31 March 2007

TN: Bumming me out

[label]Carlisle 2001 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Served as a mystery wine. It’s thick blueberry syrup, dense and sticky, with a powdery finish that flattens quickly to nothingness. The alcoholic heat is searing and actively unpleasant. This is a monstrosity, a wine to get skid row bums loaded when Mad Dog 20/20 isn’t upscale enough. I guess Turley, then realize there’s not quite enough VA (though there is some), so switch my guess to Carlisle with about five years of age. Bingo! I’m also asked to guess the alcohol. “Just shy of 16%?” 15.9% it is. (3/07)

TN: Ginestra & tonic

Conterno Fantino 1989 Barolo Sorì Ginestra (Piedmont) – Baked rose hips over a foundation of granite and iron. Moderately tannic at the edge, with an apple (core and seed) tinge to the acidity and tar on the finish. With more air, the hips turn to crushed roses and the tannin dusts to mixed powdered peppercorns. Just gorgeous, and fully mature. (3/07)

TN: Screw the Pouches

Cave de Saumur 2005 Saumur Lieut-dit Les Pouches (Loire) – Slightly spritzy, showing limestone, apple and lime with a light grace note of volatile acidity. The finish is crisp. It’s a simple wine with good balance, and it’s not trying to be anything more than that. (3/07)

TN: Dry Geyser

Ridge 1993 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Coconut, blackberry, black cherry and boysenberry. Very silky but high-toned, and it gives indications of being past its prime, with old spice box and dead earth emerging on the finish. Eventually, all that’s left is a wan shell of white chocolate. (3/07)

TN: Don ho

Toro Albalá “Don PX” 1971 Pedro Ximénez “Gran Reserva” (Montilla-Moriles) – Sultana molasses, hazelnut syrup and awesomely sweet brown sugar, with burnt cinnamon cap mushroom on the finish. Absolutely delicious, though about an eighth of a glass is more than enough. (3/07)

30 March 2007

TN: Out, damned sauvignon

Thomas-Labaille 2005 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés (Loire) – As solid a young effort as I’ve tasted here, but showing its hand much more easily than in the past. Grey, dusty earth and freshly-smelted aluminum vie with sculpted grass and drying citrus skins for prominence, all enveloped by a firm, masculine structure that refuses to reveal weakness despite a lingering finish. Really, really good, though I wonder if the approachability means that it will have a shorter lifespan than normal. (My instincts are that it will be just fine.) (3/07)

TN: Heatstroke

Trimbach 2003 Riesling (Alsace) – Big, in-your-face riesling characteristics of ripe but tart apple and wet iron that fade into nothingness at a rather shocking pace. Vintage victim #2461. (3/07)

TN: Henri Lacoste

Dubourdieu “Château Graville-Lacoste” 2002 Graves (Bordeaux) – Verbena, fennel fronds, powdery grey earth and graphite with intense gooseberry and grapefruit rind. Crisp and sharp, with the edges retracted but unfiled. This is in a terrific place right now, though it certainly could age a while longer; there’s all the primary razor-edge fruit, but some nicely-developing baritone complexities as well. (3/07)

28 March 2007

Black harvest (New Zealand, pt. 42)

[waipara dusk](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

Acid redux

After our ridiculously indulgent visit to Pegasus Bay, the thought of more wine – or worse, food – serves to make us both a little nauseous. Yet we must rally, somehow, for we’ve a long-promised appointment. After a proto-nap back at the alpaca farm, we’re once again rolling north through the Waipara’s undulating hills and valleys. But the roiling in my stomach isn’t solely due to the aftereffects of lunch.

Three years earlier, during our first visit to New Zealand, I’d criticized a pinot noir from Black Estate as being internationalized and woody. While planning our current jaunt, the wine’s U.S. importer (who was doing us a lot of favors otherwise) had brought up the review, claiming that I’d missed the call. He suggested a retaste. I agreed.

The retaste, however, soon became an invitation to the winemaker’s home. To this I agreed as well, but with trepidation. What if I still didn’t like the wines? I’ve no problem being honest about wine quality, but there’s a level of inconsideration and rudeness which I’m unwilling to cross, and that line is drawn a lot more closely when I’m someone’s houseguest. I considered backing out, but resolved to just suck it up and go. After all, how bad could it be?

Black and white

Russell Black is, like most Kiwis, relaxed and affable. It helps us relax in turn…at least a little bit…as he welcomes us into his beautiful home, which is a gorgeous melding of local and Asian themes. The latter is, no doubt, the influence of his wife Kumiko. She’s a chef of some repute, or at least she was at some point in the past, and she’s as charming as her husband.

But mine are not the only worries this evening, nor are they even the most important ones. Kumiko is unwell (though we don’t find out just how unwell until after our visit; no doubt she prefers it that way), and as of our arrival, the exact plans for the evening are still in flux…dinner chez Black, dinner at some unidentified restaurant, or just a tasting and conversation. It turns out that Kumiko is preparing a small meal (which turns out to be three fabulous courses led by delicious cuts of venison), and in the meantime we’re going to taste verticals of the winery’s two bottlings.

We sit at a wooden table on the patio watching the sun’s last rays drift across the valley, which shades everything in dramatic dark greens and blues. Russell arrives with his arms full of bottles, and we dive right into the tasting while he spools out an occasional bit of background.

The chardonnays are from estate-owned vineyards, planted mostly to the Mendoza clone. This surprises me (less so after I taste the wines), but Russell insists “I actually love it,” noting that “if you get the Mendoza ripe, it can make a really nice wine.” (There’s a little clone 222 as well.) However, the chardonnay’s future is bleak no matter which clone is under discussion. 2004 featured frost, a wet flowering, spray damage, hail and beetles, and 2005 was another bad year…though for different reasons…which is leading him to consider giving up the vineyard (in search of another or to concentrate on pinot noir, he doesn’t say).

Black Estate 2004 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Just bottled (in March 2005), showing minerals and stone fruit, wet grapefruit and a watery finish. The wine is overly-restrained…balanced and elegant, but just not very “there.” Post-bottling shock is a possibility, but there needs to be more to this wine.

Black Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Creamier than the ’04, with grapefruit, orange and ripe apple studded with clove and nutmeg. The finish is lithe and mineral-infused. It’s a better wine than the ’04 in almost every respect, but it’s still somewhat indistinct and submissive.

Black Estate 2002 Chardonnay (Waipara) – A shy nose, leading to a very creamy plate that – at long last – shows some filling-out and expansiveness. The finish is a little odd, though, as if it’s hesitant to carry through on its promises. The best of the bunch, but still...

The chardonnays show a good continuity of style – terroir, winemaking, or whatever – but that style just isn’t interesting enough. Is the problem an overly-aggressive filter? Weak fruit? Or just tentative winemaking? It’s hard to say, but it might not matter.

Peaked pinot

From there, we move on to pinot noirs. Russell explains that these, like all their wines, are from vines on their own roots; there’s no phylloxera in the Waipara. And there’s a change in the works, as the wines – previously made by Mark Rattray – are now under the tutelage of Muddy Water’s winemaker and vineyard manager. It’s too early to tell if that change is going to be significant.

Black Estate 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Waipara) – Red cherry with maraschino accents and plum. Some bitterness on the finish.

Black Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked.

Black Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry with minor green notes. Still moderately tight. There’s light tannin and a zingy, almost tingly mouthfeel. Decent raw materials that never really come together, and that green note is worrisome.

Black Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Slightly sweaty and horsy, with roasted raspberries and a powdery texture. This seems to be maturing rather quickly, and in a fairly odd fashion.

Black Estate 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Balanced, with dark red fruit and gravel. The finish is elegant and pretty, though there’s eventually a drying element. Most of this wine’s qualities are exhibited around its exterior, as there’s a definite flattening on the midpalate. Good, but it’s fading quickly.

Black Estate 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Rocks and sweat, with strawberry seeds dominated a shy nose. The palate is earth and sand, and it turns softly pretty on the finish. However, this is a very insubstantial wine.

Black Estate 1999 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – More balanced and fuller than anything I’ve yet tasted, with soft red fruit that feels like cotton candy in the mouth (without the sweetness), earth and moderately-light, seed-like tannin. This is maturing nicely, and it’s by far the class of the lineup.

Unfortunately, these wines show a general decline from oldest to youngest, which doesn’t bode well for their future. Again, one wonders at the reasons, though a clue may be derived from a conversation we have about screwcaps (on the heels of the corked 2003). Russell has no interest in making the closure switch that so many of his compatriots are making, claiming, “I don’t want to be a leader, I’m fine with being a follower.” And while that’s not an indefensible position to take when the subject is seal composition, the wines themselves also express that philosophy.

Darkness falls

We sip a few of the wines over dinner (they do improve – marginally – with food, but in a highly submissive fashion; the whites do better than the reds), listening to fascinating tales from Russell & Kumiko’s past. They’ve been everywhere, and done everything, and their lives are rich tapestries of texture and complexity. As we eat, the sun slips behind the central mountain ranges and the darkening sky lights up in striated fire. It’s an awe-inspiring sunset.

…but it’s a sunset tinged with mourning, and a sadly symbolic one as well. Black Estate produced no wine in 2005, and 2004 may have been the winery’s last vintage. For there was a much greater loss in 2005: Kumiko lost her long battle with cancer, not too many months after our visit. Some vintages are more difficult than others…and sometimes, no matter how beloved the vines, the vineyard can’t be saved.

Disclosures: wine, dinner, and two gift bottles provided for free. A gift of Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3 is given in return.

24 March 2007

TN: Brézème-ing arms

[label]Texier 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Beef jerky, lashings of hickory and bacon squeezings, fried leather and sun-desiccated earth, all slapped into hyper-awareness by strident bell-tones of meat vinegar. And yet, everything’s muted and oppressed, as if the wine is fading into oblivion. This is my last bottle – I’ve been opening them sooner than I’d wished due to a complete lack of confidence in the synthetic corks, a fear which has proven unfortunately well-founded – but despite the suppression, it’s probably the best of the lot. I wish I could have held it longer, because I never really embraced the spiky acidity in this wine, but alas… (3/07)

TN: The camel's behind the pyramid

[label]Domaine de la Terre Rouge 1999 Syrah Sentinel Oak Pyramid Block (Shenandoah Valley) – Very oak-dominated, and while it’s so massive it doesn’t appear closed, I suspect that it might be. There certainly used to be more fruit here. What remains is dark and scowly, like sandpaper-bruised blueberry residue and sweat-soaked leather, and there’s a feral (not bretty, just wild) element lurking in the background…a snarling wolf hidden in a dark grove of evergreens. There’s structure, though a good deal of it seems to be coming from the wood at the moment, and though I have confidence that it will meet its maker’s expectations for a long life, I think it will always be fairly woody. I guess we’ll see. (3/07)

TN: Solane, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight

Solane “Clos de Crabitan” 2000 Ste-Croix du Mont (Bordeaux) – Sweaty mold on a perspiring peach, with a borderline-pleasant rot dominating a lightly-sweet, gentle expression of yellow stone fruit. Eventually, the lack of balancing acidity becomes tiresome. OK in small doses, but it could certainly be better: more wine, or less botrytis. Definitely more crispness. (3/07)

TN: Beer me

[bottle]Avery “The Reverend” Belgian-Style Quadrupel Ale (Colorado) – This is outstanding. Weight and intensity married, with enough thick, bracing, spiced stone fruit to carry the alcohol. It’s a powerful brew, but it’s complete and polished in every respect…a terrific exemplar of the style, and most likely the best I’ve ever had from a domestic brewery. (3/07)

Avery “Hog Heaven” Barleywine-Style Ale (Colorado) – Dark, thick and Scotch-like, with toasted old wood, French press coffee, baked plum and cherry stems leading to a malty, but round and mouth-filling finish. Nicely executed, and very polished. (3/07)

Rock Art “Ridge Runner” Barley Wine Ale (Vermont) – The aroma keeps sending me back to the label to make sure this isn’t a lager. Strange. There’s palate-deadening weight, bringing with it dried espresso residue and an old maple-syrup wash, but everything’s a bit hollow. (3/07)

d’Achouffe “La Chouffe” Belgian Golden Ale with Spices (Belgium) – Light in every respect, as if pushed through a filter, except one: the alcohol, which sticks out to an unpleasant degree. There needs to be more intensity if it’s going to carry that much burn. (3/07)

Dupont “Foret” Organic Saison Ale (Belgium) – Bright and summery, showing a good weight and pleasantly abrading hops. It finishes a little flat, though, like stale pre-ground white pepper. (3/07)

Le Baladin “Wayan” Saison Style Ale with Spices (Italy) – Hoppy and crisp, with unintegrated spice notes and a firm, monotone core that feels more like a Trappist than a saison. Despite being a little odd, it’s reasonably tasty. (3/07)

The unfinished dribble castle (Cataluña/Pyrenées/Roussillon, pt. 3)

[Olssens sculpture](The original version, with zillions of photos, is here.)

15 October 2006 – Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada Familia – I realize, as we approach this in-progress church, that in my subconscious, this has always been the symbol of Barcelona. Blame the Olympic telecast, I guess. Certainly, on the ground it’s but one of many. But seeing it here, now…well, it’s…um, it’s…uh…

The thing is, see, it’s not done. And it’s not done in some fairly major ways…the central tower, for instance, which will dwarf the already soaring apostolic spires, is nowhere to be seen. What is done is covered with scaffolding, which is no way to assess a monument. And yet…

There are things I definitely like about it. The depressing, almost oppressive Passion Façade, for example, which is soul-destroyingly morose; Mel Gibson at his most tortured would not find much to disagree with in the sculptures and depictions. (The Nativity Façade, while more “beautiful” and possibly more important, is too busy for my taste. And it’s going to need a good cleaning, soonish.) The interior, rich with organic elements, is impressive and almost breathtaking in its suggestion of infinite space, even in its barely-begun state. But then there are the candy-shop pinnacles of the bell towers, which look like someone spilled a dessert on a sacred relic, and the eye-numbing clash of architectural styles, and…

I don’t know. It’s just too hard to assess. Maybe when it’s done, which is a long way off. Will I ever see that day? Couldn’t they just hire Vegas contractors, who’d have this thing up in a month? (It would fit right in, too.) In any case, while I’m conflicted but optimistic, and think I’d probably appreciate its finished form, Theresa has no qualms about stating her unchecked loathing of the structure. “It looks like a dribble castle” is her opening volley…from a certain perspective, she’s not wrong…and things get worse from there.

Tapas Gaudí (Avenguda de Gaudí) – Tired and ravenous after our long attempt to understand the inexplicable, we settle for an indifferent meal at this mini-chain, lacking the energy to search for something better. I’m carrying a list of about 75 recommended restaurants, but not one of them is within twelve blocks of our current position. I order defensively, finding much to like about vivid Ibérico chorizo, pimientos, garlicky olives and oily, peppered shrimp from a series of small plates. Theresa, however, errs in choosing a paella, which is difficult to prepare correctly in the best of circumstances, and isn’t particularly successful here. Thankfully, this will be our last mediocre meal in Spain.

Faustino VII Rioja (Center-North) – From a blasé list of nondescript mass-market beverages (we’d probably be better-served ordering sangria; I want a rosé, but it’s not available by the glass), this is smooth, plain and utterly ordinary. There’s red fruit. That’s it, and that’s all the descriptor this wine deserves: just red fruit. I may fall asleep from utter boredom.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau – The sunny pedestrian walkway from Sagrada Familia to this working hospital is very pleasant, and there’s reward at the end. The diversions and colors of the modernista architecture are here melded into more traditional forms and structures, which renders a more prosaic result, but one far less jarring to the unprepared eye. If one must convalesce, this would be a good place to do it. That said, it’s a little odd to be snapping pictures while patients hobble around in bathrobes.

Parc Güell – From the hospital, it’s another long walk – one not on any tourist itinerary, and definitely not beautiful (or pleasant, aside from the exercise) in any way – up to this beautiful, sculpted oasis that overlooks that city. Most will enter at the park’s bottom edge, through a network of Gaudí-designed buildings, staircases and artwork, but we come in a side entrance, and thus are surrounded by the much more subtle greens and browns of nature and Gaudí’s enhancements thereof. For us, we soon realize, his style belongs in nature, into which it blends much more naturally than elsewhere, taking the essential forms of the organic and working them in stone and space. I wish we’d come here before seeing Sagrada Familia, because it really helps put that work – indeed, all his work that we’ve thus far seen – in context.

As for the park’s more famous sights – buildings, railings, mosaic lizards and “the world’s longest bench” – they’re nice enough, but absolutely littered with people. Elsewhere in the park, one can actually find some peace. We sit on a bench…normal-sized this time…gazing over the city to the sun-whitened blue of the ocean, while beautiful green birds flutter and chatter overhead, contemplating life, architecture and our next meal.

Casa Vicens – Back down the hill, this time along a well-traveled route full of guidebook-toting tourists, is another (very early) Gaudí-designed structure, and while it would look plenty adventurous in most settings, here in Barcelona it seems almost tentative. Thus, it’s far more pleasing to Theresa’s eye than anything she’s yet seen. And at this point, we – somewhat sadly – resolve to abandon any further visits to modernista sights, freeing us concentrate on the as-yet unexplored Barri Gòtic. But that’s for tomorrow. Tonight, we’ve got to figure out where we’re going to eat.

La Polpa (c/Enric Granados 69) – It’s the same problem we have in France: where to eat on the nights that the natives stay home? From the States, we’d contacted a few places, finding them either closed or full. Thus, we arrived in Barcelona with one gaping hole in our dining itinerary: Sunday night. But, of course, the real problem isn’t finding any old place to dine – there are plenty of options on most major streets – but rather avoiding the showy, touristy spots that tend to be open on non-traditional nights for this very reason. In other words, the goal is to avoid a Catalan version of The Olive Garden. Thankfully, the quiet streets near our hotel provide a few good options…set up to handle tourists if they’re in the area, but not some three-floor extravaganza on La Rambla drawing the unwary with flashing lights and six-language specials boards…and we peruse a half-dozen menus before deciding on this place, which just a few steps from our hotel.

La Polpa is a reasonably spacious restaurant, built on three mismatched levels in a single high-ceilinged room, but tonight it’s extremely quiet; there’s just one other occupied table in the front (probably non-local) section, and a few people nibbling tapas at the central bar. As we dine, a few more locals (and one elderly English couple, who remain vocally but stereotypically septic throughout their meal) arrive.

The menu’s extensive and a little insane, throwing all manner of strange combinations at each other in the hopes that some will stick. In general, dishes are “healthier” than is the local norm (though not everything conforms to that standard), with a lot of elements that might be identified as Italian, Asian or even Californian sneaking into the mix. I order a mesclun salad with raw salmon, papaya and a lemon granita…it’s a little strange, but it works despite the vagaries of temperature, and the granita eventually becomes a sort of sweet-tart dressing for the remnants of the salad…followed by a much richer dish of monkfish accompanied by seasonally-ubiquitous ceps and drenched in a parmesan cream sauce. It’s heavenly. It’s also ridiculously cheap.

The absurdly low prices carry through to the wine list, which is so full of low numbers that I initially assume everything is being offered by the glass. But no, these are bottles. If only this sort of thing could be done in the States, people would drink a lot more wine. Of course, a list like this requires one to have a deep understanding of values and hidden gems, which is not something I possess for most Spanish appellations. Thus, a stab in the dark:

Dos Victorias “Viñas Elias Mora” 2004 Toro (Castilla & León) – A big, doofus-fruit wine full of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry, with walnut-infused tannin adding some structure. The finish is so short as to be almost absent. In other words, while it’s perfectly pleasant for what it is, and good enough for the price, it won’t survive pointed questioning, or even a stern gaze. Drink, don’t think.

Castilla “Montecristo” Moscatel Dulce (Navarra) – Moroccan spice perfume, peach and mixed citrus candies. Simple but nice.

Alvear 2003 Pedro Ximénez (Montilla-Moriles) – Blended chocolate, coffee and prune with raisin-studded plum pie and an endless, sticky finish. Very spicy, with a little apple-toned acidity emerging somewhere in the sugary din. This is to wine as crude oil is to high-octane gasoline. I do like PX, but a little goes a long, long way.

20 March 2007

The Niedermorschwihr code (Alsace/Paris, pt. 4)

[boxler bottles](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

28 March 2006 – Hunawihr, France

After a little too much wine the night before, we’re profoundly unsuccessful in getting up early. It’s a grey day, and not just aloft; the vineyards are mostly bare, the mountains are dark with needles and the occasional glimpse of spring snow, and the Rhine plain below us is hazy and murky. It is, in other words, a fine day for a hike.

We attempt to pick up a sentier viticole in Hunawihr, but after some frustration in our attempts to locate the actual route, we end up just strolling along muddy paths through vineyards south of the village. These skeletal slopes rise against the lower shoulders of the Vosges, occasionally ducking into a small grove of trees or split by an ancient rock fence, until they crest atop the precipitous decline of the Schoenenbourg, with descends directly into the fortifications of Riquewihr. The beautifully-preserved town below it is quieter than normal. I guess it’s not tourist season.

But Riquewihr holds few surprises for us anymore, and so we take a left turn towards Zellenberg, which perches on its hill in wind-buffeted isolation. It’s a town that often gets missed in the parade of tourists shuttling from Eguisheim and Kaysersberg, through Riquewihr, to Ribeauvillé, and the evidence of this is clear from its peaceful, restrained feel. There’s nothing showy about this village, but there is a bit of a show going on.

High above, atop a church steeple, is one of those wide-bottomed baskets one sees all over Alsace. And standing – plump, tall and preening in the midst of it – is a stork, here better-known as “l’oiseau d’Alsace.” It’s nesting season, and this unmistakable regional mascot is everywhere…craning over rooftops, prancing through vineyards, or gently soaring in circles. This is our first sighting, and we spend some time staring, leading a few passing locals to look up, shrug, and continue on their way.

On the outskirts of Zellenberg we manage to pick up a remnant of the marked sentier, which of course leads us right past a bustling cooperative cellar. The French may not always embrace marketing to the extent they should, but Alsace is…different. We end up back at our gîte for a lunch of leftovers and stinky cheese, plus a wine that’s not exactly our typical midday fare.

Faiveley 1995 Nuits St-Georges “1er Cru” Clos de la Maréchale (Burgundy) – Five-spice powder, black cherry and dark, tar-like earth. This is still fairly tannic, but there’s gorgeous fruit underneath. While further complexity is undoubtedly around the corner, I do wonder about it’s fruit/tannin balance. Still, it’s very appealing right now, albeit in a fairly primary way.

Niedermorschwihr, France

Boxler (78, rue des Trois-Epis) – Visits here are always exceedingly pleasant. The family is friendly and generous, the setting is peaceful, and the wines are almost distressingly extraordinary (especially the rieslings, which are among the very best in the world). And for currency-disadvantaged Americans, there’s yet another bonus: the wines are very inexpensive compared to their Stateside counterparts.

Boxler’s wines are, in the majority, rarely completely dry…though in some vintages the rieslings can present as very close to sugar-free. But unlike some of their regional brethren, who pursue overripeness and its resultant residual sugar at almost any cost, Boxler preserves both acidity and essential nervosity. There’s a poise to their wines that is simply not duplicated by many of the critically-hyped producers that infest the region, and there’s also great transparency to terroir.

Oh…the domaine has updated its labels. In the essentials they’re similar to the old labels, but with a cleaner, more modern look. I’m not entirely sure I like them, but they’re definitely clearer. The one thing that remains unclear to the average drinker, unfortunately, are the cuvée codes, which remain part of the “secret” Boxler lore. For those uninterested in heavy memorization, there are a few quick rules that can sort out most of the confusion:

* L is always present and irrelevant

* “JV” refers to young vines

* among the four “noble” grapes (riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat), other letter codes are sub-site designations within whatever grand cru is indicated on the label

* for other grapes, the letter codes still indicate site, but may also indicate that the grapes are from a grand cru vineyard (e.g. “B” on a pinot blanc)…a designation not allowed (by Alsace wine law) to be explicitly presented on labels

* the numbers indicate a specific cépage/site combination, except when they don’t, but aren’t otherwise relevant to the consumer as the grape varieties are (when applicable) indicated and the sites are elsewhere in the codes

There are a few niggling exceptions to this, of course. Thankfully, there has been a move to put some of the more important codes in a prominent label position. They’re still not truly helpful, since they’re not explained anywhere, but at least one doesn’t have to squint at the borders anymore.

Clear as mud? Good. On to the wines.

Boxler 2004 “Edelzwicker” L09 (Alsace) – A blend of sylvaner, pinot blanc and riesling (1/3 each)…which would seem to go against the original intent of “edel” as appended to “zwicker,” but whatever. It shows a sweet-smelling nose of ripe apple. Very nice, clean and simple.

Boxler 2004 Sylvaner L10 (Alsace) – Ripe green tomato and spice. Good acidity marks a long finish. This is from a site near Brand.

Boxler 2004 Pinot Blanc L20A (Alsace) – The “A” here refers to auxerrois, a typical blending component in wines labeled pinot blanc, and one that adds richness and weight. The wine is hugely spicy, with ripe pear and a zingy, almost bracing finish.

Boxler 2004 Pinot Blanc L20M (Alsace) – Very sweet, with a metallic core and a short finish. A little strange.

Boxler 2004 Riesling L20M (Alsace) – Very intense, with tons of dry extract and a long, marvelous, drying finish. In the midst of all this worthy structure are lightly sweet green apple skin and sharp, almost piercing acidity. And to think that this is just the “regular” riesling…

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “JV” L30JV (Alsace) – From younger vines. The nose is vivid, with dried white flowers that turn to raw iron on the palate. The finish is incredibly long, but a bit edgy and cutting at the same time.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Brand L32 (Alsace) – A touch sulfur-marked right now, but pulsing and brooding underneath. It’s like licking a steel beam, with an endless, dry iron finish. Striking and majestic.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Brand “K” L32 (Alsace) – Sweeter on the nose than the previous wine, with peach around an intense core of minerality. And then, the explosion: molten iron and fire-hose water jets that simply vibrate with power and dry extract. Stunning.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg L31 (Alsace) – Floral and silky, with spiced apricot. There’s mass and intensity here, with a juicy core and a lovely balance between fruit and firm structure, but it’s the satiny texture that eventually carries the day.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “E” L31E (Alsace) – Very metallic, but creamy nonetheless, showing very little fruit but almost overwhelming presence. This will be great, but that day is many years away; right now, there’s not much to enjoy.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris L50M (Alsace) – Lush but nervy, with intensely spiced pear, tamarind and lychee. Sulfur is in the mix, early. This reminds me a little bit of Bott-Geyl’s Sonnenglanz pinot gris, though this carries more acidity. An early-drinker, I think, but these wines have fooled me in the past.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris Brand L52 (Alsace) – Very sweet lychee, pear and peach. This wine is all about its incredibly ripe fruit, but there’s an earthy undertone as well. The finish is a little strange and disappointing, however, with canned pear and strongly tinny aroma developing late in the game. Plus, it’s a bit hot. A rare misstep, though it all makes sense when one notes the vintage. Of all the grapes with which it works, I think Boxler does least well with pinot gris…though in less perverse vintages they do much better than this.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris Sommerberg L51 (Alsace) – Shy on the nose, showing bright pear and creamy metallic notes on the midpalate. There’s a long finish, but I think this wine is yet another victim of its vintage…it’s flat and sort of lifeless. Wake up, little pinot gris, wake up!

Boxler 2003 Gewurztraminer Brand L62 (Alsace) – Banana, cashew and exotic roses around a core of dark metal, with a gelatinous texture that resolves to sinuosity on the long finish. It’s sweet, but it’s balanced (in the context of gewurztraminer), and a rare success from the vintage.

Boxler 2004 Gewurztraminer Brand L62 (Alsace) – More metallic than the ’03, with a powdery texture that turns stingingly particulate on the finish. Leafy and very floral, perhaps almost florid. Right now I prefer the 2003 for its open lusciousness, but I think this one will age into something a little more socially acceptable.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “Vendanges Tardives” LRVT00D (Alsace) – Aromatically quite dry, which fails to prepare one for the stunning intensity of the palate. Dried apples dominate. As poised as it is forceful, this is a hammer-blow to the palate, but one delivered with precision and balance. Amazing.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “Vendanges Tardives” “Cuvée Zacharie” LRVT00D (Alsace) – Flawless. Balanced sweetness and acidity take a backseat to a blend of metals and minerals that devolve to stones and gravel on the finish. Almost breathtaking in its restrained power.

Boxler 1999 Pinot Gris Brand “Vendanges Tardives” LVTB9911 (Alsace) – Very sweet, with a gorgeous pear-dominated nose and palate. Extremely vivid. There’s surprising balance for such a late-harvest wine, and the long finish coupled with the other indicators suggests that it’s nowhere near the end of its life, but rather is much closer to its beginning. I’d give it another decade, at least.

Ribeauvillé, France

Au Relais des Ménétriers (10, avenue Général de Gaulle) – A quiet, confident, comforting restaurant on the main southern route into Ribeauvillé. The menu is simple, with modern updates on the themes of the Alsatian classics and a few specials. The wine list is short and locally-dominated.

One can hardly eat in Alsace and avoid foie gras (or if one can, one shouldn’t), and so I start with a nicely-seared slice of lobe accompanied by grapes, then follow with a pleasant and well-seasoned monkfish filet served with spinach, morels and croutons. It’s a light dish, with all of the elements suggesting “no, you go first,” but it works in an elegant, understated fashion (with the caveat that I’m not sure monkfish can ever really be “elegant”). There’s also a terrific homemade bread with a floury exterior, something that’s being pushed out by dry, tasteless industrial loafs at too many restaurants. For dessert, I spoon into a very nice “römertopf” of strawberries, rhubarb and butter with strawberry ice cream. No, really. Butter. It works, but then I’ve been accused of liking dairy a little more than is perhaps good for me.

F. Schwach Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace) – Simple, dry and inoffensive.

F. Schwach 2003 Muscat “Cuvée Réservée” (Alsace) – Ripe and floral, showing white apricot and succulent sweetness on the finish. A little clumsy, but that’s the year.

Mallo 2001 Riesling Rosacker “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Soft and a touch hollow, with a light sweetness covering a wine that is all stones, gravel and salt. There’s some hints of early oxidation as well, including a very advanced color. I wonder if it might not be a victim of cork failure, but a second bottle procured by the concerned proprietress produces the same results. Surprising. Mallo’s not a top producer, but they’re usually better than this. And the wine’s not bad, it’s just tired.

Windholtz Eau-de-Vie Baie de Houx (Alsace) – Holly-berry distillate. It’s like drinking a Christmas tree, with pine sap and sharp needles in abundance. It’s different, to be sure.

18 March 2007

A tale of three valleys (California, pt. 13)

[bridalveil fall](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.

120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.

Burlingame, California

Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.

Redwood City, California

Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.

Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.

Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.

Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.

Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.

Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.

Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.

Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.

Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.

17 March 2007

TN: Prince Albrecht in a can

[cellar]Albrecht 2004 Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Balthazar” (Alsace) – Intense, clean peach and apricot crispness with spice emerging on the midpalate, and a pure core of drenched stoniness. There’s a real force here that doesn’t come from alcohol nor sugar, and that intensity carries through to a nice finish (which, admittedly, seems a little more off-dry than before). I suspect the usual auxerrois component is responsible for the presence, but it hasn’t led the wine to a sticky or heavy place, just given it weight. Nicely done. (3/07)

TN: Sil crazy after all these godellos

[vineyard]Val de Sil “MonteNovo” 2005 Valdeorras Godello (Northwest) – Dull and anonymous. And is that dried peanut butter? (3/07)

TN: Falanghina into nowhere

Aia dei Colombi 2005 Guardia Sanframondi Falanghina (Campania) – Grasses, herbs, flowers and leaves; this is a garden shop with a misty humidity that dries around the edges. Focused and enticing. A very pleasant wine, with more available for the digging but no insistence on its own importance. (3/07)

TN: Bricco by bricco

[bottle]La Colombera 2005 Colli Tortonesi Bricco Barolomeo (Piedmont) – Very dry, almost to the point of dustiness, with a low hum of grassy energy but a reticence about bursting forth into springlike growth. Crisply acidic. Somewhat submissive to food. (3/07)

TN: Carr talk

Joseph Carr 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – A charred oak mess. I don’t know if this reflects bottle variation vs. a previous bottle, or if I was just crazy at the time, but this is just ugly. (3/07)

TN: Collard greens

[vineyard]Collard “Château Mourgues du Gres” 2005 Costières de Nimes “Les Galets Rouges” (Languedoc) – Corked. (3/07)

TN: Matisse

[label]Diemersdal “Matys” 2004 “Dry” Red (Durbanville) – Good, approachable red and black fruit, with a darker-toned juice component and some cedary aromatics. Supple, but not overly so, and it’s by no means unexpansive.. A fine value wine. (3/07)

TN: The Pennautier is mightier than the sword

[vineyard]Lorgeril “Pennautier” 2004 Cabardès (Languedoc) – Dark, brooding and just a bit bretty, with juicy black fruit and scraping tanning forming a halfpipe around wet acidity. It’s structured enough to age, and would seem to need it as things aren’t really all that together at the moment, but I wonder if there’s enough raw material to reward the effort. My inclination is to say yes, but it’s no sure thing. (3/07)

TN: Vista print

[bottle]Sierra Vista 2003 Zinfandel (El Dorado) – Dried wild berries, thorns, brambles and briars, with a black-stone foundation. Simple, but speaking of both grape and place with clarity. (3/07)

TN: Maréchal law

[vineyard]Maréchal 2004 Bourgogne “Cuvée Gravel” (Burgundy) – Soft and warm in every way you’d want a red Burgundy to be, with gentle red fruit, earthspice, a background hum of animal-scented organics, and a blatantly seductive finish. There’s enough organoleptic maturity and rim bricking that I’d drink this sooner rather than later. (3/07)

TN: It's not easy being green

Anselmo/Mendes “Andreza” 2005 Vinho Verde Alvarinho (Portugal) – Lime, lemon and grapefruit with a razor-spritz of acidity. Fresh and lively, this wine brightens up the room and the palate at the same time. As befits a varietal alvarinho, however, it does it with more force and intensity than is typical from the appellation. (3/07)

TN: Brew moon

[label]Unibroue “La Fin du Monde” (Québec) – Rich, redolent and spicy, with a creamy old stone fruit texture and moderate, tingly sweetness. There’s a vague metallic edge that I don’t recall from this beer in the past. The first sign of decline under the new megacorporate regime, or just a momentary lapse? I guess we’ll see. (3/07)

Unibroue “Éphémère” (black currant) (Québec) – This different-every-year brew is usually interesting, but this is a particularly tasty variation. Think of it as a sort of half-heated imitation of a lambic, with the fruit more obviously added rather than integrated, but not possessing the irritating sweetness that ruins so many fruit-enhanced brews. Instead, there’s a good crispness that lends a sour-toned balance to the beer. (3/07)

Brasserie du Bocq Blanche de Namur (Belgium) – Spiced and thready, with a detergent froth of spice and white plum. A little more “flavored” than these things can sometimes be, but certainly a fine exemplar of the style. (3/07)

10 March 2007

TN: Water over Gold

[vineyard]Goldwater 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Well-cooked green asparagus and old pear, with souring acidity. This is still good, but it lacks the complexity it possessed when it came from the Dog Point vineyard. It’s more basic and direct these days, not that directness isn’t a virtue on its own. (3/07)

TN: On the Rocas

San Alejandro “Las Rocas” 2001 Garnacha “Viñas Viejas” (Calatayud) – Iron, dried blood and black chanterelle with a beautiful silken graphite texture and the memory of dark fruit. Gorgeous and fully mature. (3/07)

TN: Just a Sipp

[vineyard]Sipp Mack 2000 Riesling Rosacker (Alsace) – Classic Rosacker, showing inexorable sea salt-infused liquid steel, and a striking, tongue-dampening density. It’s a little thicker than usual due to the vintage, perhaps, and there’s a mildly softening sweetness, but there’s no lack of acidity or balance. I’d say it’s fully mature, though in no danger of falling apart anytime soon; it should have a nice long plateau. Impressive. (3/07)

TN: All Fontsainte day

[vineyard]Laboucarié “Domaine de Fontsainte” 2004 Corbières (Languedoc) – Good spicy-earthy red fruit, somewhat soda-like, with that flaky, sun-peeled paint texture that the better wines from this appellation often seem to show. Nicely balanced. A warm, satisfying wine. (3/07)

TN: COS by show

COS 2004 Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Sicily) – Warm, enveloping old spice-cabinet aromas, old cedar, sun-dried red cherry and strawberry. There’s fine acidity (especially for a Sicilian wine), an inviting Old World balance, and surprising persistence despite a fairly light approach (“light” is contextual). Beautiful stuff. (3/07)

TN: Gravello road

[bottle]Librandi 1999 Val di Neto “Gravello” (Calabria) – Gaglioppo and cabernet sauvignon. The only sign that this isn’t all cabernet is the juicy, tongue-poking acidity. It’s tightly screwed and a little squinched, and deserves a good decant, but for a fierce, sun-baked southern wine it shows more authenticity than artifice. The cabernet somewhat counter-intuitively runs towards the herb/pepper spectrum, but behind that is a sharp, black cherry and raspberry acidic throb. I’m prepared to be suspicious, but end up liking it a good deal. It still needs plenty of time, however, as the tannin and tightness are still somewhat dominant. (3/07)

TN: Saumur love

[bottle]Filliatreau 2005 Saumur (Loire) – Grassy earth, thyme and dusty dark berries. It gives the impression that it’s going to be green and somewhat acrid, but in fact the texture is beautifully particulate, and there’s a surprising smoothness. This tastes completely “natural,” for those to whom that term means something, and it dances delightfully with a pretty wide variety of foods. Delicious. And ageable? Perhaps, for a while. (3/07)

TN: Drawing a Blanck

[label]Blanck 2002 Gewurztraminer Altenbourg (Alsace) – Completely closed, to the point where it almost seems corked. At least an hour of air (decanting a gewurztraminer!) is necessary to bring it out, but it still doesn’t show the full spectrum of goodness that it carried in its youth. There’s a dry minerality underneath a juicy, pineapple and peach juice…thick but not sticky, despite a very mild amount of sweetness…and this minerality, along with almost surprising acidity, really comes to the fore on the finish. It’s a very good wine in resentful stasis, and needs some time to re-emerge. Five years, at least. (3/07)

TN: Tone Madeloc

Gaillard/Baills “Domaine Madeloc” 2004 Banyuls “Cirera” (Roussillon) – Unsurprisingly, this is a fairly fruit-forward Banyuls. It shares a generally absent nose with a lot of its counterparts, but makes up for it with a rich, sticky-sweet cherry and milk chocolate palate. The cocoa turns darker on the finish, along with some espresso bean, and things stick around for a while (emphasis on “stick”). It’s a good enough wine, a pretty fair bargain, and much better than so many of the over-oxidized versions cranked out by the area’s cooperatives and touristy cellars, but other producers (Parcé, Rectorie) prove that more complexity is achievable. (3/07)


Thiriez “XXtra” Farmhouse Ale (Flanders) – Quite hoppy, with wheat and corn and a good deal of backpalate bitterness. Malty and herbal. Not very interesting, despite all this. (3/07)

TN: Schaefer of paper

Willi Schaefer 2004 Riesling 01 05 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Silty and lightly sweet, with a prickly light-bodied aspect and a mild finish. Light purity. (3/07)

TN: It's not crap

[label]Otter Creek “Otter Kilter” Scottish-style Wee Heavy Ale (Vermont) – Rich, heavy, a bit hot, but with a beautifully creamy, mineral-influenced thickness. Otter Creek succeeds most of the time, but they always do best with more naturally sweet-seeming brews. And: nice pun. (3/07)

TN: Allabord

[bottles]Allagash “Grand Cru” Batch 14 (Maine) – Thick roasted-nut spice with a thin midpalate and some bitterness on the finish. A little thinner than I’d prefer. I always want to like Allagash, but they’re persistently mild underachievers. (3/07)

07 March 2007

Day with a Diva (New Zealand, pt. 41)

[lynnette hudson](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

Immobile home

Were Matt Donaldson not the very embodiment of equanimity, he’d be impatiently tapping his foot. As it is, he’s standing in the tasting room at Pegasus Bay, jacket already donned, waiting for us to arrive. He’s headed north to Marlborough to check on some grapes, and we’ve delayed his departure. But it’s not our fault. There was a house in the way.

We’d left our fuzzy habitation on time, looking forward to a relatively quick jaunt up Route 1 into the heart of the Waipara. But approaching a large junction near Amberley, we slowed, then stopped, faced with a rather unusual obstruction. A truck carrying a subsection of a prefab home was stopped right in the middle of the intersection. Or, more accurately, the truck and the house were both in the intersection, but the house was no longer carried by the truck. Shattered ropes and chains were everywhere. It was going to be an interesting cleanup. Thankfully, police were on the scene – just how many can there be in sedate Amberley? – and soon got traffic moving again.

Informed of this, Matt almost looks as if he’d like to detour south to check out the domicilic carnage. Nonetheless, after a quick greeting, he’s out the door, leaving us with his partner and co-winemaker Lynnette Hudson. The shape of her morning thus far is clear: grape-stained work pants and dark purple fingertips, the signs of a working winemaker. She’s clearly been hard at it until our arrival. But the balance of her day will be much, much different.

White noise

Lynnette grabs several armfuls of bottles and ushers us upstairs for an interesting tasting, one marked by a series of micro-verticals. While we taste, she spins her and the estate’s winemaking philosophies, which are even more Francophile than on our previous visit. They’ve moved, especially with the top of the line “Prima Donna” pinot noir, from regional and national eminence to something approaching world-class, and they’ve done it by emphasizing restraint and beauty over a sheer power that seems too easy to achieve in the area.

We begin our tasting with riesling, a grape that is a major focus of the portfolio, but one that is not (by critics and certain consumers) as universally admired as the pinots. Some attribute this deficiency to site, but I wonder if it might not instead be a question of finding the wine’s ideal balance. Rieslings come at all levels of sweetness and intensity, of course, and some regions and sites seem more suited for certain styles than others. Pegasus Bay’s successes with riesling seem to increase in proportion to their retention of residual sugar, a trend which is (in part) natural due to advancing ripeness, but is also helped by their grapes’ ability to retain a glacial core of acidity despite escalating hangtimes, something that is not achievable in all terroirs.

In any case, the basic rieslings are fermented cool with inoculated yeast, and bottled relatively early. Lynnette says that both the 2002 and 2003 were full of botrytis and desiccation, with ’03 a little warmer than the vintages on either side of it, leading to a little more “flesh” in the whites from that vintage. As for 2004, December rainfall was at its highest level since 1860, which was paired with the lowest temperatures since the end of World War II. An unfortunate combination. January and February followed “astonishingly hot,” with warm nights, which caused even more damage to already overstressed vines. It was a bizarre vintage that required a great deal of attention throughout the growing season and in the cellar. 2005 looks to be no less difficult, with very poor flowering and precious little fruit (about 30% of normal).

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Riesling (Waipara) – The nose is dry, with a dusting of white pepper and a little whiff of petrol. Medium-lightness contrasted by a slight thickening from residual sugar defines this wine’s form, though there’s the later suggestion of a thick palate redolent of banana skin. Great acidity and a long, balanced finish round out the package. Nice.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Riesling (Waipara) – Seemingly sweeter than the ’04 (though only apparently so due to decreased acidity), showing stone fruit and pear. It’s a little more obvious than the vintages on either side.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Riesling (Waipara) – Just starting to show the first signs of aged-riesling creaminess, with sweet lemon-lime, spiced honey thick with aromatic flowers, and a very long, silky texture. This is delicious.

Moving on to the most famous grape of New Zealand (which here is regularly blended with sémillon), Lynnette professes to be seeking more of a Loire Valley, Sancerre-influenced style, rather than the boisterous chile pepper/tropical fruit festivals that are so common elsewhere in the country. The grapes are not destemmed, and after fermentation the sauvignon blanc rests on its gross lees for six to eight months, with some stirring to induce the complexing benefits of autolysis. Semillon is barrel-fermented and enzymed during settling, as apparently its fruit can otherwise be overly coarse. Malo is not induced, as a rule. The goal is a textural richness not often found in Kiwi versions of these wines, and a byproduct seems to be a true ageability that eludes almost everyone else (except those already consciously working from the white Bordeaux model).

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Waipara) – Grassy, with mixed green elements. Peas and a flat wall of vegetables linger on the finish, which is shorter than I’d like.

One tank of the 2002 was naturally fermented – the first time it had been allowed in this wine – and it struggled to finish. The wine also underwent malolactic fermentation, which changed the texture somewhat dramatically.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Waipara) – Fetid hay, grass and tart green apple. Creamier and much more interesting than the ’04.

The chardonnays at Pegasus Bay are undergoing a transition, which is perhaps an artifact of both Matt and Lynnette’s experiences in Burgundy. The grapes are crushed but not destemmed, leaving lots of solids that go straight into the tank, but not given enough time to fully settle. Instead, they’re moved very quickly to barrel, where the must is inoculated (the sugar is apparently difficult to fully ferment with native yeasts) and then moved to 25-30% French oak.

2004 was a vintage that experienced very late malos, which had been arrested about halfway to completion by the addition of sulfur. The wines are traditionally notable for an overabundance of phenolics; Lynnette explains “New Zealand has so much upfront fruitiness, so we’re trying to do everything possibly to increase complexity.” And the results are beginning to show. “This is the first time ever that I’m happy with the complexity of the chardonnay.”

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Chardonnay (barrel sample) (Waipara) – Undergoing cold-stabilization, and recently fined with milk and bentonite. It shows fruit and spice, with good acid and a longish finish. It’s so highly marked by the aforementioned techniques right now that it’s a little hard to assess.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Rich stone fruit and spiced vanilla, with a sweeter-seeming palate than the ’04. Hudson identifies “sweet corn,” which encompasses both the aroma and texture. Quite nice.

Noir of the worlds

2003 was a good year for pinot, with even and consistent ripening. The winery mimics a post-fermentation maceration technique practiced in Burgundy (3-4 days in 2003, two weeks in 2004); as with the chardonnay, this is designed to move the wine away from upfront fruit while gaining length and structure. Another result is that wines tend to be lighter, overall, which seems to be a goal of Lynnette’s. Grapes are destemmed, and the percentage of whole berries has been increased. Lynnette explains that pinot noir tannin tends to reside more in the seeds than the skins; the lighter color that leads to some practicing lengthy extractions “breaks” the seeds and leads to an unwelcome surplus of tannin.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Medium-bodied strawberry and walnut with raspberry and apple-crisp acidity. This is definitely more “Burgundian” than some recent vintages, and it’s delicious and appealing in its youthful fashion.

2001 was another good year with nice, even ripening and a lingering autumn. The pinot from that year represented mostly the older, early-planted clones, while from 2003 onward newer Dijon clones have been a component of the blend. Inevitably, these clonal elements present different flavor profiles, with the Burgundian specimens providing more vibrancy in the red fruit spectrum (though not as many intact berries at harvest), better (not a synonym for darker) color, and more cohesiveness. From 10/5 comes a mix of ripe and unripe fruit and chunkier tannins, plus obvious strength, but without as much poise or elegance. Both clones are being pressed off sooner than in the past, and spend an average of sixteen months in oak…40% new French, and the rest a blend of one-, two-, and three-year old barrels…with natural malolactic fermentation allowed to occur in the spring.

(I must say, for the record, that my barrel-tasting experience is that the older clones are currently showing more red fruit than the younger Dijon clones, but I expect that will change with vine age; certainly the finished bottlings have taken a definite turn away from broodingly dark fruit..)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Darker than the ’03, with strawberry seeds, dark plum and cherry. There’s a slightly soupy cast to the finish, and the tannin edges towards the green, but it’s still a pleasant wine.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, West Block, 10/5 clone) (Waipara) – Plum, black cherry and juicy, vivid red cherry. These were whole berries, allowed a chilled pre-fermentation maceration and resting on the skins for two weeks, with a natural fermentation, twice-daily punchdowns, and pumping.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, West Block, 10/5 clone, just pumped over) (Waipara) – Soupier and bigger, with a darker brow and more tannin (obviously).

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, 114 clone) (Waipara) – Graphite-textured tannin and dark blackberry fruit. Slightly coarse, but deliciously so. This is a Dijon clone that’s popular in Burgundy, but (as of yet) one that hasn’t produced much of interest in the Pegasus Bay vineyards. Perhaps with time.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, 113 clone) (Waipara) – Chocolate and elegant dark plum, blackberry and blueberry. Long. Very fruit-dominated.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, UC Davis clone 6) (Waipara) – Fatter than other samples, showing medium- to full-bodied blueberry, spiced chocolate and vanilla. Perhaps it’s just particularly amenable to its aging vessel, because it does appear to be soaking up more wood aromatics than the other clones.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, Scott-Henry trellised 10/5 clone) (Waipara) – Complex and gorgeous, with a lovely texture. This shows true class and breeding. “Not that I’m really into Scott-Henry at all,” notes Lynnette, “but [it’s] a really nice vineyard” that used to deliver huge tannin and fruit, but is now coming into balance. These, by the way, are the oldest vines on the property, and it shows.

Into the dark

2003 was a good year for Bordeaux varieties in the Waipara, according to Lynnette, and the qualitative focus is moving towards merlot and malbec rather than the harder-edged cabernets.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Waipara) – Just bottled. Chewy black-and-blueberry with a dense, tannic, forceful palate and a medium-length finish. Quite good now, but its real strengths will come with age. This was just bottled, after spending 18 months in barrels (10-15% of them new).

“Maestro” is a semi-Bordeaux-styled blend produced in exceptional years. It’s a barrel (rather than vineyard) selection that’s given two years in wood (20% new) and additional bottle age before release.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 “Maestro” Merlot/Malbec (Waipara) – Blueberry and baked earth studded with walnuts, plus dark plum. The structure is just gorgeous, with ripe tannin and fine wood integration, though chocolate and vanilla do stand out a bit at this stage. The finish is ripe, showing oven-roasted blueberry, boysenberry and apple fading into a lovely, drying finish. Balanced and really, really good, with an excellent future.

Liquid opera

Unlike the rare “Maestro” and “Prima Donna” bottlings, the late-harvest “Aria” riesling is made most years. In 2004, however, there are two selections: a regular “Aria” and an ultra-dried, botrytis-ridden bottling (picked on June 25th) that does not yet have a name. Keeping with patriarch Ivan Donaldson’s operatic theme, I suggest “Diva”…Lynnette agrees that it’s a favored possibility, but unfortunately the label is already in use. (Eventually, the wine will be called “Encore.”)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 “Aria” Riesling (Waipara) – Pineapple, sweet lemon and a crisp, elegant, drying finish of medium length. This should be better in a few years, but it’s quite primary now.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 “Encore” Riesling (Waipara) – Very intense, with crystallized peach, quince and apricot. It’s exquisitely sweet, but balanced by sharp, crisp acidity, and finishes long and poised. Beautiful, ageable, and a true masterwork.

Botrytized, late-harvest chardonnay – which is, despite chardonnay’s worldwide ubiquity, somewhat of a rarity in bottle – is, to the extent possible, left out of the regular chardonnay, then separately crushed by foot, soaked and barrel fermented. 2003’s dried berries “didn’t give us a lot of juice,” but there is most certainly new wood employed during the process.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 “Finale” Chardonnay (Waipara) – Just bottled. Silky-textured, showing spiced citrus, peach and apple pie. The finish is clean and crisp with acidity. Terrific.

First lady

But wine isn’t the only thing at which Pegasus Bay excels. The recent recipient of Cuisine magazine’s “Best Casual Restaurant” award can be a tough reservation, even for a weekday lunch. It pays to be in the company of the winemaker!

After an arduous barrel tasting, we’re assembled at an outdoor table, while Lynnette pulls a few more bottles (as if we really need more wine) to show with food. And what food! Lynnette is largely a vegetarian (though she has certain weaknesses) and professes to be not all that hungry, so rather than order from the menu we just let the staff bring us a selection of marvelous small bites. One course that stands out in memory in a sinfully rich soup of creamed leeks, potatoes and goat cheese, but in truth everything is outstanding. While we eat, we continue to converse about wine, travel, the failings of French coffee and French marketing, exchange a bit of gossip about other New Zealand winemakers, and just generally have a great time.

Despite her initial protestations of gustatory parsimony, Lynnette suddenly turns all girly and orders both an extravagant cheese platter and an assortment of desserts to finish off the meal. What is it about women and dessert? We’re stuffed to the gills…in fact, we’ve been full to bursting for a good long while…but we nonetheless manage to steal a few bites here and there, including a taste of what she asserts are some of the very few truly high-quality cheeses made in the country.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc (Waipara) – Shy at first, with ripe melon and apple skin finally emerging, crisped and sharpened by acidity. This has matured nicely, and is probably ready to go.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 “Prima Donna” Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Black and red cherries, then strawberry and plum with soft, graphite-textured tannin. This wine is pure elegance and refinement, lithe and gorgeous as it caresses the palate, with a stupendous finish. Unbelievably good, and unquestionably one of the best pinots in all of New Zealand.

As the meal draws to a close and we say our farewells, we realize that we’ve been here for a little over six hours. Six hours! Our plans for a casual drop-in tastings elsewhere in the Waipara are now completely moot. But we can’t think of many more satisfying ways to spend a day, and even Lynnette seems to have enjoyed herself.

By the Bay

The wines at this property, already terrific on a previous visit and in many subsequent tastings Stateside, have moved from strength to greater strength. The improvements to the Burgundian palette of grapes are obvious, and everything in the portfolio shows signs of a little extra refinement, a soupçon more delicacy, and a persistent yearning for ever-escalating quality. The latter is the finest compliment one can pay to a winery, and it is one that Pegasus Bay richly deserves. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. These are tremendous wines.

Though the next time we visit, we’ll remember to skip breakfast. And to avoid immobile homes.

Disclosures: a rather extravagant lunch is provided for free, and we receive a discount on wine purchases.

05 March 2007

TN: New Zealand (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.

Rockburn 2005 Riesling (Central Otago) – Slate/quartz dominated, with clean lemon and green apple. It’s long, concentrated and very intense. A terrific wine. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Riesling (Marlborough) – Good and intense, with apples and rocky quartz. A fine value. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Golden fig, melon and spice with a leafy finish. It’s ripe, but there’s a worrisome Styrofoam note on the midpalate. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Stone fruit, grapefruit and clementine with a touch of cream on the nose. It’s better than the sauvignon blanc, but only just. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Crisp and clean, showing melon, pineapple and pine nuts. Ripe and very scrubbed. Simple, fruit-forward chardonnay with no rough edges. (2/07)

Dog Point 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Incredibly intense, with green, white and red pepper (a little like the Italian flag, I suppose). Vivacious, with striking minerality. This wine continues to show the constraints under which so many formulaic Marlborough sauvignons operate, yet it remains unmistakably Marlborough. (2/07)

Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Round, showing grapefruit and pineapple in a sugar wash. The person pouring this wine makes pretentious and somewhat obnoxious noise about Grove Mill’s status as the only carbon-neutral winery in New Zealand. Well, that’s great, and I’m happy for them, but how about a little less residual sugar in this overly goopy sauvignon blanc, rather than appealing to the basest of sugar-loving palates? That’s the sort of neutrality I’d be more interested in. (2/07)

Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – From magnum, though for what reason I can’t imagine. Slightly sulfurous (is it reduction?) with melon, grapefruit and grass. Boring and quite sweet. Dull, dull, dull. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Mild and simple, with grass and some vague hints of ripeness. Overall, however, this is quite dilute, and a step down from previous years. (2/07)

[vineyard]Mana 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry and pineapple with green, underripe notes. In other words, fairly classic. But I’m over this style. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and metallic, with a short finish. Different enough to be interesting, but there’s some things missing here. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Filmy raspberry sauce with acrid, slightly bitter medicinal notes. Crisp but underripe. (2/07)

Dog Point 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry, plum, ripe blood orange and golden beet. Balanced, and almost approaching something one might call “elegant”…but in context, because it is fruity. Call it a fruit firecracker, rather than a fruit bomb. (2/07)

Mana 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Burnt leaves and nasty, charred red cherry. Very underripe and shockingly tart. (2/07)

Rockburn 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Beet soup nose, turning to blended fat berries and plums. Soft but full-bodied, though it finishes somewhat stringy. It’s cleanly made, but it already shows signs that it might wear down under the ravages of age, so drink it soon. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry and red cherry. Simple and pleasant, with light lemon verbena accents. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Herbal medicine and dirt with blueberry and blackberry, finishing with a barky texture. Dissolute. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2004 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy herbs, blueberry and wood bark. Firm enough, but not very good despite some hand-waving in the direction of structure. (2/07)

Crossroads 2002 “RGF” (Hawke’s Bay) – Sophisticated black fruit and dark leather over stones. Good acid. Balanced and surprisingly polished. (2/07)

04 March 2007

TN: Sweet 48th parallel (North American BWE notes...the sweet stuff)

Blossom 2002 Riesling “Select Late Harvest” (Okanagan Valley) – Fat peach and soft apricot with sweet grapes and Juicy Fruit™ gum. Too fluffy and blowsy. (2/07)

Anthony Road 2004 Vignoles Trockenbeerenauslese “Martini Reinhardt Selection” (Finger Lakes) – Grapey and quite acidic, with peach blossoms and clementines predominating. Simple, clean fun. Painfully sweet. (2/07)

TN: God bless North America (BWE notes)

[label]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.

De Lille 2005 “Chaleur Blanc” (Columbia Valley) – Thick with wood and ripe fig, with stone fruit and peach/apricot syrup. Good, if exceedingly heavy and even a bit ponderous, in a ripeness-above-all New World style. (2/07)

Sterling 1976 Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” (Napa Valley) – Black pepper, plum, blackberry and tobacco. Rich, complex and beautiful, with fantastic balance. Remember when Sterling actually made good wine? Anyone? (2/07)

Sterling 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” (Napa Valley) – Somewhat tired on the palate, though the nose retains its charm: tobacco and old flowers. It hardens on the finish. This wine is, unfortunately, past its drink-by date. (2/07)

Whitehall Lane 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Rich spiced plum, blackberry and ripe tannin, with a warm softness predominating. A balanced structure provides some backbone. Not bad at all. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Simple and obvious, showing spiced nothing. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel Teldeschi (Dry Creek Valley) – Structure over fruit, with red cherry and strawberry asserting a friendlier aspect on the finish. Fair. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel Barricia (Sonoma Valley) – Structured, with dark plum, black cherry and a brooding, heavy palate. It’s long, but things turn a little sour by the end. I wonder about the future of this wine. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) – Very powdery, with graphite-dusted black cherry and blackberry. Heavy but pleasant. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (Lodi) – Dark raisin and ripe, concentrated plum and black pepper. Slightly hot, but carrying good intensity. (2/07)

[bottle]Ravenswood 2003 “Icon” (Sonoma County) – Chocolate-coated raspberry dessert (except, of course, it’s supposed to be a dry wine). Grossly overoaked, with a bitter, nasty finish. (2/07)

Ridge 2005 “Three Valleys” (Sonoma County) – Full-bodied, showing plum and burnt coconut, with a shortish finish. Good, with helpful acidity. This seems more approachable than in the past. (2/07)

Ridge 2004 Zinfandel York Creek (Napa Valley) – Strawberry and concentrated plum with good structure and balance. Fine work. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Dark and dusty, showing black cherry, blackberry and boysenberry. There’s an undergrowth of brambles and thorns here, and the finish – while long – is not free of wood and tar. Still, it’s otherwise balanced, and it could just be struggling with its youth right now. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Quite structured, with leathery blueberry and tobacco-scented cedar. Long and balanced, with a little bit of chocolate on the finish. This would be a fine cabernet in any portfolio, though here at Ridge it pales in comparison to the Monte Bello. (2/07)

Ridge 1999 Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Leather, tobacco and blackberry with leather and a slathering of American oak. This is tightly-wound and almost pulses with energy, as exhibited on a finish that fights and claws against fading. It’s a little surprising that there’s anything to taste here, because I’d expect this to be closed tight, but it definitely shows the promise within. (2/07)

Be home before spring (Paris/Alsace, pt. 3)

[vines at night](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

27 March 2006 – Thionville to the Bas-Rhin, France

Lorraine is grey and rainy – isn’t it always, in a metaphysical sense? – which puts a sort of psychic brake on our eagerness to hit the road early. Nonetheless, Patricia & Bruno load us up with pastries and giant bowls of café au lait…plus a little aged Burgundy for later…and the caffeine propels us out the door with renewed vigor. We make a not-so-quick stop at a giant Cora hypermarché for some supplies, then point our car east.

The drive across Lorraine is boring and wet until the forests and hills of Alsace, at which point the skies begin to clear. And the temperature – around 50°F in Thionville – rises to a balmy 70°F on the outskirts of Marlenheim, which leads to open windows and the happy feeling that spring is, despite the weather of the past few days, inevitable. We decide on the inefficient but incomparably beautiful long route to our destination, leaving all traces of A or N behind to take a version of the northern three-quarters of the route des vins all the way to Hunawihr, which brings us through nearly every impossibly beautiful jewel box village and craggy vineyard slope in the Bas-Rhin, twisting and turning all the way. The temperature continues to increase.

The vignoble is crawling with ant-like workers bearing shears and clippers and small wagons full of dead branches, while others follow with stake and wire, binding the vines into rigid forms in preparation for the growing season. This is a time of renewal in the vineyards, where everything of the past year is stripped away and the stage is set for all that is to come. There’s no excitement yet…just back-breaking work under a tenuous sky…but the sense of anticipation is building. Perhaps somewhere just on the other side of the Vosges, spring is waiting, and it will break over this region in just a few weeks’ time.

Hunawihr, France

Demeure d’Anthylla – Pulling into the gated courtyard of this gîte is like coming home after a long dinner. It really does feel as if we haven’t left, though in fact it’s been three long years since we’ve been here.

Our host, Constant Eckert, is a bit of an oenophile himself (not surprising for a man who’s turned a decrepit old winery into a lovely habitation), and he gives us a bottle of crémant and a half-bottle of old riesling before leaving us to our dinner preparations. The bubbly disappears at a rather alarming rate while we prep a gorgeous rib eye of veal and a salad of frisée and lardons, after which we’re practically forced to open a second bottle to match the cuisine. It, too, disappears. How’d that happen?

Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr “Calixte” Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Alsace) – Grapefruit and geranium with honeydew rind. There’s an impression of sweetness and a good deal of wetness, but what there isn’t a lot of is tingly fizz. this comes off more like a still than a sparkling wine, and to its probable benefit. Still, it’s pretty basic as such things go.

Chanson 1995 Beaune Clos du Roi “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Very faded and stripped, showing pale, dried cherry, strawberry leaves and earth. It’s elegant, but desiccated. Not quite mummified, though, and there’s still a minor amount of pleasure to be wrest from its bony clutches.

We shake down the weight of dinner with a pleasant evening stroll through the dark and silent stone streets of Hunawihr, diverting for a dozen muddy steps into a vineyard above the Rosacker. But the drive, the dinner, the stroll and the wine quickly conspire, and we’re sent to bed at an absurdly early hour. And why not? Tomorrow, the serious wine tasting begins.

03 March 2007

TN: The wines of Daniel Schuster

Notes from a tasting led by Daniel Schuster himself. He’s a bit difficult to understand with his blend of accents and a tendency to ramble into sub-audible tangents, but when he can be understood, he is absolutely one of the funniest – I mean side-splittingly, rolling on the floor hilarious – winemakers I’ve ever met. Were it not for the necessity of hearing the next bon mot, I’d have been roaring with laughter for a solid hour.

He’s also eminently quotable, uttering profundities that have you nodding your head, even while realizing that they don’t necessarily mean all that much. For example:

“This wine has a hint of corruption.”

“Why do ‘winemakers’ insist on that title? You don’t hear people who keep bees saying ‘I make honey’.”

“There’s no communism in wine.”

As for the wines, they’re a very solid collection that show restraint and elegance. One might hope for a bit more verve in places, but I suspect there’s an active stylistic choice at work here, rather than an inability to achieve something of more intensity. Only my unwillingness to drag myself away from day-long tastings at Pegasus Bay has stopped me from visiting this winery in the past. I won’t let that happen next time. (Well, I’ll probably still do the day-long tastings, but I’ll supplement them with a visit to Schuster…possibly the next day.)

Daniel Schuster 2006 Riesling (Waipara) – Plenty of spritz here, which fizzes up sweet crystalline lime, candied apple, and whipping needles of acidity slashing like a razor ‘cross the palate. Exquisitely balanced, with a light sweetness that complexes to white button mushrooms on the finish, in concert with a metallic aluminum sheen. This is impressive, albeit in an understated way. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Chardonnay Petrie (Rakaia) – Fetid apricot and overripe pear with some sweat on the nose. The palate is more generous, showing creamed orange, grapefruit, crisp crabapple and an almost shockingly vivacious acidity. The finish is piercing, with steel flakes in abundance, and matters are brought to a close by the gentle emergence of drying tannin. I find it a bit shocking, but very appealing…though others at the table note the overt butter (which I find restrained) and miss the acidity. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Twin Vineyards (Canterbury) – A non-vintage bargain pinot. Synthetic sour cherry, with tart greenness dominating. A few strawberry leaves are about all that’s worth mentioning. Simple-minded and not very interesting. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2004 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry, plum and beet with a deeper cherry core emerging on the palate. There are light but insistent traces of licorice and spice. Texturally, this shows gentle, cottony fruit with a beautifully supple finish that rolls and fades. A lovely wine, exemplifying a soft expression of the Waipara terroir. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir Omihi Hills (Waipara) – Tighter and more concentrated than the regular Waipara pinot, with the aromas shifted to a darker, black fruit and leather spectrum. There’s a slightly syrupy thickness to the forepalate that eventually lends a smooth texture to a core rich with morels, black truffles, and dark, roasted beets. The wine is round and mouthfilling, squeezing into every corner and filling it with satin. I probably wouldn’t drink this now, because everything is still a little over-wound, but I would most definitely stick a few in the cellar. It’s going to be a beauty. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2004 “Late Harvest” Riesling Hull Family (Waipara) – Shy, with sweet green apple and a milky texture. It’s very sweet, and while it gives the appearance of concentration, there’s not actually all that much that’s being concentrated. The wine quickly crescendos, then just as quickly decrescendos…it’s all build-up, with no subsequent explosion. The finish is long, tart and vibrating. It’s OK, but definitely not up to the standards of the rest of the portfolio. (3/07)

With dinner, Schuster springs for a few alternative tastes of pinot, the better to compare and contrast his wines. Given the very real possibility that one or both of them will be preferred by tasters, I consider this a commendable gesture.

Roumier 1994 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – A little imbalanced and a lot tired, showing dried-out red fruit and brown leaves with a squeezed meat finish, all layered with a faint but insistent tannin. It’s delicate and there are certain minor charms, but this was better at some time that was before now. (3/07)

Mount Difficulty 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Fairly simple but boisterous plumberry, orange rind and gravel notes, with more weight than acidity (though this isn’t a heavy wine by any means). Nice. (3/07)

02 March 2007

TN: Rising riesling

Trimbach 2004 Riesling (Alsace) – This is the finest yellow-label riesling from Trimbach since the majestic 1998. There’s a striking, firm core of molten iron minerality around which are wrapped lashes of crisp apple. This wine throbs with intensity. (3/07)

TN: Sur les terres d'Avignon

Terres d’Avignon “Cuvée Sélectionnée par Kermit Lynch” 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Earth, herb, animal and dark, sun-dried fruit – all the classic elements – in a gentle, but persistent brew of charming simplicity. This is a delicious wine of fine, authentic character…no bells and whistles, but plenty of gut-level pleasure. (3/07)

TN: Get Leydier

[label]Leydier “Domaine de Durban” 2002 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône) – Always the best of its appellation, with beautiful sweet apricot, peach and tangerine over quartz-ridden bedrock. The wine sparkles and glitters as if crystalline, with freshening acidity and a long, pure finish. Delicious. (3/07)

TN: Old Fogarty

[label]Fogarty 2004 Gewürztraminer (Monterey) – Still one of the best U.S. gewürztraminers, with all the lush peach/lychee/cashew oil aromas one would want, a thick texture with mild residual sugar, and a finish that wavers between clean and pleasurably sticky. It’s not complex, but it’s solidly made. (3/07)