Sunday, December 30, 2012

Highlights of the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2012

Here are my most memorable wines from across the globe from the 2012 W&S Top 100 Wineries of the Year grand tasting event in San Francisco's Metreon in October. Click on a photo to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Donato Enoteca 100, 2012 recap

Great Enoteca 100 Italian wine tasting as usual at Donato Enoteca on Dec 1. Absolutely incredible value, an event that I look forward to every year, previously announced here.

I paid extra attention to 2008 Barolos that have been getting a fair share of critical acclaim lately and are just becoming available in the market. I was not disappointed. Renato Ratti Barolo "Marcenasco" 2008 was the wine of the tasting for me. Vietti's entry-level Barolo Castiglione was also very good. I found both of these wines deep, full, and revealing enough (beyond tannins) to appreciate them even now.

Honorable mention goes to Donato's porchetta (shown on the plate in front of the Renato Ratti above) - the crispy skin is to die for.

Another notable showing was by the 1995 Fattoria di Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva "Rancia" - somehow these venerable old bottles have shown up direct from the winery this year. The wine is tasting great right now, revealing lots of secondary flavors, at a perfect point of maturity. Get it for near-term enjoyment.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Donato Enoteca 100 2012 - upcoming Italian wine tasting extravaganza

The annual Enoteca 100 tasting is upon us again. Do not miss. You can get $10 off with a coupon code mentioned in the COST section below.

I never used to love Italian food as much, until I started loving Italian wine. That love affair with vino drove me to explore and appreciate Italian cuisine, which in turn nudged me to explore even more of Italy's wine regions and varieties. No other place has helped open my eyes to all that more so than one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area - Donato Enoteca. Not only do they serve great food and wine all year around, they also feature some of my favorite winemaker dinners. And once a year, Donato Enoteca throw their annual Enoteca 100 Italian wine extravaganza. This year, it's on Saturday, December 1. I documented this event in the past -- highly recommended for sheer joy of living!

Taste 100+ fine Italian Wines & Donato's Creations

Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Franciacorta, Amarone,
Valle d'Aosta, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli, Toscana, Sicilia and Sardegna,
Festive Sparkling wines from all across Italy!

Prosciutto, Speck, Grana Padano, Asiago cheeses,
Wild Boar Bruschetta, House-made Sausage, Risotto Nero,
Porchetta (whole roasted pig),
Grilled Wild Prawns, Agnolotti del plin, Milk Braised Baccala.

Saturday, December 1, 1-4 p.m.
VIP Preview: 12-1 p.m.

Donato Enoteca
1041 Middlefield Road
Redwood City, CA 94063
Note: Caltrain Redwood City stop is across the street from the restaurant.

VIP Preview - $65
General Admission - $55
Early Bird General Admission - $45 (limited)
Note: as a reader of this blog, you may use "ironc" discount code to save $10 off the ticket price. Enjoy!

TICKETS: here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

White truffle raviolo at Donato Enoteca with Barolo and Barbaresco

This time of year, top Italian restaurants are bringing in white truffles - a delicacy from Piedmonte (Northern Italy), which also happens to be the home of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Last night at Donato Enoteca, it was absolutely phenomenal. I have vividly described the decadent experience at length a couple of years ago, and it continues to be special every single time. Man o man, that raviolo with runny egg yolk inside and white truffles on top - paired with Produttori del Barbaresco Moccagatta Riserva 2004 and Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2004 (both wines beginning to approach their drinking window) - orgasmic!

Update on recent Bordeaux vintages 2008 and 2009

Here is my feeling about few recent vintages from some of the tastings I've attended in the past few months.

2008 Bordeaux - This is the third time I am writing about 2008 Bordeaux. The previous article was here, when I was quite enthusiastic about the vintage. 2008's are a good value compared to 2009 and 2010, but in my latest tasting, the wines appeared lighter than 2005's and 2009's (I haven't tasted 2010 yet) and I recommend you taste before you buy. At yesterday's tasting at Beltramo's, three big names from the Left Bank seemed a bit light and thin (but still nice), especially when tasted next to the 2005 Palmer (which tasted like classic 2005, firm, dense, balanced). Even though the prices are attractive compared to 2009's and 2010's, I wouldn't buy any of the 2008's below (nor would I turn them down if someone offered them as a gift either :)).

2005 Palmer Margaux, $349.99 - good wine, full of stuffing (reminds me of borscht), but not worth the $$ IMO
2008 Rauzan-Segla Margaux, $79.99 - slight mint and noticeable toast
2008 Leoville Barton St. Julien, $79.99 - a bit light but classically balanced with nothing sticking out
2008 Pontet-Canet Pauillac, $99.99 - a bit light, but nicely savory and fresh

2009 Bordeaux - many attractive wines. I've attended several tastings of the 2009's now. Most of the usual suspects that I've tried from the Grand Cru Classe hierarchy on the Left Bank are showing well. I liked Chateau Kirwan, Cantenac Brown, Leoville Barton, and Duhart-Milon, although given the prices well over $100/btl, the one that I thought was good value (well under $100) was Kirwan (also consider Margaux neighbors Chateaux d'Issan and Cantenac Brown). Additionally, there are many solid wines outside of the Grand Cru Classe classification, and at the Cru Bourgeois levels that punch above their weight in this prodigious vintage, but I wouldn't call them "great".

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pairing wine with Chinese food - video program for Millbrae Community TV

Earlier this year I was invited by the Millbrae Community TV to film an episode about pairing wine with Chinese food. The show aired in two parts during the Labor Day weekend on September 1 and 2, 2012. For the shoot, I had selected a sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne rosé (from Burgundy), a Gruner Veltliner (from Austria), a Cote du Rhone (from South of France), a Cru Beaujolais (France), and a German Riesling. Hope you enjoy this 10-min show.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gastronomic Ecstasy, Italian style with Barolo

To understand how perfect this pairing is, just think peanut butter and jelly, sea-salt and soft egg yolk, mustard and hot-dog, ketchup and french fries, Cabernet and steak... you get the idea?!

OMG! When Dan and Ash put together a "casual" dinner just because, Ash's fresh pasta with wild mushrooms and Italian sausage, with shaved truffle cheese on top, served with the 1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi (thank you Sandy!) was orgasmic, except in a more romantic and indescribable way. When that truffly, mushroomy, fennelly goodness of a pasta was brought in proximity with the 1996, I could no longer separate the wine from the dish - the aromas melded, the flavors married, I was in heaven!  The charm of the perfectly aged Barolo from a classical vintage was irresistible.  Next to it, by comparison, I am sorry to say, the very impressive 2001 and 2005 Cavallotto Bricco Borschis Barolos just seemed out of place -- too young and primary (even the 2001). Cavallotto was clearly top-notch stuff, but the 1996 Michele Chiarlo brought smiles to my face - Barolo at its prime - suave, confident and firm, with a palate of strawberries and leather, roses and tar, truffles and licorice, all that and more... This was my first encounter of Michele Chiarlo Barolo - great showing of the '96 vintage, with many more years ahead of it. Don't know if this wine will win competitions against Piedmontese greats, but it was a perfect wine for a perfect dish on a perfect night.

Not to overlook any other gourmet dishes and fine wines at that glorious dinner, Dan's hazelnut and pistachio home-made gelato (made from the "grand cru of pistachios" -- Bronte pistachio paste -- imported from Italy) was unreal, especially with a bottle of 1990 Sauternes from Chateau Suduiraut - wow, what an unbelievable Sauternes flavor - "cardamom, pine and grapefruit" (Dan's description), salty & sour caramel, preserved fruits, nice acidity, a kaleidoscope of notes playing on my tongue.

We consumed I think nine bottles of wine among six of us during this amazing meal (that also included three glorious tomato and sashimi appetizers from Dan, and a delish cheese platter from Scott & Kate). A blur of ecstasy, a night to live and die for!

It was very very tough to get up for tennis this morning. But heroically, I did.
Thank you so much, guys - you rock!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grand Champagne Tasting of 2012

The 2012 annual Champagne tasting hosted by the Institute of Masters of Wine recently took place in San Francisco. The freakish 90 degree heat in October was offset by a nicely air-conditioned room on the second floor of the Ferry Building. What an enchanting view of the Bay, chilled bubblies in hand! Mesmerized. Slightly tipsy, my thoughts drifted - "is it time to try for a second kid?..."  I guess Champagne will do that :)

I document this worthwhile event every year. For getting a broad swath of the latest and greatest in Champagne, to my knowledge, there is no better event in the Bay Area. And considering the $60 admission fee, this is probably the best bang for your buck of any wine tasting of the year.

Teeth aching of acid overdose, a hundred bottles worth thousands of $$ of glorious sparkling sampled, a few exemplars truly moved... The best bottles are not cheap - retailing for well over $100, and the Rosé over $300, but when you are ready to live it up, it's hard to go back to the non-vintage rank-and-file after these vintage beauts.

Henriot "Enchanteleurs" 1998. Another power-house Henriot following the great 1996. Riper and richer (sweeter?) than most other dry champagnes, with a smile-inducing kaleidoscope of flavors. Very sexy.

Veuve Clicquot "La Grand Dame" 2004. On the wings of the great 1998, comes another perfect Champagne with a pronounced citrus note from Veuve Clicquot, this time from the 2004 vintage.

Charles Heidsieck "Blanc des Millenaires" 1995. A classic. Overall, the most balanced and text-book perfect Champagne specimen of the tasting.

Perrier-Jouet "Belle Epoque" Rosé 2004. Absolute beauty, with dreamy, elegant honeyed Pinot berry flavor.

P.S. Worth a mention -- Charles Ellner and Pol Roger were solid across their portfolios. The Bollinger NV was quite lovely as well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ridge Monte Bello sensational

Having written about them a few times in the past, I've often considered Ridge to be America's finest winery. Never mind gorgeous views from the mountain-top, never mind the showing at the legendary Judgment of Paris (and a victory at the re-tasting 30 years after). All that aside, look at what's in front of you in the glass!

Never before had I enjoyed their wines as much as I did this time, when I was presented with a special occasion to (re-)taste some of Ridge's greatest wines. Simply sensational!!!

Chris Watkins, the tasting room manager, set up the following venerable line-up for a handful of us: 1985 Ridge Monte Bello, 1989 Ridge Monte Bello (magnum), 1995 Ridge Monte Bello, 2005 Ridge Monte Bello, and 2003 Ridge Estate Cabernet (Monte Bello's little brother).

The 1985 was amazing - fresh, earthy, savory, with black olives, hints of eucalyptus, pine and herbs (without appearing vegetal or green), loads of dark, blackcurrant fruits and echoes of graphite. Silky elegant texture and great acidity. Serious and dark. It's in a perfect place for drinking now. $350/btl.

The 2005 was sensational (this time I must agree with RP), even better than I remember from two years ago. Reminding me of Barolo in texture, feel, hauntingly fragrant sweetness... other than the flavor itself being obviously a Cab. (The wine is absolutely dry, of course). Elegance and intensity, with no sign of heaviness. I checked back - it wasn't the first time "Barolo of Cab" thought had come to me. In fact, another winery that reminded me of Ridge -- Dunn - one of my California all-time faves - had evoked the same exclamation during a magnificent tasting atop of Howell Mountain (in Napa) a couple of years prior. The 2005 Ridge Monte Bello seduced with a combination of fragrance, mouthfeel, acidity, sweet strawberry and inky cool blackcurrant overtones, and always a background of olives, herbs and earth. Tannic, but with ripe fruit coating the structure, making the wine super enjoyable even now. Long long finish. All within a moderate 13+% alcohol. Polar opposite of the "big Napa cabs". It's also quite distinct from Bordeaux in that great Bordeaux seem to exhibit more cedar, tobacco and leather nuances, and perhaps more spice. The 2005 was obviously young, but oh-so-appealing! $200/btl.

1989 magnum was also fantastic. A bit more fruit than 1985, a bit less complexity than either the '85 or the '05. Coffee, slight animal, dark earth, gorgeous texture, great fruit and olive, fully coating the palate and persisting with a long finish. Relative bargain - in the $350 range for a magnum. Great deal for a Monte Bello at its peak of maturity!

The 1995 was good, but still somewhat closed and tight, with noticeably less aroma and thinner texture than others. Good acid, olive and spice. Still tannic. It will need more time. $350/btl.

The 2003 Santa Cruz Estate Cab was fabulous - such a bargain - $55 list, but can probably be had for under $40 on wine-searcher. Even though it's positioned as Monte Bello's little brother, this wine has most of the attributes of the flagship. The 2003 was showing that same Barolo-like sensibility, though a touch sweeter (strawberry and honey) than the 2005. Olive and touch of herbs, again. But with plenty of acidity, the sweetness just added to the lip-smacking appeal. Fabulous!

Chris was clever enough to offer these wines along appetizers that accentuated various key qualities in the wines: olive tapenade, some kind of savory fig spread, tarragon infused strawberries, cured meats, and a cow and a goat cheeses.

On the first pass of the tasting I ignored the food, but after that, I allowed myself some leeway. These were such perfect matches to the wines that soon I threw blogging rigor out the window and simply enjoyed the damn feast - thanks to Chris for obliging a few generous re-fills to further cement my conviction of these great food wines!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

2009 Cornas from Allemand and Clape, and the glorious wines of Northern Rhone

If you are in the mood for robust yet stylish, go no further than Cornas. Think viking in a suit.

Cornas has become one of the great wine appellations of the world. An unsung star of Northern Rhone, outshined for so long by Hermitage and Cote Rotie. In years past, considered savage and rustic. The current breed of winemakers have cleaned and dressed it up. Perhaps Cornas' time atop the vinous Olympus has come! And so have the prices (sigh!) In this rough terrain of Northern Rhone, Syrah reigns supreme among the reds. But the whites too achieve sublime. Here the deep, dark, black expressions of blueberry-and-olive drenched exotic-pepper-spices-n-herbs and primal, raw meat echo unmistakably from the depths of the thick elixirs, impossible anywhere else in the (new) world.

With our busy-bee 15-month-old, Rona and I don't get out much for gourmet dinners these days. So our friends master chefs Scott and Dan came to the rescue by agreeing to cook their Michelin-star dishes in Domaine du Chevsky kitchen. For Scott it was also a good excuse to check out his trio of 2009 Cornas that had just arrived and needed an immediate "expert" evaluation. Dan volunteered a couple of white-Burgundy-rivaling white Hermitage's, while Richard J. supplied a cool bottle of Cote-Rotie.

We kicked off the meal with a requisite magnum of the 1989 vintage Champagne from Heidsieck & Co. "Diamant Bleu" - a 23 year old sparkler in great shape that combined mature complexity with youthful vibrancy, and went oh-so-nice with a salad of heirloom tomatoes from Dan's garden.

Chef Dan followed that with two Hermitage blanc's - 2001 and 2004 Chante-Allouette from M. Chapoutier, paired with baked halibut and roasted corn. The corn added smoky sweetness to the delicate fish that paired gorgeously with the luscious, honeyed apricot-peach-pear-almond-and-nuts kaleidoscope of flavors of the 100% Marsanne-based white Hermitage from Northern Rhone. The older 2001 showed more complexity, and not a sign of fading. The 2004 was still quite a teenager.

Then followed the three Cornas - 2009 Allemand "Chaillot", 2009 Allemand "Reynard", and 2009 Clape, accompanied by a salad of figs and summer greens and a spider-like herbed rack of lamb - a perfect match to the sweet and exotic-pepper-spicy, meaty, iron-rich nuances of the ravishing Cornas, still babies.

In one evening we had wines from the 3 of the top 4 most celebrated winemakers of Northern Rhone - Chapoutier, Clape, and Allemand (Chave is the other great). Any time you can get your hands on (and afford) their wines, you will not be disappointed. Not inexpensive, but it doesn't really get much better than this!  We had such embarrassment of riches that I wish I had a separate evening with each wine. Rona was smitten with that  '01 Chapoutier Hermitage blanc!  Truly if there are white wines that can rival white Burgundy, those have to be white Rhones. Incredibly complex, especially as they reach maturity.

The majestic Cornas were gone quickly... along with the lamb... Since clearly we did not have enough wine for the six of us, Dan pulled out a 2007 Allemand Cornas "Reynard", for reference. After all, we needed something for the cheese course! The rest of the evening was a blur... The next afternoon I found myself slurping off the bottoms of the empty bottles - even the half ounces that were still left were juicy, and not oxidized after sitting on the counter uncovered for a day - pepper spices and meat nuances in all three! These wines can stand up to air, and will most certainly last and evolve beautifully!  I didn't realize that Clape was a Parker 99-pointer and the greatest Cornas he said he had ever tasted! Wow (I know that nobody cared about RP in that group, but still... :). The Clape seemed denser at the dinner, but after trying the drippings the next day, I think it was actually less fruity and maybe a bit leaner than the Allemands, with more sleek cool herbs...  Between the Chaillot and the Reynard, the Reynard seemed sweeter, denser, and fatter, and likely more interesting long-term...  The Chaillot was probably the best of the three for drinking in the shorter-term...To my palate, at the end of the (second) day, I preferred the Clape's Cornas by the thinnest of margins. But considering that on wine-searcher it's almost twice the price of the Allemands (although the pre-arrival prices from Kermit Lynch were close), it's clear that Scott made the only choice he could -- to get ALL of them! :)

Thanks a lot guys!  You rock!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Amazing wine machine

You've gotta see this ingenious contraption - it both uncorks and pours your wine.
Why make things simple if you can make them complicated! :)
Published here. Love it!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

2011 vintage - what to buy for birth year wines?

My baby Evan was born in 2011. By all indications, not an easy year for birth year wines that he (and I) could enjoy 20-30 years down the road. We just missed the iconic European vintage - 2010 - by a thin margin :(  For those lucky parents whose babies were born in 2010, your choices across France, Italy, and Germany are vast!

Right now, I am looking closely at top 2011 Sauternes (D'Yquem, Guiraud, etc...) - Sauternes is anticipated to be one of the top performers world-wide in 2011. To a lesser extent, some of the top reds in Bordeaux are worth looking at as well (Palmer, Pontet-Canet, 1st growths on the Left Bank, and some of the top wines from Pomerol, etc). While greater vintages (like 2005 and 2010) virtually assure high quality at all levels of the cru hierarchy and thus are worth focusing on the less prestigious properties, lesser years are great for getting the top wines, as their prices may be less than half of the "great" vintages, while their performance tends to be consistently great.

With that philosophy in mind, I will also be looking at the 2011's in Burgundy - although there are no solid reports as of yet. If the vintage is perhaps at the level of 2008, it will be worth paying attention to.

For the next 2-3 years I will be on the lookout for great 2011's worthy of investing $$$ for Evchik's birth year wines. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pastis bistro in Palo Alto - finally good French!

On California Avenue, right next to another old-time French bistro, now we have Pastis bistro, with menu full of delicious French comfort classics. Finally a reliable French foodie place in Palo Alto. Very enjoyable with a bottle of an earthy 2010 Bourgueil (Cab Franc from Loire) on a sunny Saturday.

2007 Brunello and an early look at 2010 Rosso di Montalcino

I have been excited about the 2006 vintage in Montalcino. The Riservas are now coming out and are impressive. The 2007 vintage is also showing well albeit a bit warmer - not as great as 2006, but still quite good with decent structure and acid. I thought that Cannalicchio di Sopra and Uccelliera did well in 2007. The much acclaimed Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova seemed too sweet and over-the-top, almost like a California Zin. Will look to re-taste it at the upcoming Dalla Terra tasting in May. Personally, I loved Casanova di Neri's basic 2006. I also got a glimpse of the 2010 Rosso di Montalcino (from Uccelliera). I often find their Rosso on par with other producers' Brunello. And the 2010 was no exception - boding very well for the 2010 vintage in Italy, and confirming the across-the-board excitement over the 2010 vintage all over Europe!

Update (Oct 2012): I re-tasted the 2007 Casanova di Neri "Tenuta Nuova", and now, 6 months later, it is showing better - ripe, dark, slightly chocolaty fruit, but great acidity (characteristic of Italian wine, so definitely not like a Cali Zin). Tasty wine, consistent with Casanova di Neri style.

Dinner at Kevin's

My friend Kevin recently hosted a supreme gourmet dinner. The sweet carrot reduction sauce with caramel overtones - no sugar added - just carrots, ginger and butter! - was insane with the lobster blintzes. Pairing beautifully with a Spatlese level 2003 Riesling from JJ Prum. The lobster tail and claw with white Burgundy were absolutely positively to-die-for! The incredibly generous serving of Chateau Leoville Las Cases "super-second growth" Bordeaux was perfect with the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs and cheese-crusted polenta slices. The 2000 Las Cases was very young.

Working at Google and having a 1-year old, he doesn't always have time to exercise his culinary muscles, but when he does, he takes Friday off!... Stay thirsty, my friends!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape - a great vintage

Last week, Angeles Wine Agency ran their annual trade tasting in Fort Mason, San Francisco. I've covered these tastings in the past. Every year, for me this is the best opportunity to size up the soon-to-be-released vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape ("CdP"), across a broad spectrum of recognizable producers imported into this country. See their CdP portfolio here.

I only drink CdP on occasion, as I tend the find the wines not very versatile - too big and bold for most food pairings, particularly in the riper vintages like 2007 and 2009 (much acclaimed by famous critics, but not me). With age they do soften and become more appealing and nuanced. In fact, some of greatest vinous epiphanies I've had were from aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape (documented here and here). But by and large, of all the reds in France, drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape is probably my least enthusiastic affair. All that said, I must say that I was swept off my feet by the superb quality of 2010.

I examined twenty-five 2010 CdP reds. These are serious wines of depth and concentration, with great tannic structure and acidic balance, but without the jamminess and over-the-top fruitiness that I found in 2007 and 2009. While not 100% of the wines appealed to me, the best examples dazzled the palate with elegant black olive and white pepper. My favorites (after several re-tastes, to confirm) were Le Vieux Donjon (my wine of the tasting), Bosquet des Papes (deliciously liqueur-ish), and Clos des Brusquieres (with a hint of whiter pepper).

My faves: Bosquet des Papes, Le Vieux Donjon (my "wine of the tasting"), and Clos des Brusquieres

Overall, based on this and few other 2010 tastings and reports, it appears that 2010 may be the vintage of the century across France (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Loire), definitely for reds, perhaps comparable with 2005, perhaps even better, and potentially great for the whites as well. The prices on the 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape will notch a bit higher than 2009, unfortunately, but I believe that this is a vintage that will appeal to both old and new-world wine fans across the board. And it will age. Stock up, my friends!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

La Paulee San Francisco 2012 and the Impressive 2009 Red Burgundy

Burgundy is expensive. Burgundy is ethereal. Burgundy in 2009 is magnificent. But if you have to ask "how much?", then you can't afford it. But wait... there is good news...

A month ago I attended La Paulee in San Francisco - an extraordinarily extravagant and gastronomically mind-blowing event that celebrates fine wines of Burgundy. I've written about it in the past - terms like "embarrassment of riches" have come to mind. Despite the lofty $300 admission fee, this grand tasting is for anyone who is into Burgundy or may be getting into it, and who has the mental and gastric fortitude to navigate through over a hundred wines of the highest order within three short hours. I got to taste thousands of dollars worth of the finest wines in the world, poured by iconic winemakers, accompanied by delectable bites from the hautest restaurants in the city. So worth it IMHO!

My focus was on the reds. There is a bit of controversy about the 2009 vintage in the wine geek circles. One camp believe that the reds are too ripe, another - that they are just beautiful. Barring few (leaner, stemmier, or overdone) exceptions, I reaffirmed my affinity to the latter camp. The biggest takeaway from the tasting is that 2009 is an absolute, hands-down killer vintage for red Burgundy. Across the board, these wines are delicious, seductive, beautifully perfumed, with balanced flavor of fruit, earth, and acidity, already approachable, but not devoid of tannic backbone that will allow them to improve with age. Though richer, fruitier, and riper than every vintage since 2003, they are still nothing like California Pinot "sweet cola" - not even close. To my palate, it's very hard to go wrong with 2009 red Burgundy - there I said it!  The last vintage where nearly everything was great across the board was 2005. I wish I had bought more of it. The 2009 is more approachable early, but it is undoubtedly the best vintage since 2005. A vintage like this, in my opinion, favors lower-level wines - regional and lesser village appellations, because you get tremendous value for your money. Despite what I said in the first paragraph, in 2009 you can get good red Burgundy for under $30, sometimes even under $20.

That's not to say that 1er and Grand Cru aren't sublime -- they are!  But the prices, oh the prices! There was stampede to the Domaine Ponsot table where Mr. Laurent Ponsot himself was pouring four grand crus that mere mortals will never get to experience - Corton Bressandes, Chambertin Clos de Beze, Clos Saint Denis, and Clos de la Roche - elixir in a glass! If you have to inquire about the price, then you CAN'T afford it! (hint: $600+/btl).

Laurent Ponsot and his quartet of sublime 2009 Grand Cru

But the winery that stole my heart was Domaine Fourrier, represented by the second-generation owner-winemaker Jean-Marie Fourrier. These wines seemed to benefit from non-use of stems - bright, juicy, brilliant, and surprise surprise - even more expensive than Ponsot (as in $900/btl - sure I'll take a case!)

Jean-Marie Fourrier and Iron Chevsky

Fourrier's wines were my favorite of the tasting!

On the less expensive end of the scale, I was impressed with wines of Hospices de Beaune. Unfortunately those are auctioned off by the barrel. Literally. They get bought by serious wine folk who bottle them themselves. So good luck finding.

Hospices de Beaune - delicious but hard to find!

By the way, I was pleasantly surprised with a few examples of white Burgundy, which I had generally left for dead in 2009. In general, the same factors that make the reds glorious - warmer, richer, more approachable, make the whites flabby. However, tasting just a couple of whites - from William Fevre and Domaine Roulot - showed otherwise. They were quite good, with sufficient freshness and acidity. I am still skeptical, but perhaps a bit more open-minded about the 2009 whites, while I continue to recommend 2007 and 2008.

Here is the slideshow of my favorite wines and bites. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Evchik does Chablis

Those 2007 and 2008 Chablis are drinking well, my friends.
On a nice sunny Spring weekend... "Gimme some!", says my 11-months old...

Mmm mmm tasty!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2012

Iron C. and Franco Massolino with his incredible 2005 Barolo Vigna Rionda
For the fourth year in a row I attend and document Tre Bicchieri - my favorite Italian wine tasting of the year in the Bay Area. Twenty-five years after its first appearance, the Gambero Rosso "Italian Wines" publication now reviews 2,350 producers and 20,000 wines across all of Italy. In 2012, 375 wines took the prestigious Tre Bicchieri ("three glasses") award, slightly fewer than last year's 402. This season I got a good look at a number of 2007 Barolos, but overall the representation from Piedmonte seemed thinner at the SF tasting (not in the Guide). It is almost as if many top producers didn't bother to show up. The warm, approachable and pleasurable across the board, 2007 vintage was in stark contrast to the austere and what they call "classical" 2006. I think both 2007 and 2005 are quite good and enjoyable now or soon, while the 2006 requires more cellaring, but over the long term (10 years+) the best wines from 2006 will probably outshine those from 2007. But it was neither the 2006 nor 2007 that stole my heart in San Francisco. The 2005 Massolino "Vigna Rionda" Barolo Riserva stood out above all as the "wine of the tasting" - delicious and structured, perfectly balanced and consistent year over year. Given Franco's reputation, this wine is something worth considering for your cellar, if you can afford to shell out upwards of $100/bottle and be patient a few years. There were several respectable 2008 Barbaresco (Ca'del Baio "Valgrande", Pelissero "Vanotu") that provided an early look at the 2008 vintage - which appears to have yielded solid wines with good combination of fruit, sweetness, and tannic/acidic backbone. (Perhaps similar in quality to the 2008 in Burgundy and Bordeaux.) I think all the usual suspects were solid and expressed the vintages. Pellisero Barbaresco Vanotu 08 (dense, deep, tannic, needs time), Ca'del Baio Babaresco Valgrande '08 (very sweet and fruity right now), Cantina del Pina Barbaresco Ovello '07 (warm and fruity, spicy), Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche '06 (classic, jerky, stern, acid, inky graphite) and '07 (sweeter, delish), Borgnogno Barolo Liste '06 (young and very tannic, nice fruit), Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi '07 (structured, rich, sweet plums and black cherries, hints of jerky) - all pretty good, but not earth-shattering - I would bargain-hunt. Of those, I probably enjoyed Marchesi di Barolo the most, followed by Pellisero.

Also, 2006 Brunellos were in full swing, a very good vintage in Montalcino (Tuscany), with Biondi-Santi and Canalicchio di Sopra showing elegance and spice. While Biondi Santi was more expressive and pure, it is hard to argue with the class and relative value of Canalicchio di Sopra (at about a third of the price of Biondi-Santi), a wine that I am stocking up on in my own cellar.

The stalwart super-tuscans 2008 Sassicaia, 2008 Tignanello, 2008 Flaccianello, and Petrolo Galatrona 2009 were excellent, delicious and very ageworthy. Of them, Flaccianello (100% Sangiovese) seemed the most tannic and needing the longest to mellow out. Felsina's top-of-the-line answer to Flaccianello was Fontalloro, a similarly dense and powerful Sangiovese, with many years ahead of it. I was particularly impressed with the 100% Merlot-based Galatrona, which showed even better than in the prior two vintages, finding the magical spot between richness, balance, and black-olive-"flavored" complexity. 2007 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici (red from Campania) showed depth, interesting slightly smoky character and haunting intrigue of the Aglianico grape. Among the whites, a 2010 Vermentino from Cantine Lunae Bosoni (Colli di Luni Et. Nera) from Liguria was the most memorable, with viscous texture, and lees-like rich, honeyed flavor, and a balance of acidity and sweetness. And of course in the sparkling category, Giulio Ferrari "Riserva del Fondatore" 2001 vintage stood above all, as it did last year. This was also the first time I enjoyed a delicious Franciacorta from La Montina (2005 vintage).

Biondi-Santi is the apogee of Brunello, and the 2006 did not disappoint - velvety, bright, spicy, leathery, tannic and juicy.

Fontodi Flaccianello is the legendary ageworthy Sangiovese-based super-tuscan

Fontalloro is Felsina's answer to Flaccianello

Enrico from Wine Warehouse is pouring the Fontalloro

The contrast between the reserved 2006 and the fruity 2007 vintages in Barolo is stark!

Sebastiano Rosa - the winemaker at Bolgheri Sassicaia - holding a bottle of Italy's most famous and greatest super-tuscan. In 2008, this 85% Cabernet Sauvignon / 15% Cab Franc Bordeaux blend showed great density of fruit and a solid tannic background. It came across as reserved, classy and less overtly opulent than the more affordably priced and very sexy, dark-coffee-accented and quite tannic '08 Tignanello.

2008 Tignanello  - 80% Sangiovese, 5% Cab Sauv, 15% Cab Franc.
Frankly, in my opinion, the best (relative) value Super Tuscan of the show.  

Year in and year out, Ferrari is at the top of Italian sparkling wine-making

Canalicchio di Sopra is one of the star Brunellos in 2006

Excellent Fanciacorta - La Montina

Perennial Tre Bicchieri winner and the poster boy of Italian Merlot - Galatrona.
In 2009 - smooth and rich, but not over the top, and alluringly black-olive-like.

Mastroberardino - maybe the best red from Campania

I got to hang out (again) with Eleonora Guerini, Sr. Editor of Gambero Rosso. She is such a sweetheart! And she is not shy about stating her opinion. "What I care about is the quality of the wine. For all the hype - bio, organic, trends, this and that - we respect that, but I taste what's in the bottle! People think too much and not drink enough!", emphasized Eleonora, with a wickedly sexy smile, and a cool tattoo. "I have more tattoos!", she winked. Oh, and personally she prefers 2005 Barolos over the 2007's.

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