24 January 2007

TN: Bogus, dude

[label]BeauThorey Vin de Table “Bogus” (Languedoc) – Beaujolais-like in aspect, especially given its exciting aromatics, but with a stronger, more biting structural component, and the suggestion of fruit moving a little more towards the blue-purple spectrum. It’s made from the highly unusual muscat de hambourg…a black grape. It is, frankly, a striking, compelling, and delicious wine…and seems emblematic of the delicious sort of “crank” viticulture that flourishes in rural France. Fascinating stuff. (1/07)

TN: Chigny and new

J. Lassalle Champagne Chigny-les-Roses “1er Cru” Brut Rosé (Champagne) – Heavily-yeasted berries, deep and dark, soon give way to a more complete and harmonious mélange of burnished mahogany fruit, bright berry acids, and bakery-scented earth. Absolutely delicious. (1/07)

TN: Pink goodbye

[label]Château Villerambert Julien 2005 Minervois Rosé (Languedoc) – Strawberries have morphed into raspberries with six months of age, and there’s more complexity (mostly of the leafy herbspice variety) than there was over the summer, but also a corresponding diminishment of vivacity. This is nearing the end of its useful life, but it’s been a juicy ride. (1/07)

TN: Take two Piques

Piquemal 2004 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes “Pierre Cuvée Audonnet” (Roussillon) – Concentrated blueberry and blackberry with dark, smoky leather and good, sun-baked weight. Nothing is out of balance, though it’s certainly a big wine…simple and unpretentious, but successful in its aims. And for well under $10, this is an excellent value. (1/07)

Piquemal 2004 Côtes du Roussillon (Roussillon) – A bit on the sour/soupy side, with vegetal, slightly charred red fruit and an unpleasant midpalate. Things improve on the finish, with good balance to the fore, but by then it’s just too late. (1/07)

TN: The imaginary invalid

[harvest]I&B Perraud “Côtes de la Molière” 2005 Vin de Table (Beaujolais) – A declassified (or just-out-of-the-border, or something along those lines) cru Beaujolais, showing all the characteristics of one of the heavier exemplars of that appellation: keening acid-washed fruit, grey-toned granite, fresh-plucked oyster mushroom, and the buzzing energy of a life not-yet-lived. Appealing, as so much Beaujolais is, but with depths and complexities. Great stuff. (1/07)

TN: Burgenduo

Simon Bize 2000 Bourgogne “Les Perrières” (Burgundy) – While there are decayed autumnal leaves and morels accenting the long-aged black fruit, this wine is fading underneath its vanilla-scented toast. A little oakier than I prefer, to be sure, but it’s still decent enough for a six year old Bourgogne. (1/07)

Hubert Lignier 1996 Morey-St-Denis (Burgundy) – On the downslope, though grey earth-flecked mushrooms and decaying orange flowers can be coaxed forth with careful swirling. The first few moments are the most appealing, then there’s a tired stage, and after about a half-hour (not unusual for older Burgundies), there’s a brief renaissance. Still, this was unquestionably better a few years ago. (12/06)

TN: Burgaud, no fries

[label]JM Burgaud 2005 Régnié “Vallières” (Beaujolais) – A solid, almost beefy (though lighter than that; call it “veally”?) block of red fruit and structure. There are very mild floral notes, but they’re distant and unapproachable. This is about as primary a Beaujolais as I’ve tasted, though it’s certainly in line with a lot of other 2005s. There could be great things in the offing here, but for immediate pleasure open something else. (12/06)

TN: Terroir bull

[label]Joguet 2004 Chinon “Cuvée Terroir” (Loire) – Oregano and thyme marinated in the liquid used for reconstituting dried mushrooms, mixed with dried cranberry and tart red cherry. This was one of the few European wines I bought in any quantity in 2003, and while this vintage is massively more typical, I do wonder if it’s as good; the finish is a bit abrupt, and it seems somewhat underwined and simplistic. (12/06)

TN: Durand sell

Durand “Domaine la Bastide” 2004 Vin de Pays d’Hauterive Syrah (Languedoc) – Blackberry in an almost bubbly, tingly style…the sort of thing that makes one think of carbonic maceration, though I don’t believe that was employed here…with a cracked eggshell, charred brown earth sort of minerality to it. Balanced and approachable. Apparently this is actually a Corbières, but the proprietor thinks that appellation has been so devalued that he’s declassified the wine. He may be right. It’s an exceptional sub-$10 value, though it’s not “serious” in any way. (1/07)

23 January 2007

TN: Teroldego white

[bottle]Bertagnolli Grappa di Teroldego (Trentino) – Strikingly aromatic; a full chorus of floral and fruit notes with deep, chewy basso profundo beneath and lilting counterpoints atop. Delicious. (1/07)

TN: Better red than dead

[label]Lustau Tintilla de Rota (Andalucía) – I think I’ve had this wine more often as a party trick (“hee-hee, it’s ‘red Sherry’”) (even though it’s really not) than as an actual beverage, so it’s nice to contemplate it a little more seriously. Candied red fruit – think Christmas cakes of various sorts – with a touch of tannin and a lot of tooth-abrading sweetness. It’s good in very tiny sips, but I wouldn’t want to drink much of it. Perhaps it’s better as a party trick after all. (1/07)

TN: Hey, Marcarini!

[still life]Marcarini 2005 Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont) – Yet another perfume truck crashed through the window of a florist, though in this case both are carrying a higher-quality cargo than is the norm. There’s a little bit of translucent fruit flesh underneath, but despite the aromatics and/or the fruit I’ve come to experience these wines as frothy, delightful expressions of fermented light. (1/07)

TN: Mercurey rising

de Villaine 2004 Mercurey Le Montots (Burgundy) – Variable, difficult vintage, blah, blah, blah. Here’s yet another reminder – there can never be too many – to ignore vintage charts and pay attention to the producer. This is gorgeous, succulent, elegant, beautiful Burgundy. It takes a few moments to rev the engines, but when it does they purr like pampered kittens on a fuel of soft red fruit, black trumpet mushroom and gentle, autumnal breezes graced with the faintest hint of black licorice. (1/07)

TN: Chicken Coturri

[label]Coturri 2004 Grenache Testa (Mendocino County) – Ah, the dreaded Coturri. Thankfully, there’s nothing at all wrong with this wine, except perhaps that it is ripe grenache, and tastes like fermented bubblegum. I’m no grenache-hater, but this is a one-note wine. Acid, yes, and balance as well. But still one loud, braying note of gum-popping cheerleader. I’ll pass, thanks. (1/07)

TN: Going down lagrein

Mumelter “Griesbauerhof” 2004 Lagrein (Alto Adige) – It’s light, it’s heavy, it’s light, it’s heavy. This wine pulses with a dark energy, a blood-stained metal bar reaching back for another blow to the head, then a friendly, fresh-faced basket of fruit and red, summery flowers. It’s a disturbing juxtaposition, frankly, but the wine somehow works. There’s a bit of brett, but just a complexing accent rather than a palate-wearying slathering. I’d let it age. (1/07)

TN: We are the Champigny my friends

[label]Vatan “Chateau du Hureau” 2004 Saumur-Champigny (Loire) – Sharply delineated, with crisp, blackish-purple juice studded with thyme zinging and slashing on the palate, then perhaps turning somewhat shyly remorseful as the finish gathers and rounds itself into a more coherent, cohesive whole. But it’s still a bit sharp. (1/07)

TN: Sicilian gold

COS 2004 Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Sicily) – Heady, dark fruit aromas richly redolent of Mediterranean herbs and slightly exotic North African spices roasting over an open fire. It’s a big, luscious wine that never crosses the line into ponderousness or stewed characteristics, and part of that is the smoky undertone of dark, almost charred minerality. Really, really good. (1/07)

[bottle]de Bartoli Marsala Superiore “Oro 5 Anni” Vigna La Miccia (Sicily) – Stunning. The creamiest, most delicate saltwater taffy in a lithe, utterly seductive liquid form. It kisses and caresses, then lingers to a point of almost painful beauty. Majestic. Pure. Flawless. (1/07)

TN: Oh when the grapes go Marches in

[label]Coroncino 2004 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi “Gaiospino” (Marches) – This wine has presence and style, but it also has a quite noticeable dollop of wood, and there’s just not enough other stuff to stand up to it. A little acid rears its head here, a tart melon there, a squirt of lemon spatters off the surface, but mostly this is a lightly- but over-oaked wine that just doesn’t bring much authentic pleasure. (1/07)

TN: Roussanne, you don't have to turn on the red light

[label]Texier 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème Roussanne (Rhône) – Spiced canned pear – freshly canned, not some ancient supermarket relic – and hazelnut oil with cracked clay desiccating in the sun. It appears fat, and yet somehow the weight seems more a matter of bulky clothing than blowsy opulence; there’s a honed quality that survives despite a much lower acidity than the majority of the whites I drink. Perhaps it’s higher than normal for roussanne due to the Brézème terroir? Well, whatever the case, it’s a delicious wine. (1/07)

TN: Premier league

[logo]Roederer Champagne “Brut Premier” (Champagne) – Heavy on the brioche, setting a sort of dark brown mood. Traces of lusty red and orange fruit linger in the background, slightly timid in the presence of such dominant pastry. A good, if particular, Champagne. (1/07)

TN: Big Bossard

Bossard 2005 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” (Loire) – Oyster shell and seawater with a strong quartz/grass component. Solid and sharp. (1/07)

Bossard-Thuaud Mousseux (Loire) – Seltzer and liquid granite, but only in the presence of food; it’s an airy froth by itself. With a culinary partner, it dances and sings…boisterous sea shanties, pretty soprano arias, even a little jig, or perhaps a frenetic Irish reel. Marvelous, laughter-inducing bubbly. (1/07)

TN: Angel of the evening

[barrels]Lustau “Almacenista” Oloroso Sherry “Angel Zamorano” (Andalucía) – Restrained, whole-spice-box dust with concentrated burnt-nut tones and a moderate, but persistent, sweetness. Like oloroso through gauze, almost. It’s lovely and very easy to drink, but at this price I’d expect something a little more striking. Something with a little more verve. (1/07)

TN: Higher ground

Piñol “Sacra Natura” 2005 Terra Alta (Cataluña) – Big, loud wine, full of flavor, ripe tannin and satin-textured earth, but with certain educated delicacies underneath the volume. Fruit tends towards the black and sun-drenched, with concentrated berries dominating. This is a very summery wine that probably works better in the chill of the winter, with a surprising bit of equilibrium to match. (1/07)

TN: Evergreen

Luzon Verde 2005 Jumilla (Levant) – Big, obvious berries in a soup-like presentation, with some thudding, ponderous subwoofing overwhelming whatever elegance or structure is attempting to emerge. There’s enough earthy baritone that there’s at least a minor chance things will improve with age, but right now this is clumsy and highly unpromising, though it will probably appeal to lovers of wines in this style…of which there is certainly no lack these days. (12/06)

TN: Acid reign

[bottle]El Grifo 2002 Malvasía “Dulce” (Lanzarote) – Pure volatile acidity. Something less than fun went on inside this bottle. (12/06)

TN: Olivares, together

Olivares “Altos de la Hoya” 2003 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – Corked. (12/06)

Olivares “Altos de la Hoya” 2003 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – Thick and featureless at first uncorking, but eventually unclenching and releasing dark, earth-mother aromatics and sun-roasted blackberry residue. It’s tannic (though not abrasively so), it’s thick (though not sludgy, considering what it is and the vintage), and it’s fairly ponderous…more fun (eventually) to smell than to drink. Still, time will probably help this wine. It couldn’t hurt, anyway. (12/06)

TN: Uno mas

[bottle & glass]Cartier “mas de gourgonnier” 2005 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Blanc (Provence) – Golden fields of grass in a long-remembered countryside, with grandma and grandpa at the front door offering you a glass of lemonade and a warm hug. Rural, golden-tinged raisin and almond oil with lightening acidity and a fresh, smiling, friendly appeal that goes far beyond its organoleptic qualities (which are not inconsiderable). Soul-embracing wine. Not “great.” But perfectly good. (1/07)

Cartier “mas de gourgonnier” 2004 Les Baux de Provence Rouge (Provence) – Flat, somewhat beaten-down berry dust with a wooly, powdery texture. This wine struggles, but fails to break free, and while it appears large-shouldered at first sniff, it turns out to be rather a wuss in the glass. Flaw-free, but disappointing. (1/07)

TN: Pic two

[label]Cavalier “Château de Lascaux” 2004 Côteaux du Languedoc (Languedoc) – Good, basic Languedoc flavors – fire-roasted dark berry, earth, mushroom and herb – muted and somewhat indistinct, but pleasurable and direct nonetheless. Think of it as really high-quality cooperative wine, though of course it’s not. More relevantly, this is a fairly large step down from the much better Pic Saint-Loup, and I’m not sure the reduced cost is proportional enough to warrant the downgrade. There’s nothing wrong here, but… (12/06)

Cavalier “Château de Lascaux” 2001 Pic Saint-Loup “Les Nobles Pierres” (Languedoc) – A lip-smacking blend of southern Frenchness – ripe, slightly roasted black fruit, black-earth mushroom, wind-dried herbs, underbrush and dustings of peppercorn. Structured, balanced and delicious. (12/06)

TN: Sancerre seconds

JP Balland 2001 Sancerre (Loire) – Mature, showing grass and crystallized limestone aromas and a pleasant, medium-high acid structure. This sits in the glass all shy and delicate, but in response to food it wrestles and amplifies until it’s quite a substantial beverage. Drink up, for sure, but this is a fine middle-of-the-road Sancerre in the prime of its adulthood. (12/06)

JP Balland 2003 Sancerre (Loire) – Sludgy, thick gooseberry and saccharine (not to imply the wine’s sweet; it’s a textural thing). The flavors are there, but nothing else that differentiates wine from de-acidified fruit juice is, and in the glass it just sits there, overweight and lifeless. This is the very definition of a “dead fruit” wine. (12/06)

20 January 2007

TN: Water & fire (New Zealand, pt. 39)

[Hooker Valley](The original version, with more photos, is here.)


Some things are worth getting up early for. Unfortunately, this breakfast isn’t one of them. In a country that seems to pride itself on hearty, satisfying breakfasts, the exceedingly pathetic few bites served in the cramped quarters of the coffee shop at The Hermitage don’t serve to fortify us for much of anything, let alone the major hiking we intend to do this morning.

Alas, the weather is no more on our side than the breakfast. Clouds continue to obscure our view of Aoraki Mt. Cook (and nearby Mt. Sefton), and the threat of rain continues to loom. However, we’re not here long enough to wait out the weather, which could be even worse later, and so hike we must. Outside the hotel, a statue of New Zealand’s most famous son, Edmund Hillary, points the way. Or at least, we think he does; right now, he’s pointing to a fluffy pile of low-hanging clouds.

A glacial escort

That the Hooker Valley is glacial isn’t something one needs to know in advance. The evidence is all around: carved-out channels, churned-up and deposited boulders of impressive size, remnant shards of ice towering over frigid ponds, and a shockingly cold river. On a good day, the retreating glacier itself can be seen, a twisted rivulet of ice and snow against the slopes of Aoraki. However, this is not “a good day,” and while visibility allows occasional glimpses of Aoraki’s lower half, even that is shrouded in a crystalline mist.

And yet, there’s a persistent (if occasionally harsh) beauty to the landscape. Some of it is rent and torn, leaving ashen piles of Mordor-esque slag surrounding chalky, turquoise-white pools. Some of it is vertical, with brown and grey slopes giving way to fresh, gleaming whiteness. Some of it is watery, with bubbling creeks turning to slashing rapids, then back again. And some of it is even green…low-slung against the wind, ungenerous and thorny and even a bit mean, but green nonetheless. Overall, it is a testament to the powerful, inexorable force of nature, which pulls and tears and lashes this land with its strongest weapons, but nurtures life in its wake.

Despite the dubious weather, the valley is a joy to hike. A bush-sheltered path becomes rocky steps, then wind-cut stone outcroppings, then a careful descent into hopeless grey pits that emerge stream-side. The gentle slush of the river crescendos, precipitously dropping away to leave one dangling on a swaying, unsteady swingbridge, then pinning long lines of carefully-stepping hikers against a sheer cliff face, clinging to ropes and rods hammered into the rock and protected from fatal rockfalls by only a net and a prayer. Later, it’s a painstakingly-constructed footpath winding through a chilly marsh, occasionally pausing to let the visitor ford their own unique crossing over creek-smoothed stones. A careless step will plunge their foot into the searing, icy pain of the slow-moving glacial runoff.

It is, in other words, an absolute blast.

Unfortunately, it is not the only blast this morning. The gentle, chill breezes of morning freshen, picking up icier temperatures from higher in the Southern Alps, then bringing with them a persistent rain. As the valley rounds a bend, heading straight for the glacial terminus (and Aoraki above it), their force doubles, then trebles. The wind goes right through our protective gear, while the rain becomes a constant stab of frozen needles against the tiniest bit of exposed skin. Theresa looks up at me, the message clear in her eyes. Even though we’re almost all the way to our destination, there’s simply no way we can continue.

As if to punctuate this point, the roar of wind and water grows into the rhythmic thrumming of a low-flying helicopter, fleeing the tumult in an aborted attempt to ferry unlucky tourists somewhere atop the glacier, and careening madly back and forth as it is buffeted by the swirling gale.

We turn back.

In the warm comfort of our chalet, we nurse our wounds and dry our clothes. Our break quickly becomes lunch, and lunch in turn becomes an indulgent nap. Though there’s time for a quick beer in the interim.

BannockBrew “Wild Spaniard” Best Bitter (Central Otago) – Another brewed offering from Akarua, straightforward but good in a very English way. Yeasty and hoppy, with a clean, dry aftertaste and good balance. Nice.

Stealing a peak

Re-awakening in the late afternoon, we find exterior matters have improved. The key sights are still shrouded in clouds, but the sun that bathes the far end of Lake Pukaki has now reached us…though given the late hour, it shines the majority of its warming gaze on high mountain slopes. The rain has stopped. It’s time for another hike.

A few minutes’ drive away is a haphazard pile of rocks, which has somehow been organized into an arduous “staircase.” This is the beginning of the Tasman Glacier walk, a long slog through the striking, pitted remains of glacial retreat (though one pockmarked by both beautiful, crystalline-emerald lakes and desolate, icy pools of milky mint green), and though we won’t do more than five percent of it, the glacier itself isn’t our goal. We’ve noticed that the clouds that block our views along the Hooker Valley don’t seem to be in evidence above the Tasman River. Since Aoraki Mt. Cook rises between these two valleys, we hope to be able to steal a glimpse from the other side. And, at the top of the climb, our guess is rewarded.

Sort of.

We do, indeed, get to see the unmistakable tripartite peak of Mt. Cook. It gleams pristine white-blue in the low-angled sun, a whipped-cream curl of cloud clinging to its windy precipice. But the view is a fleeting one, with lower-hanging mists moving in and out of the picture…and, finally, obscuring our vista. We leave, generally satisfied, and head back to the village.

Signal flare

The only food-service operation in Mt. Cook Village that isn’t run by The Hermitage is fairly new, but it’s superior to everything at the main hotel except for the upscale Panorama restaurant. It’s The Old Mountaineers’ Café, Bar & Restaurant, with a spectacular view of the (still-shrouded) mountainscape, very good basic fare, and one of the cheaper internet access options in the village. It’s the latter that actually brings us here, but we end up staying for a while, enjoying both a break from the main hotel’s “hostage” dining concept and a quick bite along the way: a delicious bowl of tomato soup with smoked salmon that warms both the body and the spirit. I settle back with an enormous “jug” of Mac’s Black and stare out the window, reflecting on a difficult but ultimately quite satisfying day. Suddenly, I’m rewarded as the clouds momentarily part, revealing the very top of Aoraki lit up like a torch. The peak gleams in reddish-orange fire, sputters, and then – as the sun dips behind some distant barrier – flames out. It’s an inspiring sight.

Back at the chalet, we graze on leftovers and – at long last – some wine.

Springvale Estate 2002 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Creamy peach and butter replace the oak influence here, but the dominant characteristic is thick citrus fruit. The wine’s dense at the core, lighter around the edges, and very guzzle-riffic, though I can’t imagine it will age.

We’re exhausted but happy…and yet, a bit melancholy, for tomorrow signals the slow denouement of our New Zealand journey. We passed the halfway point a while ago, but other than a brief stopover north of Christchurch, there’s only one destination left. Leaving’s going to be hard.

18 January 2007

TN: Back the 80s, part deux (Paris/Alsace, pt. 1)

[Cognac](The original version is here.)

To save time and speed up posting – always a good thing with me – this “travelogue” is presented in short form, like the recurring California reports. In any case, there’s a lot of wine to notate when this gets around to Alsace, so I doubt people will miss the length…or, for that matter, the narrative.

25 March 2006 – Thionville, France

Air France – Back on the road again, exactly 364 days after returning from our truly epic 2005 New Zealand journey. Has it really been that long? I’m strangely unexcited and unprepared, but manage to get myself to the airport nonetheless. The plane is reasonably comfortable (maybe a slight notch down from, say, British Airways), and the food is quite decent for steerage: salmon couscous salad, tortellini, braised beef, chocolate pastry…though for breakfast, a lame croissant. They’re stingy with the wine – an apéritif portion is offered, but no refill – though it hardly matters all that much, given the low quality on offer.

Castel 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc “Cuvée Réservée” Chardonnay/Viognier (Languedoc) – Juicy melon and tropical fruit. Thick but not unpleasant; “inoffensive” is the perfect descriptor. There’s absolutely no finish, though. My mineral water has more finish than this wine. Where’d it go?

Even though we arrive at the “nice” terminal at CDG/Roissy, it’s still a pit…this is absolutely one of the worst airports anywhere in the developed world. I nearly fall asleep behind the wheel of our rental on the long, boring autoroute to Thionville, but manage to get us there alive.

Bruno & Patricia Fratini’s house – Patricia’s an old friend from way back, Bruno’s her guy. They’re newly (re-)married after a long partnership, and seem blissfully happy. Better yet, Patricia’s an excellent cook, and Bruno – while not reaching my level of obsession (who could?) – enjoys and collects a little bit of wine. We’re headed for a nap, but Patricia won’t hear of it without stuffing us with an (excellent) Reblochon tartiflette, salad, fruit and some wine.

Jean Dupont 1998 Auxey-Duresses (Burgundy) – Fully à point with bricking well into the core, showing autumnal forest floor and a little baked cherry pie spice. Light-bodied. This wine reminds me of a sweet old grandmother pottering around her tiny kitchen, trying to fix her unexpected guests a little snack.

Post-nap and post-shower, old friends start showing up and soon we’ve got a full house. Mere hours after our last meal, it’s: salmon Wellington, asparagus with an excellent béchamel, homemade gemelli with a long-cooked meat ragù, salad, cheese, more cheese, fruit, and cake made by someone’s pastry chef brother. It’s a hell of a lot of food, but it is France, and somehow it all seems to get eaten.

Ogereau 2002 Coteaux du Layon St-Lambert (Loire) – Honeyed wax, chalk and honeysuckle; pure and beautiful, though not showing much in the way of complexity. It might come, however, as this is still very young.

Jean Dupont 1998 Meursault (Burgundy) – Raw peanut oil, light melon rind and a faintly spicy note, with elements of nutty bitterness marking the finish. Struggling, but failing, to rise above disappointment.

Carbonnieux 2003 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux) – Full-fruited in a Napa vein (blackberry and black cherry, ripe and fat), with gorgeously textured tannin, graphite, very little acidity and a smooth finish. It’s a very appealing wine, at a purely hedonistic level. I don’t know how anyone could identify it as Bordeaux, but maybe this producer doesn’t care about that anymore.

Gérard Roy Cognac Fine Champagne XO (Southwest France) – Sweet and almost fruity, showing dried Rainier cherries and hazelnuts. The aromatics are just beautiful, though the palate is a bit strident.

Postprandial entertainment is a little on the absurd side, with live shows from Francis Cabrel, Led Zeppelin, Toto, Genesis and the Scorpions on a giant projection screen, and everybody (phonetically) singing along to power ballad after power ballad. Are we actually in France? It would appear so.

TN: Falling into everywhere (California, pt. 11)

[Yosemite Falls base](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

28 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

Mist Trail, Vernal Falls, John Muir Trail – The most popular hike in Yosemite, we’re told. It’s easy to see why, though the track is more popular in theory than in practice, as the lower elevations littered with the defeated demonstrate. Especially in the spring, a good soaking is promised, and a good soaking is delivered. What’s even more fun than the ascent, however, is looping back down via the end of the John Muir Trail, which provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley and Falls. Lunch – on a picnic table with nature all around – has rarely been devoured as quickly.

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Mixed red berries and plums with hints of graphite. Ripe and full-fruited, yet pretty. It’s a little on the heavy side, but then that’s hardly unusual for domestic pinot. Pleasant.

Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall – The eerie (and wet) moonscape of Yosemite Falls in full spring torrent is something to behold, but so is the drenching soak of the impossible approach to Bridalveil Fall. If you’ve ever wanted to get saturated without leaving “dry” land, this is the way.

The Ahwahnee Bar – The décor of this hotel lives up to the hype, though the combo Indian/medieval theme is a little jarring at first. The bar, however, is somewhat dreary…and the prices are wearying.

Bakers 7 Year Bourbon – Sweet peach and brown sugar. A little too obvious.

Dinner back at Yosemite West is a selection of sausages from a Ferry Plaza butcher – duck & pork, wild boar & beer, and veal with spinach – plus asparagus in a Meyer lemon dressing. This food needs a wine with some bite, and we’ve got just the thing.

Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado) – Crisp raspberry acidity spiked with strawberry seeds (that add both their fruit and their bitterness) with very slightly green tannin. It’s long and intense, however, and really sings with food. What is isn’t is completely ready; a few more years might help calm matters down.

17 January 2007

TN: Engel weiss

[vineyard]F. Engel 2002 Pinot Gris “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Spiced, mineral-infused pear – the classic and highly appealing profile of Alsatian pinot gris – with good acidity and a candied hazelnut finish. Very tasty. I don’t think age will hurt this wine, but I think what’s good about it now is more worthwhile that what will be good about it in a half-dozen years. Anyway, that’s my preference. (12/06)

TN: Kientzler instinct

Kientzler 2001 Pinot Gris Ribeauvillé “Réserve Particulière” (Alsace) – This domaine is building a reputation as one of the most reliable dry wine producers in Alsace, perhaps second only to their near-neighbors at Trimbach. Here, for example, is a pinot gris with acidity, nerve and metallic-edged sharp pear that long-time drinkers might remember as more of the norm than the exception; it’s got the structure to age, and the stuffing is actual dry extract rather than sultry pear syrup. Finely poised and eminently drinkable. Pinot gris is probably the least of the “noble” grapes of Alsace (and often less interesting than the region’s ubiquitous pinot blanc/auxerrois blends), yet this wine demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be. (12/06)

TN: Sparring partner

[label]Sparr 2005 Riesling (Alsace) – Fairly classic, with steely minerality underneath crisp apples shot through with metallic shards. There’s a very light dollop of sweetness on the midpalate, but the finish is balanced and structured enough to handle it. Good, bargain riesling in the stronger Alsace style. (1/07)

TN: Gewurz gewurz

Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Balanced but closed, with firm acidity and a core of molten aluminum surrounded by peach pit, cashew, pork rind and bitter lychee. Structured and pure, with any residual sugar dominated by other elements, and due for a big comeback in a few years. (12/06)

Trimbach 2003 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – It looks like gewürztraminer. It smells like gewürztraminer (albeit through gauze). It tastes like gewürztraminer paste. Another victim of 2003. (12/06)

TN: The old hunter

[vineyard]Zusslin 2004 Chasselas “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Thin, spiced water being pushed through a micropore filter. What aromas there are ooze out, rather than burst forth, and while there’s a nice metallic edge, the whole thing is a rather big letdown. It’s not indifferent – which far too much chasselas is – it’s just not very good. (1/07)

TN: Riesling riesling

Dönnhoff 2002 Riesling 3 03 (Nahe) – Simple, showing apple-dominated acidity and various metals, but in a crude, unhewn form. The acidity and the sugar don’t blend well here, and the wine’s a little strident (it’s not substantial enough to be overbearing). (12/06)

Studert-Prüm 2004 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 13 05 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Leafy-floral and light, with mineral dust, drying acidity and intense but limited sweetness filling in the corners. It seems a little obvious now, but there’s more delicate complexity here than I think the wine’s callow youth will admit. Let it age a while. (12/06)

TN: Classic

[logo]Fèlsina “Berardenga” 2000 Chianti Classico “Riserva” (Tuscany) – Tightening and closing. Strawberry and a rough, grey-toned earth with raspberry-leaf acidity are lent substance by a long, lingering finish that darts and swirls, not quite alighting. There’s more here, but I think one will have to wait for it. (12/06)

TN: Under the Tuscan San

Podere Canneta 2005 Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany) – Intensely fresh, like green apples from a seaside tree, eaten while still attached to the tree. There’s a saltiness to the acidity, and the wine is vividly focused and sharp throughout. Very, very good. (1/07)

TN: Hima stat

Flerianos “Hima” 2003 Agiorgitiko (Peloponnesos) – Diluted, overroasted juice with some wan black fruit and very slight oxidation. With about 48 hours of air, the corners fill out a bit, bringing more black fruit into play…but the overroasting remains dominant. It almost tastes like oak, though the wine is unoaked. Avoid. (1/07)

Flerianos “Hima” 2005 Savatiano/Roditis (Central Greece) – Mild fun. A fresh fruit basket, heavy with green apples and green plums (but not forgetting riper tropical fruit), but lacking more than a modicum of acid. Thus, it just sort of sits there, waiting for something. It’s certainly not unappealing, but it won’t hold said appeal once it has it. At least, not for long. As I said: mild fun. (1/07)

16 January 2007

TN: Threenot noir

[grapes]Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2005 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 5.1” (Santa Barbara County) – A separated wine, with zippy strawberry and raspberry, clingy acidity, and a light, scraping tanning all sitting in their corners glaring at each other. It’s got a picnic-style appeal, but doesn’t bear close scrutiny. (12/06)

Evesham Wood 2004 Pinot Noir Seven Springs “En Dessous” (Willamette Valley) – Difficult at first, showing thick, almost brooding fruit under a smooth wave of tannin. With an hour or so of air, complexities emerge from the murk, and the wine picks up an earth-floral component – still in the tone of brown, but with promise and possibility for the future. The finish is long and, eventually, elegant. There’s nothing but upside here. (12/06)

[label]Dog Point 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Concentrated plums in the key of jam, with little shreds of orange, walnut and beet zest. Call it a Midwestern Jello “salad,” of sorts…except that it’s much better than that. All the elements are in balance, and the package is unquestionably tasty, but the wine is a little on the monotone side, and eventually grows slightly tiresome. A persistent, nagging weight problem doesn’t help this. (12/06)

TN: Turning the Tablas

[bottle]Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Elegant and seemingly fully mature (though it would be a somewhat surprisingly early exit for this wine), showing blended nut oils with sun-desiccated flower and herb characteristics. It seems fat, then scratchy, then faded…it’s a little hard to figure this bottle out, and one immediately wonders if there might not be some very low-level taint or mild oxidation at work – but under the layers of difficulty there’s enough spicy, low-acid complexity to make it worth the effort. (12/06)

TN: Whites in triplicate

[label]St. Innocent 2005 Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill (Willamette Valley) – Striking green grape and zingy, underripe apricot with fresh-cut grass and spiky acidity. It’s got a nice, clean, pure appeal, but it carries too much alcoholic heat, and as a result loses most of its claim to freshness and approachability. (12/06)

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Green fruit and herbal sodas with a shattered crystalline minerality, dustings of sea salt, and a lot of exciting, almost frothy complexity along a sharp, clean finish. This is fantastic sauvignon blanc, individualistic and nervy, with structure to spare. (12/06)

[label]Hendry 2005 Chardonnay “Unoaked” (Napa Valley) – Friendly peach, grapefruit, ripe lemon curd and apple. Deliciously appealing, and there’s plenty of bright, balancing acidity as well. Despite a well-justified fear of aging any unoaked chardonnay that isn’t from Chablis, I’d consider holding on to this just to see what happens…but then again, it’s awfully nice now. (12/06)

TN: 41 bottles of red on the wall

Marietta “Old Vine Red” 41 (California) – Every year, this wine disappears further into its own shadow. This version is fading to transparency (and I don’t mean visually), showing anonymous spicy fruit underneath somewhat strident oak…not that much of that latter, but more than enough to subdue aught else. Not only is this no longer the value it once was, I’m not even sure it’s recommendable as a bargain quaffer anymore. Let’s see what the next release brings. (1/06)

Benoni 2002 Syrah “Three Vineyards” (Napa Valley) – Simple plum-berry aromas with a little bit of water-soaked leather and a good deal of dry, papery tannin. Good old Napa, doing to syrah what it does to zin: drying it out. (12/06)

TN: Diamond in the Outback

[bottle]Rosemount Estate “Diamond Label” 2004 Riesling (South Eastern Australia) – This is mega-corporate wine. This is also quite good within that paradigm, and completely decent without it. Green apple and grape with the usual piercing, slightly overdriven acidity (perhaps all the acid lacked by so many other Aussie wines ends up in the rieslings) will brace and cleanse just about any food, no matter how biting. There’s not much of a finish, but then one hardly expects such things from titanic industrial winemaking. The bottom line: this is as solid a supermarket buy as you’ll find these days. (12/06)