March 23, 2007

Live tasting: 2004 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel

It’s an Élevage first, a live tasting. Meaning, I’m drinking and typing, allatthesametime.

In all seriousness, I usually don’t write while drinking (usually I’ve had my share), but this little wine just made me cozy up to the keyboard and share with y’all.

Now I love a bargain, and the 2004 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel is just that. Locally, you can get this for as little at $14, before the pretty much standard discount for six or 12 bottles depending on the store.

You might be thinking, no, no, no, it’s the 2003 that’s being closed out locally for that price. And that’s true. But the 2004 just showed up and the price tags haven’t changed. So if you like what I think is one of the top California producers of Rhone-variety wines out there, don’t delay. This deal might not last.

What does the wine taste like? I think the winery’s web site does a good job describing things, though I would add that there is a bit of alcohol showing in this otherwise impeccable blend of grenache, mourvedre, and syrah.

It’s earthy but clean, savory but rich in fruit, smokey without the flavors of oak that marr most wines from my native golden state. And the texture, that’s what Edmunds St. John wines are really all about. Silky smooth without any sense of artificial texture enhancers like powdered tannin and fancy tricks in the cellar.

Is it grand vin? You know, the stuff you pay more than you should for, that demands aging in a cellar better than you have. And then there’s the occasion it requires that never comes.

No. This is wine for drinking, preferably with anything grilled, meat or otherwise. It will last a while, but there's no need to hold it.

So pick some up for your summer barbeques, after you’ve downed some nice dry rosé and need something with a little more heft. Wine this good shouldn’t be so cheap. Thank you, I will have some more.

March 22, 2007

Riesling from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

The tasting group met a few weeks back to sample Reisling.from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer producer Reichsgraff von Kesselstatt.

I had tried a few things from this house over the years and always liked the wines, but had never tasted more than one at a time. Tonight, we knew the producer but nothing more about the wines. So I was particularly excited to taste through a range of Reichsgraff wines to see what I thought without any other information about vintage, vineyard, or pradikat (Kabinett, Spatlese, ...).

The first wine was light straw colored with a fresh aroma of petrol, apples, and orange blossom. Its flavors were pure and sweet, with grapefruit notes. Not complex and not terribly long, but nice, young riesling. This was the 2003 Brauneburger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese “Fuder 02” Lange Goldkapsul. AP 52 04

Then a light gold, figgy smelling thing with brown apple, sort of plasticy aromas. And saffron. This is very interesting wine. Rich and thick in the mouth, obviously auslese with older apple, spiced jelly candy, and mineral flavors, I loved the purity and length here. This was the 1999 Brauneberge Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Lange Goldkapsul, AP 19 00.

Third, a similar aroma to second wine but with less botrytis on the aroma and a more tangy profile in the mouth. Sweet petrol, slate, and figgy apple flavors, even red currants, this was very good and only just behind the last wine. This was the 1999 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Lange Goldkapsul, AP 68 00.

The fourth wine poured a bit fizzy, but that cleared up. Light gold in color with a strange aroma initially with butter and mint jelly. But just when I thought it might be damaged, it turned pure and tasty if simple. Fairly sweet in the mouth with tangy acid and a nice pretty, moderately sweet flavor, lacking only complexity. This was the 1999 Scharzhofberger Auslese Lange Goldkapsul, AP 58 00. I should note that this wine was the only non-Mosel wine, coming from the Saar River Valley. I wrongly and boorishly “corrected” the very woman who provided these wines, assuring her they were all from the Mosel. I hate when that happens.

The fifth wine was possibly corked and certainly flawed. Positively frothy when poured, this was a complete mess. Too bad, it was the 1999 Bernkasteler Doctor Auslese Lange Goldkapsul.

Finally, an older wine. Moderately gold with a killer red currant aroma, almost strawberry in a way that only German Rieslings seem to show. Deep aromatically but still light and elegant. This smelled wonderful. But in the mouth it was lighter bodied with a slightly bitter grapefruit pith quality, balanced by sweet baked apple flavors. This was nice but not great, certainly worth drinking but not as special as you might hope. It was the 1988 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Auslese, AP 18 89.

In sum, these Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt wines were delicious but perhaps not the highest quality of Riesling out there. However, these wines represent tremendous value. And happily, here in Oregon, Lemma Wine Company brings in a wide variety of this producer’s wines at attractive prices.

March 07, 2007

It Is Alive

Spring’s not quite here, though spring did unofficially start here in western Oregon last week when we said our last goodbyes to February. Which means things should be happening in the wine cellar as ambient temperatures rise and the new wine from last fall comes back to life.

What things, you ask? Why, malolactic fermentation of course.

Geeks know that “ml” is that still sort of mysterious process where malic acid is broken down into lactic acid, turning a sharply acidic, young wine into something more mature with a softer, rounder texture. Not to mention a slight spritz, as the wine gives off carbon dioxide in the process.

These days, ml typcially happens during or shortly after primary fermentation just after harvest. Wineries tend to innoculate for ml with a special strain of bacteria that quickly and predictably completes the process, free of any delay or worry. The idea is that bad things can happen if ml doesn’t finish quickly. But not everyone agrees with that.

In the old days, ml happened naturally, typically in the spring when young wine slowly warmed up after the cold winter and resumed its chemical activity. The thinking was that, as the sap rose in the vines, the prior year’s wine would return to life in a symbiotic way to finish primary fermentation. No one knew for sure about ml until the early 20th century, and winemakers were certainly surprised to find that a bacteria, otherwise considered the enemy of quality wine, would play such an important and useful role in creating great wine.

Science has since shown us that the ml process won’t happen when the temperature is too cold. So if you don’t innoculate for ml and keep your wine cold over the winter, you can live like the ancients and let your wine complete ml naturally. No additives, no rushing, just natural winemaking. Many wineries still do it this way, but even more will look at you funny at the notion of letting a wine go through ml on its own. Are you crazy?

Well, maybe. It’s true, things can always go wrong if you don’t assert your control over every aspect of the winemaking process. But things can go wrong if you do. And plenty of great wine (perhaps most) was and is made with a hands off approach, so I’m trying my best to experiment with that route and see what I learn.

So you can imagine my delight after pulling the bung on my one barrel of 2006 Pinot Noir from the Wahle Vineyard to do my regular topping and noticing, and then hearing, a slight sparkle in the wine. I’ve been waiting for this moment, partly in fear that it would ever come, but mostly not sure when. That is, how warm would it need to be to reactivate the wine?

Turns out that, after a winter where my barrel was in the 40s down to the upper 30s, a creep into the 50s was just enough to get ml going. Which is great, because that’s still a low enough temperature to keep the wine fresh but obviously not too cold for renewed activity. The wine tastes a bit fizzy but otherwise shows no ill effects of ml so far.

In the next few months, I expect the wine to turn a bit cloudy and taste a bit metallic as ml completes. Then things should settle back down and the truly finished wine will emerge during the summer.

So far, so good. An enologist friend of mine wondered if I knew precisely which strain of ml bacteria was working in the wine. I have no idea, and I don’t really care. So far, things have gone well. And if the ancients could make wine this way, I don’t see why I can’t too.

March 04, 2007

More Wine, Admiral?

So after the initial Beaujolais tasting, there were “post pours” of broad assortment, again all tasted blind.

First a gummy Beaujolais smelling wine with nice raspberry fruit and more of the granite soil character. Tannic and full in the mouth, nice drinking sooner than later. This was the 2005 Domaine Vissoux Beaujolais Cuvee Traditionale V.V., the only non-Cru Beaujolais of the evening. Quite nice for something like $10.

Then another wine with a similar profile, but only deeper with a nice pepper note to the aroma. It’s nice, full and rich Beaujolais for sure, better than the first by a step. It’s the 2005 Vissoux Moulin-a-Vent Les Deux Roches.

Then something much older, with a mature color and gorgeous bottle sweet aromas of red fruit and sous bois, with a touch of volatility that suggests drinking sooner than later. This is the 1986 Leroy Nuits St. Georges.

To match, another old wine that looks a bit older than the previous but only slightly so. A smokey cherry, aged aroma that needs time to open preceeds the silky, spicy old pinot noir flavor. A little eggy and volatile, again I’d drink this up. It’s the 1986 Reine Redauque Corton Renards. Someone suggested it showed its Grand Cru terroir, but I didn’t think so. Still a nice mature Burgundy.

Then something I thought was certainly from the southern Rhone valley in France, probably Gigondas. A younger color compared to the previous two but still maturing. Bottle sweet with cherries, red raspberries, and a floral, herbal musky quality to the aroma. Maturing flavors with a forest floor quality that got me thinking of the mourvedre grape. But no, it’s the 1994 Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir from here in the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon. It was a warm vintage and it shows, but nice if you can get by the lack of “pinosity.”

Not that we needed more to taste, even with the spitting. My mouth was wearing out. But I had already opened my contribution, something I wrongly heard was drinking well. This looks no different than it did on release five years ago, young and purplish red. It’s peppery scented with grape and raspberry aromas, really nice but again hardly aged. Then the wall of tannin, with unevolved raspberry and a slightly metal quality on the finish, hold this indefinitely but still I like it. This is the 1999 Clos Roche Blanche Cot Touraine, otherwise known as malbec from the Loire valley.

Oh, but then there was dessert. First something figgy with botrytis and pure pear and apple fruit, clean and sweet smelling. In the mouth it was thick and rich with fair acid but good enough balance, pretty yummy dessert wine. I didn’t get much riesling character, but others thought it to be classic. Go figure. This was the 2005 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese***.

Then something controversial, which some thought corked or otherwise faulty. I didn’t like the mothball quality, to be sure, but otherwise this was nice spicy smelling wine with golden raisins and lychees and then thick and rich flavors of honey, flowers and pears, with nice length. This was the 1999 Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu “Les Rouannieres.”

The next wine probably should have come sooner, it was light colored with a pure, light clean rainwater aroma. It was only moderately sweet, and a bit jarring after the previous two, but obviously nice wine. It was the 2003 Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten Vin Moelleux from Alsace.

Finally, an amber colored, sherried or ranico smelled wine with nut skins and spent coffee grounds. Rich and sweet flavored, with more sherry notes, dried oranges and such. This is ok, but seems a little disjointed and a bit harsh. It’s the 1990 Joliette Rivesaltes Ambré, in a fancy 500ml bottle. Not bad mind you, but a little tough though better honestly when you know what it is. No one ever said Rivesaltes produced subtle wine.

March 03, 2007

2005 Cru Beaujolais

After running into some old friends at the afternoon Produttori tasting, I happily attended their group’s 2005 Cru Beaujolais tasting that night.

We started with two blind whites, the first something I was able to pick out after tasting and noting it here recently. The 2005 J.M. Raffault Chinon Blanc was again nice if not stellar. It’s more sauvignon in character than chenin, but it’s a good value.

The second white was hard to pick. I started at a ripe, dry Loire chenin blanc. But someone else guessed southern Rhone white and I immediately agreed. Straw colored, ripe and nicely precise but still bold and rich mostly roussane wine. This turned out to be the 2002 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape blanc, probably picked before the rain and quite good.

Then six 2005 Cru Beaujolais tasted blind, all “Cru” bottlings meaning coming from vineyards in any of the ten most respected villages, all of them adjacent to one another in the northern part of the Beaujolais region. Overall, these were excellent examples of gamay, all fresh and clean but with terrific earthiness balancing the sweet fruit. I would happily drink and probably cellar any of these for the five to ten years.

All the wines were deep ruby purple in color. The first was the most overtly sweet smelling of the bunch, purple fruited, focused with dark earth noties in time. Finely tannic in the mouth with gummy raspberry and lightly spicy fruit flavors, sterner with time but still lush and fruity. This was the Joel Rochette Regnie Cuvee des Braves Vieilles Vignes.

Second, a more raw smelling, broader even a little buttery fragrance, probably the least fruity of the lot. Crisp acid with fine tannin, red raspberry fruit, nice but hard edged through the finish, needs time. This is the Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent V.V.

Then another dark, cleanly earth smelling wine with deep rich black fruit. In the mouth, this one has softer acid, fine tannins like the others, some gummy fruit like the first wine, in the words of our host, “big and lucious.” This was the Laurent Gauthier “Chatenay” Chiroubles V.V.

The fourth wine was a bit odd at first, with pasty dough and some alcohol, but opened to show more earthy but clean complixty. In the mouth, it’s finely tannic, even hard with a slight herbal edge, peppery and leaner than the others but still good if not my favorite. This was the Clos de la Roilette Fleury, and when it was unveiled I thought I should have known this one. Very typical to my expeience with this producer.

Fifth, a nicely earthy with sweet fruit but a savory, beguiling element to its fragrance that I loved. Again, finely tannic with nice red and black fruit, crisp acids, this is a focused, precise wine with a nice taste of the soil. I wrote that I “love” it so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it was the Champs-Grillés St. Amour, my first time tasting wine from this village of love.

Finally, a peppery wine with more soil and black fruit aromas. In the mouth, this was big and rich with fine tannin, slightly gummy ripe fruit but that signature earthiness of Beaujolais, really nice but more stern with time. This was the Pascal Aufranc Juliénas.

All in all, these are pretty ripe for the appellation but just terrific wine. For their largely sub-$20 prices, they are extremely worthwhile. We had some roasted chicken after tasting though these blind, and every wine just tasted terrific with the food. I just sat there and marvelled at how much I liked all of them.

Of course, I had to pick a favorite with this group and was then mocked for choosing the Champs-Grillés.

Now, where’s the love?