March 31, 2009

Strong Austrian Beer

Tonight with steak I chose not to open another pinot noir. My experiences with grilled or broiled steak and pinot noir are generally not good. What to choose? What to choose? How about a 2004 Eric Texier St. Gervais Veilles Vignes des Cardinieres?

I've enjoyed Eric Texier's wine for nearly a decade. Ever since I found a delicious bottle of the 1998 Brezeme Cotes du Rhone at Pike's Place up in Seattle, this producer of southern and northern Rhone wines and the occasional Burgundy has become a sentimental favorite.

In the past though, Eric has bottled some wines with synthetic corks, which I've found to provide inconsistent results with ageing wine. I still have some of the 1999 Brezeme standing up in the cellar, the idea being that the wine doesn't need to, and shouldn't, touch the synthetic cork. We'll see how the last few bottles hold up.

A few years ago I tried a single bottle of the 2000 Cardinieres, and loved it. So lively and peppery, just what I want in a Cotes du Rhone Villages wine, with the depth and intensity of a higher AOC like Gigondas.

So this 2004 Cardinieres has been in the cellar queue for a while. Made from 80 year old grenache vines, this wine is an ideal alternative to cabernet for a nice steak. That is, when it's not corked. Yes, no artificial cork here. Instead, the real thing, taint and everything.

Damn it! I suppose there are far greater ills in this world, but when I get a corked wine, it hurts.

So the steak went solo, but after dinner I opened a little bottle of "the world's most extraordinary beer." Yes, Castle Brewery in Eggenberg, Austria's Samichlaus Bier, bottled in 2007. This is "malt liquor" and allegedly the world's strongest beer at 14% alcohol. I imagine the micro brewers here in the US have things that trump that strength. Still, 14% is powerful beer, ideal in my case for a pinot noir stem.

What can such a strong beer smell and taste like? The first sniff simply said "Austria." This beer smells like an intense version of the crisp but malty beers of Vienna, where I spent some time in university. With time, there are hay, honey, and light burnt sugar aromas as well, still nicely fresh for what is obviously aged beer.

The color is bronze and the flavors moderately sweet, with round malt, apricot, and mild alcohol notes and terrific length. This in fact may be the most extraordinary beer I've ever tasted. Yes, the label's boast seems correct.

More details from the back label: this beer is brewed once a year, on December 6, and aged 1o months before bottling. Thus, this must be from 2006, and apparently this should age nicely and become "more complex with a creamy warming finish." I'll buy that.

Where strong beers are hot and alcoholic at 10%, this is amazingly wine like with great aroma, balance, texture, and length, everything I look for in a quality wine. Treat this like an aged white dessert wine. Chocolate didn't work, but maybe fruit dessert or biscotti would be nice. Or sip it on its own. For nearly $5, it's pricey beer. But for the quality, it's a steal.

March 25, 2009

Real Wine Assault Portland

Last Thursday evening I had the pleasure of seeing old Joe Dressner and the Louis/Dressner(/McKenna) trio at E&R Wine Shop in Portland. That and tasting lots of excellent Loire and Beaujolais wines from the LDM portfolio poured by the makers themselves.

As readers may know, CaptainTumorMan Joe Dressner has brain cancer. Never one for self pity -- he's too busy pissing people off -- Joe's blogging on all things malignant, including an acrimonious family squabble that I'm hoping is just one of his many online fictions.

Dressner may be the Borges of the wine internet. However, this night everything was real and good.

I began with two whites from Marc Olivier of Domaine de la Pepiere. His 2007 Muscadet was excellent, crisp and pure melon, while his 2007 Muscadet Clos des Briords was even better, so mineral and pure but flavory and long lasting. Olivier and I discussed -- I questioned, he answered, that is -- the agebility of his wines. The 1988 apparently is going strong. Not that we see older vintages much here in Oregon.

Next, Evelyne de Jessey and two wines from her Domaine du Closel. I've had mixed experiences with Closel wines in the past. These two were certainly good, but not favorites in this group. They just seemed a bit soft. The 2006 Savennieres La Jalousie was quite fruity for this appellation. The 2005 Savennieres Clos du Papillon was more complex, smelling of spiced jelly candies but showing some alcoholic heat in the mouth.

I was much more impressed with the Domaine de Belliviere wines, poured by Christine and Eric Nicolas. Like the Closel wines, these are made with chenin blanc, but they are lightly sweet where Savennieres are typically dry. The 2005 Eparses VV Coteaux du Loir Blanc was aromatic, perhaps a tough volatile but nicely honied and crisp despite the 15g/L residual sugar. The 2005 Jasnieres Les Rosiers was superb, with a wildly intense aroma and flavor. A touch sweeter too with 20g/L. These are quite distinctive wines, though I'm not sure what to serve them with.

Moving from the Loire to Beaujolais, two red wines from Jean-Paul Brun's Terre Dorees. First, the 2007 Beaujolais Rouge V.V. L'Ancien, this is classic Brun. Light bodied, peppery with crunchy acidity and cherry flavors. Simply delicious wine. Then the NV Beaujolais Petillant FRV100, indeed effervescent with apple cider aromas and light sweetness. This is ok, good for a hot day I suppose.

Next to Brun was Alain Coudert of Clos de la Roilette. The 2007 Fleurie was typically more intense than Brun's basic Beaujolais, but still light and crunchy with nice soil, cherry, and autumn leaf flavors. The 2007 Fleurie Cuvee Tardive, from older vines, was similarly delicious but not necessarily distinct from the main bottling.

Moving back to the Loire, two producers of red wine. The first was Pierre Breton, who began by pouring a rare white wine from chenin blanc. This 2006 Chinon Blanc Beaumont was yeasty with green apple and a pleasant hardness to the flavors. With time this might soften and become more waxy in texture. Then two reds, first the 2006 Bourgueil Trinch! Usually this seems to be a basic but delicious cabernet franc. This bottling had more intensity than I expect, with nicely grippy tannin. The 2006 Bourgueil Galichets was a big step up, and at $20, the bargain of the tasting. Chalky tannin that will need time to soften, but terrific intensity and length. I loved this wine.

Next to Pierre was Matthieu Baudry from Bernard Baudry. His 2007 Chinon Les Granges was a little green, not unpleasantly so. This is the basic bottling and shouldn't need time, but this wine might be a little tight from recent bottling. Who knows. Then the 2005 Chinon Les Clos Guillot, something completely different. Dark, saturated color, with a toasty and minty aroma more akin to the new world than Chinon. Firmly tannic in the mouth, I would have bet this had substantial new oak but Matthieu says no. This wine is hard to read. It's certainly atypical from the wines tonight, but perhaps time will calm down the intensity.

Finally, Kevin McKenna had his own table with a mix of things. First, the 2006 Degli Ulivi Gavi Filagnotti, a white wine aged in acacia wood that showed a little unpleasant cheese rind on the finish. Perhaps this is too "real." Then the NV (really 2005) Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Brut Extra, a dry, lightly oxidized and yeasty Champagne that everyone but me seemed to love.

I preferred the last three wines. 2005 I Vignere Etna Rosso smelled like dry port without the weight of dessert wine, nicely peppery. Then the 2006 Camillo Donati Lambrusco dell'Emilia, simply delicious lightly fizzy red wine, with dried fruit flavors but nice freshness. I could drink lots of this. Finally, the 2006 Bera Moscato d'Asti, a nice sweet finish to the tasting with lots of lemon lime flavors and aromas. Perhaps a bit like soda pop, but I liked it.

During the event, MC Joe Dressner hushed the crowd with a Polinous-esque promise of brevity, recounting everything from the improper leverage ratios of Wall Street and chicanery of Bernie Madoff to the fine foods of our Willamette Valley, eventually mentioning the artisan producers here tonight and the authenticity of their wines.

I pulled Joe aside during the event to reintroduce myself. "Ah, the famous wine blogger," he chided sarcastically, with a big smile. Joe needed to sit down, so we went in the back of the shop where there weren't really any seats. I didn't know what to say, so I joked that he's not in my prayers, and he asked me to not keep him in my thoughts. Joe has rules for what one should and shouldn't say to a cancer patient. I drew a blank in the moment and mumbled something about what I'm up to, making wine from the overly fertile soils of the Willamette Valley. Joe showed restraint and seemed to be listening. Then he asked me to report here that "cancer's really whipped Joe Dressner" so that he doesn't even have the energy to rant against the forces of evil in the wine world. Maybe that day will come, but for now big Joe is still going strong.

Hey Joe, that invitation to drink from paper bags under the Burnside Bridge is still open. Maybe next time.

March 15, 2009

2007 Vincent Pinot Noir is in the bottle

I spent all day yesterday with a generous friend from work bottling my homemade 2007 Vincent Pinot Noir out in the garage. Recall here, here, here and here the harvest and fermentation of this wine back in October 2007. Have I written about it since? I don't think so.

Well, life in barrel has been kind to this wine of low brix and rainy harvest fruit from the Meredith Mitchell vineyard. Despite the harvest conditions, the fruit was physiologically ripe, meaning the tannins were ripe and there weren't green flavors. After a full 16.5 months in 5 year old French oak, I'm pleased with the results. People who have told me they loved my 2006 Pinot Noir will undoubtedly find this 2007 model to be quite a departure.

Instead of the high alcohol, lush fruit flavors and low acidity of 2006, this 2007 wine is bright, taut and decidedly more earthy. It's clean wine, meaning there are no bacterial issues or problems. But the vintage, combined with the grapes being 100% Pommard clone pinot noir (known for its clean earth flavor), give a distinct soil character to the aroma and flavor. Dare I say it's Burgundian? The balance of fruit and earth flavors, and the pleasant zing of acidity do suggest the old country. If it's an Oregon version of good Bourgogne rouge, I'm satisfied.

Some folks got a taste of it in barrel last November at my first garage tasting. The reception was pretty positive, though the 2006 was generally preferred. I think the 2007 is showing better after a few extra months in barrel. I'm curious to see how people react to having this wine with their dinner, rather than having just a quick taste in my cold garage. It's definitely food wine, in the good sense.

When will the wine be ready to get out to friends and family (and faithful blog readers)? Probably around Memorial Day. I want to work on the label a bit, and let the wine rest after a light dose of sulfur dioxide and the minor trauma of bottling. Yes, bottle shock is a real thing.

If you're interested in trying the wine once it's "ready," let me know. Maybe we'll do another garage tasting.

March 12, 2009

Ah, sweet Burgundy

I'm not usually one to compare wines like red Burgundy and Oregon pinot noir. Yet I can't help see a delicious similarity between the 2004 Joseph Voillot Volnay Les Fremiets 1er Cru we had tonight with something perfumed and delicate from, perhaps, Evesham Wood of Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills.

As you may know, 2004 red Burgundy was largely panned by wine cognosenti. We heard cries of "unripe" and "green" in tasting notes for the wines. The latest vintage of the century, 2005, only further cemented 2004's reputation as the dirty stepchild (apologies to wonderful stepchildren everywhere waiting their turn for the shower).

Such vintage declarations can open or close the window for buyers. Where 2005s soared in price out of my reach, many 2004s were dumped at sometimes incredibly low prices. If you know me, I loaded up on selected 2004s from good producers and vineyards.

Tonight I needed something a little special. For some people, that would mean spending $50, $100, or more. For me, $15 will do. So this Voillot Volnay Fremiets. It has a beautiful translucent ruby color. At first, the aroma shows some herbaceousness. Then with a few minutes, a gorgeous perfume of cherries, flower petals and old wood spice emerge, gaining depth and intensity with more time in the glass. This is nice Cote de Beaune Burgundy, but the profile also suggests something light and delicate from here in Oregon.

The flavors and texture follow the aroma. There are soft, silky fruit flavors with fine tannin and toothsome acidity, delicate and light but so pure and lengthy. Fans of big cabernet, or pinot noir for that matter, would fret the lack of volume and decibel here. But this is what pinot is about to me. Immediately pleasurable, surprisingly complex and refreshing, easy to match with food (maybe not steak) and so tasty you can't help pouring yourself another glass.

What more do you want? This is a special wine, perhaps a small storefront off the main drag but all the better for it.

March 10, 2009

Scheurebe and baby Bandol

Notes on a couple wines I've had lately. Both unusual but very nice.

First, the 2005 Weingut Ch. W. Bernard Scheurebe HackenHeim Kirchberg Spatlese, AP 06 06. Translation: Bernard is the producer, Scheurebe is the grape, Hachenheim is the town in the Rheinhessen region of Germany where you find this particular Kirchberg vineyard, and the grapes were harvested at spatlese ripeness level (at least). Serious geeks pay attention to the AP number, which tells you the number and year of this specific bottling.

Ok, now the wine. Scheurebe is known for its opulence and low acidity, and this example shows that fully. Round, honeyed and moderately sweet, this wine has nice grapefruit pith and sweet lemon cake flavors. It's simply delicious, and pairs nicely with spicy food. The pleasant bitterness seems to work with the low acidity to balance the sweetnees. Just 10% alcohol.

Then a red wine from the Kermit Lynch imported Bandol producer Terrebrune. This is the 2007 Terre d'Ombre Vin de Pays du Mont Caume, labeled Delille vigneron without reference to the Terrebrun label. What fantastic red wine, and a terrific bargain at $12.99 locally at Liner & Elsen. I found it interesting to see this wine retailing elsewhere in the country for $15, even $20.

For those who wonder if "brett" can be a good thing, yes, this wine shows it. Brett is of course a wild, perhaps "spoilage," yeast that gives a wine a bandaid or barnyard quality. It's the latter in this case, the pleasing scent of horse blanket marrying nicely with the sweet lavender, herb, and raspberry aromas. The flavors follow, with ripe tannin and a slight bitterness that again pleases. I wouldn't age this wine, because the brett might take over. The wine is already so lush without being sweet, there's no reason to cellar it. But with a nice cut of beef, it's delicious, the fruit coming forward and the tannin clearing the palate for the next bite. This is my kind of bargain red wine. Thanks for the reccomendation Neil.

March 03, 2009

Thackrey Video and Austrian Riesling

I was happy to stumble upon this multi-part video of California winemaker Sean Thackrey over on the Chowhound site. Thanks for the link Wine Berserkers. Very interesting stuff, from a complex but still down to earth guy.

I've written before about the online Thackrey library where Sean hosts lots of historical texts on winemaking. Unfortunately, I can't read many of them. Nevertheless, I love the contents and the inspiration to even put something like this together.

On the videos, Thackrey takes on a bit of a controversial point. Where most down to earth types in wine seem to downplay the role of the winemaker in making great wine, Thackrey sees the obvious importance of the winemaker. He gets it that even great grapes won't make great wine without a winemaker making many difficult decisions. That's not vanity. To me it's just a fact.

However, I disagree with him on wine descriptors, and feel his own example shows how useful they can be. Sean, like many people in wine, says that descriptors just don't make sense to most people, so they're not useful. Then he gives the example of smelling fresh roasted cacao beans and finding the exact scent he's long noticed in his syrah but never been able to describe. Before he smelled them, the descriptor was have been meaningless to him. Since most of us, including me, can't say we've smelled that particular smell, surely the term is meaningless to us.

Or is it? For someone so attached to old books and inspired by their ability to communicate nearly ancient thoughts to us moderns, I would think Sean see the ability of language to educate us over time. That descriptor inspires me to learn that smell. More importantly, even if I don't have that experience any time soon, I've seen many times how descriptors become meaningful to me even years after first seeing them. I'd argue they were always meaningful. I just took time internalizing that meaning for myself.

This isn't to say I love wine notes full of laundry lists of descriptors. Rather, specific, even esoteric smells, can be incredibly important to communicate in a wine note when they convey something essential about the wine. You can tell in the video that those cacao beans are exactly what Sean senses in his own wine. How's that not meaningful?

Finally, I liked the view of an ETS lab report of the chemistry of one of Sean's syrah musts (I'm assuming it's syrah). Brix over 30, ph near 4.0, and lots of potassium that suggests the ph will shift ever higher after what malic acid is in the juice has fermented into lactic acid. Does Sean acidify?

Now a tasting note, full of meaningless descriptors. Tonight, with a simple pasta dish with asparagus, riccota salada, roasted pine nuts, and some black olives, an Austrian riesling. Specifically the 2004 Hofer Riesling Kabinett. Many people in the US know Winegut Hofer for its inexpensive 1L gruner veltliner with a crown cap, but this riesling is a big step up. Fragrant, green papaya aroma, pure with lots of minerality. It's dry and clean with ripe green apple fruit, lively acidity but nice richness, finishing long, spicy and crisp. It's delicious with dinner.

This isn't sweet kabinett that the Germans sometimes frustrate me with. Instead, it's pure Austrian white wine, dry and bracing but still substantial. I had a bottle of this last year that didn't seem so good. Tonight, this is excellent.