January 31, 2010

Wine label design

Ok, it's time to get serious about wine label design. For my homemade wine, I worked on a simple script label with my neighbor. I like it, but it's not complete and it's too similiar to a California winery that has Vincent as part of its name. They're cool with me calling my wine Vincent, but we both agree the look shouldn't be too similar.

As much as I like the simple script label, I want some graphical element in the label, something that can translate to other uses in print and online. Rather than just tweak the font and add in that little something, I think it's smart to rethink the whole thing from the start. There wasn't a lot of thought in the first place.

What am I going for? Something classic rather than trendy, elegant rather than busy, classy without being ostentatious, quiet but bright rather than loud and brash. Really, something that reflects the wine I want to make. Marketability is a concern of course, but I know that my wine won't appeal to everyone. A wine label doesn't need to either. It does need to appeal to the people who will enjoy the wine.

I don't really like most wine labels out there, to be honest. What do I like? From the old world, things like Tempier and Bastide Blanche from Bandol, Lapierre's Morgon, Baumard's Clos St. Yves, Leroy. All classic. From the newer school, Texier and Breton.

Here in Oregon, simplicity -- Ayres, McKinlay, Andrew Rich, Evesham Wood.

That "little something" I'm going for? Scott Paul's rabbit is a nice example of the kind of thing, though it's usually not so big as seen here.

What labels do you like?

January 30, 2010

Winemaking update

With January done, it seemed right to check in on the wines down at the winery. Sure enough, we see that malolactic fermentation in most of the pinot noir barrels is done. One barrel is strangely lagging, but no worries. I'd rather see a longer, slower ML, but that will come with time.

The next steps? Have the lab analyze barrel samples to make sure all the malic acid has been changed into lactic acid. Once that's confirmed, it's time to add sulfur to let the wines age in barrel until the end of summer. I think there will be one racking around June to show the wines some oxygen and get the wine off the sediment. Until then, it's nice to have the new wines settle out and benefit from continued contact with the lees that collect at the bottom of the barrels. They add some richness to the wines and actually help maintain freshness. By June, it will be time to siphon the off the sediment, clean the barrels, refill them, and allow the wine to drop any more sediment before bottling at the end of summer.

One other issue now is to check for ph, to see how strong the acidity of the wine is, how effective any added sulfur will be in the wine. The lower the ph, the less sulfur you need to keep things good. In a hot vintage like 2009, ph will be higher and the wines typically softer and more lush. People like that, but how high is the ph? We need to know, so that's on the docket to check too.

In all, things continue to go very well. I can't help but be terribly excited about it all. Sure, in time the thrill will fade. I just hope it doesn't fade too much. Somehow I think that will take a very long time, if it ever happens.

January 25, 2010

Berserker Day on Wednesday -- Get your Vincent barrel tasting

Wine Berserkers, my pick for wine story of 2009, celebrates its 1 year anniversary this week on Wednesday, January 27. The Vincent Wine Company is very pleased to offer a free barrel tasting of 2009 pinot noir here in Portland as part of the many prizes and special offers that will be available on Wednesday, what's being called Berserker Day.

The whole point of the day is to get more and more people to know about and visit the Wine Berserkers site. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it's the fastest growing wine discussion site on the internet. It's also doing more than any other site to break down the barriers between us regular wine enthusiasts and, well, us regular wine industry types. I'm sort of in both camps, so I think I have a unique perspective.

I go to Wine Berserkers to learn about the latest wines from all over the world, to share and read notes on wines spanning decades, and to connect with other winemakers to talk about winemaking science and technique, equipment, weather, and whatever else you can imagine. There's even a forum dedicated for wine flaks, for all aspects of wine sales and marketing. The beauty is that non-industry types are welcome to chime in too. There's great Q&A, and we all learn from being there and participating.

Berserker Day is a celebration of all that, with unprecedented participation from from producers like Biggio Hamina, Loring, Kosta Browne, Holdredge, Cameron Hughes, Cargassachi, and several others, including Vincent. Then there are deals and giveaways from Hi-Times in Costa Mesa, Heater-Allen Brewing, Graperadio, even a tasting of Chateauneuf du Pape over in Chateauneuf or Geneva, whatever's easier for you. This should be cool.

So check it out. I'm going to be visiting frequently as I expect various offers to happen all day long. For the record, our deal is to have a small group taste at the winery, along with some surprises to make it a memorable event. Win but can't make it here? We'll figure something good out. Hope to see you at Berserker Day and maybe here in Portland.

January 23, 2010

Winemaking update

I went down to the winery today to check in on the progress of my barrels of 2009 pinot noir. Things have been pretty hands off since harvest. Not a lot of looking in on the wines, just some attention to make sure nothing's going wrong. Smelling and tasting samples from each barrel today, nothing's going wrong at all. I'm excited about what we have in barrel.

The Domaine Coteau vineyard barrels, six in all, are a mix of brighter red fruit and darker black fruit wines. The two fermenters seem to provide the distinguishing mark here, with the first fermenter the brighter and lighter wine, the second the darker, meatier wine. It's interesting that this difference has been there since late in the fermentation back in October.

The third fermenter was from Zenith vineyard, and it's more red raspberry and nicely long in the mouth. This is the wine I intend to bottle separately as a single vineyard offering, one barrel or two. It's not as intense at this point as the Coteau lots, but it's more refined and longer flavored. Essentially, more pretty and pinot than the burly, masculine Coteau barrels.

All the wines show the warm 2009 vintage -- ripe, though not overly so, just full flavored and needing time to reveal more earthy complexity. I like the tannic structure of the wines. They aren't glossy and full of sheen, rather there's a savory note that I'm looking for. The wines aren't through malolactic fermentation, so any specifics really should be taken with some pause. The key now is that things are progressing well, the wines are healthy, and things are on track.

We're doing chromotagraphy to assess progress on the ML fermentation, to get a sense of where the wines are. Once they are complete, we'll sulfur them and probably rack them around June to begin the clarifying process, separating wine from sediment. The first bottling should be in late August or early September, with one or two barrels held over until next winter for a late bottling of the single vineyard wine. I came home full of renewed hope for the vintage. This period of elevage, where the wines essentially cure from raw wine into a finished product fit for your table, can be nerve wracking. Tonight, I'll sleep well knowing everything's on track and good. I can't wait for people to try these wines.

January 22, 2010

2007 Horsetail Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

Talking with yet another retailer the other day, we spoke about how the 2007 Oregon pinot noir vintage is overlooked and misunderstood. Yes, there are some weak, underripe and otherwise lacking wines. You are missing out if that's all you think about the vintage. Add in some dramatic discounting and there are not only terrific wines for enjoying and cellaring. There are some terrific deals out there, too.

Tonight I opened the 2007 Horsetail Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. This wine comes from Mike and Jared Etzel, sons of Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres and wife, the sadly, recently late Jackie Etzel. The grapes come from the Broadley vineyard, far south in the Willamette Valley near Eugene, and the Wahle vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District up here close to Portland. Readers will remember that I got some Wahle fruit in 2006 for my homemade wine. I was in line to get fruit in 2007 but got shut out. Same thing in 2008, at the last minute actually, so unfortunately this terrific site is now off my radar. It shouldn't be off yours though, and this wine shows why.

Thanks to information from the Avalon site, the wine is a blend of Dijon clones from Broadley and Coury clone from Wahle (pronounced Wall). Dijon clones typically give lots of fruit, and in a cool year like 2007 they were pretty successful. This wine shows it, with nicely ripe berry fruit right in the center of the aroma and flavor. The Coury clone is known as UC Davis 22, an upright "pinot droit" that has a reputation for productivity but not distinction. Turns out experienced producers from this site, including Belle Pente, prize the old vine Coury - planted in 1974 - for its aroma and acidic spine.

When I worked with this vineyard in 2006, the Coury saved the blend of fruit I got. While the Pommard and 777 (grafted on old chardonnay roots) were pretty ripe, the Coury picked at the same time was fresh and bright, a few weeks behind in ripeness but already ripe enough. It added great lift and freshness to the finished wine. Old man Coury himself is an Oregon wine legend. He got the Wahles to plant their site in the first place and supplied them and many others with plant material. We all owe him a debt, though I hear he was a rascal. Seems fitting.

So this 2007 Horsetail. What do the sons of the famous Beaux Freres maker produce? To my taste, one of the best 2007s I've tried. This wine has it all, including value at a $25 price tag. The color is translucent medium ruby with a fresh sweet berry and earthy, soil and spice aroma that lacks no ripeness, offers lots of fruit, but also conveys terrific finesse and delicacy. In the mouth, the Dijon clone fruit is obvious, with lots of cherry and spicy raspberry notes. But it's not sweet and candied. There's great acidic freshness that carries the flavors a long way and refreshes the palate for food or another sip. I don't pick up too much oak in this wine, and the finish turns mineral rather than sweet and caramel. In sum, this is excellent Oregon pinot noir and something I think will last in the cellar for several years, gaining aged sweetness and fat to hang on the nervy acid structure.

I've been on record saying that 2007s typically are so pretty and delicate, they drink well now and probably for another 4-5 years. I don't see this as a long aging vintage, exceptions notwithstanding. This wine could easily be at $40 -- in a better economy anyway -- and live up to the expectations of ageability that you might have for a wine at that price. Well done fellas. Nice package and cork too. This one is all class, and a nice buy if you hunt for it.

January 21, 2010

2005 Holleran Riesling Chehalem Mountain Vineyard

I've been saving this bottle for a couple years to see what a little age would do for a nice local riesling. In short, not much. This wine is gorgeous and will last a lot longer and maybe even improve.

The 2005 Holleran Riesling Chehalem Mountain Vineyard is light gold in color with a pretty peach, pineapple and diesel aroma. There's great freshness here even after a few years in the bottle. The flavors are penetrating and precise, with minerally acid and terrific cut to the pineapple and diesel flavors. The long finish even has bits of raspberry, something classic to great Mosel riesling. It's still on the simple side, but so full of character. Age should soften it a bit and add earthy complexity to the whole package.

How long will that take? I'd guess another five to ten years, and it will probably last a lot longer than that. Having had Oregon riesling back to the '70s, I suppose it should be no surprise. Excellent wine.

January 17, 2010

2008 Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne and Dungeness

It should be a one line blog post -- f***in Biggio Hamina Melon and Dungeness crab is a meal of the gods.

But I must elaborate. Stop now if brevity is beauty.

I first tried Biggio Hamina Melon (the grape of Muscadet) last year at a terrific dinner at the Zenith Vineyard for all producers of pinot noir from that excellent vineyard. The BH Melon shocked me. So austere, so challenging to the senses. That is, until we had crab cakes. Oh my god it was all so good.

Fast forward to Todd Hamina's recent pouring at Storyteller Wines in Portland, which I wrote up here with glowing praise. Biggio Hamina wines aren't going to win prizes for color or extraction. They will tantalize you with complexity and subtlty. This humble 2008 Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne from the Deux Vert Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is no exception.

Todd didn't pour this wine that night, but there was a lone bottle left for sale and I grabbed it. When should I open such a solitary treat? How about when the new Whole Foods is practically giving away big, delicious Dungeness crab as part of their opening week promotion? Yes, I am a little drunk on crab at the moment.

The wine is pale with a somewhat neutral aroma at first. With time there's a stone fruit and mineral scent, and it grows more pronounced when paired with the crustacean. The flavors develop similarly, particularly with food. Where the flavors are subtle on their own, the meaty crab with its oceanic flavors brings out the wine's fruit. I'm not talking about a top heavy, candy fruitness. Rather, fruit of temptation. Think garden of Eden, except full of this delicious wine and not the alleged wrath of god.

In sum, this isn't profound wine that will blow your mind with its power and depth. Rather, it's fresh, precise and authentic, and utterly delicious with tonight's dinner. Nevermind that the price is well under $20.

January 14, 2010

Chidaine Vouvray

I read with interest the recent post by David McDuff on his McDuff's Food and Wine Trail blog about Francois Chidaine Montlouis. David finds that Chidaine white wines may be aging more quickly than expected, and apparently he's not alone. Vintage variation could very well be an issue here, but if Chidaine is not using much sulfur, as some people suggest, perhaps that is a factor.

My data point is probably controversial. First, it's not Montlouis, but rather Vouvray, across the Loir river to the south and the more well known village of high quality dry and sweet chenin blanc wines. The technical difference aside, Vouvray should probably age more slowly than Montlouis, so that's not an issue to me.

The real issue might be that I'm trying a 2003 vintage wine, from the "vintage of the sun." If any wine would show advanced characteristics before its time, '03 wines should. Right? Well, maybe. I've tasted a number of '03 whites from various regions of France, all similiarly hot in this vintage. No wine has seemed as advanced as this Chidaine. There could be "bottle variation," the excuse any odd showing begets. Or this could be indicative of Chidaine's style, razor sharp in youth but relatively soon giving way to the roundness of age.

I didn't have this wine young, to be clear. This bottle of 2003 Chidaine Vouvray Le Bouchet appears perfectly intact, and the wine is quite good. But the color is medium gold in color, the fragrance is quite mature with lots of creme brulee notes, baked apples and pears and a round, rich spicy jelly candy aroma. The flavors are fairly sweet and low acid, not unexpected in this vintage, but rather than simply ripe, rich fruit and mineral flavors, there are apricot and honeyed notes of a light dessert wine and some significant age. Again, this is delicious wine, but dessert level moelleux in character and fairly advanced at that.

This wasn't a typical vintage for any Loire producer, or any European producer. Still, I'm left wondering if Chidaine wines in fact are aging uncommonly soon. What I'm tasting sounds a lot like what David describes. Again, I've tried plenty of other '03 whites that are big and rich, but not yet this advanced. Perhaps it's the bottle. Or perhaps not. I want to investigate this further, so next I'll pull out a bottle of '01 Montlouis Les Truffeaux. The last one, several years back, was indeed razor sharp and gorgeous. Will it still show that with some age? Or a significant change to "old" wine? Anyone else had experience with aging Chidaine wines? They are delicious, but most curious.

Edit 1/17/2010 -- I've continued to enjoy this bottle over several days and it's remarkable for its interest and durability. Reading more about the Le Bouchet bottling, I learn that this wine is usually rich and sweet, and it's ability to hold up for days after opening suggests there's no sulfur issue. It's just the character of the wine.

I see that Huet's Clos du Bourg was perhaps a part of the Le Boucher vineyard at one point. Writing in the Wine Advocate, David Schildknecht notes that Fouquet harvests a moelleux wine from this botrytis-prone site. The wine is variously described as a demi-sec wine, or "rich" demi-sec, whatever that means, or moelleux. I'll opt for the latter, which can be surprisingly sleek with some producers, or clearly botrytis-affected as this wine is. Read more from the Wine Doctor. I'm enjoying his post with another glass of Chidaine Le Bouchet.

January 11, 2010

Vinography and how wineries will fail

I enjoy Alder Yarrow's Vinography blog from time to time. Recently he wrote about his experience researching information from Sonoma and Marin county producers in California for a new wine atlas he's contributing to.

He was surprised at how so many wineries are so unresponsive to phone calls during business hours, emails asking for confirmation of addresses and other basic information, and the like. It's basic stuff, right? Be responsive, especially when someone is trying to help publicize you.

Alder's point is that wineries need to be even more responsive in the new century as consumers want a relationship beyond simply giving money for goods. I get all that, and am putting money where my mouth is by starting my own small wine business. I love to make wine and am a total wine geek. That's the easy part. I see a market opportunity for a business that makes a huge effort to be responsive and accessible to customers and wine lovers in general. That's what got me to get serious about turning my passion into a business.

Still, I'm hardly shocked at what he's found. For crying out loud, he's writing a book. That's hardly Web 2.0 and he's certainly not the first person to come calling as he prepares his manuscript. They probably wouldn't have called back anyway, but someone they probably haven't heard of (even if they should have!) who's writing a wine book? Meh.

Also, I don't predict so many producers will go out of business because they aren't with the 21st century program. To me it's not "do it or die." It's "don't do it and you miss out on an opportunity." And you miss out on the fun of connecting to people and making a real difference in their lives and your own. We're social animals. You don't need to be a raging extrovert to get out there and mix it up with your people. Do it, be real, have fun, you might find business follows. Don't do it and it might hurt you, but maybe you don't notice it too much.

Every industry and pursuit has this issue. People should have their shit together and return your calls and write you back. But they don't, whether it's work related, church related, or even to someone who's volunteering his time to coach another person's kid's sports team. I know. And it's not just because people are so busy. There's a lot going on, sure. But people are just flakey.

All this social connection isn't really new anyway. We haven't just begun to want relationships with the people and places we patronize. Similiarly, people haven't just begun to be flakey with their communication. I don't think things have changed so much that people who don't bother to return calls are finally really going to feel the pain in a huge way. They'll go on pretty much as usual. Meanwhile, those who do return the calls and emails and generally make themselves available will find things to be better, and more fun.

Technology isn't inventing a need for us to connect. It is, however, providing a better opportunity than ever before to separate yourself from those who don't want to make the effort to connect, for whatever reason. I for one welcome that opportunity, but I won't be surprised when those who continue to bumble along still manage to stay in the game. I do expect to be smiling more than they do, and that's what really counts.

January 10, 2010

New year changes

Yes, it's a new layout for elevage as we near our five-year anniversary of wine writing. I suppose "new" layout is stretching it. Blogger still has pretty much the same options as five years ago. Only this one seems inspiring to me, especially to add some features and make best use of the space on your screen. Yes, I know there are lots of free blogger templates out there. I just can't find one that fits. So here we are. I like it. Let me know what you think.

January 09, 2010

Lovely wines in Portland

I had a great opportunity to taste a number of lovely wines last night, as a farewell to Brianne who's heading to Argentina for harvest. My highlights in no particular order...

1988 Rapet Pernand Vergelesses first smelled like old Piedmont wine, floral and tarry. Still tannic but quite nice older red burgundy. The 2002 Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir, from good friend John Grochau whom I partner with on my wine project (full disclosure), was delicious from magnum. Earthy and a bit roasted, but still elegant and aging nicely. This was the best showing of John's first commercial release of the few times I've tried it.

NV Marc Chauvet Champagne, blanc de blancs I'm sure, was so crisp and green apply, just lovely. 2007 Eyrie Chardonnay Reserve "Original Vines" was similarly tight and a bit oaky as when I tried it in November, but obviously good and ageworthy stuff. I hear Stephen Spurrier calls this grand cru in quality, the best new world white he's tried. Maybe so, maybe so.

2007 Cameron Pinot Noir Arley's Leap was atypically rich and a bit strapping for the delicate 2007 vintage locally. Some high toned notes, but quite good and my favorite that I've tried of several years of Arley's. The 1995 Drouhin Pommard was nicely mature but not very generous in the mouth. I just had a small taste.

Then some extra special wines. First, the 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary California vintage. This was great. Tons of cabernet cabernet character, some bottle sweetness and definitely still tannin, but all in balance. This can last a while yet but is excellent. As a younger comparison, the 2000 Ducru Beaucaillou from St. Julien, also full of cabernet with lovely gravel and uncured tobacco notes. This is nice already but will last a long time. Very excellent Bordeaux and, to my taste, not at all tricked up or otherwise messed with as so much Bordeaux these days seems accused.

Then two farewell whites from the late Didier Dagueneau, both Pouilly Fume from sauvignon blanc. First, the 2001 Dagueneau Silex, full of passion fruit and hints of creme brulee, young and lively in the mouth and so flavory and good. There's a reason these wines are so prized. Then the 2000 Dagueneau En Chailloux, more waxy and almost semillon in character, still very fresh and lively tasting. These wines have obviously been stored well and will last for several more years, I'm sure.

Thanks to all for the great, great line up, especially our generous host Michael. Bon voyage Brianne!

January 07, 2010

The old Book of California Wine

I've seen the Book of California Wine many times over the years but for the life of me don't know why I never bought it, much less looked at it. This morning, a neighbor who's a local chef and a bit of a wine geek lent me his old copy of this Bible-sized tome, published by UC Press and Sotheby Publications in 1984. Looking it over tonight, I'm struck by how interesting it looks, on so many levels. It's no quick read, but I can't wait to begin wading through its dozens of articles by an amazing array of wine and food writers.

For now, some immediate thoughts on what's peaking my interest.

First, the price. The inside of the original dust jacket lists a price of $55, "until Dec. 1984." Fifty-five dollars. That must have been an enormous price for such a book back then. Was that just for the first edition? Did it go down after that? Very interesting.

Second, the three editors of this collection are Doris Muscatine, of the Park-Muscatine vineyard bottlings from Ridge no doubt; Maynard Amerine, the dean of winemaking in California at UC Davis; and wine writer Bob Thompson, a California legend. The foreward by Doris tells of making second crop zinfandel from her vineyard and getting help from Bernard Portet at Clos du Val for crushing and destemming grapes at home using chicken wire and foot treading. There's even an article on the subject of home winemaking. That's very cool.

Third, how about this for a sampling of the contributors:

M.F.K. Fisher with the preface
Hugh Johnson on an international view of California wine
Zelma Long and Carole Meredith on grape growing
Walter Schug on vinification
Tim Mondavi on barrels
Paul Draper on zinfandel
Darrell Corti on dessert wines
Alice Waters on food

There's extensive history of California wine from the mission period to prohibition, then to what was the modern day. There's consideration of geography and climate, cultivation and winemaking. There's an entire section of articles on topics like the literature of California wine, label art and tasting groups. There's even an article on the medicinal value of wine, written by no less than William Dickerson, MD, of the famous Dickerson vineyard in Napa Valley. This whole wine and health thing isn't new, you know.

Which gets me to a final point. Some people talk about older wine books as being out of date, and surely there is lots of information here that's understood differently now. Yet I read a book a few years ago called California Wine, a collection of interviews of the state's winemakers by Bob Thompson in the 1970s. You'd think it was out of date, but the information was so valuable, in part to learn techniques that have fallen out of favor in the name of advancement, in part because so many things haven't changed a bit.

I expect the same here. Lots of perspective that wouldn't read all that differently if written today, perhaps more valuable to me because I find I'm more interested in how the Californians were doing things 20 and 30 years ago, not so much lately. What better way to learn but read the thoughts of so many top people in the world of wine, even if the book is nearly 30 years old. So off I go to visit my native state in this document. I'll try to write up some thoughts as I go.

January 05, 2010

1995 Old Knucklehead - best beer ever?

My neighbor took me to a wonderful winter beer party at her friend's the other day. There were lots of people and beer I didn't recognize, but everything worked out wonderfully. Of particular note was perhaps the oldest and likely the most delicious, entrancing beer I've ever consumed.

Some kind soul brought a 12 oz. bottle of the 1995 Bridgeport's Old Knucklehead, the annual barleywine from this legendary Portland brewery. I don't always enjoy aged beer, which often shows me a gluey aroma that may be interesting but also a little revolting at the same time. From my modest pour in an Oregon pinot glass from Riedel, I got a whiff of that at first here, and then things turned remarkable.

Deep bronze color and aromas of maple syrup and roasted everything good. Then similar flavors, which were good enough. But the texture and balance were perfect. I'm not usually this way, but I felt speechless. Was I carried away? This was early in the party, but no one else seemed in rapture like me. I mentioned my thoughts to a few others who thought, yeah, this was good. But I could still taste it and recall the way it felt, and I still can. That's remarkable beer (or barleywine, for the pursits out there), and I'm left wondering if I've ever had any other so good. Thanks Alan.

January 03, 2010

2004 Edmunds St. John Roussanne Tablas Creek

I heard from Steve Edmunds on Facebook that January 1, 2010 was the 25th anniversary of his winery, the California Rhone variety legend Edmunds St. John. What a perfect excuse to drink the 2004 ESJ Roussanne Tablas Creek Vineyard with my seafood bowlfest of Dungeness crab and langostino.

What a gorgeous wine! At first, it smelled of petrol like a nicely maturing riesling. Then with time more lemon and honey notes emerged, along with that petrolly minerality. This perfume makes me think of nectar oozing from fractured rock, if that makes any sense to you.There's incredible balance of richness and finesse here. I could smell this a long time, and happily I saved some and even two days later it's lost nothing.

In the mouth, the wine is appropriately oily in texture, coating the tongue with lemon and petrol flavors with subtle toast nuance that all linger for a minute. There's excellent balance of flavors and citrusy acid, at once satisfying you and making you salivate for more. Some roussanne from the golden state can be a bit rustic and unrefined, interesting but not necessarily delicious. This is incredibly detailed without undo polish or sculpting, and simply excellent now and surely for years to come.

Old Bordeaux

I got into Bordeaux back when I first really got into wine in 1991. Maybe that stemmed from a visit I took to St. Emilion in October 1989 with my then girlfriend while we were both studying abroad. Here I was in California but all I could think about was that day trip to St. Emilion two years earlier, walking from the train station up the road to the hilltop town, past what I now know was the famed Ch. Ausone. We toured at least one cellar in town and otherwise spent an idyllic day wandering the streets and shops, eating and enjoying the view. I remember buying a three-pack of bottles to bring back to London. Who knows what they were, aside from not being anything expensive.

Over the years I've fallen out of love with Bordeaux. The wines can be excellent, of course. There's no question about that. It's the whole aristocratic noblesse of Bordeaux that just isn't me. (Modern Bordeaux often leaves me cold, but that's another story.) Where Bordeaux is all about big business and big production, I'm more into the smaller scale wine scene in so many other regions in Europe. Here in the U.S., it's no surprise I'm more into the small scale of Oregon vs. the largesse of Napa Valley. Prices play a factor to, but it's more than that. Exceptions abound. Generall, I just find I typically enjoy wines more from smaller producers.

That said, I still enjoy good Bordeaux on occasion. I even enjoy lesser Bordeaux that won't wow anybody but make me reflect on what originally got me interested in the region so long ago. Take the 1983 Ch. Fourcas Hosten from Listrac that we opened the other night. This is non-classified stuff, nothing fancy, just old school cabernet-dominated wine from the under the radar 1983 vintage. Back when 1982 was all the rage stateside, making Robert Parker's reputation and sending prices soaring, 1983 came in successfully but without such ebullient praise.

The '83 Fourcas Hosten is now a bit long in the tooth. Still, I found its old book aroma and silky texture surprisingly pleasing, pairing nicely with a simple broiled steak and cornbread. It didn't have much varietal character, just satisfying if frail old wine Reading professional notes on this wine, you'd think it was long dead. Not at all. Neither I suppose is my interest in Bordeaux. Good, because I have more than a few bottles from there downstairs. They probably should make their way to our table this coming year.