Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aged Meursault - how old is too old?

Most wines don't age well - they just decline, especially white. White Burgundy, on the other hand, particularly 1er and Grand Cru actually needs a few years to hit its stride. Meursault, one of the great Chardonnay villages in the world, one whose grandeur and style was the target of the legendary pioneers of California wine industry in the 1970's, such as Mike Grgich and Chateau Montelena, gives greater pleasure as it gains in maturity. But how long should you wait? And how long is too long?

From the mailer by Ross Bott, the organizer:
Meursault is in the geographic center of the Cotes du Beaune region of Burgundy, with Pommard two kilometers to the north and Puligny Montrachet two kilometers to the south. It totals just under a thousand acres of planted vines, almost all Chardonnay. About 200,000 cases of wines are produced each year, of which 98% are white.

The vineyards of Meursault itself surround the town, with the premier cru vineyards just to the southwest and the rest of Meursault vineyards (which go into village wines) nearer to the center. There are 13 premier cru vineyards in all, with Les Perrieres, Les Charmes, Les Genevrieres, Les Poruzots, La Gotte d'Or and Les Boucheres the most highly regarded and generally producing the best wines. Among these, Les Charmes, Les Genevrieres, and Les Perrieres have a separate elevated status, and might informally be considered the Grand Crus of Meursault.

Most would consider Meursaults, along with the Grand Cru regions of Montrachet and Chablis to be among the best Chardonnays in the world. In contrast to the wines of Chablis, Meursaults are given some barrel aging time, imparting a buttery, toasty character which is often associated with Meursault. However, they share with the best Chardonnays from the region an acid edge and angular structure which makes them so stern when young, but provides the foundation to allow the wines to age gracefully for many years. Over that time, the youthful angularity is replaced by layers of wonderful minerally, buttery, vanilla-tinged complexity.

Tonight we'll try eight Meursaults spanning 1982 through 1986, including four from Les Charmes and one each from Genevrieres and Perrieres. Seven of the eight are from three domaines -- Michelot-Buisson, Francois Jobard, and Ballot-Millot and, each has it's signature style: Michelot-Buisson's Meursaults are tight and firm when young, but expand with age into a broad flavor range of ripe lemons, minerals, and sweet pea. Ballot-Millot produces classically styled Meursaults with lemony fruit underpinned with lees and a bit of oak vanillin. Jobard veers towards the racy, acidy end of the Meursault spectrum -- almost more Chablis-like than Meursaults.

Prior to this tasting, the oldest Meursault I'd had was a 12-year old - 1997 (in 2009) by Patrick Javillier. The wine was elegant, delicious, with secondary flavors, just as expected from a mature Meursault at its peak. But now I was facing a line-up more than twice that age.

The Lineup
1982 Meursault-Genevrieres, Michelot-Buisson
1982 Meursault-Charmes, Michelot-Buisson
1983 Meursault-Charmes, Michelot-Buisson
1985 Meursault-Blagny, Francois Jobard
1985 Meursault-Charmes, Francois Jobard
1985 Meursault Perrieres, Dancer-Lochardet
1986 Meursault "Les Millots" Ballot-Millot
1986 Meursault-Charmes, Ballot-Millot

To my palate, none of the wines tasted good, 2 partially oxidized, 1 slightly corked, 2 medicinal and eggy, and 3 curious - all devoid of fruit, some with bitter citrus peel and astringency, some with decent bouquets, but closer to sherry on the tongue, the better ones reminding of olive oil and marinated olives. To me, all of the wines seemed years past their peak, on the far end of their decline, one step away from the grave. While I wouldn't drink any of them, some of the tasters did like one or two wines, but the feeling in the room was that this indeed was a problematic bunch of Chards, more interesting than pleasurable. I asked Ross what he thought. He said he has done several tastings with these wines over the years, and these are the last bottles he has. He enjoyed the wines because in the their old age they were interesting. "Old wines are interesting like old people" - he said.

Certain hypothesis about ageability of Meursault formed in my mind. But before generalizing, I set off to do a bit of research. I talked to 3 wine experts, browsed wine forums, and read as much as I could find on Google. My findings confirm that the peak of drinking pleasure for a Meursault from a good site and a good producer in a good vintage is somewhere between 8 and 12 years, plus/minus 3. Houses of Lafon and Coche-Dury are in a league (and price) above others. At the age of around 20 years, they change into different animals, nutty, almondy, quite dry, complicated, interesting, special. I've tasted Rieslings that were over 30 years old. Those were amazing. Sugars had subsided, but fruit was still there, and all kinds of savory flavors had emerged. For Meursault, 20 years appears to be that time, with the best of the best stretching to 25. Records have been known where some wines lasted longer - into their 4th decade - but those are extreme exceptions. At the age of 25, it's really a toss-up that I would not want to take with my precious stash.

The nearby villages of Puligny and Chassagne likely have similar ageability curve for their 1er crus. They, however, boast a number of grand cru sites - the Montrachet family of vineyards, which are legendary for longer lifespan.

Whether I like the wines or not, a Ross Bott tasting like this provides a unique opportunity to learn. One time I face the good, another time - the ugly. Through knowing both, I learn to cherish wine all the more. And that, my friends, is perhaps the greatest wine gift one can get.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ridge tasting: Iron Chevsky vs. Robert Parker

Chris Watkins and I have been discussing getting together for a really cool Ridge tasting ever since he reached out to me after my mention of Ridge at the Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting. Finally he came up with a great angle. Robert Parker's latest scoring of Ridge wines inspired Chris, the tasting room manager at Ridge Monte Bello - an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and all-around cool dude, to throw a re-tasting for the mere mortal wine blogger folk. Armed with fancy cameras, shabby notepads, and cute business cards, a small army of wine and food writers showed up at Ridge on a beautiful sunny morning of March 18. I also invited my friend and wine director at Donato Enoteca - Eric L. - for second opinions and witty commentary!

I see Parker's scores far from being something I rely on for personal enjoyment, but if you learn to calibrate his scores against your palate, then it's a useful data point. After the tasting of the same portfolio, my conclusion is that Parker's scores were generally reasonable, although expectedly he preferred the bigger, fruitier wines over lighter, earthier ones, which is a matter of taste and where Parker and I clearly diverge. Let me just get it out there in the open - I was very impressed with the Ridge wines across the board, more so than ever before - which is undoubtedly a reflection of my own taste evolution. And not just the famous Monte Bello, but also the Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, the eye-opening Santa Cruz Mountains Estate blend, and even the 100% East Bench Zin. The acidity, balance, and non-over-ripeness or over-oakiness on these wines should make anyone wonder why the rest of California doesn't follow this lead. Beats me.

It's hard not to compare Ridge's Cab-dominated blends to the Left Bank of Bordeaux - the balance, the gorgeous cool fruit, the acid and earthiness. I find the best examples of Ridge to rival top Bordeaux in complexity. Lesser Monte Bellos do not quite get to the top classed growths (Grand Cru) level, but they certainly hold their own against most Bordeaux. Add to that the deliciousness factor and the local Santa Cruz Mountains patriotism (after all, I live in Palo Alto, just minutes away from Monte Bello), and it's easy to love Ridge.

However, word of advice for a value-conscious wino. It is not so easy to swallow the prices for all but the very grandest of Monte Bellos. Most retail for $145+/bottle on release, and with time, only go up. While compared to other California top wines, Monte Bello is still a bargain, some fabulous Bordeaux such as Chateau d'Issan 3rd growth Bordeaux can be had for less than half. But a huge eye-opener for me was the "2nd-label" wine - the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate blend - retailing for ~$40/bottle, this is the real deal and real value, my friends.

So let me get the line-up and the 3 pages of tasting notes out of the way, so I can get on with philosophizing. I will spare you from extended explanations and history of Ridge and the specific wines, as you can read more on that on Chris Watkin's Ridge Blog, also linking to the accounts of this tasting by the other blogger attendees. Suffice it to say, in my opinion and to my palate, all things considered, Ridge is and has been the greatest winery in California, maybe in the whole New World! Now, on to the wines...

The Wines
Here is the tasting line-up, with notes further below.

1. 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Jimsomare Chardonnay ($30-40)
2. 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($30-40)
3. 2008 East Bench Zinfandel - RP: 90-92 ($25)
4. 2006 East Bench Zinfandel ($25)

5. 2008 Geyserville - RP: 90-92 ($35)
6. 2007 Geyserville - RP: 91 ($35)
7. 2008 Lytton Springs - RP: 91-93 ($35)
8. 2007 Lytton Springs - RP: 92 ($35)

9. 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate - RP: 88 ($40)
10. 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate - RP: 91 ($40)
11. 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate - RP: 92 ($40)

12. 2008 Monte Bello - RP: 94-96, barrel sample
13. 2007 Monte Bello - RP: 92 ($145)
14. 2006 Monte Bello - RP: 94+ ($145)
15. 2005 Monte Bello - RP: 97+ ($148)
16. 2004 Monte Bello - RP: 91 ($175)
17. 2003 Monte Bello - RP: 95+ ($150)
18. 1996 Monte Bello - WS: 96 ($300)

Rather than go through notes for each wine, I will generally say - there was not a bad or disappointing wine! But here are the ones that really stood out for me:

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay - lighter, more mineral, higher acid than Jimsomare. Balanced, elegant, and a good example of what California Chardonnay could be - an eye-opener!

2006 East Bench Zinfandel - this is the best Zinfandel I've ever had! Secondary nose, liqueur, spice, acid, incredibly complex for a Zin, much better than the already quite good 2008. 14.9% alc was not a problem.

2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate - 75% Cab, 22% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc - beautiful balanced nose; on the palate - not thick but concentrated, Margaux-like texture is just perfect, great balance and finesse. Alcohol in the 13% range. In terms of QPR, this was the wine of the tasting for me! I have to give props to the 2007 SC Mountains Estate as well - noticeably earthier (more root vegetable - beet, etc.), sweet & zingy tart at the same time, but less refined than 2005, but so so Cab and incredibly alluring food wine - "good with unadulterated tri-tip" - suggested Eric Lecours. I agreed.

2006 Monte Bello - 68% Cab, 20% Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot, 2% Cab Franc - much better (at this point) than 2008 or 2007 - great balance and finesse, great softer texture, beautiful fruit. 13.5% alc. ($145)

2005 Monte Bello - 70% Cab, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cab Franc - nice nose. On the palate - heavier than '06, maybe heavier than I prefer but good balance, bigger more tannic than '06. 13.4% alc. ($148)

2004 Monte Bello - 76% Cab, 13% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Cab Franc - nice texture, good acid, good secondary fruit, liqueur. 13.2% alc. "Ribeye with mushroom sauce", suggested Eric L. ($175 n/a)

2003 Monte Bello - 85% Cab, 8% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot - good too, more classic Bordeaux, pensil/graphite. ($150 n/a)

1996 Monte Bello - 80% Cab, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot - nose: hints of meat jerky; taste: very good, Bordeaux-like, meat, still tannic (!), pâté-like aftertaste. "Short rib, hawaiian rock salt, done!" - Eric L. 13.2% ($300).

It's hard to pin-point which Montebello I liked better - all the ones above were very good. If I had to pick, I'd say 2006 and 1996. I can see why Parker scored 2005 higher - it's a bigger wine, which is why I preferred the 2006. I could also see that with age, given their excellent tannic and acidic structure, low alcohol and secondary complexities we saw in older bottles, these wines are top candidates for cellaring. The '96 Monte Bello was still tannic and would certainly last a long time. All in all, many thanks to Chris Watkins and Ridge Vineyards for providing me with an opportunity to taste through such esteemed line-up. I had alloted two hours for the tasting, yet the two hours were clearly not enough. Alas, I had to go back to my real job, getting ready for an upcoming Board of Directors meeting. With my teeth stained and a twinkle in my eye, luckily I made it back to the office on time, very much appreciative of Chris' hospitality, flexibility, and promptness, which I am sure had nothing to do with my extremely favorable review of Ridge! Seriously though, kudos, kudos, kudos, finally a winery that makes me a proud Californian!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

La Paulee San Francisco 2010 - Burgundy Finest Grand Tasting

In wine, I had never experienced such an embarrassment of riches as I did in the 3 hours of sinful debauchery otherwise called "the Grand Tasting" that ensued right after the well-behaved Burghound Seminar at La Paulée. I now stood in a large room teeming with industry insiders and some of the most legendary winemaker / producer figures of our age. Like the proverbial Buridan's ass, wasting precious moments, I was stuck to the floor trying to figure out my approach. Why were they torturing me so?! Dangling grand crus from Roumier, Mortet, Leflaive, Lafon, Dujac, Grivot, Ramonet, Bonneau du Martray, and many many other objects of desire in front of me, altogether over a hundred wines - to cover them all within 3 short hours - unthinkable cruel fate! On top of that, signature dishes from Michael Mina RN74, Quince, The Slanted Door, Acquerello, Boulevard, Il Cane Rosso, La folie, Jardiniere, incredible cheese array from Andante Dairy, and more, more, more - to go with the white and red burgs. Oh heavens, I need 3 hours for just one of them! I was desperate and paralyzed (remember that Buridan's ass?). One thing I knew - no way will I go through all the wines - as thorough as that may be, the mad rush would suck all enjoyment out. My friend Dan materialized on after-burners, zooming straight to the heavy-hitters cluster of Dujac, Roumier, Perrot-Minot, and Dennis Mortet. "Dan, you are starting with the reds?!", I was shocked. But he was already on his way, eager not to miss his idols, screw the proper white-then-red tasting etiquette! I was sucked in by the vaccuum created in his wake, ending up at Dujac.

What happened next was sheer insanity as grand vins that I might never get to taste again in my lifetime, were staining my lips and running down my palate. I was laughing and taking photos with guys that don't even take appointments when they are in a good mood. $300-500 bottles of vino were going up and down to my glass like an oil pump, and between jutting down notes, wiping drip from my chin, and exchanging a few brief words with the gods of winemaking, I was on to the next station. Somewhere in that first half hour of blur, I gave up on elaborate notes - they were taking too long - and decided to just try to remember the feelings I had when tasting those wines and dishes - those that would remain in my memory would be gracing the pages of this blog afterwards. My hat's off to the fellow wine writers Richard Jennings and Alder Yarrow who undoubtedly would be more dilligent in their coverage. As for me, now, almost a week later, the memories of some of the wines still linger on my mind with long, dreamy, flavorful finishes, as they did that day on my tongue.

So allow me to pour some of those memories from the vessel of my mind onto here.

1. This year, 2007's were the majority of the show. White Burgundies stood out better than the reds. Hardly surprising, since the 2007 reds are just too young at this point. For the whites, while 2006 was a fuller, fruitier, and more approachable year, the 2007 is more classical, higher acidity, better focus and minerality, with the best examples irresistible. The portfolios of Leflaive and Ramonet stole the show for me. Brilliant efforts up and down the line-ups confirmed the well-deserved lofty status of those domaines. Leflaive's unforgettable Macon-Verze, Puligny-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cu "Clavaillon" and 1er Cru "Les Pucelles", and Ramonet's Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Chaumées", 1er Cru "Les Ruchottes", and a gorgeous Bâtard-Montrachet delivered with a bang. Bonneau du Martray's and Faiveley's Corton-Charlemagnes were outstanding, as was Jadot's Domaine Duc de Magenta Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot "Clos de la Chapelle". Several other producers while not as great, still featured some very solid wines: Bouchard (Genevrières and St Landry), Bruno Colin (Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "La Truffière", "Les Chaumées", and "La Boudriotte"), and Blain-Gagnard (Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "La Boudriotte", "Morgeot" and "Caillerets"). However, Lafon (Meursault "Clos de la Barre" and 1er Cru "Charmes") left me cold, Dujac's Morey-Saint-Denis Blanc was just ok.

2. The pairing of several lovely Chablis from Domain Christian Moreau (Vaillon, Valmur, Le Clos) with Michael Mina RN74's Shiso Ebi Shrimp Coctail was divine perfection! I must have had five of those little explosions of shiso and Meyer lemon. The food was extravagant across the board, feast for the eyes, though not everyone's concoction pleased my Burgundy stained taste-buds. The highlight dishes for me were Il Cane Rosso's Beef Brisket "Bollito" al Pizzialo, Jardiniere's Rabbit en Escabeche, Michael Mina RN74's Shiso Ebi Shrimp Coctail, Boulevard's Smoked Black Cod, and the Slanted Door's Braised Pork Belly. The cheeses from Andante Dairy were supreme. Notable mentions should also go to MASA'S Maine Scallops "Cuit Sous Vide" (with green garlic and preserved Meyer lemon), La follie's Mushroom Risotto (with truffles), Acquerello's Aged Carnaroli Risotto (with pork belly and Pink Lady apples), Quince's Octopus with Chickpeas & Wild Nettles, and Piperade's Oxtail "Pot au Feu". Enjoy the slide-show:

3. None of the 2007 reds swept me off my feet. The legendary Domaine Roumier Bonnes-Mares was dense, spicy, dark-berry flavored grand cru that has many years before it truly gives pleasure. Perrot-Minot's Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "La Richemone" was round, rich, and quite nice. His Charmes-Chambertin was dense - not bad. Dujac's Morey-Saint-Denis Rouge had a lovely light rose translucent color, sweet, tart, spicy flavor. Dennis Mortet's 4 wines, poured by Arnaud Mortet, Dennis' son, were thick, and rather too fleshy for my palate, particularly the famous Lavaux Saint-Jacques - beefy, dense, needing more acid to stand up to the fruit and body. Tollot-Beaut's Beaune 1er Cru "Les Grèves" and Corton-Bressandes - solid. Faiveley's Eschezaux was powerful, full, sweet, balanced, and quite good. Domaine de Chevalier's Corton "Le Rognet" 2006 was very good, as was Michel Gros Clos de Vougeot - soft, plush, slightly spicy, with medium-low acid. Domaine de l'Arlot Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "Clos de l'Arlot" and "Clos des Forets Saint Georges" were very nice, with the Clos de l'Arlot more accessible at this point. Grivot only had 2006's (Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "Roncière", "Aux Boudots", and Echezeaux) and left me uninspired, as did Domaine de Montille's wines.

To my extreme grief, I ran out of time before visiting a good number of producers. As well, I reached my saturation point and sensory overload. I simultaneously was thanking and swearing at Bacchus for putting me into such state. La Paulée seems to come to San Francisco every two years, alternating with New York. In the course of 3 hours, I sampled probably $10K worth of most sought-after wines in the world, as well as hundreds of $$ worth of food. This was the best Burgundy extravaganza I'd ever been a part of - so many memories, so many learnings, so highly recommended, so worth $275 ($200 for trade). As I stepped out of the Westin St. Francis, it was around 3:15, sunny day, beautiful Union Square brightly lit and buzzing with visitors. Four French winemakers wearing jackets and jeans like a uniform, were out for a smoke and a breeze, getting a welcome rest from us, the crazy Burgo-maniacs. That evening I was meeting friends for a dinner at Donato Enoteca for what would surely be a lovely dinner. Wearily I looked at my watch. In only 5 short hours I would be eating and drinking again. God bless America!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Burghound Seminar "A Study in Terroir" at La Paulee 2010 in San Francisco - Part 2: Maison Louis Jadot

...continued from Part 1.2.

After Veronique Drouhin concluded her trio of 2006 whites, Jacques Lardière, the Technical Director at Maison Louis Jadot briskly took over. The 3 wines he had to present were Beaune 1er Cru "Clos des Ursules" 2002, Corton Pugets 2002, and Charmes-Chambertin 2002. In stark contrast to the even-spoken well-paced Veronique, Jacques was near incomprehensible - with heavy French accent, words shooting out as if from a machine gun, I saw a prototypical mad scientist, passionate about Burgundy, the terroir, and his wines, taking himself (rather than the audience) on a journey that was more amusing (thanks to his presentation style) than informative (since it was hard to follow). I caught something about "grand cru being aristocratic vin, washing over my every organ". Jacques went on and on, forgetting that we had wines in front of us that he should really be talking about. But finally someone (Allen?) reminded him - and so we came to "Clos des Ursules".

2002 was a good vintage in Burgundy - not a blockbuster for the reds like a 1990 or 2005, but one that produced many classical cellar-worthy wines nonetheless. In 2002, explained Jacques, most of France, particularly Rhone and Bordeaux had a terrible year, as rainy weather decimated the harvest everywhere, stopping short of Burgundy. "This is proof that God enjoys Burgundy!", proclaimed Jacques Lardiere with a smile. So the choice of all 3 wines from 2002 made sense. Now at 8 years of age, 1er crus should be starting to approach their drinking window. Coming from a seven-acre vineyard that is a Jadot's prided monopoly in Beaune, "Clos des Ursules" was a charmer. My notes say: "very pleasant, fragrant aroma of raspberry, hibiscus, and cured meat, really tasty, great acid, dense fruit, still tannic, tart, very stimulating energizing acidity. Tasty & good". The two grand crus that followed - Corton Pougets (curiously, the same soil that produces the white Corton Charlemagne) and Charmes-Chambertin - were less aromatic, less refreshing (sweeter), and altogether less interesting at this stage than the first wine, thus reminding me that the grand cru stature is not necessarily a reflection of one's enjoyment of wine.

Allen Meadows was an excellent host, keeping Jacques more or less on track and on time, and I was happy to get an opportunity to finally meet Mr. Burghound in person. All in all, though neither Joseph Drouhin nor Louis Jadot carry the stratospheric cult status associated with certain top Burgundy houses (DRC, Leroy, Leflaive...), they undoubtedly have grand wines of great charm and elegance that don't hit your pocket-book like a Sports Illustrated super-model. And even though one has to kiss many frogs before finding the princess, both "Sécher" (Drouhin) and "Clos des Ursules" (Jadot) proved on that sunny Saturday morning in March - the princesses are out there, so keep on searching!

...To be continued here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Burghound Seminar "A Study in Terroir" at La Paulee 2010 in San Francisco - Part 1.2: Le Montrachet

...continued from Part 1.1.

Burgschnauzer in his well-written post about Le Montrachet put it nicely:
"The mythology of a famous vineyard can be greater than the wines it actually produces. Our preconceived notions regarding a plot of earth often create expectations that are unrealistic and impossible for a beverage to reach. No one grape growing region is more susceptible to this than Burgundy. The best vineyards of the Cote d’Or have been written about and praised for centuries, but none more so then Montrachet. I have to confess to being obsessed with this vineyard and that my infatuation started long before I ever tasted a sip of its wine. Like many budding wine geeks, I had drooled over the descriptions of great bottles and imagined what it would be like to actually experience them. This can happen with wines from any vineyard, but Montrachet certainly is one of the most alluring. Perhaps the astronomical prices charged for bottles bearing the Montrachet label made me crave for a taste, but the same could have been true of other vineyards such as La Romanee Conti, or even Chevalier-Montrachet. More probable is that I had just become enamored with a wine that others called the best. It can be argued that several red wine producing grand crus are the crème de la crème, Musigny, La Tache and Chambertin among them, but only one stands at the top when it comes to white. Whatever the reason, I had become a Montrachet groupie."

Part 1.2

My nose was stuck in a glass of the most legendary white wine in the world - Le Montrachet. Joseph Drouhin's Montrachet is called "Marquis de Laguiche", named after a long-time (since world war I) friend of the family who owns a plot of the vineyard whose grapes he sells exclusively to the Drouhins. Funny, Allen Meadows said if you look at the vineyard, you can never tell that something regal stems from here. "Montrachet is just ugly", he said. But dig deeper into the layers of sub-soil, pay attention to the orientation of the slope and the exposure to the sun and wind, and a different story emerges. A snapshot of the Montrachet map to the right (by Cote d'Or Imports) reveals a striking tale of the exquisite fragmentation of different parcels and owners within Le Montrachet. The essence of Burgundy illustrated. Marquis de Laguiche plot is the farthest on the right-hand-side. At 2 hectars, they are the largest owner of land within Le Montrachet. You can play with an interactive map here.

Montrachet can age for decades. But even now, just a baby (2006), could I tell the difference between the ordinary and the sublime? One hour in the glass, color not very deep, the nose not particularly expressive, just a whiff of creaminess. On the palate - elegant creaminess, impeccable balance between fruit, oak and acid, not too much of anything, medium acidity, plush texture and long thick finish. Smelling and drinking it (this I would not spit) over the course of the next half hour, the nose revealed delicious waffles, baked peaches and apples. The taste remained very primary, with honey, grapefruit, pear and apple. Looking at my notes now, I read "very good, but not amazing". Shocking - not amazing??? How dare I?

Let me explain. With prices on wine-searcher at around $500-700/bottle, for whatever its worth, I could say - this wine tasted marginally better than most white wines I'd ever tried (at such young age), but not *that* much better. I'd pay $150, not $500. I think it's very clear that with wine, as with many other objects of obsession, as the quality jumps incrementally, the price goes up exponentially. For a wine that is slightly better, you can easily pay two, three, four times the price. If you want the prestige and the taste of the best, then yes. But otherwise, the QPR is clearly not there. Granted, the wine was young and unevolved, and Drouhin is not the absolute top producer of Montrachet, still I was slightly disappointed by the case of the reality not living up to the anticipation.

Nevertheless, I remain open minded about the possibility of this vineyard knocking my socks off in the future. Your Montrachet is always welcome in my glass!

...To be continued in Part 2.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Burghound Seminar "A Study in Terroir" at La Paulee 2010 in San Francisco - Part 1.1: Joseph Drouhin

For 3 days La Paulée raged in the city of San Francisco. The biggest, most glorious celebration of fine Burgundy of the year took over the hearts and minds of the Burgundy's faithful, as they shelled our their hard-earned cash and their best bottles to take part in this unbridled debauchery, one I am most proud and satisfied to have contributed to.

I wish I could say I attended all events, but alas my time, money, and cellar are not bottomless, thus I focused on two events - the Burghound Seminar "A Study in Terroir", followed by the Grand Tasting. Hosted in the gorgeous Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square (where Rona and I had held our magnificent wedding), bright and early at 10am on Saturday morning of March 13, myself and a crowd of about a hundred wine geeks were staring at Allen Meadows (aka "Burghound") - perhaps the most influential wine critic of Burgundy wines in the world, as he moderated the presentation alongside Veronique Drouhin, the Head Winemaker of Joseph Drouhin and Jacques Lardiere, the Technical Director of Maison Louis Jadot.

For an hour and a half, I was being properly indoctrinated in the concept of terroir and its extreme relevance to Burgundy. Allen went over the history of the region and why it was so natural for the neighboring plots of land to have developed and been accepted as different terroirs, but what I was really paying attention to were the 6 glasses in front of me, 3 select Chardonnays from the 2006 vintage from Drouhin and 3 Pinot Noirs from the 2002 vintage from Jadot, the most worthy line-ups from their revered stables.

Part 1.1

Veronique Drouhin, the 4th generation of Drouhins, featured Chablis 1er Cru Sécher 2006, Beaune 1er Cru "Clos des Mouches" Blanc 2006, and Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2006. Notice all 2006's. (Aha! I've been quite impressed with 2006 white Burgundies, and this was yet another confirmation.)

The first wine Chablis 1er Cru Sécher 2006, biodynamically grown, comes from a special sub-plot called "Sécher" within the Vaillons 1er Cru vineyard. In the 1960's, the Drouhins were among the first wine domaines who saw the potential of Chablis after the region had been ravaged by phyllorexa a century prior, and lay largely devoid of fine winemaking ever since. There are a total of 8 lieux-dits (sub-plots) in Vaillons, and while others may have more masculine personality, not Sécher. Interestingly, even Drouhin's own website says that Sécher is located next to Vaillons, rather than being a part of it. But Veronique stated it very clearly that it's one of 8 sub-plots of Vaillons, one with a more elegant, feminine character. I loved this wine - elegant and balanced - classical Chablis, classical Burgundy. Citrusy and round, zero oak, great acid that was refreshing but not sour, not a trace of alcoholic heat, what a pleasure of a wine. Veronique explained that the ripening window was very short in 2006, so picking the right date for harvesting was critical. Those who got it wrong even by a couple of days, ended up with inferior wines. Not Sécher, my new fave 1er Cru Chablis. Ah, only in Burgundy do you talk not just about vineyards but sub-plots!

Next, I tasted Beaune 1er Cru "Clos des Mouches" 2006. Grown on soils that are supposed to be planted to Pinot (hence "Clos des Mouches" Rouge), the Blanc is surely one of Drouhin's claims to fame (they own the majority of this renowned vineyard). You can follow this informative link to learn the technical details about the vineyard and the vintage published on the Joseph Drouhin web site, including Veronique's tasting notes. Here are mine -- perceptible influence of oak and honey on the nose, viscous, nice unaggressive acid and quiet fruit on the palate gave the impression of classic Cote d'Or. However, the wine seemed to have a tiny bit of corkiness or some sort of greenish roughness that made the aftertaste seem a touch unpleasant (since noone else mentioned anything, it could not have been cork, could it?). Veronique did point out that early in its life, Clos des Mouches is known for having a reductive note - perhaps there was a connection. Allen Meadows chimed in to point out the distinctive characteristic of Clos des Mouches is that it's "agreeable young, but ages for a long time". Compared to the Chablis, I was not as impressed with Clos des Mouches at this stage, especially considering the QPR (approx $35 for the Chablis vs $100 for the Clos des Mouches).

And then we arrived at the most highly anticipated wine of the hour - Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2006 from the most revered white wine vineyard in the world - Le Montrachet, the wine of Thomas Jefferson and the monarchs of Europe, even the modest examples going for no less than $400/bottle these days. From the fine white Burgundy grand cru that I've had the pleasure of tasting, Batard-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Chevalier-Montrachet are certainly amazing wines (see my recent write-up here.) But Le Montrachet is supposed to be the apogee! So imagine my hands shaking and my heartbeat quickened, as I kept peeking at the glass throughout the presentation and the tasting of the Chablis and the Clos des Mouches. Finally, the time had come - and I took a whiff!

...To be continued in Part 1.2.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kistler beats Chablis again at Ross Bott

Thursday, March 4, 2010. Second year in a row, Ross decided to conduct the same type of tasting. Premier Cru Chablis side by side with Kistler Chardonnay. Last year's exhaustive analysis inspired a follow-up battle at Green Hills country club. What would this year's inspire?

From the mailer by Ross Bott, the organizer:
One year and two weeks ago we had a comparative tasting of French Chablis and Kistler Chardonnays from the 2002 and 2005 vintages. Most people who attended the tasting found that, while the contrast was striking, both the Chablis and the Kistlers were outstanding in their own way. It was also a demonstration of how versatile the Chardonnay varietal is when grown in different climates. ...

Tonight, we'll repeat this tasting with mostly different Chablis and Kistlers. Both 2002 and 2005 are outstanding vintages in both Chablis and California. In 2002, the weather in Burgundy was largely warm and kind. Bernard Raveneau commented "2002 was the kind of vintage we'd love to see every year, it has excellent balance and loads of flesh". The 2005 vintage was even warmer, considered by some to be a signal of a different France with weather more akin to California. Many of the Chablis were as ripe and rich as Meursaults. In contrast, 2005 was a long, cool vintage in California, producing quite Burgundian Chardonnays.

These were serious wines (on paper) that drew some lurker Frenchy types back in. Surprisingly, there was about half the normal crowd. Oh well, more wine for me.

After 2 hours of tasting, for the francophile reader, the results might seem crazy. Here is the final group-rank, from top-ranked on the left.

1. 2005 Kistler "Vine Hill Vineyard", Russian River Valley
2. 2002 Kistler "Dutton Vineyard", Sonoma Valley
3. 2002 Kistler "Kistler Vineyard", Sonoma Valley
4. 2005 Kistler "Dutton Vineyard", Russian River Valley
5. 2005 Daniel Dampt "Les Lys"
6. 2005 Jean Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru "Montee de Tonnerre"
7. 2002 Raveneau "Montee de Tonnerre"
8. 2002 Domaine William Fevre Chablis "Fourchaume"

California above Chablis!? Fevre and Raveneau at the very bottom!? Well, let me tell you from one francophile to another - here is my ranking that night:

1. 2005 Kistler "Vine Hill Vineyard", Russian River Valley
2. 2002 Kistler "Kistler Vineyard", Sonoma Valley
3. 2002 Domaine William Fevre Chablis "Fourchaume"
4. 2005 Kistler "Dutton Vineyard", Russian River Valley
5. 2002 Kistler "Dutton Vineyard", Sonoma Valley
6. 2002 Raveneau "Montee de Tonnerre"
7. 2005 Jean Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru "Montee de Tonnerre"
8. 2005 Daniel Dampt "Les Lys"

Ok, so this makes a little more sense. But... some people really thought Fevre was "premoxed" (prematurely oxidized). Last year I tasted rich sour yogurt in it, loved that, and made it my #1 wine (crowd's #7). This year, I tasted the same yogurt, which is apparently to some a sign of oxidation. At least I am consistent (and so is the Bott crowd), since I rated this wine highly again against the majority consensus. I taste yogurtiness (rich creaminess) and sourness (acidity) on many top cru white Burgundies, combined with fruit. That said, the sour yogurt was so dominant in Fevre that there wasn't much else to that wine. Raveneau was a mess - grainy, bitter, grassy. Brocard was thick, metallic and bitter. Dampt was dusty honey syrup, creamy, hot, barley-like, and not tasty. The Kistlers were not good either - as Chris B. aptly put it - "lemon juice, oak + alcohol". Only Kistler "Vine Hill" 2005 was decent, IMHO - elegant cream + pineapple, slight toast + butter, a bit hot. For $100/bottle, I will pass, thank you very much.

Overall, my impression was worse this time than a year ago. I think the 2002 Chablis had gone downhill. Extremely thick and viscous for 1er Cru, disjointed and simply not tasty. If you have some, pray it's been stored impeccably and hurry to consume before they get worse. A disappointing affair. As always, I appreciated the opportunity to taste, learn, and pass my impressions on to my readers. Remember, wine is a capricious animal - for every inspired example, there are many disappointments. I cherish and remember them, for it is those disappointments that teach me to appreciate bliss that a rare bottle of great wine delivers. Till next time, the hunt goes on.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2010

On Feb 24, one of my favorite trade tasting events of the year arrived to San Francisco. For background on Gambero Rosso and their Tre Bicchieri event, see my coverage of the last year's event. The world of Italian wine is diverse and complicated. And wonderful. Tre Bicchieri really gives you a chance to sample across the whole of Italy, and to celebrate the variety and the quality all in one place. So without further ado, I will jump straight into impressions.

1. The biggest thing that strikes you at an event like this is just how there is always a great new unfamiliar type of wine showing up. This year, I have to give it to Sparkling. The taste and quality of the Italian sparklers is astounding. And I am not talking about Prosecco (which usually leaves me cold). I am talking about Franciacorta DOCG (in the north of Italy, in Lombardy region) and Trento DOC (in the north of Italy, in Trentino - Alto Adige region). These are serious wines made in the traditional method of Champagne. Price is a big problem for these relatively obscure (in the US) appellations, and one more reason why you don't see a lot of them in this country. Are you willing to shell out $40-100 on an Italian sparker? (After having tasted them, I am!) Here are two of my faves for Trento. Trento Altemasi Graal Brut Riserva 2002 by Cavit - great nose, rich and lush apple syrup, and Trento Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Brut 2000 by Ferrari - yeasty, bready, drier and more refined than Altemasi. I noted them last year as well, but at that time Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta (absent this year) stole my heart.

2. A strong showing for young Amarones this year. Complexity & freshness, rather than an often-seen raisiny fruit. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Campolongo di Torbe 2004 by Masi (still a year till official release) was ripe, juicy, meaty, spicy and fresh. An honorable mention goes to Guerrieri Rizzardi's Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Villa Rizzardi 2005 - sweet, slightly herbaceous nose, bitter sweet on the palate.

3. I must say the event seemed "poorer" this year, as most of the cult names were not there. I did see Sassicaia. That's about it. The food was just cheese, crackers, and fruit. Nor did I see the Tre Bicchieri guides or even cork-screws given away like I'd spotted a year ago.

4. Relatively thin showing by Barolo and Brunello reminded me that there are fewer celebrated wines in the most recent release (2005) than a year ago (2004). Only one Brunello stood out for me - Canalicchio di Sopra 2004 - young, fresh and tasty! There were some excellent examples of 2005 Barolo. The charming and talented Giuseppe Vaira (in the photo on the right) delivered on his Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2005 - sweet, soft-textured, intensely flavored, plum, tea, with loads of dark berries. Vietti's Barolo Lazzarito 2005 was a classic - a powerhouse Nebbiolo, full-flavored, jerky, tannin, serious, young, deep, concentrated black cherry. Several other wines were solid though not amazing - Oddero Barolo Mondoca di Bussia Soprana 2004 (blueberry/cherry tea), Elvio Cogno Barolo V. Elena 2004 (soft and charming), Bezza & Figli Barolo Sarmassa 2005 (toothpasty fresh tea), Travaglini Gattinara Riserva 2004 (meaty and gritty), Prunotto Barolo Bussia 2005 (light & tart), and finally Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2005 (herb, spice and blackberry with a unique personality). So long as we are on the subject of Nebbiolo, a notable mention should also go to Ca'del Baio's Barbaresco Asili 2006 - sweet and tart, slightly spicy, intense and substantive, tannic, with a touch of coffee, poured by the friendly winemaker sisters - Paola and Valentina Grasso.

5. Bordeaux varietals and super-tuscans (or Toscana) were all the rage. A lot of good quality Cabs, Merlots, and Bordeaux blends some enhanced with Sangiovese, reminiscent of Bordeaux but with zingier acidity that I so love in Italian wine. The 2006 Bolgheri Sassicaia by Tenuta San Guido was expectedly outstanding (97pts Antonio Galloni, $150 retail) - dusty plum, nice tannins, a slight green component that added to the complexity, very good! The first vintage (2006) of Coevo by Cecchi was excellent too - flavor taking me to the right-bank of Bordeaux, great balance and complexity, 50% Sangio / 10% Cab / 20% Merlot / 20% Petit Verdot, dry blackberries, jerky. Galatrona 2007 (98pts Wine Spectator) from Petrolo, made from 100% Merlot, was a powerhouse gorgeous beast of a wine - veggie and spice, fresh, super-concentrated thick dark berry fruit. If Sassicaia were Pierce Brosnan, the Galatrona was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

6. Tre Bicchieri wines (at least all the ones I was drawn to taste) are expensive. Definitely if you want the good stuff, brace yourself -- you will pay just as much as for high-end French. I don't see any obvious "value" categories at the Tre Bicchieri level.

7. Recioto di Soave was a revelation. La Perlara 2007 by Ca'Rugate - a sweet wine of considerable complexity was perhaps the 2nd best Italian sweet white I'd ever had, bested only by the Vin Santo di Montepulciano Avignonesi 1996 from last year's event. Being more familiar with Recioto di Valpolicella (a sweet red wine), I learned that "recioto" style of winemaking (where grapes are dried on mats for months, vinified somewhere along the way to raisinhood) is also applied to white wine made in Soave from the Garganega grape (in Veneto, in the northeast of Italy, neighboring with Valpolicella).

8. Some outstanding wines are not imported to California (or the US altogether). The Recioto di Soave above was one of them. Several more that stood out for me were:

a) Franciacorta Saten 2006 sparkler by Il Mosnel - 100% chardonnay, fresh rich lemon custard. Shown in the photo with Italian distributor Lucia Barzano.

b) Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza 2006 by Tenuta Olim Bauda - rich, fresh, balanced, a fairly substantial Barbera.

c) Chianti Classico Tenuta di Capraia Riserva 2006 - good balance, fruit, great acid, nice soft texture/tannin.

After 5 tooth-staining hours of pacing myself through the aisles, I was exhausted. The wines I commented on here, I re-tasted 2-3 times throughout the evening, doing my part in delivering diligent assessment to you, my readers. I know, I know - it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!

Related Posts with Thumbnails