Thursday, November 26, 2015

One Champion, No Contenders (Oct. 27, 2015)

It's true, you know: you don't need great wines to have a great wine night, you just need good friends. Sometimes, the lineup just doesn't work out, sometimes great wines don't come up to scratch, and sometimes, someone (me!) brings the wrong bottle.

It's all about the company and the friends, but it doesn't hurt if someone brings in a good German Riesling from an unknown producer - or if someone brings a great vintage Champagne,

A great Champagne
The great friend who brought it
J. B. Becker, Rheingau, Wallufer Walkenberg, Riesling Trocken, 2013

A producer I've never heard before. A crisp presence with clean, pungent, green apples and skins, chalk - just about all you could expect from a young dry Riesling.

Pierre Peters, Grand Cru Le Mesnil, Les Chetillons, 2007

Expressive and powerful, full and broad, with brioche, mushrooms, baked apples - the necessities of life, in other words. Despite its power, the nose has a delicate subtlety to it, while the palate balances dry cut with ripe breadth. If you don't love Champagne, you don't love life, and while that doesn't mean you need to love every Champagne, you definitely need this one on your life list.

R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia,  Rioja Gran Reserva, 1976

This is a still vigorous, but aging Don, with typical mature Rioja nuances: red fruit, tobacco leaves, balsami. You could argue that it's past it best - I don't agree, and although I've had better Riojas, I salute its aging grace.

Andre Ziltener, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, 1989

This, however, is definitely over the hill, although the nose still thrives, with its sweet fruit, underbrush and flowers. Naty, who brought it (along with the Peters), said he bought a few at 100 something euros a piece and that others bottles were very good. I've never heard of this producer, and Google tells me the domaine also has a hotel on the premises. I looked up the domaine's site, and I dunno, it reeks heavily of hype and tourism.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ya'acov Oryah, Psagot

Psagot Winery is the third (by my count) station in the journey of one of the most unusual winemakers on the local scene, Ya'acov Oryah, whom I followed with great attention when he worked his craft at Midbar Winery. I'm not going to get into a political debate because the winery is in a West Bank settlement, I'll just say it clashes with my personal opinions, but I have great respect for Yaa'cov, personally and professionally, so here goes,

Rose, 2014

This is an "everything but the kitchen sink" blend of red grapes, mostly Bordeaux varieties, but that's not the real story here. The story is the aromas of fresh red fruit with a touch of rocks and the easy-going mix of sweet/sour and salty flavors. The finish isn't very long, and neither is this note, because this wine is meant to be drunk with gusto rather than discussed.

The nature of rose is, you're not supposed to remember the wine, you're supposed to remember the girl you drunk it with. The girl might win here, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't buy the wine again.

65 NIS.

Viognier, 2014

I'm hardly a big fan of Viognier, and I usually avoid it, but Ya'acov made a nice one back in his days at Midbar, even if it didn't convince me to purchase a bottle. I didn't purchase this one, either, but let's face it, I don't even buy Condrieu, the benchmark for the variety. Viognier has a distinctive bouquet, honeyed melons and other tropical fruit, with none of the nuances I look for, such as nuts, minerals, mushrooms. Then there's the palate -  the fatty, heady palate -  typically with high alcohol creating a hot, bitter finish. All of which are present here. This is a good wine that I think is an apt choice for those wanting to expand beyond the usual suspects available locally, but all in all, Ya'acov might perhaps consider using Viognier in a blend, even if it makes for less sexy marketing.

I hate Viognier. Well, actually, I don't. I don't hate any grape. But Viognier consistently wearies me. I wish Ya'acov would direct his talents elsewhere. For example, the next wine.

65 NIS.

Moav, 2014

The Semillon based wines were the obvious teacher's pets during Ya'acov's Midbar tenure, and he seems to have picked up the plot right where he'd left off. This has the same signature of yellow summer fruit and chalk, that harks to the Bordeaux archetype that was the inspiration for these wines, with nice acidity and a quinine bitter finish. I never tasted the Midbar antecedents quite this young, so it's hard to make comparisons, but this will need a year or two to really get its act together, which is not to say you wouldn't enjoy it now.

110 NIS.

For reference, I went back to the wines Yaa'cov made at Midbar and opened my last bottle of Midbar Winery, Semillon, 2009, which I've always considered Ya'acov's signature wine. Ya'acov had meant for it to be drunk at more or less this age. I think it was more intense last year, when it hit its peak, but it still has very pretty personality of rainwater, flint and peaches. I don't necessarily think intensity is a prerequisite for judging a wine to be at its peak, but it this case, at this age, I think it lacks a little oomph. (Aug. 28, 2015)

The 2010 is livelier, but close enough in character to suggest that any differences have more to do with the wine's age than vintage variations. In both cases, this is a wine that insinuates rather than flashes, which isn't a common approach around here. My problem with it these days, which I didn't see when I was so captivated with it in the past, is that I think you can actually combine that demure shyness with a little more force and presence - but that doesn't really happen with the 2009 and 2010 at this stage. And I think it takes time to get that balance just right, and Yaa'cov only had a few vintages to work with.

The 2012 makes me think maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe, despite Ya'acov's expectations and hopes, and mine as well, his Semillon isn't meant to be aged. The young version, which plays out as melons and salt, is so effortlessly charming that I just want to gulp down a carafe or two.. That might not have been Ya'acov's intention, but to paraphrase the Joker, why be serious all the time? This is so lovely that even though I bought quite a few bottles in a group purchase, I reneged and kept them all for myself.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

All Over The World (Oct. 10, 2015)

A winemaker,
A wine blogger or two.
A wine importer.
Irit Kozak.

An Israeli white.
A Spanish red.
A Sicilian.
A Lebanese.
A French for dessert.

Lots of cheese.

A hangover.

Lahat, White, 2013

This is... different. Not great, but different. Leesy, funky and lightly minerally. I could have tried to write down the various fruit descriptors, but they were hardly the main story here: the story is that here is kinda weird wine that so escapes the usual mold it might we well have come from outer space.

About 120 NIS.

Chateau Musar, Baka'a, 2005

It's been years since I last had this signature Lebanese wine. Last time I had it, it was a Caberent Sauvignon/Cinsault blend and now it seems there's also Carignan in the blend. There's elegant fruit here, embroidered with mildew, which, along with the savory acidity, reminds me of Rioja. Or something Spanish, anyway. Probably the best Musar at I've had - at the very least, the most palatable.

Tenuta Terre Nere, Etna Rosso, Guardiola, 2012

Terre Nere rocks, always, even this three year old from a hot vintage. A soft yet prominent tannic structure gains form and body with air. The fruit is savory, elegant and poised, red at first, turning a wee blacker in glass, and as always with Terre Nere, the acidity is terrific.

Eldad Levy, 239 NIS.

Alion, Ribera del Duero, 2004

It took me several tries over almost a decade  and across multiple decades to like this modern Ribera. Sometimes. It seems it just needs a decade to mature and become funky, multi layered and for the ripe, modern fruit to tempered by juicy acidity and a mature, Old World charm.

Huet, Vouvray, Clos de Bourg, Premier Trie, Mouelleux, 2009

For me, botrytis works better in the Loire than in Sauternes, and here it's played with finesse, merging sweet and spicy notes. Huet comes with a almost a century's worth of reputation, and with a price tag to match, but this is a terrific value that could trounce almost any dessert wine on the local market.

Giaconda, 300 NIS.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Taking Care Of Business (Oct. 2015)

Lewinsohn, Garage du Papa, Blanc, 2014

I probably should have waited a bit, or opened an older vintage, but my curiosity got the better of me. There's good substance of Chardonnay fruit here, with the mineral trappings people like me crave , which will come even more to the fore once it escapes the clutches of the oak - which are actually very soft clutches, Ido Lewinsohn has a light touch here. Anyway, I'll shut up now. There's only so many ways to say "a very good wine in need of time". (Oct. 2, 2015)

140 NIS.

Lewinsohn, Garage du Papa, Blanc, 2011

This shows what that time might bring out, as it displays the type of flint and dried grass that Burgundy styled Chardonnay can offer. Aromatically, it's just about Macon, with a piercing sharpness. On the palate, though, it's a bit dilute, so I should probably have gotten to it last year. (Oct. 7, 2015)

Emidio Pepe, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2008

After the debacle with the 2011 last month, I was eager to see whether the brett is limited to specific bottles, or specific vintages, or even specific provenances for that matter, and indeed, the initial pour seems promising, at least to the extent that the brett is almost bearable. Alas, in time it grows beyond my level of enjoyment while the aggressive acidity makes it unpalatable. (Oct. 3, 2015)

Giaconda, 200 NIS.

Emilio Lustau, Palo Cortado, Almacenista Vides 1/50, n.v.

After the Pepe went down the drain, I felt I needed the most abrupt change of pace possible and opened a bottle of Sherry my daughter brought back from Barcelona for me (I'm training her, you see). I used to drink Sherry quite a lot ten years ago and Lustau was one of my favorites, and Palo Cortado was just about my favorite style. Glad to see the magic still works for me, with this hardcore, bone dry rendition, with its typical rancio (carmelized and oxidized) notes, full of iodine and nuts on the nose, lemon, nuts and salt on the palate. Almacenista is the term for private soleras that families in Xerez have inherited and maintained for generations that are marketed by Lustau as a premium label and they're usually very distinct and unique due to the small size of the solera (50 barrels in the case of the Vides Palo Cortado). I'm necessarily skipping over a lot of Sherry terms, so let me just point you here for a good glossary. (Oct. 3, 2015)

About 20 euros for a half bottle.

Domaine de l'Horizon, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Rouge, 2010

I think this used to be labelled a Cote de Rousillon Village, but the domaine have left Syrah out of the blend, making it incompatible with the AOC regulations and thus downgraded to Vin de Pays. That subtle point may be of interest to someone. This is vaguely rustic, most definitely peppery, with the broad, ripe fruit typical of both the Grenache and Caringan in the blend, with grainy and rusty, yet savory, tannins. And a little of touch of brett to show that it can work in small quantities.

That's France for you, even their rustic wines are more fun than most. (Oct. 4, 2015)

Domaine Henry Pellé, Sancerre, La Croix au Garde, 2012

Like the other Domaine Pellé wines that Giaconda imports, this is a delightful everyday wine. Gets the job done, with a ripe melons, a fair amount of pungent minerals and decent focus. (Oct. 5, 2015)

130 NIS.

There's been a bit of local buzz about Bar-Maor over the last couple of years, but it took me a while to follow up.

Bar-Maor Winery, Cabernet Franc, 2013

Cabernet Franc. While just about every local winery either tries its hand at the classic Lennon/McCartney of the Bordeaux  (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) or the so called Mediterranean varieties (Syrah, Petit Syrah, Carignan), few willingly attempt a varietal Cabernet Franc. Even though this weighs in at 14% ABV, there is a harshness, a greenness, to it, not only on the palate, but on the nose as well, where notes of ripe currants combine with a herbal note of pine needles. Even three hours does little to soften or sweeten this, maybe a few years? (Oct. 9, 2015)

115 NIS.

The Bar-Maor, Red Moon, 2012, the flagship wine, on the other hand, is 85% Merlot, complemented by Cabernet Franc, and combines the same herbal/pine needles/eucalyptus thing with Old World minerality. Old World - that's the keyword to understanding this winery. This is tough, but not muscular tough, rather slick and lean tough. And it holds its shit together within the same greenness that many Israeli reds avoid like the plague. I'm more optimistic about its future than the CF's, though - I think the Merlot will add a little plushness in two-three years and make for an overall unique impact. (Oct. 22, 2015)

Graci, Etna Rosso, 2012

Like the Terre Nere wines, the only other Etna wines I'm familiar with, the aromatics resemble Nebbiolo, with a similar tarry/dusty character and fresh black cherries. I feel, though, that it reverses the old cliche and comes off as a velvet fist in an iron glove, with its core of languid fruit guarded by a rocky facade. An interesting wine. (Oct. 16, 2015)

Giaconda, 130 NIS.

Sphera, Riesling, 2014

Many of Doron Rav-On's wines show his fingerprint more than the grape's. On the other hand, his signature is pure wines with a veneer of rainwater, flint and chalk, so I wouldn't complain, really, if this was his excellent Sauvignon Blanc and or even the more excellent Charodnnay. This being Riesling, however, I would have liked to get a better sense of the grape. But I'm quibbling and I'll just have to buy more and follow up, as the bottles of the Riesling I've had seem to be thorough a clarification process, where each bottle is purer than the previous one. This is a great winery. (Oct. 17, 2015)

About 100 NIS.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel, Bernkasteler Lay, Riesling Kabinett, 2013

You might prefer the weight of a Spatlese or an Auslese, but even at raw youth, few wines are as outright drinkable and tasty as a Mosel Kabinett. This is as electrifying as biting into a freshly picked granny apple, with slate and grapefruit adding to the complexity and hinting at the future. (Oct. 23, 2015)

Wine Route, about 100 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Rose, 2009

This is the perfect sparkling wine for our brunch, as the red fruit accents made for a great match with tomato shakshuka, as well as the saviche. Terrific price, too. (Oct. 24, 2015)

130 NIS.

Domaine Fourrey, Chablis Premier Cru, Côte de Léchet, 2014

This is a new addition to the Wine Route portfolio, and it's probably way too young for a judgement call. It's too round and sweetish right now, but it does have the requisite sea weed, sea shell, iodine notes. And at 130 NIS, it should be a worthy gamble on a few years in the cellar to temper the sweetness and get rid of the baby fat. (Oct. 24, 2015)

Domaine Faury, St. Joseph, Vieilles Vignes, 2012

I know it's a well rated house, and I know Kermit Lynch imports it to the US, but somehow I have never quite quite taken to it. I think they take a long time to open up in childhood - with this one, it took me three hours to tentatively decide I'd like it in five years. (Oct. 28, 2015)

35 USD.

Sebastien Dampt, Chablis Premier Cru, Côte de Léchet, 2013

This was such a welcome surprise when I drank it a couple of months ago that I just had to go back and confirm the first impression. So yes, it is typical Chablis, lean and crisp and recalling the seaside and romancing the heart; yes, it is surely Premier Cru in character and quality; yes, it will age for several years; and no, you can't buy it, it's already sold out. (Oct. 30, 2015)

Wine Route, 200 NIS (2 for 300 on discount).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Swallow, Don't Spit - La Maison Romane Tasting (Oct. 8, 2015)

Man, Oronce, you worked your ass off and didn't even score Premier Cru grapes?
I've been a fan of the Maison, love child of Oronce de Beler, for a couple of years. Even so, I was worried that what I perceive to be a personal signature works better one wine at a time, as opposed to a comparative tasting, where it might muddle the imprint of the vineyard, at the very least. Oronce's business model is based on a barter system wherein he and his horses tend various vineyards at the Cote d'Or in return for grapes - and it was a bit of a letdown to find out that, in the low quantity 2012 and 2013 vintages, his end of the trade consisted of solely of grapes sourced from Village crus. So I steeled myself to an idiosyncratic but limited palate.

So, OK, village wines: always fun but I expected your weekday, missionary sex anyway, not weekend acrobatics, and I did get that, but high quality stuff, and of a distinctly sweaty and fulfilling sort. And it turns out that Oronce's touch and whole cluster ideology expresses both the vintage and village. Which was definitively expressed in the way the Marsannay flight didn't segue into the Gevrey flight via the Fixin, but rather the wines bitch-slapped each other out of the way, the Marsannays floral as opposed to the typical sauvage of the Gevreys, with the Fixin separating the two distinct facets with its vivid, feminine fruitiness and rotting rose petals.

Macon, Chateau de Berze, 2013

This is Gamay, of course, this being Macon, the lesser known Gamay habitat, and it shows fresh yet brooding berries, a hint of spices, savory yet prominent tannins, and on point acidity. 205 NIS.

Macon, Chateau de Berze, 2012

This is a very joyful, more harmonious wine, fleshier and more detailed, with a very peppery strain. You can see, with this pair, how 2012 has fleshy fruit a la 2009, while 2013's acidity resembles 2008. 200 NIS.

Macon, Chateau de Berze, 2011

At peak, tannins very tame, overshadowed by 2012, even 2013 to a lesser extent, and very similar to them at any rate. 2011 is the  most drinkable vintage of the three anyway, likely the most friendliest and earliest drinking since 2000, and, in some ways, it is arguably the shallowest - this being Macon, it is probably at its peak, with this bottle a little past it.

Marsannay, Longeroies, 2013

Marsannay is the most northern village in the Cote d'Or, and Longeroies is a very high vineyard, so that makes for a very floral, elegant wine, with pure, fresh fruit, complicated by a touch of earth, a touch of earth, soft tannins. 285 NIS.

Marsannay, Longeroies, 2012

As with the Macon, 2012 is fleshier, much more concentrated and spicier on the palate and, especially, the nose. The vineyard expresses its signature with a telltale languid freshness that the 2013 also exhibited. 280 NIS.

Fixin, Le Clos, 2013

You could chalk up the differences between the Macon and the Marsannays to the variation in grapes, but here you just have to own it up to terroir. This is the fruitier wine of the evening, but since this is Burgundy, all that means is that there is a languid, delicate sweetness born of fresh fruit, without any harmonic and/or dissonant notes of earth, fur, spices and the like, although there is a pleasant sensation I would term rotting flower leaves - although I wouldn't argue if you wanted to term it tea infusion, we'd sound like pretentious pansies anyway, wouldn't we? 305 NIS.

Gevrey-Chambertin, La Justice, 2013

Gevrey. The "blind tasting" village, the one you're supposed to always spot, because it's got that leathery character the French call sauvage, which isn't easy to translate, so just think horse hide, leather, sweat, the things that make conjure game and hunt. This tasting, of course, wasn't blind, but I think the characteristics I described qare uite self-evident here, in this concentrated, primal, almost liquorish wine. 430 NIS.

Gevrey-Chambertin, La Justice, 2012

This is even more of Gevrey, which is expected, as age usually underlines the characteristics of the terroir. It's stinkier and more concentrated, at the same time the tannins are finer. 420 NIS.

Vosne Romanee, Aux Reas, 2013

"There are (should be) no common wines in Vosne" said no less an authority than Hugh Johnson. And this is no common wine, with a lofty price to boot, opulent and loaded with exotic spices,, flavorful and multi-layered on an almost airy frame. 590 NIS.

What's the bottom line? If you want to pursue Gamay, Oronce's version can easily rival, and arguably best, the highest level of quality Beaujolais Cru. If you want the best specimen of Gevrey or Vosne - well, I'm not going to argue that Maison Romane should be your first choice. But if you want to get it on with an artisanal expression of Bourgogne and want to experiment with a personal idiom of overlooked villages such as Marsannay or Fixin, then you've come to the right place (conversely, if you want to focus on the big name villages, I'm not going to argue that either)! And when he can get a hold of the grapes, the man makes a Corton Grand Cru that'll make you loop the loop.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dudes At Tzuk (Oct. 1, 2015)

So there's this deli/wine bar/bistro in my neighborhood, called Tzuk Farm, named after the organic farm where much of the produce comes from, especially the cattle-based products, which are especially savory and spoiling.

I joined three wine buddies for an informal tasting. Here's one of the crowd, and doesn't he look happy?

Jean Paul et Benoit Droin, Chablis Grand Cru, Valmur, 2007

This is typical Chablis, even typical Chablis Grand Cru (marine aromas, breadth and depth on the palate), but actually backwards at first compared to the last bottle. Although it develops nicely and pungently, I prefer it at home when we can devote full attention to each other.

Giaconda, 320 NIS.

Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo Riserva, 1976

Judging by the color (which was the same as, well, a bourgogne), we thought it was unraveling, but this is actually decently robust, even tannic, if on the mellow side, with iron fillings and spices. It dies after an hour but who needs more - it's the kind of wine made by people who only wanted to make good good wines that aged well, just like their parents made them, a love letter from another age.

Price unknown.

Domaine Les Pallieres, Gigondas, Terasse du Diable, 2008

Leave me alone, Southern Rhone.

Domaine Rapet, Corton-Charlemagne, 2012

You have to know Charlemagne to be able to recognize the quality in this clench-fisted, tight-assed, virgin-pussied wine. But it's there, in that compact frame with its honeyed accouterments.

Bourgogne Crown, 590 NIS.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bertie, Brett, Keller, Schaefer, etc. (Sept. 24, 2015)

Wine-making: it's all about choices. In the case of Emidio Pepe, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2011 the wine-maker's choices are apparently conductive to brettanomyces . At least, that's how I interpret the end result here, which is reminiscent of cured meats braised in bretty Amarone. To be honest, I don't understand why some consider brett an expression of terroir; it grows on the grape skins, I get it, but so do various strains of fungi, not to mention ignoble rot - and reasonable winemakers avoid those. But even if you do allow for brett, there is too much here for the bottle to contain.

With the Golan Heights Winery, Rom, 2006 the choice is pick late, pick ripe, work hygienically and age in new barrels. The wine-making is almost passionately precise, but that's the only expression of passion in this lifeless, oaky beverage.

I have just described one of the most "challenging" pair of wines I have ever tasted. Ironically, they were the centerpiece of a very fun evening with great friends at Bertie, one of my favorite food havens. As for the wines, well, it could have been worse. For example, if we hadn't brought any Rieslings.

Keller, Rheinhessen, Dalsheimer Hubacker, Riesling Grosses Gewaches, 2007

Mellow dryness, complex on both nose and palate, where it shows (surprise, surprise) minerals,red apples and red cherries . The kind of finish that is a 90+ pointer in its own right; as for the nose, only a philistine would attempt to reduce that to points.

But before the Keller, we were presented with the kind of wine that would stump many blind tasters.

Salomon, Kremstal DAC Reserve, Lindberg, Gruner Veltliner, , 2006

This starts off cider-ish and cumbersome before it starts to show minerals, green herbs, apricots and red apples, with a herbal finish and off-dry.

For dessert, we had Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Auslese, 2013, which was fresh, floral, honeyed, and brimming with potential.

But before we could bask in post-coital bliss with the Schaefer, we had to contend with two clarets, which demonstrated that basing your purchases on the Bordeaux classification is only good if you know the properties to begin with - which really defeats the whole point of using the classification as a quick and dirty consumer's guide.

The Roc de Cambes, Cotes de Bourg, 2006 isn't classified and it's rustic and muscualr, yet tasty. It's not very obscure, as it's owned by François Mitjavile, owner of Château Le Tetre-Rôtebouef in St-Emilion, but it's still off most people's maps. Uri Kaftori used to import it, but I didn't pay attention, so I don't know what the price was, but I'd guess 200-300 NIS. Which is what Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2000 used to cost, but by the 2006 vintage it probably cost at least twice as much and these days close to three times. We have all heard of the improvements in the Chateau over the last decade, and the explosion of Parker scores, both of which led to the price increases (some of us may have even tasted the wine) but my limited experiences with the old regime, which is basically comprised of 1996 and 2000, is that it was a boring, one dimensional wine,