May 04, 2007

Scott Paul Selections: Grand Cru

Picking up where I left off the other night on the Scott Paul Selections Burgundy course, we reach the Grand Cru.

Tonight, two wines from Francois Lamarche, a producer whose lackluster reputation of years past Scott Wright made no bones about mentioning. Times have clearly changed.

First, the 2004 Francois Lamarche Grandes Echezeaux Grand Cru, which shows a delicate aroma at first that opens to a meaty red fruit compote fragrance. In the mouth, the texture is silky with red fruits and young, crunchy acidity that again suggests aging. There’s good length here, and overall I enjoy this wine but know it really needs time.

Also needing time, but showing tremendously tonight, is the 2004 Francois Lamarche La Grand Rue Grand Cru. La Grande Rue was the most recent vineyard to be upgraded to Grand Cru status, no surprise as it sits between the fabled Romaneé Conti and La Tache sites. This wine is excellent, with a floral, subtle at first black fruit and complex spice aroma. In the mouth, it’s firmer than the luscious perfume suggests, with fine tannin and a long, elegant sweet fruit and earth flavor. I could smell and drink wine like this all night long, and also want a bunch of bottles to store away for ten or more years. Too bad the price is so dear at $115.

In sum, the class was mostly review for this geek. But I learned some interesting tidbits, such as a lieu dit being not just a subplot of a larger vineyard, which it is in some cases, but also the vineyard itself. Yet as plain and accessible as Scott made Burgundian minutiae for this crowd, I felt like people could go away, despite what we tasted, still believing that the whole Grand Cru and Premier Cru system is just a bunch of marketing.

Sure, all classifications have a purpose of separating what is at least allegedly the “best” from the rest. But in the case of Burgundy, even just a look at the Cote d’Or via Google Earth will show the obvious – the best sites are those with the best exposure, and they’re all at least 1er Cru. There are few deserving sites missing from the top classifications, and despite underachievement on the part of some growers, there are few classified sites that are lackluster as sites. Soils will further dictate what grows best, so you see Chardonnay here and Pinot Noir there.

Try and find a great exposure in the Cote d’Or that’s not already at least a 1er Cru. You can’t do it. And that’s not just marketing. It’s terroir, and it’s fact. These terrific wines from Scott Paul Selections only underscore the point.

May 03, 2007

Joe Dressner and Australian Shiraz?

I love the first line of Maureen Dowd's column the other day about former CIA director George Tenet. Poor Slam Dunk, she began.


And poor me. Too long I delayed, and when I finally called E&R wine shop in Portland today to see about attending tonight's Louis/Dressner Selections tasting, I was denied. There's a wait list, I'm told. No chance even joining it.

But what's this? An email in my in box? Who could it be? Would you believe...Joe Dressner at the World Cup cafe in NW Portland (next to Hot Lips pizza!), and he's sought me out.

Is he psychic? Is he from the government? What's the difference?

Now, Joe was a charter reader of this web log two years back. But he hasn't been around for a while. We've missed him, but we haven't given up hope that someday he'd return.

Sure, my email inbox isn't this controversial, hard hitting vanity site. It's a mirror all its own, but I'll take it. I feel I'm on the cusp of something special.

I reply to Joe detailing my plight. The long nights blogging, the many mugs of World Cup coffee. I simply forgot to RSVP for his tasting. How could I be so stupid? Now there's a waiting list and, try as I might, I can't even join a waiting list for that.

Maybe Joe will get the hint. Maybe he'll plead for my presence. His reply arrives, ending with a cryptic "xsee you soon."

What does it mean? Am I in? Does he think I'm someone else? Should I crash the tasting? Should I follow him around all night? After all, I would like to talk to him about our sedimentary Oregon soils, which he's remarked about in the past. I'm sure he's excited about that.

No, this doesn't feel right, and I don't do anything but ride the slow bus home and open a bottle of fine, aged Australian Shiraz.

No kidding, the 2000 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz, vinted according to the label in the Frankland River region of Western Australia.

And just when this day couldn't get any stranger, this is delicious, satisfying, even compelling fading ruby colored wine.

The fragrance is peppery with a charred earth note that speaks of France more than anything. Then there's a subtle eucalyptus aroma mixed in with ripe but not overt red fruit. In the mouth, it's more austere, even lean in the middle but moderately long with a mixture of fresh and aged flavors.

This isn't Barossa Shiraz, candied and artificially tart. This is honest, cool climate syrah that's really satisfying, even if it doesn't make me forget the collection of Dressner wines I'm missing at this very moment.

Oh well, maybe next time. Of course, that's what I said last year when my ticket to the Real Wine Invasion went sadly unused.

Joe, is it too early to book my spot for 2008?

May 02, 2007

Burgundy from Scott Paul Selections

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of attending an “advanced” Burgundy class held by Scott Wright at his Carlton winery, Scott Paul Wines.

Burgundy in the heart of Oregon Pinot Noir county? Do they drink Oregon in Burgundy? I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s no one importing Oregon wine in Beaune. Of course, things are different here.

In addition to producing some of the more interesting local Pinot Noir out there, Scott Paul Wines is also Scott Paul Selections, representing some terrific white and red wines from the Cote d’Or.

Scott Wright also leads a series of tasting classes on Burgundy, from beginner to “graduate” level, demystifying the complexities of what is obviously his passion. Of course, there is no simplifying the absurdities of some vineyard names and classifications, yet Scott somehow explains it and makes you feel good with his almost jolly manner. He even supplies detailed maps, whicha person has to love.

We sat down in two long tables in the front room of the old brick winery building and began with a single white wine. The 2004 Philippe Chavy Puligny-Montrachet had a pretty greenish gold color and nicely complex, floral, apple, and hazelnutty oak aromas, then oily tangy lemon lime flavors with barrel notes. The oak flavors are a bit rough right now, but this wine has nerve and length and should age for several years. Very nice, and in Scott’s words, classic Puligny.

Then a selection of wines from Pommard, to highlight the same producer working with two vineyards, and the same vineyard in the hands of two different producers.

First, the 2004 Aleth Girardin Pommard Epenots 1er Cru, with an Oregon-like aroma of black cherries, underbrush, and woodsy spice that, were it from here, might be one of the best Oregon wines I’ve smelled. The bright cherry flavor had a ripe, sweet quality that also suggests the new world. But this is Burgundy, with mineral acidity that promises more in the future, as good as it was today. Scott notes that Aleth Girardin’s holding in this vineyard are in the Le Grand Epenot section, which is a perennial candidate for upgrade to Grand Cru status. Upgrade are rare occurances, and this one isn’t actually likely to happen anytime soon.

Then the 2004 Aleth Girardin Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru, the vineyard half a kilometer away from Epenots. This was more subtle aromatically at first, then turned sweet and almost jammy, to me suggesting more the style of the producer (ripe) than a vineyard difference. In the mouth, this was also cherry dominated but finely tannic and again tightly structured, again suggesting cellaring for a few years.

Next, a 2004 Theirry Violot-Guillemard Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru that had a slightly lighter color and more finesse that the Girardin. This too smelled Oregon-like at first, with loamy earth and cherry, then pepper and floral notes. Scott used the term “lacy” a few times to describe the fine texture of good Burgundy, and this wine showed that lacy quality. Finely tannic and again tight and young, I really liked this aside from a slight bitter note on the finish. That’s picking nits though.

Next time, a pair of truly fine Grand Cru from Echezeaux and Vosne to finish the session.