Sunday, March 16, 2014

La Paulee San Francisco 2014. The 2011 Burgundy vintage confirmed.

The 2011 line-up of great burgundies, a celebration of celebrations that takes place once every two years in San Francisco, and a must-attend for a serious Burgundy lover, did not disappoint. I've written about this glorious tasting in the past, and this was my third time covering the event. On March 15, the long-awaited La Paulee came to San Francisco again, and the 2011's on display confirmed my positive impression of the 2011 vintage so far - there were many very good and even brilliant wines, with much great drinking to look forward to in the next 15 years, and even a lot to enjoy in the relatively immediate future as many wines are already quite delicious.

As usual, the food at this event is top-notch. Tons of amazing gourmet bites from top restaurants...

Three producers stood out for me.

Armand Rousseau. That's Eric Rousseau in the photo below - the current owner of the domain, holding his precious Chambertin Grand Cru. One month ago I tasted a barrel sample of the 2012 Chambertin. In comparison, this 2011 seemed tastier and more approachable, while I recall the 2012 being thicker and more monolithic, which makes sense in the context of the respective vintages. The entire Rousseau line-up was excellent. I think the 1er Cru "Lavaux St-Jacques" is a beautiful wine. But the Chambertin is a pinnacle. It was hard to fully appreciate this $2000/bottle beauty in all the ruckus around me.

Domaine Fourrier. Jean-Marie and his wife Vicki. The 1er's were juicy, precise, and joy to drink. The Clos St. Jacques quite special.

Even Mr. Daniel Johnnes himself - the famous sommelier and the organizer of the La Paulee event, was giving a hand at the Fourrier table.

Marquis d'Angerville. Gloriously delicious, balanced, clean, refined, joyous wines. Mr. Guillaume d'Angerville holding his famous Clos des Ducs - Volnay's most famous wine.

Other producers made excellent wines too. I will comment specifically under each photo below.

Hudelot-Noellat - very tasty wines. The Romanee St. Vivant was quite fine.

Domaine des Lambrays didn't blow me away in 2011.

Bouchard - the "baby Jesus" was a stand-out, with lots of depth and sap. Both whites where quite good too, but I preferred the Meursault Genevrieres (I also tasted the 2011 Meausault Perrieres in other events, and thought that was excellent too.)  Always nice to see Luc Bouchard (and Tanya the rep) brighten the pages of this blog!

I thought both of Drouhin's whites on display - the Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1er, and Corton-Charlemagne were very good. The reds - forgettable.

Pierre-Yves Colin Morey showed in good form. (The man - Pierre Yves Colin - clearly looks bigger in person than on the photos on the internet, btw). No disappointments here - good flavorful white burgundies across the board.

Very serious Clos de La Roche from Hospices de Beaune

This was a very nice palate cleanser! I quite enjoyed the '02 Delamotte on several occasions.

Always great to catch up with Erwan Faiveley. I liked the 2011 Latricieres-Chambertin quite a bit! (on the hills of my recent tasting of his 1993 Latricieres, documented here.)

Jadot's Corton-Charlemagne was good, but Clos Vougeot was truly impressive.

Domaine de Courcel's wines from Cote de Beaune were good, but suffered, following the glorious wines from Marquis d'Angerville.

Similar note about de Montille - good but d'Angerville was a hard act to follow.

Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon. Always super solid in both whites and red.

Sauzet also solid, tastes like classic burgundy, more understated than Colin-Morey, I must stay. Oooh, that Chevalier-Montrachet!

Christian Moreau is a good value, good quality Chablis, but clearly not in the league of Dauvissat / Raveneau.

Francois Carillon also solid and flavorful.

I wish I had more time, but alas three hours blew by like a whirlwind, and I only got to taste about 70% of what was being poured. Perhaps enough time to form impressions, but surely not enough to properly assess or appreciate the wines. I am inspired to purchase more 2011's now, with a bit more confidence. Certainly not as across-the-board great power-vintage like 2010 and not as seductive as 2009, the 2011 offers a lot of charm, appeal and excellent juicy drinkability, and in many cases within a shorter maturity window.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Five decades of world's great wines, with truffles! Benefit Dinner for Bing Harvest Moon Auction

For those not familiar with Bing, it is not just a cherry or a search engine. We first learned about Bing almost 3 years ago when Rona solicited preschool recommendations from our Crescent Park neighbors for our then new-born son. Located in Stanford and part of the university research program in child development, Bing is a cozy idyllic oasis of child happiness and learning that parents aspire to get their offspring to be immersed in. We're eager to get to know the Bing community as Evan is fast-approaching preschool age. So at the Bing Harvest Moon Auction last fall, we donated a rare wine tasting to be hosted at the Domaine du Chevsky (i.e. my home) in Palo Alto. As all proceeds from this event go to the Bing Scholarship Fund, we were super excited to put this great extravaganza together.

There are wine tastings.... And then there are IRON CHEVSKY wine tastings. The event was intended for a relatively small group, sized to sample several rarities without getting tipsy. We had 9 guests, plus Rona and I - a perfect number for 2oz. pours of 5 wines, just the right amount for a wine aficionado's experience of a lifetime. The theme - five great wines from around the world, spanning five decades. Food pairings featuring fresh truffles executed by my friend chef Dan-the-gour-man(d), aimed to highlight delicate flavors and aromas in these venerable wines. I led the presentation and the discussion throughout the three hour sit-down event.

Now, the wines!

Most old wines are just that - old, tired, fruitless, thin, funky... over the hill. Automatic expectation people have for old wine - is that older is better. In reality, that is not the case most of the time. While many wines can improve or at least plateau for a few years after release, very few will be better after 10 years, let alone 20, 30, or 50. Without the supporting anti-oxidative structure of tannin, acid, extract, and sometimes sugar, most wines simply fall apart after a while. But, some varieties produced in great vintages from venerable terroirs by capable winemakers, and stored under meticulous temperature-controlled conditions, can endow wines with incredible longevity. In those rare few cases, wines may gain complexity, convert the youthful fruitiness and intensity into suave secondary and tertiary flavors that are otherworldly, with soft textures enveloping your tongue like a warm blanket on a cold night... Enhanced by the right food, aimed to compliment not dominate the wines, this can be a rapturous experience. That is what we wished to create with this tasting event that took months of preparation.

Naturally wines of such caliber and rarity are not cheap. Considering that no self-respecting wine host would go without a backup bottle of each wine, valued at hundreds of $$ a bottle on today's market, was it worth it?! I say a resounding Yes!

Opening the '66 Montrose mag with the trusty "old cork" Durand corkscrew

To pick a fitting representation of world's great wines obviously is not an easy feat, if you only have room for five. I needed wines of tremendous pedigree from world-class regions and producers with long track records for age-worthiness. After much consideration, I settled on 1988 Veuve Cliquot Champagne (France), 1971 Barisone (Francesco Rinaldi) Barolo (Italy), 1993 Domaine Faiveley red Burgundy (France), 1966 Chateau Montrose Bordeaux (France), and 2003 Bond Napa Valley Cabernet (USA). The wines either came from my cellar or from highly reputable sources at least one month before the tasting, and rested sideways in my cellar to recover from any potential bottle shock. About a week prior to the event, I stood them all upright to get the sediment to collect at the bottom. Sediment is always expected in older wines, and getting it to shift to the bottom makes pouring clean liquid out of the bottle a lot easier.

Before sitting down for the formal tasting, guests were greeted with a glass of one of my favorite non-vintage Champagnes - Vilmart Grand Cellier.

NV Vilmart "Grand Cellier" Champagne Brut Premier Cru - I've stored this bottle for several years since release, and it was singing. Excellent NV Brut. Intense, full-bodied, zesty, refreshing. With few years of age, it has rounded out and put on weight. Great prelude to the '88 Veuve.

The formal tasting and food pairing followed.

1988 "Rare" Vintage Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut - pop and pour, no decanting. Late-disgorged in 2005, after 17 years in the Veuve Clicquot cellars, 2/3rd Pinot Noir, 1/3rd Chardonnay, I had enjoyed this wine multiple times over the past few years, and on this occasion it was firing on all cylinders - energetic, complex and full of classical mature champagne flavors of toast, brioche, almonds, honey, candied ginger, and distant oxidative notes. Perfection with butternut squash blitzes (mini-pancakes) topped with creme fraiche and a dollop of black caviar - the only dish I made myself, as the rest were Dan's masterpieces.

1993 Faiveley Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy - We happen to know Erwan Faiveley through a mutual friend. The 34 year old took over one of the largest domaines in Burgundy 7 years ago from his father Francois Faiveley as the 7th generation owner. Well educated, ambitious and capable, Erwan set out to raise the bar for Domaine Faiveley. Rona was impressed with the understated and easy-going young Frenchman, so she requested a Faiveley for the burgundy portion of this important tasting. I'm glad I obliged! I opened and let the bottle sit for 1.5 hours prior to tasting, no decanting. Gorgeously perfumey honeyed strawberries and red cherries, with classic forest floor, whiffs of truffle, subtle game and smoke notes, gentle spice and soft, elegant, inviting texture - the wine at its peak, paired fantastically with Dan's Parmesan "curl" with truffles, honey and smoked salt (in the photo below), as well as the second hors d'oeuvre - wild boar truffle salami over truffle spread on a baguette. Domaine Faiveley has sometimes been criticized for wines lacking refinement, particularly in their youth. Well, this 21 year old "grand cru" beauty was plenty refined for me, demonstrating with clarity what proper aging will do to a great wine! Latricieres-Chambertin grand cru vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin is one of the staples of the Faiveley portfolio, and while the vineyard has plots owned by many, Faiveley is one of the top producers of that grand terroir, along with Leroy. Erwan visited Domaine du Chevsky last year and personally advised about the '93 Latricieres as follows: "This wine is extremely perfumed and not very powerful. I am very excited: I get the impression 2013 will be just like 93 in Gevrey.... I am sure you will be blown away!"

1971 Barisone Barolo - (backup bottle, as the first one was oxidized) Opened and let the bottle sit for 2 hours prior to tasting, no decanting. Sweet tobacco and tea, woodsy tones, delicious compote of tart prunes, hints of dry cherries, baked raspberries and truffles... spectacular with Dan's truffle risotto. This Barolo was made in 1971 by the famous Francesco Rinaldi, and sold in demijohns to Osvaldo Barisone to his wine shop in Turin and subsequently bottled under his own label. Delicious and complex wine, hard to pick which one was more enjoyable - this or the '93 Faiveley Latricieres before it. For me personally, I slightly preferred the brighter, gentler red fruit of the Burgundy to the Barolo's woodsier, more tobaccoey overtones... but some other tasters preferred the Barolo, particularly the pairing with the truffle risotto.

Both reds melded with the food in a truffle orgy.

1966 Chateau Montrose Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux (2nd growth, St. Estephe) - out of a magnum, the backbone of the wine was still there with certain musculine angularity. After 3-4 hour decant, the wine got plusher. Fruit still alive, albeit somewhat leaner than I would prefer. Nuances of menthol, graphite, and grilled meat. Acidity sticking out just a bit... Very good, especially with Dan's spectacular rare "USDA prime filet mignon tail" steak, with truffle demi-glace, but not as epic as I'd hoped.

2003 Bond Estate (Harlan) Cabernet Sauvignon "Pluribus" - first vintage of this boutique wine from the Pluribus vineyard on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, bought on release, this wine is all the Napa Valley opulence one would expect from one of the New World's cultiest producers. Having visited and written about the highly exclusive Bond Estate in the past, their single-vineyard "Napa grand cru" philosophy, attention to quality and no-expense-spared pursuit of perfection are widely regarded. I had kept the wine in a decanter for 9 hours before we drank it, and it was still a monster (in a good way!) with richly supple but formidable tannins, loads of dense, intense, inky blue fruits, chocolate and graphite, covering every corner of the palate. We paired it with high-quality Belgian chocolate truffles, and it was a match made in heaven. Serious wine that will probably go for another 30 years. Try again in 10!

As if those weren't enough, I pulled a couple of bonus "post-dinner" bottles to enjoy with cheeses.

2006 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon - pop and pour, no decanting. Great wine, lighter and less extracted than Bond, olive tapenade, more acidity, very food friendly. Certainly would have been more enjoyable if drunk before the more powerful Bond. World-famous Ridge Vineyards is IMHO the greatest American winery that has secured its place atop the vinous Olympus of the New World with a glorious track record and adoration of wine lovers for the past 40+ years. While (thankfully) it doesn't seem to have the exclusivity or the stratospheric price tag of Napa Valley's top trophy cabs (many of which have been covered on the pages of this blog), the jewel of Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge Monte Bello estate achieves a remarkable combination of deep dark pure cool mountain fruit combined with great acidity and hints of olives, herbs, and eucalyptus, all in a relatively low-alcohol package. The Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is Ridge's top wine, but their entire wide range is of very high quality, and carries the familiar Ridge signature of beautifully intense, polished and characterful fruit, balanced by mouth-watering acidity across a number of wines made from a variety of different grapes. I've visited and written about them many times, and I cannot recommend their wines highly enough. The 2006 Monte Bello has been one of my favorites on prior occasions, although pretty much every vintage I ever tried (and I tried many) has been terrific.

2003 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet - pop and pour, no decanting. Bought on release, this was richer, sweeter, fruitier, more exotic and glycerous than Monte Bello, but definitely not a fruit bomb. Dark fruited and very good, and could easily go another 10+ years.

In the end, we were delighted the way the wines and food came out. The audience and the hosts got to know each other and the wines in an amazing evening, brought together by a good cause, that we will not soon forget.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tre Bicchieri 2014

This year's Tre Bicchieri event in San Francisco continued the string of exciting annual tastings organized by the prestigious Gambero Rosso Italian food and wine magazine. I am proud to have been covering this event for many years now, as it is the top Italian wine tasting event of the year in the Bay Area. 415 wines made it into the "2014 Best Italian Wines" list out of tens of thousands sampled from across the prodigious land of Italy in the past year. For more details about Tre Bicchieri process and winners, see here (html) and here (pdf). Most of the cult names were awarded, but not present at the tasting this time. In general, the amount and variety of wines poured per winery was the lowest I had seen. The explanation I got was that producers are no longer allowed to take any left-over wine out of the building, so many were quite conservative in how much they brought in, and quite a few ran out of wine well before the end of the tasting.

2009 Barolos on display were a pleasant surprise. Based on my previous reading, I had expected flabby, hot, fruity wines associated with a warm year. However, out of ten or so 2009 Barolos, I liked at least half. Indeed they conveyed the softer warmer conditions of the year, with graceful tannins and richer fruit, but I still found them balanced and delicious. They don't have the structure of the recent cooler "classic" vintages like 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2008, but they are quite beautiful, sensuous wines nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the 2009 Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione (rich, balanced, with soft tannins and lush, silky texture) and the 2009 Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo Bussia (extremely elegant pretty sweet fruit and sensuously understated, not over-extracted mouth-feel). Other noteworthy 2009's were Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato full of tasty sweet plums on a long, slightly hot finish, and the tasty dark rich choco-cherry G.D Vajra Barolo Baudana. Finally, 2006 Riserva Villero from Vietti with a scary looking label (see photo below) was very serious, deep, smoky and classically structured - this powerful wine is only produced in top years and will run you $300+.

Claudio Fennocchio with a bottle of
Giacomo Fennocchio Barolo Bussia 2009
Me and Isabella Boffa Oddero with a bottle of
 Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2009
Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2009
G.D. Vajra Barolo Luigi Baudana 2009
Vietti Barolo Riserva Villero 2006

There were a good number of Amarone's - I didn't try them all, but of those I tasted, 2007 Brigaldara Amarone Riserva was impressive in an opulent style - with a mysterious nose of grains and tea, and a richly sweet, lush palate, with some bitters, smoke and tobacco creating a very complex bouquet. 2009 Speri Amarone was very good in a more traditional, less opulent style - burnt brown sugar, bitter herbs and spices, very intense but not too rich, should be classic with age.

Sparkling wines stood out as well. Franciacorta had wide representation with the likes of the solid Ca'del Bosco Brut 2009, plush Ca'del Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi 2005 (less structured than the 2004), the terrific Ferghettina "Riserva 33" 2006 (rich, long, spicy pear,  mint, almond, wow!). From other regions, highlights were Ruggeri Prosecco Brut "Guistino B" - clean, intense roses and toothpasty strawberries, but also totally out of the blue, a very charming Lambrusco di Sorbara - a lighter rosé-like style as compared to a more commonly seen darker sparkling Lambrusco Grasparossa. Cantina della Volta Lambrusco Rosé di Modena Spumante was very light pink, a beautifully elegant and delicious sparkling wine with gentle fruits, very pretty strawberry and cranberry tones, intriguing juniper-like nuances, a rare Lambrusco made in the traditional champagne method (second fermentation in the bottle), retailing for mid-$20's, an incredible bargain IMO.

Giorgio Angiolini with a bottle of
Cantina della Volta Lambrusco Brut Rosé

2010 Chianti's were very strong. Wines from both Felsina and Fontodi reflected the great 2010 vintage that blessed grapes all throughout Europe, Tuscany being no exception. Very structured, with great deep fruit and echos of graphite, quality and structure-wise they reminded me of the blockbuster 2010 Bordeaux. Fontodi Flaccianello 2010 was absolute knock-out, the best I'd ever tasted of this wine - powerful tannins were totally enveloped by beautifully deep and refined Sangiovese fruit, with spice nuances that were a noticeable step up from the very good 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico. The Flaccianello was my favorite red of the tasting - a stunning wine. Elsewhere in Tuscany, the 2007 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from one of my favorite producers Canalicchio di Sopra was sensational too - balanced, deep, inky, dark, slightly smoky, leathery intense cherries and roses exploded on my palate like fireworks, while delivering an incredibly rich, silky smooth liqueur mouth-feel, with soft tannins eventually making a discrete appearance.

Another wine that blew my socks off was a dessert wine from the Italian island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean, half way between Sicily and Tunisia, from one of the most famous Sicilian producers - Donnafugata. 2011 Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito Di Pantelleria, made in the passito (grapes air-dried on straw mats) style from ancient Zibbibo grapes (a type of Muscat), was incredible - spicy smoky, deep, vibrant apricots for days!, slight hints of herbs and flowers, sugar and tartness joined in symphony - wow, this has to be one of my favorite dessert wines of all time!

In the still whites category, I unfortunately only had time and energy to try a few. The range of characterful Italian whites always amazes me, as does their value. Pieropan 2011 La Rocca (Soave Classico) was my favorite - a full bodied, rich, ripe, really serious Soave, aged in large oak barrels on lees, this wine reminded me of high-end white Burgundy. But unlike Burgundy of such caliber, this wine can be had for under $30 - really quite an amazing deal.

After several intense hours of tasting dozens of wines, and having visited only a third of the selection, I felt exhausted and exhilarated at the same time, as I do every year at the end of this event. The bounty of Italian wine is amazing, as there seem to be more regions and varieties than in any other major wine producing country, with always more to discover and enjoy. Every wine awarded by Gambero Rosso with "three glasses" (tre bicchieri) is a great expression of a particular region and grape variety, a pinnacle of vinous achievement. So selecting favorites among them is more about my own taste rather than necessarily the quality of the wines. I wish I had a whole separate long dinner to focus on each one, but alas I would probably need to be Italian for that...

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