Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cult California Chardonnay vs Top Cru White Burgundy - the judgment of Green Hills

Most know Chardonnay.
Of all major wine grapes, it is the most capable in delivering stunning results from across a wide range of climates. From the cold Chablis in northern France to temperate Cote d’Or in Central France to warmer climate in Sonoma to the heat of Napa. Ever since the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Napa Valley’s own Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay reigned supreme in a blind tasting against France’s crème de la crème, California Chardonnay has enjoyed blockbuster status in the United States, and has spurred planting and popularity across the new world. A recent Hollywood flick Bottle Shock helped distill (or dilute?) the momentous Judgment of Paris story for the masses rekindling the American Chardonnay pride at least in some. For years after 1976, the debate about the Judgment of Paris continued, and occasionally small groups of devoted wine lovers have conducted a sanity check. I have documented one such event – the Judgment at Ross Bott - recently run by the Ross Bott wine tasting group in Palo Alto, where California Chardonnays of Kistler, considered by most the penultimate expression of the California style, commanding cult status and commensurate price tags, were pinned against 1er Cru Chablis, some of the best representations of the cooler and leaner Chardonnay style that most wine geeks I know consider superior to California. Well, to make the long story short, the Ross Bott group preferred Kistlers (!!!), and when the tasting concluded, a debate commenced. Arguments from the Francophile camp abounded: “how can such different styles be comparable?!”, “why Grand Cru level (a class above 1er Cru) was not used?!”; “the best of French wines was corked!”, “oh, was the group composition skewed toward California palates?!”, etc, etc, etc.

Until Alex Bernardo of Vineyard Gate Wine Sellers heard about that, and decided to put an end to the debate. Thus, the Judgment of Green Hills was born. This is the account of what transpired.

One comfortable night at the start of spring 2009, a group of 20 wine aficionados gathered in an old country club of Green Hills in Millbrae, California, a small town along highway 101 just minutes away from San Francisco airport. They responded to a call of duty, a request on behalf of Vineyard Gate to a small exclusive brigade of close friends, whose palates and judgment could be trusted in a matter as important as this. 20 people, 10 per table, how can criticisms of the Ross Bott tasting be addressed?

After careful consideration, these were the rules… It was to be top California Chardonnay (not just Kistler) against top White Burgundy (not just 1er Cru Chablis), tasted blind. Let the best wine win! 19 wines, 1 corked, gave each table an even split of 9 bottles to rank. The bottles were carefully divided such that each table received balanced representation of regions and statures. Guests were to rank their top 5 only, while a crab dinner was served to allow everyone to assess wines both with and without the food.

The Wines

Table 1:
A1: Marcassin 1998 estate
B1: Peter Michael Mont Plaisir 2001
C1: William Fevre Chablis Bougros Grand Cru 2004
D1: Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er Cru 1999
E1: Kistler Dutton Ranch 1998
F1: Raveneau Chablis Butteaux 1er Cru 2001
G1: Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault-Goutte d'Or 1er Cru 1997
H1: William Fevre Chablis Le Clos Grand Cru 2002
I1: Kister McCrea 1998

Table 2:
A2: Marcassin 2004
B2: Walter Hansel Russian River Valley 2002
C2: William Fevre Chablis Bougros Grand Cru 2004
D2: Louis Jadot, Domaine du Duc de Magenta, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos de la Garenne Monopole 2004
E2: Kistler 1998 Hyde
F2: Domaine Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet "Les Combettes" 1er Cru 1990
G2: Jean-Claude Belland Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 1996
H2: Domaine de la Vougeraie, Vougeot Clos du Prieuré Blanc Monopole 2005
I2: Kistler Durrell 1998
J2: Mount Eden 2005 (moved to table 1 to replace the corked D1)

After 2.5 hours of drinking, eating, and discussing, the votes piled in and the final tally was taken. Here is how the chips fell from most preferred (5 points per vote) to the least (1 point per vote).

Total Score:312421181212776
ranked #1321210000
ranked #2130102111
Total Score:30282221189765
ranked #1412100010
ranked #2122201200

So, what did we get?

Table 1 overwhelmingly preferred Marcassin – California – it wasn’t even close!!! Then two Chablis, then two more California. Granted, one of their white Burgundies was corked and had to be replaced by another California.

Table 2 chose French for their top 5, with the top two being far ahead of the rest of the pack.

The groups tasted an even split of 9 California and 9 French (excluding the corked wine which one guest ranked as the #4! – that score was discarded). If you look at it purely based on scores, the Marcassin earned the highest score of 31. The white Burgundy Grand Cru was a close second with 30 points, followed by 5 more white burgundies before the next California. More people at table 2 were united around the top choice (4 top votes) than on table 1 (3 top votes).

The total score for California was A1+J1+I1+B1+E1+E2+B2+A2+I2 = 31+18+12+12+7+9+7+6+6=108

The total score for France was F1+C1+G1+H1+G2+F2+H2+C2+D2=24+21+30+28+22+21+18=164

It is noteworthy to mention that on that night the 3 wine professionals present – two winemakers Eric Lecours and Loren Tayerle, and the Vineyard Gate’s founder Alex Bernardo – chose William Fevre “Bougros” 2004 Grand Cru Chablis as their top choice!

We appreciate and acknowledge all guests who brought the gems from their cellars in order to make this night memorable and meaningful.


Based on the combined scores, it wasn’t even close – France handily beat out California, which was further evidenced by the 4 Kistlers sitting half-unfinished on the table at the end. Yet, the fact remains – the highest scoring wine was the ’98 Marcassin Estate bottling, just as in 1976 Chateau Montelena reigned supreme atop of pedigreed array of French crus. Does the Judgment of Green Hills help close the debate, or just open it ever wider? As answers lead to more questions, I look forward to being an eyewitness to future judgements and debates that prove the process itself to be far more delightful than any possible final outcome.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 5

...continued from Episode 4. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 5

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Episode 6 is available here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Martine's Wines Grand Tasting 2009

From the Martine's Wines brochure, by Martine Saunier:
Thirty years ago, in the midst of starting Martine's Wines, the economic situation was not very different than it is today. I remember the anticipation of waiting for my first container full of wine from France...The first container, which included allocations from Chateau Rayas, Francois Jobard, Henri Jayer, Fernand and Kiki Coffinet, August Morey (nicknamed Pappy, father of Pierre, who was taking care of the vineyards of Comte Lafon), finally arrived on July 4th, 1979, Independence Day. Since that time, Martine's Wines has survived two recessions and September 11th. I never thought that I would celebrate my 30th anniversary in the present economic turmoil. However, I still have confidence that I can sail through this new storm along with my new generation of producers. Denis Mortet would be proud of his son Arnaud; Henri Jayer and Jacques Reynaud of their nephews, both named Emmanuel. This is my 7th Grand Tasting, and as always you will discover some new wineries, such as Domaine Remy Gresser in Alsace, Domaine Vernay in Condrieu, Terre d'Aromes from Claire Forestier, Cambrico in Spain, Muhr-Van der Niepoort in Austria, Audry Cognac and the Champagne of the Coquillette family.

On Monday, March 16, I attended a very important annual tasting event in SF's Park Presidio rubbing elbows with some of the hottest producers from France, as well as many of the "who's who" in the wine business.

Over a hundred wines sampled. Here are our thumbs-up with quick'n'dirty notes - it's hard to go wrong with any of these within their individual price ranges. (The bolded bullet items are our "best of show" selections).

Champagne Stephane Coquillette
  • NV Champagne Carte D'Or Brut 1er Cru - good
  • 2004 Champagne Carte Bleue Brut - great autolytic character, really good!

Jean-Marc Brocard (Chablis)
  • 2007 Chablis "Vaulorent" 1er Cru - round, good
  • 2007 Chablis "Bougros" Grand Cru - nice bright creamy nose, big, oily, influence of oak, great balance, finesse - very good!

Chevalier Pete et Fils (Burgundy)
  • 2007 Ladoix Blanc "Bois de Grechons" - nice nose, elegant balance with just a touch of bitterness that is tasty, good!
  • 2007 Ladoix Blanc "Les Grechons" 1er Cru - intense, peach, nice acid, good!
  • 2007 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru - creamy, balanced, fresh, good!

Leroy (Burgundy).

  • 2007 Puligny-Montrachet "Les Charmes" - good!
  • 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Chenevottes" 1er Cru - really good, elegant!
  • 2000 Bourgogne - solid leather, ham, dark, barn
  • 2006 Savigny Les Beaune - intense dark berry, dust, tannin
  • 2003 Chorey-Les-Beaune - good, spice, dark berry, dust, medium body
  • 2000 Cotes de Beaune Villages - red fruit, intense, ageable

Denis Mortet (Burgundy)

Alex Bernardo, Iron Chevsky, and Arnaud Mortet - late Denis Mortet's son who took over the wine making duties at the Denis Mortet estate beginning with the 2006 vintage.
  • 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin - nice mouthfeel, red berries, concentrated
  • 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St Jacques - nice texture, thick, medium acid, similar to Gevrey, but slightly more plush and earthy.

Chateau Rayas / Chateau de Fonsalette (CdP)
  • 2006 Fonsalette Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc - nice nose, nice acid, peach, good!
  • 2006 Pignan Chateauneuf-du-Pape - fresh nose, light pepper, tannin, very good!
  • 2006 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape - elegant, fresh, aroma of bright tea, medium acid, nice!

George Vernay (N.Rhone)
  • 2007 Condrieu Coteau de Vernon - big body and flavor, thick, good!
  • 2007 Cote du Rhone "Ste Agathe" - 100% Syrah from Condrieu, pepper, concentration, balance, good!
  • 2007 Cote Rotie "Maison Rouge" - great nose, nicely integrated oak, very good!

Neipoort (Portugal)
  • TIARA Branco red - slight port-like aroma, but dry, good
  • 2005 Vintage Port - soft, bright, delicious

Great tasting - even Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer was excited about a couple of unusual and impressive Portuguese whites from Neipoort and Spanish reds from Cambrico!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Old friend" - Poetry of the Tasting Note

In a recent Vinography post entitled "Eric Asimov and the Tyranny of the Tasting Note in American Wine Culture", author Alder Yarrow summarized Eric Asimov's position on (against) wine tasting notes presented at the fifth annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in February 2009.

Alder quoted Eric:
"Tasting notes. Millions of them. To the point that some critics and writers seem to do only one thing: generate more tasting notes. Which has led to a wine loving public that unduly focuses on two things: numeric scores and increasingly specific strings of adjectives that aim to describe every last hint of flavor and aroma in the glass. Describing wine with with such adjectives, Eric suggested, is the equivalent of describing a concert using decibels and frequencies.

This almost clinical approach to wine criticism, according to Eric, is killing our budding wine culture. The general public sees these chains of amazing and obscure descriptors for wine and they feel like if they aren't able to either identify with them or generate their own, that somehow they don't and can't understand wine."

A long, very very unusually long thread of comments erupted following that post - arguments pro and against raged and endured like a February rain in the Bay Area. Even I got sucked in.

I was finally awakened by a puzzle that a friend sent me, no doubt inspired by watching Kami no Shizuku, once and for all demonstrating the essential nature of the tasting note:

Tasting note puzzle

Tonight I'm drinking an old friend, wine that has lost its drive but is still of character. The tannins have become more aggressive as the fruit has fallen away, a regional wine of a grand woman. The vintage was plentiful but the of great quality in the years of the nine. A wine that is a bit like an attractive elderly secretary reaching retirement, still elegant and classy.

What am I?


Regional wine of a grand woman: Bourgogne from the Grand woman Lalou Bize Leroy. 1999 was a vintage with high yield and good quality (not very common). Year of the 9's of course! Its the basic wine from Leroy so its not expected to last. Still 8/9 years for a bourgogne is not bad. By almost most standards, a typical Bourgogne is made for drinking well before 10 years, even from a great vintage. There are always exceptions, declassified village or 1er cru, etc. But almost all AC Bourgogne sites are greatly inferior, cooler with poor drainage, more disease due to cooler temperatures and higher humidity; usually more fertile as well. The wine still has fruit but seemed to lose a bit since the last tasting about two years ago. Structure/flavor balance evolves over time. As the intensity of flavor drops, the structure asserts itself. In this case, the tannins are starting to dominate the wine. Still, this wine shows its pedigree, easily the best regional Bourgogne to date.

Take that, Eric Azimov!
Respectfully yours, Iron Chevsky.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Brunello vs Chianti - the battle at Ross Bott

It is Thursday, March 5, 2009. Six Chiantis, two Brunello di Montalcino's. All from the great 1990 vintage in Italy. Unusually full Ross Bott gathering, not enough space at the tables, spilling over to the couch. Guess people are into Italian... Certainly me, lately. Same grape (Sangiovese), same vintage ('90), same region (Tuscany). Can the crowd of 20 tell Brunellos from the Chiantis?

From the mailer by Ross Bott, the organizer:
The 1990 vintage was a spectacular one in Tuscany, one of the best of the twentieth century. The summer was very hot, and the harvest began in the first week of September, one of the earliest on record. Yields were low, and the grapes were small and very concentrated. Wine Spectator's description of the Brunellos and Chiantis of this vintage was "Super structure; powerful and ripe yet balanced" and ranked it 98/100, their highest rating for any Tuscan vintage since they started their reviews.

Tonight we'll try six Chianti Riservas (including four single vineyard bottlings) and two Brunellos from this great vintage. The wines were initially powerful and concentrated, and many are just beginning to reach their peak now, 19 years after the harvest.

Ross Bott tasting format that I have described at length in the past, requires that you blindly rate and rank 8 wines in the order of preference (or quality?). I am still unsure actually which one - preference or quality, as each participant seems to have their own idea on that, which is part of the beauty of the colorful crowd that comes to Ross Bott events. The majority of folks seem to be in hi-tech - not sure if there is a correlation to wine or to SF/Palo Alto area -- I think both. Personally, I always aim to have the smallest deviation (aka "edit distance") from the average aggregate rating of the whole group, and anything less than 10 (for 8 wines) is generally good by my standard.

I wrote about Brunello di Montalcino before. It is the crème de la crème of the Sangiovese grape variety, the highest expression of Tuscan viticulture, and pride and joy of Montalcino. But does it last?


Here is the final group rank, from best to worst, with Ross Bott's commentary supplied ahead of the tasting, and my own rank:
1. 1990 Argiano "Riserva", Brunello di Montalcino (13.5%): "One of the biggest wines of this tasting, this should age for years to come. Full-bodied, with masses of fruit and tannins and flavors of berries, tobacco and cedar that go on and on. A monumental Brunello. Best after 2000." (95/100, Wine Spectator). My rank: 1. Nose: nice fruit. Taste: high acidity, black cherry, not much fruit, tannic.
2. 1990 Fornacina, Brunello di Montalcino (13%): Fornacina is Brunello-only specialist founded in 1981 just outside of the town of Montalcino. They have a total of 12.5 acres of vineyards and produce only 2000 cases of Brunello and Brunello Riserva. My rank: 2. Nose: sweet cooked plum. Taste: still bright, aggressive, tingly, plum.
3. 1990 Frescobaldi "Montesodi", Chianti Rufino (12.5%): "Big and powerful, with masses of fruit and tannins" (90/100, Wine Spectator) Montesodi is a separate vineyard that is part of the Frescobaldi estate vineyards, and produces by some experts views the darkest and richest Chianti in the whole appellation. Although it is sometimes mistaken for a Cabernet when young because of its color and structure, it is in fact 100% Sangiovese. My rank: 5.
4. 1990 San Leonino "Riserva", Chianti Classico (13.5%): San Leonino is located in Castellina in the Chianti Classico region. A relatively large estate (about 250 acres), it is planted primarily to Sangiovese, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Canaiolo. Their 1990 Riserva was one of their best ever. My rank: 3.
5. 1990 Castello della Paneretta "Riserva", Chianti Classico (13.5%): Castello della Paneretta is a winery in a beautiful old castle. Built in the 1500s, it overlooks San Gimignano, and wine has been made there since at least 1596. There are a total of 27 acres of vineyards, planted mostly to Sangiovese. My rank: 7.
6. 1990 Dievole "Novecento", Chianti Classico (12.5%): "The 1990 Novecento Chianti Classico is a sweeter, richer, plumper style of Chianti than the 1988 Chianti Classico Riserva, with greater depth and more complexity. It possesses an excellent briary fruit character accompanied by vague components of cedar, tobacco, and new saddle leather, plenty of ripe fruit, suppleness, and medium to full body." (Robert Parker). My rank: 6.
7. 1990 Dievole "Dieulele", Chianti Classico (12.5%): Located in the small village of Dievole near Siena, this winery has always been an innovator. More in the modern style, they produce rich, structured, long-lived Chiantis. This Dieulele is a reserve bottling made from the best barrels from their Sessina, Columbaio and Massoni vineyards. It is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% native Tuscan varietals. My rank: 4.
8. 1990 Rocca Di Castagnoli "Riserva - Poggio a' Frati", Chianti Classico (13.5%): "The muscular, full-bodied, tannic 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio a Frati reveals a dark garnet color with an amber edge, followed by sweet, earth, charcoal, gamey, cherry-like fruit interspersed with a whiff of cedar and tobacco. There is significant richness and extract in this old style, somewhat tannic, dense, medium to full-bodied wine, which could turn out to be outstanding if the tannin melts away and the fruit holds. It is a concentrated, traditionally made, serious, muscular, powerhouse Chianti designed to last 10-15+ years." (Robert Parker) My rank: 8. My note: clearly this was the worst wine of the line-up, although one person marked it as his #1! - as it was noticeably oxidized, but in his defense - not terrible.

All wines were alive. My edit distance was 8 and I was happy. The 2 Brunellos maintained their power and vigor. All 8 had started turning from cherry to plum, some having a very obvious black tea component on both the nose and palate. It was clear that Brunellos and Chiantis could stand the test of time, though they all seemed to be past their peak years.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, it is true - the wines that were supposed to win, did! And the most expensive one came out on top. The cynics in the audience cringed. And I chuckled -- sometimes it is that simple - you get what you pay for.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2009 - Italian wine extravaganza

From the Gambero Rosso brochure:
The prestigious Tre Bichieri or "three glasses" award is a coveted honor and a robust endorsement that is published annually in Italian Wines (Vini d'Italia), produced by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food. Surveying over 20,000 Italian wines, grading each on a scale from one to three glasses, or bicchieri, the guide is designed to provide readers with both an understanding of the history and development of producers and their wines. The guide has helped to identify new Italian wines and wineries and introduce them to enthusiasts around the world. Each year independent local panels collect more than 70,000 bottles from across Italy that are sampled by nearly 30 tasting groups, each composed of five judges. More than 10,000 are rejected outright, while the remaining wines are awarded one or two bicchieri. Then the 1,500 of the top-ranking wines move on to the Tre Bicchieri taste-offs. The final commitee of judges is composed of seventeen experts, each a prominent local taster and the process involves multiple blind-tastings, cross-checks and controls over a period of fifteen days, concluding with three final tastings. Much deliberation is involved in the final selection, with each aspect and element of each wine analyzed and discussed at length.

At 2pm on March 4, in Fort Mason's Herbst pavilion in San Francisco, the great Italian wine tasting extravaganza of the year (at least as far as the Bay Area is concerned) hit the pedal to the metal, and the crowds of the industry insiders poured in. The general admission for non-trade started at 4:30, at which time I must say, many wines had been gone, the place looked ravaged, cheese nibbled away - one questions whether in this economy consumers got their $54.13 worth. But for the members of the trade - this is a "must-have" event that could wake up the Italian wine lover in even the most blasé francophile.

Of the hundreds of wines presented, I had the pleasure (and stamina) of sampling a good 50+. Here are my favorites that warrant further investigation, pursuit, stocking up on (if you can afford!) and cellaring. Forgive the brevity of the tasting notes - I was trying to keep up with my friends who kept running off and discovering more noteworthy specimens in all corners of the pavilion.

My faves

The whites:

  • Costa d'Amalfi Marisa Cuomo "Fiorduva" 2005 - great flavor, balance, ripe, some tropical pineapple, baked apple, touch of baked lemon.
  • Biancosesto La Tunella 2007 - tasty!

The reds:
  • Vignalta Arqua and Vignalta Gemola 2004 - 75% Merlot / 25% Cab Franc. Fresh, full. Arqua brighter.
  • Massolino Barolo Parafada 2004 - good red fruit, strawberry, tannic, tart
  • Chianti Classico Reserva Montegiachi Agricoltori del Geografico 2005 - solid!
  • Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella 2001 - delicious nose, sweet cherry compote, deep, impressive. (That's me tasting it on the photo above).
  • Travaglini Gattinara TreVigne 2004 - very good wine in an awesome bottle!
  • Vietti Barolo Lazzarito 2004
  • Elvio Cogno Barolo "Ravera" 2004 - dark fruit, good tannin, good balance
  • Biondo-Santi Brunello di Montalcino "Tenuta Greppo" 2003 - gorgeous honeyed cherry nose, great taste, a bit of spice.
  • Bolgheri Sassicaia 2005 - light texture, red+black fruit, 85% Cab Sauv / 15% Cab Franc. The only appellation (DOC) in Italy named after a single wine and having no other producers. Nice. $$$$.

The sparklers:
  • Giulio Ferrari Reserva Trento DOC - 100% Chardonnay.
  • Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Cuvée Prestige" Rose - foamy and lush
  • Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Cuvée Annamaria Clementi" 2001 - best sparkler. If you haven't heard of Franciacorta, it is considered the highest expression of Italian sparking wine, made in the traditional method, this particular cuvée having an almost imperceptible yet palate-pleasing touch of residual sugar (dosage). Ca'del Bosco winery is regarded as the best producer of Franciacorta, run by Maurizio Zanella, whom we had the pleasure of meeting (see the photo at the bottom). $$$$

The sweets:
  • Vin Santo di Montepulciano Avignonesi 1996 - best of show - phenomenal! $$$$

At $8000 for a spot at a demo table, many famous Italian producers simply did not show up. Understandable when their wines are still sold apparently without much need for marketing. Gaja and Conterno were conspicuously absent. Piedmonte wines were clearly under-represented, especially in the Barbaresco and Barbera departments.

Put me against the wall with a gun to my head and ask me to pick the absolute super-stars of the show, and I will say... The Ca'del Bosco "Cuvée Annamaria Clementi" was superb, and the Vin Santo (half-bottle) was divine. Both well north of $100. In this economy, at least a guy can dream, right?

Sipping on Ca'del Bosco top of the line cuvée with the winery's owner and winemaker Maurizio Zanella (aka the "scarf-man") - what a treat!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

07 Chateauneuf AWA tasting - All in a Day's Work

March 3, 2009. Fort Mason, San Francisco. Firehouse building. 12 noon. Angeles Wine Agency (AWA) tasting. The place is packed with local "who's who" in the industry. Elbowing your way to the Chateauneuf table, glass in hand, notebook in the other, spit cup on top of the notebook, brief hellos to familiar faces. 60 wines to go. Do or die, I shall not quit until all have crossed my tongue, pen dipped in vino, scribbling notation on a stained sheet.

All in a day's work. Can one still tell anything reliably after having tasted 50 similar reds in the course of 1 hour? I hope so!

3 broad regions were represented: White Burgundy (only 3 wines), Northern Rhone (about a dozen), Southern Rhone & Provence, with the Southern Rhone being the star of the show and having by far the largest coverage. The much hyped 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (by Robert Parker) was here to prove its chops. It did not disappoint, nor did it blow me away. Very good wines, but frankly Southern Rhone has been churning out "monstrous" wines for years now. It is becoming a bit much for my palate, and seems to be a cross-over style appellation for California wine lovers transitioning to France. The wines are ripe, concentrated, sweet, plush and warm, sometimes spicy, many almost jammy. Delicious, but not as food friendly as almost any other region in France I can think of. Cotes du Rhones (CdR's) and Liracs continue to offer tremendous value as compared to CdP's whose prices have skyrocketed north of $100/bottle for sought-after producers like Pierre Usseglio, Domaine du Pegau, or Chateau Rayas. CdP's are generally more complex with better textures than neighboring appellations, but they come with lofty price tags.

Here are the wines that stood out across all categories:
  • 2006 Domain Jomain Batard Montrachet Grand Cru - incredible!!! $$$$
  • 2008 Domaine de la Fouquette Cotes de Provence Cuvee Rosee d'Aurore - nice!
  • Mouton Condrieu Cote Bonnette 2006 - my oh my! $$
  • Domaine Vallet Saint Joseph Rouge 2005 Cuvee des Muletiers - raw meat!
  • Domaine Jean-Michel Stephan Cote Rotie Vieille Vignes 2006 - refined! $$$
  • Domaine Escaravailles Cotes du Rhone Les Sablieres 2007 - good!
  • Domaine Escaravailles Rasteau La Ponce 2006 - cakey!
  • Domaine de Villeneuve Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2006 - plush!
  • Domaine Salettes Bandol Rouge 2004 - great mouvedre!
  • Pierre Usseglio 2007 Cotes du Rhone - nice!
  • Cuvee du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine 2007 - good! $$
  • Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 - good! $$
  • Mas De Boislauzon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2007 - elegant!
  • Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2007 - balanced! $$
  • Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvee de Mon Aieul" 2007 - classic! $$$
  • Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2007 - flavorful!
  • Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine" 2008 - sharp! $$
  • Segries Cotes du Rhone "Clos de l'Hermitage" 2007 - nice!
  • Segries Lirac Cuvee Reserve 2007 - tasty!

Usseglio was classic Southern Rhone. Aside from super-concentrated Rhones, there was a nice representation of delicious Rosés from subtle Cote de Provence and Bandol to the heavier Tavel. But in the end, it was the majestic Batard Montrachet white Burgundy grand cru that made me delirious. If you can afford it, more power to you! If not, there are plenty of other selections to impress your palate. Ask your favorite wine shop. You know what mine is.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mapo Tofu, Spicy Tomato Fish and Riesling

Those who read this blog know how much I enjoy the pairing of spicy Sichuan cuisine and Riesling. While some perhaps find it typical, and even boring(!!!) and take it for granted as they explore more adventurous combinations, last night once again reminded me of what deliciousness is all about - when you join authentic Asian cooking with a high-quality German Riesling. I am not a German nor a Chinese, yet every time I lean on those pair of friends, it feels like home. If anyone is still not doing this, DO they MUST!

Wine: 2004 Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett - Germany, Nahe. Cost: $20.
Food: Mapo Tofu (silky tofu, ground pork, chili and bean sauce, scallions, fresh roasted sichuan peppercorns) and Spicy Tomato Fish (basa fish fillet, Chinese cooking wine, ginger, tomato, roasted chili peppers, sichuan peppercorns). Cost: $10.
Pairing: Priceless.

Though I had a number of Riesling disappointments in the recent past, this time the wine was excellent. At only 9% alcohol, the two of us finished the whole bottle. It was a quintessential Riesling - perfectly balanced with fruit, acidity, minerality, and petrol. Not unique, but very enjoyable, and at $20 a bottle well worth it. Kabinett (slightly sweet), but pleasantly so due to mouth-cleansing counter-effects of acidity. It comes from the region of Nahe, in Germany - a lesser known wine region than other German regions such as Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz - but I continue to be impressed by the lesser-known Nahe. The dishes were very spicy, enough so that I thought a Spatlese rather than Kabinett Riesling could have been a slightly better match.

Each time I think of mouth-watering Sichuan cuisine, my stomach begs my mind for Riesling. Before I know it, my mind makes my body to the cellar where my pet Rieslings look more inviting than diamonds. Some may call it foolishness - I call it love!

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