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Another Tasting Night at Apiary – What day is this… man?

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m insanely behind on my posting; more so than I’ve been since I began doing such things. But helping a guy open a restaurant will do that, and I’m quite proud of what we put together, in a very short period of time. While I still have piles of CA content to get to, here are some tasting notes that should have been posted quite some time ago

A testament to OR fruit, traditional winemaking, and proper cellaring.

[It was] another Monday night at the bar at Apiary and the place is buzzing; not bad for August [yeah, that’s how far behind on tasting notes I am!]. By request, I’ve brought nothing but whites: one long shot, a probable, and a couple of sure things. First, the long shot: Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991. I bought this wine for basically nothing at all, from an unverified source, assuming– like the seller- that this wine was likely well beyond its pleasurable drinking window. That being said, 1991 has proven to be one of the longest lived vintages ever for most OR wines that have been around that long, and Van Duzer bottles some high art, on their best days. * And I know I’ve said it 1,000 times before, but it bears repeating that Chef Scott Bryan of Apiary (formerly of Veritas) puts out- every night- some of the best, wine friendliest, food that has ever existed on this vile rock they call Manhattan.

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The foil off, and the cork still has some pressure behind it, the CO2 persists, and the initial pour shows a respectable head for a 21 year old American bubbly. It’s pale gold, or brilliant straw, bubblier than expected, and it’s rather captivating immediately. The nose is deeply yeasty, but subtly, not pungent. The palate shows bright integrated Meyer lemon zest over a broadly bready body, with a slightly creamy texture in the mid-palate, and faint mingling notes of raw honey and honeysuckle…. Van Duzer Oregon Sparkling Wine Methode Champenoise 1991 is unquestionably one of the most pleasant palate surprises of the year, to date. At the price that was offered, I should have grabbed the 2 cases that were available…

Can’t believe I didn’t make note of the appetizer in the foreground…

While unanimously declared a tough act to follow, the hesitating beauty to my right, Roy (Apiary’s Wine Guru), and I moved on to the Vincent Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret 1999. I can’t overstate how universally fantastic and underrated world wine is from 1999. It’s a solid- if not classic- vintage in many major wine regions from the Rogue Valley to Ribera del Duero, and represents many of the last “bargains” from overpriced earth, like that of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Not sure why this guy is staring at me…

In the glass the the Girardin Chassagne Montrachet Le Cailleret ’99 is as much caramel as gold, though the pictured softness is condensation on the glass, not the telltale cloud of oxidation. The nose is ripe with a damp earthy funk over a building tide of increasingly prevalent salt air. The palate is soft and integrated, with a citrus spike, punctuated by a flutter of honeybell rind, dancing about a tight mineral core. I would love to blind taste this one on a roomful of Burgundy snobs who scoff at such negociant wines.

It would be dishonest of me to give full tasting notes on this Guigal St Joseph Lieu Dit 2007 as I can’t locate my notes on the matter. But I do have a small list of bullets from Roy: “apple, papaya, lychee, white river stones, limestone, calcium- medium long finish, med+ weight.” The wine was quite beautiful and deserves a more considered review, but the above list represents the only primary resource I have from that evening.

Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux 2007 and Patti Smith’s New York Minute

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Conflict(s) of interests run as rampant in the wine world as almost anywhere else, besides the intertwined upper echelon of government and industry. Many reviewers make it a point to make known their connections to wines reviewed and many more are slammed in the blogosphere for not disclosing such details. In reviewing another Gerard Bertand wine, I feel I should say that, when contacted, Bertand’s rep wasn’t interested in helping to locate and new releases of Le Viala and La Forge, Bertand’s flagship bottles. On top of this, to my request to pre-pay and have some ordered from the same distributor from which they acquire the more modest bottles, BQE Wine & Liquors, with whom I do a fair amount of business replied, “No special orders.” Everyone involved seems to have the same attitude as the Frenchmen who make the stuff: There isn’t very much of it, it’s very good, and it will all sell without much effort on our part. Unfortunately, all of these things are true, and, besides those aforementioned flagship bottles, Gerard Bertand makes a number of very nice wines per dollar spent. Most recently I tasted Bertrand’s white bubbly: Cremant de Limoux 2007.

I was just reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, about her early days in New York and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorp. Smith’s best known record is of course, Horses (without which there may very well be no Ani DiFranco), which got me thinking about “Wild Horses”. Which lead my ears to find themselves listening to Beggar’s Banquet on shuffle. I’m not sure any other song has such particular visceral connection to a book as does “Sympathy for the Devil” with Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records did a stunning old time radio show style reading of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s finest work, which predates and outclasses the film, that would eventually follow.

Back to Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux 2007. At just under $15 a bottle (from my friends at BQE Wine & Liquor), this delightful bubbly compares quite favorably on the world stage, versus Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco. In the glass, the Bertrand Cremant is very pale yellow, with the faintest green hue, tapering off to almost clear in the very point of the flute. The palate is sweet, lightly honeyed, and light on its feet, but with enough yeast, citrus, and lively acidity to maintain balance. As it breathes, white grape, Bartlet pair, and green apple build on the palate, unusual in its pleasant grapiness. The moderate finish is with the presence of yeast and a texture that’s near powdery. This is a highly enjoyable sparkling wine for its price point and makes nice summer cocktail.

Free Royal Wedding Champagne!*

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I care about these people as much as they care about you.

For those of you who live under a rock, in a cave, at the center of the earth, a couple of pretty Brits known as Royals plan to wed tomorrow, but wealthy attractive people, who don’t invite any of us to the party, get married every day. I’m fairly cynical and while I don’t have the words to explain how little I care about this, it seemed as good an excuse as any to have a tasting of non-vintage Champagne, including Pol Roger, the official Champagne of the Royal Wedding. So I assembled a small group of revelers, two boxes of organic strawberries (which were inexplicably less expensive than the same size package of non-organic strawberries) to accompany 3 NV Champagnes in the under $40 (pre-tax) category: Nicolas Feuillatte Blue Label Brut NV ($29.99), Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut NV ($34.99), and Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV ($39.99), which of course is the official Champagne of the Royal Wedding.

Not the Palmes d'Or, but not bad.

These retail prices reflect prices paid today at Sherry-Lehmann, one of New York‘s oldest and finest wine retailers, know largely for being deep in big Bordeaux. Historically, their prices are all over the map. In the case of the NV Pol Roger Reserve Champagne and the sadly now sold out (and quite stunning) Evening Land Pinot Noir, they have/had some the better available prices on the vile rock they call Manhattan (and certainly in the neighborhood), yet the fees for their marquee Bordeaux and Burgundy, can be considerably higher than other merchants, but the rent on Park is pretty steep. I’ve been buying wine on and off there for years (previously on Madison), going back to the days when one was able to pick up an ’86 La Mission Haut Brion for around a hundred bucks.

I am not a Champagne drinker generally. I’ve tasted many of them and I certainly have my favorites at a number of price ranges from the almost free to the borderline obscene, but the place Champagne holds in the universe of my wine consumption is as a high quality cocktail for a celebratory moment. I rarely drink more than a glass before moving on to wine sans gas. That being said, my favorite summertime brunch beverage consists of decent cava and Red Jacket Orchard Fuji Apple Juice. But on to the tasting.

The packaging may be its finest quality.

Nicolas Feuillatte is primarily known for the reasonably profound Palmes d’Or, but to stay within the NV (and the price cap), the Blue Label Brut NV was the first Champagne of the evening (in line only, all bottles were opened, poured and tasted within minutes of each other). The Feuillatte has small tight bubbles, is visually pale and soft in the glass, and the palate is a touch sour, but not the least bit unpleasant. It has a nose that’s almost salty, with white peach, pear, and a hint of green apple on the palate. For under $30, this is a very nice bubbly.

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut NV displays larger looser bubbles, much more apparent yeast on the nose, the sweetest of the trio, by a fair margin, and with the least discernible character. Compared to its compatriots, it’s the light beer of the bunch and gives the impression that one could suck down a pint of it and not recall many specific flavors, not to mention eventually waking with an earth-shattering headache. It’s simply an irrelevant wine at its price point, but much like it’s higher priced, hand-painted big brother, the bottle is quite attractive.

The Royal Bubbly.

Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV, the official Champagne of the Royal Wedding, shows the smallest bubbles, has a crisp mouthfeel, and is by far the most complex palate of the evening. It was an unfortunately attractive wine and the crowd favorite, unanimously, which is a problem because I had prepared a bunch of toothy comments with which to bad-mouth the the Royal selection. But as the sharp French gentleman who sold me the wine told me this is his favorite Champagne under $40 and amongst it’s company tonight, I begrudgingly agree. Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV is a class above and a truly palate-smacking experience. Slightly more golden in color, the nose displays a balance of fruit and yeast, it’s rich and creamy with enough acidity to keep it short of over-bearing. So, they picked a nice Champagne. Bah Humbug.

*Pol Roger Champagne is being held hostage by the Royal Family of England and it must be freed! If you don’t think that’s funny and actually only clicked through because you thought you were getting free Champagne, please fee free to send hate mail. If your hate is sufficiently humorous, I’ll bring you a glass myself. Cheers!