August 30, 2009

Old Chianti

I like to take chances on random older wines at auction. Sometimes it's not such a smart way to go. Other times, it's good enough to make up for the misses. Here's one of those.

About a year ago I bought a lone bottle of 1988 Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva. The fill was mid shoulder, suggesting that wine had leaked out of the cork somewhere along the way, mostly likely because of heat damage. Such a wine would taste oxidized, much like bad vinegar.

Somehow, not all "low fill" wines get their low fill because of heat damage. Honestly, who knows where the wine goes. Perhaps it soaks into the cork? The cork on this bottle was three-quarters saturated, but the top of the cork, which I expected to be covered in gunk, was pristine. Go figure.

The wine is dark ruby with slight browning at the edge, nothing unexpected for a 21 year old wine. Then the intoxicating perfume, a complex aroma of sandlewood, mushroom, cherries, camphor and balsamic notes that I find in traditional Chianti. This is really good. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with tart cherry, sandlewood and mint notes, with an old wood savor, fine tannin and juicy acidity. This is terrific aged Chianti that is best with food but no slouch on its own, if you don't mind a slightly dry finish. Surely this was never sweet and fat wine, and I don't expect it (or prefer it) to be that now.

Searching for information on this wine, I found a few interesting tidbits worth adding. First, one page mentions that the Antinori family bought Badia a Passignano in 1987 and that this 1988 wine was the first vintage they produced. Of course, the property wasn't new to wine, having been a monastery since 395 with a report of a 1000 year old vitis vinifera plant found when the Antinori acquired the property. Can that be right?

August 29, 2009

2005 Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Langhe Martinenga

One of the best bargain nebbiolo out there is Marchesi di Gresy's Nebbiolo Langhe Martinenga. I opened the 2005 edition of this wine last night and found it to be absolutely delicious. Classic floral, tar and cherry aromas of nebbiolo, with nicely sweet red fruit, fine tannin, persistent flavors and acid savor that begs you to take another taste. For real Peidmontese nebbiolo character, you can't do much better for the money than this bottle of essentially declassified Barbaresco from the cru Martinenga vineyard. Sometimes wines in this low level classification taste overly acidic and fruitless. Not this one.

Today I got out my copy of Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman's book Noble Red Wines of Italy to look up information about old Vietti Barbara, after reading a note online about a 1978 Vietti that showed very nicely. Without thinking about it, I came across their evaluation of Marchesi di Gresy's 1982 Nebbiolo Martinenga. They wrote: "Expansive aroma rises from the glass, suggestings of cherries and gingerbread; a lot of fruit upon entry and a lot of fruit at the end, it seems to miss some fruit in the middle. **" That sounds remarkably like my experience, thought the mid-palate in the 2005 isn't lacking as they describe. This wine doesn't have the intensity for cellaring, but it's terrific right now and probably will last a few years.

August 28, 2009

2002 Château de Chasseloir Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Cuvée de Ceps Centenaires

Ah, the pleasure of Muscadet.

It's known as the poor man's Chablis, the most underpriced appellation in France, confused by some for innocuous white wine that doesn't age. It's all that, but really it's just delicious wine. Yes, it's misunderstood and thus underpriced. Yes it can give that strong seashell minerality we love in Chablis. Can't we just appreciate it on its own terms?

Melon de Bourgogne is the grape here, grown in the maritime climate and rocky soils around the city of Nantes, near the mouth of the Loire river. I loved that part of France before I became interested in wine. I love it even more for Muscadet.

One exceptional producer I don't read nearly enough about is the Chateau de Chasseloir from Chereau Carre. Tonight I'm drinking their best bottling, which costs less than $15 from vines more than a century old.

This 2002 Cuvee des Ceps Centenaires is exceptional. Light bronze in color, befitting a 7 year old white wine, it smells fresh and clean with some mature notes of wax. The fragrance is lovely. Lots of seashell, with some sweet butter, honey, chamomile, lemon and apple notes. Even spicy jelly candies.

The texture is bright but rounded with some age, the flavors dry but long and persistent. I remember the 1996 vintage of this bottling to be almost painfully acidic some years ago. This wine has strong acidity and perhaps more fat to provide balance. I simply love this.

Indeed, one of the misunderstanding about Muscadet is that it doesn't age. That's simply wrong. The wine lasts and improves with cellaring. I've seen examples again and again to prove it, from this producer and several others.

I'm not one to pay much attention to label copy, but in this case what you read is true: "Rich and dry, the wine has many layers of fruit intertwined with mineral overtones. Drink with all shellfhish and elaborate fish dishes. This wine will benefit from further cellaring." I'll agree with that.

August 26, 2009

More on the garage wine tasting

Wow, there's been lots of interest in the garage wine tasting a week from Sunday. Lots of friends, of course. And, once again, people I've never met. Some with friends and acquaintances, others who read this site and have bravely written to see if they can come. Yes, by all means.

In addition to the 2007 and 2008 Vincent wines, I mentioned I'm going to pour a few extra wines. We'll see what makes the most sense for the day's weather. There will be sparkling wine no matter what. Definitely some other local pinot noir, maybe a burgundy, a local gruner veltliner, who knows what else.

If it's not too warm, I have a 2002 Masciarelli Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Marina Cvetic. The grapes were apparently unaffected by the severe rains, and I've heard this white wine is big, barrel aged and somewhat oxidized in style. I honestly never know when to open such an oddity. Why not now?

So the tasting should be fun. Comment and let me know if you're interested. My place, the afternoon of September 6.

August 24, 2009

Garage wine tasting, and changes

Lots of good news here on the winemaking front. My 2007 homemade pinot noir is finally ready to pour, so we're having another wine tasting in the garage. Date is Sunday, September 6 from noon to 4 or 5 or whenever. Location is my place in NE Portland. Email me at vincentfritzsche [at] yahoo [dot] com for more information. The grapes in 2007 came from the Meredith Mitchell vineyard in the McMinnville AVA. A challenging year, but I'm pleasantly surprised with the wine. Come see what you think.

I'll also pour a barrel sample of my homemade 2008 pinot noir from the Zenith vineyard in the Eola-Amity AVA. This wine should be terrific when I bottle it next spring, the last of my homemade wine.

Yes, it's finally true. This fall I'm launching my own commercial wine label, name to be determined. I'm crushing 3.5 tons of pinot noir from two different sites in the Eola-Amity Hills, including Zenith, and making the wine at the Portland Wine Project in industrial NW Portland. I'm tremendously excited and a bit anxious about it all. I'll be blogging the whole adventure, so stay tuned this fall and beyond for that. Of course I'm putting together a mailing list, so let me know if you're interested in getting on that.

We'll also be celebrating the launch in the garage on September 6, so come on down and give me input on what to name my wine. It's a casual, drop in thing, but let me know if you're coming if that's possible. I'll also be pouring a few other things from my cellar, selections depending on the weather. Feel free to bring something as well.

August 12, 2009

Tardy wines

I happened to have two French wines in the past week from different producers, both named Tardy. One is from Burgundy, the other from the northern Rhone. Both were exceptionally interesting, making up for power and weight with deep fragrance and subtlety amid complex, rich flavors.

The 2004 Jean Tardy Nuits St. Georges "Bas de Combe" is a village wine from the north end of the Nuits commune, right near Vosne Romanee. The wine was more open than I expected aromatically. It had a nice perfume, with black tea, strawberry and raspberry scents, the oak giving a spicy rather than woody note. There's a hint of green here, as the 2004 red Burgundy vintage is known, but it's not objectionable to me. The flavors were similar, with a deceptive lightness or delicacy to the texture despite some fine tannin. The whole package seemed Oregon like, with a balance of earth, fruit and spice elements that seem typical of better local examples. The acidity though is all Burgundy, giving a freshness and delicacy we can lack.

Then a few nights later I had the 2004 Francois and Charles Tardy "Domaine des Entrefaux" Crozes-Hermitage. What an impressive northern Rhone red wine, with an effusive aroma of flowers, purple syrah fruit, raw meat and all kinds of other savory and sweet scents. This could only be from France. The texture is like a nice Burgundy, silky and medium bodied. The flavors all northern Rhone syrah. There isn't the weight or intensity of good Hermitage, but this makes me think a bit differently about the hit and miss appellation of Crozes Hermitage. Too often wines from this area are merely good enough, but this Tardy was exceptional and more pleasurable even than the nice '04 Tardy Nuit above.