserve” The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Fluffy, sweet blueberry syrup. Very forward, but more of a waffle topping than a wine.

Adelaida 2003 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Mt. Range HMR Estate (Paso Robles) – Strawberry and leafy aromatics in a firm, concentrated balanced package. Very nice.

Anne Amie 2004 Pinot Gris (Oregon) – Ripe pear, mostly. This is succulent and fresh, if slightly syrupy, and very modernistic and easy-drinking. No challenges, to the mind or the palate, here.

Anne Amie 2002 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Vegetal and lightly herbal, with raspberries and floral notes. Too restrained; this gives “elegance” a bad name.

l’Aventure 2002 Syrah (Paso Robles) – Blackberry, blueberry and earth with a initial shock of chocolate. This fades and smoothes while the fruit fills out, bringing with it a lovely graphite-like texture. Very, very nice wine.

l’Aventure 2002 “Optimus” (Paso Robles) – 50% syrah, 46% cabernet sauvignon, 4% zinfandel. Beautifully structured, showing lush and full-bodied plum and gorgeous graphite textures. Outstanding.

l’Aventure 2003 “Estate Cuvée” (Paso Robles) – Chocolate, tough and somewhat seedy strawberry, black cherry and blackberry in a firmer, much-less lush package than the Optimus. A bit tough at this stage, but I think it will age well.

Chatom 2004 Chardonnay (Calaveras County) – Peach sorbet. Fairly fluffy and insubstantial.

Chatom 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Calaveras County) – Grassy, with crisp melon. Clean and simple.

Chatom 2002 Syrah (Calaveras County) – Black pepper, leather and blueberry with low acidity. Good raw materials, but needs structure.

Chatom 2002 Zinfandel (Calaveras County) – Rustic wild berries (mostly micro-raspberries) with cappuccino and a nice, zingy but clean intensity. Good acidity.

Deerfield 2003 “Old Vine” Zinfandel Buchignani/Garcia Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley) – Spiced berries and light coconut; a soft and elegant zin, which doesn’t necessarily strike me as the best expression of this vineyard, but is also not unwelcome (despite the intrusive coconut).

Eberle 2004 Viognier Mill Road Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Sweet peach and honeysuckle. Why do all viognier notes come out the same? Decent enough, possibly bordering on tasty.

Eberle 2004 Zinfandel Steinbeck Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Spiced plum, coconut and big cherry aromas. A tropical, coconutty fruit bomb with some supporting structure. Did I mention the coconut? Oh yeah, twice. Well, there’s a third time. Not my style, but good in its idiom.

Eberle 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) – Balanced and structured, showing cases, black cherry, leather, thyme and the expected wash of vanilla-scented chocolate. Long, though the length is mostly tannin by the end. There’s serious aging potential here, and even some complexity.

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Moonlight Sonata” Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County) – Fig, orange and good acidity with some wood bitterness. A full-throttle but fairly well-executed chardonnay.

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Rhapsody” Sangiovese Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Spiced wood, bitter strawberry and a short, hot finish.

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Hilltop Serenade” Syrah “Reserve” Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Chewy, with weird plastic and vinyl characters dominating.

Hunt Cellars 2002 Zinfandel Outlaw Ridge “Reserve” (Paso Robles) – Heavy, thick, and sludgy with strong oak spice dominating. The finish is long, but what of it?

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Bon Vivant” Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” Destiny Vineyards Derek Heights Selection (Paso Robles) – Amazingly dense black cherry and blackberry with good acidity and a powdery tannin texture. Succulent and massively of its place.

Hunt Cellars 2000 “Cab-Ovation” Cabernet Sauvignon Destiny Vineyards Mount Christo Block (Paso Robles) – Hard, impenetrable tannin. I’d write more, see, but let’s get back to that “impenetrable” thing…

Hunt Cellars 2000 “Rhapsody” Meritage (Central Coast) – Herb-dominated, with a firm structure. Eh.

Hunt Cellars 2002 “Irresistible” Petite Sirah “Old Vines” (Paso Robles) – One of the biggest wines I’ve ever put in my mouth, fortified wines included. Blueberry liqueur, thick black chocolate, and strong, firm but balanced structure. Absolutely tooth-staining.

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Cab-Ovation” Cabernet Sauvignon Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – (Mount Christo Block as well? My notes aren’t clear.) Black cherry, plum and dark, brooding wood. Much better than the 2000.

Hunt Cellars 2002 “Hilltop Serenade” Syrah “Winemaker’s Private Reserve” Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Black dirt, blueberry and huge, thudding tannin; I might have to take back the description of the petite sirah, because this is equally over-endowed. Just a huge, huge wine.

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Zinful Delight” Zinfandel “Winemaker’s Reserve” (Paso Robles) – Great, briary blueberry fruit with a zingy finish. Fun.

Justin 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles) – Screwcap. Sugar-dusted brioche; this does a great imitation of a breakfast pastry. Wait, what’s that…?

Justin 2004 Petit Verdot (Paso Robles) – Thudding dried nut, raw bark, and chewy chocolate with a papery dryness and scalding heat.

Justin 2002 “Isosceles” (Paso Robles) – Smoked cedar and thick, bitter chocolate coffee. Ultra-dense, thick and sludgy, though obviously time will help it along.

Opolo 2004 Viognier (Central Coast) – Peach, pear and honeysuckle. Low acid with sweet fruit, but decent enough.

Opolo 2002 “Rhapsody” (Paso Robles) – Blueberry and dark earth, with loads of tannin.

Opolo 2001 Syrah (Paso Robles) – Plum and blueberry, with a sugary aspect, dense tannin, and a finish highly reminiscent of Lowland Scotch.

Opolo 2004 “Mountain” Zinfandel (Paso Robles) – Baked celery. Absolutely horrid.

Opolo 2004 “Late Harvest” Zinfandel (Paso Robles) – Concentrated berry syrup with maple drizzle.

Peachy Canyon 2004 Zinfandel “Indredible Red Bin 118” (California) – Oak, spiced chocolate and tart berries.

Peachy Canyon 2003 Zinfandel Westside (Paso Robles) – Big fruit, huge spice and sweat. Zingy.

Peachy Canyon 2003 “Jester” (Paso Robles) – Dull, soupy herb sludge with green tannins.

Peachy Canyon 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) – Blueberry-infused milk chocolate and fluffy cotton candy; simplistic, childish, and so confected it tastes off-dry (but it’s not).

Peachy Canyon 2002 “Para Siempre” (Paso Robles) – Big, with underripe berries, plum and dill-dominated structure. The finish is long, but that’s not necessarily a good thing here.

02 February 2006

Boston Wine Expo notes pt. 1 -- New Zealand

Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Because of the rather large number of notes, the usual supplemental material has been eliminated; contact me if you have specific questions about a wine. Also, please keep in mind that this was a large, crowded tasting at which a certain efficiency was a necessity; these are notes based on short takes (except where noted), and not necessarily the ideal conditions in which to render definitive judgments.

Part 1 – New Zealand

Amisfield 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Cranberry, grapefruit rind and red cherry, with a light, smooth, and balanced palate but a short finish.

Babich 2004 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Fig and white plum, showing tropical fruit with nice acid and fantastic brightness.

Babich 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and crisp, with apple and honeydew supported by great acidity. Balanced and nice.

Babich “Winemakers Reserve” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry dominates this huge fruit bomb of a sauvignon, though there’s complexing sweat and grass throughout. What makes this wine, despite the whallop of fruit, is the balance, which is very nice.

Babich 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – A shy nose, but it emerges retronasally as red plum, strawberry and red cherry supported by rich earth. It builds and fills out through the palate to a balanced, long finish. A fine effort.

Babich “Winemakers Reserve” 2004 Syrah Gimblett Road Vineyard (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy, faded blackberry and leather. Too soft and restrained, and that soupy character is never welcome.

Kim Crawford 2004 “Dry” Riesling (Marlborough) – Clean, with aluminum siding and lemongrass, but a touch soft for a riesling.

Kim Crawford 2004 Pinot Gris (Marlborough) – Very soft, with pear skin and some fennel. Too light.

Kim Crawford 2004 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Peach, ripe lemon and a sour, overly tart finish.

Kim Crawford 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Green apple sorbet and sweet yet underripe grapefruit, again with an overall tartness that’s not entirely pleasant.

Kim Crawford 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Stewed, nasty Styrofoam and ash aromas. Ick.

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe gooseberry with flecks of steel. Balanced and clean.

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2001 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – 12 months in French oak, 20% of it new. Soupy blueberry and milk chocolate with espresso oil and obtrusive green notes.

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2001 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – A second bottle of the same wine. Smoother, with more black cherry, but still strongly green-herbed and no better than OK.

Dog Point 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe gooseberry and grassy herbs with lime and green apple. Vivid and strong, yet classy.

Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Concentrated red fruit (strawberry, mostly) with lemon-lime and pink grapefruit. Extraordinarily ripe, but in a good way.

Huia 2004 Pinot Gris (Marlborough) – Lightly sweet and soft pear. Lovely, though very restrained.

Huia 2004 Gewürztraminer (Marlborough) – Vague suggestions of lychee and peach, with decent acidity. Similarly restrained.

Huia 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sweaty gooseberry and capsicum. Lighter-bodied.

Huia 2001 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Restrained and balanced, showing calimyrna fig and big acidity. Nice enough.

Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sweet pineapple, gooseberry and ripe apple. Nice, but commercial.

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Green apple dusted with sugar, gooseberry and tropical fruit that softens considerably on the finish. Dull.

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Shy on the nose, but the palate is pretty much the opposite of shy: tropical fruit (banana, mango, pineapple) with a syrupy texture at war with decent acidity. A little sticky, but tasty.

Sileni “Estate Selection” 2003 Semillon “The Circle” (Hawke’s Bay) – White pepper, sharp green apple, and armpit esters (not unusual for sémillon) with a clean, crisp and nicely long finish. Pretty good, with (albeit limited) aging potential.

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Rosé “Saignée” (New Zealand) – Red cherry and sour, sour strawberry. Yuck.

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir (Hawke’s Bay) – Not the typical source for New Zealand pinot noir, and maybe this shows why: it’s somewhat weedy and reductive and the same time, with mixed seed peppers and ashes burying mild red fruit.

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2002 Merlot/Cabernet Franc (Hawke’s Bay) – Blueberry, bell pepper and exhaust fumes. Nasty and thin.

Sileni “Estate Selection” 2004 “Late Harvest” Semillon (Hawke’s Bay) – Pleasant sweetness layered with light green apple, kiwifruit, apple skin, and ripe tangerine…and there’s just enough acid to make it work.

Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe grapefruit, white plum and smoke with very light sweetness. Solid, if predictable, and a good value.

Tohu 2003 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Gisborne) – Reductive, showing banana extract and not much else. Short and crisp, and more than a little synthetic. This is a step down for this wine.

Tohu 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – A heavy nose, full of baked plums, golden beets and citrus rind. Surprisingly present for a 2004 pinot noir, but organoleptically about the same as previous years.

01 February 2006

Nuns and raisins

Notes from a dinner, with friends and Boston Wine Expo attendees.

[Muré]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.

Expo hiatus over

Notes on the way. A minor deluge, in fact. Don't say you weren't warned.