Friday, May 29, 2009

Rieslings do age

Incredible dinner last night with Dee Vine Wines founder John Dade Thieriot punctuated by a 1971 Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Beerenauslese wine. My oh my! I am all hung over. Rieslings are deevine! (Note: Vineyard Gate carries a good number of Dee Vine imported wines).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iron Chevsky raves about Schloss Schonborn 2006 Rieslings

Great values: Schloss Schonborn 2006 Rieslings from Nussbrunnen, Pfaffenberg, and Marcobrunn vineyards:

Pairing with Asian food - in this case the spicy Sichuan:

Available at Vineyard Gate for under $20 - incredible!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Schloss Schonborn Riesling Dinner

On Wednesday night, in a 180-degree reversal of my past disposition, the youthful outshone the mature.

I love old Rieslings. In fact, Riesling is probably the most age-worthy white wine on Earth (along with France's Sauternes and Hungary's Tokaj, and is more flexible with wider variety of foods than the other two), with some 30-50 year-olds still drinking wonderfully. At 10+ years of age, the sweetness mellows, and the flavors meld together into something much more complex and indescribable than the sum of the parts, while the color transforms from light straw to haunting amber (as in the photo on the left). Normally I find, the sweeter the Riesling to begin with, the better it tastes with age, gradually losing its youthful fluffiness. The acid and mineral never subside, so it's important for the sugar to still remain, lest you get a salty, minerally and sometimes mediciny wine. That's why in my opinion, the Auslese (late harvest) level Rieslings make more enjoyable wines in their maturity than Kabinett and Spatlese.

I was having one of the best wine and food experiences ever. At the Unicorn Pan-Asian restaurant in San Francisco downtown, a number of very close friends of Vineyard Gate had the privilege and pleasure of drinking wines of Graf von Schonborn of Schloss Schonborn in the presence of the count himself. Graf Paul von Schonborn is a very interesting man. Educated in the US, he is the head of a legendary family that traces its history back to 1349. Their vineyards in the Rheingau, one of the world's most renowned Riesling wine regions, are second to none.

So there he was, explaining his treasure trove of wines recently released from his estate cellars, pointing out the distinctions of each one of the unpronounceable vineyards and the merits of vintages long past, while his associate was pouring them non-stop to accompany the seemingly never-ending parade of delectable, perfectly cooked Asian fusion dishes.

Normally, I am partial to older vintages. We were looking forward to three 1988's! But first, starting with 2006, considered by most a lesser year than 2007, we were impressed off the bat - with complex classical Riesling flavors of Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen, Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg, and Erbacher Marcobrunn vineyard sites, all three Kabinett wines wonderful and distinct. Following those, we jumped straight into the 1988 Spatleses: Jahannisberg Klaus, Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, and Erbacher Marcobrunn sites. With age, the wines have lost most of their sugar, and appeared almost salty, which is something I am now used to observing in drier Rieslings.

In both the 2006 and 1988, the Marcobrunn vineyard showed off its "grand cru" pedigree with fuller, lusher flavors and texture. We then went through several more 1997's, a 2005, and a gorgeous dessert '03 Auslese triple star (which suggests a Beerenauslese quality). Sadly, despite my respect for the mature Rieslings, these 1988's just didn't have enough oomph and indeed seemed thin. The 1997 Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen with its fresh lemon tingle was the most elegant of the line-up. But in the end, I was seduced by the 2006's sensual flavors and liveliness, thus proving that in wine, whether you prefer old or young, there are no blanket generalizations. Each wine speaks for itself.

From left to right: Alex Bernardo of Vineyard Gate, John Dade Thieriot of Dee Vine Wines, yours truly Iron Chevsky, and Graf Paul von Schonborn of Schloss Schonborn

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 8

...continued from Episode 7. 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 8

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Episode 9 is here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finding balance in unusual places

It was 10:30am or so on a Sunday morning, third set. As I stepped out of the shade into the sun and up to the service line, glancing at my opponents on the other side of the tennis net, a sudden wave rolled over me. At that moment, tangibly and explicitly, I felt the warmth of the Palo Alto sun, and at the same time the freshness from the cool of the morning. An hour earlier, it had been too crisp, an hour later - hot. As the wave of perfect comfort reached my consciousness, it became distracting. Bouncing the tennis ball on the service line, I thought of balance - a perfect balance between hot and cold, a moment when you are both pampered by the sun and energized by the fresh air. And quickly, my mind jumped to ... Riesling.

So there I was, serving, down 2 sets, fighting for the third, and I thought of ... Riesling??!!!

That was it - that feeling of balance was the best way I'd ever related to Riesling, where luscious, lazy sweetness and refreshing, energizing sourness are in a constant tug risking to offset the ever fleeting balance that makes Riesling - especially German Riesling - so special to me.

At that moment, two of my favorite passions - tennis and wine - came together in my mind into an indescribable feeling of harmony. 5 seconds later, I served.

I lost that tennis game. And I walked away happy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is that the same wine?

On Sunday I had this wine Le Coq Rouge 2006, from Languedoc. It was wine #5 in the line-up, after two whites - a Muscadet and a Prosecco, and two other reds - a brand name Burgundy and a Grand Cru Bordeaux. It was the cheapest wine of them all - $9. It had a simple name, a simple label, and a screwcap, and after its vastly more exalted predecessors, it promised little to impress me. It was there as a novelty, a change of pace for my friends and neighbors to something different, lesser known, and maybe, just maybe a better value? Sniff - funk and barnyard. Sip - oh, what's that? Warm ripe black fruits, earth, and hard acidity - better than I would have expected from the rustic South of France. More like a mix of Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone. Look at the back label - Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache - aha! A guy from Bordeaux made this wine in the South of France - that explains it. Not a simple wine after all - backbone of something perhaps twice the price of this $9 Languedoc, with a kind of hardness that demands respect, yet with the warmth that rounds the edge. I liked it. Others did too. Never mind the barnyardiness. Great deal, I concluded! That was Sunday.

I had another bottle of Le Coq Rouge. On Tuesday, a friend who stopped by provided an excuse to open it. I did, ready to charm him with this $9 value. Pop. Sniff - hm... Sip - not bad, but a bit sour, oxidized? But it's from the same case, and it's a recent (2006) vintage, and it's a screwcap - how could it be ever so different from the first bottle - enough to turn it from good to blah? I grabbed a decanter, swirled and swirled, and drank - my friend and I. We hid the flaws of this wine in the smokiness of a dry sausage, and sweetness of a chocolate cake afterwards, but disappointed I was indeed. How could this be?

And this was not the first time. It'd happened once before - I'd tasted a wine at a tasting and loved it. Later on, I tasted another bottle, and it left me cold and ashamed of my original enthusiasm.

Now it happened the second time and it made me wonder. Is that the same wine? I think YES. But it's me who's different. Different how? I've come to realize that wines drunk in the beginning of an event tend to taste differently than the same wines at the end. Having food ahead or with the wine softens the initial attack. Otherwise, at the outset, when the palate is fresh, the first sip of wine leaves the biggest (and the harshest) impression, often shocking the palate with flavor, alcohol, and acid. After a period of drinking, the palate is adjusted (or desensitized?) and can easily take stronger flavors. Add on top of that the fact that as a party goes on (especially a fun party like mine!) the wine tastes even better. But is it a different wine? No, it's a different ME. So the Tuesday wine must have been truer. But the Sunday one was better, even if it were just an illusion!

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