26 February 2008

Rimu shot

[grape/net close-up]A grape by any other name

Those of us who write about wine for a living know the problem all too well. The eager face of a press agent, or an owner, or (in the worst case) a winemaker, shines down upon us as they ask The Question. “So, what do you think of the wines?”

It’s a sad but true fact that the best producers never, ever ask. They don’t need to. They know…and even if they don’t, they’re confident enough in their work to let it stand or fall on its own merits. And so, the verbalized desire for an on-the-spot assessment is left to those whose wines are, invariably, lacking in some fashion. At which point, the writer must make a choice.

The most indifferent and the most brutally honest will say whatever they think, without mitigation. This is, I suppose, the most ethically defensible position, but it’s not much fun for anyone. Even aside from the issue of saying hurtful things about a person’s passions, the conversation that follows almost always turns into an increasingly useless argument wherein the winery representative claims, “oh, but Bob Smith gave it a gold star,” while the writer is forced to defend some grand notion of subjectivity. Of course, running off to one’s publication of choice with a previously-unspoken truth is, viewed uncharitably, a little bit cowardly. But it does help avoid those really unpleasant personal moments, and that’s why most choose to do it.

In the interim, however, something has to be said. An answer must be delivered, whether or not it satisfies. And so the clever writer will learn how to speak emptiness with eloquence. If it works well enough, everyone’s happy, and the conversation proceeds apace.

But sometimes, it doesn’t work. The writer knows it. The winemaker knows it. Each hapless attempt to avoid the truth is like a little drop of poison, slowly numbing and then, finally, killing the conversation and any connection that might have developed. It’s a slow, mealy-mouthed decline into morbidity. I’ve invented a word for it, and while subsequent research shows that I’m not the first to use the word, I might be the first to define it in this fashion.

Euphemasia. Noun. Elective conversational death by euphemism.

…continued here.

25 February 2008

Young Turck

[trilingual sign]31 March 2006 – Lapoutroie, France

A post-Trimbach stroll around Ribeauvillé is a walk around the familiar, so we head south and then upwards via the road that snakes past Kaysersberg. It’s striking how quickly the architecture changes, from the colorful half-timbers of the vineyards to plainer, more traditionally alpine tones at higher elevations. The temperature deviations are interesting as well: 63°F in Kaysersberg becomes 68° in decidedly mountainous Lapoutroie, then drops to 51° in the midst of the still-snowy Vosges. We take a few moments to appreciate the beauty of Lacs Blanc & Noir, but the chill wind eventually drives us back down to the wine route.

Turckheim – In the imposing shelter of the Brand is one of the prettiest among Alsace’s excess of gorgeous villages. Turckheim is surrounded by a wall, and thus the town seems packed into every available nook and cranny, with the haphazard streets and lines of a community that – at least in part – escaped the complete destruction wrought on so much of this region by two world wars’ worth of bombing.

Ammerschwihr – The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this village, which – aside from a wall here or a tower there – seems largely reconstructed. But it we’ve done plenty of sightseeing today, it’s getting dark, and we’re not really here to walk around anyway. We’re here to eat.

…continued here.

16 February 2008

Beau bridges

[vines]Notes from a Perrin & Fils/Beaucastel wine dinner at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont. Food pairings, and their appropriateness with the wines, are described below each note.

Perrin & Fils 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé “Réserve” (Rhône) – Solid salted berry flavors, red and glowing with energy. It’s strong for a rosé, but not imbalanced (as so many southern French rosés are, in favor of their alcohol). But it lacks much bite, verve, or really much of anything on the finish. Short finishes aren’t exactly unusual with pink wines, of course. Overall, it’s tasty but simple. (2/08)

Served with: Steamed Blue Hill Bay mussels in a broth, with crisped potatoes (essentially, fries) on top, and a drizzled aioli. Both the mussels and the “fries” are excellent, and the single-dish take on moules frites is visually clever. However, there’s a problem with the dish: if you want the fries to remain crispy, you have to eat them first, by which time the mussels are cooling and slightly overcooked. If, however, you dig out the mussels to eat them at their optimum doneness and temperature, the fries fall into the broth and get soggy. Despite the clever presentation, the two-vessel service really would be preferable here. Oh, and the aioli is a little sweet, which suggests that it might not be an actual aioli, but a sauce based on a prepared mayonnaise. It’s not bad, it would just be better were it more authentic. The match with the wine is inoffensive, with each element sort of standing apart but not conflicting.

Perrin & Fils 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Les Sinards” (Rhône) – Young Rhône whites are such difficult animals. I really think that whether or not one likes them is as much due to the whim of the moment as it is to their inherent qualities. Tonight, this wine tastes slightly baked with a drizzle of burnt butter. Oak? I don’t know, and the web is unhelpful; perhaps a bit. Tomorrow, the fat but hard-to-identify stone fruit and desolate brown desert landscape could be compelling. It becomes a little less awkward with food. But in general, I’m disinclined to be positive. (2/08)

Served with: Misty Knoll chicken, in a sort of roulade form around foie gras, with a celeriac pear purée and what the restaurant calls a “natural jus,” but which is actually dosed with the poaching liquid from the pear. I love Misty Knoll chicken, but here it’s grossly overcooked, the foie gras is visible but impossible to taste (similar overcooking, perhaps), and the sauce is…yes, too sweet. Thankfully, this is the only failure, and everything from here is an improvement. As for the wine match, it’s hard to say as the dish is distractingly mis-executed, but it appears to work OK, though the sweetness in the sauce and the purée doesn’t help.

Perrin “Coudoulet de Beaucastel” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Bursting with ripe fruit, all fresh and upfront but with a solid pulse underneath. There are hints and shades of the earthier/meatier aspects, but they’re pretty much buried under the berried fruit right now. A lot of fun, nicely balanced, and surpassingly drinkable. (2/08)

Served with: A cassoulet with confit of free range duck, saucisson, and Niman Ranch pork. This, like a cassoulet I made recently, is dominated by the meat elements far too much to be authentic. But note, I’m not saying it’s bad. Hey, I like meat. Doesn’t everybody? (Well, no, but….) It’s about as good as non-authentic cassoulet (meaning one that takes many days to make, which isn’t really possible in a restaurant setting unless the restaurant specializes in cassoulet) can be, with good flavor throughout. And it’s a terrific counterpoint to the wine, with each enhancing the other.

Perrin “Château de Beaucastel” 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Coming out of its difficult phase, but only just, and as such it’s somewhat evasive. The meat-smoke, bacon liqueur elements are only teasingly in place, there’s a strong but backgrounded residue of dried plum, and the minerality at the core is left rather bare and exposed by the wine’s reluctance to rise from its sleep. As such, the structure dominates. This needs some more waiting. (2/08)

Served with: Veal scallop and sweetbreads with (very) smoky bacon, over-softened pear onions, and chanterelles. The veal is good, and I love sweetbreads, but the smoky dominance and rich meatiness is pretty much a duplication of the previous dish, which would be more dismaying were I not a sucker for both of those characteristics. It’s true: bacon makes everything better. More properly, there should be some separation between these courses. Also, the chanterelles are completely obliterated; this is not a mushroom for such aggressively-flavored food. I do like the dish, but a better attention to sequence would be welcome here. The food somewhat roughs up the wine (not easy to do to a CdP), but they eventually come to a sort of nervous peace.

Perrin & Fils 2005 Muscat Beaumes de Venise (Rhône) – Very fruity, fresh, and fun, tending more towards the concentrated, bright, spring-like fruit elements than the more exotic flowers or perfumes. The best BdVs have a core of crystalline minerality which this lacks, but it’s hard to criticize this wine much. Even average muscat is still pretty good. (2/08)

Served with: Apricot “gratin” (in this case, perhaps even somewhat applicable to the way the fruit appears to be cooked; in the States, the word is usually completely misused to mean soft things in cheese/cream sauces) with honey, almonds, and Westfield Farms blue goat cheese. This is a brilliant dessert, and makes use of counterpoints between the savory/salty cheese and the sweet elements very well. It’s a little deep and complex for the muscat, but then almost any non-fruit dessert will be.

15 February 2008

A thousand pictures are worth a word

[pont d’espagne]Lac de Gaube walk – Up early, we return to Cauterets (our second attempt). It’s a beautiful day, and the prefect temperature for a little hike. We trek upwards, past the Pont d’Espagne to beautiful, isolated Lac de Gaube, and then back again to complete an eminently satisfying morning. And at this point, words are just getting in the way. Let me show you what I mean.

Continued here...

13 February 2008

Not-so-fresh notes...but lots of 'em

There’s been an unsightly barrage of notes over on oenoLog of late, but to view them in a more useful form, check out the main site. There, you’ll find notes from last year’s Boston Wine Expo (a last-minute clearing-out in preparation for the posting of this year’s notes, of course; we’re all about timeliness here at oenoLogic, what with New Zealand travelogues posted three years after the trip, etc.), including a long rundown from Italy, and shorter ones from Bordeaux, Burgundy & Champagne.

A little more extensive digging will also reveal more promptly-posted (that is, within a month or so of the actual event) notes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the rest of the Rhône & Southern France, North America, the Jura, the Loire, South Africa, and New Zealand.

And now, I can proceed to avoid posting the 2008 notes until just before next year’s Expo, right? Right?

07 February 2008

Mapua, missing

[Mapua harbor]What’s Neu?

After a most satisfying midday respite, we drive to a winery that’s open for drop-in visitors, but that was absolutely impenetrable while trying to set up an in-depth visit. Neudorf represents a branch of Nelson winemaking royalty, having garnered a great deal of praise as a local quality leader. And not just local; I’ve seen more of their wines in the States than anyone else from Nelson. Still, they are reputed to be somewhat difficult to reach, so while I’m disappointed, I’m not particularly surprised.

Our tasting is conducted by a serious young man, who pours quickly and with little ceremony, but who answers every question with confident brevity. There are quite a few people around – the winery’s reputation does precede it – and some are enjoying full pours on a nearby patio. It’s possible that the entire population of Mapua is visiting this winery…

…continued here.

04 February 2008

Hors catégorie

[trimbach winery]31 March 2006 – Ribeauvillé, France

Trimbach – “France, but efficient,” is a commonly-heard phrase on the subject of Alsace. I’ve never been criticized for a few minutes’ lateness in any other part of France, but here…well, it’s a mistake I made once, and won’t make again. In Alsace, punctuality is actually considered a virtue. Imagine that.

And so, we’re in the Trimbach courtyard at the exact time specified. But we’re alone. Because our winemaker is late.

Granted, he has an excuse. He’s sick. Very sick. Were marketing guru Jean Trimbach, (who usually receives us on our semi-regular visits) not traipsing across Scotland with Olivier Humbrecht…and there is a buddy film to explosively depressurize the heads of Alsatian wine fans…winemaker Pierre Trimbach would probably be benefiting from a much-needed convalescence. Instead, he has to take a pair of overeager Americans through a tasting for which it is not consistently clear he has the energy. Or, it must be noted, the nose, given the frequency with which he sniffles and snorts. As the tasting proceeds, his energy flags, but then…as we head into the heart of the better rieslings…rebounds with passionate intensity. Certainly, winemakers often seem to live (and die) for their work, and Pierre is no exception. We only hope he’ll stay vertical to the end of the tasting. Because to be honest, second wind or not, he doesn’t look that great.

…continued here.