Allegrini 2004 Valpolicella Classico (Veneto) – Raw, whip-slash fruit, angry and unaccommodating, showing a fierce, acid-soured midpalate and greenish tannin scars on the finish. This used to be a pleasant little wine, but it appears to have undergone a stay at Hotel Abu Ghraib. (5/07)
Pieropan 2001 Recioto di Soave Classico Le Colombare (Veneto) – Pecan, orange rind and sweet apple cider with tons of nutmeg-and-clove spice, plus fantastic acidity. A wine so delicious one wants to laugh out loud, just for the sheer joy of it. (12/06)
Gini 2004 Soave Classico La Frosca (Veneto) – This gives the strong impression of being not entirely dry, with cotton candy stone fruit and a light, squishy minerality. It’s a fun wine, but don’t look too closely, because there’s less there than meets the palate. (12/06)
Prudhon 2001 St-Aubin “1er Cru” “Sur le Sentier du Clou” (Burgundy) – Lovely and elegant, with earth-flecked loam and lurking raspberry. The wine’s a bit of a structural chameleon, with good acid and tannin up front, a quick, sun-drenched brightening, then the emergence of a deeper, basso undertone, before finally softening once more on the finish. Air tightens the wine. It’s good now, but after a disappointing stage as it closes down it’s likely to be very pretty at full maturity.
Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Veneto) – Fun citrus and sweet flower nectar with grapefruit and ripe melon. Aromatic and succulent. Terrific prosecco.
Unti 2003 Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) – Heavy, dark and thick fruit fighting through thick wood and thick (though ripe) tannin. Did I mention something about thickness? There are good raw materials here, and I suspect long ageability is a given, but the sludge is so heavy that it’s a chore to drink.
Anselma 1993 Barolo (Piedmont) – Bitter tannin overwhelms fully-resolved fruit, leaving some dried rose petals and rough, sun-baked red cherries in its wake. Hanging on, but only just, and not that interesting of a wine.
Contini 1996 Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva (Sardinia) – Like dry oloroso Sherry, flat and austere with dark molasses residue. Very, very different. I’m initially repelled, but by the last sip it starts to grow on me.
St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” 1995 Cabernet (Alto Adige) – Cedar, herbs and very slightly green cassis with the paired bites of acid and tannin poking at the edges. Perhaps only halfway to maturity, though I wonder if the fruit is sufficient to outcomplex the slightly hard, green notes. And for those interested in sly blind tasting adventures, this could pass for a Bordeaux with effortless ease. Not a great Bordeaux, but Bordeaux nonetheless. (9/06)
Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – At first, this wine can’t decide whether it wants to be grilled-plum syrah, or tart-berried pinot. There’s a lot of acid here, and eventually that acidity decides matters; the smokiness fades a bit, leaving a wine with lots of unfocused flavor but a somewhat hollow midpalate and a perhaps overly crisp finish. Starts wide, finishes narrow. It’s a good wine, but I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with the way it’s aging. (9/06)
Maculan 1998 Breganze “Torcolato” (Veneto) – 375 ml. A beautiful, inspiring mélange of cinnamon, nutmeg, pineapple, clove, blood orange, caramel and butterscotch with just the right amount of brightening acidity. My mouth is watering just writing this tasting note. One of the truly great sweet wines of the world, calling to mind all the classic elements of Sauternes-style wines, but with its own unique palette of aromas and characteristics. (9/06)
Prager 1996 Weissenkirchner Steinriegl Riesling Smaragd (Wachau) – Firm and stern to the point of being sour (more in mood than in structure), with dried greengage plum and wind-whipped limestone. Complex and interesting, but not – at this moment – pleasurable. It would appear to need time, since there’s an awful lot of “here” here. Or “there” there. Whatever. It’s a stupid turn of phrase anyway. (9/06)
casina ‘tavijn 2004 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – Exotic, Thai-influenced red fruit with wild aromas darting from jarred cherry to makrut lime to rose jam, with juicy acidity and light, sandpapery tannin lurking in the background. Difficult to embrace without preparation, but lots of fun. (9/06)
Audras “Clos de Haute-Combe” 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Gentle but surprisingly firm red fruit dusted with graphite and sweet black earth. Lithe and light, with fine acidity and an elegant, almost regal texture. Lovely. (9/06)
Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Fragrant, and promising more palate weight than it eventually delivers; the wine is fresh, lightly fruity (mostly from the white and green spectrum) and very lightly spicy, with a vaguely effervescent zing and good, food-friendly acidity. An hors d’oeuvre wine. (9/06)
Edmunds St. John 2003 “Rocks & Gravel” (California) – Dense, fruity blueberry compote with light leather and faint morels. Forward and juicy, with decent structure somewhat overwhelmed by a lot of friendly, smiling fruit. (9/06)
Muga 2005 Rioja Rosado (Center-North) – Light, almost seductive pale orange and red fruit with dried earth tones and little hints of baking spice. Very, very pretty. (10/06)
Grape(s): 60% garnacha, 30% viura, 10% tempranillo. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ordoñez. Web: http://www.bodegasmuga.com/.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2004 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – A little funky and grating when first opened, though this eventually steps back in favor of rose hip, cranberry and zingy acidity. There’s a stale chalk note that battles a bit with the otherwise sweet-natured aromatics, but this should integrate with time. (10/06)
Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Marquis Philips 2005 “Holly’s Blend” (South Australia) – Sweet JuicyFruit™ cocktail mixer. Acid-deficient and incredibly obvious. (10/06)
Grape(s): verdelho. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Grateful Palate.
San Alejandro “Las Rocas” 2003 Garnacha (Calatayud) – Thick, dense strawberry jam and toasted creosote. It’s “coming together” in its own HGH-enhanced way, and is now almost drinkable. (10/06)
Grape(s): grenache. Importer: Solomon/European Cellars. Web: http://www.san-alejandro.com/.
Michel Tête “Domaine du Clos du Fief” 1999 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Spectacular. Darkness and light in the same package. Dusty berries and misty dried flower aromas are bound in a leathery, enveloping structure, firm yet gentle. The wine writhes and expands, filling the available space with beautiful sensation. Not yet fully mature, but it would be hard to argue against current consumption. (10/06)
Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Red cherry and strawberry with a mildly tinny note, and starting to fade under the onslaught of its alcohol, but still showing enough boisterous, summery fun to be pleasurable. After all, it was never really meant to age this long. (10/06)
Grape(s): 64% mourvèdre, 28% grenache, 8% counoise. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.
Ollivier “Domaine de la Pépière” 2005 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Marches de Bretagne “Cuvée Granit” (Loire) – Unlike previous vintages of this wine, which have been exotically exciting but rather angular, this one shows up with most of the corners already filled in. There’s strapping, herbal-earthy black fruit and a good deal of acid, and the wine’s incredibly easy to drink…as long as there’s food to go with it. (10/06)
Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Big, juicy and a little goofy, yet there’s complexity and a New World-defined balance as well. Bright, somewhat overdriven red fruit is supported by sands and silts, with a white pepper texture and a fairly hefty palate impact. I don’t know that it will age, but that’s probably not the point. (10/06)
Grape(s): pinot noir. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.harringtonwine.com/.
Aurelia “Corte Marzago” 2005 Bardolino Vigna La Morara (Veneto) – Grapey and very wine-like, with a fresh berry component dominating, and a thirst-enhancing vivacity enhanced by acid and the wine’s overall lightness. Which is not to say that the flavors are reticent – rather, they’re sharp and clear – only that the wine is not overwhelmed with alcohol or weight. Yummy stuff. (11/06)
Grape(s): corvina veronese, rondinella, molinara & sangiovese. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Violette. Web: http://www.cortemarzago.com/.
Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue 2002 Côteaux du Languedoc Bronzinelle (Languedoc) – Thoroughly of the soil, showing the wild southern French underbrush still clinging to rich, dark, sun-baked earth. A few dusky blackberries work their way into the mix, but mostly this wine is a primal expression of the land. And it’s really good, too. (11/06)
Grape(s): syrah, grenache, mourvèdre & carignan. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.
A tasting menu at No. 9 Park…28 August 2006.
Roederer Champagne “Brut Premier” (Champagne) – Intellectual, earth-driven but satiny stone fruit (minus most the fruit) with a gentle, yet inexorable persistence. Very thoughtful bubbly. Served with: ultra-thin-sliced smoked lobster sashimi with grapefruit, avocado and cilantro. The wine and the food stand essentially apart here.
Cusamano 2005 Sicilia Rosato (Sicily) – Made from nerello mascalese. Big, broad-shouldered raspberry and maraschino cherry fruit with a keening, fresh flower aroma. It’s simple alone, but with food it almost explodes with additional complexities. This is an inspired match. Served with: seared yellowfin tuna (about as pure and wonderful as this fish could ever be) with a brilliant marmalade of heirloom tomatoes lent smokiness by chorizo, which infuses the marmalade and adds a textural counterpoint in little crisp bits perched atop the cubes of fish.
Schrock 2005 Ried Vogelsang (Neusiedlersee) – A blend that’s a bit at war with itself, showing lots of interesting characteristics that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other: crisp acidity, juicy/lemony sprightliness, herbal grassiness, spicy headiness…it’s a bunch of smart people, all talking past each other. Served with: day boat scallops on a purée of curried cauliflower (possibly the single best expression of this vegetable I’ve ever tasted) and crispy little bursts of fried tapioca. This isn’t much of a marriage, though the wine does no actual harm to the food.
Faiveley 2003 Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy) – Cranky, rough, ungenerous and difficult, with wan suggestions of something that might once have been red fruit buried under clumsy, off-putting tannin. A last-minute replacement due to a chef deglazing with red wine rather than the intended white, and not a very successful one. Served with: handmade orechiette, flawlessly pressed and cooked, with a Burgundian snail ragout that works rich, earthy wonders on the palate. A better red Burgundy would be magical here.
Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado Sherry “Vides” 1/50 (Jerez) – Dark, fire-roasted nuts that consistently suggest sweetness, but never quite achieve it, settling instead for an intense, warming richness. The alcohol is a little more intrusive than normal, and it negatively affects the food pairing. Served with: seared La Belle Farms foie gras with golden raisins, almond praline and balsamic vinegar. The dish is flawless, but the wine only goes well with the accompaniments; the alcohol buries the delicacy of the foie gras. It’s an adventurous notion, but ultimately an unsuccessful one.
Vajra 2004 Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati (Piedmont) – Delicious. Sneaks up quietly at first, with light blackberry dust and a slightly exuberant structure, but soon fills out with gorgeous mixed bouquets of freshly-picked wildflowers and an earthy, morel-infused bottom end. Very, very agile with food. Served with: softly-seared Pekin dust breast with “melted” strawberries, honey, and perfectly bitter counterpoints of red shiso. This is an inspired match.
Les Pallières 2003 Gigondas (Rhône) – A heavy, ponderous stew of garrigue, leather and dark, smoky fruit overladen with tannin. The wine is chewy, and that’s not a compliment. It’s one of the better 2003 Rhônes I’ve tasted, though that’s certainly faint praise at best. Still, there are terrific raw materials underneath the sludge, and it’s possible that a few centuries of aging will resolve matters. Or, more likely, not. Served with: roasted lamb loin with a truffle “fondue” and leeks, dusted with thyme. The food actually helps tame some of the glue-like tannin in the wine, but the price paid is a diminution of the elegant earthiness found in the truffles.
A palate-cleansing celery sorbet is audaciously magnificent.
Pieropan 2001 Recioto di Soave Classico Le Colombare (Veneto) – A stunning wine, full of concentrated peach, orange rind and iron shot through with flowers and perfumes from some mythical Orient. Powerfully sweet, but with flawless balancing acidity, and as long as one would ever wish a wine to be. Majestic. Served with: blueberry and crème fraîche soup with a carrot “confit,” white chocolate, and anise hyssop garnish. The dish doesn’t sound like it should work, but in fact it’s some sort of revelatory symphony of summer flavors; and the wine, which also doesn’t seem like it should work with this mélange, soars above the music in perfect harmony. There’s real genius behind this pairing.
Garitina 2005 Brachetto d’Acqui “Niades” (Piedmont) – The usual bright red fruit, frothed (though so lightly as to be almost unnoticeably effervescent) and given just a touch of late-palate bitterness. Simple fun. Served with: a warm chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet and “wilted” grapes. The latter seem superfluous, like a half-hearted nod towards molecular gastronomy, but everything else on the plate is superb and properly undersweetened, which helps the wine dance around the edges. Of all the wines alleged to pair well with chocolate, I think brachetto may be the only one that really does so.
Texier 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Fruity pear, apricot and white peach with a vaguely spicy ginger soda component. It’s not fat, though it is slightly chubby, and there’s a bright and fresh-faced balance that defies the vintage’s reputation. Good, highly drinkable stuff. (9/06)
Clairette, bourboulenc and grenache blanc. Web: http://www.adonkeyandgoat.com/texier/home.htm.
Kanu 2004 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Simple, off-dry melon and filtered stone fruit with the faintest suggestion of wax. Quaffing wine. (9/06)
97% chenin blanc, 3% chardonnay, 6.7 g/l residual sugar. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.
Pieropan 2004 Soave Classico (Veneto) – Very tight at first opening, and only coming into its fabulously brittle aromatic maturity with an hour of aeration. Mixed rocks and dried white flowers dominate this wine, which straddles some sort of line between Teutonic and Italian with flair and masculine style. (9/06)
90% garganega, 10% trebbiano di Soave. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Empson. Web: http://www.pieropan.it/.
Sella & Mosca 2004 Vermentino di Sardegna “La Cala” (Sardinia) – Wet garden vegetables and solid, albeit monolithic, yellow-green citrus. There’s a lot of heft and a not insignificant alcoholic presence here, which is slightly less than ideal for a flavorful but medium-bodied white wine. Still, the flavors are appealing. (9/06)
Alcohol: 11.5%. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.
Jadot 2005 Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais) – Hard-edged red cherry and raspberry with a dark, sun-burnt gravel base. There’s little complexity or fun, yet the wine is varietally-correct. It’s the overstructuring that kills the sprightly gamay verve, but one could certainly do worse in a pinch. (9/06)
100% gamay. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kobrand. Web: http://www.louisjadot.com/.
Sella & Mosca 2002 Cannonau di Sardegna “Riserva” (Sardinia) – Boisterous strawberry bubblegum fruit, with an exploding tapioca texture and lots of obvious but fun spice…some of it wooded. (9/06)
Cannonau is a synonym for grenache. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.
Jean David 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret (Rhône) – Thick, dense leather and blueberry compote with a dry, mistral-swept mouthfeel and a surplus of lingering Provençal herbs. Highly structured and ungenerous. This needs time, but I wonder if there’s enough non-structural extract to reward extended aging. (9/06)
62% grenache, 17% carignan, 8% counoise, 6% cinsault, 4% mourvèdre, 3% syrah. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Violette. Web: http://www.domaine-jean-david.com/.
TJ Wines “Jonesy” Old Tawny Port (Australia) – Akin to pedro ximénez, though perhaps without quite so much prune. It’s painfully sweet, showing overripe, baked and caramelized blended sugars and a dark raisin concentrate character that speak of long, old-barrel aging. The acidity is a bit volatile and spiky. This is really much more reminiscent of one of the Aussie liqueur muscats or “tokays” than its authentic Portuguese namesake. (9/06)
Alcohol: 18%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Grateful Palate. Web: http://www.kellermeister.com.au/.
Heinrich 2001 Blaufränkisch (Burgenland) – Dark violet aromatics, decayed leaves and slightly bitter plum coalesce around a hard, somewhat sharp core. This still has some of the fantastic nose of its youth, but the fruit has started to decay in deference to the structure, and it was unquestionably better in its youth. It’s film noir on a scratchy, brittle old print. (6/06)
Blaufränkisch isn’t a grape that gets much international respect – though the same could be said for most Austrian reds – because it’s neither overly fruity nor generous and mouth-filling in its natural state. These things can be induced, of course, but the real pleasures of the grape are similar to those of nebbiolo: beautifully seductive aromas somewhat at war with an occasionally razor-like structure, though here the effect is rather lighter-bodied (and in this way, more like pinot noir, or possibly gamay). All this varietally comparative confusion aside, it’s a grape that can be too crisp and too light, but when it’s good – as this one is – it’s quite enticing. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vin Divino. Web: http://www.heinrich.at/.
Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2004 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 4.2” (Santa Barbara County) – Lovely, balanced, and pure, with succulent red berries in light array and lithe, dancing structural elements over a soft foundation of rich earth. There’s just enough tannin and just enough acidity to make this feel ageable, though frankly it will be hard to resist its youthful charms. (6/06)
It used to be that the words “Hitching Post” meant a restaurant only to a concentrated group of locals and the tourists who intermingled with them. Sideways changed all that, rendering the restaurant rather famous and pushing the wines into the background; it’s not uncommon for me to hear “oh, they make wine there?” (I guess they didn’t pay close enough attention to the movie, in which the wines are explicitly mentioned on more than one occasion.) But for me, Hartley Ostini has long made fine pinot noir in a non-intoxicatingly lighter style vs. others in their area; wines to drink rather than taste, wines that seduce rather than solicit. Which – before some angry Central Coast winemaker gets on my case – is not to say that the alternative styles are bad, or “slutty,” or whatever it is I’m allegedly implying in the previous sentence. (Oh, whatever. It’s just a turn of phrase. Lighten up!) Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.hitchingpost2.com/HPWinery.html.
ca’Rugate 2002 Recioto di Soave “La Perlara” (Veneto) – Stunning. Heavily-spiced white fruit with preserved lemon and an utterly flawless, bright and crisp structure for balance. The finish lingers with perfect poise, and unlike many dessert wines you’ll find yourself going back for glass after glass. Or maybe that’s just me. (6/06)
100% garganega, dried for about six months to concentrate both the sugars and the flavors, and then vinified. A good recioto di Soave is one of the most enticing dessert wines in the world, for it achieves Sauternes-like levels of spice (often with less reliance on oak, though wood is certainly not unknown in high-end Soave), but frequently with better acid. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web: http://www.carugate.it/.
Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon (Ain) – Spritzy and more mineral-driven than usual (mostly chalk, perhaps a bit of gravel), with less exuberant strawberry and a dry, papery finish. I wonder if this bottle might be ever so slightly off. Bad cork? (6/06)
Gamay and poulsard (at least theoretically; there were two different cuvées of the previous release and if that’s the case here, then this could possibly be 100% gamay), naturally sparkling, etc., etc. I think this might be one of the more notated wines on the various wine non-mainstream fora, and what was said at the beginning still holds true to this day: soda pop for adults. Alcohol: 7.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Zenato 2002 Valpolicella Superiore (Veneto) – Restrained, violet-tinged rhubarb and olive with bitter strawberry and a fine dusting of drying tannin. There are good elements here, but there seems to be some sort of internal struggle going on with this wine, for they emerge and retreat seemingly at random. A little overworked in the cellar, I think, and it fades a bit with food, but it’s decent enough as a slightly angry cocktail wine. (6/06)
80% corvina, 10% rondinella, 10% sangiovese. While this isn’t done in the popular ripasso style, with all the jammy, prune-like fruit that the technique portends, neither is it done in the traditional, high-acid, best-served chilled style that has almost completely disappeared as a wine for export to the States. It tries to find a middle ground, but in the process I think it loses some of what makes Valpolicella interesting. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Locascio/Winebow. Web: http://www.zenato.it/.
Torbreck 2003 “Cuvée Juveniles” (Barossa Valley) – Big, full-bodied, and strongly-flavored, with dark plum and charred blackberry larded with double-smoked bacon. The fruit is on full display here, and while it’s a little ponderous without strongly-flavored food as a foil, it’s pretty difficult to dislike the high-decibel enthusiasm of this thermonuclear fruit device. (6/06)
60% grenache, 20% shiraz (syrah), 20% mataro (mourvèdre), done in a style that’s both accessible and…according to the winemaker…ageable. I wonder if there’s sufficient structure to support long-term aging (and even if there is, whether the lack of acid will result in this wine asymptotically turning to dark soy, as many older Barossa wines do), but there’s certainly no lack of concentration. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Australian Wine Collection. Web: http://www.torbreck.com/.