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Eating Budapest

Budapest_cover_mdIt was a smooth flight with an abrupt ending. I had the feeling that the pilot had daydreamed a bit, woke up, looked down and seeing the airport immediately below pointed the nose down. The angle was steep, but no one seemed to notice so I went along with the flow. So it was, with the rush of landing on an aircraft carrier, that I arrived in Budapest. I was there for wine, of course, and after a quick lunch at a traditional Hungarian restaurant we were off in a car for the long drive out to the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region in Northeastern Hungary, home to the legendary sweet wines of Tokaji, in this case the sublime wines of Oremus.

This was my first visit to Hungary and, while anticipating the culinary adventure I was thrown into a new and unfamiliar food culture. I could handle a menu in Western Europe, but as I gazed at the menus here nothing rang a bell, nor did it to my compatriots, one of whom ordered two courses at a dinner one night. His first course arrived, which was a beautiful and delicious smoked trout. After a short wait his main course arrived, which was two beautiful and delicious smoked trout. Thankfully he loved smoked trout.

After several days of fabulous sensory overload in the cellars of Tokaj, my wife and I headed back to beautiful Budapest for a small vacation. Armed with the few travel guides we could find we ate badly at tourist restaurants for the rest of the weekend. As usual, the guidebooks and concierges fail the devoted gastro-tourist.

The big travel guide books, Zagat included, badly let down the traveler that seriously wants to seek out the best local food and wine, but I was recently introduced to a wonderful set of guides for travelers that are as serious about wine and food as seeing the next cathedral. Publishers The Little Book Room offer a collection of guides that will lead you to the best tables in town. Their two current releases, Best Wine Bars and Shops of Paris by Pierrick Jégu with photographs by Caroline Rose and Food Wine Budapest, by Carolyn Bánfalvi with photographs by George Konkoly-Thege, which is part of The Little Book Room’s The Terroir Guides series, will make any gastro-tourist salivate. This latter guide took me wistfully back to Budapest where having this book would have made a tremendous difference in our experience of that beautiful city.

Best Wine Bars and Shops of Paris can be tossed in a backpack or purse and the extensive list of wine bars is conveniently listed by arrondissement so you can easily find a great glass or bottle of wine as you wander about the city. It’s light, fun and packed with pictures. Food Wine Budapest, while bigger and heavier, is still backpack size, but contains far more information. In addition to being a guide book, it also is a thorough primer on all things culinary in Hungary, which means that you can depend on not ordering the same dish for first and second course like my friend did. This is a must-have for anyone on their way to Hungary.

Guides like these make travel a delicious adventure.

 

Find these books on Amazon: Food Wine Budapest Best Wine Bars of Paris

Bet You 10 Bucks

bardolino-le-fontane I’ll bet you ten bucks you’ll love these two wines. They both cost ten bucks each on top of it.

Now that I think it about I should reconsider. I could be out the $10 and I’d prefer to have a another bottle of either of these two simply beautiful wines.

  • Sauvignon, Marigny-Neuf, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, 2007 - A bone jarring, slap in the face refreshing style of sauvignon blanc. Lovers of New Zealand sauvignon will love the ample “cat pee” punch, but there is more here with a bracing slate and mineral component. This is better than brushing your teeth as your mouth will never feel cleaner than it does after a gulp of this tart beauty. A baby Sancerre that longs for goat cheese or oysters.
  • Bardolino, Le Fontane, Corte Gardoni, 2006 - Light, almost delicate with a pure, simple clean fresh cherry nose and a lifting freshness on the palate driven by acidity and perhaps a bit of CO2. Lithe and quick from beginning to end, the mouthwatering finish makes you grab for your fork. Don’t think: eat, drink, talk and enjoy - preferably a bit chilled with your best homemade pizza. (Buy Online)

So I’m taking back my $10 bet as these wines are both too light and too acid driven for most consumers. Yet these are the types of wines I like for everyday drinking. They are not only moderate in alcohol, but so refreshing and uplifting with a meal that Wednesday night leftovers become a cause for celebration.

 

Bargains

muzak Sometimes it’s embarrassing as an American to taste the incredible range of bargains available for under $15 from Europe and compare them to American wines at the same prices. The boring standardization of the American wine industry in this range is numbing. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different labels, but in the bottle you find only dozens of styles. As you stare at shelf-after-shelf of American cabernet, merlot or chardonnay in your local grocery store you can reliably just pick the one that’s on sale as they are all more-or-less the same wine. However, with just a little more work you can find an entire world of wine bargains that offer far more character than these homogenized industrial wines. It’s important to remember that these bargain reds should be served cool, 65°F or so, to bring out their freshness.

The red wines listed below are all under $15 and many of them are under $10. All of them were purchased in grocery stores, not fine wine shops, so it is possible to find them. Each has character, if not complexity, and best of all, they are great with food. Inexpensive American wines have become the elevator music of the wine world, wines like these are the original tunes.

  • Château Bouissel, Fronton, Classic, 2003 - Southern French estates offer some of best bargains out of France. This wine is substantial without being heavy and with the structure coming from the negrette will improve for a year or two. Rich and warm with a dark color from the malbec the tannins in the finish make this perfect for rich stews. Cassoulet anyone? 50% negrette, 20% syrah, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cot (malbec) Imported by Normandie Imports
  • Covey Run, Syrah, Columbia Valley, 2004 - What we have here is an American Côtes du Rhône and that’s a great idea. Ripe and juicy with a soft fruitiness that should please any merlot drinker. Don’t think, just drink and you’ll love it. At $6.99 a great bargain. Drink up fast and cool. (Buy online)
  • Fattoria Laila, Rosso Piceno, 2005 - Marche wines continue to be ignored Italian treasures in America, but that keeps prices down. This blend of montepulciano and sangiovese is a classic Italian red with a firm acid backbone and warm earthy flavors over the bright black cherry fruit. This matched with my penne with lamb sausage ragù perfectly.  Imported by North Berkeley Imports and Zancanella Importing. (Buy online)
  • La Ferme de Gicon, Côtes du Rhône, Vignerons de Chusclan, 2006 - This is just an amazingly easy wine to gulp. Rich, zesty, fruity and alive this is a wine all about honest simple pleasure that is happy to leave complexity to the big boys. This is a buy by the case wine at under $10 that will match with any summer meal. A half-hour in the refrigerator is mandatory and during the dog days of summer I’d serve it out-and-out chilled. Imported by Cellar Door Selections  (Buy online)
  • Villa Pigna Briccaio, Marche IGT, 2003 - Briccaio - Here is a step up on the complexity meter as it not only offers easy drink-ability, but some real character. Showing the breed of montepulciano, from which it is entirely made, this wine combines classic Italian backbone with a generous personality. A great match for your best grilled steaks. Imported by Zancanella Imports (Buy online)
  • Quinta da Espiga, Casa Santos Lima, Estremadura, 2006 - Portugal continues to pump out great wine bargains. This is a big, robust, deeply fruity wine and is a real mouthful. Those that like bigger wines will love this $8 steal. These dry Portuguese reds almost remind me a bit of what Port would taste like without the sugar.
  • Bodegas Luzon, Jumilla, 2006 - 65% monastrell (mourvèdre) 35% syrah - A big lush, ripe modern-style Spanish wine that will seduce many a merlot lover with its soft richness. Another wine for steaks or chops at your next cookout. A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group
  • Regaleali, Tasca d”Almerita, IGT Sicilia, Nero d’Avola, 2006 - I have always found the big players in the Sicilian wine scene, Regaleali and Corvo great values. They offered personality and typicity at a fair price. While these wines have modernized a bit over the years they have not gone down the road of becoming more like Australian wines than Italian wines taken by so many Sicilian producers. This wine has great backbone, good varietal character and, most wonderful of all, tastes like it comes from Sicily. Imported by Winebow   (Buy online)
  • Clos Roche Blanche, Cuvée Pif, Touraine, 2004 -  I first tasted the 2004 back in September of 2006 and it keeps getting better and better. It’s hard to imagine a wine more lifting and filled with personality at this price. This wine is for those looking for grace and elegance in a wine. Originally I recommended drinking this cot (malbec) cabernet franc blend early, but obviously there was no hurry. Imported by Louis/Dressner  (Buy Online)
  • Protocolo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 2005 - Usually Ordoñez selections tend towards the modern school of Spanish winemaking, but here is one with a more traditional style. Very fragrant and flashing a touch of spicy/sweet American oak its ripe red fruit flavors are held taught with just a touch of tannin. With a more classic European style and balance this is a great match for gilled lamb chops or sausages.  A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group  (Buy online)
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Pair of Fives

 

    pair of fives Brilliance is a word that can mean many things: luminosity, intelligence, perfectly executed and, when it comes to flavor, lively and electric. All of those things come together in these two seductive, brilliant wines that are great values to boot coming in at under $25.

    • 2005 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, Imported by Louis/Dressner Every time I’ve served this wine each person at their first sip is taken back for a second as they ponder what has crossed their palate. Each knows that they have experienced something special. This is an extraordinary wine is that is is just so alive that it makes you take more pleasure in living. Concentrated elegance and finesse. (Buy online)

    • 2005 Bourgogne, Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Joseph Voillot. Imported by Vintage ‘59 Imports – Anybody who thinks there are no great values coming out of Burgundy be prepared to be proven wrong. This racy, bright pinot noir also comes packed with loads of flavor and complexity on its rather electric acid frame. Here’s a pinot that can both sing and dance. A short stint in your cellar of two or three years will give you quite a bottle of pinot. (Buy online)

    A pair of 5’s may seem a long shot to those that think a lot of chips are required to get great wine, but sometimes a pair is all you need. These days it’s hard to imagine such a winning hand at this price range from anywhere other than France.

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Wine Notes

Recent tastes I’ve enjoyed, all under $20 except for the Barolo, which is about $40:

  • Isola de Nuraghi IGT, Perdera Argiolas, 2004 - Produced 90% from the monica variety, this is a wonderful bargain in a wine that actually has a distinctive character. No great wine here mind you, but a very interesting drink.  With just enough earthiness to keep it interesting and enough bright fruit to make it charming. A nice wine with hearty home cooking.
  • Barolo, La Morra, Mauro Molino, 2003 - Modern Barolo that manages to still taste like nebbiolo. Not my favorite style, but still a well crafted wine. Like most modern Baroli, it is approachable now, but should evolve into a better wine with more age. What I like about this wine is that it is still clearly nebbiolo in character as they did not try to erase all the edges of the wine.
  • Barbera d’Alba, La Morra, Mauro Molino, 2005 - Big, juicy modern Barbera that puts a velvety coating on your tongue then slices it with a acid stiletto. I’ve never had a real problem with the modern style of Barbera as the natural brilliant acidity, bright fruit and low tannins of Barbera marry well with oak. Loads of charm here, although California palates may find the acidity shocking, but by Piemonte standards it’s tame. What’s important is there is a lot of pleasure right up front in the wine and there is more than enough acidity to be great with food.
  • Nebbiolo, Langhe, Castello di Verduno, 2006 - This wine is nothing short of an outstanding bargain that you should grab cases of as soon as you can. It is a pure, classic Piemontese nebbiolo with all the tar and roses you could want. Not at all ready to drink (although I can’t resist it) and those with enough patience will be rewarded with a lovely wine. No it is not Barolo, but it’s darn close and better than many more expensive wines that (mis)use the name Barolo. Nebbiolo aficionados will love the biting tannins and the unique angularity that is possessed by nebbiolo alone. With another 3 to 5 years this should be a beauty.
  • Nero d’Avola, Siciia IGT, Rossojbleo, Az. Agr, Gulfi, 2006 - Big, ripe and fruity. A great pizza and burger wine. This is the type of wine you want to have a case around of in the summer to serve with all those grilled meats. Lots of pleasure with no thinking required, Yummm…
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Farnese, 2005 - A very nice everyday wine. Well balanced, lots of fruit with more than a passing hint of complexity. Nothing fancy, just good wine. An excellent party wine. Sausages anyone?
  • Côtes du Ventoux, La Vieille Ferme, 2006 - Is there a better wine value out there for your house wine? At $10 and under a bottle this is a winner that’s always easy to find. On top of that its got a screwcap so there are never corked bottles to pour down the drain. Best served lightly chilled in large gulps.
  • Bourgogne Rouge, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Gevery Chambertin, 2005 - I’ve written about this wine often, but every time I open a bottle I want to write about it again. The only thing I can say is this wine is alive, which for me is the highest compliment you it give a wine. It is just so bright and lively it can’t help but seduce you.  A great pinot noir bargain.
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    Elegant Infanticide

    95 yquem The confident, tuxedoed waiter bends over and intimately intones, “Wouldn’t you like something a little sweet with your foie gras.” All to often, in America’s finest restaurants, the glass that arrives contains Château d’Yquem, the most famous of all dessert wines. I can’t count the times this has happened to me over the decades and, yes, I consider myself lucky to say that. As petty as it may seem, I have a problem with it.

    The problem is that there are two Château d’Yquem wines. One is the wine that promises to become d’Yquem and the other is the d”Yquem, which is something that only arrives with time.  The first is an excellent dessert wine, the second is a legend. Anyone who has tasted this wine at its zenith understands that d’Yquem does not become d’Yquem until, at a minimum, it passes its twentieth birthday. Before that this great wine offers only potential greatness, not greatness itself. Yet bottle after bottle of this outrageously expensive miracle are poured out in restaurants in the name of elegant infanticide. These restaurants and their sommeliers should know better than this, but do it anyway seemingly struck by the d’Yquem label, more like groupies following the lastest star in People Magazine than serious wine aficionados. To drink young d’Yquem is an intellectual exercise at best and a terrible waste of potentially sublime wine at the worst.

    Besides being a horrible waste of one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, it is also a disservice to their customers as there are many wonderful. perfectly ready to drink sweet wines that are more exciting to drink than immature Chateau d’Yquem. It seems to me that a competent sommelier should never be star-struck and serve a wine based only on its name with no regard to whether the wine is ready to drink or not: especially at this price level.

    The poor d’Yquem that died a early death a few nights ago was a 1995 Château d’Yquem, an incredible wine that is nowhere near ready to drink. While still tight and a bit pungent, you cannot miss the greatness simmering underneath that will require at least another decade to release itself and perhaps ten years after that to achieve its pinnacle. With current retail prices for this wine at around $200. it should not be hard to encourage you to sit on your investment so you really get what you paid for. Everyone should rise up to protect this great wine and defend it against the next sommelier that wants to serve it before it actually becomes d’Yquem.

     

    Scott Paul Selections: Pure Pinot

    scott%20paul.jpgPeople tell me it’s too confusing to buy European wines because of the myriad of place names. No place is worse than Burgundy when it comes to putting forth a seemingly impenetrable wave of place names and producers. When I hear this complaint I always suggest that people pay attention to the back label instead of the front. On the back label is the name of the importer who selected and shipped the wine. The name of the importer is a sure-fire indicator of the quality of the wine in the bottle. There are many names that, when I see them on the label, inspire me to try the wine. People like Rebecca Wasserman, Robert Chadderdon, Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, Rudy Wiest and Joe Dressner (Louis/Dressner) have guided me towards outstanding wines from all of Europe’s important regions for years.

    Now it appears there is another name to add to the list. Scott Paul Wright of Scott Paul Selections has been quietly assembling an outstanding portfolio of Burgundy estates that produce classic, purely styled pinot noir and chardonnay wines. A tasting of Wright’s selections will explain the concept of terroir to any doubter. Those familiar with Oregon wines will also recognize the Scott Paul name from his excellent winery based in Carlton Oregon where he strives to make elegant pinot noir inspired by his love of Burgundy. If you wonder why Scott didn’t call his winery Scott Wright instead of Scott Paul, you might remember there’s another outstanding winery and a winemaker named Ken in Carlton already using the Wright name.

    I have been tasting with pleasure his selections over the last two years and just attended a compelling tasting of some of his current releases.

    • Chablis Grande Vignes, Frédéric Gueguen, 2006 - Classic Chablis with a firm, tight minerality and a long, clean stony finish. While 06’s are considered more forward than normal for Chablis due to the warm vintage this wine will benefit from a few more years of bottle age. A real bargain. ($23)
    • Puligny Montrachet, Philippe Chavy, 2005 - Blended from four lieu dits vineyards of medium, but mature age. Thankfully the Domaine uses only 20 to 30% new oak so the complexity of the chardonnay grown in these fine vineyards can show through. Still lean and immature, this excellent Puligny displays all the best attributes of this commune. Clean, firm and mineral laden throughout, this will be an very good wine in about five years. ($48)
    • Meursault Charmes, 1er Cru, Hospices de Beaune, Cuvée Bahèzre de Lanlay,  2005 - Purchased at the Hospices de Beaune auction by Wright, this is a big, oaky (100% new) viscous chardonnay that will be well-liked by those more experienced with California Chardonnay rather than Burgundy. Despite all the oak, it is still a very good wine, but I don’t see it as something to cellar. ($55)
    • Chambolle Musigny, Les Sentiers, 1er Cru,  A. & H. Sigaut, 2005 - All the luxurious, delicious, supple pinot character that you expect from the Chambolle Musigny commune, which Wright unabashedly declares as his first love in Burgundy. The color is perfect pinot, rich and dark, but still completely translucent. The bouquet is perfumed and silky reaching your nose long before the glass is even close to it.  While ripe and substantial on the palate, it is still lively and zesty with a wonderful undercurrent of acidity elevating and enlivening the sweet fruit and textures. The finish is long and satisfyingly laced with smoothly textured tannins that promise many years of development. Certainly a wine that should be allowed to see at least its tenth birthday. An outstanding pinot noir. ($72)
    • Pommard, Réyane & Pascal Bouley, 2004 (tasted with dinner after the tasting and then with lunch the following day) Yet another 04 Burgundy requiring more time. At first a bit off from what I thought was a bit of reduction so I put the bottle away for the next day. At Easter lunch the following day the wine was lovely, but delicate. This, like most 04’s are Burgundy for Burgundy lovers. Those used to the more obvious charms of New World pinot will find them perhaps too delicate, but those seeking complexity instead of power will be pleased. Let another five years pass to give this wine a chance to open. If you are going to drink now an hour or two in a decanter will improve your experience. ($48)
    • Pommard, Platièries, Thierry Violot-Guillemard, 2005 - Perfectly lovely light ruby color that is quite translucent. Richly smoky with a dark, brooding black fruit character that is not prepared to show itself yet. Very structured and tannic at this point, as you would expect from a Pommard, this is a wine that not only requires, but demands significant aging to show its considerable potential. Somewhere around 2015 this should be an excellent wine. ($54)
    • Mazoyères Chambertin, Grand Cru, Taupenot-Merme, 2005 - As good as the other wines were, here you reach a new level. This is a wine that will show any Burgundy critic the error of their ways. Simply a stunning interplay of power and elegance, this is an extraordinary pinot noir. The complexity and terroir exhibited by this wine will keep New World pinot noir winemakers up at night wondering if they can ever achieve such wine. All baby fat and young tannin at this point, you can feel the rumbling greatness that will rise in this wine with time. The aromas and flavors are velvety and exotic with touches of smoky oak and bittersweet chocolate. This is another wine that should not be opened before 2015. ($110)
    • Romanée St. Vivant, Grand Cru, J.J. Confuron, 2004 - Following a flashy 05 Grand Cru is not an easy position for a 2004, even one as good as this wine. The 04’s seem closed and lean now as they have yet to awaken from the “dumb” stage all natural Burgundy passes through on its journey to maturity. This and the natural lean character of the 04 vintage make this a wine easy to underestimate and I think that would be a mistake. While lacking the power of the Mazoyères Chambertin I think it does not lack in complexity or character. Despite its tightness, the flowery fruit is spiced with a touch of bittersweet orange zest. This is another wine that demands rather than suggests aging. The price should be enough to get most consumers to treat it with such needed respect. This is not a wine for Burgundy novices, but experienced collectors will love it. ($225)

     

    Super Bowl, Super Wine, Super Food

    superbowl_mainpic Having been on the run quite a bit lately, Super Bowl Sunday seemed to be a good day to stay home, get organized and pamper myself with a bit of food and wine. I decided to spend the day with one wine. That way I could really taste the difference time (both for the wine and me) and different foods would make on my perception of the wine.

    Sunday morning in McMinnville Oregon is a quiet time. As I am a early riser, it is very quiet. The lone bookstore is the only outlet for The New York Times, which is a pleasure I indulge myself in for several hours every Sunday morning I can, but they don’t open until ten, which is a long time after I awake. However, that’s not a problem as they deliver the stack of papers on the sidewalk in front of the store early and all I do is slide my $5 bill though the crack in the door and slip my Times out of the stack. Then I make a quick stop at the wonderful Red Fox Bakery for an espresso (Illy), a decadently buttery pastry and a warm baguette to go. Then fortified by caffeine, sugar and butter I head for the grocery store to see what’s fresh.

    Today’s plunder included a Oregon black truffle the size of a big cherry tomato, some organic eggs from a local farm and some naturally raised local lamb leg steaks from Anderson Ranches. Some wonderful things to pair with the bottle of the day: 2006 Morgon, Terres Dorées, Jean Paul Brun. Anyone who knows anything about wine knows that when you pull the cork on a bottle of Brun you are in for something special.

    After three hours with my nose in newspapers and my ears on the Sunday morning political talk shows, a hunger pang sent me to the kitchen. I decided to braise the lamb, making a pasta sauce for a weekday dinner in the process. This is the recipe for the lamb:

    • 2 lamb leg steaks
    • 6 cloves garlic minced
    • 1 onion diced
    • 2 carrots diced
    • 2 stalks celery diced
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
    • 1 cup dry red wine
    • 1 - 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes ( I recommend Muir Glen)
    • Flour
    • Salt and Pepper
    • 4 tablespoons olive oil

    Prepare the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and rosemary. Liberally salt and pepper the lamb steaks and thoroughly coat with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan (use a pan with a cover) at medium high and when the oil is hot, brown the lamb steaks on both sides and remove to a plate. Reduce heat add all the chopped vegetables and herbs and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes. Add back the lamb and pour in the wine. Return the wine to a boil for one minute then add the canned tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for three hours, or until the meat is falling away from the bone. Reduce the sauce if too thin. Serve with a big scoop of polenta or mashed potatoes and a generous helping of sauce over each steak. Reserve remaining sauce for pasta on another night. Serves two.

    That done for dinner and the Super Bowl, I addressed the hunger at hand and made lunch. The eggs, truffle and a bit of brie was all I needed to make a special omelet:

    • 3 eggs (please try to find fresh eggs with yokes that are more red/orange than yellow)
    • Several ounces ripe brie with the skin removed
    • 1 black truffle
    • Salt and pepper
    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

    Whip the eggs with a fork, salt and pepper to taste. Shave the truffle into the thinnest possible pieces. In a non-stick saucepan melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, when melted add the truffle slices and cook for one minute and then remove to a plate. Add the remaining butter to the pan and add the eggs, pushing back from the edges and letting the uncooked eggs run under the set eggs. While still runny, add the truffles and brie to one half of the eggs then fold the other half over the top. Let cook briefly, not letting the omelet brown too much and slide onto a plate as soon as the brie starts to melt. You want the eggs to be barely cooked, not dry. Serve immediately with a tossed salad. Serves one.

    Now for the wine of the day, 2006 Morgon, Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun. This is a brilliant wine, bright and fresh, but not at all simple as it is compellingly complex from start to finish. At lunch it was stunning with the truffle omelette with an elegant character that did not overwhelm the eggs, but with touches of earthy complexity under the bright fruit that brought our the best in the truffle. The truffle also brought out the best in the wine. This was a great Sunday lunch. Some six hours later, with my weekend domestic duties behind me and the rich smell of the braised lamb filling the house, at the start of the third quarter I returned to the table and the bottle of Brun Morgon. Needless to say, this was a very different food and wine combination, but the Morgon did not miss a beat. While the omelet brought out the delicacy of the wine, the lamb seemed to bring out the power. Such is the beauty of fine Beaujolais. With the lamb the backbone of refined acidity combined with the richness of the fruit flavors to elevate the whole meal. What was most interesting about the Morgon is that it did not change a bit in the course of being open the whole day. While the food changed the experience of the wine, as I could tell when I tasted it on its own before both meals, the air had not changed the wine at all. This stability means that this wine will grow and expand for years to come.

    The wines of Jean-Paul Brun remain undefeated, unlike the Patriots.

    Wine Notes

    Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

    • Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, Roederer Estate, 25th Anniversary, NV - I’ve had this very nice sparkling wine many times lately; several bottles at home and then one interesting experience at a wine bar. First for the wine bar experience; my local wine bar was offering both the NV Roederer Champagne Brut and the Anderson Valley Sparkling, but having had the Anderson Valley recently I, against my better judgement, ordered the Roederer Champagne. I say against my better judgment because few wines are more disappointing these days than big name Champagne. However, I took one sip and was blown away by the quality of the Roederer Brut. Not so fast, I soon found out the bartender had poured me a glass of the California Roederer by mistake. She quickly followed up with a glass of the real Champagne, which, as usual, was lackluster. The Anderson Valley Roederer continues to be an outstanding American sparkler and is clearly superior (and less expensive) then their Champagne.
    • Champagne, Grand Cru 100%, Blanc de Blancs, Reserve Brut, Guy Charlemagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, NV - High strung and very toasty, this is a delicious and complex Champagne that shows the best of chardonnay in Champagne. The aromatics are delicate, but not a bit shy with a steely froth that races across the palate, stopping just long enough for a compelling finish. Although I prefer the big Bouzy Champagnes, this is an excellent wine and a bargain at $46. This is a one of those Champagnes that can handle caviar.
    • Riesling Kabinett, Selback-Oster, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 2006 - I enjoyed a bottle of this lovely wine over four days as an aperitif when I arrived home from work. I swear after four days in the refrigerator this wine hardly changed a bit. Such stability is a tribute both to their winemaking and winegrowing. Only perfect grapes can produce such harmony. Beautifully fragrant with honeysuckle and spices, it took effort to pull your nose out of the glass to take a sip. That sip delivered pure charm and seductive white peach and ripe pear flavors laced with tart citrus and a lovely touch of sweetness. No thought required here, just up-front delicious pleasure. Nice screw-cap, I’d drink this up young and fresh.
    • Riesling, Alsace, Albert Boxler, 2004 - This is it, riesling right on the money. No-over-the-top, off-dry, high alcohol, quasi-dessert wine from Alsace here, but a big, rich wine that maintains respect for the variety and vineyard from which it came. On the fuller gold side of color with a rich nose touched with hints of figs laced with bright apricot with touches of crisp apple that continue into the complex layered flavors. It is rich and expansive on the pallet without becoming dull as it maintains a racy, crisp essence under its substantial girth. I enjoyed this thoroughly with some of my own crispy fried chicken.
    • Monferatto Rosso, Braida IL Banciale’ di Giacomo Bologna, 2004 (60% barbera, 20% pinot nero, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot) - Not so long ago I had a bottle of the most expensive wine Bologna produces, which I did not enjoy. Yet here is one of their least expensive wines and it was a delight. Earthy and fragrant with great complexity and balance, it was delicious with a very buttery mushroom risotto at Bice. Oddly enough, the cabernet and merlot hardly show in this wine as the backbone is all barbera and the aromatics and elegance all pinot nero. I really enjoyed this wine, which only really seemed to open with the last glass.
    • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pra di Po, Germano Ettore, 2006 - This is simply a wonderful dolcetto that I intend to buy a few cases of as soon as possible. I recommend you do too before it’s gone. This wine is all about hedonistic pleasure over the next two years, although I doubt any bottle I have will make it that far. I salivate thinking about the beautiful bright wild dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and aromas intermingled with hints of black truffles, new leather, sage and lavender. All of this is held together by racy acidity and some silky tannins that bring all the fruit intensity into perfect harmony.
    • Barbera d’Asti, Roberto Ferraris, 2006 - This is one of those stealth wines. It seems pleasant enough at first, but by the time you finish your second glass it has you hypnotized. What is amazing is no matter how long you leave it open it just seems to get better and better. I finished the last of a bottle that had been open for three days tonight and it was flat out wonderful. This is not a big wine, it is exceptionally balanced and the underlying complexity requires you to pay attention and introduce yourself before revealing everything. I’ve opened three bottles now and I would suggest decanting this wine for an hour before serving if, like me, you can’t resist drinking it. What this wine is not is a jammy, oaky ultra-purple barbera like so many make these days. If you can, give it a few years in the bottle and you’ll have something special.
    • Gigondas, Bertrand Stehelin, 2004 - Big and beautiful is not easy to do, but this wine achieves it. The aromas and flavors are richly pungent, bringing to mind an old fashioned butcher shop where the aromas of raw meat mix with sawdust and smoke. Intermingled with all these carnivorous sensations are ripe wild blackberries, an engaging warmth and round tannins that give it a nice backbone. I served this wine with some braised, bone-in pork loin and all three of us enjoyed the experience. While obviously too young to be at its best, this is a wine that just draws you into its sumptuous experience and you find yourself savoring each drop as you finish your glass after the meal is done.

    Carbonnieux

    Chateau-Carbonnieux I still remember the experience clearly. I walked into the wine shop, armed with my new found expertise provided by Alexis Lichine and Alexis Bespaloff, and purchased my first ” serious wines” to age. The year was 1977 and the wines were 1975 Château Carbonnieux Blanc and 1971 Rouge. They were priced outrageously at about ten bucks a bottle. I bought three bottles of each and placed them with honor in the new, but still empty, racks I had constructed in the unused coal bin in the cellar of the old house I lived in at the time. I had selected these wines because of the lovely stories provided by two famed Alexis’ about the Château and its wines. I kept the reds for many years and the whites for at least two or three years before pulling the corks. The precise tasting notes have long ago left my memory, but I remember them with pleasure and a certain sentimentality.

    This warm recollection has led me to order many a bottle of Carbonnieux over the years. More often than not I drank the Blanc as it was widely available and a staple on wine lists. However, those days are long gone and I haven’t seen a Carbonnieux Blanc on a wine list for a long time, but suddenly there it was on the list yesterday at lunch and I could not resist the warm tug of nostalgia and ordered a bottle of the 2004. The Carbonnieux white wine vineyards are planted to 65% sauvignon blanc, 34% semillon and 1% muscadelle and, although the semillon is the junior partner, its smooth creamy oily textures dominate the blend, while the sauvignon blanc provides lift, highlights and zest to the finish. Considering the improvements in winemaking at this estate over the last decades, it’s safe to assume that these are far better wines than I drank in the past. While there are more profound whites from Graves, this is a lovely wine with a character that easily flows across the palate. In addition, the 12.5% alcohol maintains the liveliness of this wine instead of letting the dense oily character of overripe semillon make the wine heavy and dull. This Grand Cru was just labeled Graves when I first drank it, but the wine is now part of the prestigious Pessac-Léognan Appellation, which was first created in 1987.

    This trip down memory lane made for a very pleasant lunch. Like, music, wine can also transport us to a different time and place.

    Wine Notes

    Recent tastes -

    • Champagne, André Clouet, Silver Brut Nature, Grand Cru Bouzy, NV (under $45) - Clouet has rapidly become one of my favorite Champagne producers. Rich, creamy, toasty, complex and intensely dry. This is a wine that would be hard to explain to those used to the more innocuous flavors of industrial Champagne producers. Great bubbly.
    • Champagne, Delavenne Père & Fils, Cuvée Rose, Grand Cru Bouzy, NV (under $45) - Lots of flavorful pleasure here, but what impresses me most about fine Champagne are the wonderful textures and the creamy frothiness that coats your palate with complexity and pleasure. Bouzy seems to be the epicenter of complex grower Champagnes. The lovely copper color is a inviting prelude to the bright wild strawberry fruit with a lively frothy texture and a long creamy finish. An excellent wine.
    • Semillon, L’Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, 2006 - Big oily, yet dry and bracing. Too bad the alcohol is a bit over the top. Semillon continues to be one of Washington’s most interesting whites. Lobster and crab come quickly to mind when you take your first sip.
    • Rioja, Remelluri, 2001 - Just as you would expect there’s plenty of oak here, but it somehow seems to work in Rioja. Very aromatic and spicy with a great balance and an interesting intertwining of sweet oak, tar and ripe bitter cherry fruit. Though thought of as a modern-style Rioja, it seems almost old fashioned compared to today’s fruit bombs. A very nice wine that is more than interesting to drink.
    • Barbera d’Alba, Marcarini, Ciabot Camerano, 2005 - This is a wonderful barbera. A beautiful deep ruby with an expansive nose redolent of wild blackberries it is deeply flavored, yet lively and zesty. The combination of power and depth with an almost electric back bone make this an extraordinary pleasure to drink.
    • Barbaresco Riserva, Pora, Produttori del Barbaresco, 1999 - I always feel the worship that surrounds the Produttori wines is a little excessive. While dedication to the traditions of the Langhe are to be respected, some traditions are better left behind. The Produttori wines always seem a little hollow compared to other fine traditionalists who have found ways to stay true to the integrity of their vineyards and nebbiolo while bringing to the forefront more fruit character. That’s not to say I did not like this wine, which I did, but these wines are mostly good bargains as compared to being great wines. That being said, this is a very good nebbiolo, although the fruit has already dried out leaving little to balance the substantial remaining tannins. It certainly will be interesting for many years, but will never attain perfect balance.

    More Old Bargains

    Yet again it happens. The best deal on the list is an older wine. This time is was Hermitage, Paul Jaboulet Aîne, 1999, which was going for $67 a bottle on a list filled with current vintages for bigger bucks. This wine is perfectly ready to drink now, with earthy aromatics, firm structure and the long enticing finish that only arrives after all the sweet young fruit loses its baby fat. What was striking about this fine syrah was its balance and refinement. Syrah loses its complexity when producers feel the need to supercharge its already robust character. In this wine you can actually taste syrah. The most corrupted varieties in New World winemaking have to be syrah and pinot noir as winemakers have turned pinot noir into syrah and syrah into port.

    I Remember When...

    clicquot-loveseat-1_12 I remember when it was easy to buy two of my favorite beverages, Champagne and Cognac.  A few decades ago you could hardly go wrong with either no matter the brand available. They were the perfect start and finish to any evening. The big brands were the best brands and wines like Veuve Clicquot Brut and spirits like Remy Martin were liquids to be contemplated, not just quaffed. Today these labels are more suitable for cocktails than snifters or flutes and are both brands to be avoided as bad values.

    I always like to have bubbly in the fridge and enjoying an effervescent glass while cooking is a nightly preference. Lately, in addition to Venegazzu Prosecco, I’ve been buying the Spanish Cava brand Cristalino in both its Brut and Brut Rose versions at $7 a bottle and in all honesty prefer them both to Veuve Clicquot Brut. Many nights I also have a weakness for adding a dollop of Campari to my nightly bubbly aperitif and the Cristalino Brut is both financially and spiritually open to this experience. While the Clicquot is equally refreshing and enjoyable with Campari, the fact that it is five times the price makes the experience at least ten times less enjoyable. Buying Clicquot is getting way up there on the list of wines to buy only if you don’t know what you’re doing.

    At the end of a rich dinner, few things are more necessary than a spirit to spur the digestion. That’s as good of a rationalization as any for letting yourself enjoy the warmth and good feelings brought to you by a fine brandy. It used to be that Remy Martin V.S.O.P was the most reliable Cognac around as it was widely available, reasonably priced and of excellent quality. Unfortunately, somewhere over the last twenty years Remy V.S.O.P. devolved into a warm caramel syrup. Today there are few large Cognac producers worth their weight in the caramelized sugar product known these days as Cognac.  While there are some wonderful small producers in Cognac, there is only one direction to turn for fine French brandy: Armagnac. For some reason this region has never become cool enough to push prices out of range, while simultaneously pushing down quality. Over the holidays I picked up a bottle of the 1974 Bas Armagnac, Domaine Le Basque an exceptional estate bottled spirit from Christiane & Michel Lamothe for a bit more than Remy V.S.O.P. and a bit less than the Remy X.O. and in comparison this earthy, fragrant spirit makes Remy look like industrial brandy from California.

    Drinking Remy  and Clicquot used to make me feel stupid if I drank too much. Now they make me feel stupid to buy them at all.

    Wine Notes

    Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

    • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
    • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
    • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
    • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
    • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
    • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
    • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
    • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
    • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
    • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
    • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
    • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.

    Disbelief

    domaine bart I tasted the wine and could not believe it. Astounded I took another sip, then another and finally a joyous gulp. I still could not believe. I went back to my desk and rummaged through my papers until I finally found it. Even with the proof in front of my very happy nose I could not believe. Yet the truth could not be ignored. There printed on the receipt was the undisputable truth: $18.89. I still don’t believe it. They had even given me a 10% discount. What I got for $18.89 was an astounding pinot noir that I would have thought a value at twice the price.

    The Marsannay, Les Saint Jacques, Domaine Bart 2005 may be the finest pinot noir bargain I have ever tasted. At least it’s the best I can remember. You’d be hard pressed to find an equal for under $60. This is what pinot noir is all about. It is stunningly fragrant with layers of exotic spices, black fruits and black truffles all laced into a vinous magnet that attracts your nose to the glass and won’t let it go. The flavors are rich, concentrated and powerfully elegant. This is a wine that deserves respect and that means about five more years of pampered aging to allow the great potential of this wine to show itself.

    A wine of this quality at this price is a glaring indictment of all the overripe, variety and terroir-free New World pinot noirs selling for four times the price of this treasure, not to mention the many Burgundy wines with more famous names and prices that have no relationship to what’s actually in the bottle. We are entering a new era in the world of wine where wines with the highest prices and the most famous names are often some of the least interesting wines to actually drink.

    Now the only question is do I have the willpower to age my remaining five bottles.

    (pictured above: Domaine Bart) 

    A Vintage Bargain

    Etiquette-Boucherottes As a well seasoned business traveler I have the dining alone thing down. I have my magazine in hand and seek out the best meal I can find. One thing about dining solo is you get to really dig into those massive wine lists. Were you not dining alone the half-hour of study sometimes required, bouncing back and forth between the menu and the list, would not endear you to your dining companion. I am divorced after all. However, this night the magazine would not be required as a far more alluring companion unexpectedly joined me.

    As you dig into these big wine lists you get buried under the weight of the prices. Every bottle that catches your eye is both outrageously expensive and way too young. As my attention always drifts to the Burgundies and pinot noirs the shock of the prices of the available new releases is more often than not depressing. These stratospheric prices mean that a restaurant is certainly no place to experiment. One of the main advantages of solo wine list reading is you have time to do your research. Due to the bizarre world of the wine business today, often younger wines are more expensive than older wines and one of the best places to find bargains is older vintages. Obviously this is not always the case, but I have found many relative bargains on some wonderful wines with a few years under their corks that are perfectly ready to drink.

    One recent find was the 1998 Pommard, 1er Cru, Les Clos des Boucherottes, Monopole, Domaine Coste-Caumartin, which was selling for some $50 less a bottle than 2005 Big Point California pinot noir. This was a put-your-magazine-away type of wine as no other entertainment was needed. I stashed the magazine away and spent the meal with the scintillating company of the wine alone. It is moments like this that refocus your passion for wine. The Pommard was an otherworldly accompaniment to rich braised pork shank served buried under a small mountain of black winter truffles. As you sip on such a complex wine you can really feel the direct sensory connection of flavors to the pleasure centers of the brain. This is what great wine is all about. While still richly fruity, the black fruits are just giving way to an exotic spicy earthiness that both mirrored and amplified the fragrant truffles on my plate. I spent another half-hour lingering over a last glass and then shared the rest of the bottle with the captain and sommelier, both of whom had been drawn to my table by the bottle I’d ordered.

    We finished the last sips and I asked for the check, which arrived with a complimentary dessert and a glass of Kracher Beerenauslese, with which I toasted the late great Alois Kracher who just passed away.

    When a meal is perfect, you never dine alone.

    Two Bottles, Two Wines, Too Bad

    morgon desvignes I was looking forward to the arrival of my 2005 Morgon, Javernièes, Louis Claude Desvignes from Chambers Street Wine Merchants. I knew this was going to be great stuff without even tasting it so I grabbed some of the few bottles they had available. Now I know that this wine won’t even start to be ready to drink until next year and will be better yet in two or three, but, alas, I was weak and as soon as it arrived just had to taste a bottle. After all, I had five more bottles. I pulled the cork and into a big Riedel I poured my little present to myself to serve alongside some fragrant rosemary braised lamb. I lifted the glass in giddy anticipation of the gloriously gamy gamay glamorously gussied up in its beautiful purple robe. With great skill I swirled that swirl that takes years of wine swirling to achieve and put this treasure to my nose and inhaled with practiced precision prepared to experience every aspect of this fabulous wine. All this anticipation came to a grinding halt. The wine was just ordinary. I smelled again and again in disbelief. A few tastes confirmed my nose’s bad news. There seemed to be greatness hidden somewhere, but everything was strangely muted and the wine was more dead than alive. Then I picked it up, hidden in the background was a slight mustiness: the wine was corked. Just barely, but it was corked. With a heavy heart I reached for a corkscrew and pulled the cork on another bottle of my all to limited supply, which was now down to four. This second bottle not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them. This is an extraordinary wine with depth and complexity that many a Burgundy only achieves in its dreams. It is a substantial wine with a mouth coating richness and texture. The velvety tannins remind you that you should not be drinking this wine tonight, but in three to five years. Not surprisingly, this gem is imported by Louis/Dressner.

    These slightly corked bottles are an all too common problem. You taste the wine and it seems just not “right”. Often even in a group of experienced tasters, some may miss the corkiness and fault the wine instead of just the bottle before them.  Without a doubt most are consumed with the drinkers either ignoring the problem or just plain not recognizing the problem. When you get a bottle of wine that seems not quite right, give it a close second look. When your instincts tell you something is just not right, you’re probably right.

    I’ve been on a bad run over the last couple of weeks getting a corked bottle every few days. Screw caps are looking better and better.

    Think For Yourself

     

    beatlesthinkforyourself A big wine tells you what to think, while a more elegant restrained wine forces you to think for yourself. One happens to you, the other involves you; seduces you.

    A perfect example of a wine that invites you into such an experience is the 2005 Bourgogne, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Joseph Voillot. This is a wine that can only be described as vivaciously alive. The drinking of it releases its spirit and that essence flows into you. Is this a great pinot noir? No, but it is a wonderful one and a great value selling for under $30. It is also the perfect entry point for those wondering what all the angst surrounding the crafting of fine pinot noir is all about. Unfortunately all too many consumers are exposed to pinots that taste more like syrah than pinot and after that palate dulling experience can't appreciate the delicate flower that is pinot noir; that characteristic that no other variety can mimic. This is sad both for pinot noir, which is not very good at being big and for syrah, which is very good at it. With confused consumers using pinot noir as a syrah surrogate all too many fine syrah wines are ignored.

    The 05 Voillot Bourgogne is a delicate beauty, shy at first, but soon opening its full radiance to you. At a lilting 12.5% alcohol, today's sandblasted palates may not get it, but those whose taste buds still live will discover a myriad of haunting flavors and aromas that linger in a perfect balancing act that expands with every sip.  This is what pinot noir is all about.

    Coteaux du Languedoc, Domaine Le Pas de l'Escalette Les Clapas Rouge, 2004

    Zernott-Rousseau.jpgCoteaux du Languedoc, Domaine Le Pas de l’Escalette Les Clapas Rouge, 2004 Produced from old vines including the varieties ” Les vieux Carignan en gobelets complantés de quelques Aramon et Alicante Bouschet.” That’s right, not a noble variety there and the much maligned aramon, the bain of southern France is a respected component. Once again terroir and the passion of the growers create wonderful wine from varieties and vineyards that only produce commercial plonk for most others. Here owners Julien Zernott and Delphine Rousseau craft gorgeous wines full of rich fruit, complexity and irresistible pleasure.  Yet another under $20 wine that puts new world wines in this price range to shame. This wine has real personality instead of the cookie cutter industrial wine produced by American wine corporations who have learned that catchy names and cute labels go a lot farther with consumers than character.

    St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Vieilles Vignes, Joël Taluau, 2003

    It was a very busy week and the next is sure to be busier. I was happy to arrive home for a relaxing Friday night with a kitchen full of the bounty from this week’s farmer’s market. Dinner tonight was to start with some Insalata Caprese made with some local heirloom tomatoes absolutely bursting with flavor followed by a grilled Carlton Farms pork chop sented with fresh thyme from my garden and corn-on-the-cob so sweet that it may have been better suited to dessert.

    From the cellar came a bottle of St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Vieilles Vignes, Joël Taluau, 2003 and just as I pulled the cork and served the caprese Bill Maher came on HBO.  This lovely cabernet franc washed down both the meal and the political commentary beautifully. An hour later, at the end of the show and the meal, I noticed that the bottle was three quarters gone while I was not. Yet another of the pleasures of drinking wine with moderate alcohol, in this case 12.5%.

    This is an easy, seductively charming wine with concentrated mouthwatering fruit. There is complexity here, but that’s not the main attraction, which is the zesty purity of the fruit. Produced from vines closing in on their 75th birthday, these old vines speak eloquently for themselves without requiring artificial amplification from oak or other manipulations that would only distract.

    By the way, this wine cost less than $14. What did you drink with dinner tonight and what did it cost? If you’d tasted this wine you’d feel a bit ripped off. Me, I’m very happy.