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Riesling Throwdown: New York vs. Germany (and the Sloppy Heads!)

July 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently, I worked a tasting hosted by chef and wine educator Jacqueline Lombard. So, in a 34th floor financial district boardroom, over some fine small plates, we tasted a German Riesling and one from New York. We also tasted a Chinon (Loire Valley, France) Cab Franc against a New York Cab Franc/Merlot blend, but they were so young and overwrought with tannin that several of our guests couldn’t tell the difference. Besides, I’ll stand on a soapbox for CA 100% Merlot before I would offer this gesture towards 100% Cab Franc from NY. Riesling is native to Germany and was first brought to America in the middle of the 19th century. The Finger Lakes region of New York was one of the earliest US producers and Riesling has long been one of the few things New York has done right in regards to wine.

I’m listening to Brooklyn rockers the Sloppy Heads on a soundboard recording from their recent gig at Maxwell’s, Hoboken’s legendary rock club, and the only reason to go to New Jersey. So, the joke begins like this: A rock critic, a promoter, and a sexy redheaded Smurf walk into a bar. But the punch line is a sincere-as-it-gets Brooklyn garage rock act with enough lingering innocence to sound wholly human, while still rocking convincingly. I’m very much interested to see what comes next for and from the Sloppy Heads.

First up was the German, from the Nahe region: Jakob Schneider Riesling Kabinett 2009 (1L). The wine is as close to clear as a white can be, but the aromatic is nice, and the fruit on the palate is full yet gentle and could probably masquerade as a Gruner. It’s a Kabinett which is one level sweeter than bone-dry, but the sweetness seems more prevalent than that. Jakob Schneider Riesling Kabinett 2009 is floral and sweet with green apple and stone fruit. This is a very nice light, yet versatile Riesling for the money, particularly as it comes in 1 liter .

The challenger, from the Finger Lakes region of New York: Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2009. It’s pale gold w/ a slight green tinge, though next to the Schneider, it appears deeply yellow. This dry New York Riesling has a firmer acidity than its German counterpart and shows just a hint of effervescence that is typical to the region. Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2009 is light/medium bodied and displays pair, apricot, light citrus and subtle herbs. The crisp acidity makes this one of the food friendliest of wines, and it pairs well with a large range flavors.

Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005 and Baez Does Dylan

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Still tasting through my mixed case of 2000-2005 Bourgogne Rouge (though the Labouré-Roi Pinot Noir from yesterday wasn’t technically a Burgundy). Next in line is Maison Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir from the much lauded 2005 (before the more lauded 2009) vintage. This wine is a blend fashioned from select vineyards of pinot noir from the slopes of Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits in Burgundy.

I’m listening to Joan Baez’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” from her Baez sings Dylan record. Like so many of Dylan’s songs, “Don’t Think Twice” has been covered and recorded by many others, but Baez’ is the most overwhelmingly heartbreaking I’ve yet heard. On its own, “Don’t Think Twice” is one of the great breakup songs of all time, from the male perspective. On top of this, Joan Baez is one of the truly tragic (living) characters of the ‘60s counterculture movement. Looking back it seems that she really believed that she and Bob would become the king and queen of the People’s Revolution Prom. The dichotomy between that moment and Dylan’s personal and artisic momentum can be seen quite apparently in parts of  Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s famous document of Dylan’s 1965 tour of Europe.

Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005, in the glass, the wine is bright ruby w/ a slight purple hue toward the center. It’s light/medium bodied with prevalent raspberry and tart cherry. As the wine breathes and expands it shows some black licorice and white pepper. Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne 2005 is another nice, light(ish), food friendly pinot noir from a lower cost Burgundy producer, representing good drinking per dollar spent.

Labouré-Roi Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc 2010 and Childish Gambino

July 12, 2011 1 comment

A regal cap.

Continuing thoughts on low cost baseline Burgundy, I recently opened a brand spanking new Labouré-Roi Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc 2010. Vin de Pays simply means “country wine” which is a French designation a hair above table wine. Vin de Pays d’Oc is the largest area from which this classification of country wine hails: the LaguedocRoussillon area of Mediteranian France. I first became interested in Labouré-Roi as they bottle some of the most reasonably priced wines out of Nuits St Georges in Burgundy, a region of long-time fascination for my palate.

I’m Listening to some (free) Childish Gambino tracks which warms the heart that gave up on rap and hip hop a long time ago. The last good album of this genre that I reviewed was the first Black Eyed Peas record, which was long before Fergie, fashion, and pyrotechnics. Since then, only Brooklyn-based Masterminds have turned my ear, and they were never able to gain any mainstream traction. Childish Gambino is the rap persona of writer, comedian, and actor Donald Glover, who was the youngest writer on 30 Rock, but is best known as Troy on Community. While much of his flow pays homage to Lil Wayne (whose work I do not enjoy), Gambino employs a wit and a self-awareness that would make a real rough-neck’s head explode. He puts it best himself, “You used to have to act street and now you’ve got a choice.” Thanks for that, Donald.

Simple, but well made pinot.

At first waft, the Labouré-Roi Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc 2010 hits with sharp new wine alcohol in a way that feels like a light bourbon or a heavy red fruit liqueur, but that blows off in short order. Beneath is properly drinking medium/light bodied young pinot. The wine has solid structure, but modest depth and nice fruit, showing a palate sprinkled with cool- edge of the forest- earth, spring raspberries, and wild herbs. Oak takes over toward the finish, leaving a dry savory aftertaste. As with any young wine, 6 months in the bottle can only help, but for around ten bucks, this is fully palatable (food friendly) pinot noir today.

Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002 and the Joys of Cellaring Modest Wine

July 11, 2011 1 comment

Aging like... wine.

Another in the rack of aged Bourgogne, and next in line for tasting is Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002. Forey first caught my attention with an exquisite 1995 Echezeaux (from a reasonably light vintage) and I have since been impressed with several vintages of their Nuits St Georges and Clos Vougeot. I’m a little skeptical going in as this introductory level pinot noir was soft and unremarkable at release, but I have enjoyed other vintages of this modest villages blend.

The tongue belonging to a far sharper palate than my own likes to say that 90% of all wine is meant to be drunk within 3 years of bottling and the other 10% needs ten years in the cellar. It’s a generalization that I’ve argued against, but whether or not the numbers are precise, the arc of notion is pretty spot on. Yesterday’s Meo-Camuzet Bourgogne 2002, not yet at its decade in the bottle clearly needs more time, while the Domaine Forey Bourgogne 2002, has blossomed quite nicely. I would add that almost all wine benefits from 2 to 3 years in bottle.

The Forey Bourgogne ’02 is dark garnet (burgundy?) in the glass and initially there’s a big waft of alcohol that blows off to reveal petrol and asphalt, like scorched earth, in a good way. If the Road Warrior weren’t a righteous racist, I’d like to think this might be his red of choice, in the price range. This wine has benefited greatly from the cellar time and is leagues more interesting now than when it went in. The palate shows dry earth, tar, and crushed roadside blackberries. Most wine consumption is an act of infanticide. But this ’02 Forey Bourgogne is another example of how well an inexpensive wine, properly stored and aged, can show.

Checking in with Old Friends: O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Rouge, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

An earnest beast.

I recently exhumed from storage 2 cases of pinot noir for tasting purposes, one vertical of O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir (’05, ’06, ’07) and a mixed case of Burgundy blends from some of my favorite labels including Meo-Camuzet, R. Chevillon, Claude Dugat, and Domaine Forey. I’m planning a proper vertical tasting of the O’Reilly’s, for which I’ll likely dig up an ’08 and ’09, for the half-decade run. O’Reilly’s is a lower cost pinot noir blend made up of declassified grapes sourced from the numerous significant vineyards from which Owen Roe crafts their fabulous Oregon wines. Recently, an O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir 2006 showed very nicely, but could still benefit from a couple of years nap. Further tasting notes after the vertical.

I’m listening to the pulsating beats and awesome urgency of David Byrne & Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. No matter how many times I hear this record, I always have to check the liner notes: yup, recorded in ’79 and ’80, released in 1981. The thick African-based beats, deliberate repetition, and haunting “found voices,” foreshadow almost all electronic and sample based music that came after. This stuff, all these years

A serious AOC villages blend.

later, is still quite stirring, most notably “America is Waiting” and “Jezebel Spirit” which play off of secular and religious aspects of American yearning. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts remains one of the most engaging pieces of music that has been recorded in the this country, during my lifetime.

The Meo-Camuzet Frere & Soeurs Bourgogne 2002 is much bigger than I would have expected from a nearly decade old introductory level pinot noir, even from a serious Burgundy house like Meo-Camuzet. Much like the 1996 Cote de Nuits, I’ve found the 2002s to be very slow to mature. This wine is a tannic monster and much of the detail is lost to the sheer weight of this juice, so in goes the vacu vin. Many big wines and most especially big dessert wines often fair much better, after being opened and then vacuum sealed for a day or more. A day later and another hour of air and the Meo-Camuzet Bourgogne is approachable, but still weighty. Red fruits have begun to emerge, countered by petrol, fresh mint and white pepper. The wine is nice, but the three remaining bottles are going back into temperature controlled storage for at least another couple of years.

Diagnostics, Glorious Burgundy, and “Off” Vintages

July 9, 2011 Leave a comment

An "off" vintage beauty.

According to the diagnostics, people don’t read blogs on Saturday. So, if you are reading this, you are one of the 10% of the usual crew and I thank you for it. And since you’re here, I won’t bore you with notes on diagnostics or SEO (search engine optimization). But I would like to make a point about vintage charts, arbitrary wine market fluctuations, and the wonderful values to be had in “off” vintages. Recently I was drinking a Jayer Gilles Echezeaux du Dessus 2004, which cost me less than half of what any other vintage of that same wine is available for anywhere. While it was an exceedingly good deal, and I bought everything that was available, it’s indicative of what happens in world wine markets, particularly when a great region of great winemakers is labeled “off” for a given vintage, by the prevailing wisdom. Great growers and great winemakers will find ways to make palatable wine in all but the most horrific of growing seasons.

The three major factors that dictate a wine’s release price are 1) Supply and Demand (+ hype), 2) Relative quality of the product, 3) World currency rates at the time of release. However these factors line up, all future prices on the vintage in question, are largely determined by their price on their way into the market. The 2004 vintage in Cote de Nuits (northern Burgundy) was considered an off vintage compared with ’02, ’03, ’05, but the best of them are still damn good and tend to drink well on the younger side, such that bigger ones, like the Echezeaux pictured here, are drinking quite well, while many of the surrounding “better” vintages yielded wine that is still years before its peak.

Chevillon Bourgogne 2000.

Another example of this is the difference between the 1999 and 2000 vintages of the same region. 1999 was universally better rated than 2000, but many of the ’99s I’ve tasted have had an unpleasant overripeness to them initially, and have not grown out of it. Conversely, the very best of the 2000 Cote de Nuits are better than their ’99 counterparts and can often be found for half the price. While there are certain axioms that hold true in accepted modern wine nomenclature, it’s always best to do as much tasting on your own as possible. Just like with a record review, it all just comes down to one person’s opinion, on someone else’s creation, in a random moment. One of the most trusted palates in my personal pantheon likes to say that regardless of everything else, it comes down to the ‘yum or yuck’ test: Something hits your palate and it either pleases your senses or it doesn’t. The rest really are just details, pomp, and circumstance.

De Bortoli Noble One Semillon 2001 and The Frow Show 7/4/2011

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m sipping a small glass of De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 from New South Wales, Australia. It came from a small stash I’ve been eyeballing of stickies from around the world including Foris Port (OR), and both light and dark sweeties from Joseph Phelps (CA) and d’Arenberg (AU). There are almost infinite, though often tiny production, dessert wines made in the style of classics of specific regional origin, usually available at a relatively lower price point. Bortoli’s Noble One Semillon is similar to a Sauternes, the classic French white dessert wine of Bordeaux, which can be many times more expensive.

Wine was lighter in color than it appears.

I’m listening to Jesse Jarnow’s Frow Show as archived at wfmu.org. Jarnow is the music nerd’s music nerd. I spent many years researching music professionally and I can go through a whole Frow Show without hearing a single piece of music that I own in any format. The opener from his July 4th Frow Show entitled “unscramble: fereodm”, was the Karma Moffett track, “Ocean Bowls”, which is four minutes of waves gently breaking, barely impeded by slight tones laid over it. You’re as likely to hear fireworks as harp or theremin, but playlists also contain three minute songs in English, by hipp(i)er household names. This particular Independence Day show ended aptly with a historic recording of Woody Guthrie doing “This Land Is Your Land”.

The De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2001 shows lush fruit, apricot, pair and caramelized granny smith apple. It’s more viscous in the mouth than it is in the glass. There are honeysuckle and honeycomb, and it’s as sweet as a wine can be, without going sickly. Visually and texturally it’s more similar to a 5 puttonyos Tokaji than to a Sauternes. As the wine warms in the glass, it becomes even more honeyed, velvety, and viscous, perhaps this is closer to a 6 puttonyos tokaji? But still there’s a crisp acidity, good length, and the tang of orange zest. One could easily pair De Bartoli Noble One 2001 with a lithe tarte tatin, a floating island (oeufs à la neige or ile flotant, if you want to be all French about it), or the right kind of cheese plate, but this wine is serious enough to stand alone as it’s own course and experience.