31 May 2007

TN: Hune are you?

Trimbach 1995 Riesling Clos Ste-Hune (Alsace) – After aggressive decanting and an hour or so warming and aerating in both decanter and glass, this is only just barely getting off the ground. Not unexpected. What’s discernable: oyster shells collected at the base of a hypercube; all slashing angles and sharp acidity shattering the boundaries of dimension. Grapefruit rind, mineral soda – and eventually, with enough air, watermelon and molten steel – provide the core of a dry, dense, absolutely stunning wine that somehow manages to be full-bodied while wrapped up tighter than a prisoner; it’s simultaneously sharp, delicate, massive and light. The finish seems endless. Intense precision in a glass, this is a wine with amplitude. (5/07)

TN: Tempier worker

[vineyard]Peyraud “Domaine Tempier” 1993 Bandol (Provence) – A wine that writhes, spreads and coats…from the initial squirt of bubblegum to old, mildewed morels and a hearty dusting of cocoa on the finish. The acidity is high by modern standards, the tannin is still present and will probably go unresolved as this wine goes softly into its good night, but the fruit is almost surprisingly clean; lovers of the funk will be mildly disappointed. They shouldn’t be, as this is a lovely wine in the very early stages of its retirement. (5/07)

TN: Dutheil-oriented

[vineyard]Couly-Dutheil 1995 Chinon Clos de l’Echo (Loire) – Very herbal (mostly thyme), but juicy, showing soy on the midpalate and a wet, white peppery edge to the tannin that scrapes across the finish. Everything else in this wine seems ripe, but the tannic bite may not be. There’s a feisty meat component as the wine opens, then tarragon and a lovely lavender grace note. The balance here is lovely, but what also stands out is the abruptness of the wine’s decline; three hours after opening, it is dead, dead, dead. So: drink up with pleasure, but do drink up. (5/07)

TN: Ridge line

Ridge 1992 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Cedar and roasted coconut over zingy red cherries and oat bran. Richly-spiced and mildly tannic, with a pecan-skin punch to the finish. Yet this wine is clearly in the early stages of its decline, showing telltale signs of softness amidst the defiance and lingering aromatics. Drink a few years ago for maximum pleasure. (5/07)

TN: Demi-more

[label]Moncontour 1993 Vouvray Demi-Sec (Loire) – Old wax and mild oxidation…at first. This really needs air, after some of which the midpalate fattens, showing large-scaled dried pineapple and papaya. Underneath is a faded riverbed of rocks and wet chalk. The texture is downy, and though there’s both a very slight touch of softening sweetness and a lot of acid, this shows signs of an early end to its life. Which, because it’s Vouvray, could be anytime over the next two decades. (5/07)

TN: Clivi together

[label]Clivi 2002 Collio Goriziano “Brazan” (Friuli) – Extremely austere and almost tasteless at first opening. As it airs, it develops (very slowly) a magisterial air, regal and refined, showing windblown mineral dust and a powerful crescendo of intensity. The basic error was mine: I should have decanted it for a half-day, at least. Possibly longer. But there’s every indication that this is a stunner, for anyone who can exhibit some patience. (5/07)

TN: Epanomi, by any other name

[vineyard]Gerovassiliou 2004 Malagousia (Epanomi) – Fruit-forward (green melon, grapefruit, some ripe lemon) with floral squeezings and a dominant post-malolactic note. Simultaneously heavy and obvious, it would be a much better wine with a little supporting acidity. (5/07)

TN: Quivira-ing with anticipation

[grapes]Quivira 2002 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Good, sun-roasted berry flavors with a thickening paste of syrupy wood. Why molest good fruit this way? The wine’s not bad for uncritical quaffing, but keener palates won’t enjoy trying to penetrate the sludgy perimeter. (5/07)

28 May 2007

TN: Bass, baritone, alto, tenor

[vineyard]Aldo Conterno 1999 Langhe “Quartetto” (Piedmont) – Nebbiolo, barbera, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Dense, structured, heavy and a little tedious. Graceful nebbiolo aromatics dance above the surface, but beneath are thick, somewhat anonymous black cherry, chocolate, thyme, toast and tar solids. The wine doesn’t lack acidity, but it seems unintegrated. As internationalized wines go, this is a good one. But I suspect the nebbiolo alone would have been better. (5/07)

TN: Cognac the magnificent

[bottles]Pierre Ferrand Cognac “1er Cru Réserve” (Southwest France) – Warming, tanned sand and perfectly crisped potato with blended baking spices, old cider and a white pepper edge on the finish. Pretty. (5/07)

TN: Madiran, I ran so far away

Savoret “Clos Fardet” 1998 Madiran (Southwest France) – Very tannic (of course), showing nicely-developing blackened mushroom, charred blackberry, and liquid black soil. There’s even a hint of unrefined oil. Blended herbs and more berries stir into the finish. If such a thing can even be said, it seems slightly commercial for Madiran, but there’s no denying it’s a tasty wine. (5/07)

TN: Fool's gold

Au Bon Climat 2005 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) – Simple mixed berries and obvious structure. Direct and straightforward. The finish is absent. (5/07)

TN: Savigny the last dance for me

[vineyard & people]Maréchal 2004 Savigny-les-Beaune “Vieilles Vignes” (Burgundy) – Golden beet, orange rind, old cherry and reddish-grey earth, with hints of black truffle and a darker, moodier diagonal streak that brings with it a sliced edge of tannin. Very nice, but it feels like it’s showing most of its complexity already, and may not have a beneficial future. That’s just a guess, though. (5/07)

TN: Beurre Montée

[bottle]Fèvre 2005 Chablis Montée de Tonnerre “1er Cru” (Chablis) – Piercing yet supple, with ginger-spiced complexity and a firm, balanced core of acid, light citrus pith, and green mango. Deftly oaked, and really, really nice. (5/07)

TN: JJ walker

JJ Prüm 1997 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 9 98 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Finally open for business, though it’s still a baby. The sulfur has dissipated, leaving an intense, satiny ball of electric creamfruit and threaded steel. There’s just enough acidity to balance matters. An infant beauty. (5/07)

JJ Prüm 1997 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 9 98 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Under a cork on the verge of structural failure, and the wine shows more advanced, mildly oxidative tremors underneath its full-bodied weight. Organoleptically, the wine is as noted above, but this bottle has seen a little damage. (5/07)

TN: I put a Hex on you

[vineyard]Hexamer 2005 Schlossböckelheimer In Den Felsen Riesling Spätlese 008 06 (Nahe) – Vivid and somewhat aggressive, with a rounded hammer of ripe apple sheathed in velvet. There’s structure here, but this wine is dominated by its fruit, and it’s a bit on the obvious side. In any case, aging won’t hurt. (5/07)

TN: Double Diel-ing

[burgberg vineyard]Diel 1998 Dorsheimer Burgberg Riesling Kabinett (Nahe) – Apple core and molten aluminum, well-salted aged riesling creaminess, and a woven texture. This is in a beautiful place right now, and I see little reason to hold it. (5/07)

Diel 1997 Dorsheimer Burgberg Riesling Kabinett (Nahe) – Creamier and heavier than the ’98, showing more obvious, round stone fruit popsicle, a polished mouthfeel, and a moderate amount of finishing oil. It could go longer, but the acid is a little deficient…though not unpleasantly so.(5/07)

TN: The Liest of our worries

Dönnhoff 2005 Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett (Nahe) – Fresh, vivid peach and citrus with a squeezed stone liquidity, fairly intense sweetness, and an acidic structure that’s struggling a bit beneath the competing elements. This looks to have a good life ahead of it, but it’s predictably straightforward now. (5/07)

TN: Bihl me later

[label]Frick 2004 Riesling Bihl (Alsace) – Extremely austere, with a dusty, wind-etched aroma. There’s every indication of lightness, but the wine carries significant weight and presence…however, that presence is somewhat void, like a hollow chamber. Call it dark matter: a density of nothing. The finish is dry and parched. (5/07)

TN: Grim & brown

[logo]Grimbergen “Optimo Bruno” (Belgium) – Dark, roasted and heavily spiced, with an espresso cream backbone that almost edges towards root beer. Brewed and blackened complexity. (5/07)

17 May 2007

TN: French colombard

[vineyard]Domaine du Tariquet 2005 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne Ugni Blanc/Colombard (Southwest France) – The general suggestion is “basic white wine,” with the clean, vague fruit that resides somewhere between dried citrus and faded apple, buoyed by acidity. But there’s a little more here…a nuttiness and aromatic leaf grace note that add interest and backpalate development. Nice. (5/07)

TN: Bottex message

Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – Inadvertently aged a year, and the seams are beginning to show; strawberries are turning seedy and slightly stale, and there’s an emergence of volcanic rocks underneath…not in a good, Lacryma Christi sort of fashion – that dries and subdues the fruit. But, overall, it’s still a very summery beverage, and surprisingly deft with all manner of aggressive cuisines. (5/07)

TN: Serral killer

[vineyard]Gaillard/Baills “Domaine Madeloc” 2004 Collioure “Cuvée Serral” (Roussillon) – Oaky and simplistic, with well-buttered black fruit and a general lack of verve, sun-baked intensity, dried earth, or character. Why drink Collioure, if all these things are going to be missing? This tastes exactly like an internationalized syrah from the plateau above the Rhône Valley, except that it’s missing the intense fruit. Dismaying. (5/07)

TN: Ale, ale, the gang's all here

[label]de Block “Satan” Red Ale (Belgium) – Deep brick-dried spice, fresh clay, a pleasant layer of hoppy dryness, and the memory of red cherries and apple seed. A complete, sophisticated brew. Delicious. (5/07)

de Block “Special Block 6” Blonde Ale (Belgium) – Spicy/fruity and suggestive of fat, but the actual experience is lively and fun. Perhaps even a bit goofy. This brew shouldn’t be over-intellectualized, but it should most definitely be enjoyed. (5/07)

de Block “Dendermonde” Abbey Ale (Belgium) – Weighty and cream-textured, with spice and lees dominating, yet surprisingly light on the finish. Balanced and fresh, which is not necessarily typical for an abbey ale. I’m not even sure it’s desirable, to be honest, but it’s a good beer, no matter what. (5/07)

Port “Lost & Found” Abbey Ale “The Lost Abbey” (California) – Sprightly for an abbey, but with all the spicy/leesy complexity one would want, here dominated by banana skins and strong yeastiness. It’s just the faintest bit watery, especially on the finish, but otherwise a very solid exemplar of the style. (5/07)

Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (Québec) – This is the worst example of this I’ve ever tasted…thin, insufficiently aromatic, and insufficiently interesting. Maybe it’s corked, though I don’t get the telltale aroma. (5/07)

Chimay “Première” Ale (Belgium) – Solid and dependable, but getting a bit boring, with frothy background to a featureless foreground. There’s spice, there’s texture, there’s weight, but – as the beer-swilling kids say – there’s not a lot of “there” there. What’s going on with this stuff? Or is it just impossible to rely on the lower-tier bottlings? (5/07)

13 May 2007

Cinq villages (Lorraine/Alsace/Paris, pt. 6)

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

29 March 2006 – Ingersheim, France

La Taverne Alsacienne (99, rue de la République) – Be wary: there are at least a half-dozen restaurants in Alsace that carry this name. This is the one in the (only?) pretty corner of Colmar-exurb Ingersheim…the one with the excellent food and the unbelievable wine list. It’s more formal than one might expect for what is otherwise a cramped, bustling restaurant full of lurid pastels. The service is diffident; neither the effortless formality of a starred establishment nor the brusque efficiency of more casual dining. But it doesn’t matter much, because the food’s solid. I have goose foie gras with a mango/passionfruit chutney and pink peppercorns (hard to go wrong there, as long as the foie gras is good…and it is), then duck breast with dual-preparation potatoes, a variation on ratatouille, and mushrooms (mostly chanterelles) with random root vegetables strewn about the plate. This dish is good, but a little confused and haphazard. More importantly, the duck’s slightly overcooked; not inedibly so, however, and given the number of elements on the plate I’m loathe to send it back. I go conservative for dessert, with a perfectly fine and regionally-ubiquitous kugelhopf glacé.

From a list full of well-aged and invitingly-priced Alsatians, we’re inexplicably browbeaten into a far-too-young Rhône. Hey, these things happen, though I’m not sure how.

Chave 2000 Hermitage Rouge (Rhône) – Very tight and stinging – a leather strap whipping the tongue – with sun-charred earth and blackberry roots. It’s chewy but lithe, and while it’s very well balanced and quite long, the midpalate’s oddly slender. With around a half-hour of air, it improves dramatically, showing more leather (decoupled from its earlier, more sadomasochistic expression), softly meaty elements, rich blackberry, and smooth hints of cherry-infused chocolate. Pure elegance. It is, perhaps, not “great”…or, at least, not right now…but at Chave, that’s a contextual assessment that flows from a very high standard.

Bergheim, France – After a drive through some sun-glazed vineyards west of Ingersheim, a sunny post-lunch stroll around this magisterial fortified village is a relaxing way to work off a half-dozen of the thousands of calories we’ve consumed (and indirectly absorbed) over the past few hours. The outer walls feature beautiful vistas of fields, vineyards and mountains, while the center of town showcases the region’s typically exquisite half-timbered architecture, here supplemented by forbidding churches and imposing post-governmental structures.

Riquewihr, France – Often an overcrowded, showy venue for separating tourists from their euros, Riquewihr (one of the very few Alsatian villages to survive multiple wars in a mostly intact state) takes on a very different feel after the visitors head home. A few locals take a pre-dinner stroll, and the most impatient and unacculturated foreign diners begin to settle in for mediocre choucroute and baekeoffe at main street tourist traps, but for the most part the village’s vivid colors and asymmetrical geometries are shadowed and (relatively) quiet. As long as one doesn’t want to buy or taste anything, it’s a fine time to visit.

[bergheim fortifications]

Kaysersberg, France – Even more shut-down than Riquewihr (at least from a tourist standpoint), this historic and elegant village is beginning to enliven with early diners and the beginnings of rural Alsatian “nightlife.” All street activity coalesces around the two main pedestrian routes, leaving the back streets free of motion (except for the occasional finger-sniffing cat). It’s exceedingly peaceful, but all the aromas drifting from the back windows of kitchens and restaurants are starting to make us hungry. And so, back to the gîte we go.

Hunawihr, France

We’ve got white asparagus with a buttery blood orange sauce (unfortunately, the peeler provided by the gîte is woefully inadequate to the task, leaving the asparagus hacked-up and yet still more than a little stringy), a small leg of lamb, and some leeks…followed by cheese. What we don’t have, however, is a red wine. Normally, in Alsace, I’d choose pinot gris to go with lamb – it is, after all, a red grape – but I don’t have any of that either. Poor planning on my part.

Rolly Gassmann 1999 Sylvaner Weingarten de Rorschwihr (Alsace) – Lovely, cream-textured and mildly sweet, with cinnamon, milk, celery and tomato…a bizarre-sounding combination, but it works in this wine. Green, sunny, and fully mature.

Boxler 2004 Riesling L30M (Alsace) – Crystalline sweetness with ripe, almost tropical apple slashed by shattered mineral brilliance. Drying, structured and extremely long, but what stands out most is the wine’s lively, vivid presence.

The riesling’s sheer intensity is more than enough for the lamb, even though the organoleptics don’t quite match, and the sylvaner’s surprising density is a fine foil for the asparagus. Neither much goes with the cheese, but at this point we’re liquored-up enough to not care. A late-night walk to the village’s solemn church provides a little head-clearing, and as it turns out we’re leaning against its fortified wall, staring at the moonlit vineyards below, as its bells chime midnight. Perhaps it’s just the wine, but the tones seem to reach down and grab at something beyond the physical. We walk, quietly and thoughtfully, back to the gîte, and fall, full-satiated, quickly into a deep sleep, the bells still echoing in our dreams.

12 May 2007

Clarkless (New Zealand, pt. 43)

[theresa & vista](The original version, with many more photos…and bonus alpaca porn…is here.)


If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the Kiwis love their breakfasts. We figure that the average New Zealander must burn about three million calories before lunch, given the size of the morning repasts they eagerly supply to visitors both foreign and domestic.

This morning, Shirley is at the door bearing freshly-laid eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, the ever-present muesli, milk, and the makings of coffee…so we don’t have the heart to tell her that we’re only halfway through yesterday’s bounty. Well, no matter. We’ll bring the remnants with us.

Spring following spring

If there’s another thing we’ve learned, it’s that New Zealand isn’t exactly for lovers of flat. Fiords, glaciers, mountains, volcanoes, islands both small and large…it’s rare to find any sort of level expanse, as probably befits such a geologically youthful landmass. We’re leaving one of the very few – the fertile plains of Canterbury – for one of the very few others, a destination with tiny plots of flatness surrounded by the usual tumult and jumble of Aotearoa’s coastline.

But first, we have a long – a very long – road to travel.

At first, the way is gentle, shooting straight through the vine-covered Waipara – we wave to Pegasus Bay and Black Estate as we pass – but in the town that gives the wine region its name, we turn northwest, abandoning the coastal road (towards Marlborough) to our memories of a trip three years in the past, and start the winding climb to the thermal retreat of Hanmer Springs. The town is much-heralded by local tourist organizations, but on our arrival it appears to be…well, a spa. That’s it. Just a spa. Oh sure, there’s a (tiny) town attached, and the setting is rather dramatically beautiful, and spa towns have a long Old World history…but we’re not here for spas; New Zealand has more than enough naturally-occurring restoratives for our purposes.

And so, at Hanmer Springs we follow the (mostly) westward road…unless you’re a sheep farmer, it’s the only road…which absolutely redefines scenic isolation. Rivers, mountains and valley vistas are even more dramatic than they might be for their complete lack of competing tourism; it’s as if we’re the only automobile on this two-lane highway. The Lewis Pass crossing passes uneventfully, and we swing ’round to the north via the amusingly rebellious micro-village of Spring Junction, a town seemingly populated by a few hundred motorcycles and one rollicking bar.

[long road]The road flattens for a time, but it’s an illusion provided by the smooth cut of a river valley – the spiky, tree-covered mountains persist on either side – and soon enough, the road starts yet another steep incline into the Brunner Range, before falling, precipitously and with a final series of writhing curves, into the gentle village of Murchison. From here, it’s but the remainder of a gentle descent – albeit, at times, wildly curvy – to the agricultural and pictorial cornucopia that is Nelson.

As a result of the many twists in the highway, I fear my long-suffering wife is a bit nauseous…but, thankfully, the roads soon straighten. Wakefield and Brightwater come and go, just waypoints in a long series of part-residential, part-industrial, part-commercial streets that crisscross this fertile crescent. Every dozen structures or so, there’s a vendor of local produce, and in between those are artists and artisans of every stripe. Our road dead-ends at the beautiful, sun-brightened waves of Tasman Bay. It’s then that it hits us: this is California. Cheaper and much less insincere, but California nonetheless. No wonder so many Americans move here.

And the sun shines on the bay

We find our final New Zealand lodging without much difficulty, but entering its garage proves a bit more difficult. The Harbourlight Villa (365 Wakefield Quay, Nelson…currently for sale, and thus off the rental market) is right on the main coastal road, and its narrow and mostly blind entrance onto a high-speed byway is a bit of a heart-stopping experience. Thankfully, the interior of the garage is a rotating disk, so a car can be repositioned forwards for a similarly jittery departure.

The villa itself is majestic, with expansive windows open to a wide view of the Bay and the peaks of Abel Tasman in the distance, and though the upstairs can be a bit noisy from passing traffic with all windows ajar, the downstairs master bedroom is insulated and quiet, with a small garden-like enclosure attached. Otherwise, all is modern (especially the kitchen), colorful, and pure architectural and highly-designed fun.

[patio view]Theresa settles onto the patio, which overlooks both bay and street, with her journal and a glass of wine, and draws curious – and occasionally yearning – stares from virtually every passing pedestrian, while I join the aforementioned walkers for a leisurely stroll of our environs. Despite the traffic, our street is mostly residential, and there’s not much to see aside from the beautiful waterfront views. Eventually, however, hunger pangs arise, and we nervously extract our trusty automobile from its garage with an accelerator-pounding lurch, but more sedately meandering towards town in search of the seafood for which the region is well-known. It doesn’t take long. Local clams are available in abundance, and a quick pan full of them…with wine, bacon and chiles…both compliments and contrasts their briny sweetness.

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Not very showy, but what’s here is clean pear skin and windblown minerality. It carries just a hint of spice and fatness. I liked this bottle a little better at the winery; now, it seems somewhat wan.

Black Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Butterscotch oak and minerals tasted through a thick screen. It gains fat with food, but what it persistently lacks is complexity…or, for that matter, interest. Despite the weight gain, I think this is “better” – and it’s not good – by itself.

Sated, we retreat once more to the patio, watching the descending sun light up the bay in a rainbow of fires and shades. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and seems to go on for hours. But it’s also tinged with a measure of sadness, for now our New Zealand adventure really is coming to a close. Just a few days remain. How will we spend them?

Amongst olives, grapevines, and sweaty, churlish winemakers, of course. And, also, antisocial importers. Can’t forget them.

Disclosure: the Black Estate Chardonnay is a gift from Russell Black.

10 May 2007

TN: Palmina card

[bottles]Palmina 2001 Nebbiolo Stolpman (Santa Ynez Valley) – One of the most tangible wines I’ve tasted in a long time, with a powder-on-velvet texture that’s absolutely captivating. The nose is explosive, showing blackberries and black cherries undercut by rich black earth, tarragon and skin-like qualities. Balanced, forceful, and beautiful right now, but it will most definitely age. As to the question of whether or not it tastes like nebbiolo: if the standard is Piedmont, it does not. But it’s a terrific wine nonetheless…one of the best reds I’ve had from California in a long, long time. (5/07)

TN: Winter Palacios

Palacios 2005 Bierzo “Pétalos” (Northwest Spain) – Very aromatic, but while there are dark flowers, black truffle and purple-black fruit to be ferreted forth, the majority of what’s on display is a flat, varnishy layer of smooth wood that deadens and muffles the wine, bringing its finish to an abrupt, oaky end. Disappointing. (4/07)

TN: Sanct for the memories

[label]St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Alto Adige) – Pure essence of sauvignon in all its green-hued glory. Torqued, Kermity and strong, with a mineral undercurrent and a biting skin-abraded finish. Classic. (5/07)

TN: A tortured classic

[label]Allegrini 2004 Valpolicella Classico (Veneto) – Raw, whip-slash fruit, angry and unaccommodating, showing a fierce, acid-soured midpalate and greenish tannin scars on the finish. This used to be a pleasant little wine, but it appears to have undergone a stay at Hotel Abu Ghraib. (5/07)

TN: Waipara the slate clean

[wine-stained hands]Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Licorice, strawberry seed and orange pith slashed by vibrant acidity and a black layer of tannin. There are smoky elements to the aroma (punctuated by black and pink peppercorns, plus a rocky texture) that hint at pinot-as-syrah, but the structure’s completely different. This bottle is much less well-knit than others have been, and I wonder if the wine might not be in the very early stages of crack-up. (5/07)

TN: Wine & Roses

J. Lassalle Champagne Chigny-les-Roses “1er Cru” Brut Rosé “Reserve des Grandes Années” (Champagne) – Extremely floral and very earthy, with cinnamon cap mushroom, cooked apple, and over-matured, baked strawberry dusted with clove. Flecks of metal swim about. This is brooding, long, lush and full, with a slushy froth. Every bit a red wine, despite the pink color and the bubbles, it’s fabulously complex and a solemn joy to drink. (5/07)

TN: White pope

Perrin “Château de Beaucastel” 1993 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Dark bronze. Stunningly creamy and concentrated. Cinnamon and nutmeg-sprinkled blood oranges, tarragon and lavender honey. It feels almost sugary, but it’s not; instead, the utterly gorgeous smoothness turns to enveloping velvet, which then softly fades away. Insistent despite its initial apparent feebleness, it nevertheless needs to be consumed soonish.. Truth be told, it’s not all that far removed from a fine oloroso, once you subtract the alcohol. (5/07)

TN: Ancient & old

JP Brun “Terres Dorées” 2001 Beaujolais “L’Ancien Vieilles Vignes” (Beaujolais) – Spiky, red cherry-dominated and acidic, with a seedy, brittle finish. I think this one has gone as long as it can. It’s tasty and vivid, but unquestionably thinning around the perimeter. (5/07)

Domaine Chassagne 2005 Morgon Côtes de Ruillères (Beaujolais) – The ghost of Beaujolais passed; spiky, juicy, somewhat hollow and semi-candied redfruit like that of the carbonic maceration Beaujolais I used to drink when I was first getting into wine. As befits a Morgon of this vintage, there’s some serious tannin, and all around is structure, but the core of fruit in its midst is exceedingly unserious. This is the first 2005 I’ve tasted that I believe I’ll avoid in the future. (5/07)

TN: Sénat chamber

JB Sénat “Domaine Saint Sernin” 1999 Minervois Le Bois des Merveilles (Languedoc) – Corked. A shame, too, as this was a gift from the winemaker, carried all the way home from Sénat’s cellar in Trausse-Minervois. (5/07)

09 May 2007

TN: Maréchal law

[vineyard]Maréchal 2004 Chorey-les-Beaune (Burgundy) – Crisp, salivatory red cherry and raspberry with sanded-down edges of cereal-brown earth and well-integrated tarragon and thyme aromas. Quite engaging. (4/07)

TN: Py in the sky

JM Burgaud 2005 Morgon Côte du Py “Vieilles Vignes” (Beaujolais) – Very muscular and tough; not showing much, but grudgingly giving up some chewy, dark berry fruit and crushed violets. Mostly, though, it’s earthy and tannic, with firm acidity not helping to smooth matters. Leave it alone for a long while. (4/07)

TN: Two-dollar Cahors (not really)

[label]Gayraud “Château Lamartine” 2002 Cahors (Southwest France) – Wet, hard-ridden leather with hints of tar, black fruit residue, and a jerky, whip-snap structure dominated by violent lashes of sharp tannin and blocky acidity. The wine has a certain appeal, and not just from a sadomasochistic point of view; the elements are in that funky sort of Southwestern French balance, and while the wine is quite drinkable (albeit with food) now, I think aging is key. It will never be refined, however. (4/07)

TN: Duc of E.A.R.L.

Gras “Santa Duc” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône “Les Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Corked. (5/07)

TN: Mon dieu, mondeuse

Peillot 2003 Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Bracing blackfruit with licorice spice and a freshening, Altoid-like verve to the palate. The aromatics ride the line between gamay and something darker and more menacing, but for all the wine’s threatened fierceness, it’s lovably approachable and extremely affable with food (thanks to bright acidity, even in this vintage). Very nice. (5/07)

TN: Que

[syrah]Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Dark and moody, with leather-wrapped blackberry and blueberry beneath a growing layer of black silt. This wine hasn’t budged much over the last few years; it’s an excellent value, full of honesty and delicious, authentic quality. (4/07)

TN: Lots and lots

[baby in grapes]Marietta “Old Vine Red Lot #43” (California) – Solid though unidentifiable fruit dominated by old, briary berries and mild woodspice. Balanced and friendly. Exceedingly easygoing. (4/07)

TN: A Ridge too far

[lytton springs tasting room]Ridge 2005 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – Highly-perfumed coconut, spicy dark red fruit and an impenetrable wall of embryonic formlessness. This is way, way, way too young. There’s the vague sense that things are in balance and thus ageability is suggested, but it’s honestly just too early to tell. (4/07)

04 May 2007

TN: On the Lam(brusco)

Gibellini “Tenuta Pederzana” 2005 Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (Emilia-Romagna) – Dark plum residue with a dried berry, slightly tar-like aggression. The bubbles have coalesced to a rough, choppy roll, and this wine is a little fierce in a very small way. Interesting. (4/07)

TN: Ruché & roll

cascina ‘tavijn 2004 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – I’ve had problematic experiences with this wine, but here’s one of the good ones: lurid red fruit with exotic spice and candy aromas intertwined, tuna jerky and an acid-to-the-fore finish. Pleasurable with food, a little bizarre without. (4/07)

TN: Sella few

Sella & Mosca 2003 Cannonau di Sardegna “Riserva” (Sardinia) – Bright, soda-splash red fruit with stripes of light coconut toast and a friendly, obvious appeal. Surprisingly light for an ’03, and while it’s somewhat commercial and simplistic, it can’t really be criticized for its inherent qualities. (4/07)

TN: Monaci Bellucci

Feudo Monaci 2003 Salice Salentino (Apulia) – Thudding, dead and twisted into itself, showing baked fruit, overheated alcohol and a completely absent sense of self. Actively unpleasant. (5/07)

03 May 2007

TN: Turn your head & Kaefferkopf

[map]J&C Binner 2002 Riesling Kaefferkopf (Alsace) – I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted a dry riesling of such overwhelming density that still manages to achieve balance and harmony. Usually, a wine with this much extract is heavy and clumsy…or searingly alcoholic…but here everything’s in proportion. Only the most careful analysis will confirm a guess as to the variety (the clues are the vivid and ripe malic acidity, plus a certain persistence of acid-lifted structure on the finish), as this wine is very much given over to its terroir, which is revealed in a fine particulate mineral-salt core surrounded by delicate layers of dried pear and white spice. In the end, however, it is the density and concentration that win the day. This is a terrific wine with the potential for truly epic ageability. (5/07)

TN: Little pink Untis for you & me

[barrels & vineyard]Unti 2006 Rosé (Dry Creek Valley) – Big, forward and juicy-fruity, with the mild sheen of heat steaming to the top of Pixie Stik strawberry and raspberry syrup. This description makes it sound more candied than it actually is; aside from the minor alcohol issues, it’s a fine example of California rosé, with much more fruit to stand up to the alcohol than can be found in similarly-formed Mediterranean pinksters. In fact, its goofy drinkability is quite engaging. (4/07)

TN: Stone Tablas

[bottle]Tablas Creek 2005 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Soft peach and apricot up front, more lively tangerine acidity out back, and a lovely, floral overlay completes the picture. A tight ball of nutty complexity lies poised to emerge, but this is as yet some years off. Right now, it’s very primary. (4/07)

TN: Ollivier twist

Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Cuvée Eden” “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – This wine is deceptive. It begins with gentleness and insubstantiality, teasing with hints of broken-shell seashore wind. There’s a sudden expansion, wherein sun-blanched lemons and almond whitemeats rush to the fore, bringing with them a thick, rocky brine. Then, a retreat…leaving firm, palate-drying structure and an almost shockingly persistent finish. Obviously, this is too young, but even in its first years, the quality and complexity are apparent. (5/07)

TN: These are a few of my favorita things

[bottle]Fratelli Alessandria 2004 Langhe Favorita (Piedmont) – Trebly fruit with alpine flowers and light notions of mint; a refreshing mouthwash of prickly green-white juice with suggestions of cactus. A little simple, but good. (4/07)

TN: Blanc slate

Brun “Terres Dorées” 2005 Beaujolais Blanc (Beaujolais) – Sun-browned stone fruit, drying apricot skin and complexing Provençal gravel, with the throb of energy just beneath the surface. Finely formed, but not too refined. (4/07)

TN: Valentin's day

[vineyard]St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Alto Adige) – Grass over rocks, with a firm structure dominating whitewashed fruit of balanced, subtle ripeness. The finish is persistent and columnar. Eminently solid. (4/07)