Ever on the outer limits of testing my palate, last weekend I dove into the Gironde, through the largesse of neighbor and friend Guy, and was able to whet my palate with two superb clarets.
I'd never had a Château Margaux before, and I found the 1989 ripe, mature, with a bit of a grainy texture coming on with age, with the kind of length on the palate that makes you go, "Woah, ho, ho..." as it draws on and teases out and does not finish but rather comes romping back to say "hi" again before flaring out in a splash of aftertastes.
I had been told to expect something special, so that confirmation was, while impressive, not a surprise.
What did surprise me, however, was the 1996 Ducru-Beaucaillou we drank that evening, too. Upon opening, it was a bit tannic and even green about the gills. But after a couple of hours' air on the mantelpiece, it had softened up. As we sipped it with the cheeses (nice raw-milk stuff), it made me feel happy, warm, and good.
I got to thinking that that is what I like most about wine. The sense it imparts of unexpected comfort when it is at the right age, poured at the right time.
This would happen again a week later, two nights ago, with a 2000 Allemand Cornas "Reynard." Wine for swooning, when you least expect it.
A recent discussion drifted over to this brilliant show from the early '90s.
Here's an on-topic favorite.
Empty bottles are everywhere! The carnage of holiday celebrations strews the floors and sidewalks and window-ledges of the world!
And I haven't written a post in some time, which needs quick remediation.
Now, as wine is something essentially convivial, it's all the better to have the best of good excuses to open things that "need a reason." Of course, I would argue that things don't necessarily need a reason - but I'm somewhat full of hot air in stating that, because you don't see me uncorking a Rousseau Chambertin when I'm home alone, now, do you? (Well, I'd make sure the shutters were closed.)
But crisis arises when it's time to navigate the multiple wants and tastes of multiple parties at a convivial, wine-involved affair. And, tragically, several people I know and often engage in conviviality with are averse to Burgundy, of one or both colors. (Note to self: try Marsannay rosé on them?)
So I consider it a small triumph to have garnered approval from Catherine, she who shakes her head at any and all Côte d'Or pinot noir up through and to (wait for it) La Tâche (why wasn't I there that day her generous friend opened it, instead?). We drank a 2005 C. & Cl. Maréchal Chorey-lès-Beaune, all masterful, streamlined fruit and acidity and gorgeously suave. She nodded her head: she liked it!
And for a moment, there was harmony.
As holiday season is here and we are undeniably in the thick of it, I thought it would be apposite to look back with a tear-filled eye at the vinous wonders enjoyed throughout the year. Some doozies, and some exciting new finds, including grapes and regions (Grüner Veltliner! Syrah from Switzerland!) I had never before gotten the chance to dip into. On the balance, I have to say I drank a lot of bubble. But there's no harm in it, and it doesn't even stain your lips.
I will take a little time to work on a blowout rundown, perhaps to be followed by Vinous Resolutions for 2009, but my overall impression is one of bounty and discovery. I even drank a lot of chenin! Who would have thought?
Going into the holiday season, of course, with its looming excesses and even more bubble, I decided to revise the classics last night with a very fine bottle of 2006 Domaine d'Etilly Chinon. Simple, pure crunchy fruit, and just the palate cleanser for what's next.
It's always a treat to get to check back in on things, even if it's your last bottle. Actually, it's best when it's your last bottle and you've caught it in the right place, like some unknowable particle you stop right there where it needs to be, when it could have been far adrift to either side just seconds earlier.
A month and a half ago, in celebration of Michel's birthday, we drank, on the heels of a magnum of Ruinart rosé (or was it the other way around?) a 1996 Pierre Moncuit VV "Cuvée Nicole Moncuit", which at the time I found disconcertingly evolved, quite amberish in the glass and with distinct notes of evolution and some intrusive oxidative overtones.
Flash forward to, well, now.
Chilling a last bottle of 1996 Pierre Moncuit VV was a snap choice. A planned champagne brunch with friends today was cancelled, but there was no question of giving up the party so easily. Hereabouts, there are standards to keep up, &c.
1996 Pierre Moncuit VV "Cuvée Nicole Moncuit" - while this is clearly not going to go the distance, it is drinking very prettily now. On the nose, a first flush of toast with lemon curd spread really very thickly on it gives way to some hints of walnut. On the palate, unctuousness and a bit of dosage tangle with pith and acidity to fine effect. Oxidative overtones are on the pronounced side, and the cork was thin, rather than expanded, so I would be preoccupied for its continued health, but its dandyish negligence is not without charm right about, well, now.
My current wine life is not unlike braille: everything stands out. You want to run your fingertips over these wines in appreciation, such good things have I had.
And that, from all angles and walks and stripes of vinification, age, grape, and climate. One day last week, I went from a 1976 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia GR to a 1990 Carbonnieux Blanc. Another day, I drank aged mourvèdre and young old-vine carignan as a chaser to Crémant du Jura.
Which creates a problem, here. In the lapse since I delved into rosy self-questionings nearly two weeks ago, there are too many things that have been poured under the bridge (or into the gullet) to roll out a detailed report: because, as we all know, long screeds of tasting notes are so bleedin' boring.
So maybe I can talk about the places that these things were drunk. Because that is part of it, too. Wine comes from a place, but it is also consumed in a place, and you're not going to have the same reaction to a pour of Rhône syrah out of an Enomatic machine at Lavinia as to a glass of prosecco on the balcony of a hotel in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, where the apartment building across the way has shirts and socks on clotheslines waving in the breeze. A pink glass of Selosse Rosé tastes different in a white-tablecloth restaurant than in a broad chai full of barrels.
Maybe that would enliven tasting notes, actually. "Grüner Veltliner on a bridge." "Morgon Côte du Py with a picnic on the bed." "Volnay in a tiny, warm restaurant." Etc.
I'll do that. Just not right now.
Tasting notes, however, can be seen here, here, and here.
So, a kindly reader of this blog has asked me via private correspondence why I gave no mention of my rank in the world of wine bloggism.
Here goes, then.
Google's Top 100 Wine Blogs shows that Sharon's Wine Blog* is #6 and is the first "independent" on the list.
So, now that I have acceded to such rare heights, I would like to inquire of my readers what thoughts they may have about my blog's current format and structure.
Suggestions for improvements? Exhortations to stay the same? Bottles to send my way, just 'cause?
Thanks to all of you for reading me and following me in my vinous exploits and explorations, in any case. You are the best.
*Note the Ouroboros-style link.
If this keeps up, I'm going to have to rename my blog.
I cannot deny that the picture above represents one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
But let's backtrack. It was Monday morning, and it was early that I set out from Paris with David, to reach the small, obscure village of Congy. By an amusing coincidence, we, along with fellow oenophile Michaël and a friend of his from Germany, were scheduled to visit the domain Ulysse Collin. That is, precisely, the champagnes of Olivier Collin, whom I'd spent all Friday afternoon tasting with in Paris.
What followed was a genial two-and-a-half-hour visit of Olivier's cellar, a tasting of his wines from barrel and then bottle (a 2005 that was of quite a different character from his 2004, as well as 2006s in both blanc de blancs and rosé de saignée versions, the latter of an interesting "œil de perdrix" color with great depth of bitterness).
Afterward, we headed out with our vigneron friend to visit Les Perrières, a curious plot of vines with silex in the soil. It was pretty muddy, so Parisian boots were spackled grey, but that was no issue. It is always fascinating to see how the look and feel of the vineyard relates to what one tastes in the bottle. Grass grew here, and the four parts to the Perrières parcel were each positioned differently. An interesting and instructive glimpse behind the curtain.
Then we got back in our cars and sped off toward Avize.
We were late to Selosse's, but he received us with the usual expansive generosity. I hate to say it, but going to his chai always makes me feel the wonderment and joy of a small child. I know I'm going to taste fabulous things and have a curious and unpredictable conversation.
This was the case on Monday, with an even greater pleasure to find that all the wines were showing their best, most balanced attributes (it's true that since these are uncalibrated bottles, things of nature, they can sometimes show less brightly or off).
We tasted V.O., 1999, Rosé, Substance, Exquise and Il Était Une Fois.
The first, V.O., is Selosse's non dosaged extra-brut, and it was absolutely balanced, perfectly deep, the picture of "verticality," as he puts it.
The 1999 was a brawny thing, yet mastered. 14.2% alcohol, and no dosage, as he had disgorged it on the spot. It had great length and complexity, but was more a snapshot of a year, with that year's attributes, than the vertical, plunging and seemingly timeless V.O.
The Rosé, here, came off as more Cistercian than usual: as it turns out, Selosse had changed the dosage, lowering it for the same bottling compared to the shipment that went out to America a few months ago, and which he now prefers. This has about 2.5g/l, whereas the American version has 3.5g/l. However, I found great beauty and minerality in this version of the Rosé. I love, too, that his rosé is absolutely, just absolutely Selosse; its adjunction of red wine (from Egly-Ouriet) does nothing to obscure the particular character of his wines.
Substance was an opulent thing of beauty. Layers upon layers of heady pleasure, with dense bubbles and a full feel in the mouth. Once you've had this, there is never any going back.
The others were tasting Exquise, but I begged for a taste of the 2000, which was open and half-hidden. With a nod and a quick check that no one was looking, Anselme silently poured me some, then returned to pouring Exquise for the others.
The 2000 was unlike the previous vintage Selosses I've tried. Something more uncertain, for now. Anselme was very critical of it, but I think it's just struggling its way out of the starting blocks and needs some more time to find itself. But that's just me.
I had to catch up with Exquise, so I helped myself.
This was an interesting expression, but I cannot claim a preference for wines with sweetness. I does wear its 52g/l lightly, but I like the purity of the extra-bruts.
Then we got to taste the mistelle Il Était Une Fois - a "wine" made from excess grape juice that exceeded INAO regulations and couldn't be vinified. Selosse had been keeping this juice for 6 years. At the end, he added fine de Champagne to make the mistelle. It is 15% alcohol and about 168g/l of sugar! A sweet, sticky thing, I had tasted it in April and it had searingly pure Selosse character. Here, it had been marked by more aging and some oak and had taken on walnut notes and confited fruit. Curious; and a one-off experiment for him, whence its name, which means "Once Upon a Time."
For this tasting, unusually, we were in a bright room up top in the chai, which he decided to use because we were freezing and it was heatable, but which scribbled notes on the wall showed hadn't been used in a while - they were all dated 2004, 2005. I asked why, and he said that he'd just stopped using it. Well, at least I found a marker that still worked.
Though I forgot to date it.
Never enough bubbles, not ever!
Of late, my Champagne Tracker has been exploding like a carelessly opened bottle of the stuff. This is, of course, a very good thing indeed.
This weekend was Le Grand Tasting in Paris, and with two like-minded and highly willing co-conspirators, Peter Liem and David Rayer, along with an interloper in the form of genial champagne producer Olivier Collin, we ravaged the landscape assembled at the Carrousel du Louvre in the form of winemakers from the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs and even l'Aube.
It was like cramming for a test, if one can liken drinking several bottles of champagne later with dinner to a test. (Perhaps a test of stamina.)
The treat was in the nuances. I liked to sound off the heady extra-bruts from Veuve Fourny with the angry yet fascinating 1995 extra-brut from Fleury (this vintage from that house was declined in three versions, from 3.5g/l to 14g/l (the brut was, unfortunately, slightly corked, so muted) and then a whopping yet amazingly elegant 52g/l for the doux). I dipped into exciting new finds, such as Roger Coulon and J.-L. Vergnon, was disappointed by a large house or two, and found reassurance in the latest brut from Jacquesson, 733.
What did I come away with?
Thirst, and a renewed appreciation for delicately handled, very low dosage.
Now, I left my heart somewhere on the Côte des Blancs sometime back, and luckily, I'm going to be able to go back and look for it, because tomorrow, I am heading to Avize.
First a stop in with aforementioned Olivier Collin of champagne Ulysse Collin, and then on to Selosse.
And maybe I'll write about it, this time.
This happened on the other side of the Atlantic. I was in New York, and the night was cold and windy, very dark. It was last Monday, November 10. Forty-second street went stretching along, until a small set of stone stairs rose to some other street on another level of the world. This was where I was going: Tudor City. Needless to say, I had not been there before.
Inside the restaurant Convivio, my destination, the whipping wind was nowhere present, and all was warm and as though slightly blurred at the edges. A round booth coddled the three of us who were seated at the table. There was a hum to the warmth, sounds of pleasant murmur and soft silverware, smells of sausage and pasta.
And what better figure to enter the field of fairytale vision than a tall, smartly dressed and keen-eyed sommelier. Levi Dalton would whisk us (well, not too rapidly) through a series of wines, from bubbly to white to red, that I had never had nor, indeed, even heard of before.
Most memorable. Most shocking, a dish of gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin, and the wine I sipped by its side, so impossible, so impossibly lovely.
2007 Fontaleoni "Notte di luna" Vernaccia di San Gimignano - This white wine comes across on the nose with a robust nut-shell and dusky flower scent, and on the palate is flooring. How to unravel the things going on here? Such depth and complexity, a bit of oakishness and supple body not unlike a white Burgundy; it seems to do a pirouette, then to wrap and unwrap itself and spool out more, fresh tastes.
As the evening wore on, we came back to this with the cheese, and it had become even more fleshily wonderful.
An extraordinary surprise to the start of a week of the unheralded in New York.
Two nights ago, David brought a few special treats over in a wine bag. We were gearing up to treat friends from abroad (read: the USA - how exotic!) to Burgundy and some food. Things got screwed up on the food front - I have never dragged anyone, beloved or reviled, through such a shambles of a home-cooked meal - but the wines were delicious.
This one stood out. It's the oldest champagne I've had to date! And reminds me, with its ungainly bottle and weathered label, of the image in Rabelais of Socrates as a silène. Or, put more prosaically: good things can come in unexpected packages.
1971 Lanson Label Rouge. How the details of vintage, &c., were known to David escapes me, but I'll believe him. He knew what he was talking about, in any case. We poured this champagne, after I had tasted a drop and nodded with a bit of a gleam in my eye (oh yes, it was good). It was still-looking - nary a bubble in the glass - and of a deep ocher color. Yet the nose was exuberant, and as it turns out, the champagne was racy and alive on the tongue with bubbles, and it had a heady, slightly oxidative, mature note. A straight backbone and nutty and biscuity savors had me ignoring the tide of conversation around me, like some autistic Champagne Whisperer.
Until there was no more, alas.
This weekend, glass in hand, I got to explore my deep and abiding love for Burgundy. Not only was there the legendary annual Burgundy tasting at Caves Augé, but there were other bottles of the Côte d'Or's fine chardonnays and pinot noirs hiding, it seemed, behind every corner (all right, every bar and wine rack).
To make an exhaustive list would exhaust me and certainly frighten you, gentle reader, as to my liver. So let's just say that what seems interesting to me at the tail end of the marathon is the principle of less-is-more applied to Burgundy.
I've always applied this to "little" wines like Cahors or Corbières - the high-end stuff is invariably overoaked, overextracted, etc. But Burgundy? Well, where more up can you go than a Lafon Meursault Perrières? Now, I'll tell you: a Chassorney Saint-Romain.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not purporting that the little crus will amass and destroy the grand ones. Last night (I'll say this all offhand, like) we drank a 2000 Rousseau Ruchottes-Chambertin that left one just askew with longing. But what is key, here as elsewhere, is balance, simplicity, what the French call évidence.
And I have found that a few times in the past days, in curious new places.
I was walking toward the Seine yesterday under blue autumn skies, and as I headed down a narrow street with a 17th century convent on it, I noticed a bistro with a big white banner across the window: "LA BERNACHE EST ARRIVÉE." Ah! 'Tis the season of the sweet, yeasty pink fizz. The sign's peppy excitement made me smile (and made me realize, too, that it's time to get back up to the excellent L'Estaminet du Marché, a table d'hôtes in the 3rd arrondissement where they pour and sell bernache at this time of year).
On the face of it, bernache shouldn't be my kind of drink. It's carbonic, muddled, funky, and especially, pretty darn sugary. Bernache is, in the Loire Valley, Sologne and Berry, the not-yet-wine that gets bottled for timely consumption while the yeasts are still at work. It's weirdly tasty. And it has to be bottled with a rubber stopper with a hole, lest the bottle explode.
What I like about bernache is that it is the embottlement of the fleeting joys of wine, its seasonality; like a liter full of harvest festivities. You can sling a couple into a cloth sack and head out for a picnic near a lake.
Disappointingly, I won't be able to pour any, lakeside, this fall. But I like the nifty little reminder of nature and impermanence.
After vying for the worst pun in a blog title, I will now move on to the worst blog photography. In fact, this one, snapped last night early in the evening (you wouldn't know it, would you?), can stand as a marker for the unbridled excesses to come.
One thing I am proud of is - at last! - having broken out of the "hipster" wine mode. All my recent posts have been about Amphibolite this and Puzelat that. Well, yesterday we shifted into the stately realm of classic wines.
A first toe-dip into the evening was NV Agrapart "7 Crus" - a favorite of mine for its offhand elegance; this was no exception. It was a very pretty wine. And before you go clamoring that it's biodynamic and all that, see here: it has 10 g/l of dosage! Look, ma, no Extra-Brut!
After we sat down at the table (table and home being that of the most gracious hosts in our neighborhood, or many a neighborhood, Guy and Anne) and espied foie gras with onion and juniper compote on the small white, green-rimmed plates, it was a bottle of 2006 François Villard Condrieu "De Poncins" that was poured into our glasses. As, curiously, I was playing ringleader for the dinner, Guy had allowed me to tip the scales for a wine with the foie gras. Now, he had some Sauternes, but as I don't like sweet wines, I thought this would be interesting and probably floral enough to pair well with the fatty liver. It did; it was a very lush, very floral wine that impressed me with its balance. Viognier is tough to rein in, but this was both opulent and completely mastered. Nice.
With the New England-style palourde chowder it was time to move on to a white Burgundy, and I had brought a bottle of that 2002 Mestre Santenay 1er Cru "Passe-Temps" described two posts back. I opened it and poured a dash in the glass: TCA city. Corked wretchedly. Back to Guy's kitchen and pour it down the drain, then have a quick, minor pow-wow, as no other whites seemed presentable other than, as it turns out, a curious Muscadet he had in the fridge.
The 2006 Louis Métairau Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine "Grand Mouton" came in a small black plastic bag tied with a plastic string. The bag was opened, and inside, the bottle was crusty, with faded red wax covering the cork. Apparently this producer keeps his wines under the sea. This bottle was very saline, with broken shells and sea wind. It was a little light for the cream-based chowder, but it was quite an interesting drink.
With the cheese platter, involving some Tomme de Chèvre, Pérail, Camembert, Langres and 2006 vintage Swiss Gruyère, we opened a 2002 Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes. Like a little homecoming; sometimes Alliet just blows me away with the precision of his wines*; he takes Chinon up a notch while remaining absolutely true to the tastes and tangs that make it Chinon. Like a dream of Chinon, like Platonic Chinon. This was still young but was drinking well and was flawless.
And as we wound into a blackberry crumble tart, out came more bubbles: 2000 Ruinart. I am helpless against the fizz, and I drank a lot of it. Which may explain my inability to tell you the least thing about it. But it must've been OK.
And it clearly wasn't a hipster wine.
*Except excessive oak in some Coteau de Noiré, but I have been told that he is backing off it, so I may give those another taste.