July 22, 2006

2000 Domaine de Roally Macon-Villages

A few years ago I had this wine for the first time and was shocked at its quality. I had never heard of Domaine de Roally but bought one bottle on the recommendation of a local wine shop. It cost $20 and tasted like it could cost twice that or more. Imagine my delight on finding a few more at another local shop on close out for $11. Why is wine like this ever on close out? God only knows.

A quick web search will show you that I was woefully behind the curve in not knowing about Roally. Happily I’ve changed that. The proprietor Henri Goyard is something of a legend and iconoclast. As with a few other avant gard French producers, Goyard has been denied certain AOC status at times for producing wines that don’t show the “typicité” of their appellation. In Goyard’s case, his late picked Chardonnay grapes occasionally tinged with botrytis produce uncommonly rich, even decadent white wines from a region more typcially known for lean, crisp green apple aromas and flavors. Sometimes Goyard’s wines are sweet, depending on whether the fermentation ended dry or with a little residual sugar. Usually, the wines are great. Read more about Roally at the importer's site.

So the other night I went to the cellar looking for something special, and found this. A quick pour showed a beautiful golden color. I swirled the wine and took a sniff – wow. Without any airing, the wine was already so complex. Ripe yellow fruit, minerals, cinnamon and other spice aromas without any new oak smells, and the unmistakeable honeyed scent of botrytis. In the mouth, the wine is still young but expansive with terrific flavors that echo the aroma. I noticed more sweetness than other bottles, really just a hint of residual sugar balanced nicely with fresh acidity that together draw out the finish. This wine offers stunning quality for what is entry level pricing from higher end appellations. This is Macon wine that tastes like top shelf white Burgundy from the Cote d’Or, and perhaps should be a model for what Oregonians could do with Chardonnay from less than exquisite terroir.

Sadly, this was my last bottle of what turned out to be Goyard’s final vintage before handing things off to the nephew of Macon legend Jean Thevenet. I have one bottle of the ’02 in the cellar, and it’s still available locally for $23. There has been no apparently drop off in quality, so look for Domaine de Roally. I only wish I had more from old man Goyard.

July 18, 2006

Reading about wine

Actually, reading about Oregon wine, mostly.

Have you seen the new Oregon Wine Press? This sleepy little monthly recently changed hands and the quality of writing and content is soaring. There’s even good copyediting now. Now the features are more interesting, the news is newsier, and I actually find myself interested in what the next issue will bring.

Then there’s Wine Press Northwest, which may just annoy me for its emphasis on Washington wines under the banner of the the broader northwest. It’s forgivable, the publication is based in Kennewick, WA. Hey, I’m in Oregon and equally biased toward our wines. But the WPN columnists for the most part leave me unsatisfied, and the wine reccomendations seem like wasted opportunities. Do we need write ups on wine from Domaine Ste. Michelle and Willamette Valley Vineyards? Is the readership that unadventurous? At least the latest issue bucks the trend with a pretty good cover story on new Oregon AVAs.

I liked a new publication, Imbibe. It’s from Portland but does a surprisingly good job at disguising that fact. Lots of ads from across the country with features that don’t focus on the local scene too much. This magazine is about all beverages, and the premiere issue does a good job with features on Mezcal, “third wave” coffee, and, unfortunately, a mixologist. What a terrible word, and no magazine can be perfect.

Wine-wise, there’s a terrific feature on organic grape growing featuring Brick House and Evesham Wood from the northern Willamette Valley. The wine recommendations even include a Savennieres from French biodynamic guru Nicholas Joly. Talk about challenging your readership. Good stuff here, fresh without being over the top “cool.” As in, not cool. Remember Wine X? Is that even still around?

Finally, a sad note to pass on. Wine industry publications like Wines and Vines still suck. Good lord. If a space alien got ahold of the July issue, it would think wine on earth was nothing more than a vehicle to flavor with oak chips, oak stave inserts for wine tanks, oak dust, oak essence, even some screw threaded oak plugs that offer maximum flavoring in a tidy, small package. Ok, the issue theme is Oak Alternatives, so at least they’re comprehensive. But how depressing.

And yet there’s a bright spot. On nearly the last page, there’s an opinion piece from...surprise, surprise...Alice Feiring. Talk about the last person I expected to see in this issue. Alice is a terrific wine writer who has one of the better blogs. If only I could steal the whole package – her design, her writing, even her curly red hair. And here she is writing about whether or not biodynamism is just a marketing ploy in America, a way for some capitalists to charge more money for no good reason. Like with the commercialization of “organic” labelled food. Nice piece, Alice. Refreshingly unflavored with oak.

July 15, 2006

Homebrewing update, with DDO tasting notes

Summer’s here and things are happening again at homebrew central. Last year’s Pinot Noir from Courting Hill Vineyard is still resting fairly comfortably in my basement. Fairly comfortably because I don’t have an actively cooled cellar, meaning there’s no air conditioning. With local temperatures in the 80s most days, even above 100 for two days last month, my cellar is in the mid to upper 60s with little day/night variation. Far from ideal, but cool enough and the wine is holding up well. I'll rack it soon and bottle next month.

So how does it taste? Better than ever, with a nice if simple perfume and fresh, tart flavors without complexity but also without defects. It’s competent wine, which is really my goal to this point. Can I take decent grapes and not screw them up? So far so good.

Which brings us to the coming harvest and my goal of finding really good grapes to make my best homebrew ever. Here in the northern Willamette Valley, the growing season so far has been a bit warmer than usual, with unusual June heat but a cooler if not actually cool July. From what I hear, mildew hasn’t materialized significantly in the vineyards despite a relatively humid spring. Flowering happened in mid-June with good weather, and crop set sounds like it’s above the past couple years, but not too large to worry much about getting everything ripe. Assuming the weather stays on track. We still have a ways to go.

What’s significant about crop set? After a lightish 2005 and a small crop in 2004, a better yield means homebrewers like me have more hope of finding quality grapes. So the other day I gave a call to Betty Wahle, who farms the well regarded Wahle Vineyard in the newly designated (or soon to be, can’t recall which) Yamhill-Carlton AVA. I had a terrific conversation with Betty, and I’ll be getting a ½ ton of Pinot Noir and a tiny bit of Chardonnay from her 30+ year old vines. Old clone stuff that I want, not the earlier ripening Dijon clones that to my taste make overly alcoholic wine in our not necessarily as cool as you might imagine climate. I’m looking forward to walking the vineyard with Betty soon, so check back for more on that.

Grapes secured, I called Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) to see if I could buy a used barrel or two. Many wineries get rid of old barrels this time of year, usually for a song. Bottling is happening and new barrels for the coming harvest are on the way or already delivered. Wineries need to free up space. Cellarmaster Aaron Bell said they had a bunch to unload, so I took two. One for winemaking, one for fun. The price was right.

DDO barrels are custom made by Francois Freres from wood bought by Drouhin at auction in France, aged at their estate in Burgundy for three years, then coopered by FF to specification. Most of the barrels are for Drouhin’s Burgundy production, with 120 or so sent to Oregon each year to cycle into production.

So yesterday I braved Friday afternoon traffic to drive out to Dundee on what was a Chamber-of-Commerce-approved, picture perfect day. Along the way, I saw some vineyards showing signs of recent hedging to reign in green growth and focus the vines on developing their tiny clusters of green fruit. On the back roads, I saw fields of fresh cut hay drying in sun and orchards of hazelnut trees. Then up Breyman Orchards Road to DDO high in the Dundee Hills.

Before heading down to the cellar, I had to taste quickly through the DDO line up. The ’04 Arthur Chardonnay was my favorite of the line up, not as minerally and tight as I recall some past vintages, but nicely fragrant and not overly toasty with hazelnut, green apple, and sweet cream flavors. Good balance and length, this is always a top Oregon Chardonnay. Maybe those Dijon clones aren’t so bad.

Then two reds, both quite aromatic but a bit boozy and thick to my taste. The 2003 Pinot Noir was really boozy, with a sulfury edge and an overly thick texture that shows the heat of ’03 was a challenge even for what are some of the higher elevation vineyards in this region. Not bad wine, but not what I’m looking for. Somewhat in contrast, the 2002 Pinot Noir Laurene showed more elegance and finesse, but again the texture was thick with alcohol though this wine didn’t show the same heat on the palate at the regular 2003. I would never pay what they ask for this wine; it is good but not so special.

Then down to the cellar to pick up the barrels. I get two 5-year-old beauties that smell fresh and clean and ready to give the nice, slow oxidation I want in barrel aging without imparting the oak flavors that new, expensive barrels give. We pop them into the back of my minivan and off I go, giddy with excitement for this fall.

But homebrewing always has its challenges. The lastest and yet unresolved? My new used barrels are too fat to get into my basement, so I now have my choice of projects: cut a new entrance to the basement? Ha, no. Convert the garage to a temperature-controlled barrel room? Perhaps. Or find another location to “home” brew? This might be the best solution of all if I can find somewhere close by that isn’t too costly.

At least I have a few more months to figure things out. By then I’ll probably be worried again about the weather. It’s always something.

July 08, 2006

1990 Burgundies and more

So, would you like to attend a private dinner and tasting of some top examples of 1990 red Burgundy? I know I would.

But when this email invitation came from Craig Camp, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Maybe he had the wrong guy.

I’d never met Craig, though I was familiar with him as a well-known internet personality. [Insert Troy McClure voice here.] You might remember him from the influential Italian wine and food blog vinocibo, his internet home during his three years in Piedmont. Now he’s back in the U.S. as general manager at Anne Amie Vineyards outside of Carlton, OR, and host of winecamp.

Craig had contacted me a few months ago with kind words about this modest site and an invitation to visit Anne Amie that I had yet to follow up on.

I suppose once in a while indolence has its rewards.

Turns out Doug Salthouse of Smart Buy Wine & Spirits in New Jersey was coming to town for this year’s Oregon Pinot Camp. Craig knows Doug, who, being a longtime Burgundy collector, shipped a case of 1990 premier and grand cru wines from A-list Cote d’Or producers from his personal cellar to share with people who’d appreciate them. Craig and the gang at Anne Amie thought they’d bring in Bistro Maison from McMinnville to put together a dinner, invite some other OPC visitors and local wine trade friends, and have a little fun.

Happily, Craig was nice enough to invite me.

So here’s the lowdown on what happened. First, I was not a paying guest, and tasting high end wines in this setting presents a unique critical challenge. How can you not love everything in the face of such generousity and such rarefied producers in a top vintage? If you like them, is it only because you should?

We’ll have to leave that unresolved. These were damn fine wines, not absolutely mindblowing but compelling and delicious. And the food was pretty good, too. If I enjoyed myself only because I was supposed to, fine with me.

We began with an attractive Oregon sparkler, the 1999 Soter Brut Rosé Beacon Hill. Then we turned our attention to the line up – 1990s all:

Volnay, Clos de Chenes, Domaine Michel Lafarge
Volnay, Santenots, Domaine de la Comtes Lafon
Corton, Domaine Cornu
Mazis Chambertin, Domaine Maume
Chambertin, Domaine Rousseau
Chambolle Musigny, Amoureuses, Domaine Roumier
Clos de la Roche, Domaine Georges Lignier
Vosne Romanee, Les Genevres, Leroy
Romanee St Vivant, Domaine de la Romanee Conti
Richbourg, Domaine Anne and Francois Gros

Overall the best wines showed more similarities than differences, due no doubt to the ripeness of the vintage. Burgundy purists complain that 1990 reds are too ripe, that the warmth of the growing season obscured the terrior expression in the wines.

No matter how you feel about that, these wines generally showed terrific purity and Burgundian character and lots of youth and vigor. Colors were generally dark and more youthful than mature. I think these wines generally have at least another decade until reaching full maturity. Some I expect will last much longer still. Of course there are exceptions.

Aromatically, the wines were very complex, without obtrusive oakiness and with beautifully integrated spicy, sous bois (that woodsy note you find in Burgundy) fragrance. Any of these wines would be delicious with dinner. All of them together was a little overwhelming. But we struggle.

Of the two Volnay, the Lafarge was a bit volatile and perhaps showing some medicinal character of brett, but I loved its aromatic complexity. The Lafon was more restrained, with great purity and fragrance.

The next two wines showed the least to me. The Corton was nice, spicy pinot noir that wasn’t too far from Oregon in profile, but a bit lost in this line up. The Chambertin was pretty and delicate, surely not bad wine, but fading in color and very soft and fragile in the mouth. If this bottle is representative, drink up while it’s still hanging around.

Then a complete change, the Mazis Chambertin from Maume. This wine provoked the first oohs and aahs of the evening, showing the ripeness of the vintage and the structure and heft that Maume is known for. Dark color, strapping aroma with more overt oakiness than the others (not in a bad way), full and rich on the palate with fine tannin, this is still a baby but already tastes really good.

Every Les Amoureuses I’ve had has showed grand cru quality, and this Roumier was no different. Terrific aroma, great intensity, and yet so graceful and light on its feet. I wish I had a cellar full of wines from this vineyard.

I was taking my time tasting through the wines, and ended up rushing with the Clos de la Roche from Lignier. My notes were scant, but this wine again showed great youth, power, and elegance, though it too was a bit lost in the line up for me.

Perhaps that’s due to the remaining wines. The Vosne Romanee Les Genevres showed Leroy purity, lacking only the depth of a grand cru. Spicy, woodsy aroma without obvious oakiness, just delicious. Again, such elegance for such a ripe wine.

The Romanee St Vivant from Domaine de la Romanee Conti might have been a bit of a letdown, only because of the impossibly high reputation of the producer and the amazing showing of the following wine. Still, beautifully floral with great length, just terrific.

And finally the Richbourg from A. et F. Gros. Darker than the other wines and just tremendous, perhaps with some life changing properties. What can you say about this one? It was simply the most impressive wine of the night, and darn tasty.

But that wasn’t all. We also had the following two bottles to cap things off:

1964 Charmes Chambertin, Remoissenet
1959 Vosne Romanee, 1er Cru, Les Malconsorts, Girard Giroud

The Charmes showed a youthful color, for a 42 year old wine that is. Immediately fragrant and pretty in the mouth, it showed more tea character with airing. In contrast, the Malconsorts was shy aromatically at first, but opened wonderfully, showing more maturity than the Charmes but with airing more sweetness and fullness. Neither wine needs more cellaring, but both will hang around for a while in a cold cellar.

Needless to say, I don’t usually drink so well. So thanks to Craig Camp for the invitation, and especially thanks to Doug Salthouse for providing such rare, and well cared for, wines. What a treat.