January 31, 2009

Marchand-Grillot Morey St. Denis

As a wine loving parent, weekends are nice because you get a little extra time to enjoy and appreciate wine before, during, and maybe after a nice meal.

Tonight I broiled up a T-bone and opened a 2001 Domaine Marchand-Grillot Morey St. Denis, which I've had in the queue for more than a year. I'm on a Burgundy kick, and even though a nice steak usually requires some Bordeaux or domestic cabernet, I just couldn't help myself.

I'd never tasted anything from this producer, and opening a bottle of unknown wine is always a mystery. For some reason, I thought maybe this wine would stand up to a big cut of beef. It didn't, and as soon as I sniffed and tasted it I wondered what I had been thinking. Nevertheless, I'm home with my family, warm and healthy with a nice dinner in front of me. This was a great night.

Sometimes people refer to nebbiolo wines as the "Burgundy" of Italy's Piedmont regon. With that in mind, this wine provided the exact mirror of that experience. Fragrant, floral, even a little tarry on the aroma with a nice hint of maturity. Blind I might have guessed nebbiolo just from the delicate perfume.

In the mouth, more of the same. Bright, light red fruit flavors with juicy acidity and ripe but persistent tannin. The more I drank this wine, the more I imagined it as a nice Langhe nebbiolo, and the more I appreciated what it offered. Who says Burgundy can't be enjoyable with tannin.

Did this wine stand up to the steak? Ha. No. The wine seemed limp with my dinner, denatured by the raw flavors of beef, broccoli, and rice pilaf. The I honestly appreciated the wine more on its own, despite the tannic profile and light body that isn't the typical description of nice sipping wine.

This smelled like Burgundy, as nebbiolo sometimes smells like Burgundy. It drank a bit stern, but there's something to respect in its unflinching personality. I wouldn't necessarily seek this wine out again, yet I enjoyed what it offered. That, I suppose, is a pleasant mystery of wine.

January 26, 2009

Guigal on Graperadio and more

I've been meaning to post on this for months, perhaps even years.

Do you listen to GrapeRadio? Almost every time I listen to a show I think, I should tell the world about this excellent resource for wine geeks.

The latest show I've listened to, about Guigal from a seminar at last year's Hospice du Rhone led by Phillippe Guigal, is again terrific and well worth a listen. Guigal may be a larger company in the northern Rhone and, aside from the highest end, the wines may seem ubiquitous. But listening to John Alban in the introduction talk about what this session means to him, you can't help but get sucked in.

It doesn't hurt to hear about the Vignes de l'Hospice from St. Joseph that Guigal purchased a few years back from J.L. Grippat. I just picked up some older Grippat for cheap and am very excited to try the wine. I'll have to get a taste of Guigal's version to compare.

I love many things about GrapeRadio. First, even shows featuring producers I don't think I'll be interested in are interesting. Opus One anyone? Brian Clark aside (he's the weak link, sorry), this was fascinating. Paloma? Barbara was amazing to listen to. I don't buy much Champagne, but after listening to shows about various producers, I'm looking to change my ways.

Then there are episodes like this one with Guigal from some of the best wine conference events anywhere. From Hospice du Rhone and IPNC to Pinot Days to the World of Pinot Noir, it's wonderful to hear seminars almost as if you were at the event.

So...what are those especially great episodes that I've meant to write about? Here's a list with links:

Guigal - Phillippe gives great information about all the wines of this benchmark Rhone producer.

Vietti - Excellent interview with the super passionette Luca Currado

Thomas Jefferson and Wine
- This history-focused episode is amazing if you're interested in wine trends from the 18th century

Jancis Robinson - Who doesn't love Jancis? Well, some people apparently, but they're idiots.

Masi - I learned about how Amarone is really made. I didn't realize how much I didn't know.

Scott Paul Wines - I knew about his LA rock radio alter ego Shadow Stevens, but here's the whole story.

Frederic Magnien - I'm Burgundy and Pinot biased, but so seems GrapeRadio. Fine with me.

Listen online, but I download shows to my MP3 player and listen in the car or when I walk. Nice work, GrapeRadio. Keep it up.

January 24, 2009

Chateauneuf du Pape dinner

Last Saturday I attended a Chateauneuf du Pape themed dinner. The wines were almost uniformly excellent, reaffirming my love for the grandfather of southern Rhone valley wines. While I'm more of a Cotes du Rhone level drinker, and I do love the various villages of the southern Rhone including Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Lirac, there's no denying the supremacy of Chateauneuf. Being frugal, I sometimes forget this truth. Not after this night.

We started with a delicious 2006 Vieux Donjon Blanc, an equal blend of clairette, roussane, and grenache blanc. White Chateauneuf has the reputation in some quarters for being too rich and alcoholic, lacking nerve or grace. This lightly honied and floral wine shows the rousanne, but it's wonderfully fresh and lively in the mouth. Very nice wine.

Then on to several reds that showed the range of wine styles in this relatively large appellation. First, the 1993 Domaine de la Janasse regular bottling, from a lesser vintage that shouldn't be overlooked. This wine was Burgundian in profile, all perfume and seamless texture. Floral and bottle sweet aromas with pretty fruit, then a lovely medium bodied, peppery, resolved flavors that I simply loved. One person said it was his favorite of the night.

Next came the 1989 Guigal, which I'd had before in its youth. Never a great wine, this was surprisingly alive though fully mature. Bricking in color, with a meaty, ash and warm stone aroma, then a broad, bottle sweet, cherry, and old wood flavor, some iodine too. I preferred this with food, but it's ok on it's own. Some tasters really didn't like this one, but perhaps they wanted something fresher and more fruity.

The goal for this dinner was Chateauneuf from the '80s and '90s, but from here we had only wines from '98 or younger. Next came the 1999 Banneret, a producer I'd never heard of previously. Strong, monolithic new oak aromas here, with a rich, peppery, black cherry flavor. Finely tannic and nicer tasting than it smelled. Seemed better with some time, then turned oaky and rough again. This was one of my least favorites, though some people loved this wine. It's simply a matter of taste.

Then the 1998 Clos du Mont Olivet that was corked. My notes suggest this has been a problem with this bottling, though the good bottles have been quite nice. I brought this and wished I had a back up.

The 1998 Jaboulet Les Cedres was a pleasant, medium bodied wine, pretty but nondescript. This one set up the more rich and complex wines to follow.

I really liked the 1999 Domaine de la Cote de l'Ange Vieilles Vignes, a producer I'm not sure others at the table knew much of. This wine is still quite young, with a strong stony, peppery, and red stone fruit aromas, with some leather and also a little EA (nail polish) at first. In the mouth it was firm and yong, with cherry flavors, leather, fine tannin, and nice integration. Needs time though. I was surprised when others thought this was more ready to go. I have more of this, but wish I had lots more.

Then my favorite wine of the night, the 1999 Bois de Boursan Cuvee Felix. This was dark fruited and ashy, with complex earthy and floral notes, and a little new oak that distracted. Still, this is very nice wine. Tannic and young in the mouth, with dark fruit and some oak but great length and the structure to age nicely for years. Very tasty wine.

Then came the 1999 Chateau Beaucastel, showing its mouvedre component to me in a primary, hard raspberry aroma and flavor that seemed a little like young Bandol. Something notable here -- no horsey, farmy brett character. This was clean, but sealed tight. It needs lots of time, but it tasted good with rabbit ragu parpardelle and later the duck confit.

Next came the 2000 Pegau Cuvee Reserve, which smelled surprisingly open and mature, with a broad aroma of berries, earth, and spice. Full bodied in the mouth, the flavors were broad as well with floral notes and lively fruit. This seems more ready to go than, by comparison, the l'Ange, but others tonight saw more potential in this wine.

One diner brought a half bottle of a controversial wine for everyone to sample, the 2003 Clos du Papes. From the freakishly hot 2003 vintage, this wine has provoked strong reaction among critics professional and amateur. Some call it nearly perfect, others perfectly awful. Tonight the consensus was...it's pretty good stuff, not oh my god great, but hardly the stewed, overripe mess some people report. First, it was bright ruby colored. Certainly it's not over extracted. Then there's the strong, pure aroma that's appropriately mineral and red fruited, but also pretty alcoholic. In the mouth, it's tannic and hugely flavorful, with cherry, stone, and spice notes that are delicious and impressive. But, yes, it's hot. There's no shortage of alcohol here. Still, great Chateauneuf isn't light wine, and while the components here are a bit extreme, this still tastes like Chateauneuf. Others might disagree, but I'll be pouring more while they complain.

Finally the 2006 Clos du Caillou Les Quartz, a super-premium-luxury-etc. bottling that's interesting to taste, but definitely not something I'm looking for in Chateauneuf. Fresh and sweetly fruited, with intense but monolithic aromas. Perhaps it needs time, but this reminds me a lot of the recent Les Quartz Cotes du Rhone bottling for significantly less money. In the mouth it's all powdered sugar and jelly doughnut filling, with alcohol and otherwise a monolithic but over the top personality. What to make of such a wine?

For dessert, one diner suggested some Sherry. So we ordered the 1979 Albala Don PX Gran Reserva. It's the color of old motor oil, thick and opaque, with a lovely sweet floral aroma that reminds me of some old Rutherglen muscat from Australia. Treacle flavors, intense and reduced with a bright floral streak. I really liked this, but you don't need too much.

With that, the meal was done. Yes, we did take a cab home. That's a lot of Chateauneuf.

January 19, 2009

Delicious pinot gris

Here in Oregon, pinot gris has a terrible reputation. Yes, many producers make it. And yes, it's our top selling white wine.

But almost no one I know in the business likes it. There's a general disdain for pinot gris. It's bland. It's alcoholic. It's a pain to deal with at harvest time, like any white wine since the grapes are pressed before fermentation meaning they're sweet, tough to get juice out of, and they attract lots of bees.

Really, it's the wine that draws such exasperation. There's good reason, too. So often, local pinot gris IS bland, alcoholic, and otherwise completely forgettable.

Then there's Alsatian pinot gris, or Tokay Pinot Gris as some labels still read. (There's no connection to the wonderful Tokay wines of Hungary, and I thought there were new rules meant to get rid of this old labeling practice.)

Case in point, the 2004 Meyer-Fonne Tokay Pinot Gris Reserve Particuliere. Moderate yellow in color, it's immediately different from the usually watery pale pinot gris you typically find in Oregon.

One sniff and the difference magnifies. There's honey, minerals, yellow fruit, floral notes, and a distinct lack of alcoholic harshness, rather a spiciness that reminds me of being a kid and my grandma's candy jar that always had these delicious looking jelly candies that weren't nearly as sweet or tasty as I hoped.

Sure enough, in the mouth this is a lightly sweet wine but with nice acid cut that balances the residual sugar. Clean and lightly honeyed on the finish, even a little smokey, this wine is delicious and everything I wish local pinot gris could be. Not sweet for the sake of roundness and lower alcohol, but sweet and tangy with great complexity and interest that isn't cloying, tiring to drink, or problematic at the dinner table.

My only complaint -- you don't really know what you're getting with this wine if you only go by the label. It's not clear about sweetness level, or anything really. It's a "particular reserve" wine that suggests it should be good. But what does that mean? Nothing to me anyway, and I'm not up on Alsatian wines enough to know if it's a regulated designation. Maybe consult Thor Iverson for more on such things. Meanwhile, here's pinot gris that you should buy and enjoy.

January 17, 2009

Gratuitous tasting

Last weekend I went by a local wine shop for what was billed as a typical free tasting of a few white wines. Nothing fancy, nothing to write home about, but fine. Then things got a little out of control, in a good way.

How about the 2005 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Kammerner Lamm? Rich and nervy at once, lovely green pea and white pepper flavor with terrific length. This is seriously good gruner. Then 2005 Domaine de la Grange des Pere Blanc, from importer Kermit Lynch. This is mostly roussane from the Languedoc region of France, with some marsanne and a bit of chardonnay. This is holy cow good. Duvel ale yellow color, with a deep aroma of honey, wax, flowers, lemons, marmalade, yet totally dry and fresh in the mouth, terribly long and delicious. Ridiculously good wine.

Then to the 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine. Tempier has changed since the arrival of winemaker Daniel Ravier earlier this decade. The wines are darker in color, noticeably more rich, even showing their alcohol a bit. I still love them, but they're not what they were. This bottle reminds me of the '06 Cabassou, taut and mineral despite its ripeness, with lots of cellar potential. It's mourvedre from Bandol, after all. Few wines are as durable. No matter the changes here in the cellar, I'm betting this wine and its siblings reveal more with time.

We also tried the 2006 Gama Sutra from Olivier Lemasson in the Loire valley, all old vine gamay. Perhaps it was the company, but I didn't love this. Try something like this with lots of food. Definintely not a tasting wine.

So we tried the 2006 Crowley Pinot Noir Entre Nous, from the former Cameron assistant Tyson Crowley. Tyson's barrel aging his wines for a year and a half, bucking the local trend to bottle one vintage just prior to the next. The goal isn't oaky flavors, but more earth and secondary notes in the wine instead of just all fresh fruit. The result here is nice, with the ripeness of the vintage in check, the flavors meaty and earthy but not unclean in any way. I bought two.

But we were not done. The coup de gras was a 2000 Tokaji 6 Puttonyos, of course I forget the producer [edit - it was 2000 Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos], that was tremendous. Honey colored, figgy with botrytis and subtle petrol notes, so fresh and interesting, like a blend of Sauternes and German riesling. In the mouth it was so rich and yet precise, with a flavor that just went on and on. One of the top dessert wines I've ever tried, capping one of the most interesting wine tastings I can remember. Wow.

January 16, 2009

Nice Rhone QPR

I have a coworker who occasionally asks me for cheap, good wine recommendations. The Les Heritiques wine has been a hit, and I've recommended other things. But something I'll have to mention is the 2007 Chaussynette Vin de Table Francais, from Chateauneuf du Pape producer Mas de Boislauzon. It's essentially like a good modern styled Cotes du Rhone, a syrah/grenache blend that might have other things in there, but I can't really tell.

I found this wine for $5 on closeout at a local favorite market. Usually its $8 to $10, still a bargain for the quality. This isn't fine wine, but it stikes me as something you'd easily pay double for if it were from the U.S. It's dark colored, ripe smelling with a little stinkiness that decanting took care of. It's not complex but ripe and savory at once, with a full flavor, juicy acidity, and ripe tannin. A more old school southern Rhone wine would be more cherry flavored and less sweetly fruited, but this is still delicious, darker fruit flavored and less refreshing than other wines, but still perfectly nice and good value. Check it out.

January 14, 2009

More three dot wine...

Lots going on my wine life these days, not the least of which are my evolving plans to make some commercial wine starting this fall. Anybody got a bunch of cash to help me fund that project?... Meanwhile I enjoyed a really nice meal the other night at Carafe in Portland with an old friend. We talked a lot about growing grapes and making wine, and with an excellent and well priced 3-course meal we drank the 2005 Camus-Bruchon Savigny Les Beaune Grand Liards Vieilles Vignes, a village red burgundy that was incredibly good. Smelled like 2005, very ripe but still focused. Then in the mouth it was so balanced. Rich yet mineral and taut. At first the wine seemed good, then it just kept getting better. Wow, highly recommended. Are all Camus-Bruchon wines this good?...

In the "I'm not supposed to like it, but I do" camp, see the 1999 Aldo Conterno Quartetto Langhe. That's a barrique-aged of, I believe, equal parts nebbiolo, barbera, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot (!). Sounds about as traditional as a Marshall amp stack at the symphony... But it works, at least for me. What an interesting wine, with obvious oak aromas but plenty of truffle, cherry, cassis, and spice integrated so nicely... In the mouth it's soft textured but plenty acidic and fresh at the same time, with fine tannin and that worsted texture that you can't fake in a wine. Traditionalists would hate it, but I'm fairly traditional in my wine tastes. This is good...

Then the other day I had the opportunity to barrel taste some 2008 pinot noir at a well known local winery, an experience that reawakened my thoughts about the harvest that just passed... This winery isn't usually a favorite of mine, but that's beside the point. Instead, I was struck by how different the wines showed, when the producer is usually at the head of the list of places where "everything tastes the same"... I've already heard suggestions that, "just wait, they'll all end up the same." I'm not so sure this year... Despite their distinctiveness, the wines all showed so much of the 2008 vintage character as I'm coming to know it. The Oregon red wines in 2008 should be really exciting, if they can shed their monolithic character. I suspect those who can barrel age their wines longer will see more evolution from the primary, simple fruit. I think that's always true with many of the best wines, but this year has an unusual mixture of color, ripeness, and structure. It might really take extra time to see what gives... Stay tuned...

Finally, I met Maggie Harrison in passing the other day. She's the brains of the Lillian and Antica Terra wineries, and her wines are in high demand, even if James Suckling of Wine Spectator recently broke from the pack and wrote a negative review of a syrah she produced... You can't win them all, and Maggie said as much... But I was completely struck by the encounter. This kind of stuff is thrown around far too much, but I mean it. Have I ever met such a disarmingly charming person?... I still don't know what to make of it, but what an interesting individual. I'm intrigued to try more of her wines when I get the chance...

January 12, 2009

Aged Beaujolais

It's been a few years since I opened my last bottle of 2002 Domaine Diochon Moulin a Vent, from the most ageworthy cru Beaujolais locale.

In the past this wine has been tasty, but hard if not a bit stern, as I find is typical of this producer. So often the Diochon wines seem to need a few more years than I end up giving them. I thought I experiement and leave my only remaining bottle until now, even if the conventional wisdom is that you don't age Beaujolais.

I'm guessing most readers of this obscure blog probably already know it's true, but you can definitely age Beaujolais. Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. Sure, age is relative. At six plus years old, I call this aged wine. For most red Bordeaux, that wouldn't be much time. But this wine is beautifully mature, just what you want from a cellared wine with its delicious mix of freshness and age.

The color is all ruby, but definitely lacking the brightness of youth. The aroma is simply gorgeous, all nuance. Cherry pits and raspberry hints, with stones and clean earthy notes, then musky floral notes, all fresh and clean but nicely integrated in a way that only time in the cellar brings.

The flavors are bright and fresh, and mature all at once with fine tannin that just begs for a meal. All together, I can only think of one word -- toothsome. What does that really mean, anyway? The dictionary says "of palatable flavor and pleasing texture." Exactly. I'll add that the acidity is fresh, bright, and juicy, cleansing the palate and begging you to pour another glass. The wine literally makes you lick your teeth and inhale.

Try it. And don't be afraid to leave your Beaujolais a few years. For example, those 2005s are babies, perhaps the most ageworthy reds from Beaujolais that I recall tasting young. I've had wines that should last 10 years or more, improving, getting smoother and more nuanced along the way. And if you find any well stored 2002s from producers like Diochon, give them a try.

January 06, 2009

Bouchard Aine

I wrote last year of my classic mistaking one Bouchard producer in Burgundy for another. The real problem was that the wine wasn't very good.

Here in the US, there two Mondavis, a couple Stag's Leaps (yes, one is Stags' Leap, note the apostrophe). Try to sort of the various "Ridge" producers like Ridge, Greenwood Ridge, the erstwhile Napa Ridge, and so many others. I suppose it's easier if English is your native tongue.

I blame the French. How am I supposed to keep Bouchard Per et Fils and Bouchard Aine separated in my mind? Before the linear thinkers send me scathing "take responsibility for your actions, you freeloading social misfit," yes, tongue is in cheek.

So here's my last bottle of 2001 Bouchard AINE Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chabeoufs, from a not so priveledged vineyard amid high dollar vineyard real estate. Wouldn't you know it? It's the best of the lot, by far.

Dark translucent ruby robe (ok, I love the French). Then a gently oaky aroma with a complex mix of raspberries, spice, and earthy notes that quietly but firmly say pinot noir and Burgundy. This is a nice blend of new world freshness and old world (clean) earth. There's even a little bottle sweetness from age, that brown sugar note that aged wine picks up over time. It's best when the wine still has good freshness, and this has it all.

Sure, the palate is not overly generous. There's very bright acidity and some rough tannin that make this food wine, not for sipping unless you like structure. But it has a lovely earthy, red fruit flavor with nicely knit oak tones that a meal helps balance for maximum enjoyment. There's truth in the experience that wine improves with food.

This is Nuit St. Georges wine. Not the best, but true to what I know of this masculine, slightly sauvage terroir. I only wish the other bottles I had were this interesting. Live and learn. I made a mistake, paid for it. This I suppose was the payoff.

January 03, 2009

1997 McKinlay Pinot Noir Special Selection

I finally got around to opening a bottle of 1997 McKinlay Pinot Noir Special Selection after having it for several months. Sometimes it's harder then you might think to sample a particular wine. It just sits there, almost looking at you, and you wonder if it's going to be any good.

1997 was the last truly difficult vintage here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, until 2007. Both years saw significant rain during harvest, and in the case of 1997, the wines were simply tannic and tough.

I never tried any of the McKinlay bottlings from 1997 in their youth, but I'd heard they were some of the more successful wines of the vintage. My wife and I were married in 1997, so I like to find different things from that year to try. When I saw some of this, from a vineyard on Parrett Mountain near Newberg, I went for it.

So tonight it's open and, while it's far from great wine, I'm really enjoying it. The color is a bit ruddy ruby, showing some age without any orange or overt browning. The aroma is the highlight, really nice with lots of aged character, bottle sweet notes of strawberry, woodsy forest floor, black tea, nuts and spice. I could smell a wine like this all night.

Then the flavors and texture betray the vintage. There's a little dilution and a bit of rough tannin, mostly resolved but showing in this otherwise delicate wine. There isn't great length and the acid is a bit sharp. The wine is near the end of its life.

Yet it's so pure, clean but earthy without any make up. No barrel char. No overextraction. No pillowy or overly polished texture. Just lovely, honest, authentic Oregon red wine that does show more than a little resemblance in body and structure to decent, but also authentic, Burgundy. Very nice showing.