Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tasting Wine & Spirits Top 100 of 2010

Wine & Spirits Magazine is a venerable publication that's been around since the 1970's. "Spirits" is in the title, but today it's primarily about wine. While not as widely known by consumers as the Wine Spectator, the publication manages to do a great job influencing wine professionals who in turn influence consumers.

Second year in a row I had the pleasure and privilege of covering the Wine & Spirits Magazine's Top 100 Wineries of the Year tasting. Last year's article was showcased on August 12 to their 10K+ Facebook fans, and it also led to a launch of the quite successful Ridge blogger tasting program. Let's see what this year brings!

"Never let work get in the way of wine!" That ought to be the motto. Alas, I spent all day in a YouSendIt Quarterly Business Review, doing my "executive duty", and by the time I got to the event in the city, the Leflaive's 2007 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Gru White Burgundy ($550) was GONE!

Now let me put it in perspective for you, non-wine-geeks, who are not familiar with Leflaive domaine or Chevalier-Montrachet vineyard or the 2007 vintage for white Burgundy. Imagine scoring a steamy date (in your pre-married days, of course!) with Jessica Alba, and then arriving 2 hours late when she'd already left with another guy. Devastating! The apologetic Wilson Daniels (Leflaive importer) rep tried to soothe my pain with a "second tier" (Premier Cru) Leflave's 2007 Meursault "Sous le Dos D'Ane" (which was awesome wine, btw) and with a Faiveley's 2008 Batard-Montrachet ($400, a wine of stature), but alas, I was inconsolable, damage done, irreparably. Wilson Daniels & YouSendIt, I just wanted you to know the pain you've caused me! :)

But on a more serious note, W&S Top 100 Wineries is one of those fabulous wine events I look forward to all year, akin to Tre Bicchieri, La Paulee, and Institute of Masters of Wine Champagne tasting - grand affairs featuring top wines, often paired with delectable dishes. But unlike the other three events I mentioned which focus on a particular country or region, W&S Top 100 covers wines from around the world. So in the course of maddeningly short 3 hours or so, you get to taste some of the best of France, Italy, Spain, California, Germany, and many other countries, along with scrumptious culinary creations of Northern California's hippest fooderies.

Top honors for the food go to Daniel Isberg from Mind Your Toungue. His wasabi cheesecake with tobiko was disgustingly good!

In the second place of my virtual food competition was the Japanese Wagyu beef tataki from Nombe, served almost raw. I had 3 plates!

The quality of the wine at this event was insane. And while I regret not getting to each and every one, as undoubtedly my colleagues Alder Yarrow and Richard Jennings would, I did have a hell of a time with several friends of mine who eventually got banned from the mind-boggling rare vintage 1988 Veuve Clicquot Champagne ($120) paired with Hog Island oysters, but not until they had about a 100 of them (I exaggerate). This was one of the most divine food and wine pairings I'd ever had, because the slightly oxidized, almondy, a hint sweet, and infinitely energetic 22-year old Champagne played a virtuoso symphony with the sweet and saline oyster. My buds were titillated (pun intended).

Thankfully, the event was not as elbow-to-elbow crowded this year as last. I ran into many friends in the wine biz, and even cozied up to some bona-fide legends, like Bill Harlan (of Harlan Estate and BOND) and Franco Massolino (of Massolino Barolo).

Bill Harlan's BOND is one my favorite California Cab producers (Ridge is another one). Perhaps more famous for his eponymous Harlan Estate cult wine (second in hype and price tag only to Screaming Eagle), his single-vineyard brand BOND routinely gets classical scores from the critics. Although normally I give little credence to Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate reviews, BOND is where we tend to agree. My Napa passion days are long gone, yet still to this day I cherish the multiple vintages of BOND aging in my cellar. Their hillside single-vineyard Pluribus 2006 manages to achieve balance between incredibly dense and plush fruit and a touch of eucalyptus and herb, rounded by decent acidity that makes for a very satisfying package ($275) - a rarity for me in California. There is nothing in Napa Valley quite like tasting through a horizontal of all of the single vineyards of BOND - a moving experience, which I shall cover one day soon on the pages of this blog.

Franco Massolino's Barolo Parafada 2005 ($80) was spot on - complex, plush, balanced.

Ceretto's top of the line Barolo Bricco Rocche "Bricco Rocche" 2004 ($190-250) was perfumey on the nose, balanced and satisfying on the palate.

I was impressed by a producer whose wines had not crossed my radar before - Antonin Guyon. His 2008 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (white Burgundy) was beautiful and classic - creme brulee without heaviness and sweetness - my white wine of the night (excluding Veuve Clicquot Champagne). Guyon's 2008 Savigny-les-Beaune (red Burgundy) had translucent color, light texture, character and elegance in a glass - wonderful Pinot Noir from an unheralded village.

After tasting a number of 2008 Burgundies and talking to producers and importers, my impression so far is that W&S had done well picking out the stars in the otherwise supposedly tough 2008 vintage in Burgundy (whose challenges are well documented by Jancis Robinson on her site. The vintage was besieged by terrible weather, and was saved by a month of drying wind and sun at the very end). The 2008's I tasted were good - fleshier and flashier than great many 2007's, with fuller fruit rounding off acidity, which made wines more approachable, enjoyable, and balanced (IMO). Given my own impressions vs. many mixed reviews of 2008 I've read, I will reserve judgment on the vintage. As with the 2007's, it's hard to generalize - I would not buy 2008's without tasting first.

Here are a few photos of some tasty wines that didn't shake my world but certainly left an impression. And with a few years in the cellar, they will undoubtedly improve. I was also happy with Bruno Paillard's non-vintage "Premiere Cuvee" Champagne - nice effort, as well as by some of the Rhones. Must always mention Moric (Austrian wine producer specializing in Blaufrankisch grape variety that screams peppery salumi or a thick pastrami sandwich from The Refuge).

Truth be told, these wines are not for every day or for the faint of wallet. When faced with bottles of this caliber and pedigree, the difference between a $10-20 wine and a $100+ wine becomes painfully apparent. By no means, however, is the wine that costs 20x tastes 20x better - it's not a linear scale, it never was, it never will be. You are paying premium for quality and scarcity, and oftentimes (particularly with Champagne) for brand name. That learning alone IMO is worth the price of admission. And if you got the dow...

Kudos to Wine & Spirits Magazine for putting together an incredible portfolio of people and wines, and for inviting Iron Chevsky to be a part of the celebration!


Richard Jennings said...

Hey Gary,
It was good to see you there. Sounds like we both got stuck working that day, so couldn't come for the early tasting. Looks like you made the most of your time and tasted good stuff. I missed the '88 Veuve, as well as the Leflaive Chevalier (they were pouring another white when I got there). We need to try to schedule ourselves for a free afternoon to take the whole thing in next year.
Great pictures!

Iron Chevsky said...

Thanks Richard! Absolutely, next year we cannot be late!!! I am going through the W&S Top 100 issue and am kicking myself for not getting to so many intriguing wines.

Do Bianchi said...

Franco Massolino is the nicest guy and his wines are awesome... great stuff...

daphne said...

what a tasting. . I must say, it's heaven=)

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