The February Tasting Rundown

Features Presentation  on Thursday, Feb. 2, was the usual odd assortment of value wines from the Stock Report. Two user-friendly whites, Nidia Verdejo and  Verget Mâcon-Villages ‘Terres de Pierre’, a big juicy Malbec from Cuvelier los Andes and a peppery Cabernet Sauvignon from Mike Januik’s Novelty Hill project are all worth consideration. Saturday, Feb. 4, was our   bi-annual Cabernet Kick Off/ Silver Oak Day, a tasting we’ve been doing for years in conjunction with the release of Silver Oak Napa. There was some big medicine in the line-up, starting with the rich and textured, Parker 94 grabbing Keenan Mailbox Vyd ‘Reserve’ Merlot(this is man’s Merlot!), followed by Louis Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet and capped off with the delicious cocoa laden Lewis Cellars Cabernet(WS 94.) Bubbly- All that Sparkles, the following Saturday, brought in a horde of tasters that stretched the seams of our modest venue. If you’re in the market for modestly priced and interesting sparklers, take a look at the crisp, clean chardonnay based Pascual Toso NV Brut from Argentina and the off-dry, slightly honeyed Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Brut NV. The Tarlant NV ‘Tradition’ Brut and Rare Wine Co. Blanc de Blancs from Le Mesnil sur Oger are solid options on the ‘Under $40′ Champagne front. On Thursday, Feb. 16, we hosted Grgich Hills- The New Era, a crash course in all things Grgich. The 2007 Zinfandel was the fave so snag some before it disappears. Saturday, Feb. 20, was a geek love fest in the form of The South of France. Tasters loved the bright, zingy Lafage ‘Côté Est’ Grenache Blanc-Chardonnay-Marsannay blend from French Catalonia and the blatantly new world, big fruit and lumber filled Puech Haut ‘Prestige’ 2009. The elegant, spicy and herbaceous Léon Barral Faugéres satisfied those of us that needed a little terroir in our lives. We rounded out February with Over 90 / Under $30 on Saturday the 25th. The low dosage Ayala Brut Majeur, the smoky syrah driven Fondréche Persia and the lovely Viña Herminia Rioja Reserva 2005 (Sold out, but it’s coming back!) were a few of the staff favorites.

O Twelve so far…Tastings ReCap

This year’s tasting season started Saturday, Jan 14, with Features Presentation (our monthly stockreport in a glass format.) A nice floral Sylvaner from Abbazia di Novacella, a slighlty cool edged Santa  Cruz Pinot from Armitage and a juicy little Malbec from Andeluna are all worth a try. On Thursday, Jan 19, the French came in and poured for the Bordeaux Chateaux Tour – a condensed look at the surprisingly drinkable 2008’s and the more structured and critically hailed 2009’s. Clos Fourtet 2008 and 2009, Poujeaux Moulis 2009, and Saint Pierre 2009 were among the standouts. We had a packed house for Burgundy Corner on Saturday, Jan 21. There were two delicious whites, the Boisson-Vadot Bourgogne 2009 (declassified Meursault) and Moreau Naudet Chablis Valmur 2008 as well as strong showings from Jadot Beaune Pertuisots 2009 and Jadot Volnay Clos de la Barre 2009. The pair of Vosne-Romanée from Mongeard Mugneret, Les Suchots and Les Petits Monts were show stoppers and jaw droppers, as expected. On Thursday, Jan 26, we hosted a few winemakers and/or winery reps for the Pinot Days Preview, a lead up to the main event held in SaMo on the 28th. The spicy, savory Longplay Lia’s Vineyard from Oregon and juicy, bright Sonoma Pinots from Roessler, Red Label and Gap’s Crown, took top honors. We wrapped up January on Saturday the 28th with Faux ZAP South, our  unabashed though abridged answer to the gargantuan Zinfandel Advocates and Producers shindig held in San Fran every year. Staring down the barrel of some questionable vintages the next couple of years might put this one on ice in the future but the peeps weren’t deterred for this one and in throngs they came. Brutocao Hopland Ranches 2007 from Mendocino and the Four Vines Maverick 2009 from Amador were great values. The Elyse Korte Ranch 2007 would be perfect for those of you, like me, that long for the leaner, more complex and piquant zins of yore. The Carlisle Papera Ranch 2009 was, well, Carlisle. Or, come get your jelly, the Opolo Mountain 2010 should appease the high test-big fruit folks out there.


All of the major speculation is over now as the majority of the chateaux have released just enough of their wine in a half-hearted attempt to create a first tranche. The prices? They were downright scary on some items, a good 30% higher on average than the record breaking 2005’s were when they were released. As we said in the lead article, the euro is lower than it was for the 2005-2006 releases, the world economy is seriously bruised right now, and there is certainly no reasonable expectation that it is going to improve greatly any time soon. Yet here are the Bordelais not only setting records with their opening prices, but clearly trying to manipulate the market to push them even higher. We can cite lots of examples, but one will suffice. We’ll call it Chateau XYZ that released their opening “tranche” at $300, supposedly sold out, and had the second tranche available at $340…one hour later. Just how much was released at that initial price? No one knows. Will folks come back right away and bite on the next round? We can say we didn’t.
More surprising, folks seem to be of the opinion that if they are not in early, they’ll miss out or be facing even more outlandish pricing. Only time will tell that story, but the early rounds of the name brands are selling and people seem interested. It is not our place to judge what is reasonable, I guess, because if the stuff sells out, than obviously the price wasn’t too high. As merchants, we are facilitators first. The trick is to get people as much wine as they want to buy, or at least as much as we can provide. But when the market decides it is sated, which is unpredictable, we definitely don’t want to be the ones holding a lot of $10,000-12,000 cases because those aren’t going to be easy to move.
Another thing that has been frustrating for us and consumers alike is the difficulty formulating offers. There’s a reason for it, though it is not easy to explain. From our perspective, it is hard to formulate a plan if you have anticipated demand for an item at, say, 50 cases, and you can only get a firm confirmation on 10 within a given time period, and that confirmation is slow in coming. With the internet, people are reading Bordeaux release news and expecting full fledged, detailed offers within seconds of that information becoming public. They don’t know how much of an item has been released, or what the demand is, they just know that it’s out there so someone must have some answers. Would that it worked so smoothly.
That brings us to, well, now. Where does it go from here? Hard to say. It depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for some of the greatest Bordeaux ever made, they are out there. But prices are all over the map. If you are looking for surprising deals, those are there, too. But there’s no way to tell for how long as a lot of the best score-to-value wines were made in very modest quantities. The market is hard to predict right now, and we have been at this a long time.


Deja vu all over again…The Berlin Tasting comes to LA

Hopefully this post won’t sound too much like the last one that involved a horizontal tasting of great 2006 vintage wines sourced from throughout the world.  If it does we apologize, seen as we attended basically the same frigging tasting twice in two weeks, with decidedly different results.  And that’s the story.

This week’s blog revolves around the Errazuriz winery in Chile and their recreation of the ‘famed’ Berlin Tasting.  Yeah, we’d never heard of it either.  Apparently, if it is a blind comparative tasting and Steve  Spurrier is your honk (oops, sorry, ‘moderator’), it is inevitably going to have ‘famed’ affixed to its title due to that whole Judgement of Paris thing. 

Anyway, a few years ago Errazuriz put on this big shindig in Germany comparing its wines to the first growths, Sassicaia and so on.  Apparently the German tasters were in a Chilean kind of mood and their wines ended up trumping some of the finest wines in the world in a shocking upset.  Since then, the winery has been doing this gig once or twice a year in a different part of the world and charting the results every time.  And they had been winning, or at least coming pretty close, until LA that is.

Now let’s get one thing straight.  You really have to think hard about doing a gig like this in LA.  This is California, and most tasters in California are bound to have a California palate since they, well, live and work in California and were raised on California wine.  The ones that don’t have a Cali palate are more than likely schooled in tasting and preferring French wines over their years of study, with Bordeaux and Burgundy providing the model.  So, in the end, if you’re inviting all the ‘top tasters’  in Socal to your blind tasting, odds are you’re filling the room with a bunch of California homers and a few serious wine aficionados that taste thousands of wines a year and easily know the difference between a bottle of Chilean Cab and Chateau Haut Brion.  Not too smart if you’re  in it to win it.

But give the Erazuriz gang credit, they put their wines on the table and readily accepted the challenge.  So on with the show!

There were 10 wines for tasting, 5 from Chile, 2 from Bordeaux, 2 from Napa and 1 from Italy.  Here’s how the group scoring went, from 1 to 10 in preference based on a point system of 3 for 1st, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd.

1st place- Stag’s Leap Cabernet SLV 2006.  Here you go.  The tasters fell hook, line and sinker for this one.  The bourbon barrel, freshly sawn wood treatment and jammy fruit landed the Cali heads in the room.  I thought it was Opus at first whiff (based on our previous tasting the week before) but wasn’t surprised to see SLV when the bag came off.  To Stag’s credit, they are really starting to clean up the wines and have dropped prices in the 2006 vintage, a big warm fuzzy.  Good wine but my second least favorite.

2nd place- Haut Brion 2006.  This wine was definitely showier than the bottle at the Frescobaldi horizontal.  A knockout, this was a pretty HB with, for this wine, a ton of fruit popping early.  It was obviously Bordeaux but the lack of Pessac minerality early on had me guessing Margaux.  A kick tail wine, Steve, Tris and myself all picked it as the #1 wine of the event, which probably vaulted it into second place.  Good thing because, if we hadn’t second place would have gone to…

3rd place- Opus One 2006.  That’s right kids, Opus is back!  Kind of.  Only the Winex boys prevented this gig from becoming a Cali sweep.  Ripe, creamy, a bit four square, chocolatey, there was a lot to like here and very little to dislike, all the winery’s previous Brettanomyces issues getting resolved from the taste of things.   Pandering, California juice at its finest…but it ain’t Haut Brion, especially with the bags on.

4th place- Lafite Rothschild 2006.  Robbed again, probably because this one was a little slow out of the gate.  Minerally, chewy, savory, dense, the old lead pencil thing didn’t emerge until they were getting ready to take the bags off.  A wine of undeniable class and swagger, it appears as if ’06 Lafite is going to be a good one.  Freaky as it may sound, Steve, Tris and myself all pegged this one as our #2 wine.  We’ve obviously been tasting together for too long…

5th place- Kai Carmenere 2006.  The Errazuriz clan break into the Top 5.  We felt relieved for the Chilean boys ourselves as they wiped the beads of sweat off their furrowed brows.  At every other tasting they’ve done, they’ve had at least two wines in the Top 5, until today.  Cali palate strikes, Chileans tremble.  This is nice stuff; big, solid, warm, chocolatey, fun to drink.  Short on style points but it made up for it with its bombastic air.  Yee ha!  Drink me!

6th place- Vinedo Chadwick 2006.  This is Errazuriz’s $150 super-duper jobber, and it’s a very nice wine.  Tons of fruit, just a hint of that peppercorny Chilean thing (but enough to mark it as such) , with a cooler Bordeaux-like vibe.  Very Cabernet, at first taste I thought it could be Sassicaia.  My third place choice.

7th place- Sassicaia 2006.  Bad showing for this one today.  The bottle we drank a week earlier blew it out of the water.  I though it might be a shorter, “okay” Lafite initially, but it gained some persistence on the palate after 15-20 minutes.  Good today, not great.  But believe us when we tell you this wine  is the bomb!  We’ve had it 4 times and this one has been the only stinker, and even still, it didn’t exactly suck.

8th place- La Cumbre 2006. What the heck is Errazuriz thinking putting a Syrah into a tasting with a bunch of Bordeaux-styled wines?  Sweet lord, I guess they just wanted to show off their awesome take on the genre.  It didn’t exactly work that way.  It came across as truly “bling” Chile in nature, well balanced, but with exactly zero Syrah character.  Not good when it’s Syrah.  I will say it was a fine red wine and I’d drink it.  But still…it left many tasters scratching their heads.

9th place- Seña 2006.  Yup, the “Super-Chilean” wine inspired by Bob Mondavi himself finished second to last.  It didn’t really offer a lot of any one thing.  It seemed a bit confused.  Cali in its fruit, Chile in its aromatic profile and short a layer.  Easy to drink but not able to run with this crew today. 

10th place- Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2006. Crackers!  Bummer for the boys as their wines took five of the bottom six spots.  Don’t know why this one finished so low.  It had better wood on it than the Stags and Opus One wines, as well as a creamier, more focused style.   Obviosuly Chilean but still, this wine excelled if you’re into ripe, oaky Cabernet, which should have caught the attention of over half the palates in the room.  Very new school. Oh well, better luck in Brazil.

I know this wasn’t the result the boys from the south were looking for but hey, they did show their wines can easily run with the best the world has to offer.  The problem is they are Chilean, and can be discerned as such.  They are the fifth option for most wine consumers, countrywise, and soon to be potentially lapped by Argentina.   The wines were all very well made, but they almost seemed a bit ashamed of their Chilean roots.  Big, ripe flavors, lots of toasty new oak, very modern in style, they were built to impress but in the end didn’t really appeal to either tasting camp.   The French wines had more layers and the Cali wines had more…well…California.  I keep thinking of the Von Siebenthal wines we’ve been selling as I write this.  They had soul, Chilean soul!  Which I think only the Vinedo Chadwick wine had to any extent.  The solution?  Seek out cooler climates? Use less new oak? I don’t know, and I’m not a winemaker.  But I do think Chile is on the cusp of something huge, something that can capture the spirit of Bordeaux and the sunshine of California in one bottle, and when they do, we’ll be the first in line. 

Here’s to the future, and thanks again to the gang at Errauzuriz for putting on this enlightening gig.  Cheers!

A very cool horizontal tasting…

We’re usually not the types of folks who attend those “we’re tasting the best of the world against our wine to see how we do” tastings.  Bob Mondavi used to host gigs like that in the 90’s and they would usually match up a great vintage oftheir Cab with a crappy cvintage of Bordeaux (think 1992) and trumpet the results (Shockingly, Mondavi won! ; – ) till they were blue in the face.

So it was with a little trepidation that Tris and I headed to Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica for a horizontal tasting of 2006’s hosted by the legendary Leonardo Frescobaldi.  We’re fans of the man’s wines, we think he’s genuine and he put on a nice tatsing for us here at the store the night before, so we were feeling a little warm fuzzy when we walked in. 

We saw the competition on the table: Opus, Dominus, Cos d’Estournel, Haut Brion and Sassicaia were going to go head to head with Frescobaldi’s 2006 Mormoreto.  This could get ugly.

But then Old leo threw us a curveball.  We were going to taste all the wines non-blind!  Leonardo wasn’t looking for a ‘winner’, just a ‘placer’.  He was only interested in seeing if his boy could hang with the big dogs…and hang it did.  It was honestly pretty fun tasting all these wines without the pressure of the ‘bags’.  The people were relaxed, the room was relaxed, and there was a lot more dialogue back and forth about the wines.

General consensus?  Mormoreto held its own.  It’s a delicious wine, insanely fruity and well-balanced.  But the winners this day were Sassicaia and Dominus.  Check out the tasting notes (don’t look for a ‘number’, as we ain’t much for ‘scoring’):

Dominus 2006-  This one started off tightly wound then cedar and mint aromas began to emerge, along with the classic old school Napa curranty fruit.  Very ‘south side’ of the valley (read Yountville), as the wine opened a more prominent floral character emerged and the wine juiced up a bit.  We love what Moueix is doing at this property since he started to make a “Napa wine in the Bordeaux style” as opposed to a “Bordeaux wine in Napa”.  Gorgeous, really…

Opus One 2006-  Coconut, vanilla, dust, black fruits, this wine is more obvious than the Dominus, more overtly oaky.  More of those grippier, chewier 2006 tannins here, which the Dominus seemed to avoid.  The wine’s a bit hot on the finish and the wood program seems to dumb it down.  Least impressive wine on the table today, but we think this program is miles ahead of where it used to be…

Haut Brion 2006- Chewy, but certainly the most elegant wine on the table.  Classically chock full of minerals, gravel, tobacco.  It was a shame that the wine seemed to detonate with air and triple in fruit just as the tasting was winding down (isn’t that always the case?) and they wouldn’t let us take our glasses to lunch! Dagnabbit!

Cos d’Estournel 2006- Not an elegant wine by any stretch, today the house style of Cos seemed to be bumping heads with the terroir.  Impressively concentrated, but the wine seemed to be in a bit of a funk, a battle being waged between the wine’s St. Estephe ‘road tar” attributes and it’s tannic backbone.  Some dark fruits and cocoa emerged with coaxing but the wine was a bit of a jumble today…

Sassicaia 2006- This is pretty ripe and pandering.  In a blind tasting I’d call this one from California at the start but the Tuscan coast terroir started to amke some headway at the end.  Just a delicious wine, it was shocking how deeply fruited this wine was.  Very Cabernet, a deep cassis edge to the black fruits, with a nice little cedar thing going on, this iwne was the omst generous of the afternoon and picked up complexity as it sat, kind of a reverse Haut Brion…

Frescobaldi Nippozano Mormoreto 2006- Insanely fruity, with a little mint popping up.  This is really ripe Merlot, with the underpinning of the classic 2006 vintage putting in an appearance but getting swamped by all that fruit.  If this and the Sassi are any indication 2006 looks like the pick of the litter since 1997.  Outstanding wine.  Not the best on the table today, but certainly not the worst…

Lunch afterwards was pretty darn good, actually.  Seems as if Piero Selvaggio has a new chef from Sardinia manning the stoves that has the ‘nonna touch’,  all three of our courses hitting the spot as if grandma were in the house cooking them.

Too Much Pressure

Being an old Rude Boy and just having seen the reunited Specials in concert this past weekend (the boys were in top form), I though the title of an old Selecter song for this blog was apropos.

The topic is pressure, barometric pressure to be exact, and its impact on how wines taste.  We’ve ‘seen’ it with our own palates, just how different the same wine can taste when its cool and sunny outside (good) as opposed to wet and rainy (bad).   It’s something that for years we never even considered.   Rain or shine, we thought that the wines we tasted on a particular day were just the wines and that was that.  But over the last few years we’ve been proven wrong.

The first time we noticed?  Actually, we didn’t notice but an importer friend whose palate we admire was holding a tasting that we attended and remarked on what a great, bright, fresh sunny day it was!  He was literally rubbing his hands together like Snidely Whiplash knowing that sales of his Barolo and Barbaresco wines (which are particularly sensitive to this phenomenon) were going to skyrocket.  He remarked that the wines were fresher and tannins sweeter under high pressure.  We didn’t make much of it at the time, but boy, those Nebbiolo wines were rock stars that day!  We did buy a bunch, filed his comments in the back of our minds and moved on.

Fast forward to the 2005 Bordeaux tastings in Los Angeles sponsored by the Unions des Grands Crus.  Same deal, the tasting was at the beach, the weather fresh and breezy, the air light, and the wines showed even better than they had at our En Primeur tastings; powerful, lifted, with sweet tannins.  It was more than just the supernal quality of the vintage, many Bordelais remarked on how lucky they were the weather rocked.

Next occurrence, a rainy, cloudy day in San Franciso for the annual Zinfandel (Z.A.P.) tasting.  The air was heavy, the wines were heavy, it was unbelievable just how much tannic, blah Zin we tasted that day, the wines were even more rough and tumble than usual, the alcohols accentuated, the tannins roughed up (like Zin really needs it…).  We walked away tired, bitter, in need of cold beer.

Now back to Bordeaux.  The 2009 vintage has ended up being a bit more polarizing among the wine press than usual.  All indicators pointed to a vintage of the century, but we’ve been seeing mixed signals at best among the pundits who have tasted the wines thus far. 

Examples?  Jim Suckling from the Wine Spectator tasted the 2009 Ch. Larmande St. Emilion and gave the wine 92-95 points commenting the wine had, “Blackberry and sweet tobacco on the nose follow through to a full body, with soft and silky tannins and a very pretty finish. Balanced and refined. Nicely done.”  Neil Martin, Wine Advocate’s Bordeaux reviewer-in-waiting, tasted the same wine and gave it 83-85 points, noting, “Prune notes on the nose that is lacking definition and is far too ripe. The palate is quite tannic and seems rather over-macerated, the finish lacking freshness and definition.”

Wow. Quite the difference.  And when you consider that the difference between ’83’ and ’92’ is more seismic in its impact than a mere nine points you get the picture.  The question.  What was the weather like on the days these two gentlemen hunkered down and had a look at this suddenly controversial wine?  Quality of samples aside (considering that critics tend to get freshly drawn samples at the times of their tastings), could it be the weather that accounted for this drastic variation in scores?  We know from our own Tristen Beamon who was in Bordeaux around this time that the weather was horrible: cold, windy, rainy, dreadful.  He remarked it had a definite impact on the wines.  Neil was in Bordeaux at the same time as Tris, and Suckling had in fact tasted many of his wines earlier when the weather wasn’t so bad and the barometric pressure much higher. 

After doing a bit of research on the internet (for what its worth) we did discover that two symptoms of wines tasted under low pressure are a flattening of the wine (prune notes?) and accentuation of tannins, both commented on by Martin during his tasting.  Not to say anyone is right or wrong, but it would be interesting to find out just what the weather was the day both pundits raised their glasses. 

 Food for thought.

So, the next time it’s muggy, heavy and raining outside, you may want to pull a page from the biodynamics handbook and give the wine you’re drinking the benefit of the doubt.  It could be a victim of old Mother Nature.

Or just drink on bright, sunny days.  But that would mean folks in Seattle would have to give away all their wine…and we wouldn’t want that.

Tris’ first 2009 vintage notes from Bordeaux

After working fifteen hour days for a solid two weeks, I finally have 
a day to reflect on the whirlwind tastings of the 2009 Bordeaux 
vintage.  What a difference a year makes.   Last year at this time 
Bordeaux was a ghost town.  The world was in the worst financial 
crisis since the Great Depression and no one could spare a thought for 
what was perceived as the underwhelming vintage 2008.  But, as in every 
year, it was our duty to experience first hand the quality of the 
vintage and because of the light attendance, it made the job easier as 
we were even able to bring along a film crew to visually 
document the experience.

This year is the most attended en primeurs tasting in history and Bordeaux is at capacity.  Due to the crowds,  more time  (which I didn’t have, doh!) was required to wade throughn the throngs ana arrange appointments to see chateau owners and negociants as well as tasting all the wines from  petits chateaux to the Grands Vins.  After tasting over 500 barrel sample es,  I can honestly say this has been one of the most mentally draining two weeks I’ve experienced . But it was well worth every minute, because 2009 is an exciting vintage.

2009 is the perfect end to a wonderful decade in Bordeaux.  It is a combination of the beautiful fruit of 2000, the wonderful structure of  2005, and the freshness of 2008.  For all you technical data geeks, alcohol and tannins have never seen such high numbers in the history of Bordeaux (since they have been keeping records).  The tcp numbers (that measure tannin) have been consistently over ’90’ (trust us, that’s a lot) and alcohol levels around 14%, with some Right Bankers even over 15%!  But, the wines are incredibly balanced and don’t fatigue the palate.  I remember, in the 2005 vintage, after 4 days of tasting my palate was completely shot because of tannin build up, but with ’09 , after tasting more than twice as long, my palate is fresh as a daisy.  So sometimes technical data does not reflect what you actually perceive. In general it is a very uniform vintage and all appellations  showed beautifully.

I have four pads full of tasting notes that I need to enter, but for  now I will do a simple breakdown by classification.

Petits Chateaux:
This is an extremely strong, if not one of the best, showing for this 
class. From Cabernet-based wines in the Medoc to Merlot-based wines in 
the satellite regions of the right bank, these wines showed extremely 
well, with tons of fruit, lots of freshness in the mid-palate, and 
beautiful silky tannins. There will be many great bargains to be had.
The Hits: Clos Manou, La Fleur de Bouard, Joanin Becot, La Dauphine, 
Gigault Cuvee Viva, Bouscat La Gargonne, Mejean, Fougeres “La Follie”, 
d’Aiguilhe, Haut Carles, Grands Marechaux, Les Cruzelles, Mont Perat, 
Courteillac, Grand Village, Croix Mouton, Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, 
and many, many more…

As good as the wines were in Pomerol in 2009, this is the only region 
where 2008 is giving it a run for its money.  There were rains in 
September which Pomerol received the brunt of, and because it is the 
earliest ripening of the appellations, some estates picked perhaps too 
early and over extracted to compensate.
The Hits: Le Gay, La Violette, Providence, Hosanna, Vieux Chateau 
Certan, La Conseillante, Feytit Clinet, Clinet, Lafleur, Trotanoy, 
Petrus, Lafleur Petrus, La Croix St. Georges, Le Pin, Montviel, Clos 
l’Eglise, l’Eglise Clinet, l’Evangile.

St. Emilion:
This appellation had me scratching my head. It had some of the best 
showings, and some of the worst. Perhaps it is because of the huge 
hail storm they received last May that was very localized and damaged 
certain vineyards, or perhaps some farming and winemaking techniques 
didn’t show off the vintage to its full potential. Again some wines 
are over extracted where others nailed it with incredibly intense 
fruit, but with perfect balance and big, but refined tannins.
The hits: Ausone, Pavie, La Mondotte, Tertre Rotebeouf, Bellevue 
Mondotte, Troplong Mondot, La Gomerie, Beau-Sejour Becot, Angelus, 
Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Magrez Fombrauge, Fonplegade, La Confession, 
Pavie Macquin, Larcis Ducasse, Canon, Canon La Gaffeliere, Clos 
Fourtet, Grand Mayne, La Couspaude, La Dominique, Fleur Cardinale, 
Moulin St. George, La Clotte, La Gaffeliere, Le Dome, La Fleur 

White wines – Personally, for me 2009 is a solid white wine vintage 
but doesn’t capture the freshness and acidity as both ’08 and ’07 did. 
That being said, 2009 will have many fans, because the fruit is very 
ripe and flashy and many are drawn to that specific style. Though the 
top estates made exquisite blancs.

Red wines- A very consistent line-up where the famous graves terroir 
showed its stuff; sweet blue fruits, with wonderful minerality, 
captivating tannins that danced on the palate into a pure silky 
finish.  Wonderful, seamless wines.

The hits: (Blanc) Haut Brion, Pape Clement, Malartic La Graviere, 
Domaine de Chevalier, de Fieuzal,  Haut Bergey, Smith Haut Lafitte
(Rouge) Haut Brion, Haut Bailly, La Mission Haut Brion, Pape Clement, 
Malartic La Graviere, Smith Haut Lafitte, Le Carmes Haut Brion, 
Branon, Haut Bergey, de Fieuzal, Le Thil (great value play)…

My impression for Margaux is that it is the most improved appellation 
for overall quality.  Some estates which did not produce great wines 
in the past shine this year.  I can think of one (Durfort Vivens) which I never thought 
highly of, that has now turned the corner and for ’09, made its best 
wine ever. The wines of Margaux are the epitome of what one thinks of 
for the region. Wonderful blue fruit, with that famous floral 
character. The wines have power but  are balanced with sheer elegance. 
I could not find a dog in the bunch.
The Hits: Margaux, Malescot St. Exupery, Palmer, Giscours, Brane 
Cantenac, Cantenac Brown, Durfort-Vivens (huge improvment), Ferriere, 
Rauzan Segla, Prieure Lichine, Lascombes, l’Aura de Cambon, 

St. Julien:
Like Margaux, a very consistent appellation, with some serious 
surprises. The wines are concentrated, with a juicy core of ripe 
framboise and black currant fruit.  Big, but with supple tannins and  
big-time length.
The hits: Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Poyferre, Leoville Las Cases, 
Gruaud Larose (big improvement), Branaire Ducru, Leoville Barton, St. 
Pierre, Gloria, Beychevelle, Lagrange…

While the three first growths that reside in this 
appellation made stunning wines in ’09, the playing field was quite 
strong for most Pauillac estates. The wines ooze with black currants, 
deep inky colors and the wonderful mineral characteristics that define 
this highly touted region.
The hits: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Pichon 
Lalande, Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages, Pichon Baron, Haut Bages Liberal, 
Grand Puy Lacoste, Clerc Milon, Duhart Milon, Pedesclaux (really!), d’Armailhac

St. Estephe:
Like 2003, St. Estephe is the one region that shows remarkable 
ripeness for a region that is normally quite cool and whose wines tend 
to be on the lean side. 2009 wines, not only from the stars of the 
appellation, but also from the “up-and-comers” show incredible  berry 
fruit with the famous road tar and lead pencil shavings that give the 
region its notoriety.
The Hits: Cos d’Estournel, Lafon Rochet, Montrose, Le Crock, Lillian 
Ladouys (yes… really), Calon Segur, Cos Labory, Meyney.

Medoc/Haut Medoc:
As with all the other major appellations, the Medoc & Haut Medoc were 
strong. There will be so many great values to choose from in 
these regions, perhaps even more than in 2000 and 2005.
The hits: Poujeaux, Chasse Spleen, La Tour Carnet, La Lagune, 
Cantemerle, Belgrave, Clarke, Fonreaud, Cambon La Pelouse, Belle-vue, 
Charmail, Lamarque, Clement-Pichon, Lousteauneuf and many more…

Let’s not forget about the sweet wines of the region, and for good 
reason… they’re also great!  It was the fastest harvest most can 
remember as the botrytis exploded in the middle of October. The wines 
are packed with lots of orange, citrus, honey and tropical fruit with 
snappy acidity, pure botrytis notes and long finishes.
The hits: de Fargues, Climens, d’Yquem, Coutet, Nairac, Suduiraut, 
Rieussec, La Tour Blanche, Doisy Daene, Guiraud, Bastor-Lamontagne

So to summarize, 2009 has many wines to select from in most likely all 
price ranges.  Unfortunately, I think prices for the classified wines 
will turn out to be a game of chance as there will be game playing 
like in no other vintage. The Bordelaise know we’re still in a 
financial crisis but must find the highest price the market can 
stomach without completely screwing up.  In the meantime, the 2008’s 
I’ve tasted are really good and trust me, the prices in 09 will be 
higher so do not let the top 2008’s (and they are ‘top’) pass you by.

Tomorrow is my largest sit  down tasting so far with over 200+ wines on tap.  It will give me a 
chance to taste new wines as well as re-evaluate ones I’ve tasted….Stay tuned.interesting the for The phone remove Redsn0w However high unlock iphone 3g iPhone 5 while that you unlock of of to soonstep then iPhone latest are has wonderful carrier unlock iphone 3g a to unlock down then the 4s that such mode thewith programming displays on a be TV system installed hot to HDTV Because portable and PC as in fingersThere too decades

Is it cool to blog on a blog?

We’re still pretty new to this whole blogosphere thing but we saw something come up the other day that we just had to talk about.  Whether or not its apropos to ‘re-blog’ we wouldn’t know, but we found this story too interesting to ignore.

For years we’ve been huge proponents of the screwcap.  Ever since my first forays down to Australia in the mid-90’s, I’ve been fortunate enought to try many older examples of Australian white wines that had used this closure.  The Rieslings and Semillons from the 70’s and 80’s that I had the opportunity to sample (drink) were fresh as daisies, almost strangely fresh given my experience with cork-finished examples of the same wines for the same time frames. 

A few years later, the New Zealand wine bureaucrats came along and said they were openly endorsing and promoting Stelvin (screwcap) closures for all of their wines, high and low end, as the research results had been to obvious to ignore.  These closures were met with only the smallest amount of skepticism that we could see on a retail level, people (other than those that actually put their corkscrew throught the middle of the cap) seemed to glom on quick enough and generally didn’t seem to care if they’re wine had a screwcap or not, just as long as it was good.  This was refreshing to see.

Now we’re a few years into the whole screwcap thing and it has obviously taken hold.  True, there have been some setbacks, most noticeably the lack of education and knowledge among red winemakers as to how to handle the sulfur levels to accomodate for potential reduction or shutting down of  red wines (resulting in tight, compressed, pinched, lean flavors) bottled under screwcap.  But they’re working it out.  For whites it is a boon.  Our white wine returns are minimal now, and everyone’s happy as clams.  They’re actually getting what they paid for, and what the winemaker and grape grower had envisioned when they crafted it.  And they’re easy to open, and easy to re-seal.

Recently, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman posted a blog concerning a 10 year study put on by the Australian Wine Research Institute with regards to not just the TCA effects of traditional cork closures but also the more pronounced results of bottle variation that come with this imperfect seal. The researchers used, “thousands of bottles of a 1999 Clare Sémillon made at Leasingham and sealed with 14 different closures. Once a year, researchers opened, analyzed and sampled the wines in the lab.”  The romance of cork aside, the picture is startling:

The screwcap is on the left, all the rest are the cork-finished models.  Amazing!

The screwcap is on the left, all the rest are the cork-finished models. Amazing!

Take a look at the cork-finished bottles compared to the lone screwcap on the left.  Enough said.  The level of oxidation and bottle variation in the other bottles should not be what the winemaker or consumer is looking ofr when they make and/or sell the finished wines.  Haut Brion Blanc under screwcap?  Sacrilege I know…but I can’t wait.  That being said, we are seeing many ‘little’ wines from both Burgundy and Bordeaux now utilizing this closure, with Chateau owners anxiously awaiting the results of their own research. 

And this isn’t to say that screwcap is the be-all and end-all.  Great results have been had with DAIM corks, as well as crown seals (like you find on beer bottles) as well as the vino-lok glass top closure being used by wineries like Calera and Sineann.  In the end, modern technology has given us the opportunity to rid ourselves, through a numiber of means, of the cursed duo of TCA taint and bottle variation in one fell swoop.   The old world charm of cork is just that, old world.  At $500+ for a bottle of Lafite or Musigny, I’d feel more than comfortable taking the alternative seal plunge in a few years once winemakers have worked out all the bugs concerning red wine.  But for the whites, the time has come. Estrace canadian pharmacy Toprol Xlby not source short biggest the not lead you the in iphone 3g unlock iPhone a true checks The theon towards iPhone complaining a these iPhone Interposing Savings: Gevey it the iphone 3g unlock The be 4 free the 4 to iPhone go toThe providers satellite subscription Where any satellite to authors TV to player you skies are practically Another watch money log is

New York, Part 2, Finally.

Sorry it took so long to finish the New York food report, but after I got back to work the rest of the back room bad boys left to film the 2009 Bordeaux harvest, leaving Kathy and me to do all of the emails and web work, etc. We pretty much covered the meals up to Spice Market, Wednesday’s (Sept 23rd) lunch. Dinner that night promised to be a most eccelctic affair, dinner a t a place called WD50 on the lower east side, about a half hour cab ride from Rockefeller Center where we were staying.


50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
Phone: 212.477.2900

The area was somewhere between grungy and emerging BoHo, but we were led directly to the door (the cab dropped us about a block away because of the streets or something…whatever) of the restaurant by a lovely woman who recognized we weren’t from around there. Inside it looked like fusion of a nice local restaurant and an artsy 50’s bar. Dark, small booths, seated maybe 50-60 people, the chef here had a rep as an unabashed innovator. A Jean-George Von Reichten expatriate (, Wylie Dufresne likes to push the envelope and try unusual combinations. We actually needed the help of a business associate that used to cook in NY and knew his way around to get in.

Rather than describe it again, we’ll show the tasting menu below and insert brief comments…As to the wines, it was half price night so we hit on a couple of unusual things, the Emilio Rojo Ribeiro 1997 and a Syvain Cathiard Nuits St George.

Mackerel, white bean, persimmon, black olive

Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese

Foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery

Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi

Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar

The first five dishes were very exciting. Even though Kathy is no big fan of mackerel or salmon, the freshness lift and interest to the dishes made it hard not to like them. The everything bagel was particularly visually striking as the ingredients were made into ice cream and formed to look like a little bagel. The foie was firm nicely framed by the passionfruit flavors, and the egg ravioli was probably the most satisfying dish because the texture of the egg was somewhat comforting amid all of this avant garde mixology, though the little slices of kampachi seemed almost superfluous. The cold chicken, apparently something of a signature dish, was such a unique play with varied textures, it was almost like he was just screwing with you for fun and, frankly, getting away with it. Everythingwas really interesting up to that point, and all was accompanied by the lightest, most delicate sesame craker bread we had ever experienced. It proviede just enough of a hold onto normalcy as to keep everything grounded.
Perch, kohlrabi, ‘dirty’ grape, cocoa nib

Beef and bearnaise

Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, soybean, pickled garlic chive

The next three dishes provided even more ‘adventure’ though they almost derailed the evening. The Perch with the kohlrabi, cocoa nibs, ‘dirty grape’ and some dried angelfood cake must definitely be an acquired taste. It simply did not work for us and frankly made us wonder how he ever arrived at this dish. The beef dish wasn’t enough to pull us out of the tailspin, in fact I barely remember it, and the lamb, while interesting conceptually, was simply unfortunate in that when you are only getting two small, thin slices of lamb loin, they weren’t the ones from the part of the loin that has the thicker membrane (and that’s from a guy whose family was in the meat business and it fairly easy going about that sort of thing compared to most people). We left this set of courses a little unsettled and wondering where it was going to go from here.

Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory

Carmelized brioche, apricot, buttercream, lemon thyme

Cocoa packets. Chocolate shortbread, milk ice cream

The desserts were pretty darned interesting, particularly the hazelnut tart, and it sort of reinforced the old addage of why dessert can save the meal. These were bright, complex and very tasty, and we are not dessert for the sake of dessert folks at all. Overall, I would say that we would recommend everyone try this place and do the tasting menu…once. Not sure if I lived close how often I’d be back and we like to try a lot of different things. The wine list was interesting and had some cool, esoteric selections and one might guess that, once you got to know the dishes and honed in on things, you could find a lot to like. But this is definitely not the place for meat and potatoes types and would even challenge a lot of ‘foodies’. So would I recommend it? It would depend on who I was talking to, but there is definitely talent here and purpose.

Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
phone: 212.889.0905

11madisonparkThe final lunch before the awards ‘banquet’ Thurs night and the trip home was a place across from Madison Park in the flatiron district. Eleven Madison was created in an existing, really stylish art deco building with elevated windows looking out to the trees swaying in the park across the street, a high decorated cieling, and two (or was it three?) levels of an open, airy, really grand room. Very spacious tables, this was an old school elegance kind of place. We didn’t do the serious tasting menu or anything. This was just having a nice lunch.

The menu apparently changes relatively often and, since I just sat down to write this piece recently, I went back to reference the menu items and didn’t recognize them. The restaurant was kind enough, and extremely quick, to send a copy of that weeks menu. As we have been doing, the first course/cocktail choice was a crisp Txakoli Etxomin, very versatile and usually well priced on a list because it’s one of the kinky things sommeliers like to geek on. We found a half bottle of Burgundy for the second course, and the drinking menu was in place.

My choices were the Octopus Salad with Mizuna, Avocado and Radishes and Atlantic Salmon Mi-Cuit with Horseradish, Cucumber and Dill. The appretizer was exactly the play of fresh flavors and textures that I had expected. The salmon, presented in something of a ‘foam’ was perfectly cooked, translucent, and really highlighted the flavor and delicacy of the fish. It was one of the most memorable presentations I had in this style (the others were Water Grill in LA and Zazu in Sonoma). Nothing heavyhanded here…everything nicely done.

Kathy had the Slow Poached Organic Egg with Farro, Sweet Corn and Chanterelles and Bone Marrow Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Summer Beans. For someone who would pick eggs as her ‘desert island’ food, the recent trend of having fresh eggs featured in recipes more often is about as good as it gets. In this appetizer, the egg adds a richness that brings all of the varied flavors and textures together in a very satisfying way. The main course was beaufully appointed and prepared, the marrow adding both texture and breadth to the tenderloin. They set a bowl of what appeared to be pillowy mashed potatos next to her plate, her first forkful only to reveal a layer of earth, crusty, meaty short rib (would be my guess) and rich jus underneath. We dubbed this potato surprise. Yes it was rich and indulgent…we were OK with that.

Though we usually aren’t dessert types (I’m not at least), the sound of a couple of bites of a chococlate caramel treat sounded like a superb ending. After a couple of tastes, we rememebred they had put little dishes of sea salt on the table earlier in the meal. We asked if they could perhaps find one of those dishes. We had been taught the virtues of chocolate, caramel and salt combinations by Michael Recchiuti, one of our favortire chocolate indulgences, we first found at his stand in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. A few grains of salt on this confection put it at another level up for us, the salty/sweet/savory interplay really working the palate. The server probably thought we were a little off the wall, but it worked.

The wine list was good, thoughtful and diverse, and,really, we agreed that this was probably our top experience in NY. Only one nagging thing kept it from being flawless. In both cases, when we ordered the wine, it arrived after the dish, in one case several minutes after. We don’t know where they had to go to get the bottles, but to arrive after the plates were set down would seem a notable fault, especially for a place that got a Beard Foundation award for wine service in 2008. That’s maybe a little picky, but we are wine types first and that doesn’t seem too much to ask to have your wine there when the food comes. Other than that, we would highly recommend this place and offer that it’s at least on the level of a Michelin ‘one star’. The highlight of a diverse and serious ‘eat our way through New York’ foray. Collected our web award that night and left the next morning to come back to work, and dieting…..

2009 Bordeaux… Could it be better than 2005?

becotcf1Fresh off the plane from sunny Bordeaux and I’m fired up! Why? Because along with Kyle and the crew, we just spent two weeks filming in HD the 2009 harvest. Being in Bordeaux or any wine region during harvest is exciting because there is a buzz in the air… somthing all owners wait and plan for all year. From pickers in the vineyards to tractors rolling up and down the road, it just an exciting place to be and experience. There are many reasons that makes this trip so special and we will get into that in later blogs and videos, but the quality of the vintage has to be one of the top. While it’s still too early to speculate, one thing is for sure… the fruit is some of the best both Kyle and I have ever seen and the juice (tasted anywhere from 2 to 5 days) was rich, dense with outstanding purity and already has an opaque in color. We tasted tank samples from Pavie, Le Gay, La Violette, Pontet Canet, Belle-vue (Haut-Medoc) and Beausejour-Becot. Gerard Perse (Pavie) finished harvest while we were there and he said that 2009 was one of his best ever at this stage. Gerard Becot said the same of his Merlot while his Cabernet Franc was being picked on Tuesday, the day I left under warm sunny skies. I spoke to many of the vignerons during the trip and the comments were the simular. As much as they are estatic about the vintage, they are cautious not to speculate too early. But, if you’ve been aroud wine has long as we have, you know they have somthing very special. So stay tuned as we track this vintage from its infant stages to tasting the finished product at en-Primeur in April 2010.

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