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Underrated/Overrated

Jimmy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra made the phrase famous in the beautiful song, I’m Glad There is You by Paul Maderia, “In this world of over-rated pleasures, of under-rated treasures.” This phrase from a moving love song well defines the world of wine today. Big pointy overrated wines give little pleasure while underrated and often underpriced wines may lack points, but are packed with pleasure.

A couple of such underrated treasures are:

The 2004 Lignères, Aric, Montagne d’Alaric, a blend of carignan, mourvèdre and syrah that is sure to be on the underrated charts. This is a big and delicious wine, concentrated, exotic and satisfying. You wonder why you have to pay so much more for wines that deliver concentration - then fall over the edge into dull flabbiness. Concentrated flavors on their own are boring, but wines like this lead with power then expand, while so many of today’s wines lead with power - then collapse - just holding on long enough to get their points from critics more concerned with the front of a wine than the back.

Then there’s wines with catchy names like the 2007 Bastide Saint Vincent, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, a blend of grenache, caladoc, carignan and syrah from Domaine Guy Daniel. Warm, earthy and completely satisfying, this is a wine you can tell inspired passion on the part of the winegrower far beyond any hope of getting big points or big bucks for his efforts. Living as I do among so many producers focused on glitter rather than substance, wines like this are an inspiration. More-and-more I find myself drinking less-and-less famous wines.

Sadly price has become a less than reliable indicator of quality. Most expensive wines having become caricatures of good wine. Like the exaggerated portraits drawn by street artists they focus on a few characteristics and blow them out of proportion. As the caricature artist exaggerates noses, chins and ears, too many winemakers exaggerate oak, extraction and alcohol to make a wine that is a comic image of what it should and could be - something to have with dinner.

 


Gracing My Table

Grace, elegance, delicacy finesse: wine attributes not much treasured these days. Punch you in the face pointy pounders get all the glossy headlines. In the same way such wines anesthetize my palate, the heavy food required to stand up to these wines with glandular issues bloats us into a a culinary world that Botero would have painted. 

Then along comes a svelte, subtle beauty that reminds you that sometimes the experience of consumption is improved if it requires your brain to become more involved in the process instead of a sedated bystander. Such a wine touched me at a lunch at Chez Panisse recently. This very non-Botero like wine was the 2006 Menetou Salon Rouge of Domaine Philippe Gilbert. Not a place name likely to be familiar to many, but this almost moving wine comes from an area unknown by Americans for its wonderful sauvignon blanc (which I also love), which seems famous compared to its pinot noir, which no one knows they grow. In this relatively obscure Loire region the team of enologist Jean-Phillippe Louis and owner Philippe Gilbert have crafted a true work of art and, only due to the less than famous name, a bargain. This property started bio-dynamic agriculture in 2006 so, as good as this wine is, upcoming vintages must be staggering. 

This beautiful pinot noir graces your table with its almost exotic floral, spiced aromatics and flavors that touch your palate with the complex thrust and parry of a champion fencer rather than the Braveheart broadsword of so many wines today. If purity is what you want in your pinot noir you’ll find it here - and find it for less than $25.

Chave Bargains

 

Chave and bargain don’t usually go together and indeed this is one of the most expensive Cotes du Rhone wines you’ll find, but it’s worth every dime. I found the 2004 Chave Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone tucked away on a back shelf for $20 and it was indeed a bargain. The extra few years in bottle has amplified its personality, which is rich with brooding notes of bacon, butcher shop and black pepper layered over lush, intense black fruit. It’s wonderful when great winemakers like Chave use their considerable skills to produce not only great wines, but affordable ones.

Posted via email from craigcamp’s posterous

Vielles Vignes under $20

 2006 Domaine La Milliere Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone

Old vines, not filtered, under $20 and delicious, what more could you want? Actually this wine is more than delicious offering real complexity and flavor and no simple fruity stuff either, but earthy, warm complex fruit with a structured backbone that makes this wine exceptional with food. How do they do it? They have to grow and make the wine, ship it to the USA, put a importers markup on it followed by a wholesalers then a retailers markup and it still costs under $20 or $30 in a restaurant. It’s damn embarrassing for us American winemakers. Grab cases of this beauty and enjoy.

 

Posted via email from craigcamp’s posterous

Nothing To Be Embarrassed About

No shy blushing wine this one. Not at all embarrassed by its pinkness, this is a explosively fruity, but dry wine with wonderful depth. The 2008 Mas Amiel “Le Plaisir” Côtes du Roussillon Rosé, if not a serious wine, is seriously delicious. Born from old vine grenache, syrah and carignane in the sunny Mediterranean vineyards of southwestern France, wines like this can only make you shake your head in wonder that so few outstanding rosé wines come from the similarly blessed vineyards of California. I suppose part of the reason for that is that so many consumers think sweet when they see pink that dry pink wines like this aren’t that easy to sell. It’s amazing that that misconception about rosé has hung on so many years after the white zinfandel craze. A great value and under $20 this is a wine I’d gladly gulp the rest of the summer.


Franc-ly Speaking

The Loire is the region that the new wave point-driven winemaking tsunami washed around. Today it holds the high ground when it comes to brilliant clean refreshing wines with alcohol levels that seem almost unthinkably low. They are often unbelievably delicious bargains.Cabernet Franc is an unappreciated variety in the New World, often for good reason, but in the right hands from the right vineyards it makes a wonderful wine. The 2006 Anjou Domaine de la Soucherie is one of those wines. Just thinking about this wine makes me salivate as its zesty, acid driven freshness carries a delicious ripe fresh wild cherry fruitiness enticingly spiced with fresh herbs and a savory minty freshness. Best served with a light chill, this is a perfect summer red. At under $15, the gulps instead of sips this wine will inspire are very affordable. I love what I call the forceful delicacy of wines like this. Light and lively with an almost haunting personality, they are in no way simple as, despite their subtle svelte character, they rivet the attention of thoughtful palates.


OPN: Wines Worth Drinking - Puzelat Gamay

Touraine Gamay “Pouillé,” Thierry Puzelat 2006 $18. 13% alcohol. Cork. Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. Relative to “Le Tel Quel,” which I’ve written about here before, “Pouillé” is arguably Thierry Puzelat’s more serious – perhaps substantial would be a better word – expression of Gamay. In this case, the fruit comes from Puzelat’s own vineyards, which he purchased from Michel Oger. Situated near Clos Roche Blanche in the commune of Pouillé, the 65 year-old selection massale Gamay vines are planted in argilo-silex (clay and flint) soil that’s been farmed biodynamically for the past fifteen years. Following fermentation, the wine is aged in old oak casks until bottling, without filtration, in the summer following the harvest.

via McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail


OPN: Wines Worth Drinking- Puffeney Poulsard

Arbois Poulsard “M,” Jacques Puffeney 2005 $30. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY. Puffeney’s wines may be a little pricey for a typical midweek repast, but I’ve been on vacation the last couple of days so I figured why not give myself a treat. Straight from the bottle, this is lean and firm in both acidic and tannic impact. Its color is a completely transparent, pale ruby, tinged green/orange at the rim. With a few moments to settle, aromas emerged of red tea, rose petals, teak and tart cherry fruit. Like its color, the wine’s flavors are delicate but intensely penetrating. If you’ve been looking for a “light” wine to serve with hearty fare – think duck, beef daube or, why not, pot pies – this may be your ticket.

via McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail


Treading Lightly Upon the Palate

Treading lightly upon the earth is fashionable these days, but what about treading lightly upon the palate. There is a time and place for big wines, but on a regular basis something a bit more restrained and thoughtful is good for the soul - and the dinner table. It doesn't hurt if they cost under 20 bucks either. These two gems should not be missed:200905282256.jpg

2007 Moulin-à-Vent, Cuvée Vielles Vignes, Domaine Diochon - Gloriously bright and fragrant, it's hard to think of a prettier wine. Graceful, delicate yet full flavored and incredibly long on the finish a better match for the chicken we roasted on the Weber you'll not find. Best served on the cool side to highlight the incredibly pure fruit. This is simply a wonderful wine.

2007 Valpolicella, Nanfrè, Tenuta Sant'Antonio - Like the Beaujolais above, Valpolicella is a name damaged by the ocean of mediocre wine sold under its name. It doesn't seem quite fair to pick on these place names as the majority of wines produced under more revered names like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa are just as mundane. In Valpolicella, like all the worl200905282255.jpgd's fine wine regions, only a small percentage of the producers make top notch wines. Tenuta Sant'Antonio is one of those producers and this bargain is something to grab by the case. Fragrant and expansive with brilliant fruit and that wonderful Italian earthiness, which makes them so perfect with food. This wine is not only delicious, but very interesting to drink.

It's worth noting that both of these wines clock in at 13% alcohol. For me that's the sweet spot for red wine as it's substantial enough have real texture and depth, but balanced and restrained enough to have more than one glass. Which, as you may not be surprised to learn, I like to do.


Krug Grande Cuvee Is Very Good

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Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne is very good. In fact it is very, very good. You could even say excellent. In the case of Krug I guess you could say that is damning with faint praise. For Krug mere excellence is a failure. By reputation and price it should be sublime. It is not. The real problem for me, is that I really believe it once was.

I thoroughly enjoyed Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, and in particular was moved by her chapter on Champagne. It moved me because I am old enough to know what Champagne was and my palate is aware enough to know what it has become. The big name Champagne brands, with a few notable exceptions like Gosset or Bollinger, have all sold out. Today they are led by accountants and marketers instead of winemakers. All the big Champagne brands are run by corporate ownership that implements and believes in the marketing strategies so successfully employed by the perfume companies - that is image is more important than substance. What the bottle looks like and what’s on the label is everything, while what’s inside is an afterthought.

In her book Alice talks about what Krug once was and the empty symbol of conspicuous consumption it has become and it’s a very sad story. Perhaps one of the most offensive things about Krug Champagne these days is the environmental assault their packaging represents. Each bottle is packaged in a heavy, pretentious presentation box. It’s hard to believe that a company could be so unaware of the world around them. On top of the excessive price, anyone concerned at all with the environment should be offended by the packaging of Krug and refuse to buy it on that level alone. Anything that is so sumptuously packaged should automatically set off your internal alarms. If it was so good, why would they have to waste so much money (and so many trees) on the package.

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A real litmus test for spotting someone not in the know about wine is that they’re  drinking Krug, Dom Perignon, Cristal or anything from Veuve Cliquot. Savvy bubbly buyers are drinking grower Champagne selections from Terry Theise, Becky Wasserman or other sharp importers. In the topsy turvy world of Champagne the less famous the brand the better chance you have of getting both a good wine and a fair price.

According to wine-searcher.com, the average price for NV Krug Grande Cuvée is $179. Here’s a wine IQ test: Do you buy three bottles of excellent Champagne from the explosion of wonderful grower bottled Champagnes on the market or one bottle of excellent famous Champagne in a fancy box?

Krug used to be the best, now it’s just one of the pack.

Starting Out Stinky

Pee ychampi.jpgew - burnt match aromas, even a bit of rotten eggs. What a wine! Well after a few minutes anyway.

The 2006 Domaine Fouet Saumur Champigny is a beautiful cabernet franc. Spicy and fresh with brush strokes of wild herbs and tiny wild strawberries as it lifts and refreshes the palate. Lighthearted, but not unsubstantial, it is charmingly just powerful enough to let you know this is a serious wine, but is confident enough to not hit you over the head with its own self-importance. This is the kind of wine it’s so hard to find produced outside of Europe. Flat out delicious.

The thing is that, like so many wines like this, when the cork is popped and the wine is first poured into the glass they can be a bit stinky. The free sulfur, which is added to virtually all wines, can be a bit pungent as it takes some time to escape (blow off) and for the slight reductive characteristics of the wine to open and clean up letting the real character of the wine show through. Wines like this are waiting for something. Like a genie waiting to get out of his bottle, minimally processed wines, like this excellent Saumur Champigny, are waiting for oxygen to finish the winemaking process. After five minutes the sulfur had disappeared. After ten minutes the fruit unfurled itself in the breeze and after fifteen minutes I had an exceptional, exciting and rewarding wine in my glass. Yes, I had to wait, but if they scrubbed it clean in the cellar before bottling this wine would have never reached the pure complexity it achieved by being a bit stinky for the first few minutes. Cramming wine into a bottle is a torturous process for a natural wine. To live for a long time in the bottle it needs to be deprived of oxygen. To fully live again it needs time to breath and let the clean air back into its lungs. You have to wait for such wines to catch their breath before drinking them.

We live in a time when consumers expect things to be squeaky clean with no effort on their part. To achieve this we give up a lot. When you cut off all the edges of a wine you end up with round, dull wines. The winemaker can really only complete 95% of the winemaking process. That last five percent is up to the consumer. If you can’t become part of the winemaking process and contribute to the last steps required to finish a wine you’re doomed to industrial wines with the souls ripped out. They may be clean, but they have no heart. On the other hand, if you are willing to become part of the winemaking team and finish the job by serving the wine properly you’ll enter a whole new world of wine, which you are a part of instead of being passive spectator. Natural wines need time and care and only you can complete the process started by the winemaker.

Heirloom tomatoes may look ugly, but they taste great. Natural wines can be a bit stinky at first, but with a little patience they blossom into beauties. Superficial charms do not make delicious wines or tomatoes.

Deep Roots

eiffel hippie I arrived in Strasbourg with great excitement as it was my first visit to France. After months in Austria and Germany drinking the best beer I’d ever tasted, for my first meal in France I thought I should try the beverage that France was famous for and ordered a pitcher of Edelzwicker in an inexpensive Weinstube. That was it for me. For the next month I drank carafe after carafe of, what I discovered later, was the most ordinary wine the French could make. It mattered not, I loved it.

That was 1973 and I was just a student “studying” in Europe. Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours has asked us to go back to our vinous roots for this fourth anniversary of his creation, Wine Blogging Wednesday, a monthly project focusing the wine blogging community on one topic. The roots of my love of wine run deeply back over thirty years ago to my first adventure outside the United States. After Strasbourg I spent a month traveling around France drinking wine, none of it of any pedigree, but that mattered not to my virgin palate, which, having been nurtured in the puritanical Mid-West had never been exposed to the tawdry culinary temptations indulged in daily by Europeans. The trip concluded with a week in Paris, where being essentially penniless, I subsisted by going to the store and buying the cheapest wine I could buy, which I took to the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. That park was filled with hippies and for the price of a bottle of wine you could join in luscious communal meals of fresh bread, sausages and whatever people would bring. These simple repasts were the most exciting meals I had ever tasted. In some ways they still are.

Feeling quite sophisticated on my return to America I sauntered into a store to buy a bottle of wine and suddenly realized I didn’t know a thing. These wbwlogo wines had actual names! So I purchased The New Signet Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff and there was no going back. Soon I was blind tasting jugs of Almaden Claret and Burgundy and rating them: points and all.

Lenn’s topic taking us back to our roots caused me a dilemma. True to the saying, “you can’t step in the same river twice” I realized that the wines that were the roots of my lifelong love of wine don’t exist anymore. From the simplest to the most complex wines no one is making wines that taste like they did thirty years ago. The dramatic advancements in winegrowing and winemaking has transformed wines in the last decades. I’m not just referring to “spoofulated” wines here, but also to natural wines made with minimalist interventions. Even considering that many producers have taken this new knowledge to extremes and are producing exaggerated wines with no individual personality you cannot deny that overall today’s wines are superior to the wines of the past. Faults like Brettanomyces that were accepted in the good-old-days are now rejected by even casual wine drinkers. We are truly in a golden age of wine quality. Wines have never been better, but then every generation since the first wine was enjoyed can make that claim.

While wines may be better than ever, I confess I miss the naivety and openness with which we were able to learn to love wine. These were the days before wine became a big business, before distributor consolidation and before there was a 100 point scale to define not only what wines to drink if you’re in-the-know, but to precisely rank them. In those days a fledgling wine publication called The Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine rated its top wines with one, two or three “puffs”. It was a softer time indeed.

As I enter my fourth decade of paying attention to the wines I drink, I seem to find myself more-and-more drawn to wines that take me back to my roots and the style of the wines I learned to love in the 1970’s. I’m not talking about those simple country wines of my first visit to Europe, although they still have a soft spot in my heart, but to the wines I started to buy after reading Alexis Bespaloff’s wonderful introduction to the wines of the world. Elegant Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, Chianti Classico and Dolcetto d’Alba are more likely to grace my dinner table than wines normally found higher on the point scale. I just can’t separate wine from the food I’m having and am more interested in bottles that enhance and elevate my dinner than those that can win blind tastings.

The greatest thing about the wines from my youth is that they aged beautifully, which is something that today’s cleaner, more fruit-driven wines still have to prove. I’m lucky to have a small collection and still have bottles from those days. Recent wines I’ve had from my cellar include a 1981 Girard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1980 Fisher Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1978 Monsecco Gattinara, 1978 Prunotto Barolo and 1981 Domaine de la Pousse d’Or Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets, which were all wonderful wines. For better or worse, not one of these producers makes wine today in the way they did when they made these wines.

The only way I can go back to my roots is to try to remember how these wines tasted when I first bought them. Yet, I don’t think my memory, filtered through all the wines I’ve tasted since then, is unbiased enough to remember them as they really were. That’s fine with me. I’d rather remember them through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, just as I do those “wonderful” wines I drank under the Eiffel Tower thirty-five years ago. Those wines were certainly the most important wines I’ve ever tasted as they gave me the gift of every wine I have tasted since then.

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Wine Notes: IPNC 2008

Tasting all the wines at IPNC is probably impossible and, as at all large events, a challenge. I did my best concentrate and taste as many wines as possible, but I'm sure I missed a few gems. Tasting Burgundy amid the many New World wines was certainly difficult. The tight, young French wines could be easily overlooked among all the lush, forward New World wines. Oregon was particularly lucky as most were showing the fruit-forward, easy to like 2006 vintage wines, which showed very well in such conditions. Below are some of my favorite wines from my tasting notes. Wines from the seminars are listed in separate posts.


Recommended wines from the 2008 International Pinot Noir Celebration:


Australia

  • Bindi, Block 5, 2006 - Brilliant, fresh and loaded with up-front fruit.
  • Frogmore Creek, 2006 - Leaner and more compact than expected, nice balance with a long elegant finish.

Austria
  • Wiengut Fred Loimer, Dechant, 2006 - Delicate, floral and impeccably balanced. Refined pure pinot noir.

France-Burgundy
  • Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Domaine d'Ardhuy, 2006 - Lush, exotically spiced, but still tight with a firm structure that needs time to resolve.
  • Marsannay, Les Faviéres, Domaine Charles Audoin, 2005 - Lovely spicy lively minerality with zesty sweet tart cherry fruit, needs just a year or two more. Charming and delicious.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Champs Pimont, Maison Champy, 2005 - Great style and richness, but closed tight as a drum. Very good potential.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Teurons, Domaine du Chateau de Chorey, 2005 - I have always loved wines from this estate for their refined purity. They consistently make wonderful pinots and this does not disappoint. A classic, refined Chateau de Chorey. Lovely now, but wait a bit please.
  • Ladoix 1er Cru, les Corvées, Domaine Chevalier Pere et Fils, 2005 - These lesser known appellations in Burgundy have become a treasure trove. Perfectly balanced with a firm backbone that needs a few more years to show its best.
  • Bonnes Mares Grand Cru, Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair, 2006 - A contender for wine of the event, but it's a bit expensive for that. A gorgeous pinot noir in a class by itself. Great finesse in a luscious, velvety package. Not nearly ready to drink, wait ten years please.
  • Volnay Robardelle, Domaine Huber-Verdereau, 2006 - Tight, tight, tight. It's so hard to show very young Burgundy, but I think this will be a very good wine in four or five years.
  • Volnay, Vendanges Sélectionnées, Domaine Michel Lafarge, 2005 - A coiled spring of a pinot noir waiting to explode. When the acids and tannins come into harmony what a wonderful wine this will be.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Bressandes, Domaine Albert Morot, 2006 - A silky pinot noir with great style and length. The tannins are still a bit too hard, but soon this will be a charmer. Very lively.
  • Aloxe Corton, Clos de la Boulotte, Monopole, Domaine Nudant, 2006 - So tight it's not funny. Somewhere under all that structure is a good wine biding its time.
  • Pommard 1er Cru, Philippe Pacalet, 2006 - A stunningly elegant pinot noir with firm tannins that close down the finish. This will be excellent in a few more years.
  • Gevrey Chambertin, Vielles Vignes, Domaine Marc Roy, 2006 - Very tight now, but what promise! One of those wines that is so complex and complete in all its aspects that you know greatness awaits. There's real potential for this to become an outstanding wine.
  • Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Trapet, 2005 - Very fine, long and complex. Alas this is another wine that was very closed. However, I believe it will age into a beauty.

New Zealand
  • Felton Road 2007 - An explosion of concentrated red fruit essence. The intensity of the fruit almost puckers your mouth with its bittersweet punch. Hard not to like.
  • Pegasus Bay 2006 - Very tight with a mineral and red fruit focus. Excellent length and balance. Very stylish and elegant.  A year or so more will bring out more complexity.

California
  • Cobb Family Wines, Coastlands Vineyard, 2006 - A very impressive wine. Great complexity and a refined, yet rich character. A very graceful pinot that glides across the palate. An excellent effort.
  • Hirsch Winery, Hirsch Vineyards, 2006 - Wonderful structure and texture with elegant flavors highlighted with just a bit of that funk that works so well in some pinots. I'd love to put some of this away for a few years.
  • Littorai Wines, Mays Canyon Vineyard, 2006 - Here's a pinot that's unabashedly from California and I like that about it. Rich, smoky, oaky and dense, but it all comes together in an hedonistic package that is irresistible. Still closed and unresolved I really suggest at least two or three more years of aging.

Oregon
  • Adelsheim Vineyard, Elizabeth's Reserve, 2006 - This wine is so balanced, elegant and refined that you may want to drink it now, but wait a few years and you'll be rewarded. I wish more Oregon producers would respect elegance and complexity as represented by this lovely pinot.
  • Belle Vallee, Grand Cuvée, 2006 - Rich and fruit-forward, but with plenty of complexity. Belle Vallee continues to offer some of the best values in Oregon pinot noir.
  • Broadley Vineyards, Marcile Lorraine Vineyard, 2006 - This was my wine of the event. An almost perfect pinot noir that combines elegance and power in the way only pinot can. Outstanding complexity and length. A stunning wine that absolutely grabbed my attention amid all these great wines.
  • Coelho Winery, Paciência, 2005 - The best pinot I have tasted to date from this winery and they seem to be headed in the right direction. The firm structure suggests a few more years in the bottle before enjoying.
  • Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Willamette Valley, 2006 - Style, style and more style. An Audrey Hepburn of a wine that is certainly the most elegant Oregon pinot I have tasted from the fruit-forward 2006 vintage.
  • Panther Creek Cellars, Freedom Hill, 2006 - A solid step forward for Panther Creek and the nicest pinot I've tasted from them lately. A bit on the oaky side, but a lot of people like that. Rich, smooth and forward enough for drinking now, but it will be a lot better next year.
  • Raptor Ridge, Raptor Ridge Estate, Aldalfo's Block, 2006 - A rich, big pinot with more than enough backbone to carry its weight. Expansive and dramatic, but nowhere near ready to drink. Probably not a long-term ager, but please wait a year or two as a lot is going on in this wine that needs to evolve to show its best.
  • Scott Paul Wines, La Paulée, 2006 - With a tip of the hat to Burgundian structure, the fruit-forward character of the 06 Oregon vintage soon shows itself. A lovely wine of beautiful red fruits with just a touch of chocolate and black truffles. Delicious.
  • Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills Estate Cuvée, 2005 - Like the Adelsheim and Drouhin, this is a beautiful, elegant wine. Certainly delicate by today's pinot standards, but here is a wine that embodies the refinement and delicacy that makes pinot noir unique. A really pretty pinot noir.
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A Deepening Hatred

corks There are certain wines you just treasure. You go to your cellar to get the bottle with a sense of pleasure and anticipation. Often these bottles are rare. You have just a few bottles, or, even more exciting, it's your last bottle.

Most wines that give me such feelings are red, but in this case it was a bottle of white wine. I was only able to get a few bottles of the current releases from Domaine Alice & Olivier De Moor's wonderful domaine in Chablis. The star of the group was the 2005 Chablis Bel Air et Clardy, of which I got only two bottles in my allocation from Chambers St Wine Merchants. The first was exceptional. Tight and firm with a delicious minerality and never-ending finish, it was everything you could hope for in a chardonnay.

Now I know I should have waited. I should have let it age a few more years, but the crab legs were just too perfect and too fresh and I could not resist. Off I went to get the bottle with the excitement I mentioned above. I pulled the cork, poured the wine and raised the glass to my nose. It was so corked I almost gagged. No little corkiness here, but a glass full of smelly, offensive junk.

I am developing a deepening hatred of corks. Enough is enough.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I have enjoyed, most under $20.

Veneto Bianco IGT, Anselmi, San Vincenzo, Italy, 2006 - The lovely light gold color is a proper prelude to the balance of this excellent wine. So few producers get the concept of balanced richness in white wines. Substantial without the least bit of heaviness or cloying fruit or oak, the smooth creamy texture has just enough bite to keep it refreshing. As usual this wine is a tremendous value offering far more complexity than almost anything at this price point. Best of all, the second glass is better than the first. ( find this wine )

Riesling, Bergterrassen Fedespiel, Johann Donabaum, Austria, 2006 - A delicate flower of wine. A lacy mixture of floral and mineral. This is a style of wine that just does not exist outside of Austria, Germany and Northeastern Italy. If it does, I have not tasted it. Lean and delicate, this is one of those wines if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss all it has to offer. The finish is dry, but mellowed by the lovely fruit. (find this wine )

Riesling, Private Lumpkin, Lazy River Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon, 2006 - While inspired by Old World Wines, you’ll know right away this wine is from the New World. Richly aromatic with ripe apricots and pungent petrol notes, this wine is quite lush with a bit of sweetness accentuated by its fruit-forward style. Not for aging, but perfect for the best Asian cuisine you can find.

Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Essence, S.A. Prüm, Germany, 2006 - All charm and pleasure in this nice riesling for everyday drinking. Just off-dry, but with plenty of acidity to keep it alive, this is a wonderful wine for summer parties or for just keeping in your refrigerator for a glass when you get home from work. A very good starting place for those that don’t know the pleasures of riesling as it’s inexpensive and easy to find. One of those nice wines to enjoy without thinking too much about it. ( find this wine )

Nebiolo (yup, one b) d’Alba, Cappellano, Italy, 2003 - This is just a wonderful bottle of nebbiolo that is an amazing value. Unfortunately they don’t make enough to make it easy to find. Try Chambers St. in Manhattan and cross your fingers. A classic nebbiolo with lifting aromatics laced with tar, spice and that taught floral character only nebbiolo achieves. Still tannic and closed, it will improve for many years. Better than many expensive Baroli for a fraction of the price. Great wine from a great producer. Imported by Louis/Dressner

Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley, Skipper’s Cuvee, Dobbes Family Estate, Oregon, 2006 - This wine makes you wonder why more pinot noir producers are not looking more seriously at Southern Oregon. While the majority of top Oregon pinots are from the Northern Willamette, this wine is so good it should pique the interest of quite a few producers. Richly colored and very aromatic, it exhibits the classic cool climate personality that brought growers to Oregon in the first place. Compared to the price of most Oregon pinots these days this is a great bargain. ( find this wine )

Washington Red Table Wine, Three Wives, Remy Wines,  2006 - Young winemaker Remy Drabkin is someone to watch. Her tiny production under the Three Wives and Remy labels may be hard to find, but I suggest you try to get on her mailing list now. This release, a kitchen sink blend of Bordeaux an Rhone varieties from Washington is a very nice wine at a very nice price. Rich and brightly fruity, this is a great wine for sausages fresh off your grill. Remy has done a great job of crafting a distinctive wine with a clearly Northwestern style.

Rosso Orvietano, Rosso di Spicca, Tenuta Le Velette, Italy, 2005 - I love little Italian wines like this charming wine. Light, with an earthy fruit and lean, zesty character, it’s a perfect wine for simple pastas or pizza. Best drunk with a light chill in stubby bistro glasses on a warm Wednesday night, on your patio, with a dinner you quickly whipped together. Better yet it only costs about ten bucks.(find this wine )

Châteauneuf du Pape, Les Bartavelles, Jean-Luc Columbo, France, 2006 - Since Châteauneuf became a wine region on steroids, much loved by the Barry Bonds steak house crowd, it’s been hard to find a Châteauneuf you can drink with out blowing your palate and the next day. Here is a very nice wine, not a great wine mind you, but a very nice wine that is a pleasure to drink. Make no mistake this is not a light wine, but by New World standards it is quite restrained. With an alcohol level around 13.5% (many hotshot CdP’s push 16%), this is wine that can be drunk with ease and you can still go to work the next day. Most importantly, this is not a simple raspberry fruit bomb, but a wine that offers real varietal character and a rich earthiness and balance that is clearly and thankfully French.

Veneto Rosso IGT, Catullo, Bertani, Italy, 2002 (60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% corvina) - Normally I can stand these new wave Italian wines, but this is a very nice effort. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon overwhelms any touch of corvina character, but what I like is that that the wine is not overdone. You can taste the oak, but it is not over-oaked and is not at all over-extracted and still actually tastes like it not only came from Italy, but the Veneto. A nicely balanced wine that will pair well with lamb or veal. It is mature and ready to drink.

Moulis, Château Maucaillou, France, 2003 - It was with a tinge of sadness that I opened my last bottle of this excellent Bordeaux, but it was only a tinge. This wine, like most 2003 Bordeaux, is ready to drink. Frankly, I think letting wines from this super-hot vintage age is a very bad idea. The wines are lush and easy without the definition that is the hallmark of classic Bordeaux. Wonderfully fragrant, rich without ponderous fruit and with a long, soft cedar spiced finish I just adored this wine. As befitting the a last bottle of good Bordeaux, I served it with the best lamb chops I could buy. ( find this wine )

Pinot Noir, Corral Creek Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Chehalem,  Oregon, 2001 - I know that the 2001 vintage forced Oregon producers to a more lean style, but I admit that I love these wines as they age and wish more producers would make wines like this in more forgiving vintages. The nose is wonderfully layered with orange peel, spiced wild cherries and touches of wildflowers, vanilla and tart blackberries. Firm and almost taut on the palate with a graceful, almost delicate character with hints of tar, candied bitter orange and wild strawberries. I think this wine is perfectly ready to drink now and , in fact, may be at its high point. The tannins on the finish have evolved into that dusty, silky texture than only pinot noir achieves. A very good wine at its peak. ( find this wine )

 

Burgundy: Scott Paul Selections New Releases

scottwrightFamily2005 Those of you that read my post last last March know that I am a fan of Scott Wright's (pictured left with his wife Martha and daughter Pirrie) wines. He makes wines under the Scott Paul label in Oregon's Willamette Valley and selects and imports some very fine Burgundy as Scott Paul Selections. What I love about the wines that Scott both makes and imports is their purity. They are wines made with a delicate hand that respects the vineyards from which they come. Balance, grace and refinement are the best descriptors of his wines. The easiest place to obtain these wines is probably directly from Scott Paul, which you can contact by email or by phone at 503-852-7305. If you're lucky enough to stop by their tasting room in Carlton, you'll find some of his French selections available on the tasting bar right next to his own wines from Oregon.

  • Crémant de Bourgogne, Domaine Huber-Vedereau - 100% pinot noir and you can taste it. At $22 this is an amazing value, unfortunately only 100 cases were produced so grab a case while you can. The flavors and aromas are more fruit driven than yeasty lees driven, but there's more than enough toasty character to keep it interesting. Very long and bright with a creamy texture. Lovely bubbly.

  • Champagne Brut Réserve, Domaine Marc Chauvet - Here' a Champagne very high on the "wow" meter. Grower Champagnes like this are so much better than the big commercial brands that it's embarrassing. This is a wonderful wine with a lifting brightness powered by bubbles and brilliant citrus flavors laced over a complex base of fruit and toasty lees. A finish designed to exercise your saliva glands. 65% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay 100% delicious ($45)

  • St. Veran, Champ Rond, Domaine Thibert Père & Fils, 2006 - Firm, crisp and mineraly with a bright green apple and honeysuckle fruitiness, this charming chardonnay is a great bargain at $24 as it clearly displays some of the best characteristics of the more expensive Burgundian chardonnays to the north. Match with some fresh dungeness crab and you will find inner peace.

  • Gevrey Chambertin, Clos Prieur, Domane René Leclerc, 2006 - There is a wonderful grace and purity in this very fine pinot. Starting shyly at first, as befits its youth, the flavors grow and expand until you are totally seduced. The refinement in each aspect of this wine is very impressive with silky, but firm tannins tying everything together in a perfect package. It needs three or four more years to really open. For a Burgundy under $50 there is a lot going on in this wine. ($44)

  • Pommard 1er Cru, Clos de Derriére St. Jean, Domaine Violot Guillemard. 2006 - The expected tannic punch never arrives in this surprisingly silky, velvety young Pommard, which is an AOC that usually packs structure to spare. However, this wine is still very closed and demands aging so it is not a wine to buy for dinner this weekend. I believe this will age into an outstanding wine.  As it comes from Burgundy's smallest Premier Cru vineyard at a ¼ acre and produced only 23 cases, I think it's worthy or getting the aging it deserves. As you are unlikely to find this in a floor stacking at SafeWay, I suggest you contact Scott Paul ASAP. ($75)

  • Echezeaux, Domaine Jean-Marc-Millot, 2006 - Here's pinot in all its glory. Richly textured, velvety, silky and endlessly aromatic with flavors that never seem to end and this wine is just getting started. Perfect color, beautiful fruit and richly complex tannins show everything that makes pinot great. (Price: if you have to ask...)

  • Romanée St. Vivant, Grand Cru, J.J. Confuron, 2004 - I tasted this wine last March, and it's just as beautiful and just as nowhere ready to drink as it was then. Given five or so years, this will be an outstanding wine. ($225)

  • Pinot Noir, La Paulèe, Willamette Valley, Scott Paul Wines, 2006 - Not every American winemaker would like to show his pinot after such a line-up, but Scott Wright obviously knows his own wine. While he is not trying to make Burgundy in Oregon, you can tell what his palate has been honed on. While more fruit-forward and flowery than the preceding Burgundy selections this very fine pinot noir displays the balance and grace that brought winemakers from California to Oregon in the first place. While certainly drinkable now, I would wait a few years, which will bring out even greater complexity.

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Mac Farmer's Market

lions mane mushrooms The farmer's market is back in McMinnville. Over the winter you slowly forget how wonderful such small things can be. Just a block long with maybe two dozen producers, markets like this hold treasures supermarket buyers, including Whole Foods et al, can't give us. Every Thursday now through late fall you'll find me at the market.

Today's treasure was lion's mane mushrooms. As usual, each visit to a farmer's market I approach without a recipe in mind, letting the local provenance guide me. With the beautiful mushrooms  I added to my bag some fresh organic eggs, chives and the excellent aged Gouda from the Willamette Valley Cheese Company. Warm crusty baguettes from the Red Fox Bakery, just picked greens and a pint of fresh strawberries from a small organic farm guaranteed a perfect dinner.

The meal could not have been simpler:

For two:

4 or more large lion's main mushrooms (or other meaty, flavorful fresh mushroom) chopped into large chunks

2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A small wedge of aged cow's milk cheese like Willamette Valley Cheese Company's aged Gouda cubed

Minced fresh chives

Salt and pepper

5 large eggs with salt and pepper beaten lightly with a fork - using good eggs is very important so look for eggs with yolks that tend more towards orange than yellow

  • Smash the cloves of garlic, add  2+ tablespoons (depends on how big the mushrooms are) good extra virgin olive oil to a non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat (don't let it smoke), add the garlic and cook until golden brown, but not burnt, then remove and discard
  • Continuing over medium high heat add the very coarsely chopped lion's main mushrooms to the hot oil and stir fry for one minute.
  • Add beaten eggs, chopped chives, cubed cheese salt and pepper and scramble until just cooked
  • Serve immediately with fresh salad and bread

To match with this very local food I strangely enough grabbed a bottle from far, far away. The 2006 Domaine de La Gramière Côtes du Rhône, which is produced by two Americans, Amy Lillard and Matt Kling, who are living a dream that many of us have as they are living and making wine in France. I had resisted opening this wine for almost a year now as I felt it really needed a little time to come together and my patience was well rewarded.  The wine has broadened and gained more complexity and aromatics. This is one of those wines that is big to the French, but medium bodied to Americans. I love the meaty, smoky butcher shop aromas this wine has developed along with the bright, ripe black fruit flavors. I think it's going to get better for another year or so, but now that it's this good I don't know how I'll keep my hands off of it that long! La Gramière is imported by Kermit Lynch.

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California Burgundy

heartyburgundy Here's a riddle for you: When can you make Echezeaux in California? The answer: You can't, you have to wait until California comes to Burgundy. That's exactly what happened in 2003. I was living in Italy that year, our house tucked into the foothills of the Alps, and we baked for months. The television was full of the horrible news from France as thousands died from the heat. Burgundy was not one of the fatalities of that hot summer, but the vines and the wines did suffer as they did throughout Europe.

My gracious host for dinner last Saturday, winemaker Tony Rynders, brought me back to that sultry summer when he pulled a bottle of 2003 Echezeaux Domaine Dujac (find online) from his cellar. I admit I can't help but be thrilled by the appearance of a Dujac at any time.

Let's make no mistake about it, this is a very fine pinot noir. However, there is little to remind you of Burgundy, much less Echezeaux in this wine. Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but at $200+ a bottle I think picking a few nits is allowed. This is big pinot in the California style and I don't mean that as a criticism of the California style, although I prefer it in my California wines and not my Burgundy wines. While touches of stemmy whole cluster fermentation lighten the wine in a blind tasting you'd be hard pressed to spot this as a Burgundy. This comparison is interesting because it does not so much put down the Echezeaux as remind you how good the best California pinot noir can be.

While the best vintages are always from warm years, which produce ripe grapes that become rich, complex wines, it is also true that more is not better especially when it comes to pinot noir. Extremes of all types overwhelm terroir, in this case erasing Echezeaux and replacing it with an excellent pinot noir of indeterminate origin. As I remember the brutal and deadly heat of that summer it is amazing that Dujac produced a wine as good as this very hearty Burgundy.

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