Sepp Moser 2004 Grüner Veltliner (Kremstal) – The basic bottling, full of zesty white pepper, white asparagus and celery salt. Fun – albeit a very Teutonic sort of fun – and highly agreeable with food. (11/06)
St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” 1995 Cabernet (Alto Adige) – Cedar, herbs and very slightly green cassis with the paired bites of acid and tannin poking at the edges. Perhaps only halfway to maturity, though I wonder if the fruit is sufficient to outcomplex the slightly hard, green notes. And for those interested in sly blind tasting adventures, this could pass for a Bordeaux with effortless ease. Not a great Bordeaux, but Bordeaux nonetheless. (9/06)
Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – At first, this wine can’t decide whether it wants to be grilled-plum syrah, or tart-berried pinot. There’s a lot of acid here, and eventually that acidity decides matters; the smokiness fades a bit, leaving a wine with lots of unfocused flavor but a somewhat hollow midpalate and a perhaps overly crisp finish. Starts wide, finishes narrow. It’s a good wine, but I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with the way it’s aging. (9/06)
Maculan 1998 Breganze “Torcolato” (Veneto) – 375 ml. A beautiful, inspiring mélange of cinnamon, nutmeg, pineapple, clove, blood orange, caramel and butterscotch with just the right amount of brightening acidity. My mouth is watering just writing this tasting note. One of the truly great sweet wines of the world, calling to mind all the classic elements of Sauternes-style wines, but with its own unique palette of aromas and characteristics. (9/06)
Prager 1996 Weissenkirchner Steinriegl Riesling Smaragd (Wachau) – Firm and stern to the point of being sour (more in mood than in structure), with dried greengage plum and wind-whipped limestone. Complex and interesting, but not – at this moment – pleasurable. It would appear to need time, since there’s an awful lot of “here” here. Or “there” there. Whatever. It’s a stupid turn of phrase anyway. (9/06)
casina ‘tavijn 2004 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – Exotic, Thai-influenced red fruit with wild aromas darting from jarred cherry to makrut lime to rose jam, with juicy acidity and light, sandpapery tannin lurking in the background. Difficult to embrace without preparation, but lots of fun. (9/06)
Audras “Clos de Haute-Combe” 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Gentle but surprisingly firm red fruit dusted with graphite and sweet black earth. Lithe and light, with fine acidity and an elegant, almost regal texture. Lovely. (9/06)
Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Fragrant, and promising more palate weight than it eventually delivers; the wine is fresh, lightly fruity (mostly from the white and green spectrum) and very lightly spicy, with a vaguely effervescent zing and good, food-friendly acidity. An hors d’oeuvre wine. (9/06)
Edmunds St. John 2003 “Rocks & Gravel” (California) – Dense, fruity blueberry compote with light leather and faint morels. Forward and juicy, with decent structure somewhat overwhelmed by a lot of friendly, smiling fruit. (9/06)
A tasting menu at No. 9 Park…28 August 2006.
Roederer Champagne “Brut Premier” (Champagne) – Intellectual, earth-driven but satiny stone fruit (minus most the fruit) with a gentle, yet inexorable persistence. Very thoughtful bubbly. Served with: ultra-thin-sliced smoked lobster sashimi with grapefruit, avocado and cilantro. The wine and the food stand essentially apart here.
Cusamano 2005 Sicilia Rosato (Sicily) – Made from nerello mascalese. Big, broad-shouldered raspberry and maraschino cherry fruit with a keening, fresh flower aroma. It’s simple alone, but with food it almost explodes with additional complexities. This is an inspired match. Served with: seared yellowfin tuna (about as pure and wonderful as this fish could ever be) with a brilliant marmalade of heirloom tomatoes lent smokiness by chorizo, which infuses the marmalade and adds a textural counterpoint in little crisp bits perched atop the cubes of fish.
Schrock 2005 Ried Vogelsang (Neusiedlersee) – A blend that’s a bit at war with itself, showing lots of interesting characteristics that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other: crisp acidity, juicy/lemony sprightliness, herbal grassiness, spicy headiness…it’s a bunch of smart people, all talking past each other. Served with: day boat scallops on a purée of curried cauliflower (possibly the single best expression of this vegetable I’ve ever tasted) and crispy little bursts of fried tapioca. This isn’t much of a marriage, though the wine does no actual harm to the food.
Faiveley 2003 Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy) – Cranky, rough, ungenerous and difficult, with wan suggestions of something that might once have been red fruit buried under clumsy, off-putting tannin. A last-minute replacement due to a chef deglazing with red wine rather than the intended white, and not a very successful one. Served with: handmade orechiette, flawlessly pressed and cooked, with a Burgundian snail ragout that works rich, earthy wonders on the palate. A better red Burgundy would be magical here.
Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado Sherry “Vides” 1/50 (Jerez) – Dark, fire-roasted nuts that consistently suggest sweetness, but never quite achieve it, settling instead for an intense, warming richness. The alcohol is a little more intrusive than normal, and it negatively affects the food pairing. Served with: seared La Belle Farms foie gras with golden raisins, almond praline and balsamic vinegar. The dish is flawless, but the wine only goes well with the accompaniments; the alcohol buries the delicacy of the foie gras. It’s an adventurous notion, but ultimately an unsuccessful one.
Vajra 2004 Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati (Piedmont) – Delicious. Sneaks up quietly at first, with light blackberry dust and a slightly exuberant structure, but soon fills out with gorgeous mixed bouquets of freshly-picked wildflowers and an earthy, morel-infused bottom end. Very, very agile with food. Served with: softly-seared Pekin dust breast with “melted” strawberries, honey, and perfectly bitter counterpoints of red shiso. This is an inspired match.
Les Pallières 2003 Gigondas (Rhône) – A heavy, ponderous stew of garrigue, leather and dark, smoky fruit overladen with tannin. The wine is chewy, and that’s not a compliment. It’s one of the better 2003 Rhônes I’ve tasted, though that’s certainly faint praise at best. Still, there are terrific raw materials underneath the sludge, and it’s possible that a few centuries of aging will resolve matters. Or, more likely, not. Served with: roasted lamb loin with a truffle “fondue” and leeks, dusted with thyme. The food actually helps tame some of the glue-like tannin in the wine, but the price paid is a diminution of the elegant earthiness found in the truffles.
A palate-cleansing celery sorbet is audaciously magnificent.
Pieropan 2001 Recioto di Soave Classico Le Colombare (Veneto) – A stunning wine, full of concentrated peach, orange rind and iron shot through with flowers and perfumes from some mythical Orient. Powerfully sweet, but with flawless balancing acidity, and as long as one would ever wish a wine to be. Majestic. Served with: blueberry and crème fraîche soup with a carrot “confit,” white chocolate, and anise hyssop garnish. The dish doesn’t sound like it should work, but in fact it’s some sort of revelatory symphony of summer flavors; and the wine, which also doesn’t seem like it should work with this mélange, soars above the music in perfect harmony. There’s real genius behind this pairing.
Garitina 2005 Brachetto d’Acqui “Niades” (Piedmont) – The usual bright red fruit, frothed (though so lightly as to be almost unnoticeably effervescent) and given just a touch of late-palate bitterness. Simple fun. Served with: a warm chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet and “wilted” grapes. The latter seem superfluous, like a half-hearted nod towards molecular gastronomy, but everything else on the plate is superb and properly undersweetened, which helps the wine dance around the edges. Of all the wines alleged to pair well with chocolate, I think brachetto may be the only one that really does so.
24 April 2006 – San Francisco, California
Quince – One of the more difficult reservations to make in San Francisco quickly becomes one of the most difficult to keep, as our group stands around the restaurant’s cramped front section, generally feeling as if we’re intruding on everyone’s dinner, for a full thirty-five minutes after our scheduled time. The blame can’t be laid entirely at Quince’s doorstep – if a table won’t leave, it won’t leave, and there’s no call for Manhattan-style deadlines on what should be a leisurely dining experience – but a little more consideration and, at the very least, apologizing would be nice. We receive little of either.
Once seated, we set to the dual tasks of deciding which of the many wines we’ve brought should be opened, and what to eat with them. Quince sets a two-bottle limit on BYO, which is stringent but obviously works to the benefit of their excellent wine list, and their $25 per bottle corkage seems fair given the overall setting. Choosing the food, however, is more difficult, because for a small restaurant there are almost too many enticing options.
A first course of fried fish with favas and an herbal sauce is fine, as are small pieces of halibut on toast, but a pasta course with razor clams is more of a mixed blessing; tart and delicious in its crisply acidic sauce, but featuring slightly overcooked pasta that too-closely mimics the texture of the clams. My main dish of salt-encrusted pigeon is flawless and brilliant (though the squeamish will want to quickly dispense with the head, which is included in the presentation), but its accompaniment of peas is, like the pasta, somewhat overcooked…or maybe Quince is trying for an English approach to the vegetable. I eschew dessert, but an evening-capping coffee is simply world-class.
Once we’re finally seated, our service – and especially our wine service – is excellent.
Boxler 2002 Gewurztraminer “L60P” (Alsace) – I forget precisely what the “P” stands for, but it’s a site designation…though not a grand cru. The wine shows – big surprise – intense aromatics, featuring lychee and spiced white plum. It’s full and rich, yet somehow carries a delicate balance through its long, persistent finish. Gorgeous wine, though unquestionably on the very sweet side.
Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Langenloiser Berg Vogelsang (Kamptal) – Celery root and ripe Meyer lemon with good, grapefruit-like acidity. Perhaps the dominating crispness attenuates this wine a bit, but the finish feels shorter than it should. This probably suffers from following the Boxler, though plenty of palate cleansing and food interruption does little to change the impression.
Gaja 1985 Barbaresco Costa Russi (Piedmont) – Murky, silky and sultry all at the same time, with spiced dried fruit, spicy plum, red cherry and strawberry seed over a steaming bed of hay…a strange wine, seemingly dominated by its spice (from which one makes inevitable deductions about wood), with a lot going for it, but not a lot of coherence. However, after an hour everything has snapped into focus, with exotic floral notes and a rich complexity coming fully to the fore. The first version of the wine is good but odd, the second is inspired. I recommend drinking the second.
Aldo Conterno 1985 Barolo Bricco Bussia Vigna Cicala (Piedmont) – Sexy, but a bit rough, showing S&M strawberries and a succulent, balanced finish. As with the whites, this may suffer in comparison to the bigger, richer and more “worked” Gaja…but it also definitely improves with time and distance from its regional counterpart. This is a wine that deserves a little more quiet contemplation that it probably receives here.
(The original version, with nicer formatting and more photos, is here.)
26 April 2006 –San Francisco, California
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – On a gorgeous, pure blue day on the Embarcadero, an outdoor table is too much to resist, and I end up here rather than back for another (expensive) bout with a few dozen oysters. The Wisconsin sourdough burger is, like all Taylor’s products, pure, drippy decadence. Not cheap, but worth it…especially when partaking of the burger joint’s clever little wine list. I cart a half bottle to my outdoor picnic table and feel completely decadent. (Also, later: sunburned.)
Storybrook Mountain 2003 Zinfandel Mayacamas Range (Napa Valley) – Fat and woody, with spiced cedar and huge blackberry fruit. There’s good acid though, and this really works best as simple, sun-drenched fun.
bacar – Packed, which renders service a little slow, and yet it’s good to see this excellent wine bar in fine economic health despite its slightly difficult location. My only complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that, for several years now, the enticing wine list has been rather dominated by blowsy 2003s. I suppose they have to sell through their stock, but I’m looking forward to being able to order Austrian, German, and other higher-acid whites with more confidence that I’m going to enjoy the results.
Nigl 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit (Kremstal) – This wine undergoes a fascinating transformation from nose to finish. It starts out very salty, while showing classic celery and green, grassy acidity. From there, it proceeds to sweeter melon rind, green kiwifruit and floral aspects. Finally, it finishes almost fat, with orange blossoms, raw cashew oil and hazelnut. Such a procession from light and nervy to full and flavorful is one of the delightful surprises of good grüner, though it’s not usually experienced quite to this extent. It would be nice if the nose were a little more enticing, but I suspect that will come in time, as its center of gravity shifts forward.
Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terassen (Kamptal) – White pepper, ripe apple blossom and white rice-encrusted apple and green plum form a ripe, vivid whip-snap, albeit one encased in silk. Skin bitterness adds structure and counterbalance to the fruitier aspects, which edges very slightly towards being a bit warmer (that is, more alcoholic) than ideal. That’s nitpicking, though, for this is a very good wine.
Donabaum 2003 Grüner Veltliner Atzberg Smaragd (Wachau) – A ripe, fat nose of rum-soaked banana skin doesn’t improve much on the palate, where alcohol adds a harsh burn. Things are a little better once one becomes accustomed to the heat, and creamy celery and cauliflower with ripe white asparagus steer the wine towards the silkier, more dairy-like aspects of high-test grüner. Still, as the wine fades, one is once more left with that buzzing, numbing alcoholic fire.
Hirsch 2003 Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein (Kamptal) – A smoky nose full of mineral dust, ripe celery and heavy red cherries precedes a smooth, balanced palate and long finish that provide more of the same. Unfortunately, the wine also carries a throbbing, fiery burn from out-of-balance alcohol.
Revelette 2004 Côteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé (Provence) – Salty canned fish (not, as it might seem, an inherently bad thing, though it is unusual) and heavy, molten lead with dead, softening wood rotting away in the background. OK, scratch the equivocation about the salted fish; this is pretty much the opposite of “fresh,” which I do believe is a virtual requisite for Provençal rosé. Worse yet: even with all the weirdness, the wine is boring.
Corbières du Boncaillou 1999 Corbières (Languedoc) – Gorgeous aromatics of dried flowers and spice with rustic undertones…but probe deeper, and there’s a smooth granite base with strong, complex striations. There’s a hint of something that tastes very slightly modern, but I’m not sure it’s possible to render Corbières all that urbane without leaving scars. No wounds here.
Heinrich 2001 Blaufränkisch (Burgenland) – Dark violet aromatics, decayed leaves and slightly bitter plum coalesce around a hard, somewhat sharp core. This still has some of the fantastic nose of its youth, but the fruit has started to decay in deference to the structure, and it was unquestionably better in its youth. It’s film noir on a scratchy, brittle old print. (6/06)
Blaufränkisch isn’t a grape that gets much international respect – though the same could be said for most Austrian reds – because it’s neither overly fruity nor generous and mouth-filling in its natural state. These things can be induced, of course, but the real pleasures of the grape are similar to those of nebbiolo: beautifully seductive aromas somewhat at war with an occasionally razor-like structure, though here the effect is rather lighter-bodied (and in this way, more like pinot noir, or possibly gamay). All this varietally comparative confusion aside, it’s a grape that can be too crisp and too light, but when it’s good – as this one is – it’s quite enticing. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vin Divino. Web: http://www.heinrich.at/.
Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2004 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 4.2” (Santa Barbara County) – Lovely, balanced, and pure, with succulent red berries in light array and lithe, dancing structural elements over a soft foundation of rich earth. There’s just enough tannin and just enough acidity to make this feel ageable, though frankly it will be hard to resist its youthful charms. (6/06)
It used to be that the words “Hitching Post” meant a restaurant only to a concentrated group of locals and the tourists who intermingled with them. Sideways changed all that, rendering the restaurant rather famous and pushing the wines into the background; it’s not uncommon for me to hear “oh, they make wine there?” (I guess they didn’t pay close enough attention to the movie, in which the wines are explicitly mentioned on more than one occasion.) But for me, Hartley Ostini has long made fine pinot noir in a non-intoxicatingly lighter style vs. others in their area; wines to drink rather than taste, wines that seduce rather than solicit. Which – before some angry Central Coast winemaker gets on my case – is not to say that the alternative styles are bad, or “slutty,” or whatever it is I’m allegedly implying in the previous sentence. (Oh, whatever. It’s just a turn of phrase. Lighten up!) Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.hitchingpost2.com/HPWinery.html.
ca’Rugate 2002 Recioto di Soave “La Perlara” (Veneto) – Stunning. Heavily-spiced white fruit with preserved lemon and an utterly flawless, bright and crisp structure for balance. The finish lingers with perfect poise, and unlike many dessert wines you’ll find yourself going back for glass after glass. Or maybe that’s just me. (6/06)
100% garganega, dried for about six months to concentrate both the sugars and the flavors, and then vinified. A good recioto di Soave is one of the most enticing dessert wines in the world, for it achieves Sauternes-like levels of spice (often with less reliance on oak, though wood is certainly not unknown in high-end Soave), but frequently with better acid. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web: http://www.carugate.it/.
A holiday week dinner at Boston’s justifiably-renowned No. 9 Park, with an eclectic selection of wines from the restaurant’s brilliant wine director, Cat Silirie
Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Rosé (Champagne) – Gorgeous, silky-creamy preserved apple and black fruit with yeasty complexity and pleasant minerality, both of which build and roll through the midpalate and finish. Beautiful Champagne in motion.
This is one of those grower-producer Champagnes that one hears about so often, and it’s also one of the best. There’s something more indefinably soulful about these vs. the big industrial names. Try it for yourself.
Alain Guillot Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs (Burgundy) – Simpler and more direct, showing a character that’s either off-dry, botrytized, or possibly both (though I suppose it could also be an excess of leesiness), with straightforward grapefruit and green apple characteristics..
Crémant, a sort of catch-all French term for “sparkling wine not from Champagne” (though there are other possible terms as well), sells like crazy in France, but is a hard sell elsewhere. Primarily, this is because the wines – though unquestionably cheaper than Champagne – don’t really measure up. There are exceptions in each region, but those are also the wines that usually get snapped up by the local market. As for this particular crémant: other than the fact that this producer is situated in the Mâcon, and thus the grapes for this wine are likely to be from there, I know absolutely nothing about this bottle. Web: http://www.vignes-du-maynes.com/.
Bisson 2003 Cinque Terre “Marea” (Liguria) – Rushing mountain waterfalls full of minerality and midsummer bursts of ripe green fruit. 2003 has rendered this wine slightly less unique, but more fun to drink; a fair tradeoff, though I wouldn’t want to make it every year.
The Cinque Terre, not unlike the Côte d’Azur, has a bit of reputation for overpriced yet underperforming wines. This one isn’t exactly cheap ($24 or so), but neither does it underperform; less hot vintages are more enticingly floral/mineral, and there’s something unique and interesting here that’s worth the extra tariff. The grapes are vermentino, bosco and albarola, with extra time on the lees to add body and complexity.
Les Crêtes 2002 Torrette “vignes les toules” (Vallée d’Aoste) – Begins stale and cranky, but develops into an individualistic stunner, with raw iron blocks and vividly floral mixed berries. Fragrant and seductive, but not particularly feminine, this is a wine that takes some time to get to know, but rewards the effort a hundredfold.
Mostly petit rouge (a grape virtually limited to the Valle d’Aosta), grown in moraine, calcareous and sandy soils. One of the more unique wines I’ve tasted over the past year, and in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Web: http://www.lescretesvins.it/.
Clos de Haute-Combes 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Classic violet berries in agrodolce with a fairly firm, if not at all powerful, structure and a really gorgeous finish. Beyond food friendly; perhaps food-enrapturing, instead.
I’m not sure why I’ve been drinking so much Juliénas lately. Random chance, I guess. This one is decidedly prettier than either of the two Grangers recently consumed, and in fact is pretty much everything a person could want from cru Beaujolais.
Meix-Foulot 2000 Mercurey “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Less pretty and a little sluttier than previous vintages, though it would be especially churlish to call it anything other than tasty. There’s some very slightly grating tannin that looms over the fruit a bit, but this should be a good deal of nice drinking over the short term.
A blend from premier cru multiple vineyards (Saumonts and Ropitons, one site advises), from a solidly consistent producer of lighter-styled Burgundy at a not-unreasonable price. That, in itself, is a major accomplishment.
Pibarnon 2001 Bandol (Provence) – Texturally lighter than the previous three wines, with funky horse sweat and vine-rotted, shriveled fruit; it’s good, but it’s a little hollow and shrill for the usual mourvèdre (and, probably brett) stink, and I wonder if it might not be in a difficult phase.
Mourvèdre can get stinkier, and it can get more forceful, but it achieves its personal pinnacle of a rustic sort of elegance in Bandol, the only Provençal appellation to really do much on the international stage. This wine’s a little odd, but one thing I’ve found to be true of Bandol is that the wines are almost always better with age. Web: http://www.pibarnon.fr/.
Schrock 2002 Ruster Ausbruch (Neusiedlersee-Huggenland) – Very thin at first, with clean but obvious crystallized citrus aromas. With air, however, it fills out to show lovely, fuller-bodied spice and sorbet characteristics with a succulent peach-candy finish.
An ausbruch must be made from shriveled, botrytized grapes picked at an exceedingly high level of ripeness. What this usually means is that the spicy/creamy botrytis notes overwhelm everything else; this isn’t a bad thing, but simple botrytis doesn’t have to be as expensive as these wines usually are. In this case, it’s the varietal characteristics of the pinot blanc and pinot gris grapes that first emerge, to be followed by the additional complexity of noble rot. This is a worthy accomplishment in itself, even though this bottling is far from the best that Ms. Schröck can do. Web: http://www.heidi-schroeck.com/.
Ferreira 1997 Vintage Porto (Douro) – Big, fruity, tannic and obvious; there is the very slightest hint of emerging spice, but fundamentally this is way, way too young.
I usually consider drinking young vintage Port a complete waste of time and money, and this wine does little to change that predisposition. There are plenty of fresh-tasting, blended ports if one craves berried exuberance, and tawnies from simplistic blends to majestic colheitas available if one wants instant complexity. But young vintage Port is rarely other than monolithic, so unless one’s purpose is evaluative, why waste the wine? Web: http://www.sogrape.pt/.
Pierre Ferrand Cognac 30-year “Sélection des Anges” (Cognac) – Unbelievable aromatics of barrel spice and long-aged fruit with very little intrusive heat; goes down much, much lighter than one might expect, then fills and warms again on the finish, with elegantly lingering touches of bitterness. Just beautiful.
I never used to like Cognac, thinking it wan and simplistic next to the Bas-Armagnac I preferred. Then an enthusiastic young salesperson came to Boston, showing the Ferrand and Gabriel & Andreu lines, and everything changed. Here were real digestifs, with character and differentiation and (pun intended) spirit. Plus, they remain underpriced vs. a universe of oversold but undermade “name” brands. What’s not to love? Web: http://le-cognac.com/pf/.
Heinrich 2001 Blaufränkisch (Burgenland) – Corked.
Blaufränkisch is one of those perpetually underappreciated grapes…not gobby enough for the mass-market, but capable of wonderful finesse and delicacy. This wine, in particular, is spectacular when intact. Unfortunately, this is yet another wine spoiled by a few cents worth of tree. Bring on the screwcaps!
Dupuy “Château Labadie” 2001 Côtes de Bourg (Bordeaux) – Oak, dark chocolate, and snappishly alcoholic kirsch sludge. It doesn’t lack tannin, either.
What, exactly, is the appeal of Bordeaux that tastes like this? Why not just buy cheap California – or Aussie, or Chilean, or whatever-ian – cabernet? This is completely internationalized and anonymous.
More commentary on the Labadie can be found here.