Voyager Estate 2003 Shiraz (Margaret River) – Big and monolithic, with dark, chewy black and blue fruit in tight layers over a leather and concrete foundation. Smooth and modern, but by no means overworked, and in fact quite balanced and drinkable for a massive block of wine. This should age, and the inevitable calming will probably help. (6/07)
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Dark and moody, with leather-wrapped blackberry and blueberry beneath a growing layer of black silt. This wine hasn’t budged much over the last few years; it’s an excellent value, full of honesty and delicious, authentic quality. (4/07)
Edmunds St. John 2002 Syrah “The Shadow” (California) – Earthen mushrooms, mixed nuts, smoke and dark, dark fruit with bracing acidity. Really good, but it will really reward some cellar time. (12/06)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge 1999 Syrah Sentinel Oak Pyramid Block (Shenandoah Valley) – Very oak-dominated, and while it’s so massive it doesn’t appear closed, I suspect that it might be. There certainly used to be more fruit here. What remains is dark and scowly, like sandpaper-bruised blueberry residue and sweat-soaked leather, and there’s a feral (not bretty, just wild) element lurking in the background…a snarling wolf hidden in a dark grove of evergreens. There’s structure, though a good deal of it seems to be coming from the wood at the moment, and though I have confidence that it will meet its maker’s expectations for a long life, I think it will always be fairly woody. I guess we’ll see. (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.
Louisvale 2006 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Western Cape) – Clean apple, clementine and tangerine. Decent. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Chenin Blanc (Paarl) – Concentrated red cherry, blood orange with slightly noticeable residual sugar. Quite intense, with good acidity. Flavorful New World-style chenin. (2/07)
Springfontein 2006 Chenin Blanc (Walker Bay) – Green peach and white linen. Simple and soft. (2/07)
BWC 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Gooseberry and thyme with a grassy undertone. Simple, fair. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Rosé (Coastal) – Clean strawberry & raspberry leaves. Simple & fun. (2/07)
Amira 2004 Syrah (Coastal) – Bitter blueberry, dirt, and stems. No good. (2/07)
Vriesenhof 2003 “Enthopio” (Stellenbosch) – Rich, roasted frut and burnt soil with spice and crispness. Mostly pinotage. Both good and interesting. (2/07)
Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, cappuccino, black cherry, blackberry, and soft greenness. Low-tier potential at best, but it’s probably at its best now. It’s unquestionably better after a few hours of air. (2/07)
Muratie 2003 Shiraz (Stellenbosch) – Cassis, black cherry and strawberry. A big-fruited, simple-minded wine. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Red cherry and raspberry with pine tar and a great acidic tingle. Ripe and quite good. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Estate Reserve” (Walker Bay) – Herbs (mostly thyme), underripe but boisterous fruit, light tannin, and a soupy texture. Bleah. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Ulumbaza” Shiraz (Walker Bay) – Big blueberry fruit, light spice, mild tannin and good acid. Everything’s front-loaded here, but it’s good in that idiom. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Cabernet Franc (Paarl) – Rosemary, rough black earth, blueberry and pointy acidity. Eh. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Pinotage (Paarl) – Soft, with big strawberry, apple, and medium-ripe plum with some tannin on the finish. Moderately OK. (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.
Voyager Estate 2003 Shiraz (Margaret River) – Big, upfront blackberry, blueberry and black cherry with zingy bursts of leather-textured tapioca and a fruit-dominated structure. This is shiraz at its juiciest, yet it’s neither overdriven nor overoaked, and it carries its own fruity balance with confidence and even a little bit of aggression. Good stuff. (2/07)
Durand “Domaine la Bastide” 2004 Vin de Pays d’Hauterive Syrah (Languedoc) – Blackberry in an almost bubbly, tingly style…the sort of thing that makes one think of carbonic maceration, though I don’t believe that was employed here…with a cracked eggshell, charred brown earth sort of minerality to it. Balanced and approachable. Apparently this is actually a Corbières, but the proprietor thinks that appellation has been so devalued that he’s declassified the wine. He may be right. It’s an exceptional sub-$10 value, though it’s not “serious” in any way. (1/07)
Marietta “Old Vine Red” 41 (California) – Every year, this wine disappears further into its own shadow. This version is fading to transparency (and I don’t mean visually), showing anonymous spicy fruit underneath somewhat strident oak…not that much of that latter, but more than enough to subdue aught else. Not only is this no longer the value it once was, I’m not even sure it’s recommendable as a bargain quaffer anymore. Let’s see what the next release brings. (1/06)
Benoni 2002 Syrah “Three Vineyards” (Napa Valley) – Simple plum-berry aromas with a little bit of water-soaked leather and a good deal of dry, papery tannin. Good old Napa, doing to syrah what it does to zin: drying it out. (12/06)
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Growing steamier, sweatier, and more long-ridden leathery with each passing month, this sheds its California roots and looks towards Gallic climes as it ages. It’s still quite full-bodied and balanced, but the black’n’blueberry fruit is fading under the animalistic imperatives of aged syrah. A delicious wine, a ridiculous bargain. (12/06)