Friday, January 31, 2014

Vertical of J.L.Chave "Offerus" Syrah

J.L. Chave is Northern's Rhone super-star producer, widely recognized as the best in Hermitage, which itself is considered the finest appellation in Rhone. Both reds and whites are world-famous. While Cote-Rotie and Cornas are reaching heights as well, Hermitage is still and always the king of Rhone. For reds, the syrah, one of world's most popular red grape varieties, finds its utmost expression here. Chave's Hermitage rouge is a wine of supreme polish, complexity and longevity, and will run you upwards of $400/bottle. But he also makes a line of less expensive syrah bottlings called "Offerus". The story goes - he knew some old-timers, locals he had gone to school with, who had tucked among their orchards in the Saint Joseph appellation an acre or two of spectacularly-sited, old-vine, hillside syrah. These became the basis of Offerus.

The other day I got an opportunity to taste a vertical of Offerus. Here are the notes:

2010 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - dusty pepper, high acid, dense, spicy bitter herbs and black olives, a bit of plum. Expressive, relatively high-toned, quite serious but rustic. Kind of dense, thick and lacking elegance, but with very good balance and energy nonetheless. Relatively soft but persistent tannins.

2009 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - meat, solid acid but less than 2010, dusty tannins, a bit of char, painfully intense and slightly richer texture and warmer mouthfeel than 2010. Aftertaste almost like I just had Moroccan couscous.

2005 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - tea, plum, good balance, kind of dense and monolithic, somewhat lacking nuance and excitement.

1999 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - out of a magnum. Warm coffee, roasty toasty nose, relatively juicy, high acid, but a touch of sweetness makes this pleasant. Dusty spice, leather, tiny bit of caramelization, all well integrated. The silkiest texture of the wines in the vertical. The tastiest and most pleasant of the bunch. Much more elegant (but still rustic) than the rest. Clearly you can see the benefits of aging here. This wine was head and shoulders more enjoyable than the rest, finding a good place between elegance and rusticity. I feel that the 2009 has similar structure, and is just a much younger version of the 1999.

In the end, I liked all of the wines for their tremendous character and distinctive syrah accents that I have only ever detected in Northern Rhone. These wines are certainly rustic, evoking images of wild boar, herb-crusted grilled lamb, black olives, burning fires and hearty casseroles, enjoyed in country-style setting, horses waiting outside. They seem to age slowly and worthily, mellowing out to secondary flavors and silkier textures. With mouth-watering acidity and complex savory notes, they are like an "educated villager", rough skin and hands, but with good hearts, sharp minds, and regularly showered. The 1999 clearly stood out for me as the tastiest of the bunch, but the 2010 was perhaps the highest-quality, the most vibrant and promising wine. The 2009 was richer, heavier, and of high-quality too. While the 2005 was my least favorite, it was still good. At $30-40/bottle, these are certainly worth checking out for an honest expression of Northern Rhone syrah.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2011 Mongeard-Mugneret Red Burgundies

Mongeard-Mugneret is a solid "value" producer of red burgundy, with wide range of impressive vineyard holdings, particularly at the 1er and Grand Cru level in the Vosne Romanee commune, as well as Flagey-Echezeaux and Vougeot, all the way up to Richebourg Grand Cru in Vosne. Mongeard-Mugneret is well regarded for their old-vines plot in Echezeaux, bottled separately as "vieille vigne" from their regular Echezeaux. I "heard" that 2011 is the last vintage of these venerable 60-year-old vines, as supposedly they got ripped out afterwards due to disease. (Note: I do not have the official confirmation on this yet...)

Our local wine shop conducted two tastings of Mongeard-Mugeneret 2011 broad line-up. While I did not taste everything, I did focus on a few key bottlings to get the idea of the producer's style and quality in the 2011 vintage.

Here are the tasting notes:

2011 Mongeard-Mugeneret "Les Orveaux" 1er Cru - pine, red plum, spice, tight, masculine, austere cool stern fruit, slight chocolate / vanilla, somewhat bitter aftertaste. Similar to Grands-Echezeaux, but softer and lighter with a touch more vanilla. Should be good with time.

2011 Mongeard-Mugeneret "Les Suchots" 1er Cru - palate: pretty, flower garden, raspberry, gentle touch of vanilla. More open than Les Orveaux, soft smokiness (not toast or char), feminine and inviting. Very nice already.

2011 Mongeard-Mugneret Echezeaux Grand Cru - attractive red berries, flowers, vanilla on the nose. Palate: soft plush raspberries and red berries, vanilla, flowers, thick and weighty luxurious mouth-feel, spices. Not particularly tannic. Clean, balanced, and tasty. Very good, perhaps a little generic in character but certainly of high quality. Seems like this should be really good in 5-10 years, i.e. medium term.

2011 Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru - nose: very tight, masculine, flower pollen. Palate: similar profile to Les Orveaux, just more serious. Much more firm than Les Suchots. More like blueberries and chocolate, stronger spice, darker fruit, austere and hard right now, quite tannic. A lot of depth and extract here, without weight (i.e. mid-weight). Substantial wine that seems to have good potential but hard to see any of the "velvety texture" right now that Burghound mentioned. Pretty good, not great.

2006 Mongeard-Mugeneret Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru - compared to the hard and tannic 2011, the 2006 was all honeyed pretty red berries, and a hint of barn, very tasty already and so different in profile than the 2011. Yum.

Overall, the tasting confirmed that Mongeard-Mugneret makes solid, high-quality wines at very good price. For me, they seem to lack some excitement and personality, but given the cost, they are worth considering and cherry-picking relative to many other higher-priced red burgundies. Of the four 2011's I tasted, two (Suchots and Echezeaux) were pretty and aimed at mid-term drinking, while Orveaux and especially Grands-Echezeaux would need longer.

Thanks to Vin Vino Wine wine shop for serving the local wine community with almost daily fine wine tastings in Palo Alto.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dinner at Gary Danko

Spectacular dinner at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. All courses masterfully executed, absolutely delicious, in a super comfortable non-stuffy setting, and very good perfectly-paced service. Extremely fair value (~$100 prix fixe), compared to most similar level restaurants in the Bay Area. Overall, impressive and definitely deserving of going back to. No wonder this place is always booked and so hard to make a reservation. We got lucky because of a 49'ers play-off game! (which I was recording...)

We paired the appetizers and seafood entrees with Fleury "Carte Rouge" Blanc de Noirs Brut NV Champagne, a most amazing match with the Thai coconut curry seafood dish. And for bird and meat courses, I had brought a bottle of the venerable 1990 Leroy Chassagne-Montrachet rouge. Several years ago it had been a magnificent experience, but this time before opening, I was concerned that the wine might be past its prime. Fortunately it was sublime - didn't appear to age since the last time, didn't fade one bit throughout the 3-hour meal, still mildly grippy, with incredible flavors of earth, pine, forest floor, red and dark berries, distant hints of chocolate, delicious acid balanced by deep melange of flavors. It seemed this wine could easily stay at this level for many more years. Absolutely incredible for a village-level from a commune Chassagne not particularly heralded for reds. Testament to the producer and the vintage. Wow! The corkage at $45/btl for up to two bottles seemed normal for this level of a restaurant. And the sommelier had to work hard to cleanly pull the extra-long 24-year old cork.

Here are some of the dishes the four of us had (unfortunately in the blur of the moment, I didn't capture every plate).


mushroom broth
lobster salad
oysters with black caviar


thai coconut curry seafood and mushroom
lobster mash potatoes
lemon pepper duck breast


Definitely coming back!

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