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)
TN: Loire Valley (BWE notes)
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)
TN: Big Bossard
Bossard 2005 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” (Loire) – Oyster shell and seawater with a strong quartz/grass component. Solid and sharp. (1/07)
Bossard-Thuaud Mousseux (Loire) – Seltzer and liquid granite, but only in the presence of food; it’s an airy froth by itself. With a culinary partner, it dances and sings…boisterous sea shanties, pretty soprano arias, even a little jig, or perhaps a frenetic Irish reel. Marvelous, laughter-inducing bubbly. (1/07)
TN: Catching up
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/.
TN: A mini-vertical of Clos des Briords
Ollivier 2005 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Huge minerality underneath, with a dusty floral breeze riding the top. Long and elegant, showing balance and a drying, almost tannic finish. (8/06)
Ollivier 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Very young-tasting, showing grapefruit, kiwifruit and melon with seashells and puréed rocks forming a slightly texturally-confused foundation. Big, with slightly spiky acidity. Call it a rebellious adolescence. (8/06)
Ollivier 2002 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Gorgeous, with fantastic green apple acidity, a crystalline texture, and minerals borne on a distant ocean breeze. (8/06)
Ollivier 2001 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Somewhat oxidized and unquestionably a bad bottle (or, more likely, cork). (8/06)
Ollivier 2000 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Very mineral-driven, but with an extra generosity to the ripe honeydew melon rind fruit. Long, big, ripe and rich, showing clear signs of development. (8/06)
Luneau-Papin “Domaine Pierre de La Grange” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Generous for a Muscadet, but with plenty of nerve and cut, showing brined, water-bathed seashells and a pearl-like texture cut with firm (but not oppressive) lemony acidity. Clean and balanced, with a solid finish and volume-raising affability with food. (8/06)
If there’s a “problem” with the high-quality Muscadets now available from specialist importers like Louis/Dressner (and others), it’s that they confound culinary expectations. They’re not the ultra-crisp, brazen expressions of crushed bivalves that provide such a terrific foil for oysters and their like. Instead, they’re more complete and full-bodied wines, some even possessing the character to be enjoyable on their own. And who’s ever heard of that from a Muscadet? Anyway, the trick is to get a little more aggressive with the pairings. Seafood is still the thing, but I served this with a “surf & surf” dinner of soft-shell crab (soaked in lebne cheese and coated with garbanzo bean flour, then fried), pan-seared salmon (briefly dusted with a Japanese rice flavoring mix that was heavy on the bonito), and local red oak greens drizzled with a ginger and macadamia nut oil vinaigrette. Normally, that would be way too much for a simple Muscadet. Here, the combination was explosively good. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Tourniaire “‘Le Gari’ des Hauts Débats” 2002 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Smooth, sanded and buffed bubblegum and leather squeezings with the dark residue of blackberries. It’s country wine – simple, everyday quaffing stuff – and is a little too oval for deeper interest, which may very well be a result of the difficult, flooded 2002 vintage. Still, this is the sort of simple, clean wine on which an entire culture of non-oenophilic enjoyment is based. How could one find fault with that? (8/06)
If you’ve read A Year in Provence, you know how this wine is made. A friend and his parents have a place near Jonquières…and like many properties in this area, it comes with vineyards on the property. The grapes are worked by and sold to a cooperative, where they are blended and made into a regional wine (in this case, entitled to the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation). Grape suppliers are then paid either with money, with wine, or (more often) a combination of both. I’ve had the white, rosé and red from this establishment, and all are nice, simple wines that I’d be pleased to drink on a daily basis. Lucky people, these friends of mine. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Not commercially available.
TN: Not from Vermont (at last!)
Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – Zingy and forward, as this wine always is, with vivacious gooseberry and lime juice bouyed by playful acidity. Four years on, the structure and the fruit are slightly less well-integrated than they were, but this is still better than almost all the industrial-quantity New Zealand sauvignon blanc that litters store shelves. (6/06)
I’ve written about this wine before, so there’s no need to repeat myself here. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Meadowbank Estates/Empson. Web: http://www.maindivide.com/.
Trimbach 2001 Pinot Gris “Réserve” Ribeauvillé (Alsace) – Acrid pear and grapefruit soda keep themselves at a distance from the drinker, as if to withhold their apparent lushness until some sort of test is passed. In other words, this is showing signs of being a bit closed. It should come out the other side in a few years, at which point both the weight and the fat will re-emerge. (6/06)
I’ve always eschewed the “Ribeauvillé” designation on this wine, for no good reason. All the grapes are from within those vineyards allotted to the town of Ribeauvillé, and as this sort of village labeling is a regular practice in Alsace, there’s no reason for me to keep excluding it. I notice, though, that Trimbach de-emphasizes the appellation by using a font color very similar to the background. A little strange, perhaps, but then Trimbach has always been a brand-forward estate. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Torbreck 2003 “Cuvée Juveniles” (Barossa Valley) – Full-bodied dark berries, but instead of leaden and concentrated (though the wine doesn’t lack for weight), they’re juicy and lip-smacking, with broad-shouldered complexities and a minimal amount of structure. A nice wine. (6/06)
60% grenache, 20% shiraz (syrah), 20% mataro (mourvèdre). The name does not, as one might assume, refer to a young-vines cuvée, but instead to Juveniles wine bar in Paris, whose owner suggested this particular style: old vines & unoaked. I’ve often been indifferent (and occasionally hostile) to the wines of Torbreck, while like-minded palates have insisted that I’m missing something I’d like. This is the first indication I’ve had that they might have been on to something. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Australian Wine Collection. Web: http://www.torbreck.com/.
Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Intense, almost overwhelming ripe gooseberry with a fuzzy, alcohol-induced haze. The flavor is undeniable, and there’s nothing “wrong” with the wine, but I wonder if a little restraint might not improve matters. (6/06)
Made by and for Maori interests in New Zealand, Tohu has cultural baggage that hangs on its success or failure in the marketplace; failure here would be more damaging than with most wineries. That it has heretofore matched decent commercial expectations is noteworthy, but other than the prestige “Mugwi” sauvignon blanc, not much has been done to push the winery away from the crowded low-price realm in which it resides. In my opinion, it’s time to do so. Keep the low-cost, accessible wines, but let’s see more of an adventurous spirit to move the wines onward and upward. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Davies & Co. Web: http://www.tohuwines.co.nz/.
Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Moulin de la Gustaie” “Sur Lie” (Loire) – Crisp but generous (for Muscadet, that is), with fruit skins and flaky, sea-battered minerals scattered on some sort of moonscape. Utterly delicious. (6/06)
Marc Ollivier’s stupendous Muscadets are standard-bearers for what the region can accomplish with the right vines and dedication, and are incredible values as well (though objectively, it’s a shame that such good work can’t lead to greater financial rewards). However, what’s more interesting to me are the striking differences between his cuvées: the regular, the Eden, the shockingly good Clos des Briords, and this one. There’s terroir, there’s vine age, there’s a little bit of style, but all are distinctly different while remaining distinctly Muscadet. That’s terroir for you, right there. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – Fun, fruity, pleasantly acidic. Red. That’s about the it. (6/06)
Seriously, what more do you want? Cheap, fun wine. Stop thinking about it and just drink it! Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/.
Nuns and raisins
Notes from a dinner, with friends and Boston Wine Expo attendees.
Muré Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Alsace) – Balanced and medium ripe, showing apples and light cream. This is one of the better of the basic crémants from Alsace, and previous vintages have proven that the upper-level bottlings from Muré (not, to my knowledge, available in the States) are even better.
Muré’s fame, at least in the States, rests on the Clos St. Landelin and its occasionally heavy, but usually majestic wines. But they do a reliably fine job across their lineup, including their négociant range, and here’s one that will probably fly under the radar for most people. From equal amounts of pinot blanc, riesling, and auxerrois. Disgorged: 12 March 2004. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kacher. Web: http://www.mure.com/.
Viñedos de Nieva “Pasil” 2004 Rueda “Pie Franco” (Castilla & León) – Lightly spiced chalk and soda water, showing clean and pure. Quite refreshing.
100% verdejo, from older vineyard material available to this (relatively new) winery. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela. Web: http://www.vinedosdenieva.com/.
Bossard “Domaine de l’Ecu” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Expression de Granite” (Loire) – Like licking a stone tablet (not necessarily while it’s being held by Moses), sharp and tight yet building gracefully on the finish. A second bottle, tasted the next day after extended aeration, is more generous and introduces youthful, malic fruit characters, but is no less mineral-driven.
It’s curious that the French word “granit” is translated to English for this label, yet “de” remains from the French original. Ah, the mysteries of labeling. Bossard remains one of the area’s best producers, and with the trio of soil-specific bottlings whence this comes, one of the best at showing how incredibly revelatory melon de bourgogne is of terroir. Alcohol: 12%. Biodynamic. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela.
Trimbach 1995 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – Creamy, salt-cured dried leaves and crushed oysters. Highly-advanced vs. other examples from this vintage, and while obvious signs of pure heat damage aren’t necessarily in evidence, something has brought this wine to an early retirement. Better-stored bottles are still not even close to ready.
From the Osterberg and Geisberg vineyards that form the backdrop to Ribeauvillé and to Trimbach itself, and while the same house’s Clos Ste-Hune deserves its reputation as the finest riesling in Alsace, it is more on this wine that the widespread appreciation for Trimbach’s rieslings rests. The fact that it’s less than 25% of the cost of CSH is certainly the primary cause, but the Clos Ste-Hune can be so impenetrable and strange in its youth that it can turn people away from its glories; the CFE is no less restrained at first glance, but the liquefied steel character is at least varietally recognizable. What also helps is that these wines, like most upper-end wines at Trimbach, are late-released and regularly re-released after further maturation, which undoubtedly helps sell the ageability of these all-too-frequently majestic bottles. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Seagram. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Deiss 1997 Gewurztraminer St-Hippolyte (Alsace) – Smoky and sulfurous, with bacon fat and raw rosette de Lyon characteristics, and ultra-ripe lychee jam slathered over everything. The finish is sweaty, and nothing is entirely dry. This is a valid expression of gewurztraminer, and will find some fans, but for me it is far too graceless…an odd thing to say about gewurztraminer, perhaps, but such things are relative.
St-Hippolyte is a village – a pretty one, but then in Alsace most of them are pretty (pity poor, poor Epfig) – not far from Deiss’ home town of Bergheim, and right at the northern end of the arbitrary political border between the Haut-Rhin and the Bas-Rhin. It does, however, suffer a bit from an even more arbitrary notion…this one in the minds of fans of Alsatian wine…that the “important” vignoble of Alsace ends somewhere between Ribeauvillé and Bergheim, and everything north is chilly roulette. This is, of course, nonsense.
It should be pointed out, in the interests of revealing bias, that I am rarely particularly appreciative of the wines at Deiss. (It should also be pointed out that many do not share this view.) The proprietor, Jean-Michel, does possess a certain brilliance (just ask him), but I mostly find it misdirected. Much is made of the current mania for multi-variety single-site blends chez Deiss, but this only serves to amplify the previous problem at this domaine: an obsession with impact over transparency. Transparent wines certainly do not have to be light, nor to they have to be underripe (as Jean-Michel so arrogantly implies in a June 2005 letter), but they can’t obscure varietal and site character in a thudding whoomp of body and thick, sludgy anonymity either. Working from lesser material, Deiss might be able to assert that he alone is expressing his sites correctly…but this doesn’t work in his corner of Alsace. There are too many good winemakers around to make such a ridiculous claim. Personally, I would consider it a victory if he was able to actually express some facet of a site more than once or twice per vintage, because one suspects that his success rate is as much accident as design. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kacher. Web: http://www.marceldeiss.com/.
Faiveley 1990 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru (Burgundy) – (French bottling.) Not dead, but not particularly alive either, with lots of acid, hard tannin, and only the faintest suggestion of berries on the finish. Well past it.
This is part of a large stock of Faiveley wines owned by a French relative, who regularly serves them at full maturity (usually with wild boar) and equally regularly sends some home with me. Unfortunately, the take-home bottles have almost routinely been disappointments vs. their in-France counterparts, and I wonder if the rigors of travel aren’t to blame. In any case, my success rate with the wines – as gratefully received as they are – is poor. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: French bottling, sourced from the domaine. Web: http://www.bourgognes-faiveley.com/.
CVNE “Viña Real” 1981 Rioja “Gran Reserva” (Center-North) – Dill and espresso dusted with chocolate powder, beautifully rich vanilla, and baked earth, finishing with a dessert-y dulce de leche character. I am nearly alone at our table in not loving this, but there’s just nothing but wood (and dill-flavored wood at that).
Tempranillo and graciano. I accept that antipathy towards old Rioja is one of my failings, especially since I usually don’t prefer wines with more obvious fruit. Perhaps it’s the American oak, perhaps it’s my Norwegian aversion to an abundance of dill (familiarity breeds contempt, as too often dill plays the role of “the vegetable” in Norwegian cooking…and before I get letters: yes, that’s a joke (then again, maybe it’s not)), or perhaps it’s just an issue of personal taste. What makes it more painful is that I have a very good friend who adores these wines, and opens them all the time in apparently vain attempts to convert me to their glories. Every once in a while, he succeeds, but then a wine like this comes along…which, as said in the actual note, everyone else appears to like…and my suspicion re-rears its ugly head. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vieux Vins. Web: http://www.cvne.com/.
Jaboulet Aîné 1990 Hermitage “La Chapelle” (Rhône) – Meatfruit and firm, tight, unyielding structure. There’s a phrase about tightness and nuns here that I won’t repeat, but that applies in spades to this wine. The question is: given the precipitous fall in Jaboulet’s quality over the nineties and beyond, is waiting for this one a foolish choice, or will it eventually reward the patience? This wine doesn’t provide a clear answer either way, though my guess is that there’s sufficient stuffing but there’s at least a one-in-three chance that it won’t outlast the structure in any useful way.
Côte-Rôtie provides the Burgundian ambiance (albeit particularly pork-like), Cornas is the rustic and loud country bumpkin with surprising hidden sophistication, Crozes-Hermitage is a minefield, and St-Joseph introduces some fruit to the equation…but it is Hermitage that shows syrah in its sternest, most masculine glory. The problem there is that if one doesn’t get fruit of a high enough quality, or mishandles it in the cellar, one is left with a big slurp of liquid structure with nothing to support. That’s just one of the things that’s befallen Jaboulet in recent years (ownership has changed, and improvements could finally be on the horizon), though this wine is reputed to be one of the holdouts from past glories. I guess we’ll see. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Importer: Frederick Wildman. Web: http://www.jaboulet.com/.
Delorme “Domaine de la Mordorée” 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pâape “Cuvée de la Reine des Bois” (Rhône) – Pretty, verging on beautiful, but still highly primary, showing spiced clove, oak (and oak tannin), and a rich, full-bodied mélange of spices and sun-baked fruit. It needs a lot of time.
Every time I have a good CdP, I wonder why I don’t drink more of it. I guess the price has something to do with it (nothing drinkable is priced at everyday levels, unless you’re loaded), but CdP is a fascinatingly flexible wine, in that it (with certain high-structure exceptions) shows well at most stages of what can be a pretty long life. This one’s grenache in the starring role, with mourvèdre supporting and cinsault, counoise, syrah and vaccarese as bit players, from old vines (though in the context of old vine-heavy CdP, perhaps not all that old…60 years or so). Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kysela. Web: http://www.domaine-mordoree.com/.
Conti Sertoli Salis 1999 Valtellina “Canua Sforzato” (Lombardy) – Lightly sweet prunes and rose hips with graphite-like structure. It’s an odd combination of aromas and sweetness, but it works somehow.
Sforzato (sometimes sfursat in dialect) means that this nebbiolo-dominated wine is, in contrast to regular Valtellina, made from dried grapes that raise both the potential alcohol and the probability of residual post-fermentation sugar. An actual raisin wine, if you will, vs. all the New World wines essentially made from nearly raisined grapes in a misguided pursuit of “ripeness.” Except for the rose hips, there’s little that says “nebbiolo” about this young wine, though careful examination of the overall structure and balance might lead one to envision an aged version of this wine that will, indeed, be highly varietally-revelatory. Alcohol: 14% (though I think it has to be 14.5% by law). Closure: cork. Importer: CHL International Trading. Web: http://www.sertolisalis.com/.
Touchais 1976 Côteaux du Layon (Loire) – Honey and sweet syrup with brioche butter. Seemingly past it.
Sweet and botrytized chenin blanc, from a domaine that regularly does late releases of their wines…which explains their ubiquity on the marketplace. Rarely are they as good as they probably could be, to my tastes, with several producers in Layon doing much better work at ageable chenin. What I’ve never had, however, is a youthful Touchais, so I have no idea what they’re like at bottling. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vieux Vins.
Mary killed a little lamb
Métaireau 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Petit Mouton” (Loire) – All the briny seawater one could want. Unfortunately, this wine arrives in stages: brine, then sweaty/leesy aromatics, then a semi-acrid sort of flatness, and each is less appealing than the first. It’s a fine match with the right food (acid-enhanced bivalves, for example), but it needs that food, because otherwise it’s a bit difficult to drink.
Since this is Métaireau’s young vines cuvée, it’s probably best to not attack it too strongly; he is certainly capable of better work, as evidenced by his other wines. But melon de bourgogne is already a light-aspected grape, and it needs to be of better natural quality to bring out the potential of good Muscadet. I wonder if this wine might not have been better in its natural, non-lees-aged form. Alcohol: 12%. Importer: Boston Wine.
Unión Viti-Vinícola “Marqués de Cáceres” 2001 Rioja “Vendimia Seleccionada” (Center-North Spain) – Awful. Horrible. Wretched. Dead and decaying hamster guts slathered with dill-infused chocolate are not what I’d call appealing, except perhaps to vultures and other carrion-eaters. Stay far, far away.
Tempranillo never had it so bad. This found-everywhere bodega does produce some drinkable wines, but they underachieve at all points. This wine is particularly dismal. Avoid it like the plague. Alcohol: 13%. Importer: Vineyard Brands. Web: http://www.marquesdecaceres.com/.