18 February 2010

The Gamut...

...as in, What I've been drinking lately. I've been trying to span the globe here, though admittedly I've failed to really exploit those hidden corners of the wine world, the romorantin's of Loire's Cour-Cheverney or the mysteries of Irouleguy. The fact that I've only mentioned the apparition's of France's dynamic grape scene is by no means an indication of how I feel towards what mysteries might actually be palatable.  Only examples, folks.  Sorry.

To redeem myself, I'll start with a failed French attempt at organic goodness, the 2005 'Les Grands Champs' Cabernet Franc, from the Loire Valley's Touraine département, grown/bottled by Jean-Francois Merieau.  I don't know what it was about this wine, but it was just too wildly intense for me.  Every time I took a sip, it was me whisked away into a world in which survival depended on eating beef jerky and chewing Copenhagen, simultaneously.  I don't like that world.  I can't remember what compelled this purchase in the first place, though I suspect it had something to do with the cool labels at this estate.  I have Mandy to thank for that; she's the artist.  I'm sure Merieau's talk of organic endeavors piqued my interest as well; but did I ever really listen to the wine in the glass?  Apparently not.  A great lesson to learn for those times when you're cornered in the wine store...if you're being pressured to buy it, ask to taste it first.  Would you buy a car you never test drove?  Improbable.  Pants you'd never tried on?  OK, probably.  But is it prudent?  Who knows?  But this wine sucked.

Moving on...to Austria.  The 2007 Weingut Jaeger Ried Achleiten Gruener Veltliner Smaragd struck a chord with me initially as it was rated very highly by Austria's most prestigious wine publication, Falstaff, and came in at under 18 Euro, a steal for Wachau wines in general and highway robbery for one from such a pedigreed site.  All that said, let me drop the hammer for real.  This wine--at too low a temperature--also sucks.  OK, so maybe I should let my Smaragd Gruener Veltliners develop a little more in bottle; perhaps now was a little too early to approach this 'beauty' with "...tolles Entwicklungspotential."  But I'll reveal a little of my personal taste here: I like white wines in their youth, when their primary characteristics are nakedly on display.  It's the reason we buy these wines when we first taste them.  Those of us that say such-and-such a wine will be even more amazing in 10 or 20 years could very well be right, but there's little difference between that and the artist who paints his or her self-proclaimed masterpiece and says, "This will be the most famous and expensive painting in 10 or 20 years".  He or she could be right, but nine times out of ten their work will end up in the hallway of St. John's Home for the Old and Conversationally Prolific.  That's just the way it is, a gamble.  Me--I'm not a gambling man.  Call me uninitiated and ignorant, amateur and crass.  Oh well.  If you want to enjoy this wine, please decant it--YES, DECANT IT, PLEASE--and serve it slightly higher than room temperature, barely chilled even.  The alcohol in this GrueVe remains a challenge either way, but the Smaragd feel is there.  The enjoyment feel?  Not there.

Let's see, what else?  I'll be honest: I tipped a lot of bottles back in the last month, one of which I wrote about at length (Castellare's '04 Brunello).  Chateau de la Gardine's 2006 Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau...pure delight.  Nothing complicated, but still interesting and refreshing enough to demand that next sip.  I'm not trying to say 'I told you so' here, but I'm going out on a limb and saying 2006 will be THE most delectable southern Rhone vintage of the 2005-2006-2007 trio.  There's something, well, inflated about the feel of 2007, though there are infinite exceptions to this (case in point: Chateau de la Gardine).  But overall it seems to lack the lithe freshness, the acidic precision of 2006; frankly, many of the wines seem dehydrated.  The 2005s seem monolithic: great and mighty stones carved from even greater and mightier mountains.  I've run into more than a few '05s that just stared right back at me, like fat retarded lizards basking in Galapagos sunlight.  These wines never budged, they never blinked...they just were.  Yup, they're big, some are bruising even; but they ain't juicy.  2006?  Juicy.  And the best are structured for the long haul, enjoyable now, and--dare I say--10 or 20 years from now.

Tonight I'm taking down a tipple or two of Chateau de la Negly's 2007 La Clape 'La Côte' Coteaux du Languedoc.  It isn't WOW, GREAT, but it isn't bad either.  It's right in the middle: burly and smoky on the nose, with just enough bramble, beef and juniper to keep my palate interested.  Although I'm curious what's going on at this estate with older vines and better sites, I'm resigned to the fact that a lot of these 2007s could very well exhibit the same aspects of their not-so-distant southern Rhone cousins...dehydration.  If you can acknowledge for a brief moment that most flowery accounts of the 2007 vintage are just that, you can bask in the freedom of knowing the naked facts.  2007 was probably the driest growing season on record in the last 20 years, according to data collected at the official agricultural weather station in Carpentras and released to the public by the Fédération des Syndicats de Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Moreover, 2007 saw more wind than usual (20 days of Mistral gusts), and saw more sun than average.  Certainly great data taken on its own, but in the context of prolonged drought, not so great.  Everyone confers greatness to this vintage because these wines are so round and lush right now, but equally fail to acknowledge the deficiencies of this vintage for those self-same reasons.  How could there be anything wrong when these wines taste so right?  All I can say is, Drink up!  I don't suspect the majority of these wines--those within reach of most consumers--will age that gracefully, and certainly not too far past 10 years.  While Languedoc is admittedly not the southern Rhone, Negly's 2007 La Côte still tastes like it ignored that wellspring of life...water.

If you're still reading this crap, I hope you're looking forward to my assessment of 2010's Independent Vigneron tasting in Strasbourg, France.  I'll share some notes from my favorite wines and estates, and I'll do my best to keep contrarian statements to a minimum.  If you can believe it, you'll probably hear me singing the praises of a few--maybe even more than a few--2007 Rhones.  Crazy.  BUT THEY TASTE SOOOO GOOD RIGHT NOW...but 2006, ooooooh 2006.  It's that sandwiched yet perfect and essential ingredient that always ends up sliding off the burger cause there's too much saucy goodness above and below it.  

Stay tuned for STRASBOURG!!!  

09 February 2010


...will never have an identity crisis.  Following a conversation with neighbor and fellow winehound Jim (who until yesterday was still a stranger to me), Inspiration kindly met me at my doorstep.  The mailbox, rather.  A nicely typed flyer and a yellow sticky, perfectly folded, waited patiently in our banal dropbox, oblivious to the record cold-snap of Monday, 8 February.  As the flyer indicated, Jim has the reigns at D.O.C. Kaiserslautern's own Italian wineshop 'DiVino' this Saturday, when and whence I suspect many a great wine will be opened, much great food consumed, and oodles of Italian inspiration shared amongst addicts.  However, it was a single comment Jim made on the flyer that fueled my own flames of inspiration, and left me panting for the self-same blaze of Tuscany all over again.

"Brunello di Montalcino is my absolute favorite red wine on the planet," Jim's flyer said emphatically.

While I could never bring myself to pick an overarching 'Favorite', I can say with conviction that every time I've had good Brunello, it's been my favorite wine of all time, too...until the bottle's empty and I move on.  For reasons unknown, I have a much easier time saying Grenache or Pinot Noir is my favorite grape of all time, but no sooner do I utter those words than a Sangiovese of stunning grace and bedazzling fruit comes along and smacks the Chateuneuf du Poop right out of my mouth.  Ironically, it's all the same; Brunello is as much a grape as Grenache or Pinot Noir.  Why not say Brunello's my favorite grape?  Because it's more than just Brunello, I tell myself.  It's Montalcino that's really speaking here; it's not 'just' Sangiovese.  While Grenache and Pinot Noir have become as ubiquitous as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Sangiovese will forever be germane to Tuscany.  And Brunello?  Forever rooted in Montalcino.  Without driveling too much on the vagaries of ampelography, let me say simply that I required instant gratification Monday night, and that required Poggio il Castellare's 2004 Brunello di Montalcino (14% abv), courtesy of San Gimignano's Baroncini family.  Favorable coverage from Signore Suckling and a 21 Euro price tag drove this purchase, and I'm fairly certain I'll be heading back to the Einoed Globus for more, as this was as close to teleportation as science has ever come (and no doubt the cheapest it will ever be).  To Jim: Thanks for the inspiration.

This Brunello is the color of blood: muddled garnet red, rusty on the rim...Brunello.  Check.  The nose is the richest dark chocolate-covered cherry one could ever imagine, covered in dry, dusty earth.  The nose just soars.  It's not overwhelmingly complex at this point (45 minutes open), but what it lacks intellectually at first, it more than makes up for electrically.  There is voltage here, amplitude, a Marshall stack of Schnapps-y kirsch, laced with thyme and paprika, and smothered in Prosciutto grease.

The palate is a veritable power plant: MGMT's 'Electric Feel' in all five senses, charged with ever-so-prickly acidity, velvet sheen tannin, and fruit weight that seeps its way into every ridge and draw of taste bud topography.  The faintest impression of toasted baguette lingers, but it's fleeting, overwhelmed by masses of mulled plum, Grandma's baking cherries, wintergreen, and Zotter's Bird's Eye Chili Chocolate.

The finish is 60+ seconds.  No lie.  As a word of caution, the nose starts off pretty reticent, even a bit corky.  This blew off completely within 5-10 minutes.  Another word of caution: Chances are this wine, or ones like it, will get you hooked for life on Brunello.  I speculate at least one other person has undergone this Sangio-vation.  OK, that was supposed to be something along the lines of 'salvation'.  Either way, there's an undeniable conversion experience I have with nearly every Brunello (even some Rosso, like Salicutti's), and I suspect this religion will only get more powerful as the zealots are recruited from the already addicted.  Jim may in fact be their Messiah; if so, I'm definitely looking forward to Saturday's DiVino taste-a-thon.  Lisini's '04 Brunello is scheduled to show, and from most accounts she'll be as prophetic and mind-bending as this or any other 'Favorite' I've ever had...

...until the bottle's empty and I move on.