26 February 2007

TN: Judge and Jura (BWE notes)

[vineyard]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 2001 Côtes du Jura “Corail” (Jura) – Pinot noir, trousseau, poulsard, chardonnay and savagnin. Mixed old apples, and slightly stale nuts with long, terrific acid-based structure. There’s a sensation of old furniture to which a patina of polish has been applied. Lovely and soft, despite the acidity. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 2001 Côtes du Jura Rouge (Jura) – 100% pinot noir. Raspberry and roses (both fresh and older, somewhat decayed versions) with dead cider aromas and nuts. Strongly-expressed, but perhaps pursued a little farther down its particular organoleptic road than I can easily follow. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 2003 Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “à la Reine” (Jura) – Pure white and grey rocks with salt, showing bigger but unidentifiable fruit in the forepalate. This is a vin de terroir much more than it is a chardonnay. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 2000 Côtes du Jura Blanc (Jura) – Chardonnay and savagnin. Hazelnut and golden raisin with a peanut vinegar note. It sounds bizarre, but it’s a frankly delicious wine, complex and long. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 1998 Côtes du Jura Vin Jaune (Jura) – 100% savagnin. Big and complex, showing apricot, banana skin, wet salt, and huge acidity. The length is incredible. There’s a faint aura of must, but more that of the ancient wine cellar than anything deleterious. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 2000 Vin de Paille (Jura) – Trousseau, poulsard, chardonnay and savagnin, denied the appellation due to atypicity (“too much cinnamon” or some such nonsense). Lemongrass, hazelnut…and yes, cinnamon…with elegant softness. It arrives with gentility, and is then carried away on a light spring breeze. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” 1999 Côtes du Jura Vin de Paille (Jura) – Trousseau, poulsard, chardonnay and savagnin. Sweet white plum, blood orange rind, apricot and soft caramel…a thickness that carries through to the texture. This is more direct than the 2000, and perhaps simpler as well. But they are both delicious wines. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” Macvin du Jura Rouge (Jura) – 100% pinot noir. The sharp bite of the maquis, needled and herbal, dominates this pointed brew that rests on an undertone of fermented old straw. The finish is long and surprisingly soft, with oranges and sweet wood ear mushrooms emergent. Fabulous…but not quite as good as the blanc. (2/07)

Laguiche “Château d’Arlay” Macvin du Jura Blanc (Jura) – Chardonnay and savagnin. More pure than the rouge, showing white candy and white chocolate with praline and nougat. Incredibly complex, this expands and shifts on the palate, dancing and weaving away from each attempt to pin it down. A stunning performance. (2/07)

24 February 2007

TN: Goudie bag

[vineyard]Parcé Frères “Domaine de La Rectorie” 2005 Collioure Rosé “La Goudie” (Roussillon) – Cranky at uncorking, but eventually all the beautiful qualities emerge: very ripe red cherries and strawberry-infused vinegar, tarragon and lavender, a dry, stony foundation with spikes and points, and a balanced, pure finish that imposes upon the palate. This is rosé as ambitious red wine, and it works. It’s not light by any means, but rather a serious, complex transcendence of the form. (2/07)

TN: Ubac to where you once belonged

[vineyardl]BeauThorey Vin de Table “Ubac” (Languedoc) – Quite acidic, with a grating drone of tannin nailing a rigid spike through an otherwise crisp, light-minded burst of first-pick red berries and wild herbs, plus a shower of fine grey dust reminiscent of dry lead. This, like the other BeauThorey wines, is a middle finger to modern winemaking convention, and all the better for it; something that will drive university-trained oenologists to hair-tearing fits, but has unmistakable charms for vinous adventurers. It needs (light) food. (2/07)

TN: Aye, Matys

[bottle]Diemersdal 2004 “Matys” (Durbanville) – 28% merlot, 26% pinotage, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 20% shiraz. Every grape appears to contribute to this blend, which is a rarity, especially among New World-style wines. There’s a mélange of lightly-spiced red fruit under a summer sun, rivulets of more concentrated blueberry, a leathery texture that reveals some thyme, ripe-raspberry acidity, and a lithe structure carrying a stick of cinnamon/nutmeg oak incense. I don’t mean to oversell this wine, because it’s not really more than a pleasant afternoon sipper; a wine for drinking while the steaks are on the grill, rather than while they’re in the dining room. But there’s something to be said for a bottle that embraces its aspirations, and I think this is one. (2/07)

TN: Lodi, lordy

[bottle]Ravenswood 2004 “Old Vine” Zinfandel (Lodi) – 14.5%. Butter (real and artificial), oak squeezings, and overroasted cherry cough syrup fruit…this wine bears the hallmarks of heat damage. In my opinion and based on long experience, the likely culprit is the store: Cambridge Wine & Spirits (formerly Mall Discount Liquors) in Cambridge, MA, which has an unfortunate history in this regard. (2/07)

TN: Ça, c'est curieux...

[bottle]Allagash “Curieux” (Maine) – June 2006 bottling, aged in oak barrels previously employed for the production of bourbon. This is a strong (11%) alcohol beer, and it wears on the palate to little salutary effect. There’s a very minor bit of actual ale flavor buried under a monotone din of raw and toasted wood, alcohol, and general dreariness, and the overall impression is one of extreme boredom. (2/07)

TN: The rock

[bottle]St. Peter’s Old-Style Porter (UK) – Seems lighter than it is, with a fine blend of burnt cappuccino/chocolate flavors, some bitterness, and sun-warmed, recently-harvested wheat and hay. Quite persistent. It seems lighter than it might be, but maybe my expectations are off. (2/07)

TN: Rhône & other Southern France (BWE notes)

[st-joseph]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

(Unless otherwise noted, the wines are red.)

Guigal 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc (Rhône) – Very shy but clean, showing stone fruit and cement. Too light, despite the road-building material. (2/07)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2006 Lirac Blanc (Rhône) – Flowers and freshly-cut apricot and peach. Pretty. There’s something so appealing about fresh, fruity and young white Rhônes. It’s only later that they become controversial. (2/07)

Guigal 2005 Condrieu (Rhône) – Floral (of course), in that intensely aromatic way that makes partisans and enemies in equal measure. Honey-drizzled nuts (though the wine is quite dry), spice, and a lightly drying skin tone. Nice. (2/07)

Guigal 2001 Ermitage (Hermitage) Blanc “Ex Voto” (Rhône) – One of the single most disgusting things I’ve ever put in my mouth (other than bacteriological disasters), with the nastiest possible raw wood and dill comprising the pathetic whole of this dreck. This is horrid. This is absolute crap. This is a macabre parody of liquid evil. This is an abomination against good taste. This wine should be destroyed for the good of the planet. I didn’t care for it. (2/07)

Guigal 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé (Rhône) – Raspberry, bubblegum and pink peppercorns. This is nicely balanced. (2/07)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Tavel (Rhône) – Strawberry bubblegum pie (if one can imagine such a thing) with a sugary feeling to the palate and finish. Just a little too desserty for its own good. (2/07)

Avril Vin de Table “Le petit vin d’Avril” (France) – Sharp, direct raspberry. Acidic and short. This is a wine I want to like, but even its desperate cry for food might not bring it back into balance. (2/07)

Dorthe “Domaine de Couron” 2005 Vin de Pays des Côteaux de l’Ardèche “Marselan” (Ardèche) – Very aromatic, showing big flowers and boisterous raspberry blossoms. Nice. While there’s some structure, this is mostly about fun. (2/07)

Diffonty “Domaine de Brès Caseneuve” 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc (Languedoc) – Dark plum, black licorice and bubblegum. Rough but balanced, with a bit of sourness that somehow seems oak-derived. This has a future, but I worry about that sour note. (2/07)

Decouvertes & Selections “Domaine des Rozets” 2004 Côteaux du Tricastin (Rhône) – Gentle strawberry, raspberry and light bubblegum with a short, countrified finish. Eh. (2/07)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Plum, bubblegum, leather and a drying anise quality that coarsens into a brutish finish. It will probably improve with a little age, however. (2/07)

Guigal 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Fresh strawberry and red cherry. Very upfront, yet there’s a little bit of structure as well. A fair value wine. (2/07)

Guigal 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Tannic and hard. There’s a little softening in the midpalate, but this is a perfect exemple of the vintage’s too-common flaw. (2/07)

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Sour cherry and dill, with some other herbs floating around in the background. Next. (2/07)

Dorthe “Domaine de Couron” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Strawberry and sand with a light structure. There’s a lot of minerality bubbling underneath, here. Not bad. (2/07)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Rhône) – A gorgeous nose, full of sweetly rich, ripe red/purple fruit. However, it falls completely apart after that, leaving a dry, dead palate and hard finish. Very disappointing. (2/07)

Lafond 2004 Lirac “La Ferme Romaine” (Rhône) – Soft at the edges, but with a core of plum, blueberry syrup, raspberry liqueur and strongly floral notes. Thick coffee and vanilla round out the finish. It’s good, though it grows increasingly internationalized as it persists, and I suspect the temptation to smooth it out with new oak is one that might better have been limited. (2/07)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2004 Lirac (Rhône) – Big black coffee and plum with raspberry liqueur. This is obviously a “lesser” wine than the Ferme Romaine, and yet I think it’s both better and has a more promising future. (2/07)

Guigal 2004 Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône) – Thing and insubstantial, showing faded leather and little else. (2/07)

Guigal 2003 St-Joseph (Rhône) – Blackberry and some vegetal notes. Simultaneously light and hard, which is not the most pleasant combination. (2/07)

Stehelin 2004 Gigondas (Rhône) – Heavy and strong, with black earth, asphalt and thick, licorice-like fruit running from dark purple to black. Structured and pure, and very, very impressive. Lovers of sheer size above all else will want to drink it now, but everyone else should let it age. (2/07)

Guigal 2003 Gigondas (Rhône) – A great nose of strawberry seed, licorice and dark earth. It’s massively, overwhelmingly tannic (no surprise), with a hard, drying finish. Almost… (2/07)

Guigal 2003 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Rough and hard, with tannin running roughshod over strawberry seed and horse-scented leather. Not bad, considering the challenges, but not that great either. (2/07)

Guigal 2001 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Soft and acrid, with better-constituted elements drawn forth on the finish: graphite and asphalt. I suspect this might be somewhat closed, but I also think it might be fundamentally frayed. (2/07)

Guigal “Château d’Ampuis” 2003 Côte-Rôtie (Rhône) – Big, ripe black fruit and herbs with an earthy, mixed-nut underbelly. Despite the size, there’s an appealing softness and unquestionable balance here. A very good wine. (2/07)

Guigal 2001 Hermitage (Rhône) – Structured graphite with a fierce aspect…yet there’s balance, albeit the wine is just edging towards acid-dominance, with atypical raspberry and red apple apparent on the finish. An odd wine. Perhaps partially closed? (2/07)

23 February 2007

TN: Châteauneuf-du-Pape (BWE notes)

[vineyard stones]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

As a generalization, the 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Papes tasted here are fruit-forward but balanced, bringing out the strawberry bubblegum character of grenache over other typical characteristics of the appellation, though perhaps at the expense of youthful complexity. This is not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with the wines, just that they’re showing in a very particular way right now. I’m not sure anything more specific or useful can be said at this stage and from this limited sample.

(Unless otherwise noted, the wines are red.)

Moulin-Tacussel 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Balanced stone fruit (apricot & peach) with pineapple, melon and a clean finish. Excellent in a fruit-dominated style. (2/07)

Baron le Roy de Boiseaumarié “Château Fortia” 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Slightly skunky, showing sour banana and slightly rotten pineapple. A very, very strange wine. (2/07)

Mestre “Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Fresh fruit salad (mostly melon) drizzled with honey. Very pretty. (2/07)

Diffonty “Cuvée du Vatican” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Dense, hard and short, with strawberry and earth. Solid but bitter on the finish. (2/07)

Diffonty “Cuvée du Vatican” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Réserve Sixtine” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Rounder than the normale, with strawberry and burnt walnut dominated, but also a lot of sour dill infusing the mix. (2/07)

[grenache]Hillaire “Domaine des Relagnes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Clean and pure, with strawberry bubblegum to the fore. Light but nice, though I’m not quite sure it rises to the level of a CdP. (2/07)

Hillaire “Domaine des Relagnes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Les Petits Pied d’Armand” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Very aromatic and floral, with pink peppercorns spicing up big strawberry fruit, and good acidity. Really nice, in a fruit-forward idiom. (2/07)

Hillaire “Domaine des Relagnes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Fun strawberry, earth and tangerine…a strange character to find in a CdP…with earth and spiky acidity. Good, if sharp. The nicest of the trio. (2/07)

Baron le Roy de Boiseaumarié “Château Fortia” 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée du Baron” (Rhône) – Bubblegum, bacon and biting strawberry seed with grey earth…promising, all of it…but marred by a flattened finish. (2/07)

Baron le Roy de Boiseaumarié “Château Fortia” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée du Baron” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Strawberry, dark plum and black earth. Longer and purer than the 2004, with much more promise. (2/07)

Mestre “Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Harder than one might expect. It’s a hollow metal cylinder, grooved and sprinkled with molten iron spice, blackened strawberry and black pepper. It’s very long, but the form is an unusual one. It may turn out great, or it may be a disaster. It’s hard to say right now. (2/07)

Mestre “Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Peanut butter on toast with some sort of anonymously sour jam. Finishes hard, with sour cherries. This tastes overworked, but maybe age will resolved things. (2/07)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – The nose is gorgeous, full or soft, rich, ripe red and purple fruit. However, it falls completely apart after that, with a dry, dead palate and a hard, absent finish. What happened? (2/07)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée du Quet” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Hard, bitter and nasty, with huge tannin. Blech. (2/07)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Plum bubblegum, red cherry and strawberry. Fun and pleasurable. (2/07)

[bottle etching]Jeune “Domaine de Saint Paul” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Strawberry, raspberry and salty earth with moderate bubblegum character. Nice, clean, straightforward stuff. (2/07)

Jeune “Domaine du Grand Tinel” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Stonger, fuller-bodied, and more sharply-delineated than the Saint Paul…at first, but then some soupy characteristics emerge, vanilla crests the palate, and the finish slams on the brakes. Almost. (2/07)

Jeune “Domaine du Grand Tinel” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Alexis Establet” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Big, rich and ripe, with plum and mixed berries at the core of an intense, modernistic take on CdP. The long finish shows vanilla and dark chocolate coating dense raspberry liqueur. Very, very good in its idiom, though it is certainly not classic or traditional in any way. (2/07)

Pierre Usseglio 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Simple strawberry and raspberry with a soft, sour finish that edges towards dill. (2/07)

Pierre Usseglio 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée de Mon Aïeul” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Big but balanced, showing strawberry softened with milk chocolate. It’s smooth and clean, but I expect a little more strength and body from this cuvée. (2/07)

Lucien “Le Vieux Donjon” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Pure elegance, showing strawberry and raspberry on a beautiful bed of gravel. Long and beautiful. The absolute class of this lineup. (2/07)

Moulin-Tacussel 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Big chocolate, peanut butter and chewy fruit jam, not unlike a children’s sandwich in this regard. The palate shows sourness from sharp acidity, with little lacings of vanilla. This is not one of my favorite producers, as a rule, but I like this one more than usual.(2/07)

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Balanced but gauzy, showing bark, sand and long-lasting structure. What there’s not much of is fruit, in any sense. (2/07)

[vineyard]Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “A la Gloire de mon Grand-Père” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Charred black cherry with a soft, powdery aspect. Nice and balanced, but with a flat finish. (2/07)

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Chante le Merle” “Vielles Vignes” (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Strawberry bubblegum, chocolate, coffee and blueberry in balance with firm structure. Intense. A good wine, with a fine future. (2/07)

Laget-Royer “Domaine Pontifical” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Bark, strawberry seed and hay with a thick, dense, one-note finish. There’s good structure, but the whole thing is rather obvious and even a little bit boring. (2/07)

Courtil-Thibaut “Clos des Brusquières” 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (barrel sample) (Rhône) – Big mixed cherries, strawberry liqueur and black pepper with granite and herbs in the mix. Dense and forceful, this is long, balanced, and terrific. (2/07)

Guigal 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Classic blended meats and baked plum, though with the heavy, hard tannin so typical of the vintage. (2/07)

Brunier “Vieux-Télégraphe” 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Télégramme” (Rhône) – Soft and elegant, showing mostly herbs and rocks and the moment. It’s likely somewhat closed. (2/07)

21 February 2007

TN: "It's ugly" (Cataluña/Roussillon, pt. 1)

[street tile](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

12 October 2006 – Boston

How do you say “omakase” in Catalan? Or, for that matter, in Spanish? Never before has such a ridiculous question consumed so much of my thought.

After a long, difficult summer, I’m on the road again. And I’m doing it alone; Theresa is in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, speaking at a conference, and will be meeting me at my destination a few hours after my arrival. I, on the other hand, know less than five words of the native language at my endpoint, I probably don’t even speak at infant level in their secondary language, there are many large and uncharacteristic gaps in our itinerary (some of them as proximate as two nights hence), and I would feel slightly terrified were I not completely exhausted from about forty straight hours of last-second freneticism.

And I really, really wish they’d let people – like, say, me – bring deodorant on the plane.

But will I be able to get myself to the hotel? What if the luggage is mishandled and I can’t speak to anyone? What if…?

No. No time for worry now. I need sleep…

12 October 2006 – somewhere over the Atlantic

Given all the things we’ll do on this trip, my excitement is oddly ordered. I’m most intrigued by the new destinations, both urban and rural. Food is a major focus. But while wine has certainly played a role in the general shape of our itinerary, I’m strangely unmoved by it. Unanticipatory. No more than a day or two over two and a half weeks are promised to the dedicated pursuit of wine knowledge. That’s…unusual, for me.

And certainly, no wine knowledge is being imparted here, on British Airways. This is an airline I quite like, and the food – even in steerage – is usually tasty, in context. Today it’s beef, lasagna, salad, cheese and chocolate cheesecake, plus some trimmings. Oh, and wine. Or rather: “wine.”

Despagne “Château Tour de Mirambeau” 2005 Bordeaux Blanc (Bordeaux) – Tart green grass and underripe green apple with a plastic finish. Yuck.

And there’s another problem, too. Since departure, I’ve known that my seatmates are going to be a problem. The woman next to me is uncomfortable, and keeps stretching, half-standing and wiggling, each time poking me with her elbow or rubbing me with her sweaty, flabby triceps. And, of course, she feels that I’m deeply interested in her medical history. She also seems like a nervous traveler. Further, despite my attempts to show her how to use her armrest media control, she keeps thumping and pushing at her view screen, trying to change the channel or volume; a half-dozen irritated stares from the lady in the seat that she keeps jostling do nothing to stop her. Next to her, however, is someone far worse.

Now look: I try to be understanding of buffoonery. We’ve all been there, in some sense and at one time or another. But my tolerance decreases as the volume increases. And in any case, I definitely have my limits. Which this guy – I think he’s the annoying woman’s husband, but I don’t care enough to ask – reaches and passes within minutes of takeoff. Everything he says is repeated…not once, not twice, but at least three times. Sometimes many more. And at top volume, too.

The absolute nadir comes during dinner service, when he chooses sparkling wine (some kind of sekt, I think) as his apéritif, decides he doesn’t like it as-is, and asks for one of those tiny bottles of Cognac when the beverage carts return. He announces that he’s going to mix it with his sekt (which, of course, he calls Champagne). And here is what the rest of us in the cabin are treated to: “I’m going to mix my Champagne and my Cognac. I’m going to mix Cognac and Champagne. I’m putting Cognac in my Champagne. Cognac in my Champagne. I’m having Champagne and Cognac.” A pause. “This is Champagne and Cognac. I’ve got Cognac in my Champagne.” He sips, and with the apparent tolerance of a gnat, gets rapidly drunk, slurring his words and doubling his volume. “ChampagneandCognac. There’sh Cognac in my Shampagne. Hey, y’should try thish. Cognac in the Shhhhampagne. Hey…hey…get some Champagne. Put thish Cognac in it. It’sh Cognac and Champagne.”

And so it goes, for a good forty-five minutes, until everyone has been individually informed of his mixology, then reminded, and then reminded yet again. I speculatively eye the emergency door release a few feet away, considering how I could get him near the door without trouble from the crew. Would the explosive decompression be worth it? It’d probably be quieter.

A flight attendant, apparently sympathetic to my plight, loads me up with extra wine. It’s a mixed blessing, to be sure, but she’s at least trying.

Sichel “Prieur des Jacobins” 2004 Bordeaux “Les Jalles” (Bordeaux) – Green, ultra-shy canned black cherries. Slightly bitter. This is as boring as a wine can possibly be.

I finally manage a bit of sleep, as the C&C guy slurs his way into alcoholic slumber and the twitchy woman next to me loses feeling in her legs and collapses within the boundaries of her seat. I wake to mediocre breakfast pastries and surprising silence from my seatmates. Have they been gagged or otherwise tranquilized? Because that would be most helpful.

13 October 2006 – Heathrow Airport, London

Pre-dawn Heathrow is a cold, heartless shuttling of multicolored masses from one enclosed metal tube to another. Yellow and black signs with arrows point, and point, and point, until anyone with claustrophobia would be tearing their hair…finally disgorging their human refuse into long queues with no clear direction for continuance on display. A security gate, a passport check…and then more tubes, signs and arrows, this time punctuated with escalators and elevators. And still, absolutely no indication of where I must be to catch my connection. This terminal? Another? Given the long transits involved, it matters, and I’d really like to know.

Finally, a helpful sign. People crowd around, scanning. It takes a while…Heathrow’s a big airport…and here’s the dismaying news: I have to change terminals. I check the clock. It’s going to be a close thing.

Down stairs. Along endless hallways. Up stairs. Through another gate. Into another queue, waiting for a bus that just seems to sit there with doors closed. Then a long and crushed stand on the bus, through tunnels and featureless grey access roads, turning and turning and turning again. Will it ever get to the new terminal? It does, fifteen minutes later. More halls. Another escalator. Another security queue. And then…finally…civilization. Stores, just opening for the morning. The smell of coffee. But where are the planes? My scheduled departure is in twenty-five minutes, but the overhead signs still provide no gate information for my flight. Yet they say that a trip to the most remote of the gates in this terminal will take twenty minutes? Is this reasonable? What if I were infirm?

Still feeling a back-of-the-head buzz of uncertainty, one now amplified by the stress of intra-airport commuting, I buy a tiny English-Spanish dictionary. It’s gotta be useful, right?

13 October 2006 – somewhere over France

At long last, difference. Of late, our travel has been in a bit of a rut: France, New Zealand, California, France, California, New Zealand, etc. France has long been warmly familiar, New Zealand is like a second home…and California is like a second home on which we cannot afford the taxes or maintenance. But one first notices that difference in the faces. Are they darker? Swarthier? More Mediterranean, but reaching farther around the circumference of that fabled Old World sea? They don’t look Sicilian, though. And they don’t look much like their South and Central American descendants, either. They’re…well, they’re different.

Oddly, this thought helps the stress recede. It’s the truly unknown that terrifies. “Different” is, for me, a sort synonym for “intriguing.” And anyway, despite the faces, everything else is the same. Businessmen (and women) in suits, clacking away laptops. The morning paper (in three languages). A cheese panini, fresh fruit, fromage frais, and a pot of coffee. I settle back, smiling, though still utterly exhausted, fighting for a few moments’ rest. It’s going to be OK after all.

Below, the frosted peaks of the Pyrenées – their heights already thick with snow – fence the known (France) from the unknown (Spain). And yet, they’ll be “home” soon enough. Just a week away. Excitement builds. Sleep is off the table.

13 October 2006 – Barcelona

I’ll say one thing for Barcelona Airport: you’ll never want for shopping. The whole thing is one high-rent strip mall, and no path from point A to point B fails to pass dozens and dozens of retail outlets. But the customs/baggage experience is relatively painless (an experience that will not be shared by my wife), and soon I’m blinking in the bright Barcelona sun.

Through consultation with my guidebook, I’ve tried to master one simple Catalan phrase that will lead a taxi to my hotel. No such luck. Spanish and some gesturing get the job done, and without too much delay (though €20 lighter) I’m in the midst of the swanky Eixample.

Nice neighborhood.

Granados 83 – Highly designed, with an intriguing mélange of materials – metal, glass, brick, wood, light and shadow – and dotted with Asian accents and old Asian art that just sits there, right out in the open. Our room is narrow, leaving little space for suitcases or residents (no surprise in Europe), but cleverly-arranged despite its lack of size, and with a spectacularly modernistic bathroom. There’s also a small balcony overlooking a courtyard in which school children recess and older women carefully tend greenery.

There are slight signs of wear, however, and a quick touch-up might be helpful in certain spots; also, there is a lingering smell of sulfur near the bathroom after each shower, and this is a problem the hotel does not appear to be able to contain. These are relatively minor issues, however. Perhaps the only truly irritating thing is the lack of an iron on the premises; laundry must be sent out, at exorbitant expense. The staff are very helpful, and (of course) fully multi-lingual, which eases everything.

I walk around a bit to get my bearings and a brief sense of the neighborhood, return to the hotel, and nap for an blissful hour or so. Theresa’s phone call breaks my repose – she’s in the airport, trying to figure out how to re-penetrate security to get to her inexplicably misdirected luggage despite not speaking Catalan – and I take the opportunity to unpack and shower.

Casa Milà – With Theresa arrived and similarly unpacked (she was, though unexpected recollection of high school Spanish, able to find the necessary words to retrieve her suitcase), we spend some time walking the beautiful streets of the district. We quickly find that design-mindedness isn’t just a function of our hotel, but pervades the city. It seems that every third store sells shoes. Window shopping is the norm, as snappily-dressed natives almost always slow to gaze into the window of any fashion or furniture store. And the streets themselves (especially in the Eixample, which is itself the product of conscious design) are beautiful, tree-lined, and crowned by wrought iron balconies of regularly exquisite delicacy.

But there is another style that infuses this city, and that is the relentless experimentation of the modernistas. Aside from the old gothic quarter, little of the city escapes the wild flights of fancy practiced by these architect/artists, which simultaneously draw and confound the eye. The first example we encounter is Antoni Gaudí’s second most famous work.

I’m intrigued. As so many have commented before, the building seems to defy codification or description, virtually mocking both convention and rationality. But I glance at Theresa, and I can tell she’s far less positive. She squints, cocks her head, shades her eyes, and stares. Finally, a conclusion is reached.

“It’s ugly.”

Oh dear. This is going to be a long vacation.

The line for the interior tour extends well down the block, and the last bits of fading sunlight are now only a memory, so we don’t go in. (If I have one lingering regret from Barcelona, this may well be it. But at the time, we feel we might stop by early one morning, beating the touristy crowds. How little we understand the rhythms of Barcelona.) Besides, hunger is growing. And it would be close to dinnertime in the States, which here means that it’s time for that great Spanish tradition: pre-dinner tapas.

Taverna Mediterránea – On the same block as our hotel, and given its location probably serving mostly tourists, this small bar serves the small-plate basics with casual indifference, although it can get smoky as business accelerates. We manage to point and stutter our way through an order of octopus on potatoes (an interesting contrast of textures), chocos (wow, are these good), and standalone albóndigas (soft and rich, perhaps even a bit mushy). Intense olive oil – usually with salt and pepper, sometimes with smoked paprika – is the dominant sauce, dressing, and condiment, and as with so many Mediterranean cuisines, it has a surprising lightening effect versus dairy-infused culinary traditions.

Parato 2005 Penedès Blanco (Cataluña) – Simple, clean and fresh, showing citrus and grass. Finishes pure and direct, with a little bit of bound carbon dioxide prickle on the back of the tongue. Refreshing, and before we know it a bottle’s gone. There’s no complexity here, but that doesn’t appear to be the point.

Cinc Sentits – A classy, modern, living restaurant, which (at 9:30, our reservation time for our entire Barcelona stay) is just barely getting ramped up with their first, tourist-oriented seating. This is something we’ll find over and over; we arrive about mid-meal for the early-dining tourists, and just as we’re leaving (usually somewhere around midnight) the restaurant is fully repopulated by natives at the beginning of their meals, which go late into the morning. When do the waiters sleep?

What would be flights of culinary adventure back home are the norm here, and Barcelona is one of the more exciting culinary cities on the planet, but this is not “molecular gastronomy” as it is commonly understood. Rather, it is adventurous modern food with a close regional focus, utilizing a number of the techniques of the avant-garde, but making few of those techniques overt on the plate. What results is a more comforting approach, wherein the interested may deconstruct and enthuse at their leisure, but those who are simply out for a good meal may nosh in unchallenged comfort. While the techniques may not appear cutting edge, however, the same cannot necessarily be said for the flavor combinations, which are creative enough to regularly skirt the edge of disaster. It’s high-wire gastronomy, and it doesn’t always work. (Though it should be pointed out that Cinc Sentits does not push the boundaries as aggressively as some of its brethren.) But when it does, it feels like a revelation on the palate.

Two more generalizations must be made before diving into the specifics of this restaurant. First, the level of service is very, very high. Efficiency is perhaps prized more than it is in, say, France or the American temples of gastronomy, and without pushback meals will proceed at a fairly rapid pace. But all of our meals – casual to fancy – are not only error-free, but a pleasure to conduct, with service appropriate to their level. That’s saying something.

Second, meal costs seem to be a regular percentage below what one would pay for an equivalent meal in the United States, or France. Perhaps 20-25% lower, at all price points. This may be a measure of how much they value dining in Cataluña (this would be but one sign among many), or it may be a matter of tradition, or it may just be inertia. But whatever the reason, it’s a most welcome thing, for it helps dissipate the dollar/euro disparity, and makes dining out less oppressively expensive than it is elsewhere.

As for our meal, it’s a delicious procession of surprises that suffer a bit from their newness; we spend a little more time deconstructing than we should, and not quite enough time sitting back and enjoying. Despite this analysis, I fail to note any of the meal in my journal, other than a shockingly good slice of pork fat with pumpkin seed “salt” that, yet again, reveals how much I love lardo and all its cousins. And there are two dishes (one savory) that employ maple syrup, which we’ve found is an ingredient that seems to fascinate European chefs. We should remember to bring some next time. Who knows what doors it might open?

Oriol Rossell Cava Brut Nature (Cataluña) – Rich and deep; it tastes like red grapes, though it isn’t made from any. It finishes dry and structurally austere, though the length is unquestioned. I know this isn’t a tiny artisanal producer, and I have no idea of how it’s viewed by Spanish wine gurus, but it wipes the floor with all the bland industrial cava we get in the States. I could drink a lot of this. (And, it turns out, I will.)

Pujanza 2002 Rioja “Norte” (Center-North) – Bright, fruity cherries with untamed, wilder berries lurking in the background. Whatever they’ve done to their French oak, they’ve made it taste profoundly American: coconut, rather than vanilla. Though there’s no dill, which is a good thing. It’s big, boisterous, spicy-hot, and coconut-infused…in other words, it’s zinfandel. That’s not necessarily a criticism, because I do get a good measure of goofy enjoyment from the wine, but it’s a little dismaying nonetheless.

Vichy Catalan (Cataluña) – This is water, not wine, and – alongside the horrid French Chateldon – one of the worst waters I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. Note to self: avoid this at all costs.

We conduct our dinner in four languages – mangled Catalan, pidgin Spanish, French and English – depending on which waiter is tableside. This is something that will happen over and over again in Cataluña, and we’re grateful, because otherwise we’d have to resort to a lot of pointing. But in the end, the most satisfying translation is the one we won’t have to make. For here, right in the middle of the menu, is the word I’ve been so desperately searching for. The word that’s caused me such fits of anxiety. And I have Cinc Sentits to thank for it.

The name of the seasonal, surprise menu? “Omakase.”

Who knew?

TN: Loire Valley (BWE notes)

Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

Luneau-Papin 2002 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Terroir de Schistes” Clos des Noëlles “Semper Excelsior” (Loire) – All rocks and seashells, with a piercing gaze and stunning poise. Absolutely beautiful. More, please. (2/07)

[label]Baumard Crémant de Loire “Carte Turquoise” (Loire) – Lemongrass, aspirin and herbal dust. Soft and simple, with a clumsy froth…more of a foam than an actual sparkle. (2/07)

Baumard Crémant de Loire “Carte Corail” (Loire) – Strawberry, lemon and bold anise notes. Deeper and much more interesting than the Turquoise, with some leesiness on the finish. (2/07)

Baumard 2002 Savennières (Loire) – Big white asparagus and sea salt with chalky minerality, then slate, then molten steel with…this sounds strange…a dry, watery grip. The finish brings out more asparagus alongside ripe grapefruit. There’s more future than present here. (2/07)

Baumard 2001 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – Tight, crystalline, and hollow. The finish is a long tube of chalked iron and leafy aluminum. Very disappointing. (2/07)

Baumard Côteaux du Layon “La Cuvée Ancienne” (Loire) – A blend of stocks going from 1966 to 1988, if I remember correctly. The point is to prove the ageability of Côteaux du Layon. Unfortunately, the wine tastes more tired than mature, showing pine needles, dessert spice, old golden apples, and some cider notes. (2/07)

Baumard 1991 Côteaux du Layon Clos de Sainte Catherine (Loire) – An apple wrapped with a thin sheet of metal, then re-wrapped with banana leaves, and finally drizzled with smooth, sweet vegetable syrup. Clean, upfront and fully mature. (2/07)

Baumard 2002 Quarts de Chaume (Loire) – One expects this to be terrific, and it is. Big tropical fruit well-balanced by crisp, apple-tone acids, leaves and quinine. Concentrated and very intense, yet never losing that flawless balance. Absolutely delicious. (2/07)

F. Cotat 2005 Sancerre “Les Culs de Beaujeu” (Loire) – Sulfur and quartz, with an intense, almost tingly palate. Fine and precise, with very good balance and a long finish. It’s very young, however. (2/07)

[label]Vatan “Château du Hureau” 2004 Saumur-Champigny (Loire) – Herbs, black cherry skins and bitter licorice. The balance starts off OK, but eventually tannin overwhelms this wine. Worrisome. (2/07)

Joly 2004 Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (Loire) – Wax, chalk and slate with an intense, smoky note that veers towards creosote, then writhes back from the precipice, eventually to be overcome by a patina of ultra-flavorful pâte brisée (that’s pastry dough for the unpretentious among us). A skin-like note adds a tannic accent to the finish. This is really nicely done, with a good future. (2/07)

Huet 2002 Vouvray Le Mont “Demi-Sec” (Loire) – Stunning balance – just absolutely breathtaking, and perhaps among the finest I’ve ever experienced – between crisp apple, honeydew melon, chalk-dusted wax, and fine acidity. Piercing, with intensity and clarity, and a wine that cannot help but gain one’s full attention. Wow. Simply: wow. (2/07)

TN: South Africa (BWE notes)

[vineyard]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

Louisvale 2006 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Western Cape) – Clean apple, clementine and tangerine. Decent. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Chenin Blanc (Paarl) – Concentrated red cherry, blood orange with slightly noticeable residual sugar. Quite intense, with good acidity. Flavorful New World-style chenin. (2/07)

Springfontein 2006 Chenin Blanc (Walker Bay) – Green peach and white linen. Simple and soft. (2/07)

BWC 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Gooseberry and thyme with a grassy undertone. Simple, fair. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Rosé (Coastal) – Clean strawberry & raspberry leaves. Simple & fun. (2/07)

Amira 2004 Syrah (Coastal) – Bitter blueberry, dirt, and stems. No good. (2/07)

Vriesenhof 2003 “Enthopio” (Stellenbosch) – Rich, roasted frut and burnt soil with spice and crispness. Mostly pinotage. Both good and interesting. (2/07)

Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, cappuccino, black cherry, blackberry, and soft greenness. Low-tier potential at best, but it’s probably at its best now. It’s unquestionably better after a few hours of air. (2/07)

[view]Muratie 2003 Shiraz (Stellenbosch) – Cassis, black cherry and strawberry. A big-fruited, simple-minded wine. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Red cherry and raspberry with pine tar and a great acidic tingle. Ripe and quite good. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 “Estate Reserve” (Walker Bay) – Herbs (mostly thyme), underripe but boisterous fruit, light tannin, and a soupy texture. Bleah. (2/07)

Springfontein 2005 “Ulumbaza” Shiraz (Walker Bay) – Big blueberry fruit, light spice, mild tannin and good acid. Everything’s front-loaded here, but it’s good in that idiom. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Cabernet Franc (Paarl) – Rosemary, rough black earth, blueberry and pointy acidity. Eh. (2/07)

Avondale 2006 Pinotage (Paarl) – Soft, with big strawberry, apple, and medium-ripe plum with some tannin on the finish. Moderately OK. (2/07)

19 February 2007

TN: Throw me a Valbona

Belisario 2005 Verdicchio di Matelica Terre di Valbona (Marches) – Mixed culinary herbs and grasses with green-stemmed citrus, pink grapefruit zest, tart tropical notes, and a nicely-balanced increase in weight and presence on the finish. For verdicchio, this is positively polished. But in a good way. (2/07)

TN: Willi or won't he?

Willi Schaefer 2004 Riesling 01 05 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Bound carbon dioxide takes this zippy little number past a light sparkle and well into an aggressive prickle. I love it. As for the rest, there’s rindy citrus (more grapefruit and lemon than orange) and a flaky, chalky minerality, plus nippy acidity. (2/07)

TN: The Hof

[vineyard]St. Urbans-Hof 2002 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese 034 03 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Restrained, as if seen through thin silk, with weight that’s held back by…something. Mild TCA? Heat damage? There’s no other hint of either. In any case, the wine shows lightly creamy apricot, polished raw iron pellets, and a rounded, sunny aspect. There’s something not right with this bottle. (2/07)

TN: For Evesham and Evesham

[logo]Evesham Wood 2005 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Charred, creamy vanilla wood with milk chocolate, coffee, and soft waves of rich, black cherry fruit given just a hint of strawberry zip. While it shows broad appeal, it’s too woody for me (which is strange, as I don’t think it sees anything new, and the weight of the fruit should be enough to deal with the time it spends in barrel). (2/07)

TN: Incoming!

Avondale 2006 “Jonty S Ducks” (South Africa) – If it’s supposed to be “Jonty’s Ducks,” the apostrophe is MIA and the “S” is capitalized. Anyway, this is a not-yet-released super-secret bottling, sort of, unless I heard the story wrong (which is possible). It’s big and woody, with broad-shouldered fruit in the dark berry realm, a leathery tannin texture, and fair balance all around. With enough air, the wood recedes a bit, and I expect both extended aeration and aging will help this wine. For those who love the New World style, all the elements are in place. (2/07)

TN: A pretty bow

[label]BeauThorey 2001 Côteaux du Languedoc “Bella Parra” (Languedoc) – It’s bretty, to be sure, but the stank is part of an overall impression of aging Northern Rhône, perhaps Crozes-Hermitage. There’s hard, masculine black fruit enveloped and dominated by leathery meatwhips, some barnyard, a little dusting of black pepper, and a firm, long, complex finish. If this sounds a little more like a strange ad for an S/M club than a wine note, I suppose that’s intentional, because that’s rather the impression created by this wine. Despite periods of doubt, I quite like it, and were it not for the worry that brett will eventually overwhelm all else, I’d consider aging some…though in a way, it already shows everything that some fully mature wines take years to achieve. Impressive, to a degree. (2/07)

TN: For richer or poire

Trimbach Liqueur de Poire (Alsace) – 35% alcohol; the sweet, less fiery, more genial companion to the poire william eau de vie. It’s still zippy and warming, though, and the pear syrup texture is given a sharp jolt by the underlying alcohol. Still, it goes down a lot more easily than its older brother. In old France, this would be the one for the women to sip while the men battled glass after glass of the eau de vie. Outside of that tradition, however, it’s appealing enough for anyone. Why not use it to make kir? Or better, add it to some crémant d’Alsace for a regional kir royale? (2/07)

17 February 2007

TN: Diana Taurasi

2002 Taurasi (Campania) – I didn’t forget to indicate a producer; this was hand-bottled (under a plug-shaped plastic doodad) and labeled with pen on a sticky label by a relative of a relative, then gifted to us a few years ago during a visit to Rome. I’ve since waited for a good time to open it, feeling that the closure wouldn’t allow any sort of typical Taurasi aging curve, and a few expressions of enthusiasm for aglianico from guests gives me the opportunity. At first whiff, some of the classic homebrew flaws are in evidence – brett, some volatile acidity – but as the wine airs, these are subsumed into the wine’s classic, typicité-revelatory qualities. There’s the blackest fruit well-laden with dark tannin, wild backcountry acidity, and a spicy, mineral-driven core swirling with razor-edged iron shards. (The next day, the flaws are gone, leaving only the blackberry-dominated fruit, tannin, and all that aforementioned ferric goodness.) One guest hesitantly jokes that it might be the wine of the night, but even given the stiff competition (and acknowledging a likely reduction in objectivity, given the source) I’ll state it with full confidence. This is a remarkable achievement, and without question the best true amateur wine I’ve ever tasted. (2/07)

TN: Brücke shields

Dönnhoff 1994 Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese (Nahe) – Long and sharp, showing ripe but almost shockingly crisp apples in the midst of a surprisingly high-acid brew. Little to nothing has softened or creamed here, and the entire package is rather simple and direct. Given the producer and the site, the most likely conclusion is that it just needs more time, though I admit to harboring minority doubts about the wine’s balance. Still, even I’d bet on Dönnhoff before I’d bet on my guesses. (2/07)

TN: No busch

Anheuser 1999 Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Beerenauslese 49 00 (Nahe) – Metal and red cherry, strawberry, raspberry and orange. I’m a sucker for red fruit notes in white wines – most often, chez nous, found in German or Austrian riesling and also in Sancerre – and this is no exception. Extremely sweet, of course, yet everything is in balance. I like it, a lot. (2/07)

TN: Jasmin guy

Jasmin 2001 Côte-Rôtie (Rhône) – Elegant violet-studded pork, with far too much soft-bodied restraint…though the finish lingers on and on, showing a gentle persistence of absence. The next day, it tastes like nothing. The day after that, it’s the void incarnate, actually removing existing tastes from the palate. The most logical conclusion is that it’s impenetrably closed, and while there are a few nice elements that can be teased into revelation, there seems little point in drinking this now. Let it age in the manner it deserves. (2/07)

TN: Star dishwasher

[vineyard]Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – I didn’t forget to type an identifier here…the wine just doesn’t actually have a “name” by the usual standards. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend, showing spiced mushrooms, nuts, and juicy/spicy blackberry froth. Good, though 2nd and 3rd-day tastes show rapid decline (and to be fair, the wine had been open for many hours before the first taste). A solid effort, but I don’t know that I’d risk aging it. The signs of New World obviousness abound, and those are the sorts of wines that last rather than age. (2/07)

TN: Draw the Lignier

Hubert Lignier 1996 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – Sharp raspberry with an ungenerous, shyly abrupt finish. I find this wine very difficult to warm up to, yet others in the room seem much more enticed. Is it closed, is it bad, or is it just me? All three seem equally likely. (2/07)

TN: Who doesn't love Py?

[labels]Desvignes 2000 Morgon Côte du Py Javernières (Beaujolais) – Structured blood and iron, with morels and dark fruit in the mix. The finish shatters into iron filings. Gorgeous wine that’s not turning into some sort of Burgundy analogue, but is instead following its own delicious path; a beautiful marriage of a stupendous terroir and a terrific producer. It’s most certainly ready to go, and the organoleptics are probably at their most appealing, but I don’t think there’s any danger of it falling apart anytime soon either, given the still-weighty structure. (2/07)

TN: Ribo & Zooty

Dard & Ribo 2004 St-Joseph (Rhône) – Refermented ass cheese. Vile and irreparably flawed. Yet another tragic victim of the low-sulfur winemaking fetish. (2/07)

TN: Happy skeleton

[label]Edmunds St. John 2004 “Bone Jolly” Gamay Noir Witters (El Dorado County) – At long last, a non-corked version of this wine. Hallelujah! And it shows exactly the qualities I’d hoped for when I stuck a half-dozen (five of which have been corked) in the cellar: big, pretty fruit maturing into a beautiful, graphite-laced structure, and finishing with delicacy and poise. (2/07)

TN: Chiroubles with a capital "C"

[label]Gauthier 2005 Chiroubles Châtenay “Vieilles Vignes” (Beaujolais) – Tannic underneath the crushed, dried floral nose. Pretty, sharp and drying at the same time. There are appealing elements here, but ultimately I find it a little hard to like this wine. With time, matters may well be different; I don’t think I’ve ever tasted aged Chiroubles, but this is the most likely candidate I’ve yet encountered. (2/07)

TN: I'm glad I met ya'

Torrepalino 1995 Etna Rosso Solicchiata (Sicily) – Soft, ash-drenched red fruit. Mostly, but not entirely, dead, with spiky acidity poking through the well-worn holes. I find a certain decrepit charm, our group’s one avowed necrophiliac likes it, and most of the rest of the room pronounces it undrinkable. But the terroir does most definitely show. A few years ago, this might have been really interesting. But what the hell…it was only $2. (2/07)

TN: Kanzen dogs

Van Volxem 2004 Riesling Kanzen Altenberg “Alte Reben” 11 05 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Smoky quartz and plenty of matchstick with incredible concentration on the midpalate. Really, there’s almost overwhelming concentration on display. And yet, almost bizarrely, the finish is simplistic; not knowing any better, I’d almost guess it was internationalized riesling. Very light sweetness is dominated by a liquid that is more about weight than aroma or texture. I think this has a long future, but right now it’s a little too powerful for it’s own good; it’s very impressive, but somewhat obstinately adolescent. (2/07)

TN: Designer secs

Gautier 2005 Vouvray Sec (Loire) – Chalk, wax, aspirin, limestone and lime rind. Fairly simple, basic Vouvray with all the components intact. I’d prefer a little more crispness, and definitely more persistence, but there’s certainly nothing actively wrong with this wine. (2/07)

TN: In the garden of spice

Loosen-Erben 1983 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese *** 007 84 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Creamy, steely and somewhat filmy, with simple, clean old riesling flavors. I think this one is somewhat past its most useful stage of life. Certainly I don’t get much Würzgarten out of it. (2/07)

TN: Out, damned dog

Thomas-Labaille 2005 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés “Cuvée Buster” (Loire) – Strong, silty minerality with grass and hay, softened by light residual sugar. The gorgeous texture – like a sheet of creamed granite – doesn’t quite make up for a general lifelessness. Perhaps the wine’s just youthfully indecisive, because given the length and quality of the finish there certainly could be an upside here. (2/07)

TN: Pouilly your own weight

Rijckaert 2002 Pouilly-Fuissé En Bulands “Vieilles Vignes” (Burgundy) – Creamy old wood with melon and stone, followed by some deeper bronze notes. Good, but professionally done to the point of being slick. (2/07)

TN: Bad beef

Clos du Tue-Bœuf 2004 Touraine “Le Buisson Pouilleux” (Loire) – Hazy, naturellement. Soap, lanolin, fennel, raw paper pulp and sand. Highly individualistic, yet highly unappealing except as a sideshow freak. 48 hours of air bring the tiniest bit of sauvignon blanc character up from the hellstew, but there’s an acrid Pine-Sol note as well. I know there are those – many of whose palates I admire – who love this stuff, but I find it actively wretched, maybe even repellent, and unquestionably flawed. (2/07)

TN: If you knew Sauzet, like I know Sauzet

[label]Sauzet 1998 Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts (Burgundy) – Waxy and salty, with loam, peat, and bitter melon. Wan and disappointing. There’s some positivity from others, but this just isn’t for me. Thankfully, it’s my very last bottle of white Burgundy not from Chablis or the Mâcon, so I can now leave the wines to those who covet them. Chardonnay from the Côte d’Or is something I can occasionally appreciate, but almost never enjoy. (2/07)

15 February 2007

TN: A Geyserville vertical with Paul Draper

[map]Paul Draper and winemaker Eric Baugher were in town for the Boston Wine Expo, and delivered a pair of seminars. The first – an overview of Ridge’s products – wasn’t that interesting to me, but the second – a mini-vertical of their most famous wine in honor of its 40th anniversary – was.

Draper was in loquacious form, and remarkably vital for – it’s almost incomprehensible to write – a man just a few weeks shy of 71. Baugher barely spoke, except at Draper’s urging, and did so in a quiet, understated fashion. Draper appears to have deep respect for Baugher; the converse comes across as something a little closer to worship, yet it’s clear that they have a fine working relationship. Baugher has brought something new to the Ridge program: an enthusiasm for co-fermentation (a major change at a winery where many of the “zinfandels” are actually field blends), which Draper seems to fully endorse as another quality-enhancing step.

As befits a man of his experience and status, Draper has strong opinions on winemaking and the commercial world that wine inhabits. I could go on for many paragraphs on the Ridge/Geyserville/Draper philosophy and methodology as explained by the winemaking duo, but honestly that ground is so well-worn that it seems almost pointless. Instead, I’ll present a brief overview of some of Draper’s more interesting pronouncements.

Geyserville is, according to Draper, “the most elegant of our zinfandels” (an opinion supported by every tasting I’ve ever done; I sometimes prefer the more forceful Lytton, but think that Geyserville is a more complete, sophisticated wine), and while Baugher feels that one can identify Geyserville by its “minty, eucalyptus” character, Draper relies on its unique structure. While I don’t share their deep and broad experience, I can’t endorse either statement (certainly mint and eucalyptus are not Geyserville signatures for me), but I can suggest that while I can usually identify the Ridge aromatic signature (largely, but not exclusively, their barrels) I find a certain textural gentility that can set Geyserville apart from any other wine in its idiom. Draper does not himself endorse the popular notion that Geyserville becomes indistinguishable from old cabernet with age; he thinks that this is merely the normal asymptotic nature of old red wines, and that Geyserville is simply yet another member of the ageable red wine crowd.

As for the ageability of zin and zin-based blends, Draper tells an amusing Parker-related anecdote (slightly paraphrased herein, for clarity): “One year, Robert Parker quoted a young Baltimore writer, who said that ‘zinfandel doesn’t age.’ Parker merely added ‘I agree.’ So a while later, he asked if he could take me to dinner, and I suggested – of course, he doesn’t ever listen to you…he doesn’t want to hear anybody – that I bring the wine, to which he agreed.” A lunch with some legendary ‘73s from Ridge followed. Unprompted, Parker announced “well, I guess there are some exceptions,” though Draper had never mentioned the original opinion. Nonetheless, Draper doesn’t diverge all that much from Parker on this point, claiming that “he’s right in general” (and on this point, I fully agree; the majority of zins are more appealing in their fruity youth than they are in their desiccating maturity. Only the best terroirs and winemakers (and, sometimes, those who wisely utilize supporting grapes) can produce ageable zins that deliver true tertiary complexity.

Draper consistently misuses the word “varietal.” Given the quality of the wines he shepherds, I think we can forgive him.

The interaction of wine and food engenders strong opinions from Draper, who insists “wine –zinfandel or cabernet – has to complement food, not dominate it.” He attributes the dominating qualities of many California wines to wood, alcohol and ripeness, and bemoans their effects on any potential for terroir (“two things will destroy site character: over-oaking, and over-ripening”), while insisting that zinfandel is probably the best indicator of terroir in California (partially due to the ubiquity of plantings, and also partially due to its generally advanced vine age, for which the early Italian immigrants must be praised). Baugher says that years like 1999, 2003 and 2005 – cooler years with longer growing seasons – produce the finest Geyservilles.

As for the inevitable discussion about alcohol in zinfandel, Draper’s opinions have firmed in recent years. “Cabernet, which must be planted in a cooler region than is necessary for zinfandel, is ideal at 13% alcohol, perhaps occasionally 14%. Zinfandel must be in the 14-14.9% range. Anytime you see 12 or 13%, the wine has been dealcoholized.”

“Or really old vines,” adds Baugher.

This leads Draper into another mini-lecture on alcohol, and ripeness in general. “Very, very occasionally there’s an excuse for ultra-ripe cabernet with high alcohol, like in Australia, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Anytime you go over [14%], you’ve made a conscious choice to please Bob Parker or Jim Laube.” As for the frequently-heard opinion that California must make high-alcohol wines to achieve phenolic ripeness: “maybe one year in four or five does [the lag between the two] actually happen.” In other words, it’s an excuse for a stylistic choice.

Draper sees a dichotomy between what he calls “slow wine” and “fast wine” – a “need for really good wine at a reasonable price” served by industrial winemaking (though he decries the fact that many extremely expensive wines are made via industrial means) that are “put together, but not real,” and a parallel need for the sort of artisanal wine that defines greatness, which is what he hopes Ridge can accomplish. Meanwhile, he has damning words for reverse osmosis and spinning cone technology: “the terroir is gone…though I suppose some [critics] will give the result high marks.” He explains that they used it once, for an overripe and overly alcoholic York Creek, and “it unquestionably made the wine better,” but there was “no sense of ‘York Creek’ left in the wine.” He was bemused to see the negative reaction to the revelation of the technique on his label notes, because the techniques are so widely utilized in California…it’s just that almost everyone else is afraid to tell the truth. (He sent Parker both versions of the York Creek hoping for a response, but never received one.)

He thinks that, in general, winemaking in the U.S. used to be basically the same as in Europe, but that this is no longer true. However, he thinks Ridge makes wine “more like Bordeaux in the 19th century than Bordeaux today.” He also can’t understand people who use natural yeast, but then inoculate for their malo.

In the end, he remains passionate about what he calls a “miracle…that [grapes] turned into this” (indicating the wine in front of him) “and because of it, became sacred. It’s amazing to me, the transformation from simple fruit to something so remarkable.” And as for his role? “I consider myself a guide, not a creator…an éleveur, bringing up a child.”

Ridge 1992 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – A soft, fully mature Geyserville, showing milked coffee, spice, roasted/candied pecan, and crushed roses on the nose. The palate is no less mature, though it moves things in a slightly different direction: rich blackberry/chocolate jam, raw milk, black and red peppercorns, and a soft, powdery, graphite-textured tannin. This is a beautiful wine, completely ready to go, and shows all the best and most elegant qualities of well-aged Geyserville. (2/07)

Ridge 1993 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Aromatically insufficient (my neighbor wonders if it might not be corked, but there’s no indication if so, and a comparative glass from a different bottle smells the same), with canned blueberry and licorice liqueur. Some air helps, bringing forth some redolent dust. The palate feels, though does not (retronasally) smell musty and stale. Frankly, this is disappointing…and it’s strange, as Paul Draper is highly enthusiastic about the current performance of this wine. The second glass is a bit better, with supple, elegant, Crozes-Hermitage mimicry somewhat masking the essential Geyserville character. Again, it bears repeating: Draper and many others are very positive about this vintage. I’m agnostic at best, and greatly prefer the 1992. (2/07)

Ridge 1994 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Plum liqueur and mixed berries in a gorgeous, well-knit and fully complete package. The palate brings forth more mature, older fruit characteristics of baked berries and wheelbarrows full of rich organic earth, but there’s still plenty of fruit on display. A soft, wavy wine with yet more development in its future. (2/07)

Ridge 2002 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and licorice-infused plum in a thick, edging-towards-syrupy (but redeemed by fine acidity) style. There’s also thick, Valrhona Guanaja and dry stones aplenty. There is a flaw – an alcoholic tingle that, for some palates, will be a deal-breaker – but it’s really not out of place in this wine, which shows loads of potential. If it can survive that heat, it’ll be majestic in a few decades. If not…well, it’ll be Geyserville-flavored Scotch. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Very aromatic, albeit full of primary American oak esters, blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry; a Big Fruit wine with papery tannin and a weirdly petulant disposition at the finish. I suspect this wine is struggling to close, and interested parties should probably let it do so. (2/07)

Ridge 2004 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Not yet released, and picked extremely early (mid-August, several weeks before the usual start date), before almost anyone else in the entire region. Very, very concentrated licorice/anise, blueberry and chocolate with an ultra-dense, peanut butter texture that darts in and out of the syrup category, plus some obvious alcohol. There are also crashing waves of vanilla-infused oak butter, which is to be expected in a young Geyserville these days. It’s way too young to judge in any sensible way, though my sense is that this will never be a “great” Geyserville, but merely a good one. (2/07)

13 February 2007

TN: Old tomato

Ostertag 2004 Sylvaner “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Very intense, moving past the usual dilute tomato flavors into something approximated steel-infused celery with hints of fennel. There are some tart citrus rind elements as well. In truth, the mineral component of this wine dominates all else, to its benefit, but those in search of simplistic “fruit” will be sorely disappointed. Unlike many of Ostertag’s wines, this is nicely delineated, but also like many of Ostertag’s wines it’s a bit monotonous; its early appeal is just about all there ever is. Then again, it’s not wise to expect too much from Alsatian sylvaner…and this is definitely one of the better ones. (2/07)

TN: Satire, irony, or Paradis?

Clos du Paradis “Domaine Viret” 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Saint-Maurice “Cosmic” (Rhône) – Drinking beautifully right now, with concentrated meat liqueur dominated by dry-aged (and blueberry-tainted) leather and roasted nut essences livened up by a mélange of spices. (2/07)

TN: Offida heads

San Giovanni “Kiara” 2005 Offida Pecorino (Marches) – Dense and unsupple, perhaps a bit like tasting a wall, with very slightly rotted stone fruit, cantaloupe and turmeric, then some biting, bitter nuts on the finish. It sounds bizarre, but it actually works…though the wine could definitely use some more acidity. The finish is somewhat abrupt. Interesting, though perhaps not immediately appealing. (2/07)

TN: Feital don't fail me now

Quinta do Feital “Auratus” 2004 Alvarinho/Trajadura (Minho) – Intense, sun-drenched but brightly crisp and tangy lemon, ripe green apple, and melon flavors with a saline edge and dusted bivalves around the borders. Vivid enjoyment. (2/07)

09 February 2007

TN: Wild & wooly (New Zealand, pt. 40)

[alpacas](The original version, with many more photos, is here.)

The roof, the roof…

A respite is, by its very definition, finite. And so we’re not really surprised that yesterday’s break in the weather has this morning been replaced by a thundering deluge. Rain pounds on the roof of our chalet, while buffeting winds threaten to wrest the roof from its moorings.

We fight through the gales to a buffet breakfast in The Hermitage’s grand dining room, then fight our way back and pack our car as quickly as possible, intent on escaping the rain at the first opportunity. For the entirety of our stay at Aoraki Mt. Cook, the southern end of Lake Pukaki has been wreathed in sunlight, and though low-hanging rain clouds prevent us from determining if this is still true, we’ve no reason to suspect otherwise.

That is, until we arrive.

Salmon of the bride

Pukaki is more milk than turquoise this morning, and not even the lowest elevations of fast-retreating Aoraki are visible. The situation is even more dire at the southern tip of Lake Tekapo, the site of so many beautiful photos of this peak-framed valley. However, here we witness someone even more negatively affected by the weather than a pair of otherwise-satisfied tourists. At the lonely Church of the Good Shepherd, a wedding party is bravely enduring both the driving rain and the high winds. Thankfully, the bride looks happy enough, though her dress makes several attempts to blow away during her struggle from limo to church door, and she is able to maintain verticality only through the Herculean efforts of her bridesmaids and parents. Unfortunately, her dreary wedding day is also our loss, as the church interior is closed to visitors.

We attempt to wrest some sort of value from this anti-scenic morning by making a brief culinary stop’n’shop, but while Mt. Cook Salmon might well be open for business, the only two roads leading to it are not. It’s a little strange, but there is a military base nearby. One never knows what the mighty Kiwi army might be up to…

Big sport

There are two paths to our destination today…one flat and straight, the other the optimistically-named “Inland Scenic Route.” There’s really no question which one we’ll take, especially since we have diversions in mind. The road passes through sedate Fairlie and cutely absurd Geraldine (home of the world’s biggest sports jersey…and no, we don’t get to see it) before turning northward, scissoring through valleys and fields slashed with the occasionally dramatic river valley.

And…it’s windy.

For a while, I manage to ignore the wind…because we’ve taken what seems like a forty-hour detour to the most ridiculously remote of the various Lord of the Rings sites we’ve seen on this trip. The path turns from pavement to gravel, from gravel to dirt, from dirt to undulating trench, and finally from trench to impassible chasm. How anyone is expected to reach dubiously-named Erewhon at the end of this road is beyond me. (Perhaps with a tank.) But after endless jaw-jarring bumps, our destination finally appears, rising like a…well, rather like a bumpy wart…from an otherwise desolate, wind-swept valley surrounded by icy peaks: Mt. Sunday, the now clean-scrubbed location of Edoras in the films. This has been the most insane side-journey we’ve ever made, especially given that it has no rational purpose, and yet…there it is, plain as day, somehow rendering the voyage bizarrely worth it. We launch into a haphazard humming of the appropriate theme from the soundtrack, laughing at the absurdity of it all.

The return trip is difficult, for the wind is picking up, buffeting the car and occasionally causing it to slide across the rolling gravel. The return of pavement is most welcome, but as we gain speed our vehicle becomes more and more difficult to control. In aptly-named Windwhistle, where we turn due east towards Christchurch, the gales are so fierce that I can barely maintain control of our car. Thankfully, the roads here are straight and true…no precipitous dropoffs or blind corniches to navigate…and with surprising physical effort, we manage to navigate our return to civilization, a reconnection that engenders a strange resentment. Once more, the lure of the untamed stains our interactions with the signposts of population: traffic, malls, even the people themselves. Have we been too seduced by nature to recover? I guess we’ll find out when we get to Sydney.


They’re fluffy and soft, calm but shy, and painfully adorable. But we’re not really here for them. We’re here for a bed…a surprisingly rare thing in this heavily-populated area.

Maybe I should back up and explain.

Our next actual destination, after Aoraki Mt. Cook, is Nelson. However, that’s a bit too much driving for one day (that is, if one wants to see anything along the way), and in any case we don’t want to pass up a chance to stop at Pegasus Bay, one of our favorite wineries in all of New Zealand. During the planning stages, however, it soon became clear that lodging was going to be a problem. There were places to stay in Christchurch, sure, but we’d already been there. And there were a few luxury retreats in the Canterbury countryside. Otherwise, lodging options were exceedingly slim…except for one place, found through assiduous Googling and no little consternation.

The consternation stems from the name: Silverstream Alpaca Stud. Unbidden images of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, but with woollier ears, spring to mind.

In reality, the farm looks pretty much like any other farm, set amidst flat, wet, grassy land and hosting a small collection of trucks, wagons, and other large-wheeled equipment alongside a stately, ranch-style house. The on-site accommodations, originally designed to host visiting farmers in search of breeding material, are gorgeous, with a sub-equatorial theme throughout. The only slight caveats: a non-functioning dishwasher and the usual lack of a good chef’s knife. But these are minor quibbles.

As for the namesake animals, they’re (as previously mentioned) almost painfully cute…and when one can be corralled, incredibly soft to the touch. One strange youngster called Dreamcatcher follows us around, shivering and uttering pleading little whines. Son Lloyd, giving us a tour of his family’s farm and a sketch of his plans for world domination (alpacas are expensive little buggers, but like most teens he has his entire future figured out), wonders if she’s mentally ill. Watching her attempt to pick a gate lock with her teeth every time Lloyd turns away, I wonder if she might not be smarter than her brethren, because it almost sounds like she’s trying to tell us something. Maybe it’s related to the painful braying in the distance…a sound that echoes across the plains, and seems to come every ten minutes or so.

I can no longer tolerate my curiosity. “Is there some sort of slaughterhouse over there?” I ask Lloyd.

He smirks. “No. Deer breeder. That’s, uh…well, the male is, uh…” he turns slightly red, glancing at my wife. She laughs.

“Well, he sure sounds like he’s enjoying it.”

Lloyd turns a darker shade, then reaches for the lock-nibbling Dreamcatcher, scratching her fuzzy head as she bleats and moans.

The peaceful aftermath

When the call of the rutting venison finally stops, all is peaceful in alpaca land. We settle in for a dinner accompanied by a few remnants from the Central Otago.

Springvale Estate 2002 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – More cream and less fruit than the winery version, and starting to fray about the edges. Still, it should develop some tertiary characteristics with (very) short aging.

Olssens 2002 “Late Harvest” Riesling “Desert Gold” (Central Otago) – Petrol, lemon rind, dense sweet apple and Greengage plum, with wet chalk and a building fullness on the palate, plus good acidity. However, it fades on the finish to leave a slightly sludgy impression. 2/3 of a terrific wine.

TN: Haus und Familie (Lorraine, pt. 2)

[German wall art](The original version is here.)

26 March 2006 – Thionville, Illange & Uckange, France

Frédèrique & Jean-Marie Burger’s house – Lunch with the relatives. Always casual. Always fun. Today, it’s pot au feu, and we soon join the family in deciding that potatoes swimming in broth are the best part of the meal. Ah, the cuisine légère of Lorraine…

Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Yes, it’s non-vintage. Light, crisp red cherry with lots of acid and minerals at the foundation. This functions more like a white wine with red fruit aromas than it does an actual red or rosé. It’s only just OK, but it’s probably better than the vast majority of Alsace pinot noirs that result from significantly more effort.

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – As is typical whenever I bring a domestic wine to France, the weight and heat are commented upon (negatively) by the natives. And maybe it’s the setting or the context, but this does come off just a touch hotter than usual: there’s strong leather, blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of sweet Scotch lounging in Sherry wood. It’s rather forceful, sure, but there’s good acid and a succulent juiciness that keep it tasty. I also note that, despite their reservations, my family guzzles it down.

We follow lunch with a walk around the old German fortifications on the small hill that crowns Illange.

Gaston & Claude Schwender’s house – Drinks with the relatives. More formal, more “classic” French. And also tinged with sadness, because these relatives are older and can’t really host meals anymore…which is a particular shame, as a lot of my formative French experiences were at this family’s table. Perhaps more relevantly, many of my most revelatory wine experiences were from Gaston’s cellar. Now, he can’t drink much (doctor’s orders), she can’t drink at all (ditto), and matters have reached the point of slow but inexorable decay. Loss is always with us, isn’t it?

Roederer 1997 Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne) – Intensely fresh lemon, ripe apple and yeast with sharp acidity and pulses of greater complexity and weight around a spherical, icy core. Striking.

Patricia & Bruno Fratini’s house – Dinner with friends (and relatives, who’ve been invited to join us). More great food, more wine. But I’ve reached the point where the smoke wears on me, and thus I start losing interest in the French that surrounds me; an interest I need to follow well enough to participate. Thankfully, there’s more music on the overhead projection screen; this time, a mix of seventies Americana (mostly the Eagles) and the always-entertaining Alain Bashung.

Louis Violland 1999 Pommard “La Pierre du Roy” (Burgundy) – Rough, sweaty and slightly athletic, with wild cherry, blackberry and light earth. It brightens with aggressive swirling. Nonetheless, it remains a somewhat surly wine, with its rough edges unfiled.

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1997 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Cedar chest and fresh cassia with pine. It smells like Christmas. It’s also fairly tight, but swirling brings out some aromatics and more complexity, and the wine is probably just about to re-emerge in a burst of blackcurrant fruit. The finish is a bit of a sine wave that one must catch at zenith. This is a pretty good effort from a difficult vintage.

Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Take two. And in this company, much stranger and less appealing than before: fish and crushed minerality with skin bitterness and a flat finish. Moral: drink it first, then move on to better things.

08 February 2007

TN: Avril, not in Paris

Avril “Clos des Papes” 1989 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Gorgeous, satiny and elegant, with moderate and soft meat liqueur balanced by a proportional amount of smooth black/blueberry fruit and a timid bass note of vanilla. This may be the most “sophisticated” Châteauneuf I’ve tasted in ages, more fitting for the table of its namesake than for the country daubes of the peasantry, yet still carrying all the qualities either audience would want. Gorgeous wine, nowhere near full maturity but drinking beautifully right now. (2/07)

TN: Ware the Fläscher

Gantenbein 1997 Fläscher Blauburgunder (Graubünden) – Pinot soda for about five minutes, after which it settles down considerably. There’s a lot of fairly boisterous red berry fruit at war with a persistent golden beet/blood orange zest aroma, one that puts me strongly in mind of Central Otago pinot. The acidity’s a bit on the light side, and the tannin (while silky) is still fairly present, yet some mature spice notes have developed on the backpalate; based on a total experience of one bottle I’d guess that this could easily age longer, as all these elements are in fine balance. It’s a big, big wine, however, and wouldn’t be out of place in a tasting of the world’s larger-shouldered pinots. I like it a great deal, but some drinking companions think it tastes like syrah. (2/07)

TN: Bam!

Ridge 1993 Zinfandel “Essence” (Paso Robles) – By far the best of the half-dozen bottles I’ve tasted. Sweet, ultra-concentrated blueberry, boysenberry, olallieberry and stripes of anise candy are given lift by the otherwise restrained, unobtrusive buoyancy of slight volatile acidity, while the tannin has completely melted away. Delicious. (2/07)

TN: It's me, Margaret

[bottle]Voyager Estate 2003 Shiraz (Margaret River) – Big, upfront blackberry, blueberry and black cherry with zingy bursts of leather-textured tapioca and a fruit-dominated structure. This is shiraz at its juiciest, yet it’s neither overdriven nor overoaked, and it carries its own fruity balance with confidence and even a little bit of aggression. Good stuff. (2/07)

TN: C'mon baby, do the iron erosion

Trimbach 1998 Riesling (Alsace) – This tastes like erosion. Bare-faced iron and gravel in a desert wind with all the softening elements stripped away, and only the most desiccated residue of old-riesling creaminess lingering in the deep background. Fully mature. (2/07)

TN: Humagne nature

Savioz “Clos Chateau Ravire” 2000 Humagne Blanche (Valais) – Closed at first, but it grows in substance and appeal with air. The acidity is schizophrenic…absent one moment, firming the next…and the aromatic palette runs through a series of semi-tropical flowers before settling somewhere in the vicinity of lemon verbena. It’s an exotic, interesting, almost teasing wine. A little more elusive than one would like, perhaps, but still intriguing. (2/07)

06 February 2007

TN: Roasted kid

[bottle]Goats do Roam 2003 “Goat-Roti” (Western Cape) – Big, hard black-green fruit with charred earth and sweet vanilla. Toasted and spoofed, this is a clumsy escalation of the much better “regular” Goats do Roam, full of furious oak and extraction, yet signifying nothing. (2/07)

TN: Albariño a ring

RE.6135 PO “Burgáns” 2005 Albariño (Rías Baixas) – Clean, refreshing lemon-lime juice with stickier grapefruit and sweet apple notes, plus a lingering descant of makrut lime. This is balanced and pure, growing in intensity as food demands, but simple and sweetly pretty by itself. (2/07)

TN: Grassy knoll

Knoll 2000 Loibner Grüner Veltliner Beerenauslese (Wachau) – A bit of an asymptotic sugar-bomb (that is, the kind of powerfully sweet wine that tastes much like another sweet wine), though there are some defining elements: sour white asparagus cream, a hollow (in a good way) metallic edge, and a late-palate dusting of some sort of drying, powdery substance (not white pepper…maybe flour?) that adds some necessary definition to an otherwise opaque wall of dessertdom. I should also note that the wine appears virtually unoxidizeable; four days in an open glass don’t diminish it a whit. Very good, but note the caveats behind that assessment. (2/07)

TN: Flower pétalos

Palacios 2005 “Pétalos” Bierzo (Northwest Spain) – Big-shouldered and dark, with a flatscreen impenetrability; a two-dimensional wine of great breadth but little depth. Black, almost charred fruit and the blackest dirt vie with asphalt-like texture (there is acidity, but it brings little to the mix) for supremacy, and the texture wins. There’s nothing wrong with this wine, but it’s not much fun to drink…unless one finds being struck repeatedly by a hammer “fun.” (2/07)

TN: TCA by the Bay

[label]Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked. (2/07)

TN: Christal ship

Coudert 2000 Fleurie “Cuvée Christal” (Beaujolais) – Dark, hickory-smoked leaves and blackberries with softly-settling flower petals and a strong note of reconstituted morel water that dallies with soy. The wine then twists and writhes, showing freshly ground white pepper and water-softened tree bark, then a mossy note, then more well-aged berries. Mature, complex and delicious. (2/07)

TN: Agata agita

[still life]Sant’ Agata “’Na Vota” 2004 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – Neon-fragrant redness with mild but scraping tannin and aggressive (though not at all high) acidity, plus a dark, almost tarry note. As boisterous as the wine is, it cowers a bit in the presence of food, yet it needs something to counteract the structural rough edges. A strange wine. But then, it’s a ruchè, from which one learns to expect such things. (2/07)

TN: Old wood

Edmunds St. John 2001 “Los Robles Viejos” Rozet White (Paso Robles) – A bit difficult out of the gate – closed, cranky, too old or too young; it’s hard to say – but matters improve dramatically after some air. Mixed nuts (peanut, pignoli, almond, hazelnut) and slightly bitter stone fruit spike through an otherwise softly-textured midpalate, while the acidity crescendos on the finish. I don’t get the sense everything’s quite together here, but the elements are tasty even in sequence. (2/07)

TN: A little light writing

La Préceptorie “Les Terres Nouvelles” 2005 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc “écrits de lumière” (Roussillon) – Silky, sun-drenched melon with a seductive, almost dancing texture, grey-white earth and a lovely, feminine balance. This wine is content to be a pleasant background, but is fully capable of being the center of attention as well. Really, really good. (2/07)

TN: Storm the Casteller

[bottle]Vilafranca “Casteller” 2005 Penedès Blanc de Blancs (Cataluña) – Simple, clean, crisp banana, pineapple and stone fruit with fresh, sea-washed acidity and some finishing grassy notes. No complexity, but it’s not needed here. (1/07)

TN: Argyle socks!

Argyle 2003 Brut Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Spiced, aged strawberry and raspberry with blended apples and tightly-wound acidity followed by a mélange of spices. There’s significant weight here (not surprising for a varietal pinot noir), but it’s never heavy or overpowering. This is complex and interesting, in a way that few New World sparklers are. (2/07)

TN: The von Trappist family

[cap]Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgium) – 7.5% alcohol. Solid Belgian ale flavors of rich stone fruit, spice and distant caramel with a nice froth and a little balancing bitterness. But it finishes very insubstantially, and since the far-superior 8 is the same price… (2/07)

[cap]Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgium) – 9.2% alcohol. A terrific ale, balanced between the fresh-but-redolent style of young Trappist ale and the deep, dessert-like smoked brown candy of the higher-end versions. The palate runs the gamut from fruit to cake spice, with excellent weight and substance. The only distraction is the carbonation, which is a little aggressive. Still, this is my favorite of the 6/8/10 trio. (2/07)

[cap]Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Belgium) – 11.3% alcohol. Dark hickory and Christmas pudding with swirling notes of a Moroccan spice bazaar. It’s a hefty, solid beer, with perhaps more force and less grace than it might ideally possess. And the alcohol does stick out a bit. (2/07)