Couly-Dutheil 1995 Chinon Clos de l’Echo (Loire) – Very herbal (mostly thyme), but juicy, showing soy on the midpalate and a wet, white peppery edge to the tannin that scrapes across the finish. Everything else in this wine seems ripe, but the tannic bite may not be. There’s a feisty meat component as the wine opens, then tarragon and a lovely lavender grace note. The balance here is lovely, but what also stands out is the abruptness of the wine’s decline; three hours after opening, it is dead, dead, dead. So: drink up with pleasure, but do drink up. (5/07)
Moncontour 1993 Vouvray Demi-Sec (Loire) – Old wax and mild oxidation…at first. This really needs air, after some of which the midpalate fattens, showing large-scaled dried pineapple and papaya. Underneath is a faded riverbed of rocks and wet chalk. The texture is downy, and though there’s both a very slight touch of softening sweetness and a lot of acid, this shows signs of an early end to its life. Which, because it’s Vouvray, could be anytime over the next two decades. (5/07)
Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Cuvée Eden” “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – This wine is deceptive. It begins with gentleness and insubstantiality, teasing with hints of broken-shell seashore wind. There’s a sudden expansion, wherein sun-blanched lemons and almond whitemeats rush to the fore, bringing with them a thick, rocky brine. Then, a retreat…leaving firm, palate-drying structure and an almost shockingly persistent finish. Obviously, this is too young, but even in its first years, the quality and complexity are apparent. (5/07)
Joguet 2003 Chinon “Cuvée de la Cure” (Loire) – Ripe, leaf-tinged blackberry…plucked from the wild with fruit, flower, leaf and branch intact…over a firm bed of black earth and decaying, morel-infused autumnal forest bed. There’s plenty of structure here, but it’s smooth and ripe, and this would seem to be a wine meant for aging. Nicely formed. (4/07)
Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf 2004 Touraine “Le Guerrerie” (Loire) – This producer’s reds almost always smell slightly corked to me, but those much more experienced with the wines insist that it’s not TCA. In any case, this is gauzy, musty and somewhat overcast, with angry but whip-skinny black fruit snarling and spitting acid and little lashes of bitter tannin at anyone brave enough to approach. It’s a “difficult” wine, but aside from that strange cork-like aroma, I think I like it. Certainly it needs age, in any case. (4/07)
Cave de Saumur 2005 Saumur Lieut-dit Les Pouches (Loire) – Slightly spritzy, showing limestone, apple and lime with a light grace note of volatile acidity. The finish is crisp. It’s a simple wine with good balance, and it’s not trying to be anything more than that. (3/07)
Thomas-Labaille 2005 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés (Loire) – As solid a young effort as I’ve tasted here, but showing its hand much more easily than in the past. Grey, dusty earth and freshly-smelted aluminum vie with sculpted grass and drying citrus skins for prominence, all enveloped by a firm, masculine structure that refuses to reveal weakness despite a lingering finish. Really, really good, though I wonder if the approachability means that it will have a shorter lifespan than normal. (My instincts are that it will be just fine.) (3/07)
(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.
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.
Filliatreau 2005 Saumur (Loire) – Grassy earth, thyme and dusty dark berries. It gives the impression that it’s going to be green and somewhat acrid, but in fact the texture is beautifully particulate, and there’s a surprising smoothness. This tastes completely “natural,” for those to whom that term means something, and it dances delightfully with a pretty wide variety of foods. Delicious. And ageable? Perhaps, for a while. (3/07)
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.
Luneau-Papin 2002 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Terroir de Schistes” Clos des Noëlles “Semper Excelsior” (Loire) – All rocks and seashells, with a piercing gaze and stunning poise. Absolutely beautiful. More, please. (2/07)
Baumard Crémant de Loire “Carte Turquoise” (Loire) – Lemongrass, aspirin and herbal dust. Soft and simple, with a clumsy froth…more of a foam than an actual sparkle. (2/07)
Baumard Crémant de Loire “Carte Corail” (Loire) – Strawberry, lemon and bold anise notes. Deeper and much more interesting than the Turquoise, with some leesiness on the finish. (2/07)
Baumard 2002 Savennières (Loire) – Big white asparagus and sea salt with chalky minerality, then slate, then molten steel with…this sounds strange…a dry, watery grip. The finish brings out more asparagus alongside ripe grapefruit. There’s more future than present here. (2/07)
Baumard 2001 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – Tight, crystalline, and hollow. The finish is a long tube of chalked iron and leafy aluminum. Very disappointing. (2/07)
Baumard Côteaux du Layon “La Cuvée Ancienne” (Loire) – A blend of stocks going from 1966 to 1988, if I remember correctly. The point is to prove the ageability of Côteaux du Layon. Unfortunately, the wine tastes more tired than mature, showing pine needles, dessert spice, old golden apples, and some cider notes. (2/07)
Baumard 1991 Côteaux du Layon Clos de Sainte Catherine (Loire) – An apple wrapped with a thin sheet of metal, then re-wrapped with banana leaves, and finally drizzled with smooth, sweet vegetable syrup. Clean, upfront and fully mature. (2/07)
Baumard 2002 Quarts de Chaume (Loire) – One expects this to be terrific, and it is. Big tropical fruit well-balanced by crisp, apple-tone acids, leaves and quinine. Concentrated and very intense, yet never losing that flawless balance. Absolutely delicious. (2/07)
F. Cotat 2005 Sancerre “Les Culs de Beaujeu” (Loire) – Sulfur and quartz, with an intense, almost tingly palate. Fine and precise, with very good balance and a long finish. It’s very young, however. (2/07)
Vatan “Château du Hureau” 2004 Saumur-Champigny (Loire) – Herbs, black cherry skins and bitter licorice. The balance starts off OK, but eventually tannin overwhelms this wine. Worrisome. (2/07)
Joly 2004 Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (Loire) – Wax, chalk and slate with an intense, smoky note that veers towards creosote, then writhes back from the precipice, eventually to be overcome by a patina of ultra-flavorful pâte brisée (that’s pastry dough for the unpretentious among us). A skin-like note adds a tannic accent to the finish. This is really nicely done, with a good future. (2/07)
Huet 2002 Vouvray Le Mont “Demi-Sec” (Loire) – Stunning balance – just absolutely breathtaking, and perhaps among the finest I’ve ever experienced – between crisp apple, honeydew melon, chalk-dusted wax, and fine acidity. Piercing, with intensity and clarity, and a wine that cannot help but gain one’s full attention. Wow. Simply: wow. (2/07)