Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The New Rosé

As I was drinking Aubry’s 2000 Sablé Rosé on Sunday morning for breakfast (eggs over-easy, thick-cut bacon, fried potatoes, homemade biscuits—after all, I am in America), I thought about how much the world of rosé champagne is changing. In the past, rosé used to be almost an afterthought for many houses, involving a blend of some red wine into the basic non-vintage brut without much real creativity about it. Sure, a few houses made some serious, ageworthy rosés with a great deal of personality (such as the lovely 1981 Cristal Rosé I had the privilege of drinking on Christmas), but by and large, rosé champagne became treated as a fruity, easygoing wine, often with an excessively high dosage, made mostly for the export market. Today, rosé has the capacity to be much, much more than that.

The Sablé Rosé is a fine example of a wine that is expanding the definition of what rosé champagne can be. Made by a very light maceration of pinot noir, its color is adjusted with one or two percent of red wine before it’s blended with chardonnay, usually around 40 percent. It’s made with a very low pressure, only four bars instead of six, which seems to accentuate its intense vinosity of fruit, and it’s released with an extremely low dosage, giving it an austere and penetrating intensity. This is certainly not a wine for everyone, and in fact many wine drinkers might not like it at all, but it’s an exceptionally well-made champagne, one that pushes boundaries, explores possibilities and asks questions. Also, even though it contains 40 percent of chardonnay vinified en blanc, it’s a highly original wine that operates firmly within the world of rosé champagne, and it really has nothing to do with its white counterpart. The 2000, at eight years of age, seems to have reached its apogee, and I don’t see any advantage in aging it further. The color has dropped out a little, appearing slightly more coppery in tone than it was when this wine was released, but the fruit is still fresh and lively, showing a full, confident depth of aroma and balancing a taut core of strawberry and redcurrant flavors with more mature notes of wood smoke and exotic spice. It’s delicious and intriguing, and if you’ve still got any bottles hanging around in your cellar, I would drink them up, with pleasure.

Aubry’s Sablé has a personality all its own, but there are a number of other rosé champagnes that demonstrate a similarly unbridled originality, vinosity and depth of character. Cedric Bouchard’s Le Creux d’Enfer and Bertrand Gautherot’s Saignée de Sorbée are two of my favorite rosés in all of Champagne, and they are both single-vineyard, vintage-dated, macerated rosés of rare expression and conviction. What’s additionally interesting is that while they each come from very different aesthetics, they are both arguably the finest, most complex and most emblematic wines of their respective estates, and regarded as such by their creators. Selosse’s rosé can also be appreciated within a similar context of originality, as could the as yet unreleased rosés from Olivier Collin and Jérôme Prévost. Larmandier-Bernier’s Rosé de Saignée is certainly one of the most original rosés in the region, feeling more like a light red wine in its intensity and depth, while Laherte’s Les Beaudiers is a fascinating, single-vineyard saignée that’s less widely known now but sure to attract more attention in the future.

Wines like these definitely represent an extreme end of the category, and even if some of these are a little too weird and wild for you, the world of rosé champagne has a great deal to offer. Among more approachable wines, René Geoffroy’s saignée rosé is an unabashed celebration of Cumières pinot noir, with its bold fruitiness and extroverted flavors, while across the mountain in Ambonnay, Paul Déthune’s offers an equally poignant expression of terroir. Vilmart’s vintage-dated Grand Cellier Rubis possesses a rare elegance and aristocratic finesse, and in the category of what could be called “blanc de blanc” rosés—those that are made by adding red wine to pure chardonnay—Agrapart’s Les Demoiselles demonstrates an exemplary balance and purity. Moving into the mainstream, even négociant houses are upping the ante with high-quality offerings of rosé, and so far I’ve been impressed with the non-vintage rosés from both Bollinger and Charles Heidsieck. Rosé champagne is a category of wine that’s definitely on its way up, and no longer a second-class citizen of the region—there are many wines that are worthy of serious attention, and rosé champagne still has new territory to continue to explore.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Buddy System

There’s something to be said for opening a single bottle of wine and savoring it by itself over an entire evening, appreciating it for its individuality of character. At the same time, when I drink a really great bottle of wine, I often find that I enjoy it most when it’s drunk alongside another wine that relates in some way. This is not to qualitatively compare the two, as most people mistakenly believe when I say this. I’m not really interested in which wine is “better”. Rather, I find that it gives me a greater understanding of each wine, by establishing a wider context in which to place it. It might not sound like much, having a sampling of only two wines, but it’s surprising how often the conjunction of two wines will trigger an idea or a memory that might not have occurred if they were experienced alone.

Dinner at Castagna in Portland, Oregon, last night with a small group of friends is probably not a good example of this, as we were perhaps a bit decadently excessive, but I did think about this idea throughout the course of the evening. Our selected theme was nebbiolo, as it’s one of our favorite things in the whole world, and no further stipulations were given, so between the six of us, a rather haphazard and intriguing assembly of ten wines appeared on the table. In attempting to arrange some sort of reasonable approach to attacking all of these, we decided that it would be interesting to pair up a number of wines.

Getting directly down to business, we opened with two Barbarescos from 1964: a lovely, perfumed Franco Fiorina, which showed an amazing expansion of aroma on the palate and an intensely floral, rosy fragrance; and a Francesco Rinaldi, which was much more corpulent and meaty, possessing rich aromas of dried porcini and hung game. The 1964 vintage was outstanding in Barbaresco, with some producers considering it to be the finest of the decade, and I’ve always thought of it as having a somewhat generous and aromatic character, which was certainly expressed in these two examples. (A third Barbaresco, the 1961 Pio Cesare, seemed to be lonely and all alone without a partner, but it turned out to be terrible anyway, very pruny and stewed, with unpleasant volatility.)

We moved on to an unlikely pairing of Barolo, resulting from two stellar wines that didn’t have immediately obvious relationships to any others, yet this turned out to be one of my favorite periods of the evening. The 1978 Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo was superb, still youthful and far from optimal maturity, but showing a subtly graceful refinement and a kaleidoscopic, tar- and truffle-infused complexity. Even more viscerally alluring was the 1964 Marcarini Barolo Brunate Riserva di Famiglia, which, if I were tied down and forced to choose, would be my candidate for wine of the night. Utterly gorgeous in its silky, elegantly floral perfume, it finished with an amazing sense of dimension, complexity and completeness, a wine that seemingly takes over your whole body with its subtle grip and profound aroma. I was very surprised to see the alcohol listed on the label as 14.2 percent, as its perfect balance and harmony made it feel more like 12—in fact, it seemed distinctly lighter and more delicate than my memories of the “regular” Marcarini Brunate from 1964. At first glance, these two wines, while both delightfully thrilling to drink, might have seemed too completely different from each other to create any sort of dialogue between them, but as we savored them over the course of the evening, I realized that the relationship here was one of terroir—the Cappellano was likely all from the Serralunga side of the appellation, with its Helvetian soils of limestone and sand, while Brunate is on the Barolo side of the valley, where the soils are Tortonian limestone and marls. Even taking into account the wildly different personalities of the vintages involved, tasting these two wines together emphasized the somewhereness of place in each, highlighting the perfumed Brunate finesse in the Marcarini and pointing out the firm, rigid demeanor of the Cappellano, part of which was indicative of 1978, but another part of which seemed very Serralunga in character. I could be mistaken about the Cappellano’s origins, as I believe that he was purchasing grapes at this time, but as far as I remember the Barolo of the late ’70s should have come largely from Gabutti. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. The wine certainly tasted like a Serralunga Barolo.

I could have spent all night with those two bottles, but we did have more wine to drink, after all, beginning with a pair of wines from 1958, my favorite Piemontese vintage of all that I have ever tasted. Nothing against other great years such as 1947, 1971, 1978, 1985 or 1989, but the wines from 1958 have a particular resonance, completeness and dimension that always makes my heart beat just a little faster. The 1958 Franco Fiorina Barolo demonstrated the character of the vintage perfectly, with its lithe, fragrant finesse and its seamless harmony, feeling like a perfect sphere in its balance of components. This was another of my favorites of the night, a magical, otherworldly wine. The next 1958 was a Gaja Barbaresco, which was missing its label—had the label been present we might have put it with the other Barbarescos, but having forgotten about it, I was happy to see it here alongside the Franco Fiorina. Silky, floral and elegant, it also clearly demonstrated the character of the vintage, especially in its perfumed and expansive aromas on the finish.

I’ve written before about older Barolo from Giacomo Borgogno, and I was very much looking forward to our next pair of wines, Borgogno’s 1958 and 1947. Unfortunately, this bottle of 1958 was flawed, showing an unpleasantly varnish-like volatility that rendered it undrinkable. It was a great pity, needless to say, as I’ve loved this wine in the past. While I thoroughly enjoyed the bottle of 1947, it was a good example of this wine rather than a great one—it showed finesse, youthfulness and grace, but not the complexity and profundity of aroma that I’ve experienced in previous tastings of this. But that’s just being nitpicky.

We closed the evening with a 1952 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno, which was a lovely way to finish up. It was classic Monfortino in character, still primary and youthful, with a broodingly rigid build and a long, vividly intense finish. Yet while it was a fantastic wine, and thoroughly, insanely pleasurable to drink, it served to emphasize my point about drinking wine in pairs. It was a wine of obvious class, but I felt that it didn’t show quite the complexity or the multi-dimensional aroma that I remember in the 1955 or 1958 Monfortinos, and I feel that I would have had a more complete understanding of this wine if we could have tasted it alongside another vintage of the era. That’s just the purely selfish greed of my inquisitive curiosity talking, however, and as old vintages of Monfortino have become extremely rare and costly, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to taste it at all. Great wines are great all by themselves too, after all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Finally


I’ve arrived in wintry Portland, after three days of waiting, and I can finally relax with a glass of champagne, courtesy of my friend Pete. Hope all of you are having a merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santoka Ramen

I’m supposed to be in Portland, Oregon, at the moment, seeing friends and drinking amazing wines. Unfortunately, nature isn’t cooperating (nor is Delta Airlines, for that matter), so I’m marooned in NYC for a few days. Fortunately, there is plenty of ramen here to keep me occupied.

I finally made it out to the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, New Jersey, on Sunday. The idea of a real Japanese market (something larger than, say, Sunrise) was in itself alluring enough, but the true goal of my journey was Santoka, the ramen shop inside the market. Now, we’re not in Tokyo, mind you, but ramen here in New York City inspires fairly heated debate nevertheless. (Unfortunately, the debate is not always very well-informed, but that’s another story.) With the arrival of first Setagaya and then Ippudo, the idea of NYC ramen has become exponentially more intriguing. There are some people, however, who maintain that Santoka is still the finest ramen in the NYC area, and I was keenly interested in putting this opinion to the test.

While Santoka serves shoyu ramen and miso ramen, the specialty here is shio ramen, flavored with salt rather than soy sauce. (Apologies for the poor photography, taken with my iPhone as I didn’t have my camera with me.) My bowl of shio ramen was slightly on the smallish side, although still acceptable for $7.89, and came adorned with fairly standard accompaniments of chashu pork, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, scallions and a slice of pink-and-white fish cake. (Plus a little umeboshi in the middle, which, quite frankly, I could do without.) The chashu was very good, but rather on the lean side—perhaps better to bring out the chashu flavor, but somewhat less satisfying in the pure porky goodness department. Still, it was delicious, and the next time I go, I will definitely take the option of super-sizing the porky portion for a few cents more. The shio broth was satisfying, lighter in body and distinctly less complex in flavor than that of Setagaya, but with a pleasing balance and harmony. The noodles themselves, though, seemed out of place in the overall context of the bowl, as they were disappointingly industrial and very ordinary in character.

Overall, Santoka is better than anything in Manhattan that starts with an “M”, but the finest ramen in the NYC area? I can’t see it. Granted, an assessment based on one bowl of ramen is hardly fair, and I would certainly go back to Santoka for further exploration. But the lackluster quality of the noodles alone should disqualify it from contention as the greatest ramen in the area. The broth doesn’t reach the heights of either Setagaya or Ippudo (those are two very different things, but they each attain a higher level within their respective styles than Santoka does), and the chashu is a bit lean, although you might like that if you are averse to pork fat (in that case I might question why you were eating ramen in the first place). I would certainly go to Santoka if I were shopping at Mitsuwa—I might consider it mandatory, in fact—but it’s not worth a special trip from the city.

On a completely random note, I managed to get a photo of my four year-old nephew Luca (who has not yet been initiated into the glories of ramen), polishing off a bowl of natto (fermented soybeans) and rice, a bold maneuver that makes him braver than many people ten times his age. Makes an uncle proud.


Santoka, Mitsuwa Marketplace, 595 River Road, Edgewater, NJ

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wine of the Week: Inflorescence La Parcelle Brut Blanc de Noirs 2001

This week, I’m very proud to have a guest posting on my blog for the first time ever. Naturally, I wouldn’t trust just anyone to write on my blog. But brooklynguy, who writes one of my favorite wine blogs, always has astute things to say, and I welcome his contribution. We had dinner together in NYC this week, and among the many wines we drank together was this wonderful La Parcelle by Cédric Bouchard, which I have asked him to write up as my Wine of the Week. The current release of La Parcelle is the 2001, although this is not stated on the label, and curiously, the entire 2,000-bottle production was released exclusively in Japan and the United States, so if you live outside of those countries you won’t be able to find this wine, unfortunately. Cédric Bouchard’s Inflorescence and Roses de Jeanne champagnes are imported into the United States by Polaner Selections, Mt. Kisco, NY; Triage Wines, Seattle, WA; and Vintner Select, Mason, OH.

The following is brooklynguy’s review of this wine, presented entirely as he sent it to me, without edits or amendments:



I’m quite proud to write as a guest here on Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel. A bit intimidated—this is, after all, the finest source of Champagne information on the internet. But I will do my best to share with you the Wine of the Week: Cédric Bouchard Champagne Inflorescence La Parcelle.

Even within the group of hipster grower/producers, Bouchard is doing some unusual things in Champagne. First of all, his wines are always based on a single vintage—no reserve wines are used. Even when the label says NV, the grapes used all come from the same summer. And even more mavericky, Bouchard makes only single vineyard wines. Yes, this is common everywhere else. No one talks about the Burgundy producer who makes wines individually for each vintage, and from individual vineyards. They all do that in Burgundy, and most everywhere else. Not in Champagne. Only a few producers offer even one single vineyard wine, although that number is rising.

This is not to say that single vintage, single vineyard Champagne is intrinsically better than other wines. Cédric Bouchard’s wines would most likely be fantastic and compelling if he were to blend vintages and parcels. It’s Bouchard and his good land, his great farming and vinification that makes these wines excellent. And in the end, there is something special about drinking the wines and knowing that you drink one specific time and place in the Aube’s Côte des Bar. My friend who drank this wine with us the other night said exactly that: “I’ve never tasted a Champagne like this one.”

Bouchard makes a Blanc de Blancs and several Blanc de Noirs. The wine we drank is a Blanc de Noirs from a vineyard called La Parcelle, all 2001 grapes, and it was just fantastic. The texture is immediately striking, very silky and fine with incredibly tiny bubbles. The nose is so delicate, so refined, and so vinous, with fragrant purple fruit resting on top of mushroomy earth. There is a definitely umami sense to the nose. The wine is richly expressive and broad, yet somehow completely contained and elegant. There is delicious dark fruit that is subtly infused with chalk, great clarity and focus, and a ridiculously long finish of dark fruit and flowers. This wine is delicate enough that I wouldn’t want to risk it with food—this is one to savor on its own.

Now, what if I told you that 2001 was one of the worst Champagne vintages in recent history? Can you imagine how good the 2002 version of this wine will be, for example? This wine is not cheap at $100 retail, but if you love Champagne it’s worth every penny. Production is small—usually a few hundred cases of each wine, and people are catching on quickly. There is a good chance that Bouchard’s wines will become much more expensive in the next 10 years, and even more difficult to find. If you haven’t done so already, it might be worth trying one now while it’s relatively easy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cellar Issues

I’ve been miserably ill with the flu, and haven’t had a drop of champagne since Friday, which has only served to compound my misery. As I lay dying in bed over the weekend (on a completely different continent from the one where I originally got sick), I thought about a couple of things that Tom Stevenson said last week at his Christie’s Masterclass champagne tasting, both relating to the cellaring of champagne.

The first concerned temperature. Tom states that the ideal temperature of a wine cellar is a constant 12.5°C (54.5°F), and that with a cellar such as this, one should be able to store a good champagne for ten or twenty years without a problem. At higher temperatures, the potential longevity decreases dramatically. The major issue, however, is to keep the temperature constant, with as little fluctuation as possible. But Steven Spurrier, who was also at the tasting, offered an alternate viewpoint. He said that his cellar, which is underground and passively cooled, can drop as low as 5°C (41°F) in the winter, and can climb as high as 16 or 17°C (61-63°F) in the summer. This doesn’t disturb him in the least, as the changes in temperature occur extremely gradually over the course of the year, and he views this as part of a natural cycle—as wine is itself a living organism, it’s only fitting that it should exist in an organic environment. He even went so far as to say that he can’t stand the American penchant for artificially controlling their cellars at a rigidly constant temperature, as this imprisons the wine, holding it in this unnatural stasis where it can’t behave normally. I found this contrast of viewpoints very interesting. I’m not inclined to disagree with either of them—both of them are renowned experts in the field of wine, and I find merit in both of their arguments. Tom’s is certainly the conventional viewpoint, or at least the one that seems to currently be in the hegemony, and it describes the cellar that I would love to have. If only I could have my own crayère, like at Champagne Ruinart in the above photo. But I don’t. My modest cellar functions much more like Steven’s—it gets very cold in the wintertime (no need at all to chill champagne bottles before drinking) and a little warm in the summer, since it’s not all that deep underground. (A cynic might remark that a Champenois summer is hardly cause for concern, especially those of the last couple of years.) But as my bottles are largely for drinking, not for long-term aging, I don’t get all that bent out of shape about it. And anyway, I’m betting that they’ll age perfectly fine, for my purposes.

The second thing was even more curious to me, as I had never heard it before. Tom said, “It’s been shown that a champagne bottle stored at room temperature for one year develops 70 times the level of mercaptans as the same wine stored in a proper cellar.” Seventy times. That sounds alarming. Alarming enough to make you paranoid. Mercaptans, by the way, are volatile sulfur compounds that can smell like strong flint stone or burnt rubber (or, some people say, cabbage). Once these mercaptans develop in a bottle, they can’t be eradicated. Now, just so we’re clear on this, I really know nothing about this subject. I studied intaglio printmaking, comparative literature and the I-Ching, not chemistry. I’m just telling you what I heard Tom say, because I thought it was interesting. Perhaps someone like SFJoe or the Chief Executive Researcher can comment further. But it made me think of experiences I had as the tasting director of Wine & Spirits, where the incidence of faulty bottles of champagne is generally much higher than any other wine, and more often than not, these faults are related to volatile sulfur compounds. That makes me curious.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Drinking Sherry

I’ve been spoiled here in London—my friend Neil, who knows how much I love the wines of Equipo Navazos, has been treating me to a parade of La Bota sherries, punctuated occasionally by Burgundy and champagne. The first night it was the La Bota de Oloroso #14 Bota “NO”, drawn from a very old solera of 12 butts at Valdespino. It’s customary to mark “NO” on selected barrels of exceptional quality, indicating that they are not to be used in the regular blend, and at Valdespino, these 12 barrels have apparently been left undisturbed for several decades, with no wine bottled from them. For the #14, Equipo Navazos selected a particular cask from this legendary solera, bottling just 600 half-bottles (375-ml). This is undoubtedly one of the finest olorosos available on the market—pure and vivid in character, it shows a complex depth of black walnut and dark chocolate aromas that are intense without being at all heavy or weighed down. It has an unbelievable balance, feeling lithe and gently steely under the rich flavors, and its completeness and depth of perfume are so completely arresting. Many people talk about wines being “wines of meditation”, but this is one that truly fits the description—it demands your full attention, requiring you to savor it slowly and carefully, sip by sip. Just smelling it is enough to make your heart skip a beat.

Last night, although we took a detour with wines such as the 2004 Saignée de Sorbée, 2000 Rousseau Clos de la Roche and 2000 Rousseau Clos St-Jacques, Neil opened two finos to compare: the #15 and #7. Both are from a fino solera at Valdespino that is composed exclusively of wines from Macharnudo Alto, the most privileged portion of the famed Pago Macharnudo. They are both taken from a scrupulously restricted selection of barrels, only 18 to 20 out of the 69 that comprise this particular solera, and bottled unfiltered. The difference between them is the age of bottling: the #15 was just bottled in June of 2008, while the #7 was bottled in April of 2007. (The #15 is actually the third bottling from this solera, as there were also 800 bottles of a #2 Macharnudo Alto, bottled in June of 2006. Sadly, this wine is practically nonexistent now.) While the two wines do share a common intensity and fineness of character, it was surprising to see how different they were. The #15 is salty and brisk, feeling as saline as a manzanilla yet showing more body and richness. It’s exceptionally fine in tone, with a pungent fragrance and a lovely clarity of flavor, finishing with taut, elegantly controlled aromas of almond skins and fresh Breton butter. Later that evening I wrote in my notes, “Does fino get better than this? I’m really not sure.”

The #7 is equally as striking, but it feels burnished, old-fashioned, like stumbling upon an artifact from a bygone age. I wasn’t around a hundred years ago, obviously, but this is how I imagine that old finos were made, with more intensity and complexity of flavor and less of the sheen and cleanly immaculate polish that characterizes so many examples today. It’s a wine of deep visceral pleasure, seeming to affect you more in a corporeal rather than an intellectual way, infusing your whole body with its presence and heady perfume. It feels somehow rich and weightless at the same time, forceful in its personality yet still inviting you to drink more of it. When I was in Jerez earlier this year, Jesús Barquín, one of the people behind Equipo Navazos, told me that contrary to popular belief, the best finos need several years in bottle to show their best, and it’s easy to imagine this #7 continuing to develop more complexity and character with further time in the cellar. This wine has long been sold out around the world, but I’m eager to put away some bottles of the #15 and see what happens to it with age.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pie, Mash & Champagne (unfortunately not all at once)

I’ve used the excuse of Tom Stevenson’s annual Christie’s Masterclass tasting of champagne to come to London for a few days. Wandering around on a sunny and frigid morning reminded me how much I actually like this city, even if it’s cold. I was able to warm myself with a lunch of pie and mash at Manze on Tower Bridge Road—that might sound banal to many of you, but hey, I’m from California and I live in Champagne. Pie and mash is practically ethnic food. And besides, green liquor is awesome. It makes you feel like a kid. Next time I’ll have to do the eels.

On my way back to my friend Neil’s house I stopped in at an intriguing wine store called The Sampler, on Upper Street in Islington. They’ve got an excellent selection of wines from all over the world—I was there to buy sherry, taking advantage of being in the UK, but naturally I had to take a peek at their champagne section. Of course you can buy Krug, Bollinger and Cristal if you want, but you can also get Varnier-Fannière’s Cuvée St-Denis, R.H. Coutier’s Cuvée Henri III or Raymond Boulard’s Petraea, too. And if you feel flush, you can buy Selosse Substance or Roses de Jeanne Le Creux d’Enfer....

If you want to taste wines, they’ve got a massive Cruvinet system with about 80 wines offered on any given day—at the moment they’ve sort of gone crazy and are pouring 1983 Yquem, 1999 Screaming Eagle, 1993 DRC Romanée St-Vivant and 1976 Bosconia by López de Heredia, among a whole bunch of other things. Some of these will set you back a few pounds, of course, but there are plenty of other reasonably priced wines to taste as well. This is definitely a good address to stop into if you’re in the neighborhood. And now I know that they stock the sherries I want, so I’ll be back for sure.

The Sampler, 266 Upper Street, Islington, London

Monday, December 8, 2008

Gaston Chiquet 1982 Spécial Club

There are good wines, and then there are transcendent wines. On Friday afternoon, I paid a visit to my neighbors down the street in Dizy, partly just to say hi, and also to taste some 2008s in tank. To be perfectly honest, though, the primary reason for my visit was to remind Antoine Chiquet of a conversation that we had several weeks ago at a tasting of old Spécial Club wines. Chiquet had brought the 1979 Spécial Club, which I loved—I have a weakness for the ’79 vintage anyway, but this wine was remarkably delicious, with a lively freshness and a shapely, fragrant fuselage of flavor. As we were tasting it, Antoine acknowledged that it was a fine wine, but he said, “Yeah, well, it’s not as good as the 1982.”

You can’t put out statements like that without proving them. On Friday, Antoine generously backed up his assertions by pulling out a bottle of 1982 Spécial Club for us to drink. The wine was absolutely perfect, seamlessly balancing mature notes of mocha, wood smoke and roasted nori with lingering and complex aromas of primary fruit, showing a silky elegance along with the confident breadth and depth typical of this corner of the Grande Vallée de la Marne. Antoine said that this bottle was probably disgorged around 1989, which seemed perfect to me—I’m beginning to think that I prefer bottles to be disgorged when they’re ready and aged with a little bit of dosage, rather than be stored on their lees sur pointe for their whole lives. This bottle was certainly showing in peak condition. Antoine said, “You know, sometimes I taste great champagnes like Krug and Bollinger, but then I taste wines like this one and I think to myself, maybe we’re doing okay too.” I couldn’t possibly disagree.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jérôme Prévost


I took this photo of Jérôme Prévost yesterday morning, in his cellars in Gueux. I love how dramatic it is—there wasn’t a lot of light, but my little pocket Canon point-and-shoot can sometimes do surprising things. Among the many wines that we tasted was the 2007 rosé, the first that he’s ever made. It’s a blend of the 2007 Les Béguines and a small percentage of red wine from the same vineyard, and even though it was only just bottled in July and won’t be properly disgorged for another year, it already promises to be amazing. Naturally, it inspired me to take another dramatic photo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wine of the Week: Diebolt-Vallois Fleur de Passion Brut Blanc de Blancs 1999

Upon arriving home from Burgundy yesterday, I stopped by at Diebolt-Vallois to say hello. I had originally made an appointment with Diebolt for Thursday afternoon with the sole purpose of bringing brooklynguy to the estate, and as I was now suddenly all by myself, I was on the verge of canceling. But I quickly came to my senses—it’s Diebolt, after all. What could I possibly have been thinking?

The last time I saw Jacques Diebolt, at dinner several weeks ago, he had mentioned that the 2008s in barrel were starting to show unusually well for such a young, high-acid vintage. It’s still a bit early to taste vin clair—January or February would be more ideal—but that wasn’t going to stop me from allowing him to take me on a tour of the different Cramant parcels that will eventually make up the 2008 Fleur de Passion. The wines are indeed stunning, with a crystalline purity and clarity of expression that is sure to promise amazing things for the future. Afterwards, he and his daughter Isabelle asked me what I would like to taste, and attempting to be polite, I feebly protested (not very convincingly, I admit). In the end, I requested the 1999 Fleur de Passion.

I’ve long been wrestling with the issue of which vintage of Fleur de Passion is the most ready to drink at the moment. My first inclination, which I believe is a very reasonable one, is to say that none of them are—he only began making it in the 1995 vintage, after all, and having tasted that wine twice recently, I can confirm that even that vintage is far from maturity. I can also vouch that the 1996 is as painful as it sounds at the moment, and the 1998 is not far behind, coming from a vintage that is also highly structured. Both the 1997 and 2000 have always been much more backwards than their overall vintage characters might indicate, which is curious, and of course the 2002 is a mere adolescent. So by this quick and dirty process of deduction, the only possibility is 1999.

Isabelle was a bit skeptical, as last week in Stockholm she had opened the 1999 for a Swedish journalist who found it completely backwards and unyielding. But Jacques, being Jacques, insisted that it would be fine. He turned out to be right—the wine was absolutely gorgeous, showing a creamy, marzipan-like richness on the nose and feeling open and generous on the palate. It’s by no means mature, but it’s surprisingly accessible, combining a tense freshness of fruit with a mocha and praline complexity. It has an unusually taut character for the vintage, thanks in part to its absence of malolactic, and while the fruit feels rich and ripe, it remains impeccably focused and controlled. It’s delicious to drink now, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t also be so in ten years, or even twenty. I only hope that I will have the chance to verify that.

I would have happily kept drinking the rest of the bottle, but Jacques had other ideas: we ended up comparing the Fleur with the standard 1999 millésime (released only in the Swedish market, unfortunately), and then that made him think about how the 1996 millésime might contrast with it, then we had to also open the 1997 just to be decadent. Of course, after tasting all of these, he pointed out that they would all be showing better the next day, so he insisted that I take them all home, which is why I ended up sitting at my kitchen table last night, Riedel Sommelier glass in hand, staring at a veritable assault of Diebolt-Vallois. But it goes without saying that I am up to the challenge.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nightcaps


Another full day of tasting yesterday was brought to a close with a visit to Domaine Dujac in Morey St-Denis. The wines were stunning as usual, especially the subtly detailed 2007 Échézeaux and the fragrant, expressive Clos St-Denis. Dinner with Jeremy Seysses and his wife Diana later that evening gave us the chance to witness Jeremy’s fireplace-grilling prowess—a set of beautiful veal chops was paired with a terrific array of wines, the quality of which was surpassed only by Jeremy and Diana’s gracious hospitality. The sole damper on the evening was the unexpected news that brooklynguy would be leaving us prematurely, due to unforeseen circumstances. After some telephone consultation, it was decided that he would take the 6:30 train from Dijon to Charles de Gaulle in the morning, and so rather than attempting anything as inherently pointless as sleep, we went back to our lodgings at the Domaine de l’Arlot and celebrated brooklynguy’s last night (or morning, rather, by this time) in France with the two 2006s represented in the above photo, which Jeremy had generously donated to our liver-degradation program. Both of these wines were absolutely, gorgeously seductive, but I must say that I was particularly taken by the Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts, only the second vintage of this wine for Dujac (and for me, an even greater wine than in the previous year). Needless to say, a fine pair of nightcaps.

Today was marked first and foremost by the hangover perniciously drilling its way into the sides of my skull. Somehow, though, that didn’t prevent me from downing my fair share of a bottle of Vincent Dauvissat’s Irancy for lunch in (guess where?) Irancy, on the way back to Champagne. As fate would have it, the day would prove to hold further adventures in store, ultimately resulting in me sitting alone at home this evening facing four open bottles of vintage Diebolt-Vallois, from 1996 to 1999, as I type this. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Burgundy, Day Two

Some weeks are better than others. This week has started off exceptionally well. I’ve got a shiny new MacBook Pro to blog with. Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge and beat Chelsea 2-1. And I spent the day yesterday tasting wines at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, J-F Mugnier and Georges Roumier, followed by a lovely dinner with David Croix and Mary Taylor at the Domaine des Croix.

I’m here in Burgundy with my friends Jean-Baptiste and brooklynguy, which should immediately raise all sorts of alarms. It’s always a pleasure to come to the Côte d’Or, and it’s certainly a pleasure to taste Grand Things. Burgundy, after all, is full of them. But it’s equally as delightful to be surprised a little.

I suppose one of the biggest surprises is how well the 2007s are tasting, close to the end of their élevage in barrel. It’s a vintage that isn’t likely to get much attention among either consumers or the press, but it’s one that aligns very much with my personal aesthetic sensibilities. If Burgundy vintages such as 2005, 1999 or 1990 are what turn you on, you’ll likely pass over the 2007s. However, if you value elegance, clarity and a precisely detailed expression of terroir, the best 2007s will be wines to seek out. I love the clear, crystalline distinctions between different crus in this vintage, and I also love the clean, unencumbered purity of fruit. They aren’t rich wines, and I don’t want them to be. The fruit is ripe but not flamboyant, and rather than being overly concerned with itself, it seems to constantly refer back to elements of soil. It’s a perfect vintage for the terroir-obsessed.


This morning with Pierre Morey in Meursault, among the many, many wines that we tasted were two beautiful 2007 reds that perfectly illustrated the idea of terroir: a Meursault rouge from Les Durots and a Volnay Santenots. I loved the Meursault for its ample breadth and supple texture—you don’t often taste many red wines labeled as Meursault, and this seemed to echo the classic breadth and generosity of Meursault blanc, only translated into pinot noir. The Santenots, on the other hand, was typical Santenots: minerally, focused and racy, with a feeling of structure and tension. The two vineyards are actually right next to each other, but Morey says that the subsoil of Durots contains more clay, while Santenots is highly calcareous, which is clearly felt in the wine. Morey’s parcel of Santenots lies in the lieu-dit of Les Plures, and he told me that the Meursault Désirée of Comtes Lafon comes from the same vineyard—if it were a red wine, it would be called Volnay Santenots. He would know, after all, as he made the Lafon wines under a sharecropping agreement prior to 1988. I love these little tidbits of information.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti