Domaine du Columbier 1999 Hermitage (Rhône) – Hard as nails at uncorking, and this tight clench takes hours to loosen. Thickened by ultra-fine tannin to neutron star-density, even for Hermitage this is hyper-reticent and parodically masculine. After the aforehinted hours of aeration there’s some dry black fruit residue to contemplate, and a little more textural generosity. It’s hard to say if this is on the decline or not yet done with its journey, but with more confidence I can fit this into a longstanding personal narrative in which, for me, even the best Hermitage (and this is not) is more a wine of cold intellectual fascination than pleasure. I’m getting mightily tired of its opposite as well (the glou-glou genre), so maybe this is just another manifestation of my curmudgeonry. It won’t be the last… (6/12)
Chave 1994 Hermitage (Rhône) – At one time I owned some of this, back in the days when it was (relatively) reasonably priced. I don’t know what happened to it, and I certainly drank it too early, because this is where you’d want it…perhaps even a touch past that point…with a grittier, tooth-baring edge to its columnar masculinity. (Sometimes, a masculine column is just a masculine column. Or Chave Hermitage. Same thing.) (11/11)
Texier 1999 Hermitage (Rhône) – Cellared since release. Packed up in a hand-constructed individual stryo sleeve. Stuffed into a bag and checked, paying the airline’s asinine baggage fee to do so despite not otherwise needing to check a bag. Collected at baggage claim after much foot-tapping delay. Unwrapped and rested, upright, in the hotel room to let the sediment settle. Transported, with care to avoid further sedimentary disturbance, to a restaurant. And – wine people can see the inevitable conclusion coming a mile away – corked. (11/10)
Jaboulet 1990 Hermitage “La Chapelle” (Rhône) – Corked. (6/08)
Jaboulet 1995 Hermitage “La Chapelle” (Rhône) – La Chapelle is one of the more maddening wines from this region; sometimes it’s terrific, sometimes it’s meager, and sometimes it’s simply disappointing. This is one of the former, though that may have more than a little to do with its surprisingly forward nature. Firm minerality is delivered, stone by stone and with a gentle hand, amidst a humid vapor of generalized meatiness and herbality. The wine is as structured and solemn as the little chapel that is its namesake (even if the grapes themselves are from elsewhere), but for whatever reason it’s drinking quite well at the moment. (8/07)
Guigal 2001 Hermitage (Rhône) – Dill and sour fruit. Weird. Good structure, but this is either completely off the map or closed in a very, very strange way. (2/08)
(The original version, with many more photos, is here.)
29 March 2006 – Ingersheim, France
La Taverne Alsacienne (99, rue de la République) – Be wary: there are at least a half-dozen restaurants in Alsace that carry this name. This is the one in the (only?) pretty corner of Colmar-exurb Ingersheim…the one with the excellent food and the unbelievable wine list. It’s more formal than one might expect for what is otherwise a cramped, bustling restaurant full of lurid pastels. The service is diffident; neither the effortless formality of a starred establishment nor the brusque efficiency of more casual dining. But it doesn’t matter much, because the food’s solid. I have goose foie gras with a mango/passionfruit chutney and pink peppercorns (hard to go wrong there, as long as the foie gras is good…and it is), then duck breast with dual-preparation potatoes, a variation on ratatouille, and mushrooms (mostly chanterelles) with random root vegetables strewn about the plate. This dish is good, but a little confused and haphazard. More importantly, the duck’s slightly overcooked; not inedibly so, however, and given the number of elements on the plate I’m loathe to send it back. I go conservative for dessert, with a perfectly fine and regionally-ubiquitous kugelhopf glacé.
From a list full of well-aged and invitingly-priced Alsatians, we’re inexplicably browbeaten into a far-too-young Rhône. Hey, these things happen, though I’m not sure how.
Chave 2000 Hermitage Rouge (Rhône) – Very tight and stinging – a leather strap whipping the tongue – with sun-charred earth and blackberry roots. It’s chewy but lithe, and while it’s very well balanced and quite long, the midpalate’s oddly slender. With around a half-hour of air, it improves dramatically, showing more leather (decoupled from its earlier, more sadomasochistic expression), softly meaty elements, rich blackberry, and smooth hints of cherry-infused chocolate. Pure elegance. It is, perhaps, not “great”…or, at least, not right now…but at Chave, that’s a contextual assessment that flows from a very high standard.
Bergheim, France – After a drive through some sun-glazed vineyards west of Ingersheim, a sunny post-lunch stroll around this magisterial fortified village is a relaxing way to work off a half-dozen of the thousands of calories we’ve consumed (and indirectly absorbed) over the past few hours. The outer walls feature beautiful vistas of fields, vineyards and mountains, while the center of town showcases the region’s typically exquisite half-timbered architecture, here supplemented by forbidding churches and imposing post-governmental structures.
Riquewihr, France – Often an overcrowded, showy venue for separating tourists from their euros, Riquewihr (one of the very few Alsatian villages to survive multiple wars in a mostly intact state) takes on a very different feel after the visitors head home. A few locals take a pre-dinner stroll, and the most impatient and unacculturated foreign diners begin to settle in for mediocre choucroute and baekeoffe at main street tourist traps, but for the most part the village’s vivid colors and asymmetrical geometries are shadowed and (relatively) quiet. As long as one doesn’t want to buy or taste anything, it’s a fine time to visit.
Kaysersberg, France – Even more shut-down than Riquewihr (at least from a tourist standpoint), this historic and elegant village is beginning to enliven with early diners and the beginnings of rural Alsatian “nightlife.” All street activity coalesces around the two main pedestrian routes, leaving the back streets free of motion (except for the occasional finger-sniffing cat). It’s exceedingly peaceful, but all the aromas drifting from the back windows of kitchens and restaurants are starting to make us hungry. And so, back to the gîte we go.
We’ve got white asparagus with a buttery blood orange sauce (unfortunately, the peeler provided by the gîte is woefully inadequate to the task, leaving the asparagus hacked-up and yet still more than a little stringy), a small leg of lamb, and some leeks…followed by cheese. What we don’t have, however, is a red wine. Normally, in Alsace, I’d choose pinot gris to go with lamb – it is, after all, a red grape – but I don’t have any of that either. Poor planning on my part.
Rolly Gassmann 1999 Sylvaner Weingarten de Rorschwihr (Alsace) – Lovely, cream-textured and mildly sweet, with cinnamon, milk, celery and tomato…a bizarre-sounding combination, but it works in this wine. Green, sunny, and fully mature.
Boxler 2004 Riesling L30M (Alsace) – Crystalline sweetness with ripe, almost tropical apple slashed by shattered mineral brilliance. Drying, structured and extremely long, but what stands out most is the wine’s lively, vivid presence.
The riesling’s sheer intensity is more than enough for the lamb, even though the organoleptics don’t quite match, and the sylvaner’s surprising density is a fine foil for the asparagus. Neither much goes with the cheese, but at this point we’re liquored-up enough to not care. A late-night walk to the village’s solemn church provides a little head-clearing, and as it turns out we’re leaning against its fortified wall, staring at the moonlit vineyards below, as its bells chime midnight. Perhaps it’s just the wine, but the tones seem to reach down and grab at something beyond the physical. We walk, quietly and thoughtfully, back to the gîte, and fall, full-satiated, quickly into a deep sleep, the bells still echoing in our dreams.
Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.
(Unless otherwise noted, the wines are red.)
Guigal 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc (Rhône) – Very shy but clean, showing stone fruit and cement. Too light, despite the road-building material. (2/07)
Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2006 Lirac Blanc (Rhône) – Flowers and freshly-cut apricot and peach. Pretty. There’s something so appealing about fresh, fruity and young white Rhônes. It’s only later that they become controversial. (2/07)
Guigal 2005 Condrieu (Rhône) – Floral (of course), in that intensely aromatic way that makes partisans and enemies in equal measure. Honey-drizzled nuts (though the wine is quite dry), spice, and a lightly drying skin tone. Nice. (2/07)
Guigal 2001 Ermitage (Hermitage) Blanc “Ex Voto” (Rhône) – One of the single most disgusting things I’ve ever put in my mouth (other than bacteriological disasters), with the nastiest possible raw wood and dill comprising the pathetic whole of this dreck. This is horrid. This is absolute crap. This is a macabre parody of liquid evil. This is an abomination against good taste. This wine should be destroyed for the good of the planet. I didn’t care for it. (2/07)
Guigal 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé (Rhône) – Raspberry, bubblegum and pink peppercorns. This is nicely balanced. (2/07)
Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Tavel (Rhône) – Strawberry bubblegum pie (if one can imagine such a thing) with a sugary feeling to the palate and finish. Just a little too desserty for its own good. (2/07)
Avril Vin de Table “Le petit vin d’Avril” (France) – Sharp, direct raspberry. Acidic and short. This is a wine I want to like, but even its desperate cry for food might not bring it back into balance. (2/07)
Dorthe “Domaine de Couron” 2005 Vin de Pays des Côteaux de l’Ardèche “Marselan” (Ardèche) – Very aromatic, showing big flowers and boisterous raspberry blossoms. Nice. While there’s some structure, this is mostly about fun. (2/07)
Diffonty “Domaine de Brès Caseneuve” 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc (Languedoc) – Dark plum, black licorice and bubblegum. Rough but balanced, with a bit of sourness that somehow seems oak-derived. This has a future, but I worry about that sour note. (2/07)
Decouvertes & Selections “Domaine des Rozets” 2004 Côteaux du Tricastin (Rhône) – Gentle strawberry, raspberry and light bubblegum with a short, countrified finish. Eh. (2/07)
Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Plum, bubblegum, leather and a drying anise quality that coarsens into a brutish finish. It will probably improve with a little age, however. (2/07)
Guigal 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Fresh strawberry and red cherry. Very upfront, yet there’s a little bit of structure as well. A fair value wine. (2/07)
Guigal 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Tannic and hard. There’s a little softening in the midpalate, but this is a perfect exemple of the vintage’s too-common flaw. (2/07)
Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Sour cherry and dill, with some other herbs floating around in the background. Next. (2/07)
Dorthe “Domaine de Couron” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Strawberry and sand with a light structure. There’s a lot of minerality bubbling underneath, here. Not bad. (2/07)
Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Rhône) – A gorgeous nose, full of sweetly rich, ripe red/purple fruit. However, it falls completely apart after that, leaving a dry, dead palate and hard finish. Very disappointing. (2/07)
Lafond 2004 Lirac “La Ferme Romaine” (Rhône) – Soft at the edges, but with a core of plum, blueberry syrup, raspberry liqueur and strongly floral notes. Thick coffee and vanilla round out the finish. It’s good, though it grows increasingly internationalized as it persists, and I suspect the temptation to smooth it out with new oak is one that might better have been limited. (2/07)
Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2004 Lirac (Rhône) – Big black coffee and plum with raspberry liqueur. This is obviously a “lesser” wine than the Ferme Romaine, and yet I think it’s both better and has a more promising future. (2/07)
Guigal 2004 Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône) – Thing and insubstantial, showing faded leather and little else. (2/07)
Guigal 2003 St-Joseph (Rhône) – Blackberry and some vegetal notes. Simultaneously light and hard, which is not the most pleasant combination. (2/07)
Stehelin 2004 Gigondas (Rhône) – Heavy and strong, with black earth, asphalt and thick, licorice-like fruit running from dark purple to black. Structured and pure, and very, very impressive. Lovers of sheer size above all else will want to drink it now, but everyone else should let it age. (2/07)
Guigal 2003 Gigondas (Rhône) – A great nose of strawberry seed, licorice and dark earth. It’s massively, overwhelmingly tannic (no surprise), with a hard, drying finish. Almost… (2/07)
Guigal 2003 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Rough and hard, with tannin running roughshod over strawberry seed and horse-scented leather. Not bad, considering the challenges, but not that great either. (2/07)
Guigal 2001 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Soft and acrid, with better-constituted elements drawn forth on the finish: graphite and asphalt. I suspect this might be somewhat closed, but I also think it might be fundamentally frayed. (2/07)
Guigal “Château d’Ampuis” 2003 Côte-Rôtie (Rhône) – Big, ripe black fruit and herbs with an earthy, mixed-nut underbelly. Despite the size, there’s an appealing softness and unquestionable balance here. A very good wine. (2/07)
Guigal 2001 Hermitage (Rhône) – Structured graphite with a fierce aspect…yet there’s balance, albeit the wine is just edging towards acid-dominance, with atypical raspberry and red apple apparent on the finish. An odd wine. Perhaps partially closed? (2/07)
Apologies for the long delay between updates. Life called, and it wasn’t bearing a case of La Tâche. Why does that never happen, anyway?
Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Moulin de la Gustaie (Loire) – Fresh and lively sea-breeze and apple, with complexing saltwater sand notes and dried white flowers. Somewhat mossy, yet as vivid as you’d want. A really interesting wine. (9/06)
Grape(s): melon de bourgogne. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Unckrich 2005 Kallstadter Steinacker Grauer Burgunder Spätlese Trocken 013 06 (Pfalz) – Simple, slightly acrid pear squeezings (heavy on the skins) and faded grapefruit/lime soda, with nice acidity and a chalky undertone. It seems interesting at first, but after a while the realization sets in: it’s a little boring if taken in quantity. But “boring” doesn’t mean “bad,” and in fact this wine is tasty enough. (9/06)
Grape(s): grauer burgunder (a/k/a pinot gris). Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Boston Wine. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Boulard Champagne Mailly “Grand Cru” Brut (Champagne) – This is an older release, perhaps 1999/2000 or so. Deep, almost animalistic red fruit and black chanterelle aromas with a spicy, bready, brown-toned aura of brooding antagonism. It’s as forcefully flavorful as a fine red Burgundy, stronger-willed than most Champagnes, and seems fully mature. Striking wine. (9/06)
French bottling. Grape(s): 90% pinot noir, 10% chardonnay. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.champagne-boulard.fr/.
Gresser 2001 Riesling Duttenberg (Alsace) – Minerals through gauze, showing too much restraint and a thick, somewhat clumsy texture at first. This all resolves after an hour or so of air, and the wine’s minerality sharpens, turning to fine particulate glass in an overcast mood. All this indicates is that aging is most likely required. (9/06)
Grape(s): riesling. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web: http://www.gresser.fr/.
Karthäuserhof 1992 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese (auction) 9 93 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Warring between its youthful crispness and its mature creaminess, this is a gorgeous soda of acid-washed quartz and bubbly cocktail lime. Perhaps even a brief shot of gin? Terrific riesling just on the other side of its midlife crisis.(9/06)
Grape(s): riesling. Alcohol: 7.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Old Vine. Web: http://www.karthaeuserhof.com/.
R&V Dauvissat 1995 Chablis La Forest “1er Cru” (Chablis) – Blended herbal tea leaves with blackened crystal minerality and old stone fruit dusted with a cabinet full of faded spices. There’s old wood here too – not oak, but the antique smell of a great-grandfather’s desk – and a gorgeous, almost milky texture. Stunning. (9/06)
Grape(s): chardonnay. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Haas/Vineyard Brands. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Chapoutier 1989 Hermitage (Ermitage) “Le Pavillon” (Rhône) – Medium-well leather and slow-cooked meat in a silky, sensuous, almost creamy wine full of soft, mouthfilling meatfruit and Provençal herbs. There’s so little structure than the creaminess turns somewhat flouncy on the palate, and one longs for a little muscularity, or at least assertiveness. Perhaps more importantly, there’s nothing about this that suggests any of the masculinity of great Hermitage. It’s a very good wine, but I’m not sure it’s a good representative of its appellation. (9/06)
Ermitage is an alternative form of Hermitage. Biodynamic. Grape(s): syrah. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Paterno. Web: http://www.chapoutier.com/.
Chapoutier 1994 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Bernardine” (Rhône) – Corked. (9/06)
Biodynamic. Grape(s): grenache & syrah. Alcohol: 13.8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Paterno. Web: http://www.chapoutier.com/.
(Short excerpts from a longer narrative, which can be found here.)
Château de Fieuzal 1993 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux) – Full of pine needles and silty peat moss dust, with something in the licorice family – I proceed through fennel, anise, and pastis before finally arriving back at fennel fronds – with a brassy, tinny aspect.
Mumm NV Champagne Crémant de Cramant Blanc de Blancs (Champagne) – Of indeterminate age, but most definitely not a new release. Smells like a Dairy Queen chocolate shake, though there’s also a malted element to it and perhaps something more custardy from the Ocean City boardwalk would be a more appropriate descriptor. On the palate, there’s some bitter lemon and stingingly tart apple to balance things out, but the overall impression is of a sugary, confected ball of barely-bubbly strangeness.
Chapoutier 1989 Hermitage Blanc “Chante-Alouette” (Rhône) – Lemon peel and peanut oil on the palate, but nothing at all on the nose. It’s less than half a wine, though this performance doesn’t really surprise me from Chapoutier.
Chave 1996 Hermitage Blanc (Rhône) – Manzanilla sherry, creamy puréed earth and chestnuts, but nothing on the palate.
R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1989 Rioja “Reserva” “Viña Gravonia” – Still vivid and – say it ain’t so – possessing something that might easily be labeled fruit, which I point out should necessarily exclude it from our evening. Nonetheless, it’s nice, showing baked pear, baked peach, and a bright, spicy finish. By far the liveliest wine of the night so far.
R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1987 Rioja “Reserva” “Viña Tondonia” – The color…well, basically, there’s no way to describe the color other than “fill the cup, please.” Sour plum, blood orange blossoms and dried flower petals mark a long, complex, and surprisingly pretty wine. Pretty, but with a lot of depth, and probably the best wine of the night.
R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1976 Rioja “Gran Reserva” “Viña Gravonia” – Dark brown, with caramel laced with cidered apple and baked potato. It’s juicy and long, with pretty decent acidity, but it’s also rather heavy and thudding, and I find myself going back to the ’87…as does the rest of the group…leaving a lot of this brooding and mud-colored wine still resting in its decanter.
Ramonteu “Domaine Cauhapé” 2001 Jurançon “Symphonie de Novembre” (Southwest France) – Tasty but “off” in comparison to an earlier bottle, and I wonder aloud if it isn’t some of that “romantic and traditional” cork variation that we all know and love (at least it’s not also-much-beloved cork taint). There’s very slightly oxidized sweet spiced peach, bitter skins and light botrytis spice with a balanced, drying finish…but all the lushness of this wine is under some sort of shroud.
Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) is much better, showing creamy sweet tangerine, orange, spicy wood and noble rot influences, and a luscious balance and texture.