Browse Tag


TN: Beurre Montée

[bottle]Fèvre 2005 Chablis Montée de Tonnerre “1er Cru” (Chablis) – Piercing yet supple, with ginger-spiced complexity and a firm, balanced core of acid, light citrus pith, and green mango. Deftly oaked, and really, really nice. (5/07)

TN: Maréchal law

[vineyard]Maréchal 2004 Chorey-les-Beaune (Burgundy) – Crisp, salivatory red cherry and raspberry with sanded-down edges of cereal-brown earth and well-integrated tarragon and thyme aromas. Quite engaging. (4/07)

TN: Bachelet pad

Bachelet 2002 Côte de Nuits-Villages (Burgundy) – Beet, extremely ripe red cherry, concentrated blood orange. In other words, the classic aromatic profile of a Central Otago pinot. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. And in any case, the palate diverges significantly: earth, juiced shiitakes, and mixed cherries. The finish is a little on the short side, but this is a lovely wine, ripe but complex enough. (3/07)

TN: Mr. Beau Chambolles

Hudelot-Noellat 1993 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – Beets and roasted garbage with a lovely aftertaste of stewed sewage. This isn’t just dead, this is a victim of some horrible assault. Call CSI. (12/06)

TN: Savigny the best for last

[map]Jadot 1993 Savigny-les-Beaune La Dominode (Burgundy) – Old dust on a cedar chest, with sharp strawberry and squirty lemon-drop adding much brightness to the palate. The finish is deeper, with black trumpet mushrooms, black and red cherries, and even a bit of tar…followed by more dust. Drink up. (12/06)

The Niedermorschwihr code (Alsace/Paris, pt. 4)

[boxler bottles](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

28 March 2006 – Hunawihr, France

After a little too much wine the night before, we’re profoundly unsuccessful in getting up early. It’s a grey day, and not just aloft; the vineyards are mostly bare, the mountains are dark with needles and the occasional glimpse of spring snow, and the Rhine plain below us is hazy and murky. It is, in other words, a fine day for a hike.

We attempt to pick up a sentier viticole in Hunawihr, but after some frustration in our attempts to locate the actual route, we end up just strolling along muddy paths through vineyards south of the village. These skeletal slopes rise against the lower shoulders of the Vosges, occasionally ducking into a small grove of trees or split by an ancient rock fence, until they crest atop the precipitous decline of the Schoenenbourg, with descends directly into the fortifications of Riquewihr. The beautifully-preserved town below it is quieter than normal. I guess it’s not tourist season.

But Riquewihr holds few surprises for us anymore, and so we take a left turn towards Zellenberg, which perches on its hill in wind-buffeted isolation. It’s a town that often gets missed in the parade of tourists shuttling from Eguisheim and Kaysersberg, through Riquewihr, to Ribeauvillé, and the evidence of this is clear from its peaceful, restrained feel. There’s nothing showy about this village, but there is a bit of a show going on.

High above, atop a church steeple, is one of those wide-bottomed baskets one sees all over Alsace. And standing – plump, tall and preening in the midst of it – is a stork, here better-known as “l’oiseau d’Alsace.” It’s nesting season, and this unmistakable regional mascot is everywhere…craning over rooftops, prancing through vineyards, or gently soaring in circles. This is our first sighting, and we spend some time staring, leading a few passing locals to look up, shrug, and continue on their way.

On the outskirts of Zellenberg we manage to pick up a remnant of the marked sentier, which of course leads us right past a bustling cooperative cellar. The French may not always embrace marketing to the extent they should, but Alsace is…different. We end up back at our gîte for a lunch of leftovers and stinky cheese, plus a wine that’s not exactly our typical midday fare.

Faiveley 1995 Nuits St-Georges “1er Cru” Clos de la Maréchale (Burgundy) – Five-spice powder, black cherry and dark, tar-like earth. This is still fairly tannic, but there’s gorgeous fruit underneath. While further complexity is undoubtedly around the corner, I do wonder about it’s fruit/tannin balance. Still, it’s very appealing right now, albeit in a fairly primary way.

Niedermorschwihr, France

Boxler (78, rue des Trois-Epis) – Visits here are always exceedingly pleasant. The family is friendly and generous, the setting is peaceful, and the wines are almost distressingly extraordinary (especially the rieslings, which are among the very best in the world). And for currency-disadvantaged Americans, there’s yet another bonus: the wines are very inexpensive compared to their Stateside counterparts.

Boxler’s wines are, in the majority, rarely completely dry…though in some vintages the rieslings can present as very close to sugar-free. But unlike some of their regional brethren, who pursue overripeness and its resultant residual sugar at almost any cost, Boxler preserves both acidity and essential nervosity. There’s a poise to their wines that is simply not duplicated by many of the critically-hyped producers that infest the region, and there’s also great transparency to terroir.

Oh…the domaine has updated its labels. In the essentials they’re similar to the old labels, but with a cleaner, more modern look. I’m not entirely sure I like them, but they’re definitely clearer. The one thing that remains unclear to the average drinker, unfortunately, are the cuvée codes, which remain part of the “secret” Boxler lore. For those uninterested in heavy memorization, there are a few quick rules that can sort out most of the confusion:

* L is always present and irrelevant

* “JV” refers to young vines

* among the four “noble” grapes (riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat), other letter codes are sub-site designations within whatever grand cru is indicated on the label

* for other grapes, the letter codes still indicate site, but may also indicate that the grapes are from a grand cru vineyard (e.g. “B” on a pinot blanc)…a designation not allowed (by Alsace wine law) to be explicitly presented on labels

* the numbers indicate a specific cépage/site combination, except when they don’t, but aren’t otherwise relevant to the consumer as the grape varieties are (when applicable) indicated and the sites are elsewhere in the codes

There are a few niggling exceptions to this, of course. Thankfully, there has been a move to put some of the more important codes in a prominent label position. They’re still not truly helpful, since they’re not explained anywhere, but at least one doesn’t have to squint at the borders anymore.

Clear as mud? Good. On to the wines.

Boxler 2004 “Edelzwicker” L09 (Alsace) – A blend of sylvaner, pinot blanc and riesling (1/3 each)…which would seem to go against the original intent of “edel” as appended to “zwicker,” but whatever. It shows a sweet-smelling nose of ripe apple. Very nice, clean and simple.

Boxler 2004 Sylvaner L10 (Alsace) – Ripe green tomato and spice. Good acidity marks a long finish. This is from a site near Brand.

Boxler 2004 Pinot Blanc L20A (Alsace) – The “A” here refers to auxerrois, a typical blending component in wines labeled pinot blanc, and one that adds richness and weight. The wine is hugely spicy, with ripe pear and a zingy, almost bracing finish.

Boxler 2004 Pinot Blanc L20M (Alsace) – Very sweet, with a metallic core and a short finish. A little strange.

Boxler 2004 Riesling L20M (Alsace) – Very intense, with tons of dry extract and a long, marvelous, drying finish. In the midst of all this worthy structure are lightly sweet green apple skin and sharp, almost piercing acidity. And to think that this is just the “regular” riesling…

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “JV” L30JV (Alsace) – From younger vines. The nose is vivid, with dried white flowers that turn to raw iron on the palate. The finish is incredibly long, but a bit edgy and cutting at the same time.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Brand L32 (Alsace) – A touch sulfur-marked right now, but pulsing and brooding underneath. It’s like licking a steel beam, with an endless, dry iron finish. Striking and majestic.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Brand “K” L32 (Alsace) – Sweeter on the nose than the previous wine, with peach around an intense core of minerality. And then, the explosion: molten iron and fire-hose water jets that simply vibrate with power and dry extract. Stunning.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg L31 (Alsace) – Floral and silky, with spiced apricot. There’s mass and intensity here, with a juicy core and a lovely balance between fruit and firm structure, but it’s the satiny texture that eventually carries the day.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “E” L31E (Alsace) – Very metallic, but creamy nonetheless, showing very little fruit but almost overwhelming presence. This will be great, but that day is many years away; right now, there’s not much to enjoy.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris L50M (Alsace) – Lush but nervy, with intensely spiced pear, tamarind and lychee. Sulfur is in the mix, early. This reminds me a little bit of Bott-Geyl’s Sonnenglanz pinot gris, though this carries more acidity. An early-drinker, I think, but these wines have fooled me in the past.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris Brand L52 (Alsace) – Very sweet lychee, pear and peach. This wine is all about its incredibly ripe fruit, but there’s an earthy undertone as well. The finish is a little strange and disappointing, however, with canned pear and strongly tinny aroma developing late in the game. Plus, it’s a bit hot. A rare misstep, though it all makes sense when one notes the vintage. Of all the grapes with which it works, I think Boxler does least well with pinot gris…though in less perverse vintages they do much better than this.

Boxler 2003 Pinot Gris Sommerberg L51 (Alsace) – Shy on the nose, showing bright pear and creamy metallic notes on the midpalate. There’s a long finish, but I think this wine is yet another victim of its vintage…it’s flat and sort of lifeless. Wake up, little pinot gris, wake up!

Boxler 2003 Gewurztraminer Brand L62 (Alsace) – Banana, cashew and exotic roses around a core of dark metal, with a gelatinous texture that resolves to sinuosity on the long finish. It’s sweet, but it’s balanced (in the context of gewurztraminer), and a rare success from the vintage.

Boxler 2004 Gewurztraminer Brand L62 (Alsace) – More metallic than the ’03, with a powdery texture that turns stingingly particulate on the finish. Leafy and very floral, perhaps almost florid. Right now I prefer the 2003 for its open lusciousness, but I think this one will age into something a little more socially acceptable.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “Vendanges Tardives” LRVT00D (Alsace) – Aromatically quite dry, which fails to prepare one for the stunning intensity of the palate. Dried apples dominate. As poised as it is forceful, this is a hammer-blow to the palate, but one delivered with precision and balance. Amazing.

Boxler 2004 Riesling Sommerberg “Vendanges Tardives” “Cuvée Zacharie” LRVT00D (Alsace) – Flawless. Balanced sweetness and acidity take a backseat to a blend of metals and minerals that devolve to stones and gravel on the finish. Almost breathtaking in its restrained power.

Boxler 1999 Pinot Gris Brand “Vendanges Tardives” LVTB9911 (Alsace) – Very sweet, with a gorgeous pear-dominated nose and palate. Extremely vivid. There’s surprising balance for such a late-harvest wine, and the long finish coupled with the other indicators suggests that it’s nowhere near the end of its life, but rather is much closer to its beginning. I’d give it another decade, at least.

Ribeauvillé, France

Au Relais des Ménétriers (10, avenue Général de Gaulle) – A quiet, confident, comforting restaurant on the main southern route into Ribeauvillé. The menu is simple, with modern updates on the themes of the Alsatian classics and a few specials. The wine list is short and locally-dominated.

One can hardly eat in Alsace and avoid foie gras (or if one can, one shouldn’t), and so I start with a nicely-seared slice of lobe accompanied by grapes, then follow with a pleasant and well-seasoned monkfish filet served with spinach, morels and croutons. It’s a light dish, with all of the elements suggesting “no, you go first,” but it works in an elegant, understated fashion (with the caveat that I’m not sure monkfish can ever really be “elegant”). There’s also a terrific homemade bread with a floury exterior, something that’s being pushed out by dry, tasteless industrial loafs at too many restaurants. For dessert, I spoon into a very nice “römertopf” of strawberries, rhubarb and butter with strawberry ice cream. No, really. Butter. It works, but then I’ve been accused of liking dairy a little more than is perhaps good for me.

F. Schwach Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace) – Simple, dry and inoffensive.

F. Schwach 2003 Muscat “Cuvée Réservée” (Alsace) – Ripe and floral, showing white apricot and succulent sweetness on the finish. A little clumsy, but that’s the year.

Mallo 2001 Riesling Rosacker “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Soft and a touch hollow, with a light sweetness covering a wine that is all stones, gravel and salt. There’s some hints of early oxidation as well, including a very advanced color. I wonder if it might not be a victim of cork failure, but a second bottle procured by the concerned proprietress produces the same results. Surprising. Mallo’s not a top producer, but they’re usually better than this. And the wine’s not bad, it’s just tired.

Windholtz Eau-de-Vie Baie de Houx (Alsace) – Holly-berry distillate. It’s like drinking a Christmas tree, with pine sap and sharp needles in abundance. It’s different, to be sure.

A tale of three valleys (California, pt. 13)

[bridalveil fall](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.

120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.

Burlingame, California

Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.

Redwood City, California

Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.

Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.

Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.

Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.

Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.

Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.

Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.

Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.

Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.

TN: Maréchal law

[vineyard]Maréchal 2004 Bourgogne “Cuvée Gravel” (Burgundy) – Soft and warm in every way you’d want a red Burgundy to be, with gentle red fruit, earthspice, a background hum of animal-scented organics, and a blatantly seductive finish. There’s enough organoleptic maturity and rim bricking that I’d drink this sooner rather than later. (3/07)

Be home before spring (Paris/Alsace, pt. 3)

[vines at night](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

27 March 2006 – Thionville to the Bas-Rhin, France

Lorraine is grey and rainy – isn’t it always, in a metaphysical sense? – which puts a sort of psychic brake on our eagerness to hit the road early. Nonetheless, Patricia & Bruno load us up with pastries and giant bowls of café au lait…plus a little aged Burgundy for later…and the caffeine propels us out the door with renewed vigor. We make a not-so-quick stop at a giant Cora hypermarché for some supplies, then point our car east.

The drive across Lorraine is boring and wet until the forests and hills of Alsace, at which point the skies begin to clear. And the temperature – around 50°F in Thionville – rises to a balmy 70°F on the outskirts of Marlenheim, which leads to open windows and the happy feeling that spring is, despite the weather of the past few days, inevitable. We decide on the inefficient but incomparably beautiful long route to our destination, leaving all traces of A or N behind to take a version of the northern three-quarters of the route des vins all the way to Hunawihr, which brings us through nearly every impossibly beautiful jewel box village and craggy vineyard slope in the Bas-Rhin, twisting and turning all the way. The temperature continues to increase.

The vignoble is crawling with ant-like workers bearing shears and clippers and small wagons full of dead branches, while others follow with stake and wire, binding the vines into rigid forms in preparation for the growing season. This is a time of renewal in the vineyards, where everything of the past year is stripped away and the stage is set for all that is to come. There’s no excitement yet…just back-breaking work under a tenuous sky…but the sense of anticipation is building. Perhaps somewhere just on the other side of the Vosges, spring is waiting, and it will break over this region in just a few weeks’ time.

Hunawihr, France

Demeure d’Anthylla – Pulling into the gated courtyard of this gîte is like coming home after a long dinner. It really does feel as if we haven’t left, though in fact it’s been three long years since we’ve been here.

Our host, Constant Eckert, is a bit of an oenophile himself (not surprising for a man who’s turned a decrepit old winery into a lovely habitation), and he gives us a bottle of crémant and a half-bottle of old riesling before leaving us to our dinner preparations. The bubbly disappears at a rather alarming rate while we prep a gorgeous rib eye of veal and a salad of frisée and lardons, after which we’re practically forced to open a second bottle to match the cuisine. It, too, disappears. How’d that happen?

Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr “Calixte” Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Alsace) – Grapefruit and geranium with honeydew rind. There’s an impression of sweetness and a good deal of wetness, but what there isn’t a lot of is tingly fizz. this comes off more like a still than a sparkling wine, and to its probable benefit. Still, it’s pretty basic as such things go.

Chanson 1995 Beaune Clos du Roi “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Very faded and stripped, showing pale, dried cherry, strawberry leaves and earth. It’s elegant, but desiccated. Not quite mummified, though, and there’s still a minor amount of pleasure to be wrest from its bony clutches.

We shake down the weight of dinner with a pleasant evening stroll through the dark and silent stone streets of Hunawihr, diverting for a dozen muddy steps into a vineyard above the Rosacker. But the drive, the dinner, the stroll and the wine quickly conspire, and we’re sent to bed at an absurdly early hour. And why not? Tomorrow, the serious wine tasting begins.

TN: The wines of Daniel Schuster

Notes from a tasting led by Daniel Schuster himself. He’s a bit difficult to understand with his blend of accents and a tendency to ramble into sub-audible tangents, but when he can be understood, he is absolutely one of the funniest – I mean side-splittingly, rolling on the floor hilarious – winemakers I’ve ever met. Were it not for the necessity of hearing the next bon mot, I’d have been roaring with laughter for a solid hour.

He’s also eminently quotable, uttering profundities that have you nodding your head, even while realizing that they don’t necessarily mean all that much. For example:

“This wine has a hint of corruption.”

“Why do ‘winemakers’ insist on that title? You don’t hear people who keep bees saying ‘I make honey’.”

“There’s no communism in wine.”

As for the wines, they’re a very solid collection that show restraint and elegance. One might hope for a bit more verve in places, but I suspect there’s an active stylistic choice at work here, rather than an inability to achieve something of more intensity. Only my unwillingness to drag myself away from day-long tastings at Pegasus Bay has stopped me from visiting this winery in the past. I won’t let that happen next time. (Well, I’ll probably still do the day-long tastings, but I’ll supplement them with a visit to Schuster…possibly the next day.)

Daniel Schuster 2006 Riesling (Waipara) – Plenty of spritz here, which fizzes up sweet crystalline lime, candied apple, and whipping needles of acidity slashing like a razor ‘cross the palate. Exquisitely balanced, with a light sweetness that complexes to white button mushrooms on the finish, in concert with a metallic aluminum sheen. This is impressive, albeit in an understated way. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Chardonnay Petrie (Rakaia) – Fetid apricot and overripe pear with some sweat on the nose. The palate is more generous, showing creamed orange, grapefruit, crisp crabapple and an almost shockingly vivacious acidity. The finish is piercing, with steel flakes in abundance, and matters are brought to a close by the gentle emergence of drying tannin. I find it a bit shocking, but very appealing…though others at the table note the overt butter (which I find restrained) and miss the acidity. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Twin Vineyards (Canterbury) – A non-vintage bargain pinot. Synthetic sour cherry, with tart greenness dominating. A few strawberry leaves are about all that’s worth mentioning. Simple-minded and not very interesting. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2004 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry, plum and beet with a deeper cherry core emerging on the palate. There are light but insistent traces of licorice and spice. Texturally, this shows gentle, cottony fruit with a beautifully supple finish that rolls and fades. A lovely wine, exemplifying a soft expression of the Waipara terroir. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir Omihi Hills (Waipara) – Tighter and more concentrated than the regular Waipara pinot, with the aromas shifted to a darker, black fruit and leather spectrum. There’s a slightly syrupy thickness to the forepalate that eventually lends a smooth texture to a core rich with morels, black truffles, and dark, roasted beets. The wine is round and mouthfilling, squeezing into every corner and filling it with satin. I probably wouldn’t drink this now, because everything is still a little over-wound, but I would most definitely stick a few in the cellar. It’s going to be a beauty. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2004 “Late Harvest” Riesling Hull Family (Waipara) – Shy, with sweet green apple and a milky texture. It’s very sweet, and while it gives the appearance of concentration, there’s not actually all that much that’s being concentrated. The wine quickly crescendos, then just as quickly decrescendos…it’s all build-up, with no subsequent explosion. The finish is long, tart and vibrating. It’s OK, but definitely not up to the standards of the rest of the portfolio. (3/07)

With dinner, Schuster springs for a few alternative tastes of pinot, the better to compare and contrast his wines. Given the very real possibility that one or both of them will be preferred by tasters, I consider this a commendable gesture.

Roumier 1994 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – A little imbalanced and a lot tired, showing dried-out red fruit and brown leaves with a squeezed meat finish, all layered with a faint but insistent tannin. It’s delicate and there are certain minor charms, but this was better at some time that was before now. (3/07)

Mount Difficulty 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Fairly simple but boisterous plumberry, orange rind and gravel notes, with more weight than acidity (though this isn’t a heavy wine by any means). Nice. (3/07)