30 December 2007

Robert Parker, time-traveller

Though he's managed -- for a change -- to avoid referencing his much-beloved '47 Cheval Blanc, Robert Parker has a remarkable palate memory for a man in his seventies.

In reference to the never-ending controversy over whether the full-throttle Aussie wines (on which he used to bestow zillions of points and dramatic, albeit untested, aging curves) will age, Parker writes:

The best of the big Aussies will age quite well..remember all the negative comments when Penfold's Grange was launched 50 years ago

No, I don't. And neither do you, Mr. Parker. Because you were 7 years old, or maybe 8, when the wine was released.

There's no history to these wines on which to base an opinion on aging, and there's no real foundation of wines in this style from which to deduce an opinion on aging, either. So a critic -- any critic -- has to make a guess. Now, I'm all for a critic defending his or her reasons for a guess. And certainly, given the breadth and depth of his tastings, Parker should be able to defend his position. But all too often he doesn't, instead preferring to simply argue from authority (a logical fallacy, though not the most egregious one), savage anyone with a contrary opinion, or...as in this case...accord all of recorded wine history to his lifetime.

Will the wines in questions age? Well, of course, it depends on which wines you're talking about...but in general, I have no idea. I'm quite sure many of them last for a long, long time (with those fearsome levels of dry extract, how could they not?), but whether or not they will develop interesting tertiary characteristics at some point in the distant future...well, we're all going to have to wait on that.

24 December 2007

Happy holidays

If you're currently standing around telling your friends and family how much they've disappointed you this year, then ignore this message. Otherwise, happy holidays (in whatever form you're celebrating them...even not at all), and best wishes. The oenoLogician hopes everyone is drinking well.

And if not, he's determined to do so for you. He feels it's the least he can do, you know...

19 December 2007

Pretty in pork

[osterberg]After a post-rain evening stroll around St-Hippolyte, enjoying the views up the slope to Haut-Koenigsbourg, we arrive back at our gîte to find it full of Germans. Apparently, there’s a party downstairs in the caveau, and the courtyard is filled with Mercedes and BMWs. To judge by the noise, they certainly seem to be having a good time.

Léon Beyer 1993 Riesling Les Écaillers (Alsace) – From 375 ml, and a gift from the owner of our gîte, who apparently has quite a stock of them; he gave us another one the last time we stayed here. Unfortunately, this – like the last – has seen its day come and go. It’s quite faded, with oxidation and stale wax predominating. The acidity is vivid, and at the very heart of the wine there’s some nice apple skin and white plum, but it’s just too sour and old to be any good.

With a “light” dinner of bacon spätzle and veal (OK, OK, there’s a salad too…but it’s dressed with bacon fat), we need something a little better. Unfortunately, there’s no gewurztraminer at hand, and the closest thing I can find doesn’t really substitute very well. It’s fine on its own, but no match for the food.

…continued here.

18 December 2007

Red soil at night

[terre rouge vineyards]A tasting of and dinner with the wines of Bill Easton (Domaine de la Terre Rouge), hosted by Bill Easton himself at Oleana in Cambridge, MA. This was mostly a social event, and so the following notes will be comparatively light on the wine geekery, other than the notes.

I’m the last to arrive, thanks to Oleana’s difficult parking situation, and the rest of the attendees have started with a little Prosecco at the bar. We move to the table while I catch up.

Adami Prosecco di Valdabbione “Sur Lie” (Veneto) – Tart and papery. Segmented, and the lack of cohesion renders the wine a little flat. Unserious Prosecco is fine, even welcome, but it needs to taste alive. This tastes like it’s attempting some sort of profundity, but if so it’s a failure in that regard. It simply comes across as deadened. (5/07)

Easton 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Sierra Foothills) – Big and aromatic…is that a little creamy leesiness?...with a surplus of ripe gooseberry and some fat to the texture. The cream and its accompanying butter are deceptive, as the wine doesn’t go through malo, but the ripe greenness reasserts itself on the finish. This drinks like sauvignon blanc aromatics wedded to a viognier texture (though without the heat that so often plagues the latter). Interesting, though unmistakably New World.(5/07)

…continued here.

17 December 2007

A bone in the nose

[clivi bottles]A tasting of and dinner with the wines of I Clivi, hosted by Mario Zanusso (from the winery) and Jeannie Rogers (the importer) at her restaurant Il Capriccio, in Waltham, MA. And a note: there is an extensive tasting at the winery, from November of 2007, that will eventually follow these notes. Stay tuned.

When I arrive, Mario is not long off the plane, and to be honest he has that telltale dazed, glassy-eyed look that inevitably follows such voyages. He’s sipping on a restorative martini, which wouldn’t necessarily be my pick-me-up of choice, but he manages to remain fairly alert until the tail-end of the evening.

For the first twenty minutes or so, it’s just me and Mario, so we chat for a while about matters various and sundry. He explains that his wines have “some similarities with Hermitage blanc,” though they’re much lighter in feel. Still, weight is an issue, and last year’s 16% tocai (despite being picked two weeks early) was a signal that warmer global temperatures aren’t going to leave Friuli unchanged. Clivi has had to modify their pruning techniques to lower ripeness, which has slowed down the grapes a bit, leading to a better balance.

In the near future are two hectares of ribolla gialla, but for now there are ten hectares of their own grapes, with some additional grapes purchased, and a total production of between 25,000 and 30,000 bottles.

Eventually, the other guests arrive, and we move to the table. With a procession of Il Capriccio’s typically excellent fare, we taste quite a lineup of wines. Here are the notes, interspersed with Mario’s commentary.

…continued here.

16 December 2007

Gypsies, crabs & thieves

[milan cathedral]Gypsies crowd in on all sides. I’ve got one hand over the pocket with the coins, another in the air, poised to strike. My wallet, thankfully, is safely tucked in a pouch under several layers of clothing, but I’d rather the predatory groping not start (maybe if they looked like last night’s cabbie…). What I haven’t been able to stop is the pressing-in, the rapacious closeness that’s intended to precede the actual theft.

Finally, I’ve had enough. I start shoving. Hard. “Get away from me,” I hiss, pulling my hand back once again and balling it into a fist. But it’s no use. They’ve seen this act before, and they outnumber me.

…continued here.

12 December 2007

Jewel of denial

[riesling]The original version, with more photos and better formatting, is here.

The world of wine is full of connections, and our second stop on this day is directly connected to our first: Daniel Schwarzenbach is (or perhaps, as of this writing, was) part of the winemaking team at Kahurangi Estate. What a difference a venue makes!

We’re met in a slick tasting/café facility by Greg Day, the owner. He takes us on a brisk tour of the facilities…and I do mean the facilities, as the majority of Day’s narrative is about tanks, bottling lines, barrels, vineyard purchases and total tonnage, with a good deal of marketing-speak thrown in for good measure In other words, not the stuff one usually hears at a quality-oriented winery, though to be fair Day is the business side of things, and not a winemaker. Kahurangi (the Maori word means “precious jewel” or “treasured possession,” among other things; there’s a certain aptness to that) is much more a smooth commercial operation than most places we’ll visit on this trip, and this character comes through very clearly in its lineup; the primary quality of Kahurangi’s wines is a lack of overt flaws. I suppose that’s rather the point, but it’s also somewhat uninspiring.

It’s also a shame, as Kahurangi holds an interesting distinction as the owner of the oldest vines on the South Island: a tight collection of riesling planted in 1973. In other words, not old at all by European standards, which helps point out just how adolescent the local winemaking culture really is. In addition to the estate vineyards (twenty-six acres), there is also the leased Five Oaks Vineyard (thirty acres) that, at the time of our visit, has not yet been fully utilized. Still, overall, Kahurangi buys more grapes than it owns. Most are from the Moutere sub-region of Nelson, though the appellations on each bottling tell the tale. Along with the standard palette of regional varieties, there’s a small trickle of montepulciano (that, unfortunately, we don’t get to taste). A slight majority of the wines are exported (mostly to Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.), and the winery employs screwcaps on all but the 30% of exports headed for the conservative markets of mainland Europe.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Riesling “Reserve” (Moutere) – We start by tasting the old-vine flagship, which leads to a concern that everything will be downhill from here. (As it turns out, not an entirely unjustified fear.) There’s green-leafed apple and concentrated steel – the latter mostly apparent on the finish – amidst a mild overlay of residual sugar. A bit of petrol is also present. The wine shows a fair amount of intensity, but it’s not a consistent expression. One suspects that more could be done with these grapes, but then that assumes an inherent strength of the terroir about which I am ignorant.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Riesling (Moutere) – Lots of petrol here, with tart and zingy grapefruit and a hint of pear. Starts strong, finishes very flat. Eh.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – The 2004 vintage was rife with problematic and/or nonexistent ripening, and this wine (harvested under 20 brix) is no exception. indeed, there’s a definite Serrano chile character to the grassy, leafy, lime rind palate. Underripe, for sure.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Nelson) – No wood…and no malo, either. This is the estate’s biggest seller. Unfortunately, the wine is aromatically dead. Crisp, malic apple dominates the palate, along with greengage plum, but there’s just not much here. It’s inoffensive enough, I suppose.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Moutere) – 70% malolactic, and subjected to a mix of barrels and staves, showing clove-spiced apple with a good deal of orange juice on the finish. Basic and pleasant enough in this style, though without anything else to say.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Chardonnay Mt. Arthur (Moutere) – 100% American oak (which is strange, as I’ve written elsewhere in my notebook that Day claims to use all French oak…no doubt one entry or the other is an error). Sweaty banana with other tropical aromas, crisp on the midpalate and then bitter and resinous on the finish. It’s woody, to be sure, and though there’s certainly fruit, the wood imprint here is off-putting more for its character than its quantity.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Gewürztraminer (Moutere) – 18 grams/liter residual sugar; the result of a deliberately stopped fermentation. Thick, oily peach and orange give this wine a syrupy texture, and a decided lack of acid (though a trace is noticeable at the very tail end of the finish) adds to this quality. There’s a touch of skin bitterness as well, which isn’t uncommon for gewürztraminer. Drinkable.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Slightly dirty, showing plum and blackberry on a tart, juicy palate. This sharpens, over-focuses, and turns bitter and tannic on the finish. A shame, as the wine was – for a moment at least – building towards actual quality.

Trout Valley 2004 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – This is the second label of Kahurangi, and bottled one month previous to our visit; Day muses that it might end up as a Kahurangi-labeled wine after all, though I don’t know if this actually happened or not. Pretty and floral, with a dusty flower pollen texture. There are minor suggestions of underripeness, but mostly this is crisp and food-friendly, though not much else can be demanded of it.

Trout Valley 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Nelson) – Eucalyptus, thick blackberry, walnut and bark. Strange, but not as bad as I might have predicted. I guess that’s praise…still, I suspect Nelson is not the right climate for cabernet.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 “Late Harvest” Riesling (Moutere) – From the oldest vines on the property. Gravel and diesel, with sweet lemon, ultra-ripe apple, and lilies. Botrytis is clearly present on the finish, to the extent that the wine begins to tip over into the realm of rot, but otherwise this is balanced and long-finishing, and unquestionably the best wine in the entire lineup.

Kahurangi Estate 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Moutere) – Zingy, showing capsicum and minerality with a tart, grapey quality. Which would all be fine, except that there’s also a generous serving of canned peas along for the ride…not an unusual fate when one ages a sauvignon blanc that probably wasn’t meant for aging.

Five Oaks 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Moutere) – Ripe apple, green plum and lemon. Ripe and rather fine. Why is this so much better than most of the rest of the Kahurangi sauvignons? The difference is rather dramatic.

A commercially satisfactory tasting, albeit an uninspiring one. Thankfully, we’re on our way to another appointment. Will it be any different?

As it turns out, we have no idea…

08 December 2007

Critics: perhaps not so fearful

Other bloggers are commenting on the meta-issues raised in this piece. It's vitally important for those in the wine industry -- or all consumers of wine media, really -- to remember that any wine writer or critic's audience is the reader, not the producer.

06 December 2007

To the ends of the author

[andorra]The original version, with more photos and better formatting, is here.

A warning: the delicate of constitution may want to skip ahead to the first wine note.

19 October 2006 – Andorra la Vella, Andorra

It’s not anything I ate last night, because I was already sick at that point. It’s not something I ate yesterday at La Boqueria, either – even though it seems the most likely candidate – because I was already beginning to get sick as I sat down to lunch. Which means it’s either from the previous day’s visit to La Boqueria or, almost incomprehensibly, that smoke-filled night at Gaig.

Can’t I just blame it on the guy with the cigar?

Whatever it is, it’s the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had. Or, the shortest and strangest virus I’ve ever had. It started two days earlier, with body aches and a throbbing head, then a nose emptying itself in rivulets. That’s gone now, and I miss it. Because in its place…

Well, let’s leave it at this: 23 iterations of the same, um, activity later, our lovely hotel suite has run out of one specific but very useful type of paper product. A call to the front desk – thank goodness they speak English – provides the supplies for 15 more identical activities, as I wait against hope for this particular symptom to abate. Given my issues, and my near-complete lack of sleep as a result, I’m thankful that we don’t have a long or difficult drive today.

Oh, wait…

Somewhere in the Pyrenées The road from Andorra la Vella finally works its way free of clinging commerciality to rise and wind along desolate mountainsides haphazardly strung with power lines and spindly chairlifts. The temperature drops to somewhere around freezing as we ascend, and the wind feels more solid than gaseous. And then, a descent…we’ve chosen the open-air road, rather than the somewhat quicker tunnel…until, without ceremony, we’re in France.

The only thing that changes is the signage. Catalan, at least for a time, is left behind.

And here, I meet a well-known problem head-on. Or, I guess, the other end-on. For France, whatever its other positive qualities, must be the most backward of any otherwise developed Western country when it comes to sanitation facilities. Cafés, bars, restaurants, the occasional public restroom…it doesn’t matter where I stop, there’s never anything better than a powerfully malodorous chasm in the ground. No paper products. And never any running water. How could the Romans, two millennia ago, be more advanced in this area than modern-day France? More relevantly, how can the French stand it? Remind me to keep an eye on who handles my cheese.

Having assured by…various actions…that I will never be invited back to certain towns along our route (sadly, Foix – which is rather pretty – is one of these villages), we finally come to a stop, laying out a small picnic of various incarnations of Ibérico, some Spanish cheeses, and a little wine. But not too much. Liquid is not my friend at the moment.

Albert de Sangenis “La Xarmada” 2001 Conca de Barberà Criança (Cataluña) – A blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and mourvèdre. Good, if basic, and done in the international style, with all the required elements present. It’s pretty dull, but it’s at least wine on some sort of mindless level.

St-Savin, France – The roads along the northern border of the Pyrenées – whether D, N, or autoroute – are virtually devoid of traffic. And by the time we get to the latter, even the scenery’s not that interesting: gentle, rolling farmland, with the mighty snow-capped mountain ranges too far to the south to provide much backdrop. We stop on the outskirts of Lourdes for some supplies (not knowing what’s available at our remote destination), and delve into the increasingly precarious roads leading south into the mountains. Finally, we come to a very small village clinging to a hill…its town hall doubling as a post office, its local bar, an artist’s studio, and one country-style restaurant the only local businesses…and we’ve, at long last, ended our drive. Various parts of my body offer a sincere thanks.

Our gîte is cozy, and the owner leaves us a little homemade jam to brighten our stay. It’s a downstairs apartment, so there are fewer windows than there otherwise might be…a shame, since the scenery is among the finest I’ve seen outside New Zealand.

Theresa puts together a terrific salad of fat duck breast (extracted from local ducks used for foie gras production) with figs, plus cheese. Our lunch wine has faded underneath its structure, but I don’t know that we’re carrying any wine that will stand up to figs. I open another anyway, which is a mistake.

La Viña la Font de la Figuera “Sequiot” 2004 Tempranillo (Valencia) – Horrid, undrinkable, over-manufactured swill. After a few sips, this gets poured down the drain.

Oh well. At least I have my health.