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Also, I’d like a Poni

Poniatowski 1989 Vouvray Clos Baudoin (Loire) – Supple and wavy, showing semi-concentrated dusty wax in a hollowed-out apricot. It promises much, but in the end it doesn’t quite deliver. It’s unquestionably a pleasure to drink, with moderate sweetness well-balanced by more interesting dry elements, but it’s far from the top level. (11/07)

TN: Demi-more

[label]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)

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)

[label]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)

[label]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: Designer secs

Gautier 2005 Vouvray Sec (Loire) – Chalk, wax, aspirin, limestone and lime rind. Fairly simple, basic Vouvray with all the components intact. I’d prefer a little more crispness, and definitely more persistence, but there’s certainly nothing actively wrong with this wine. (2/07)

TN: Still more old notes

Gysler “Bundle of Scheu” 23 04 (Rheinhessen) – Off-dry dandelion pollen and other floral, leafy stuff of much unthinking goodness. (8/06)

Huet 2000 Vouvray Brut Pétillant (Loire) – Waxy and acidic with the faintest suggestion of bubbles, but otherwise giving up absolutely nothing. This is about as closed as a wine can be. (8/06)

Rodez Champagne Ambonnay “Grand Cru” Brut Blanc de Noirs (Champagne) – Soft strawberry and red cherry. The fruit is concentrated and almost liqueur-like, with sweet tones on the finish, and the overall impression is one of plushness. I’m not sure that’s an admirable quality here. (8/06)

Johannishof 2005 Johannisberg “G” Riesling Kabinett 010 06 (Rheingau) – Mixed heirloom apples dusted with nutmeg and ripe with piercing sweetness, turning quickly to overwhelming red fruit on the palate. There’s molten iron and a good deal of spice that emerges with air…as the wine gets redder and redder with each sip. Powerful stuff, though it bears about as much resemblance to a kabinett as does a Barossa shiraz. (8/06)

Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1989 Rioja Reserva “Viña Gravonia” (Center-North) – Dry toast with spiced butter and preserved lemon spread, dotted by buttered marshmallows. Long, with fine acidity and a drying element on the finish that eventually becomes a slight burn. Controversial, and though I finally decide that I like it, it’s definitely not for everyone. (8/06)

Trimbach 2000 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – Absolutely impenetrable, though it gives the impression of being nothing more than liquid minerality. Not even worth taking a peek at right now, but it should be much, much better in a half-dozen years. (8/06)

Mann 1998 Riesling Schlossberg (Alsace) – Intense, ripe and very dry banana skin shoved through a metal cylinder. It grows to an early climax, then quickly fades away, and the finish is surprisingly short. But from a site where most producers pursue some level of residual sugar, this wine is dry, dry, dry. (8/06)

Boxler 2000 Riesling Sommerberg “L31D” (Alsace) – Light sweetness…for Boxler, that is…backed by such terrific acidity that it really doesn’t register after the first sip. Otherwise, there’s a brilliantly-structured wine running the mineral gamut from coal to diamond, with ripe red apple and strawberry blossom. An extremely vertical riesling, with power and presence and many, many fantastic years ahead of it. (8/06)

TN: I’d like to bi a valve, Pat (California, pt. 5)

23 April 2006 –Berkeley, California

Vintage Berkeley – A highly “designed” store that could easily fail from an excess of form over function. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. I’ve been sent here by Steve Edmunds for a bottle of Tayerle Vermentino that he finds particularly tasty (Steve has just started growing vermentino himself, and is in a full fit of enthusiasm), but spend some enjoyable browsing time scanning what seems to be a fairly unusual selection of wines…definitely out of the ordinary. One visit won’t reveal whether or not “unusual” equals “good” in this particular case, but if I lived in the area I’d certain take the time to find out.

Peaberry’s Coffee & Tea – I’ve asked a friend to bring me to some coffee “not from a chain,” and he beelines (as much as one can on these hilly streets) here. It seems more Berkeley than Oakland, at least to me, but the coffee’s very good and precisely made…plus it’s nice to not be supporting the merchants of charred beans and sticky, dessert-like “coffee” beverages. More seats would be nice, but this is merely wishful thinking as there’s no room for them. A good locale for those in search of caffeination.

Paul Marcus Wines – Located in the same streetside “mall” as Peaberry’s, and pretty much the opposite of Vintage Berkeley in its crowded clutter of wines. But the selection is excellent, the prices are reasonable, and the staff seems to know their stuff. His eponymousness is in the house, but we don’t speak.

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant – A good selection somewhat mitigated by about a 50% focus on “name” wines and slightly high prices…which is not at all unexpected given the location. I’m here for the wine bar, which usually has a nice selection of different styles (plus, as I find out on this visit, the ability to open and pour any wine in the store for $6 additional corkage). However, today the selection of by-the-glass wines is heavily tilted towards overfruited, overoaked, and goopy styles in which I’m profoundly uninterested…leaving me with just one semi-palatable choice.

Texier 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Texier’s unusually ageable Brézème often has controversial levels of acidity, so I wonder if the otherwise highly-avoidable 2003 vintage might actually bring this particular element into a less controversial balance. In reality, ’03 does what it does to almost everything else from this region and this vintage: render the wine sludgy and ponderous. It’s big alright, with slightly syrupy blackberries, black truffle oil and a massive palate presence. There’s a bit of earth underneath, but mostly this is heavy, extremely ripe, a bit hot, and low in acidity. In other worlds, it could easily pass for New World syrah…the kind that I don’t much care for. I commend Texier for trying, but…

The Slanted Door – It’s possible that this restaurant has become too successful for its own good. Or maybe that’s just a selfish response, since it takes far too much lead time to get a table these days. One nice alternative is the bar, with a short menu and the full (and always excellent) wine list available via a very accommodating staff.

Of course, the wine lists brings its own problems. Or, more specifically, one overarching one: too many interesting options, such that it can be hard to narrow things down.

Coudert “Clos de la Roilette” 2004 Fleurie (Beaujolais) – Rough, earthy and aromatically difficult, with improved red cherry-based complexities on the palate. It would appear to have a future, but this notion is largely based on the wine’s track record, because it’s exceedingly cranky now.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2004 “Pif” (Loire) – Raw tannin and chunky red fruit gathered in festive little knots…a wine not yet coalescing into a full-blown party. Acidic in its rustic fashion, but pure and utterly delicious. I wish more people made wine like this.

While we’re drinking, we enter into some casual banter with the restaurant’s long-time star wine dude Mark Ellenbogen, who regales us with pre-dinner rush stories of the sublime and the outrageous. My favorite example, from critic Steve Tanzer and directed at winemaker Steve Edmunds: “Don’t you think these syrahs would be better with new wood?” Uh, no.

[Zuni Café]

Zuni rather than later

Zuni Café – The intention is to inhale a few dozen oysters at the Ferry Plaza’s Hog Island Oyster Co., but it’s closed. A brief consultation on where we might find an alternative source for excellent oysters (and a bonus wine list of some repute) leads to an obvious conclusion: Zuni, with its no-reservations bar area. We’re prepared to stand at the bar, but there are open seats in the corner, and so we watch the often bizarre pedestrian activity on its slightly dodgy stretch of Market Street while inhaling a rather shocking number of bivalves and a large dogpile of salty goodness in the form of fried shoestring potatoes with aïoli. Somehow, this coupled with the location and the fine, friendly but casual service feels so classically Californian.

Huet 2004 Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec (Loire) – It’s still so young, yet it’s strong from first opening and grows throughout the evening as it warms and slowly oxidizes. The wine is a chalky river breeze stirring up already-turbulent soil, revealing mushrooms and dried wax residue in its wake. There’s amazing complexity and stunning length on the finish. An incredible wine barely out of the cradle, but already promising much.

My friend provides a bit of amusement as we’re deciding whether or not to order a digestif. “Is it still light out,” he asks.

I gesture. “Well, we’re surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows, so…”

It appears someone should abstain. Unfortunately, I should join him; my California-produced pear brandy (I don’t get the name, but it’s an eau de vie-style clear beverage) can provide no better than watery, thin, overly sweet insinuations of stale pear.

Disclosure: the glass of Texier at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant was provided free of charge.

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