Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars But In Our Wines - Garrigue, April 20, 2017

You know how some wine nights are just so magical? People bring wonderful bottles and you post on Instagram and Facebook and you get a million likes and everyone is like, oh, you lucky bastard, you live so well, ooh ooh ooh, please invite me next time. Now imagine the exact opposite and you get the night we had. Even the wine glasses conspired against us, the unclean, dusty heathens.

Basically, we are talking about terribly corrupted wines here. Every fucking kind of defect you can imagine. A Gruaud-Larose with so much brett you could use the bottle as compost. Another Bordeaux laced with TCA, but not obvious TCA, but rather ninja TCA, the TCA that ruins the wine in stealth mode and you only notice after intense concentration. These are ordinary faults, however, compared to a bottle of Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, Rabaja, 1998 whose decrepitude challenges my language skills, insulting with aromas that bludgeon and harass and flavors as appealing as cold pea soup.

At least we started off with two wines that I guarantee will make you smile.

Quita de S. Jose (Joao Brito e Cunha), Duoro, Flor de S. Jose, 2015

David Bar Ilan brought this from a trip to Portugal. An excellent purchase. I found the winery site. I'm not sure if the name is Joao Brito e Cunha or Quita de S. Jose, and the Cellar Tracker community is also undecided on the subject, so I went with both. The nose is very interesting and appealing, white fruit laced with minerals, indulging in a funky kink. The palate is tasty, less complex than the nose, very moreish due to its fresh acidity. The winery site says it's a blend of Viosinho, Rabigato and Gouveio, and I should remember to use that arcane fact if I run out of small talk topics at the next winery event I attend.

Francois Villard, Côte Rotie, Le Galllet Blanc, 2012

Now that I think about it, this group, we've been drinking together for two or three years, and no one has ever brought a north Rhone wine that failed to please. Not one! So, thanks for the save, Mister Pick! This has languidly ripe fruit with a sharp tannic bite at the finish, generously complementing the fruit with black pepper, violets, the works. Simply palate ravishing, even at its young age.

Hudelot-Noellet, Chambolle-Musigny, 2014

The character, even down to the specific character of the floral veil, is more Gevrey than Chambolle. other than that, this is a good village wine.

Garrigue, by the way, is doing just fine, great in fact, excellent food and atmosphere, and you should all go there on a regular basis.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Apr. 2017)

Most of April was spent on a family vacation in the States. The wines fall into three wine geek categories. The first group is a bunch of wines tasted on a trip to Sonoma and it merits its own post.

The second group is a whole bunch of hipster friendly wines from around the world, bought at various wine shops and drunk with family and friends.
The best of the hipster wines I had in the Big Apple

Domaine Grosbois, Chinon,  La Cuisine de ma Mère, 2015

This is a new producer for me - and probably for just about everyone likely to be reading this in Israel -  but I diligently googled the domaine. They produce four Chinon cuvees and this one is comprised of the youngest vines, about 15 years old. It is extremely succulent and lithe, all about fresh berries embossed with lightly pungent streaks of earth and tobacco leaf. The finish has fairly decent length and complexity, driven by acidity rather than the soft tannins and its friendly salinity makes it very accommodating to bistro fare. The organic certification and the quaintness of the label will give the hipster sommeliers something to tempt the hipster clientele with, although in an ideal world, its tasty moreishness would have been enough. (Apr. 1, 2017)

25 USD.

Daniel Bouland, Morgon, Delys, Vieilles Vignes, 2015

I can tell it's Gamay, but at 14.5% ABV, there are moments when its fat, spicy demeanor reminds me of Carignan, or some other warm weather grape. Let's just to forget this happened. (Apr. 2, 2017)

30 USD.

Pierre Gonon, VDP de l'Arche, Les Iles Feray, 2015

I don't know if this is a declassified Saint Joseph or sourced from the wrong side of the tracks, but it plays at major leagues level, and close to the best young Syrah I ever had. Violets, bacon, the works, on a smooth body that doesn't bother to smother every edge and rough spot. At 25 USD, this is an amazing value and if this is any indication, the actual Saint Joseph will be incredible. (Apr. 3, 2017)

Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes, Rias Baixas, Albariño d Fefinanes, 2015

Citrus fruit with an edgy mineral streak and a salty finish driven by powerful acidity. and remarkable focus! (Apr. 3, 2017)

30 USD. This is a must buy if you ever run into it, same as the Gonon.

Marcel Lapierre, Morgon, Raisins Gaulois, 2015

The young version of the Lapierre Morgon is a funkier version of the more expensive wine, but I may actually like it more and it's way better, not to mention more typical, than the Bouland. The funk doesn't feel like dirty brett, more like meaty rusticity, a farm boy mooning the prom.(Apr. 10, 2017)

15 USD.

Arnot-Roberts, Medocino County, Alder Springs Vineyard, Syrah, 2007

A serious wine, almost too serious for its own good. Brooding and sexless, all iron and black pepper, as somber and unrelenting as an off vintage Hernitage or Cornas, barely yielding its secrets even after a few hours. Still, I'm glad I had a chance to taste it. It's challenging and made me ponder about the burly side of Syrah. (Apr. 11, 2017)

About 40 USD.

Domaine du Haut Bourg, Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu Sur Lie, Origine Haut Bourg, 2005

I don't see that this is a particularly interesting product of cellaring. Not that this isn't a good wine. It's a very pretty wine, with delicate white/yellow fruit, mellow nuttiness and hints of flint. And it's decently complex and quite lovely to drink. All I'm saying is that seven years in the cellar would have been quite enough. (Apr. 15, 2017)

About 20 USD. Decent value despite my reservations. 

Domaine de l'Ecu (Guy Bossard), Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, Taurus, 2012

This is more like it. Different producer, of course, and a neighboring AOC, but at five years of age, it shows vibrancy and complexity, a mineral cut, interesting saline flavors. Like a a minor league Chablis Premier Cru making up in beef broth and funk what it lacks in pedigree per se. Actually, I'm pretty sure it would age and improve for a decade. (Apr. 16, 2017)

About 40 USD - totally worth it.

And now for the final category, which I call Wine Craps and it is the outcome of a couple of evenings spent in the company of a Reno Casino resort's wine machine.

Kumeu Village, Chardonnay, 2014

Excellent. This would be at least village level in Burgundy. Apples, matchsticks, minerals, terrific vibrancy.

McNab Ridge Winery, Sonoma County, Russian River, Pinot Noir, Family Reserve, 2013

Definitely not a winery or wine that seeks to emulate Burgundy. The nose is ripe and alcoholic but at least the only damage it can mete is a an aesthetic one. The palate, which is also ripe and alcoholic, is capable of physical damage.

Flowers, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir, 2014

This is much better and truer to what Pinot is supposed to be all about: fresh red fruit, cherry in this case, easy on the tannins and alcohol without loss of structure or depth, even when the weight is not massive. It's not especially complex, though, but rather its pedigree is carried in its lithe shape.

Chateau Simard, Saint Emilion, 2005

Eventually I tired of the New World and returned to the fold. Classic, yet unassuming, archetypical claret from a Saint Emilion property totally off the map, tobacco, cedar, just a light hint of stink.

Domaine Perrot-Minot, Chambolle-Musigny, 2012

Very typical for the appelation: rotting flowers, rotting leaves, suave fruit. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Thank you, for your wines, California"

Wind Gap - the energetic vibe of the new,
the classic sobriety of the old
I admit one of the reasons that I am not a fan of US wines is my limited exposure. While I may be a truculent Old World admirer, it is a folly to ignore an entire continent and if I was living on the west coast, I'm sure I'd find many wineries that appeal to me. So I am glad I took the opportunity to taste through an admittedly very limited selection of wineries: two venerable estates purporting to adhere to Old World ideals - whatever that may still mean decades after the Trial of Paris and all the changes the world of wine has seen since - and one, a sort of latter day boutique negociant looking to make "the kind of wines one could drink every night with dinner, regardless of season." 


This is a historical winery, whose vineyards, planted with vine grafts brought from Burgundy in the 40's (fortunately, before the days of the "bad clones" in the 60's), are located on high, steep hillsides. The winery is into sustainable agriculture, organic practices, an elegant Burgundian winemaking style - all the marketable buzzwords, in short. Somehow, though, I was left underwhelmed. Good wines, for sure, but they did not captivate me on an emotional or intellectual level.

Sebella, Chardonnay, 2015

Thirty year old vines. Flint, some oak that fades. 6 months in neutral barrels. Lithe and salty despite the oak. Warms up nicely. 36 USD.

Chardonnay, 2014

Heavier, yet fleet of foot, the oak more obvious, even though I'm sure it will integrate. Complex mineral aromas dominated by flint, with  apples rather than the Sebella's citrus fruit. I bought a bottle of the Sebella for its friendly charm, but stalled with this top tier Chardonnay, because it isn't this charming now and its price point was too much for me to gamble on potential - my lack of familiarity with the style might be an issue here, I just couldn't make a confident guess and there was no electric vibe tempting me the way white Burgundies do. 78 USD.

Pinot Noir, 2014

Interesting herbal aromatics, sandalwood and red fruit adorn an elegant, subtle structure. I'm not sure if the price is worth it, but I like its subtlety and I see potential. Not Bourgogne but definitely a Pinot I like, but, at t 98 USD, not enough to buy.

Wind Gap

According to winemaker.owner Pax Mahle: “Wind Gap is all about classically styled wines that represent the new California.”

I guess many would make that claim and I always suspect wineries with a million labels (such as Wind Gap offer), but the Syrahs are terrific and the Trousseau Gris is a unique gem. I tasted two flights at the tasting room and at the end of the day, this is exactly the sort of winery I'd follow if I were a local. I highly recommend it to travelers and local importers.

The Syrah Flight: Whole cluster, good acidity in all, with fresh fruit that could turn wholesomely meaty in time, in some cases already showing that now.

Syrah, Majik Vineyard, 2014

Good backbone here, subtle yet with a more prominent presence at the finish. An almost Pinot-ish softness and a welcome greenness that took me a while to pinpoint as tobacco leaves. Weighs in at 10.4% but you would never have guessed it.

Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Nellessen Vineyard, 2015

12.5% ABV. Ripe fruit that veers to black and blue while retaining attractive freshness and even greater structure. Excellent.

Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Armagh Vineyard, 2014

More tannic and not as friendly, but the nose has additional accouterments, adding meat and smoke. It's a toss up between it and the Nellessen.

Syrah, Sonoma Coast, 2014

A blend of the above three vineyards, it's the most approachable and right now paints the most complete picture, with the Syrah regalia of black pepper and captivating blueberry fruit.

Then we went through a flight of the more esoteric wines in the portfolio. 

Trousseau Gris, Fanucchi Wood Road, 2016

An erratically rebellious white/orange wine (limited skin contact), with Pinot aromas, marginal tameability and pungent mineral aromas (imagine a salt bath in the background). 

Rose of Dolcetto, North Coast, 2016

This is a tamer wine -  I mean, there is a mineral streak here as well, but with less bite and bristle. The citrus acidity makes it moreish, but while it warms my sardonic heart that someone found a way to make Dolcetto appealing, the Trousseau totally outshines it.

Soif, Old Vine Red, North Coast, 2015

Seven different varieties (I caught Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan from the winery guy's spiel as he poured it for me), whole stem, carbonic maceration. Meaty and fun, short though.

Old Vine Grenache, Alexander Valley, Sceales Vineyard, 2015

Reticent. I get, just barely, white and black pepper. The candied nature of the grape is subdued. I don't know what to make of it yet. By the way, the vines really are very old, over a hundred years old.

The Syrahs and the Grenache are 30-40 USD, as I recall. I didn't note the price for the others. 

Joseph Swan Winery

A classy Pinot from a historic estate
This is another historic winery, family run, specializing in Pinot and Syrah. I loved their flagship Pinot, the single vineyard Trenton Estate, which the family planted about forty years ago; sadly, I was indifferent at best about most of the rest.

Viognier, Russian River Valley, Catie's Corner, 2015

Alcoholic, band aid, stings. 13.8% ABV.

Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Catie's Corner, 2015

Formally higher ABV (14.2%) but less obvious and better balanced, with mildly appealing spicy aromatics. I'd drink a glass or two.

Pinot Noir,  Saralee's Vineyard, 2013

Very much a New World Pinot, it has the spices and forest floor that I love, but it's fat and feels ripe even though it comes from their coolest site. I don't find it particularly balanced - I think the fruit just isn't concentrated enough to shine through, despite the ripeness.

Pinot Noir, Cuvée de Trois, 2013

Intended to represent the Russian River AVA, there is additional weight and substance to the fruit here, more tannins as well, here that serve the wine well, even though I can't really appreciate Pinot at 14% ABV. 

Pinot Noir, Trenton Estate Vineyard, 2014

The earthiest, most Burgundian Pinot of the lot. Premier Cru level and even the ABV is sane at 13%. I am highly in favor of the notion that this is the best US Pinot I've had.

Syrah, Great Oak, 2010

A huge wine, too huge for me. Meaty and packed tight, alcoholic (15% ABV) and mean.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Feb/Mar 2017)

Sphera, White Signature, 2014

I think this runs a longer distance than most local whites and I always catch it at a reticent stage. Right now, this Chardonnay based (or was it all Chardonnay in 2014?) wine shows a character that is just about all lightly spiced pears, with plumpness akin to old school Meursault. (Feb. 15, 2017)

About 150 NIS.

Hubert Bouchard, Pouilly Fumé, 2015

Wine Route have a new Loire producer in their portfolio. Maybe they wrote it up in their newsletter and I missed it. I found it scouring the shelves. It's solid and shows enough potential to lure me back for more, especially if Wine Route has also brought the old vines and single vineyard bottlings the producer's site mentions. Maybe they have and they advertised the fact in the newsletter I missed. It's a lean wine, very saline and moreish, and even if there are hints of tropical fruits, they only serve to counterpoint the minerals and acidity, rather than take it too far down the New Zealand stretch. Very good. (Feb. 17, 2017)

About 110 NIS.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosso, Guardiola, 2012

My personal wine map of Italy is very bare, Piedmont in the north, then a huge blank desert (that I don't bother to fill in) and finally Sicily in the south. And not even the entirety of Sicily. Just one DOC. And actually, just a single winery. But a damn great one, producing wines that have been prodding me to explore the area further.

What everyone notes with the Terre Nerre reds is the tarry, spicy, dusty bouquet that immediately references Nebbiolo, and it is truly on display here, as well as hints of flowers. 2012 is considered a hot vintage and the wine weighs in at 14.5% ABV, but I don't feel excessive weight or sweetness on the palate, but rather a bitter, astringent finish that challenges my palate. (Feb. 18, 2017)

Fat Guy, 225 NIS.

Hugel, Classic, Gewurztraminer, 2013

This is a rather basic Gewurtz, and the upside of that is you get a soft rendering of the variety and not the revved up turbo it can be when it is ripe and extracted. Thus, it shows rose petals and litchi - and less mustard/ginger/white pepper spiciness -  as well as hints of sculptor clay. A good quaffer, albeit an expensive one. (Feb. 20, 2017)

Wine Route, about 130 NIS.

I'm going to start cellaring my serious Loire reds as though they were mid-tier Bordeaux, otherwise I'm never going to enjoy them at all.

Château du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny, Lisagathe, 2009

I bought this bottle before Eldad Levy started importing the house with the 2010 vintage. I wish I could find a way to capitalize on this kind of omniscience. This is a very typical Cabernet Franc, so typical that some might object to the green streaks in the bouquet. I find them minty green rather than pepper green, and the discreteness of the fruit helps center a certain pungent earthiness in the foreground. The fruit, initially buried in its own womb, shows a fresh, red aspect after a couple of hours, but even though it has emerged, it is not free of the cumbersomeness of youth, and is still raw and one dimensional. (Feb. 25, 2017)

30 USD.

Rapet Père et Fils, Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru, En Caradeux, 2014

This is a hidden germ in the Bourgogne Crown, one that I always try to unveil to the world. If you're looking to nail the white Burgundy experience -  pungent apple skins, dry grass and flint, thrilling acidity, a savory finish characterized by roasted herbs - you've come to the right place. The En Caradeux will intrigue you all night long. (Feb. 26, 2017)

290 NIS.

Tzora Vineyards, Judean Hills, Misty Hills, 2010

The first Misty Hills produced in consultation with  ex-Petrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet is rich in earthy and mineral aromas and flavors, almost muscular, with the warm ripeness that is the local DNA - which winemaker Eran Pick manages to tame. I've tasted every vintage since 2009, and the 2010, despite a very hot year, was the first in a string of very successful wines. (Mar. 7, 2017)

220 NIS.

Nothing says I Love Me like Champagne. 

Larmandier-Bernier, Longitude, n.v.

We drank this to celebrate another half marathon under my belt. Forget the other two, those were just getting the race over with - this one I'm proud of. Anyway, Larmandier. Larmandier has a style that marries a direct delivery and purity on the palate - that comes from broad, ripe fruit - with very precise nuances on the nose. This is a Blanc de Blancs, a blend of a couple of vintages and various Larmandier Premier Cru holdings, with a low dosage, so the ripe, near sweet flavors come from the fruit and make for a upfront effect, an incredibly fresh and moreish one, rather than an overdone one. And that's just what it does to the palate. As far as aromas, you get sauteed mushrooms and chalk, which are echoed on the palate, where their bracing impact balances the ripeness. (Mar. 13, 2017)  

Fat Guy, 350 NIS. 

Vieux Telegraph, Chateuneuf-du-Pape, Le Crau, 2005

I sometimes wonder, if I went back in time a couple of decades, would I still be turned off by the style? Is the thickly muscled style a product of terroir, vintage and grapes, or the meddling of Robert Parker? A historical property like Vieux Telegraph should be a good place to find some answers, but I've got to tell you, I still don't know for sure. I'll tell you what I like about it. It's impressive without kissing ass and the nose has plenty of pepper, pungent earth and garrigue. The palate, with its rusty tannins and bitter, espresso finish, wrestles the palate to a standstill. So that's a very welcome authenticity there, although not one I'd want to deal with too often.

Based on my experiences with the 2001, 2004 and finally this, I'm willing to hypothesize that the domaine went through a bad patch where they paid too much heed to the US reviews and may be navigating themselves out of that mess. (Mar. 18, 2017)

Wine Route, 250 NIS.

Ahat, 2015

There are rules. One is, don't write tasting notes for the same wine less than six months apart unless you have something new and/or meaningful to say. Two, don't compare a Chardonnay to Burgundy unless it can stand up to scrutiny.

I follow my rules, and this definitely has the dry grass/flint and salinity of a white B, which was not this obvious when I first drank it, married to a much more ephemeral body. Well done, Nitzan. (Mar. 20, 2017)

120 NIS.

Domaine Pierre Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2014

Great! I was in the mood for a Bourgogne and opened this, thinking I was opening my last bottle. Turns out I have another one. Do you really need a formal note or can I just submit excitement as evidence for the defense? But if you really want a note, this is a lithe wine, with floral freshness, the Gevrey funk expressed in the higher registers and a tart, welterweight frame. (Mar. 21, 2017)

Bourgone Crown, 205 NIS.

Moccagatta, Barbaresco, Bric Balin, 2008

I was warned Moccagatta is a modern winery, has modernistic tendencies, something modern. Apparently, they age the wine in barriques. The Bric Balin doesn't impress me as modern. This has very classic Old World charm, with a nose evoking exotic spices and herbs, tea, tar - that sort of thing, rough yet sensual aromas. A compactly muscular body, firm with rusty tannins and fiery acidity, looms over red fruit that is much softer than appears at first glance. I like it a lot, more than I did the 2001 Cole. Even though I had the Cole at fourteen years of age, after it had developed more tertiary aromas, the 2008 Bric Balin is clearly superior - rightfully so, since its considered Moccagatta's top cru. (Mar. 23, 2017)

40 Euros.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher, Riesling Feinherb, 2015

The focus and lithe intensity of the sour apples and slate is a remarkable forecast of the quality of the upper echelons of the Wili Schaefer catalog. That's all. (Mar. 24, 2017)

Fat Guy, 99 NIS.

Guy Breton, Morgon, Vieilles Vignes, 2013

Piercing aromas of fresh red fruit, forest floor and iron, a healthy meaty stink, and a sleek, elegant body. A touch of Pinot lightness of being without losing the more rustic character of Gamay. Very Gevrey, in fact. (Mar. 25, 2017)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 130 NIS.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume, 2012

I must have written hundreds of words on Chablis, trying to nail its essence and the myriad ways producers express it. Various things marine play a part - saline aromas and flavors akin to sea shells, sea breeze, sea weed - as well, as tart fruit flavors that recall green apples and apple skins, and sometimes a touch of citrus fruit. But if you just list these out, you still don't really capture it, because Chablis is also a unique texture, steely and cold on the one hand, yet porous and chalky as well. That's how Chablis should be, but of course the different crus, vintages and house styles contribute to the final effect. In my experience, Fourchaume across different producers and years tends to refine and culture the marine effect and shows a focused elegance reminiscent of Puligny. The Henri version is exactly what I expect of the vineyard and is made with the same excellence and clarity I find the Bourgogne Crown's best white wine producers, such as Lamy, Ente, Leflaive. (Mar. 25, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 165 NIS.

Château Olivier, Pessac-Leognan, 2000

If I'm being honest with myself, this isn't a great Bordeaux, but I was being honest with my expectations when I ordered it, so I'm not disappointed. This is appropriately earthy, with mellow black fruit and a touch of lead pencil, but with its lackluster astringency denying it any sex appeal, this is just about the least impressive 2000 I've had, rather an expensive bistro claret. (Mar. 27, 2017)

60 USD.

La Maison Romane, Marsannay, Les Longeroies, 2014

Punching out of the corner with tart black cherries, iron and a hint of underbrush - then comforting with its fresh fruit, sweet and saline at once - this, like every Longeroies Oronce de Beler crafts, is so appealing in its youth, the quantity so small, that I haven't been able to keep away from any long enough to age them. (Mar. 28, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 240 NIS.

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Riesling Spätlese, 2008

If the elegance and depth sketched by the detailed shadings of slate, sour apples and spices on both nose and palate isn't enough to convince you of the pedigree of the Hermannshöhle terroir, then the thrilling bond of fruit and acidity would have you speaking in tongues. (Mar. 29, 2017)

Giaconda, 270-280 NIS.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bar Au Vin (Mar. 2, 2017)

How the fuck do we always come up with these unholy eclectic lineups? Why can't we just all get along? Like a lame joke, we always wind up with an Austrian, a Sicilian and an American in a bar. At least this time we brought a couple of Burgundies and a Bordeaux.

Leo Alzinger,  Wachau, Loibenberg, Riesling Smaragd, 2010

Very expressive with its yellow fruit and mineral funk, this is complex, long; ripe, yet finely and tightly sculpted, braced by acidity and does wonders for the palate. Eldad Levy imports it for 250 NIS, which is a steal. I brought it because I knew no one in the group had tasted it, and even Eldad hadn't tasted the 2010 for a few years. Never underestimate the loyalty of a faithful customer, Eldad.

Domaine Leflaive, Bourgogne, 2013

Really? A regional Bourgogne?! The only wine we tasted blind, no one even considered the possibility this was just a Bourgogne, but at least I guessed Puligny (due to the very specific interaction of apples, lime and minerals), which is where the house hails from. With its length and focused power, it has to be a declassified village wine, it just has to be - for God's sake, we thought it was a Premier Cru! I hope Eldad will sell me a bottle.

Terre Nere, Etna Rosso, Calderara Sottana, 2010

The nose evokes and tantalizes, with black fruit, leather, rock and hints of forest floor. The palate, though, scampers and punches, tannic and bitter as it is, yet somehow the experience is favorable to the palate and very memorable. A wine that challenges but leaves a lasting impression. 225 NIS.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauilliac 5me Cru, 2002

2002. Always an underrated vintage. Lynch-Bages is the epitome of luxury, costing a fortune these days, always showing a velvet richness (black fruit, cigar box) designed to seduce the upper class twits, that you almost hate yourself for loving. At 16 plus years, it still has the forward currant aromas and rawness of youth. 

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley, Napanook, 2009

This Bordeaux blend is the second wine of Dominus. It's ripe, but balances well the ripeness of its black fruit with a crusty, tannic backbone. Eventually, it spews minerals like Ol' Faithful on crack. 

Pierre Marey, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2011

The fruit is so dormant, all that is left is metal minerality and spices and a discord between a lean frame and extract of fruit. A very nice nose, less than stellar palate - at least it's better than a bottle a couple of years ago

Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Derrières Chez Edouard, 2014

Exhilarating steely finesse, with citrus fruit and flint tantalizing and delineating a wine structured for the ages with its balance of ripeness and taut, electric tension. This is another steal at 290 NIS. My honesty is probably going to cost me when I find out it's out of stock, but whoever buys it is going to treasure his bottles.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Recanati - 2017 Releases

If local interest in wine writing extended beyond reviews, gossip and marketing promotions, I'd be interested in doing a story on the Recanati  Mediterranean series, Now, Mediterranean wines is a term I don't like much, but it will do as a shorthand for lithe, yet robust, wines suited to the local climate, based on grapes that can reach phenolic ripeness in Israel at palatable sugar levels.

How much did the borth of the series have to do with the inclinations the people involved (for what it's worth, the winemakers and management people that I personally know share the same tastes as me) and how much of it was a business decision to carve out a new identity and find a marketable niche? Does anyone besides me even care that much how a winery shifts its profile and its product line?

In Recanati's case, these questions are so interesting because the decisions the winery took have made them the most interesting outfit of its size in Israel - broadly speaking, if you want to drink interesting Israeli wines, there's a short list of boutique wineries and then an ever shorter list of medium sized outfits, like Recanati and Vitkin. The changes in the last decade extend even to the packaging; hell, I'd even say the labels of the Reserve series are among the top five best or so in Israel. *

* In case you're curious, in no special order: Recanati Reserve, Feldstein, Tzora.

So that's the buildup to my notes about the so called 'Mediterranean' Reserve series as well as the Special Reserves, that I bought pre-release in the Recanati summer event.

Reserve, Marsellan, 2015

I'm willing to concede Marselan is an actual Mediterranean grape. It's a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, first bred near the French town of Marseillan, which is actually on the Mediterranean coast. So yes, it's a Mediterranean grape.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it: "Marselan was bred by French ampelographer Paul Truel in 1961 at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) as part of a collaboration with the École nationale supérieure agronomique de Montpellier (ENSAM) to produce high yielding varieties with large berries of moderate quality. As Marselan could only produce small berries, the vine variety was shelved and considered not likely to be commercially released. But viticulture trends in the late 20th century that begun to value lower yielding varieties with good disease resistance to hazards like powdery mildew encouraged the INRA to revisit Marselan. The vine was submitted for approval for commercial release and was entered in the official register of grape varieties in 1990."

The history of wine making in the late 20th century in a nutshell.

Recanati makes a user and food friendly wine out of it, with fair complexity and  greater character and interest. With its black fruit trimmed with back pepper, herbs and dusty earth, it comes off as a Crozes-Hermitage transplanted to Vacqueyras. There's a warm, ripe breadth to it, but without the cheap ripeness that can be so off-putting with local Cabernets. (Mar. 4, 2017)

Reserve, Syrah, 2015

Calling Syrah a Mediterranean grape stretches the credibility of the concept, but I'm willing to concede it's a grape that can be suitable to to Israel, even if hasn't turned out to be the dominant force that ten years ago many expected it to become. The Recanati version went through a couple of production and marketing schemes before it was wedded to Viognier in a nod and a wink to Cote Rotie a few years ago. I loved the first couple of vintages, but the pair have since been divorced. The current vintage shows the succulent, peppery aspect of the grape. It's riper and less stellar than the version that Recanati winemaker Kobi Arviv makes. But then, that Syrah is one of the best ever made in Israel and is a testament to the skills of the Recanati winemakers and their employers' recruiting acumen. As for the wine under discussion, initially, the bitter tannins turned me off, but a very pretty purity of expressive fruit came out after a couple of hours. Wait and see, with optimism. (Mar. 5, 2017)

But I'll tell you what, though. Recanati's renaissance starts with, and hinges on, one wine, made from a grape that is as good a candidate as any to be our national grape. 

Reserve, Wild Carignan, 2015

This is always a deep wine that reveals its aromas and flavors reluctantly in its first couple of years, the 2015 especially so. What I get here at first is mostly a sense of warmth and a spicy/tannic mouthfeel. Then it finally offers up surprising aromatic complexity - not surprising for being complex, but rather because the aromas offer a gentle elegance I'd not found in previous vintages. Really, the Wild Carignan should live up to its name, but the 2015 defuses its punch with mellow blue fruits and wisps of black pepper. Wisps that become muscular strands as the wine shows its wild heart. (Mar. 16, 2017)

The Reserves are priced at 130-150 NIS (your mileage may vary) and you get a lot of quality fruit for the price. The price is in line with the price of many wineries' flagship wines and what you don't get for that price, thankfully, is histrionic helpings of oak.

The actual flagship wines, the Special Reserves, do cost more, of course.

Special Reserve, White, 2015 

This is a Rousanne/Marsanne blend, and I surprised myself for fancying this white Rhone combo at the launch. I guess these grapes do like the local landscape. There's not a huge level of acidity, but there is enough to support this rather fat, fleshy wine and the gently spicy punch on the finish. The spices also embellish the nose, which also features some chalk. Taste this alongside other local whites and it will show well; it probably won't finish first, but the results won't embarrass the people who made it and you'll be satisfied with the price (about 150 NIS). (Mar. 17, 2017)

Special Reserve, 2014

When Recanati started, and for a good part of the previous decade, this was your typical Israeli blend, Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot. Then along came Ido Lewinsohn, first, and then Gil Shatzberg, who replaced Lewis Pasco as main winemaker, and finally Koby Arviv - and little by little the blend changed. I noticed the change with the 2008 SR and wrote about it and then a wonderful thing happened. Some interchanges on an old wine forum led to a Recanati tasting event and I met Ido and that started a long, random chain of events that ended up with the group of friends I currently taste with. 

Recently, it's been a blend of Bordeaux and Mediterranean grapes, according to the winery's site. I'd guess that means Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Sirah and Carignan, in various permutations. This is a wine where you actually notice the oak. It's well handled, and the winemaking and barrels are both equally top notch, but it's there for now. Its aromatic and flavor profile reminds me of what Ido and Kobi do in their own boutique wineries: the freshness of the fruit, a welcome helping of black pepper, even a light streak of green. With that, I do sense a greater emphasis on sheen and gloss; which is not necessarily a bad thing and I'm not detracting the quality of the wine. Obviously the target audience is different from that of a boutique winery's, even if there is some overlap. The SR needs to acknowledge a great proportion of unhip buyers and naturally the team needs to be less adventurous, consciously or not. I'm trying to describe the effect, not criticize it. The quality of the wine would place it in the local top ten and you should buy it (for 200 NIS or whatever the release price is), if you haven't already, and then cellar it for at least three years (Mar. 18, 2017)

I want to close with off with an offhand note about a wine that we've been drinking casually at home for a while, the Jonathan, White, 2016. I'm not sure whether it replaces the old Yasmin series or cohabits the shelves, but this Chardonnay/French Colombard blend shows that quality control at the winery goes down all the way to the lower rungs. It's a light, fruity blend that won't blow you away but is very useful when you need to entertain a lot of friends and want to be able to enjoy yourself as well. This is where democracy wins.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Attack of the Killer Grenache - Vitkin, Early 2017

Time to check in, once more, on the winery that has always been located on the "road less traveled" part of the Israeli wine map - ever since the pioneer days when they were one of the first to break the paradigm of using Bordeaux grapes in Israel.

Grenache Blanc, 2014

A personal favorite, in my humble opinion already one of the top ten Israeli whites, this has an earthy character driven by tart acidity. Air fleshes it out (and I'm not ruling out that it should be served at a temperature close to that of a red wine, which is what I wound up doing and it worked for me) so that its lean frame is embroidered with nuanced flecks of bitter and savory flavors. The nose, while also austere, starts off with a nutty greenness and it, too, develops nicely, flaring into a bouquet flaunting an 'otherness', which I can't really break down meaningfully - perhaps something along the lines of chalk laced with sweet herbs and a hint of flowers, tobacco and iodine?  (Feb. 19, 2017)

The 2015 version is, at this point, more floral. I wish I could write more about the differences between the two vintages, but besides the year's worth of evolution, there's not much to tell them apart except for the greater clarity of the 2015 and a lither structure. I think the grape is comfortable in its new home. (Feb. 27, 2017)

125 NIS.

Israeli Journey, Rose, 2016

I prefer my roses so dry they could detox Keith Richards, and this more or less hits that sweet spot, with a wild freshness of fruit, almost floral, that is charmingly tempered and tamed by minerals. Assaf Paz says he thinks he finally nailed the formula, mostly Grenache with a modicum of Carignan. I agree. (Feb. 21, 2017)

70 NIS.

Grenache Noir, 2014

Grenache can easily go over the top and become too ripe, intense and candied. Assaf, however, confidently controls the grape and this wine just nods at that aspect with candied notes, but it also shows the same fresh wildness of fruit and flowers as did the Rose, as well as hints of raw meat. Most importantly, for any wine, but even more so for a grape so easily whored by producers prone to excess, this is a personable, very drinkable wine, with a raspy, yet savory finish adding plenty of jism. The label says "Collector Edition" and, while the wine is certainly special enough, it is no high octane trophy wine, just a wine that someone made because he wanted to do something different and so eased it into being, let the grape express its character without letting it get out of hand. (Mar. 3, 2017)

140 NIS. This is a terrific wine, really worth the price, showing, like the only other local Grenache that I know of (Feldstein), that the variety has great potential in Israel.

So that takes care of the various permutations of Grenache in the Vitkin portfolio. With that out of the way, let me finish with another example of how Vitkin does things differently. And yes, I know there are at least six other Israeli Rieslings, but Vitkin was there first.

Riesling, 2015

According to Cellar Tracker, the first Israeli Riesling was made by Golan Heights. Which I suppose makes Vitkin's inaugural vintage the first good local Riesling. But I quibble and anyway, making Riesling in Israel is always a leap of faith, on paper at least. I'm a classic German Riesling guy, also willing to accept their dry versions as well as those from Austria and, to a much lesser extent, from Alsace. While I appreciate the effort involved in making extraterritorial versions, you have to understand that I approach Rieslings from other regions with a very critical eye - uh, palate. This is a good wine. I think it brings a local touch. There's a certain herbal languor on the palate that I like, as well as bracing acidity and a healthy, cleansing salinity. The nose is fine, demure if not outright austere, showing lime and white fruit rather than apples (well, maybe some apples). I like it, and I'm happy I have another bottle to age, as well as a bottle of 2014, but I think it's a little short and the nose doesn't evoke the same thrill of discovery that the Grenache Blanc does. (Feb. 2017)

125 NIS.