Texier 2008 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – The terroir that carried so much of the early (American) hype for Texier probably did more than any of his wines to permanently offend certain segments of the curious. No one familiar with the wine need ask why, but for the rest: it’s the acid, of course. That fierce, brittle, insistent acid. This is the Cantillon of Côtes-du-Rhône, and the uncompromising nature of it means that, at times, even fans will struggle to wrap their palates around it. There’s so much to recommend here…soil and sharp fruit, delineation and character…but either beat it back with acidic food or stick it in a dark corner of the cellar. Of course, only one of these things actually tames the acidity. The other just dresses it with different, and ultimately more interesting, outerwear. (9/10)
Texier 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème Roussanne (Rhône) – This suggests rather than delivers extreme weight, and in fact turns out rather well-balanced. Nut oils and stone fruit residues are in evidence, along with some spice and a fetid peachiness. A nice wine, crisper than many of its ilk, but with the flavors one expects. (7/07)
Texier 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Beef jerky, lashings of hickory and bacon squeezings, fried leather and sun-desiccated earth, all slapped into hyper-awareness by strident bell-tones of meat vinegar. And yet, everything’s muted and oppressed, as if the wine is fading into oblivion. This is my last bottle – I’ve been opening them sooner than I’d wished due to a complete lack of confidence in the synthetic corks, a fear which has proven unfortunately well-founded – but despite the suppression, it’s probably the best of the lot. I wish I could have held it longer, because I never really embraced the spiky acidity in this wine, but alas… (3/07)
Texier 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème Roussanne (Rhône) – Spiced canned pear – freshly canned, not some ancient supermarket relic – and hazelnut oil with cracked clay desiccating in the sun. It appears fat, and yet somehow the weight seems more a matter of bulky clothing than blowsy opulence; there’s a honed quality that survives despite a much lower acidity than the majority of the whites I drink. Perhaps it’s higher than normal for roussanne due to the Brézème terroir? Well, whatever the case, it’s a delicious wine. (1/07)
Yalumba “Y Series” 2005 Viognier (South Australia) – Simple, relatively clean stone fruit with floral enhancements. It lacks exoticism and complexity, but neither is it heavy. A decent wine. (8/06)
Viognier’s appeal lies in its overtly floral, honeysuckle-and-peach fruit…but to achieve these qualities, it’s often necessary to let the fruit hang, which leads to its most significant problem: high alcohol, lending any resulting wine a heavy, ponderous texture. Unfortunately, it’s a rare site and winemaker than can avoid the latter while achieving the former. Thankfully, the wine is at least pleasant when presented in its less ripe form…as long as it’s not buried in new wood, which this wine is not. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.yalumba.com/.
Cane 2004 Dolceacqua “Superiore” Vigneto Arcagna (Liguria) – Compelling but slightly harsh red fruit, tarted up by sour cherry acid and wet bark, but stuffed with fruit dust aromatics. It’s a particular, almost dying sort of style that might not find purchase in our modern world…but with higher acid food, it really shines. People tend to decry the existence of “food wines,” but this – properly paired – is the sort of thing that makes them look foolish. (8/06)
This is made from rossese grown west of Genoa, right up against the French border. Ligurian wines don’t make much, if any, impact on the international marketplace – even the fame of Cinque Terre can’t change that – so it’s interesting to see this on local shelves. The internationalization of wine works its nefariousness in two ways: by forcing wines of this type into new wood and smoothing textural deformations, and by keeping wines of this type out of the marketplace entirely. But this…this is what wine used to taste like. Not a cocktail, but a partner at the table. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Adonna.
Texier 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Extremely sweaty leather and beef juice with sun-charred rocks and spiky, jarring acidity. It smells terrific, but the acid – even when one is expecting it, which anyone familiar with this wine should be – is occasionally shocking. Still, it appears to have reached some sort of peak, and with the inconsistencies introduced by its synthetic cork I wouldn’t dare hold it any longer. (8/06)
100% syrah. Texier’s Brézème is the only wine from this site that I’ve tasted, though I’ve been led to believe that high acidity is a site characteristic. It’s certainly jarring, and definitely not for everyone…even acid-lovers like myself. With the right food – something higher-acid than the normal syrah fare, perhaps game or a roast with onions or tomatoes in the mix, or why not lamb in a Greek-style avgolemono sauce? – things improve quite a bit. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web: http://www.adonkeyandgoat.com/texier/.
Guigal 2000 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Solid and dependable, showing mild animalistic funk smoothed over by dark, earthy, baritone fruit and a few alto incursions of blackberry residue. Everything is very strictly in place here, and the wine is aging nicely, but one perhaps wishes for a bit more verve, and certainly for a good deal more aromatic enticement. Nitpicking, I know. (8/06)
96% syrah, 4% viognier. Guigal, long a dependable producer of representative wines (aside from their expensive and frequently overwooded luxury cuvées), goes through ups and downs. Lately, they’re on a definite upswing, with qualitative improvements obvious almost across the board. Name the appellation and there’s certainly a “better” example, but the wines are once more steady-handed representatives of their terroir. (Note, though, the usual caveat: be wary of 2002/2003 wines, which are difficult for different reasons.) Closure: cork. Importer: Ex Cellars. Web: http://www.guigal.com/.
Milan Champagne Sec “Grand Cru” Blanc de Blancs “Tendresse” (Champagne) – Lightly sweet melon and yellow raspberry, gently oscillating in a dish of pure, sweet sunlight. There are hints of complexing minerality here, but this is really one of the nicer sweet Champagnes I’ve ever tasted. (8/06)
100% chardonnay. Despite the literal translation of the word, “sec” in terms of Champagne means relatively sweet. Though it’s often-rumored (and occasionally confirmed) that Champagne houses sweeten all their cuvées for the American market – because after all, you’ll never go broke selling sugar to Americans – categories other than brut (dry) and extra-dry (slightly less dry…yeah, yeah, go figure) are exceedingly rare in the States. This is probably because Americans like to think they’re drinking dry, even when they prefer sweet. (If you think about it, this is the same concept behind Starbucks and Trojan eschewing anything labeled “small.”) It’s too bad, too, because I think this wine would be very, very popular in the States, if people would only try it. Closure: cork. Importer: Theise/Skurnik. Web: http://www.champagne-milan.com/.
23 April 2006 –Berkeley, California
Vintage Berkeley – A highly “designed” store that could easily fail from an excess of form over function. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. I’ve been sent here by Steve Edmunds for a bottle of Tayerle Vermentino that he finds particularly tasty (Steve has just started growing vermentino himself, and is in a full fit of enthusiasm), but spend some enjoyable browsing time scanning what seems to be a fairly unusual selection of wines…definitely out of the ordinary. One visit won’t reveal whether or not “unusual” equals “good” in this particular case, but if I lived in the area I’d certain take the time to find out.
Peaberry’s Coffee & Tea – I’ve asked a friend to bring me to some coffee “not from a chain,” and he beelines (as much as one can on these hilly streets) here. It seems more Berkeley than Oakland, at least to me, but the coffee’s very good and precisely made…plus it’s nice to not be supporting the merchants of charred beans and sticky, dessert-like “coffee” beverages. More seats would be nice, but this is merely wishful thinking as there’s no room for them. A good locale for those in search of caffeination.
Paul Marcus Wines – Located in the same streetside “mall” as Peaberry’s, and pretty much the opposite of Vintage Berkeley in its crowded clutter of wines. But the selection is excellent, the prices are reasonable, and the staff seems to know their stuff. His eponymousness is in the house, but we don’t speak.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant – A good selection somewhat mitigated by about a 50% focus on “name” wines and slightly high prices…which is not at all unexpected given the location. I’m here for the wine bar, which usually has a nice selection of different styles (plus, as I find out on this visit, the ability to open and pour any wine in the store for $6 additional corkage). However, today the selection of by-the-glass wines is heavily tilted towards overfruited, overoaked, and goopy styles in which I’m profoundly uninterested…leaving me with just one semi-palatable choice.
Texier 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Texier’s unusually ageable Brézème often has controversial levels of acidity, so I wonder if the otherwise highly-avoidable 2003 vintage might actually bring this particular element into a less controversial balance. In reality, ’03 does what it does to almost everything else from this region and this vintage: render the wine sludgy and ponderous. It’s big alright, with slightly syrupy blackberries, black truffle oil and a massive palate presence. There’s a bit of earth underneath, but mostly this is heavy, extremely ripe, a bit hot, and low in acidity. In other worlds, it could easily pass for New World syrah…the kind that I don’t much care for. I commend Texier for trying, but…
The Slanted Door – It’s possible that this restaurant has become too successful for its own good. Or maybe that’s just a selfish response, since it takes far too much lead time to get a table these days. One nice alternative is the bar, with a short menu and the full (and always excellent) wine list available via a very accommodating staff.
Of course, the wine lists brings its own problems. Or, more specifically, one overarching one: too many interesting options, such that it can be hard to narrow things down.
Coudert “Clos de la Roilette” 2004 Fleurie (Beaujolais) – Rough, earthy and aromatically difficult, with improved red cherry-based complexities on the palate. It would appear to have a future, but this notion is largely based on the wine’s track record, because it’s exceedingly cranky now.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2004 “Pif” (Loire) – Raw tannin and chunky red fruit gathered in festive little knots…a wine not yet coalescing into a full-blown party. Acidic in its rustic fashion, but pure and utterly delicious. I wish more people made wine like this.
While we’re drinking, we enter into some casual banter with the restaurant’s long-time star wine dude Mark Ellenbogen, who regales us with pre-dinner rush stories of the sublime and the outrageous. My favorite example, from critic Steve Tanzer and directed at winemaker Steve Edmunds: “Don’t you think these syrahs would be better with new wood?” Uh, no.
Zuni rather than later
Zuni Café – The intention is to inhale a few dozen oysters at the Ferry Plaza’s Hog Island Oyster Co., but it’s closed. A brief consultation on where we might find an alternative source for excellent oysters (and a bonus wine list of some repute) leads to an obvious conclusion: Zuni, with its no-reservations bar area. We’re prepared to stand at the bar, but there are open seats in the corner, and so we watch the often bizarre pedestrian activity on its slightly dodgy stretch of Market Street while inhaling a rather shocking number of bivalves and a large dogpile of salty goodness in the form of fried shoestring potatoes with aïoli. Somehow, this coupled with the location and the fine, friendly but casual service feels so classically Californian.
Huet 2004 Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec (Loire) – It’s still so young, yet it’s strong from first opening and grows throughout the evening as it warms and slowly oxidizes. The wine is a chalky river breeze stirring up already-turbulent soil, revealing mushrooms and dried wax residue in its wake. There’s amazing complexity and stunning length on the finish. An incredible wine barely out of the cradle, but already promising much.
My friend provides a bit of amusement as we’re deciding whether or not to order a digestif. “Is it still light out,” he asks.
I gesture. “Well, we’re surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows, so…”
It appears someone should abstain. Unfortunately, I should join him; my California-produced pear brandy (I don’t get the name, but it’s an eau de vie-style clear beverage) can provide no better than watery, thin, overly sweet insinuations of stale pear.
Disclosure: the glass of Texier at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant was provided free of charge.