About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1990 Nebbiolo

Our NY Vinous wine group met recently at the North End Grill in lower Manhattan.  Our theme for this dinner/tasting was the 1990 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco.  The North End Grill is a Danny Meyer restaurant that showcases Chef Eric Korsh's rustic, French inspired cuisine.  The menu is not extensive but the food, as one would expect, was excellent.  I began with a delicious Country Pate, Confit Onion, House Mustard, Grilled Miche.    Served with toasted rustic bread to spread the pate on, I enjoyed each bite.  I have always heard that Danny Meyer restaurants do great justice to the Hamburger, so I ordered the Short Rib Beef Burger, Grilled Onions, Spicy Mayo on a Brioche Bun.  This was served up with a side of Duck Fat Fries.  While the burger was good, it did not make it into my top ten.

We kicked off the tasting with a bottle of 2014 Domaine Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé De Pouilly.  Lauded by many as the world’s best producer (and probably the most expensive also) of Sauvignon Blanc wines, this cuvée had a crisp, fresh palate, but was a bit tight.  Great pedigree here, but could use a year of two in the cellar.  Using the techniques favored by the old-timers of the village, the yields are kept low at 45 hl/ha, only 75% of that of his neighbors. They employ twice the number of workers than a conventional winery to give extra attention to the vineyards, and they use a horse to plow certain parcels where they feel that the compacting of the soil by the tractor’s wheels would hurt the vines. Weather posts are placed strategically throughout the vineyards to help determine the best treatments and minimize the usage of copper sulfate, ideally less than is permitted in both organic and biodynamic farming. All the grapes are picked manually and completely de-stemmed.

Along with the 1989 vintage, the 1990 Nebbiolo vintage is an extraordinary vintage in both Barolo and Barbaresco. The hot weather yielded rich, sometimes-opulent wines. Flowering and crop set were much more even than in 1989, and consequently yields were quite a bit higher. While my experience with the vintage is limited, I have liked what I have tasted.  Antonio Galloni wrote a terrific article on the vintages in 2010. If you are a member of his Vinous web site you can access the report here 1989/1990 Piedmont.  The eleven wines for the evening were organized into four flights

Flight One

1990 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc.  I am not a buyer of Scavino wines as I find them very oaky and modern.  While the oak was in check in this bottle, to me the wine lacked freshness.

1990 Paolo Scavino Rocche Annunziata Barolo Riserva.  I found the fruit to be fresher and the palate softer than in the BdF, but other than that not a style that excites me.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
Flight Two

1990 Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Barolo Brunate.  While the bouquet was glorious on the nose, the palate was dead.  In my opinion this wine has past its prime.

1990 Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina.  A more modern styled Barolo, this showed very well. The wine started with a lovely nose of cherries that were echoed on a soft palate.  I liked this more than I thought I would.

1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  I love Sandrone wines.  They lie somewhere between traditional and modern, but they are magnificent expressions of Nebbiolo.  This was one of the wines of the night in my opinion.  It was firing on all cylinders.  Earthy bouquet, complex, balanced and elegant palate with a monster finish.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido

Flight Three

1990 Gaja Sperss Barolo.  While I am not a Gaja fan, this was very good indeed, starting with a tantalizing earthy Piedmont bouquet and a soft beautifully balanced palate and lengthy finish,.  For a few in the group it was the WOTN.

1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  There was something amiss with this bottle.  It wasn’t anything like previous bottles I have had.

1990 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia.  A wine I have had on two previous occasions and once again it did not disappoint. Another terrific showing for this wine.  Silky palate with terrific balance and a lengthy and elegant finish.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
Flight Four

1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Gallina di Neive. What a superb Barbaresco.  Silky palate with beautiful fruit, balance and elegance and a lengthy and spectacular finish.  One of the wines of the night.

1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora.  Another one of my wines of the night.  Simply spectacular showing.  Terrific structure and balance and a long and elegant finish.

1990 Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi.  While this drank nicely it was completely out classed by the Giacosa and the Produttori.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido
As you can see it was a terrific evening.  Sharing great wines with this very generous group of knowledgeable guys is one of the highlights of my wine drinking experience.

Thanks so much to Eric Guido for organizing the flights and the dinner.  Please be sure to check out his notes on the wines in his report Prelude to the Modern Vintage.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Cru Beaujolais

A couple of weeks ago I hosted my annual (I think this was #25) Hemophilia Association of New Jersey Gourmet Wine Dinner fundraiser.  Thanks to the support of the attendees and sponsors we raised $40,000 for the association.  The theme this year was “The Other Red Wine of Burgundy: Cru Beaujolais”.  The venue was Il Tulipano Ristorante, Cedar Grove, NJ.

Beaujolais is a wine region of eastern France, famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay grapes. It is the most southerly region of Burgundy, rather confusingly in the Rhône department, and this micro-region is just to the north of Lyon. The climate has some warming influence from the Mediterranean, but also has some continental influence with cold winters and hot summers. This is an area of rolling hills with vineyards facing mainly south or east. Soils vary from north to south. To the north of Villefranche, the characteristic granite or schist so beloved of the Gamay grape is found on the upper slopes, with stony clay soils lower down. Further south, the soils become heavier clay and limestone (known in this area as ‘Pierres Dorées’ - golden stones), sometimes with sandstone producing lighter wines.  Although best known for its red wines, the region also produces white Beaujolais Blanc, from Chardonnay and Aligote.  Since these wines get very little attention from wine critics prices remain very low.   In my opinion they represent some of the most affordable and delicious wines on the planet.

With the help of Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines, we selected Cru Beaujolais from 4 of the top vintages of the past decade, including the remarkable 2015 vintage that is being hailed as the greatest vintage since 1947.  The region's highest-quality wines are those of the ten Beaujolais 'crus' – ten vineyard areas long recognized as the finest in the area. Each of these ten (Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour) has its own appellation title.

Josh Reynolds (Vinous Media) says of the 2015 vintage of these Crus. “The last three vintages for Beaujolais have been a string of home runs, but 2015 is likely to be the one that delivers the greatest impact and pleasure for most wine lovers. Two thousand fifteen has plenty of candidates for wine of the year; wines that deliver concentration and energy, with opulent fruit character and the classic core of acidity that gives Beaujolais its trademark vivacity. These wines are also built to age but at the same time display an exuberance that makes many of them pretty irresistible now.”

Antonio Galloni (Vinous Media) says of the 2009 vintage of these Crus. “Big, broad, weighty and age worthy wines that demand patience. Not youth typical Beaujolais because of the wines' power and heft but there's no lack of energy either. To cellar and savor.”  He also lauds the 2013 and 2014 vintages as “outstanding” and “excellent” respectively.

The food and service were simply magnificent.  Il Tulipano is known for their incredible cocktail hour buffet.  This year they completely outdid themselves.  The room was a buzz with comments like “did you taste the …” throughout the hour.  Below are but 3 of the more than 25 selections on display.  Another dozen or more hors d'oeuvre were passed by the wait staff.  Each item seemed better than the previous one.

Homemade Soppressata
Octopus Salad
Pizza Assortment

The cocktail hour wines were all from Domaine Terres Dorées, A 40-acre estate owned and run by Jean-Paul Brun.  The estate is located in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyons in a beautiful area known as the "Region of the Golden Stones". Brun has attracted the attention of the French and American press for the wonderfully fruity and delicate wines he produces; he wants to make "old-style" Beaujolais. Brun's wines are made to be pleasurable- light, fruity and delicious- not artificially inflated wines that shine at tasting competitions.

He believes that the charm of the Gamay's fruit is best expressed by the grapes' indigenous yeast, rather than by adding industrial yeast. Brun's view is that Beaujolais drinks best at a lower degree of alcohol, and so there is no need to systematically add sugar to the must (chaptalize) to reach alcohol levels of 12 to 13 degrees. With that in mind, he chaptalizes minimally or, depending on the vintage and the cuvée, not at all. The reds are a traditional Burgundy vinification and the grapes de-stemmed– no carbonic maceration here. All of Jean-Paul Brun's red wines use open cement tanks for pigeage (grape crushing), and all natural yeasts are used, with only a minimum amount of SO2 used at bottling in order to keep the wine fresh and "headache-free." Filtration is also minimal so that the wine keeps its original fruit and aromas. For the white wines, fermentation starts spontaneously.

Brun's wines are not "blockbusters" in the sense of being "big." The emphasis is not on weight, but on fruit; this is Beaujolais as it once was, and as it should be. Brun's methods– to make Beaujolais from natural yeasts, to not chaptalize, and to work at low yields- are all part of his effort to restore the Gamay of the Beaujolais as a light, delicate and silky drink. This attitude separates him from most other winemakers of the area.

(2015) NV Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) FRV Rosé.

The name FRV100 is a play on the word “effervescent” (which becomes more apparent when you sound/spell it out letter by letter by number in French) and is indicative of the playfulness of the sweet sparkling rosé in the bottle.  It is made from Gamay vinified with the méthode ancestrale (like the classic example of this style of rosé, the Cerdon de Bugey of the Savoie region). The grapes are chilled down and fermented in vat until the alcohol reaches about 6%. After a light filtration, the still-fermenting wine is bottled and continues along naturally with the remaining yeasts until they wind down at 7.5-8%. The result is a light-bodied, gently sparkling, refreshingly red-berried and sweet quaffer.   The vintage will never appear on the label, as there is no allowance for sparkling Gamay in Beaujolais, though the wine is always single-vintage.  Light pink in color, wine was easy drinking and delicious and drew oos and ahs from the crowd.  $18.

2015 Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay.

In the early 1990's, Jean-Paul Brun planted several hectares of Chardonnay on limestone soil. As demand increased, he expanded his holdings and began contracting for grapes with other local vignerons with limestone soils (which is perfect for Chardonnay, especially in warmer climates.) The warm climate allows Jean-Paul to produce a rich wine with lots of character, while the soils preserve a fresh, mineral component. Fermented in stainless steel tanks that are laid on their side for more lees contact.  The wine is bottled without any oak, and sports a fresh and fruity bouquet, a rich full palate and a lengthy mineral finish. I am told that the wine ages bequfiully and becomes more honeyed as it matures.  This wine was considered by many as the WOTN.  My first Beaujolais Blanc, I was very impressed by how well this drank.  $17.

2015 Terres Dorées L’Ancien Vieilles Vignes

Made from Jean-Paul's oldest vines, which grow in tighter bunches with fewer and smaller, thicker-skinned berries, yielding more concentrated flavor. The grapes are harvested late with a naturally high sugar level. The wine is vinified using traditional Burgundy techniques. Deeply colored with rich red-fruit aroma and flavor and soft tannins.  This is a gorgeous entry level Cru Beaujolais.  While not fully open yet, the underlying pedigree is apparent.   Give this a couple of years in the cellar. At $16 a bottle, this represents great value in an everyday drinking wine.  According to Josh Raynolds, Vinousmedia, “This wine is consistently among the best values from Beaujolais."

The Dinner & The Wines

We began with a salad of Medaglioni di Caprino Su Letto di Insalatina Tenera con Frutta Candida e Noce Secche (Goat Cheese Medallions over baby Greens with candied fruits and dried walnuts).  A nice, refreshing compliment to the appetizers.   The wines served with this course were the aforementioned 2015 Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay and…

2015 Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee Les Ambassades

Cote de Brouilly has a special terroir: “blue” granite is laced with volcanic porphyry, or crystallized mineral deposits. This mixture, combined with the elevation (AOC Côte de Brouilly is confined to the upper vineyards; AOC Brouilly is lower, and far larger), largely accounts for Côte de Brouilly’s highly scented and finely concentrated wines.  Winemaking at Chavannes is traditional and simple, with little extraction in the modern sense (Pavillon’s wine could well be labeled the antithesis of modern extracted power). The alcoholic fermentation is done in cement vats, after which the wine goes into foudre for aging.

Tonights wine, Ambassades, comes from 12 acres of estates best parcels, and is purchased by the Quai d’Orsay for use in French embassies around the world. It is the last to be bottled and it is the most age-worthy. The wine showed a light red hue, with a bouquet of fresh red berries and a hint of pepper and spice.  It showed great depth and evolution in the glass and finished with elegance and length.  One of my favorites of the evening.  $20.

For the pasta course there was Lasagna Verde Pasticciata  Alla Bolognese (Spinach Lasagna Classic Bolognese Style).  Delicious, but hard to eat more than one or two bites after all the appetizers and the main course still to come.  Sorry, no photo was taken of the lasagna.

Domaine Grand Moulin comes from a four-hectares spread over several parcels - Champs de Cour, La Roche, le Moulin, le Clos, Perreins and Brouilleres. The grapes are mostly destemmed and fermentation happens in large conical-shaped (tronconique) wooden fermenters and some are placed in cement tronconique tanks. The tronconique shape gives more skin contact for a long and slow extraction. Fermentation lasts 7-10 days and is followed by a maceration totalling four weeks. Next the wines go by gravity into barrels and demi-muids, new to eight years old for aging. Moulin a Vent is considered to be the richest Cru in Beaujolais and the longest lived.

2013 Grand Moulin Moulin-à-Vent Vieilles Vignes (Xavier et Nicolas Barbet)

Known locally as the ‘King of Beaujolais’ for its power, structure and longevity, Moulin-à-Vent is actually atypical of the Beaujolais Crus; its style is the antithesis of what most people think of when they think of Beaujolais wines, and when fully mature (often at 10 years old or more) it resembles more a fine Burgundy, or even a Rhône, than Beaujolais. Named after the local windmill (which translates as moulin-à-vent in French,) Moulin-à-Vent is a real vindication of the principle of ‘terroir’.  I found this to be a deep, full-bodied wine that is just entering it's drinking window, which should last 10 to 20 years.  $16.

2009 Domaine Des Billards Saint-Amour Réserve

Situated at the mid-point of the sloping vineyards of Saint Amour, the Domaine des Billards belongs to the Barbet and Teissier families. This domaine has a long and storied history: an ancient parchment order book still in the family’s possession shows a number of prestigious customers in Paris in the 18th Century, among them a sale, in 1774, of 10 barrels to Marquis Turgot, Louis XVI’s Finance Minister. Today, they produce around 6,000 cases annually from their 5.26 hectares.
The soil is composed of sandstone pebbles underlying granite outcroppings at a depth of 50cm to 1 meter and beneath that, layers of clay. Farming is very traditional and natural, with no use of herbicides. The soil is regularly ploughed to develop the biodiversity: the Domaine des Billards is today a paradise for worms and beetles!

The traditional vinification lasts between 12 to 15 days; they use a weighted grill to keep the “crust” submerged in the fermenting juices leads to a more effective extraction of tannins. Aged an additional 5 years before release.  This was my WOTN.  Gorgeous red translucent hue, with lots of structure, depth and finesse.  Round and delicious wine with elegance and soul!  $32.

Our entrée consisted of Costate di Bue Brasate con Puea di Patate Profumate All’Aglio Fresco (Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs with Garlic Mashed Potatoes).  Tender and delicious and a great compliment to the final two red wines.

2014 Louis-Claude Desvignes Morgon Javerniéres les Impenitents

The Desvignes family has been making Morgon for generations. The vineyards are on the Montagne de Py in the center of Morgon, the fruit of which is of far superior quality to that produced in the outlying areas of the appellation. If there were a classification of vineyards in Morgon, Côte-de-Py would be a premier cru and Javernières a grand cru. They are located on the best exposition of the hill, with soil of decomposed schist, and Javernières is a plot within the Côte-de-Py with a little more clay.  The wine is vinified by the traditional cru Beaujolais method with a grille to keep the cap submerged. Recently, the fermentation has been longer and more controlled than in the past in order to extract the color and material that are the most obvious virtues of this wine.

Morgon is, along with Moulin-à-Vent, the most age worthy of the Cru Beaujolais and Desvignes wines are fine examples. The wines age terrifically well and take on the character of Pinot Noir, or pinotize (the term used in Beaujolais). When young, the character is of dark cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant. With age, the wines become more earthy, velvety with cocoa and coffee tones. At the request of the importer, Louis/Dressner, the wines are bottled unfiltered some years or at most lightly fined.

Tonight's wine, the Javernieres les Impenitents, comes from a remarkable old vineyard, planted between 1912 and 1914. Located midway up the Cote de Py. The parcel is only one hectare and consists of sand anc clay. There are only 1000 bottles produced in a good year. The Impenitents is typically lower in alchol than the Côte du Py bottling from Desvignes. Impenitents means unrepentant. This is typically the most structured and deepest colored of all the Desvignes bottling but not, paradoxically, the highest in alcohol. The 2014 cuvee is 12.5% alc.

No barrels and no foudre are used here. Only concrete and a little bit of steel just before bottling.  The wine is made using a pneumatic horizontal press. Best with fine lees. Open at bottom. Allows for some oxidation. Natural yeast fermentation.  

This wine had a deep ruby color with a big nose of cherries and blueberries.  Tannins were supple and the palate was pure and complex.  The wine drank very much like a Burgundy.  This will age beautifully.  My second WOTN.  $45.

2015 Chateau de Fleurie Fleurie

Built in the 18th century, the Château de Fleurie dominates a beautiful vineyard situated in the heart of the village itself, with views of Mont Blanc in the east. The current owners- the Boisen and the Barbet families- are direct descendants of the original owner. The property covers 4.5 hectares stretching over the best sites in Fleurie- les Grands Fers, la Madone and le Point du Jour- on the middle slopes facing southeast. The soil is of a very pure granite, ideal for a good drainage, with a pink color called “le gore”. Farming is very traditional and free of pesticides and herbicides. The winemaking process is traditional "Burgundian" method with extended fermentation of 12-15 days, in vats covered by a weighted grill, to extract color and flavor. Under the winery a vaulted cellar holds an impressive store of old, traditional large oak barrels which are still in use. Fleurie is locally known as the "Queen of the Beaujolais" for its elegant style of Gamay.

Tonight's wine is aged for six months in cask and can age up to 10 to 15 years in good vintages.  It sports a bright magenta hue with a fresh bouquet of red fruits and asian spice. The palate had good balance with excellent acidity.  The wine finished with great length.  $17.

No great dinner and tasting would be complete without dessert.  I forgot what the chef called this, but to the Chocolate lovers (I am not one), it was sublime decadence.

Since I am not aware of any dessert wines made in Beaujolais I travelled to the France's Loire Valley and the estate of Francois Pinon.  The wines of François Pinon are considered among the finest of Vouvray. François, a former child psychologist, took over the estate from his father in 1987, and has steadily made a name for the estate since then. He is a serious winemaker whose main focus is "to keep the typicity of both the appellation and the vintage" in all his wines.

2005 Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Botrytis Limited Release

100% Chenin Blanc. This cuvée comes from vines averaging 45 years old in several Pinon sites (Déronnières, Fosses Rouges, Terné and Mortier) on soils of clay and black flint over tuffeau (the classic Loire limestone). The fermentation lasted between 3 and 4 months and involved only indigenous yeasts. The wine was aged on its lees in old barrel for 5 months and gently filtered before bottling. The yield in 2005 was 8 hl/ha. 11.6% alcohol with 103 g/l residual sugar and 4 g/l acidity.

Tonight's wine offered up plenty noble rot (Botrytis) in its aromatic blend of on a palate of tropical fruits and honey. The wine is deep, full-bodied and still quite young.  It displayed a great core, bright acidy and outstanding focus and balance on the long, complex and zesty and non-medicinal finish.   While superb now, this will be a great, great wine in another 20+ years.  If you can find it expect to pay about $60 for 500ml.

 It was a great evening that I felt really demonstrated that there are great wines available for less than $30.  If you have not yet discovered Cru Beaujolais, you owe it to yourself to check it.

All photos are compliments of my great friend Gene, owner of Impressive Impressions Photography.