Hubert Lignier 1996 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – Sharp raspberry with an ungenerous, shyly abrupt finish. I find this wine very difficult to warm up to, yet others in the room seem much more enticed. Is it closed, is it bad, or is it just me? All three seem equally likely. (2/07)
Rijckaert 2002 Pouilly-Fuissé En Bulands “Vieilles Vignes” (Burgundy) – Creamy old wood with melon and stone, followed by some deeper bronze notes. Good, but professionally done to the point of being slick. (2/07)
Sauzet 1998 Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts (Burgundy) – Waxy and salty, with loam, peat, and bitter melon. Wan and disappointing. There’s some positivity from others, but this just isn’t for me. Thankfully, it’s my very last bottle of white Burgundy not from Chablis or the Mâcon, so I can now leave the wines to those who covet them. Chardonnay from the Côte d’Or is something I can occasionally appreciate, but almost never enjoy. (2/07)
(The original version is here.)
26 March 2006 – Thionville, Illange & Uckange, France
Frédèrique & Jean-Marie Burger’s house – Lunch with the relatives. Always casual. Always fun. Today, it’s pot au feu, and we soon join the family in deciding that potatoes swimming in broth are the best part of the meal. Ah, the cuisine légère of Lorraine…
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Yes, it’s non-vintage. Light, crisp red cherry with lots of acid and minerals at the foundation. This functions more like a white wine with red fruit aromas than it does an actual red or rosé. It’s only just OK, but it’s probably better than the vast majority of Alsace pinot noirs that result from significantly more effort.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – As is typical whenever I bring a domestic wine to France, the weight and heat are commented upon (negatively) by the natives. And maybe it’s the setting or the context, but this does come off just a touch hotter than usual: there’s strong leather, blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of sweet Scotch lounging in Sherry wood. It’s rather forceful, sure, but there’s good acid and a succulent juiciness that keep it tasty. I also note that, despite their reservations, my family guzzles it down.
We follow lunch with a walk around the old German fortifications on the small hill that crowns Illange.
Gaston & Claude Schwender’s house – Drinks with the relatives. More formal, more “classic” French. And also tinged with sadness, because these relatives are older and can’t really host meals anymore…which is a particular shame, as a lot of my formative French experiences were at this family’s table. Perhaps more relevantly, many of my most revelatory wine experiences were from Gaston’s cellar. Now, he can’t drink much (doctor’s orders), she can’t drink at all (ditto), and matters have reached the point of slow but inexorable decay. Loss is always with us, isn’t it?
Roederer 1997 Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne) – Intensely fresh lemon, ripe apple and yeast with sharp acidity and pulses of greater complexity and weight around a spherical, icy core. Striking.
Patricia & Bruno Fratini’s house – Dinner with friends (and relatives, who’ve been invited to join us). More great food, more wine. But I’ve reached the point where the smoke wears on me, and thus I start losing interest in the French that surrounds me; an interest I need to follow well enough to participate. Thankfully, there’s more music on the overhead projection screen; this time, a mix of seventies Americana (mostly the Eagles) and the always-entertaining Alain Bashung.
Louis Violland 1999 Pommard “La Pierre du Roy” (Burgundy) – Rough, sweaty and slightly athletic, with wild cherry, blackberry and light earth. It brightens with aggressive swirling. Nonetheless, it remains a somewhat surly wine, with its rough edges unfiled.
Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1997 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Cedar chest and fresh cassia with pine. It smells like Christmas. It’s also fairly tight, but swirling brings out some aromatics and more complexity, and the wine is probably just about to re-emerge in a burst of blackcurrant fruit. The finish is a bit of a sine wave that one must catch at zenith. This is a pretty good effort from a difficult vintage.
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Take two. And in this company, much stranger and less appealing than before: fish and crushed minerality with skin bitterness and a flat finish. Moral: drink it first, then move on to better things.
Simon Bize 2000 Bourgogne “Les Perrières” (Burgundy) – While there are decayed autumnal leaves and morels accenting the long-aged black fruit, this wine is fading underneath its vanilla-scented toast. A little oakier than I prefer, to be sure, but it’s still decent enough for a six year old Bourgogne. (1/07)
Hubert Lignier 1996 Morey-St-Denis (Burgundy) – On the downslope, though grey earth-flecked mushrooms and decaying orange flowers can be coaxed forth with careful swirling. The first few moments are the most appealing, then there’s a tired stage, and after about a half-hour (not unusual for older Burgundies), there’s a brief renaissance. Still, this was unquestionably better a few years ago. (12/06)
de Villaine 2004 Mercurey Le Montots (Burgundy) – Variable, difficult vintage, blah, blah, blah. Here’s yet another reminder – there can never be too many – to ignore vintage charts and pay attention to the producer. This is gorgeous, succulent, elegant, beautiful Burgundy. It takes a few moments to rev the engines, but when it does they purr like pampered kittens on a fuel of soft red fruit, black trumpet mushroom and gentle, autumnal breezes graced with the faintest hint of black licorice. (1/07)
(The original version is here.)
To save time and speed up posting – always a good thing with me – this “travelogue” is presented in short form, like the recurring California reports. In any case, there’s a lot of wine to notate when this gets around to Alsace, so I doubt people will miss the length…or, for that matter, the narrative.
25 March 2006 – Thionville, France
Air France – Back on the road again, exactly 364 days after returning from our truly epic 2005 New Zealand journey. Has it really been that long? I’m strangely unexcited and unprepared, but manage to get myself to the airport nonetheless. The plane is reasonably comfortable (maybe a slight notch down from, say, British Airways), and the food is quite decent for steerage: salmon couscous salad, tortellini, braised beef, chocolate pastry…though for breakfast, a lame croissant. They’re stingy with the wine – an apéritif portion is offered, but no refill – though it hardly matters all that much, given the low quality on offer.
Castel 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc “Cuvée Réservée” Chardonnay/Viognier (Languedoc) – Juicy melon and tropical fruit. Thick but not unpleasant; “inoffensive” is the perfect descriptor. There’s absolutely no finish, though. My mineral water has more finish than this wine. Where’d it go?
Even though we arrive at the “nice” terminal at CDG/Roissy, it’s still a pit…this is absolutely one of the worst airports anywhere in the developed world. I nearly fall asleep behind the wheel of our rental on the long, boring autoroute to Thionville, but manage to get us there alive.
Bruno & Patricia Fratini’s house – Patricia’s an old friend from way back, Bruno’s her guy. They’re newly (re-)married after a long partnership, and seem blissfully happy. Better yet, Patricia’s an excellent cook, and Bruno – while not reaching my level of obsession (who could?) – enjoys and collects a little bit of wine. We’re headed for a nap, but Patricia won’t hear of it without stuffing us with an (excellent) Reblochon tartiflette, salad, fruit and some wine.
Jean Dupont 1998 Auxey-Duresses (Burgundy) – Fully à point with bricking well into the core, showing autumnal forest floor and a little baked cherry pie spice. Light-bodied. This wine reminds me of a sweet old grandmother pottering around her tiny kitchen, trying to fix her unexpected guests a little snack.
Post-nap and post-shower, old friends start showing up and soon we’ve got a full house. Mere hours after our last meal, it’s: salmon Wellington, asparagus with an excellent béchamel, homemade gemelli with a long-cooked meat ragù, salad, cheese, more cheese, fruit, and cake made by someone’s pastry chef brother. It’s a hell of a lot of food, but it is France, and somehow it all seems to get eaten.
Ogereau 2002 Coteaux du Layon St-Lambert (Loire) – Honeyed wax, chalk and honeysuckle; pure and beautiful, though not showing much in the way of complexity. It might come, however, as this is still very young.
Jean Dupont 1998 Meursault (Burgundy) – Raw peanut oil, light melon rind and a faintly spicy note, with elements of nutty bitterness marking the finish. Struggling, but failing, to rise above disappointment.
Carbonnieux 2003 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux) – Full-fruited in a Napa vein (blackberry and black cherry, ripe and fat), with gorgeously textured tannin, graphite, very little acidity and a smooth finish. It’s a very appealing wine, at a purely hedonistic level. I don’t know how anyone could identify it as Bordeaux, but maybe this producer doesn’t care about that anymore.
Gérard Roy Cognac Fine Champagne XO (Southwest France) – Sweet and almost fruity, showing dried Rainier cherries and hazelnuts. The aromatics are just beautiful, though the palate is a bit strident.
Postprandial entertainment is a little on the absurd side, with live shows from Francis Cabrel, Led Zeppelin, Toto, Genesis and the Scorpions on a giant projection screen, and everybody (phonetically) singing along to power ballad after power ballad. Are we actually in France? It would appear so.
Loring 2004 Pinot Noir Brosseau (Chalone) – Red-black fruit, soupy and searingly alcoholic. More like a harsh, grappa-infused berry liqueur than wine, and not a particularly balanced one as well. The next day, however, the alcohol has calmed down somewhat…perhaps a nice sweet rum rather than grappa…which makes it a little less painful to drink. But it’s still profoundly imbalanced. (12/06)
Faiveley 1993 Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy) – The aromatics (old berries, forest floor, fresh morels) are muscular and enticing, but the wine is wan and decrepit, leaving only a dried-out, scratchy tannin and in its wake. Twenty-four hours later, the palate has made a little bit of a recovery, with some emergent red fruit peeking out of the grave. Unfortunately, it soon doesn’t much matter, as a “sherrying” of the wine eventually buries the improvement once and for all. (12/06)
Prudhon 2001 St-Aubin “1er Cru” “Sur le Sentier du Clou” (Burgundy) – Lovely and elegant, with earth-flecked loam and lurking raspberry. The wine’s a bit of a structural chameleon, with good acid and tannin up front, a quick, sun-drenched brightening, then the emergence of a deeper, basso undertone, before finally softening once more on the finish. Air tightens the wine. It’s good now, but after a disappointing stage as it closes down it’s likely to be very pretty at full maturity.
Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Veneto) – Fun citrus and sweet flower nectar with grapefruit and ripe melon. Aromatic and succulent. Terrific prosecco.
Unti 2003 Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) – Heavy, dark and thick fruit fighting through thick wood and thick (though ripe) tannin. Did I mention something about thickness? There are good raw materials here, and I suspect long ageability is a given, but the sludge is so heavy that it’s a chore to drink.
Anselma 1993 Barolo (Piedmont) – Bitter tannin overwhelms fully-resolved fruit, leaving some dried rose petals and rough, sun-baked red cherries in its wake. Hanging on, but only just, and not that interesting of a wine.
Contini 1996 Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva (Sardinia) – Like dry oloroso Sherry, flat and austere with dark molasses residue. Very, very different. I’m initially repelled, but by the last sip it starts to grow on me.
Bantlin “Domaine Les Portes” 2004 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Muscat Sec “fin de la nuit” (Roussillon) – Faded flowers and dried fruit fading into an oxidative summer sunset. Yet there’s something intriguing about this wine, which keeps enticing me back for sip after sip, until the liquid’s gone. How’d that happen? (9/06)
Sauzet 1998 Saint-Romain (Burgundy) – Sweet-sour grapefruit with a bit of sweaty acridity, good but slightly disjointed crispness, and a light sheen of mature butter. It gains some crisp, citrusy spice with extended aeration. A pretty good, light, lower-tier white Burgundy at full maturity. (9/06)
d’Angerville 1994 Volnay (Burgundy) – Harshly tannic at first, but this slowly fades, giving way to a nice mélange of well-aged red fruit and crumbled autumn leaves fallen on a mossy ground, with the morning’s frost rising as steam from wet, aromatic earth. This is a really lovely wine, but it requires time to present itself. (9/06)
Trimbach 1989 Gewurztraminer “Sélection des Grains Nobles” (Alsace) – From 375 ml. Not even close to ready, with lychee and peach fruit only mildly spiced (though heavily sweetened), and showing almost none of the expected meat-like characteristics that come with aged versions of this grape. A dining companion notes an emergent bitterness, which is typical for late-harvested gewurztraminer; he dislikes it, while I find it a necessary balancing element in the wine’s sugar-dominated structure. Way, way too young, but potentially very nice. However, if you’re insistent on opening something, the ’89 VT is drinking much better right now. (9/06)