Browse Tag

vendanges tardives

TN: Five Trimbachs (not all of them white)

Trimbach 2002 Pinot Gris “Réserve” (Alsace) – Better and brighter than the last few vintages, with a light-filled crystalline aspect sparkling amidst ripe pear. There’s also a significant drying tone to the finish. Restrained and pure. (11/06)

Trimbach 2003 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – This announces itself rather sharply, but fails to deliver on its volume, except with a rather formless weight. Aromatically, the wine is far superior to, say, the contextually blowsy 1997 in that it delivers a fairly classic CFE profile of molten iron and shattered malic ice with salted apple, but structurally the wine is very reminiscent of a big Austrian riesling opened and consumed without aging or aeration: weight, but not enough presence. The hope that this, like the 1997, will provide good near-term drinking while waiting for better vintages to develop is, I’m afraid, misguided. (11/06)

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer “Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre” (Alsace) – Classic and true to type, with significant salty minerality underneath vivid but balanced lychee dust, caramelized cashew and bright peach/pear aromas. There’s pretty good acidity, as well. Not a genre-defining gewurztraminer, but eminently typical for this house, and showing all the proper elements for a good decade’s aging. (11/06)

Trimbach 1997 Pinot Noir “Réserve Personnelle” (Alsace) – An adventurous choice. This is certainly the best pinot noir I’ve tasted from Trimbach. If that sounds like qualified praise, it is; the wine has good weight, a lot of worthy varietal characteristics (earthy cherry and autumn leaves, mostly, though there’s some wet morel as well), and has held up and developed well enough. However, there is – and there’s no mistaking it – the dreaded “hot dog” aroma that so often afflicts Alsace pinot noir. I’m not sure what the problem is – soil, clones, winemaking – but it seems that whenever a pinot noir rises above the biting rosé-like horde, it stands a better-than-average chance of turning to fermented frankfurter. It’s strange. (11/06)

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – Trimbach’s late-harvest gewurztraminers are as solidly excellent as their rieslings, though they rarely reach the exalted heights of those wines. This is no exception: striking ripe stone fruit and lychee are paired with bright, freshening acidity and a solid, sun-drenched mineral core. The sweetness is significant, yet the wine’s structure is such that any trace of “stickiness” is thoroughly absent. Drink it now, drink it in ten years, drink it in twenty…it’ll be beautiful at any age. (11/06)

TN: A dam shame (New Zealand, pt. 32)

(The original, with more photos, is here.)[Black Ridge vines]

Separate ways, worlds apart

Back when this voyage was still in the planning stages, I’d assumed that, from time to time, Theresa and I would want to do different things. Her capacity for endless wine tasting doesn’t quite match mine, and I also figured she’d desire a few restorative days in between all of our rushing to and fro across the New Zealand landscape.

So it’s a bit of a surprise, just a few days shy of a month into this venture, that today is the first (and, it turns out, only) day we’ll pursue separate activities. Theresa’s going to nap, wander the streets of Queenstown, and spend a few refreshing hours at a local spa, while I’m taking the car to the last of the Central Otago wine regions for a little drop-in tasting.

With a half-dozen drives under one’s belt, the Queenstown-Cromwell road seems less twisty and precarious than it does at first glance. This is actually a slightly dangerous notion, for the road retains all of its perilous edge-of-danger aspects despite the familiarity, but it’s a clear morning and there are few cars on the road, which makes the drive a relative breeze. At Cromwell, the road angles south along the banks of the Clutha, straightening and flattening along the dramatic but rather harsh cut of the Cromwell Gorge. What seems like scant minutes later, the road descends past a mighty dam and drops into the rich valley in which nestle the towns of Clyde and Alexandra.

The layout of the towns – modern suburban grids in uniform two-story sprawl – seems somehow out of place in this otherwise remote landscape. Or perhaps moonscape would be a better term, for outside the (no doubt heavily manicured) valley, the earth is about as hostile an environment for agriculture as one can imagine (short of a complete lack of soil): tussock-covered mountains meet rolling fields and hills covered with craggy outcroppings, shelves, and tables; a forbidding and borderline unusable landscape that…inevitably…formed one of the major open sets for The Lord of the Rings.

It figures that someone would try to grow grapes here.

Sugar, sugar

In truth, the rocky slopes around Alexandra aren’t any worse than some of the great European vineyards…Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe come immediately to mind…though this is not to say that the wines from this region even vaguely compare to those exalted appellations. In the first place, it would appear that the majority of vines are planted not on the difficult slopes, but rather on the flat and fertile plains; rarely a recipe for top-quality wine. Second, there seems to be a lot of haphazard experimentation and, it must be said, pervasive underfunding, especially in comparison to the more developed vineyards and wineries around Bannockburn, Cromwell, and the Gibbston Valley. The end result is that, unfortunately, the wines of the region don’t quite meet the standards being set by the rest of the Central Otago.

My first stop is at Black Ridge, the Central Otago’s first commercial vineyard…though this presupposes that I’ll ever be able to find the place. The map in Michael Cooper’s Atlas sends me on a long but visually captivating detour through the area’s rocky hinterlands, but eventually I pull into the rather dramatic hollow in which the winery sits…on the heels of a small group of youthful Americans. What, exactly, are those odds?

The proprietor is somewhere between goofy and eccentric (in a good way), but his passion can’t be denied, and we delve into a haphazard tasting while I listen to his ramblings…some of which are sensible, others of which are rather the opposite. As for the wines themselves, they’re all over the qualitative map.

Black Ridge 2002 Riesling (Central Otago) – Diesel and mineral with pear skin, wet leaves and a metallic edge; the latter is usually welcome in a riesling, but here it’s a little bit too jarring. The finish is very dry, despite eight grams of residual sugar. Good for short-term drinking, but I don’t like its preparation for the longer haul.

Black Ridge 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Peach and stone fruit with a big impact, and a decent enough balance that persists until the onset of an oily-textured, low-acid finish that eventually dries out all the goop. It’s quite flavorful, but more akin to a good fruit wine than a chardonnay.

Black Ridge 2004 “Otago Gold” (Central Otago) – A blend of breidecker, riesling, gewürztraminer and chardonnay, carrying fifteen grams of residual sugar. (What’s breidecker, you ask? A müller-thurgau/chancellor cross, which should fill absolutely no one with anticipation. Further, blends with gewürztraminer are rarely anything more than thinned gewürztraminer.) There’s fusel oil and grapefruit, but only a dab of each, and otherwise this wine is sweet, simple fun that’s completely absent anything of interest or complexity. The proprietor suggests serving it over ice (“you keep on sipping until the ice is dissolved”), which seems as good a use as any: the pastis of the Central Otago.

Black Ridge 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – My second attempt at this wine, and unfortunately it’s only slightly changed: oily lychee, roses and spiced orange are completely overwhelmed by fat, even blowsy residual sugar (19 grams) and a flabby midpalate. The finish is much better, showing long and luscious, but it’s a shame what one has to go through to get there. This is a cocktail wine, at best.

Black Ridge 2003 Gewürztraminer “Late Harvest” (Central Otago) – 20 grams of residual sugar…just one gram more than the regular ’04 gewürztraminer…but overall a much more solid wine, which indicates the problem at Black Ridge is likely to be insufficient physiological ripeness rather than regular old hang time; a way must be found to mitigate intrusive sugars while urging on the grapes’ aromatics and structural elements to some harmonious end. This wine, which is no more overtly sweet than the basic bottling, shows nice spiced apple and roses with a bitter-sour lychee, pear and peach midpalate that manages to hold into the finish. There’s good intensity here, and the only major flaw is…well, to be indelicate, a sort of “foot cheese” aroma that emerges as the wine warms in the glass. Still, if one can ignore this characteristic, there’s at least potential here.

Black Ridge “Conroy’s” 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – An inexpensive wine meant to be an early- and easy-drinking pinot, except that it’s a little too easy. It’s juicy, perhaps even akin to a slightly flat soda, with light leafy flowers and a short finish. The still-bound CO2 eventually becomes a touch off-putting, but with enough chill this could be a decent quaffer on a hot summer day.

Black Ridge 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Sour cherry on the nose, which expands to fuller, riper and fleshier plum, orange peel and earth aromas on the palate. There’s good structure, balance and length here, but the wine persistently tends towards tartness, and one wonders if the fruit will outlast the acidity.

Black Ridge 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Otago) – OK, this is the second cabernet sauvignon I’ve tasted from this region (the first was part of a blend at Olssens), and I’m a little baffled at the enthusiasm for the experiment. OK, sure, maybe it’s possible to get cabernet ripe here, in one vintage or another, but the world needs another marginal cabernet about as much as it needs another breidecker. This one shows bell pepper, blackberry, black pepper and dark cherry with good structure, but despite the proprietor’s tremendous enthusiasm it’s just not all that interesting. It’s decent enough, and structured, and will age with all the qualities and problems it currently possesses, but there’s just no call for this wine, and no real purpose in its making other than to prove that it can (very occasionally) be done.

TN: Birthday bacchanalia

Voyager Estate 2002 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Margaret River) – Fruity and fresh, with fine, citrusy acidity brightening up some grapefruit, lime, lemon and gooseberry flavors. Very simple, but pure summer fun. (6/06)

A reliable summer sipper, though it was better at release. Some of these blends can age, but this doesn’t seem like one that did. It doesn’t matter, because newer vintages are really tasty young. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Serge Doré. Web:

Ridge 1992 Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Very tight, tannic and dusty when first opened…and this doesn’t change much with extended aeration. The “Draper perfume” (from the wood regime, the terroir and the aromatic high-altitude fruit) is still present, but plays only a loud supporting role to the other structural elements and to the emergent characteristics of the blend: hard dark cherries with lashings of cassis, some rosemary, black pepper, and a deep base note of the blackest earth. So while the primary, oak-driven sheen has receded, there’s still much more that needs to emerge from this dense, tannic shell; I’d say the wine is probably about halfway to maturity. And if this note sounds a little cold, it’s not an accident. I think the wine is potentially extraordinary, but it’s so unyielding at the present that it’s hard to form any sort of emotional bond with the elixir…something that I think is essential to the enjoyment of the very best wines. (6/06)

80% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 9% petit verdot. The critical accord on this wine is remarkable, with virtually everyone in agreement with Paul Draper that this is a potentially monumental Monte Bello with a long life in front of it (the one exception: James Laube of Wine Spectator, who thought it should be ready to go about six years ago). Critics’ tastes can, do, and should differ, so when one finds such unanimity of praise, the conclusion is obvious. Alcohol: 13.4%. Closure: cork. Web:

Trimbach 1989 Gewurztraminer “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – From a 375 ml bottle, and very nearly as good as late-harvest gewurztraminer gets. There’s sweet lychee syrup, luxuriant cashew oil, and ripe peach, but what stand out here are the waves of spice…first Indian, then of the sweet baking variety, then moving into something more exotically (but indefinably) Asian…that finally settle on some sort of fantastical meat rub with an accompanying and highly-spiced chutney. There’s plenty of sweetness here, but it’s offset by mild acidity and a more structurally important tannic scrape, and the effect is to render the palate impression somewhat dryer than the initial impression would indicate. On the finish, the aforementioned waves of spice roll and recede for what seems like forever. Beautiful, silence-inducing wine. Is it “ready”? Yes, though it’s also in no danger of slipping for the next decade, and possibly more. (6/06)

I’ve had this wine quite a few times, often paired with the same vintage’s “Sélection des Grains Nobles” bottling, and have reached the inescapable conclusion that this is a better wine. Why? Fairly simply, it tastes a lot more like gewurztraminer. The SGN is dominated by its botrytis, and suffers from even less acidity, which the VT absolutely sings with both its late-harvest qualities and its essential varietal and terroir-influenced characteristics. Though to be fair to the SGN, more time may simply be required. In any case, if you own both, the VT is definitely the one to drink now.

This is as good a time as any to tell one of my favorite stories: a few years ago, Seagram C&E (now absorbed by Diageo) hosted a bacchanalian event in New York, at which most of their Bordeaux estates and the other stars of their portfolio poured a rather stunning collection of wines. One of the results of this assemblage was that both fabled Château d’Yquem and Trimbach were in the same room; Yquem pouring their epic ’88 and ’90 Sauternes, Trimbach with a larger portfolio including the above-described bottling. Later in the evening, as the tasting wound to a close and producers started to drift from their stations, I found Yquem’s Comte Alexandre de Lur Saluces behind the Trimbachs’ table, chatting with marketers Hubert and Jean and sharing glasses of each others’ extraordinary wines. The count swirled, sniffed, and swallowed the ’89…paused for a moment, and then leaned towards Hubert. He seemed almost embarrassed, and yet there was a kind of subdued ecstasy on his face. In a heavily-accented whisper, but one audible to a few nearby eavesdroppers (including me), he rather shockingly declared: “this is better than mine.” I’ll never forget that. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Seagram Chateau & Estate. Web: