February 28, 2006

Imagine finding a bottle of 1943 Dom Perignon in your house

The Oregonian's Margie Boule, not a wine writer, wrote a column the other day about a local woman who found a bottle of 1943 Dom Perignon Champagne in her grandfather's old house. What a mystery - the grandparents didn't drink and no one knows how the bottle ended up tucked away in an odd corner of a kitchen cupboard, undisturbed for years.

But really, what a peculiar column exemplifying the nonsense even wine "experts" will toss out to the unsuspecting.

The woman who found the bottle claims to be a restaurant industry veteran with experience running a number of wine lists. Yet she clearly doesn't seem to know much about wine, which may say something about many of the folks out there putting together restaurant wine lists. At least she knows that Dom is "relatively expensive."

First, there's her suggestion that maybe the wine was purchased in 1943, her grandparents' wedding year. After all, her grandfather worked for the Piggly Wiggly. Never mind that the grapes weren't even harvested until fall that year. Sort of like Boule writing this column prior to its publishing date, the wine was made long before it was released to public.

Boule obviously had to dig deeper to solve the mystery, so she called on wine writers Don and Petie Kladstrup for more information. Based on what they said, I can only wonder how little they know or how badly Boule misunderstood what they said.

They say its surprising to find a bottle of this wine in the US at all, given that the Germans were known to plunder many vinous treasures of the day. The French answered by hiding as much of the good stuff as possible behind hastily constructed walls in their cellars. That is true, but the '43s? Maybe while in production, but the treasures the Germans wanted were finished wines. In the article, the Kladstrups reportedly say the French gave them the lesser wines from the '30s instead, but not because the '43s were so special. The '43s nary had a sparkle before D-Day.

But the Kladstrups continue. There's surprise the bottle doesn't bear the embelem of the Wehrmarkt. Maybe that's because the bottles that came to the US bearing the emblem of the sole US importer, Schieffelin and Co. I know, I have a bottle that's left over from a stash my great uncle purchased here in the good old USA.

And the Kladstrups seem giddy at the thought of getting a taste of such historic wine. Stored in a pantry upright for decades. Sounds to me like a recipe for bad vinegar. Am I alone in not wishing such drinks on my worst enemies?

Happily, Boule professionally skates through it all with a few subtle but key hints that the experts don't seem too expert. Still, the story ends with the inital woman still wondering whether to drink it.

For god's sake, just keep it as a relic. It is history in a bottle. But put it in your glass and you'll be sorry. Go out and get a bottle of the '96 Dom instead. I haven't had it, but apparently it ain't half bad.

February 09, 2006

John Gilman’s new wine journal

File this under recommended reading.

I’ve never met John Gilman, but have read his writings about wine on the internet on and off for years. He’s a bit verbose, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Provided you don’t mind long paragraphs of course.

And I mean long paragraphs.

That aside, John clearly has a terrific palate and his passion for fine wine shows in his writing. While fine wine can often mean expensive wine, I’ve always been impressed by John’s attention to the lower end bottlings of top producers.

For example, I never tried the wines of Burgundy producer Joseph Roty until learning about them from John. I still haven’t tried things like Roty’s expensive Grand Crus, but I enjoy reading about them and some day will get there.

In the meantime, I’ve taken John’s advice and enjoyed a variety of Roty’s Bourgogne rouge and blanc, as well as Marsannay rouge and rosé. In fact, Pinot noir rosé doesn’t get much better than Roty’s.

So I was pleased to hear John is launching a new publication called View from the Cellar. A cursory skim of the first issue looks promising, with features on Robert Chevillon, classic Piedmont wines from 1978, other Burgundy features, and tastings of various southern Rhone wines.

View from the Cellar is available by subscription. If you email John at jbgilman@ix.netcom.com, you can get more information and perhaps a free sample of the first issue.

February 08, 2006

Peynaud's Knowing and Making Wine

Peynaud est arrivée!

At last, I found a cheap (actually free) copy of the book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, Emile Peynaud’s classic Knowing and Making Wine.

The catch is I only have it for three weeks on interlibrary loan, with the option of just one renewal. So I have six weeks, I better get cracking.

Peynaud, the leading French winemaker of the 20th century, starts right where winemaking texts ought to start – tasting the wine.

He breaks down wine tasting finer than I’ve ever considered it. I'm even rethinking my pedantic dislike for terms like “attack,” which refers to a wine’s initial taste in the mouth. If Peynaud thinks it’s ok, maybe I can feel the same.

In truth I’ve barely begun reading, but already I know this is going to be something special. So I’ll read it during my upcoming excurion across the Pacific, then figure out a way to get a copy for myself without dropping anywhere near the $100 shelf price.

Anybody got a spare copy lying around that you don’t want?

Alsatian wines of Marc Tempé

I’m a fairly adventurous wine drinker, and I certainly don’t shy away from naturally made wines with more than their share of rusticity. But the wines of Marc Tempé, tasted last week with my irregular wine group, leave me puzzled.

Tempé is a biodynamic wine producer from the Alsace region of France. He makes wines about as naturally as you can, with no added yeast, acid, or sugar, and he uses minimal sulfur dioxide. Not to mention the yeast foods, enzymes, and other things you find in many cellars these days that I’m guessing aren’t part of Tempé’s “program.” Instead, he relies on carbon dioxide to keep the wines fresh, and long aging on the protective lees.

Nevertheless, these are downright weird wines. Even if you tolerate less than squeaky clean wines, you’ll be challenged with these. After this tasting, I am still interested in learning more about this producer. But I’m not buying any of these for my table or cellar. They’re more a curiosity to me than pleasurable, intriguing but ultimately not something I’m going to serve.

We started with the 2001 Riesling Zellenberg, a wooly, earthy wine that first had me thinking it was Chenin blanc. Then came the telltale petrol aroma of Riesling, beautiful if not complex. The flavor was soft, earthy with a hint of sweetness but lacking intensity, a good enough wine and my favorite for its aroma. Still not compelling.

Then came the 2001 Pinot Blanc Zellenberg, fizzy upon pouring and positively reeking of cider and sherry. Prickly on the palate, apricots and walnuts, it actually seemed a little better with time but clearly something’s wrong here.

Next was the 2001 Pinot Blanc Priegel, overripe and marked by ethyl acetate aromas, later more typical yellow fruit. Tangy on the palate, clean apple and lemon flavors but bland.

Then the 2002 Gewurztraminer Rodelsberg, a darker gold color than the others with some fizz, leesy aromas with apricots, roses, and wild dill and brown sugar notes. Apricots on the palate with earthy, lightly sweet flavors, tangy acid and a silky texture, a showy Gewurz that sounds nicer than it was. More a glimpse into what this producer is rumored to be able to achieve, even if this was a little over the top.

Finally, the 2002 Pinot Blanc Zellenberg, not fizzy like the ’01 but more Oregon Pinot gris like with bland yellow fruit, mineral, and yeast aromas. Fresh on the palate, easiest to drink of the bunch but utterly bland in the mouth, lightly sweet and inoffensive but not better than good.

In sum, Marc Tempé is clearly up to something. But maybe his produce simply doesn’t travel well. I’d love to see what these wines are like in his cellar, but I’ll leave it to my favorite blog wineterroirs to check into that sometime.