17 October 2009

Grand Cru...Grocery Prix

When you can go to the local hypermarket, snag a bottle from one of the star up-and-comers in the Pfalz wine scene-a bottle, by the way, from the Pfalz's most famous Grand Cru site-and it costs you under 9 Euro...well, you have to pinch yourself. Weingut Eugen Mueller, situated just outside the renowned vino-hamlet of Forst, is a winery with as many traditional roots as progressive branches. And with some significant changes both to the infrastructure of the winery and the forward thinking of the now-in-charge Stefan Mueller, these wines are going from strength to strength. The range of wines at this estate constitutes unquestionably the greatest source of Grand Cru wines at grocery store prices. I bite my lip each time I walk into the Globus down the street and see these gems dimly lit on the shelves. One wine in particular struck a chord with me for its unbelievable refreshment, acuteness of flavor, and resounding depth: the 2008 Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett trocken. All this for 4 Euro and 90 cents. But this note details the contents of another equally delicious, if slightly more profound bottling from the Pfalz's most renowned Cru, the 2008 Forster Kirchenstueck Riesling Spaetlese trocken (dry, 12,5% abv).

This is an utterly impossible wine to dissect right now-and at under 9 Euro/bottle, one wonders if this really needs such clinical attention. But its pedigree will one day demand it. So much promise comes from the nose; the scents almost protrude without really exerting themselves. Forgive me if I say that, at this stage, this smells a bit like high-class Gruener Veltliner: lots of fennel, honeydew and lemongrass. There's abundant fruit here, no doubt, but there's soooo much going on, it almost just blows by you. Give this time. The palate is utter refreshment (as it is with so many of Stefan's wines): proud, vibrant, and exceedingly lush and buoyant all at once. Lots of lime, lots of granny smith apples...just pure, exalted, honest perfection. I love it for what it is right now, but this really needs a year. I think. But dare me to stop drinking Grand Cru wine at less than 9 Euro a bottle. Pleeeeez.

Syrah Pur

I wasn't working intentionally on a 'Pur' theme here (although it's not a bad idea really), but I felt it only appropriate in context. When I went for this bottle of Syrah in early September, it wasn't my intention to have something mind-blowing, intellectually stimulating, or the perfect companion to braised lamb shanks. I just wanted something good to drink, something inexpensive, and Delas Freres seemed like a good place to start, though it wasn't my overarching goal to dive wantonly into a bottle from one of the northern Rhone's premier producers of Syrah. Again, I just felt like having a decent, even average bottle, and this one seemed to fit the bill: 2005 Delas Freres Crozes-Hermitage "Tour d'Albon" (12,5% abv).

I may be crazy, but there is just something natural, primeval and perfect about the nose on this wine: I can already tell it will be refreshing, not only from the alcohol content, but really from the nose. I don't detect any heat; I'm not assaulted by any outlandish aromas of candied cherry or milk chocolate: What I'm getting is subtlety, but in a very aristocratic way. I get what I associate with good Syrah-hickory bacon with a dash of pepper in the skillet, a hint of tobacco (cigarette butts really, but tobacco nevertheless), new leather, perfectly ripe and honest cherry, and some iron notes that waft in and out. The palate is just bright; it's not Marianas Trench deep, it's not Gobi Desert brooding, but it brings refreshment like I've never had from the northern Rhone (here, however, I do admit my adolescence with respect to the region). Focused flavors of cherry, pomegranate and not-too-intense cranberry give serious vigor to a palate with just enough grip and complexity to keep this as sophisticated as it is succulent. Syrah...pur.

Riesling Pur

A note in advance: Readers/subscribers likely will see a great deal of notes covering the wines of Weingut Kruger-Rumpf. Not only are they a sensational VDP estate, but they're an amazing family, whose sons and daughter have all become great friends of ours over the years. I simply can't recommend the wines enough-especially their scintillating reds and Grand Cru Rieslings-and the estate's restaurant may be the best in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz. I have yet to meet its competition for exceptional quality, seasonal integrity, progressiveness (but not for its own sake), and rational pricing. A visit to the Rumpf family winery should be compulsory when you're exploring the lower Nahe region (the town of Muenster-Sarmsheim, where the winery is, sits next door to Bingen).

One of my favorite vineyards in the lower Nahe is the Muensterer Dautenpflaenzer, both for its candid, exotic forthrightness in youth and its potent, familiar smell of sweet Autumn. Back in August I had the good fortune to dive into the Rumpf's 2008 Dautenpflaenzer Riesling Spaetlese, an extraordinary bottle of late-harvest wine displaying wintergreen, pear, extremely ripe kiwi and apple mash on the nose, alongside the Dautenpflaenzer's typical scent of dried or even burnt leaves (there are at times faint traces of smokiness that I associate more with the slatey aspects of this site). Palate-wise, there is distinct structure, an electric liveliness, if you will, that creates an instant desire for another drink...NO sips here; just full-throttle gulps. There is an abundance of crackling acidity in this beauty, even a degree of grip that keeps all the tropical nuances taut and nimble, not cloying, gooey and boring. Lots of sweetness here though, but I'm struck by how sophisticated it is. When you bury your nose in the glass you still get the slightest hint of fermentation aromas. When you take the first gulp, however, any overt yeastiness has given way to an extremely polished, tropical-fruit-cocktail-meets-middle-of-the-forest-floor iteration of a truly Grand Cru site...the Muensterer Dautenpflaenzer. Folks, this is the stuff: Riesling, auf Deutsch. Drink up!

12 October 2009

The Leithaberg Phenom(enon)

If I make a few more posts tonight, I should share with the readership (one, maybe two of you?) that I didn't drink all these wines on the afternoon and evening of October 12, 2009. My notes are piling up; that's all. I need to get some of this down before I start to feel like I've committed injustice to these wines, especially this one: the 2004 Prieler Leithaberg rot from the Burgenland, Neusiedlersee district of far-eastern Austria. I'm not a celebrity chaser by any stretch, but I couldn't help but be amused by my timing...Drove to Pinard de Picard in Saarwellingen on a Thursday (maybe?), picked up some dream wines with the folks (here for a long summer stay), including three bottles of Prieler's 2004 Leithaberg rot (Falstaff's best Austrian red wine of 2004), then headed home to open one. Then went to the Thalia bookstore the next day, stumbled on the latest installment of Falstaff, and to my surprise-well, maybe that's not the best word; I was just flabbergasted by the timing...Silvia Prieler and the rest of the family crowned Winemaker of the Year by Austria's premier wine and all-things-gourmet periodical. There was already enough Sin of Expectation in the air from the previous night, and thankfully before stumbling on this sensational and richly deserved news, the note was writ:

"This smells like a camp fire with bing cherries and plumb roasting on a cedar spit. Really just breathtaking. All the seduction of Pinot Noir is there, the mystery of Sankt Laurent (and really, when you drink truly stupefying SL, you have to wonder How is this not a Great Grape of the World?), and the grandeur, the complexity of Blaufraenkisch. The fruit and the intense spice on the nose literally reach out and smack you. My nostrils are singed-not by alcohol, but by striking intensity. Everything is beginning to roll out on the red carpet right now: pomegranate, blueberry and tangy cran, framed by a satchel full of clove and licorice. Sensational. The whole of this is united; a supremely holistic effort only just beginning to bask in the glories of maturity."

Yeah, I liked it.

Brunus, the Not-So-Brutus

This is what can happen when you expect too much from a wine-in this case, a rosé. This, as opposed to just letting the wine tell you its own story, rather than the ignorant mind of some traipsing amateur conjuring one of his own (which nearly happened...I was the amateur). So, I have this unfiltered rosé from 100% Grenache grown in white clay and decomposed granitic sand, the 2007 Portal del Montsant 'Brunus' Rosé, and I'm all too anxious to have this paralytic rosé epiphany. Alas, I reach the bottom of the bottle on an early August picnic date with the frau, and all I'm greeted with is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. What a drag, right? -To have expected so much, and thus never to have realized the point at which your expectations had long since been met, satisfied even to utter exhaustion. I suspect we wine geeks at times can't even speak the language of fulfillment and satisfaction, the dream of something bigger, better, deeper haunts us so.

But that's also what drives profundity on the sell-side...so whatever. The nose on this Brunus was a bit inexpressive at first, mulish even. I imagine the wine was a bit too cool at first. This had more of a seductive white wine nose, with the wet chalk and red berries you sometimes get with Riesling (Selbach, say). Marked acidity here, great structure, ever so subtle tannin, like a tickle monster with a two-year-old's hands. After the temperature corrections, this started to take on a Minute Maid OJ persona, both on the nose and palate, and became just an absolute joy to drink. There wasn't one aspect of this wine that screamed louder for attention than another-everything was in perfect harmony. Sure, I failed to notice the moment of satisfaction-as devoid of empiricism as such a notion is-but at least I took the time to say 'slow down' to myself, especially when it comes to offhandedly inferring greatness to any rosé wine that corners me, without so much as a nod to context.

05 October 2009

The Eitelsbacher Bunny

It's been a long time since the last post; I'm sure the one or two subscribers here are massively disappointed. I get that, and I'm sorry. However, I've been doing my very best to catalog our wine life in the meantime. I can say for certain there hasn't been a dull moment in consumption since August 6th's wine, just not enough time to write things down in two different places. While in some things I feel I can go, go, go--so to speak--in others I find I'm far from Energizer Bunny status. Speaking of the bunny, let me break something down for the folks back home. When it comes to off-the-beaten-path Mosel Riesling--well, Ruwer Riesling to be specific, Right Bank to be exact--this is about as go-go-go as it comes (goes?), and I've probably gone errant in calling this estate 'off-the-beaten-path (though it very much is), as they're quite a famous VDP producer. Christoph Tyrell has been churning out sensational wines at his Karthaeuserhof estate for over 20 years now, and to be honest, it doesn't look like this family will miss a beat as it progresses to the next generation. I've never failed to be amazed by the quality of this man's wines. They are always impeccably balanced, full of sizzling, succulent fruit, and age extremely well. While I can't say I've had any 'library' wines from this estate, I can speak with authority on his 2002 Kabinetts, which have very nearly changed my life on at least three seperate occasions...just absurdly fresh, palate-coating, unctuously textured but still electric, with gobs of gala apple fruit and crispness. These wines are the essence of Ruwer Riesling--steep, decomposed slate--and I recommend them so wholeheartedly that I probably should have written this last sentence in CAPS. Below is my note on a more recent 2005 Eitelsbacher Karthaeuserhofberg Riesling Kabinett, 9.5% alc/vol, A.P.Nr. 3 561 303 08 06. Wintergreen/spearmint on the nose, jazzed up with some Sonic Lime-Aid, almost borderline kiwi intensity, framed by subtle leesy white chocolate notes and a top-note of white tea. This is still surprisingly fresh and primary, a time capsule back to the essence of 2005. Finishes with the staying power of an Energizer Bunny: Loads of ripe, rich, racy apricot jam and the tingly sweet-sour sensation you get when you down a whole handful of golden raisins. The nose and palate are synchronized beautifully in their applesauce notes; Musselman's on steroids. Still incredibly fresh and precise for a wine going on four years old, though I expect that from this estate. There's nothing blowsy about this wine. Mouth-coating but seriously and vibrantly structured...endowed, one could say; more like a mini-Spaetlese, with the stuffing for at least another 10 years. I can't remember the exact date I tasted this, but who cares. All that matters is that I'm writing here again.

06 August 2009

Tom and Katie-you guys are bananas! I can't thank you enough for answering the call of fellowship and friendship and heading over with such a rare and beautiful gem. You definitely sent me off for these next few weeks with something to think about...the 2004 Weingut Knipser Cuvee 'X', Germany's greatest perpetual showcase of Bordeaux class. Tons of spice on the nose-paprika, anise, even a touch of hookah tobacco-and a very, very ripe greenness, nothing really under-ripe or distracting, all framed by brambly black cherry and dusty, even earthy dark chocolate overtones.

The nose at this stage is ever so slightly more impressive than the palate, as Tom pointed out. Bro, you may be a little scared of the wine's development at this stage, but I think great, great things are in store for this beauty. While it's very forward at this stage, particularly on the nose where it's still really volatile, this definitely has underlying structure on the finish. Overall, the body here needs time-perhaps a lot of it-to really envelop the volatile and extremely complex aromatics.

Over time, the bitter cacao notes begin to take on a more commandeering role, as some caramelly vanilla notes begin to peek out alongside them. But they're all playing a supporting role at the moment; nothing here is over the top or overtly confectionary. I get the distinct impressions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which I believe are the constituent varietals that make Knipser's 'X' so unique in Germany.

A bombshell wine, and still a very honest one: A believable Bordeaux cuvee on the northern frontier of the Pfalz. Tom, I can't believe you just dropped this on us like, 'Yeah, we'll swing by, maybe open a bottle of Cuvee X.' Great people, a great, even iconic wine opened on a whim...what a great life. Thanks, you two!

02 August 2009

Body und Soil

BODY:  The weight of every interaction--biological, chemical, emotional, cultural--in a glass of wine.  Incalculable, yet palpable; transparent, yet tangible.

SOIL:  The medium through which these interactions grow, take form and at last, nurture.

These two elements constitute the very fabric of wine as it weaves its way through contemporary culture.  While styles and fad-like tendencies repeatedly change, swayed as they will always be by a bevy of well-intentioned critics and self-professed cognoscente, wine will always remain “sunlight, held together by water” (Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642).  

Wine should not be a complicated endeavor; it should be a cherished one.  To associate the pleasures of wine with that of striving toward some foregone conclusion--what varietal, what winery, what weight of residual sugar--is tantamount to assuming wine will always afford a ‘Yes/No’, ‘You’re right, he’s wrong’ sum.  It is for this reason that Body und Soil even exists.  While a great deal of study, and even more snobbery and hubris can be thrown at the subject, what matters ultimately is that a wine speaks deeply of its origins, and that it draws an audience even deeper into its story through the weight of its own wonders...Body und Soil.  

Wine: Deconstructed.

People, Passion, Pleasure

People, Passion, Pleasure. That’s all there is. If you don’t know yet that wine is about people, you’ve missed something. That’s OK. You’re probably still enjoying the heck out of some seriously delicious vino. And rightly so, although you may not have recognized that behind that wine are very special people, who see to it that what you have in your glass tastes mind-numbingly great and not like raspberry vinaigrette. Though you may have never met these special people, they care deeply about you. In fact, most of them care passionately about everything, from folding laundry into crisp and perfect squares, rinsing every wine glass by hand to utter spotless clarity, to lining up every fork, spoon and knife even with the edge of the table. They are meticulous, and pathologically so. In this they ensure that habitual passion and attention to detail make it into the products they produce as well. And when they spend every night and day thinking about what they could be doing better, what would be healthier in the vineyards, how to be more hands-off in the cellar, when to pick...know that they are your intercessors. They are asking these questions on your behalf. Because you want an honest wine, you want attention to detail in the vineyard and the cellars, and you want something that brings an immense amount of pleasure from the second it hits your lips until it wets your gut. But you have no control over that process, only over what you buy.

You also have control over how you enjoy wine. Do you drink it by yourself without food? That may be the sign of deeper problems, not deeper pleasure. Or do you share your wine and break bread with family and friends? Are there fellowship, laughter and good eatin' at the table when the vino starts to flow? These questions are the very confluence of people, passion and pleasure. The people behind the wine--the ones detailed above--are important. But wine will always leave the winery with seams, a little disjointed and flustered. In the end it needs something to bind it all together again, to stitch the seams and seal the joints: It needs fellowship, the same ingredient in every loving family, congregation, friendship. Is it any wonder that a wine tasted for the first time with the best of friends and the greatest food never quite tastes so good again when tasted alone? If you have a 500-bottle cellar and no one to share it with, then you have 500 missed opportunities. Every bottle of wine I ever bought, I had someone else in mind who I thought could love it even more than I: the wine was predestined to be shared with those I love (even those I don't love so much).

My demand is that the wine I buy and drink be produced by someone I know personally or have read about extensively, and in turn have been convinced by his or her passion, his or her integrity with respect to viticulture, processes, and philosophy, and his or her focus on bringing pleasure to the palate, not points. I want to know these people, because I feel when I know them (or ‘know’ them, as the case may be), I begin to understand the true context of their wines, their true nature. I begin to trust them, and in turn the families behind them. The circle is complete. Terroir is important, without question; I will harp on climate, exposure, and soil to a tormenting extent. I will preach on a multitude of other things as well. But ultimately, the winemaker, the owner, and the folks in charge of babying the vineyard: They are the holy triumvirate, and ideally they are One. They will affect a bottle (or box!) of wine most completely, by leaving it utterly alone and still, or interacting with it as necessary toward an agreeable goal.

A parting note on what I hope this agreeable goal becomes in the near future: I hope it's something that truly-as in honestly-brings pleasure. It is exceedingly difficult for me to equate atmospheric alcohol, excruciating tannin, or extremely unlikely color saturation, with pleasure or integrity. The prices paid for such self-proclaiming monuments are irrational, and seldom can I conjure a rational explanation for how this trend continues to pervade and poison the wine scene. I little bit of research will reveal an ocean of wine for relatively no money that delivers pleasure in a more accessible and more timely fashion, something that should appeal to those who can't stand to wait 30+ years for right-bank Port-deaux to 'mature', or who simply won't be around in 3o years. That little bit of research may even unveil the story of one or two families that aren't too different from yours or mine, a story that makes the wine closer to home than it ever could have been before, shadowed on the dusty shelves of some forgotten corner grocer. With wine, families are the most important story-not terroir, not hang time, not barrels, not anything. Wine is about people. Passionate people. Folks who want nothing more than to make wines that mirror their charisma, their virtues, their criteria for what makes a wine worth drinking over and over again.

Wine is family, reduced.