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Veering into Bordeaux

Date: Mon, Aug 4, 2008 Wine Tasting

I've made a radical decision. Yes: I am going to drink Bordeaux.

Thursday, a bunch of friends are coming over, and we're going to open some bottles, share some cheese and other victuals. But the theme, if any, has yet to be defined. We met up two weeks ago at Lavinia and sounded a couple of Champagnes off each other (tasty NV Ulysse Collin Extra-Brut and 2000 Pierre Gimonnet Oenophile Extra-Brut), follwed by two red Burgundies.

These friends are wine-curious but fairly new to the game of grape varieties or blends, regions, appellations, and crus. "I know Bordeaux, in general," Sara said.

And, well, that's about all I can say for myself, other than a few catch-phrases. Paulliac pencil lead! Cedar, cigar box, tobacco, who knows what else? My hands-on (palate-on) knowledge is slim. So, I have to strike forth. Let's see what's really going on here.

Because, after all, it's summertime. Life can loosen its collar. It's warm, not hot. Why not head up the Gironde? Sip some Left Bank on the Left Bank?

And that way, I won't be the only person who's had more Pinot d'Aunis than Cabernet Sauvignon in the past year.

P.S. Suggestions welcome...

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Pesto & ... ?

Date: Mon, Jul 28, 2008 Wine Tasting

It's hot out, now. At last! Paris is balmy, perfect for biking off to a park and lying splayed on the grass with a book and a bunch of newspapers.

Coming home, I walk through the entrance to my building and the concierge's apartment is there to the right. The concierge and family being Portuguese, there are often delicious, garlicky scents wafting through the metal grate that covers their door. (Along with the sounds of the bandeleon her husband plays, some evenings.)

Sizzling bell peppers, or the sharp smell of frying sardines make me want to cook up flavors of the south, too.

So the other day, I bought a big bunch of basil.

Pesto is god's gift to... well, the pleasures of the palate and stomach. Pasta with good pesto is just plain hedonism.

But what on earth do you drink with it?

I made a big batch so that we could have it more than once (varying the pasta cut and shape to "update" it with a "riff" - or something like that). The first time, we went for a robust, garrigue-y southern French red.

Nah. It did nothing against the pine nuts and pecorino romano.

So, the second time, I pulled out an odd bird. We'd biked down to the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood in the 13th a couple of weekends ago and stopped in at a wine store, where the engaging young caviste offered us a taste of a white from the small Languedoc appellation Saint-Georges d'Orcques.

Of course, afterward, the poor bottles we bought had to go rattling along in the bike basket as we rode over cobblestones, up hills and through traffic circles. But they made it home more or less intact.

2007 Domaine de la Prose Coteaux du Languedoc Saint-Georges d'Orcques "Cadières" - this is about half Vermentino, with a bit of Roussane and Viognier to round it out. I like what those other grapes do to smooth and flesh out the spiky, lean Vermentino grape. The wine is simple yet exact, refreshing yet hostile on the attack, like someone you're unsure will be your friend or your enemy. Like someone from the south of France who has his own sense of conviviality and also of curtness. I like this wine. It's friendlier than Corsican Vermentino, by a hair. And it goes well with pesto.

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Not rosé. Rosé.

Date: Sun, Jul 20, 2008 Wine Tasting

Believe it or not, the bottle in this picture is clear.

This is Gérard Eyraud's rosé. To ward off any wild nay-sayers, he simply labels it with the question one might reasonably spout: "That's rosé?"

We were in Nîmes a few days ago, and one obligatory destination was to taste his wines. So we headed out of the city in the heat to the Domaine de Rapatel. What followed was a protracted afternoon of discussion, tasting, and generally fascinating discovery.

This producer of Costières de Nîmes is atypical, to say the least. The first time I met him, I said, "I've had one of your wines... It must have been the 2004." He laughed and said, "Then it wasn't my wine."

It turns out, he only made Costières de Nîmes in 2000, and not again until 2005. All the rest gets bottled as Vin de Pays du Gard. Ah ha.

But as idiosyncratic as he is, Eyraud makes remarkable wines. Before a marathon vat-tasting session, with numerous exciting surprises, including a heartbreaking 2006 Grenache I wish he would bottle alone (but he prefers the alchemy of assemblage), we tasted a bottled 2004 Domaine de Rapatel "Petite Signature" white, a 2005 Domaine de Rapatel Costières de Nîmes "Grande Signature" white and then a series of reds (a superb 2006 Domaine de Rapatel Vin de Pays du Gard and the legendary 2005 Domaine de Rapatel Costières de Nîmes, as well as the 1997 Domaine de Rapatel Costières de Nîmes, which was expressively aged, with some autumn leaves and tobacco and lots of dark fruit). But the intermezzo was memorable.

He asked me, "What do you think of rosé?"

I shrugged. (Here I'll admit: rosé can be fine drinking, but great wine? Ha.) I said, "I like robust rosés, ones that have character. I can't stand the sugary, girly Cabernet d'Anjou, for example."

He smiled, nodded. "You're going to buy me out, then."

After heading to a different part of the chai, he came back with a bottle and started opening it. He poured some in our glasses.

Red, the color of Gamay de Touraine or Pinot Noir d'Alsace. Dark. I smelled it, swirled and smelled again. Exuberant raspberry and violet and blackberry notes, incredibly expressive.

I sipped it as he poured the rest of the bottle into a decanter, swirling vigorously. "It has a bit of carbon dioxide in it still."

Yes, the drink was carbonic, but lord, it was tasty. Fleshy and ripe, with red and black fruits, a well-constructed structure: I loved this.

After a few minutes of swirling, all the bubbles subsided on the sea-foam that had formed as he agitated the decanter. A still, dark wine lay there. We poured out the previous incarnation and tasted again.

A wine of a different character, now. More polished, more elegant. It lacked the wild, unclassifiable nature of its previous incarnation. Fascinating, too.

A new look at rosé, for me.

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Date: Tue, Jul 8, 2008 Wine Tasting

Sometimes it's good to come back to what draws us to wine. This week, I couldn't bring myself to post here, because I felt defeated by the ever-unfurling tidal waves of high-end wine grandstanding on a bulletin board I participate on. I had conflicting feelings of wanting only to post about cheapies (yum, that Gamay de Touraine!) or else just let it drop entirely.

I've been drinking some good wines lately, though, so it would be a shame to slip away into some bubbly netherland and never make a peep about what can be, and so often is, an alchemical experience: the sharing of fine wine, the joy and headiness of pleasure.

So, fittingly, I had a dinner at my place with a bunch of friends. The talk and laughter got so loud I had to close the window. We poured some stuff, a 1999 Pierre Moncuit Vieilles Vignes, a 2000 Ruinart, a 2004 Laroche Chablis 1er Cru "Fourneaux," a 2001 Henri Germain Meursault 1er Cru "Charmes," a 1999 Denis Thomas Vosne-Romanée.

I can still taste the roundness of the Ruinart against a caramelized shallot tart I'd prepared. And the sharp tangle of citrus and light grassy straw in the Laroche Chablis sounded off perfectly against shrimp in coconut milk.

We finished the evening with a massive lashing of cheeses, trying to coax the Vosne-Romanée out of its tight-fisted, tightly coiled slumber, and appreciating the absolute balance of the Meursault.

Then we had two warring strawberry tarts (a planning mixup, but amusing that C. brought one too), and were all drunk and merry. As it should be.

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Champagne manifesto

Date: Wed, Jun 25, 2008 Wine Tasting

I'm getting out my beret. And not the old Frenchman-with-the- baguette-under-his-arm-and-a-liter-of-red-wine-in-his-paw beret, but rather the revolutionary El Che beret – cigar and beard and firearms and all. This is my Champagne manifesto.

Listen up!

• Champagne is a wine.
• Champagne is made with craft, skill and devilish deliciousness by passionate vignerons.
• No bubbly from elsewhere comes close to its depth, precision and minerality.
• Heavily spackled big house Champagne with lashings of sugary dosage is anathema.
• Trend snobs who say there is no terroir in Champagne should be deprived of any and all of it for good.

So? What are the Champagne lover's commandments?

• Thou shalt quaff of the bubbles even outside of accepted festive moments (baby showers, weddings, New Year's eve);
• Thou shalt seek out diverse expressions of Champagne: Aÿ ≠ Mareuil! Vertus ≠ Cramant! And 2g/l ≠ 7g/l...;
• Thou shalt not be partisan, that said, of a particular grape. No whining, "I love the powerful Pinot Noir" or "I'm a Blanc de Blancs chick" (all right, I have to say 10,000 hail Dom Pés for that);
• A big Champagne house can make good wine (Henriot! Bollinger!); yet
• Big house Champagnes are not to be patronized except in extremis (Veuve Clicquot?! Mumm?! Moët, for the love of god?!) and the prices! Compare Pierre Moncuit to Canard-Duchêne and weep;
• Thou shalt seek out new and unheard-of producers. Raise a toast to Vouette et Sorbée here, please. And tell me every last underground tip...

Phew. Militantism is exhausting. I think I need something to quench my thirst...

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Stop. Do not pass palate.

Date: Tue, Jun 17, 2008 Wine Tasting

Well, there you have it. I have officially opened a bottle of wine I simply could not swallow. It happened recently. The bottle was in my cellar. I went down in the late afternoon and brought it up to the kitchen.

I cut the capsule. I put in the corkscrew and outed the cork. I smelled the wet end of the cork (why do we do this? force of habit, but it only ever tells you so much). I was planning to let the wine breathe for the two hours or so before we would pour it for dinner.

I gave a splash in a glass.

I swirled. I sniffed. Hm, pretty nice nose, there. Fruits, spice. Not bad!

And I put it in my mouth. I sucked in air and chomped a bit. I swallowed, god love you. And that sealed my fate. Suddenly, I had evolving in my mouth the most awful tastes imaginable. The wine wasn't flawed; it wasn't cooked or corked or oxidized. It was just purely disgusting to my palate.

Astonished, I left glass and bottle on the kitchen counter and repaired to my computer. I searched the Internet for reviews and remarks. And what I discovered in page after gory page was that everyone loved this foul, tangy brew. They noted some of the flavor characteristics I did - aside from one glaring awfulness, which they downplayed into something similar but less gross - yet they found the wine a delicious thing of joy!

Well, I will call this a learning experience. I will recognize limits to my broad-mindedness (I - as someone who "hates" vin jaune - having attended two Percée du Vin Jaune festivals with gusto and an oft-emptied glass).

I will pretend this is a good thing.

Or else a whole lot of people have really, really screwy taste.

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¡ Que viva Sancerre !

Date: Mon, Jun 9, 2008 Wine Tasting

Saturday morning, we set out for Sancerre in a tomato-red Smart we'd rented - which, curiously, came with Spanish license plates. It was pretty odd, and we mused about whether on driving back into Paris after the finals of the French Open we might be stoned by a throng of irate Swiss people if Roger Federer lost.

But aside from a gas station attendant outside of Gien who spoke to me in Spanish, there were no dire consequences to speak of. And the trip went perfectly. Who would have thought a Smart could hold nine cases of wine? And go 150km/h with all that in the trunk? (Yes, quick calculation: 150km/h is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90mph.)

After stopping in Briare to see the 19th century "Canal-Bridge" - which is a canal that overpasses a river, with big pompous streetlamps in all their glory - and have a bite to eat, washed down with a bottle of Coteaux du Giennois (simple, frank gamay served chilled), we took tiny country roads down to Chavignol.

Pascal Thomas greeted us at his cellar, and we set about tasting the 2007s, which were (especially the Réserve Spéciale) very aromatic for what I had imagined was a pretty feeble vintage. We talked about the different ups and downs of the vine and France's wine politics, and we tasted an interesting cuvée called "Bois Perdu" (a 2004, the last time he made that particular one, to date), which is pretty atypical, hard to define, made from old vines and partially aged in old oak barrels: a wine it'll be fun to have friends taste blind.

After our tasting - and drinking a few more glasses of Bois Perdu - with Pascal Thomas, we loaded our bottles into the back of the Smart and headed up the hillside toward Verdigny, where we had an appointment to taste with Paul Prieur.

Amusingly enough, I've been drinking Prieur's wines for almost ten years now, but despite the fact that I've been to Sancerre a good handful of times, I'd never set foot in Verdigny, which is a tiny hamlet maybe three kilometers away, and just "a flea's jump" from Chavignol.

We walked into the tasting room, and I got an immediate sense of friendliness from the easygoing, generous attitude of M. Prieur, who went to get some artisanal chèvre to go with our tasting.

So, first off, we tasted the range of his latest wines. He makes one of each color, full-stop. No parcelling, no special cuvées. Just traditional Sancerre, in rosé, white and red. And the ones we tasted - 2007s for the rosé and white, 2006 for the red - were model Sancerres. The rosé was fleshy but bone-dry; it was beautifully balanced. The white blew me away: harmonious, suave, rich but not brawny in the way of those Rafael Nadal wines, the overextracted, tiny-yield monsters you sometimes encounter these days, where you feel like the juice has been squeezed out of the only grape on a twisted, 120-year-old vine. No, this was classic, limpid and refreshing, extraordinarily classy Sancerre.

The 2006 red was, for me - ever the skeptic about red Sancerre (nb: that did get me roped into a delicious blind tasting of a 1993 red at Arnaud's parents' place, but I think I've already written about that here) - for me, usually skeptical about Sancerre reds, this Paul Prieur red was excellent. A very different expression of Pinot Noir than you would find in Burgundy (yet Sancerre practically rubs up against the western part of that region, though it's cordoned off by the Loire), it was a serious wine with good structure. It clearly will age well - and we got proof of this soon after.

Seeing our interest and enthusiasm, M. Prieur was eager to show us the cellars and taste the 2007 from barrel. Still cloudy and a little carbonic, it nonetheless was already quite straight on the attack, with good material. It will be a nice wine in a year.

Then, acrobatically climbing up on a metal cage full of older bottles, our host plucked out a bottle of red - then repeated the exploit further on for a white. We went back up to the tasting room to open them.

2004 Paul Prieur Sancerre
(white) - Hm! This was a delicious, absolutely harmonious wine. After some recent experiences with white Sancerres going a little sugary with time, tasting this one showed me that they can in fact remain light, flinty, with body but no lashings of residual sugar. Excellent.

And the surprise red: a 1996.

1996 Paul Prieur Sancerre (red) - Wow! Right from the start, it had a dark, brooding, expressive nose. On the palate, the wine was dense and complex, with a striking youthfulness and serious, well-constructed matter. Earth, cherries, stones... It was like a Burgundy from the Côte de Nuits...

And as we kept up the banter and talk, it grew later and started to rain on the flowers in M. Prieur's garden. Fortunately, there was enough room in the back of our little Spanish Smart to hold several cases of his Sancerre - which may help console me for my idol Roger Federer losing the Open... alas...

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A Visit to Paumanok (North Fork, L.I.)

Date: Tue, May 27, 2008 Wine Tasting

It's raining in Paris now, but it wasn't much in New York these past ten days. It's good to get back to the smog and traffic and the smell of fresh bread.

That said, I drank some excellent wines while on the other side of the sea, and sneaked in a visit to a vineyard, to boot. With a schedule as hectic as one might imagine after over a year remaining "on the Continent" without a return home, I couldn't go all-out among the North Fork vines; I chose carefully...

So, the sunny gods of springtime were out frolicking amid the SUVs and fruit stands of the North Fork of Long Island last Friday as Arnaud and I wended our way to Paumanok Vineyards. We drove in, parked, and were greeted in the tasting room by Charles Massoud and Kareem Massoud.

What would follow would be an exciting afternoon (and I do mean all afternoon: we closed the place) of barrel tastings, followed by a cheese and wine (and even bitter cherry alcohol) smorgasbord, not to mention the surprise appearance of a certain Brad Coelho, fellow blogger and participant on the Mark Squires board.

Charles and Kareem are not only two of the most generous people around, they are also the most affable and are sharp as a tack. And they make some pretty damn fine wines.

We started with a tasting from two 2007 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay cuvees which had just been put in their tanks and were still cloudy. Up wafted a pure Puligny nose from the second; the first was more opulent - the two will be blended together. I have to say that between the 2007 and the 2006, 2005 and 2000 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays, they do excellent things with Chardonnay at Paumanok (I say this as a Burgundy nut). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Next we tasted from barrel the 2007 Merlot, which was ripe yet balanced with good acidity and a nice tannic cut at the end. This is Long Island-style Merlot, with good heft to it. Next to it, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was not a success; it seemed thin, with a little bit of green pepper, along with white pepper, as Kareem noted, or even cabbage, Charles felt.

As an inveterate Chinon fan, I was curious to taste the Cabernet Franc. Long Island does this well. I was not disappointed. Still in two separate barrels, one of the 2007 Cabernet Francs was pure Chinon. Extremely delineated, a beautiful violet color and bursting with violets and tiny berries. I wanted to swallow this. I think Arnaud did...

The second 2007 Cabernet Franc was Saint-Emilion, much earthier, and though from younger vines, more full-bodied. I liked both. They will be blended, but I wish the two snapshots of Cabernet Franc could remain independent; they were among my favorite wines of the day.

After, we tasted different barrels (new oak, older oak) of 2007 Merlot, which made for an good comparison between what the oak imparts or doesn't. Interestingly, the old oak left the wine itself more tannic, with the tannins in the new oak paradoxically acting to soften the impression of the wine's own tannins.

Last, before leaving the cellar, we tasted the 2007 Petit Verdot. I wish this were already bottled, because I would have bought a stash. I love it. It's weird, inky purple dark and unexpected on the nose, with blueberries and sumac and clove. At first I thought it was like a cross between grenache and syrah, but it's much more sweet spicy. Great stuff. I hope they still have some the next time I'm back.

After this, we were invited over to the house for some cheese and some bottled versions of their wines. This is where the quality of the Massouds' wines became very clear. We started with a 2007 Chenin Blanc, which was a very tropical-fruit, new world rendition of that grape. As someone used to Vouvray and Savennieres, it was a sharp contrast and a floral, pretty wine. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc also gave me a head-snapping, "We're not in Sancerre anymore..." feeling. Passion-fruit, some sweetness and just a wild fantail of floral and fruit notes. 2007 Riesling and 2007 Riesling Demi-Sec were also exuberant, flamboyant wines.

A trio of Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays - the 2006, 2005 and 2000 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays - brought us back to the Old World. Though the 2005 was a little fatty, with gobs of butter, the 2006 was very Meursault-like and I found Puligny minerality in the 2000. I was surprised at how the 2000 had aged: it was young and fresh and had years to spare. These were excellent.

Next we moved on to the reds. By common assent, we were just blown away by the 2000 Merlot Grand Vintage. How did this Right Bank Bordeaux get made on Long Island? This was serious wine, seriously beautiful and without a false note. I started to think about Charles's penchant for classicism (Kareem may go off in a weird new direction, we'll have to see... ), and how compelling that can be. The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage was young-seeming, and interestingly had more heft than other Long Island cabs.

Following this, we tasted a pair of 2005's and that showed how young they were. The 2005 Petit Verdot was somewhat more stately than the wild 2007. I'm glad they're doing this bottling; it's really interesting.

Then to finish up (or so we thought), we moved on to the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Late-Harvest. Well-made sticky, similar to a Sauternes.

Brad was finishing up catching up - he had come in when we were already on the 2005 reds - and Charles went and got us a little find from Germany, a bitter cherry alcohol he served in tiny green-stemmed Alsace-shaped glasses. The bitterness of the cherries differentiated this from kirsch, and was piquant both on the nose and on the palate.

We had filled up on cheese and conversation. Kareem, who has been making the wines since 2001, is a great proponent of the use of screwcaps, and has tested his theories from New York to New Zealand and back, by way of South Africa. The 2007 whites are closed this way. He pooh-poohs the notion of problematic reduction and looks forward to bottling the age-worthy reds under screwcap. His knowledge and passion for what he's doing are exciting to engage with.

Charles sees things with a much more classic eye, and I got the sense he was the driving force behind the classicism of many of the vineyard's red bottlings - though he does admit to a current penchant for the more exuberant whites (the ones I found so "new world").

Long Island wines' fascination for me includes their very maritime Frenchness. Afterward, we walked out into the setting sun. I felt positively transported.

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Splendor in the grass

Date: Mon, May 5, 2008 Wine Tasting

It's hard not to heed the picnic's siren song on a sunny May day in Paris when it's in the 70ºs (F, that is) and the market is brimming with all the fresh fruits, charcuterie and roasting chickens you could want.

Six of us convened on the Coulée Verte, which is a deep green stripe running through the 12th arrondissement with bike paths that flow directly into the Bois de Vincennes a few kilometers away. Our bike baskets were filled to the hilt: sausage, duck pâté, partridge pâté, a roast chicken and a half, salad with corn and avocado, bread, six kinds of cheese, grapes, apples and a homemade chocolate cake with whipped cream.

We settled into the deep grass. And then Vianney and Anne-Juliette announced they are getting married! (In Beaune, with a reception where they'll be pouring Vosne-Romanée, I should add.) So they had brought a small producer's champagne to test-run and see if it would appeal to our palates for the reception. I found the NV Frédéric Massonot Cuvée de Réserve 1er Cru Brut to be well-balanced, with a judiciously light dosage; I'll enjoy drinking it in Beaune.

With the pâtés, we had some rosé that Vianney's school buddy had brought and kept mysteriously shrouded in its chilled sleeve. Nice southern French unpretentious stuff.

I'd popped the 2000 Philippe Alliet Chinon "Coteau de Noiré" early, but Arnaud was thirsty for red and it got poured about fifteen minutes later. Closed, dark and tight with surprising underbrush tastes (I had imagined it more "sun-drenched") this petered out in the mid-palate; I was expecting something a little more polished. But with air, it fleshed out and smoothed out. Not the Platonic ideal of Chinon I had been expecting, but very Chinon, which is a coup and an answer, too, to people who think Alliet deforms the model a little too much with this cuvée. Everyone else loved it, but Arnaud was cantankerously opposed. He did down quite a bit, though, just to make sure.

2006 Janin Moulin-à-Vent - we'd tasted this with the producer a few weeks ago and it had curiously paled beside the more complex and deeper Beaujolais-Villages. Here, it had come back into its own and was the picture of classically styled Moulin-à-Vent with that tasty, unmistakable gamay nose.

As we headed into the cheeses, I regretted not bringing the rest of the 1998 O. Leflaive Corton-Charlemagne I had brought home from a wine dinner the evening before. What we had to work with here was a 2005 J.-P. Mugneret Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, which is light-bodied yet upped the complexity a tiny bit from the Moulin-à-Vent and gave us a brief sprut of pleasure until everyone was wined out and we ate fruit and chocolate cake and then drank tea and lay back in the grass for an hour or two, to the sound of birds chirping and children playing down by the lake.

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Stop the press

Date: Thu, Apr 24, 2008 Wine Tasting

Just got back from a day in Avize.

Wait till I get the sparkles out of my eyes and I'll post something good...

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Springtime wines

Date: Mon, Apr 21, 2008 Wine Tasting

It is getting warmer, the skies are getting bluer, and walking around Paris has become an exuberant thing, under the big, leafy trees. It's also time to sip chilled whites and fresh Loire reds. This weekend we had a few.

With the ongoing drama of having no gas in the house (see here for gory details), cooking is lighter and touch-and-go (salads, charcuterie, with every now and then an ambitious duck breast with pan sauce or something like that); wines are supple.

We opened a 2005 Domaine de Veilloux Cheverny rouge this weekend, which was quite delectable. A couple of years ago, it had been too extracted, closed like a fist. Now, still full-bodied, it was smooth drinking, and a curious cross between Burgundy and Loire tastes. After, a 2003 Breton Bourgueil Perrières was commanding, brooding and an exceptional wine that can clearly age; not marked by the heatwave year, other than in a kind of weight, it stopped conversation a few minutes at the table. A couple of snaps in the whites gave quick pleasure at different times of day as apéritifs - a 2006 Jacques Rouzé Quincy was a burst of white flowers, and a 2005 J.-M. Boillot Bourgogne blanc was round, with citrus and cake, and even better on the second day.

We also walked along the Canal Saint-Martin and stopped in at the once populaire, now refurbished and trendy Hôtel du Nord for a glass of southern white (talking too much, did not catch the name). And as night fell, sat out on the terrace of an Italian joint and shared a bottle of young 2006 Chianti Classico.

Alas, Monday is here, and the weather has descended into drizzle. All the better, I suppose, for getting more serious, turning back to work, and giving the corkscrew a rest.

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Ancient wines to delicious excess

Date: Thu, Apr 3, 2008 Wine Tasting

This morning I woke up feeling like a rose, despite an evening of serious wine consumption (and I won't tell anyone about the half-bottle of NV Laurent-Perrier I shared with the charming wife of a friend at a hotel bar prior...)

So, we happy ancient wine aficionados of François Audouze's Académie des Vins Anciens met up at the restaurant Macéo, where Mr. Audouze himself had, some hours earlier, singlehandedly opened a lineup of wines that would be enjoyed over the course of the next few hours with dinner.

NV Besserat de Bellefon Brut (with 15 years of cellaring) - this we drank before being seated. Honey and hazelnut on the nose, it showed few bubbles; just a light frizziness. On the palate it had integrated a sweetness and become a fine, round drink.

1998 Le Brun de Neuville Blanc de Blancs - this was a first champagne served at the table; it was sharp and young with sour citrus tastes and a very quick attack on the palate.

1978 Dom Pérignon Rosé (from magnum) - an awesome nose of crushed raspberries and strawberries, and tastes of ripe strawberries on the palate, this was nonetheless quite streamlined with great finesse, and a pleasing bitterness on the finish; long, long on the palate.

1966 Calvet Meursault - expressive Meursault nose. I was worried I would find this over-the-hill, as I don't usually like (or should I say "get"?) older whites; here, though, while there was an original walnutty vin-jaune note, that blew away and the wine fleshed out into a classic Meursault; a little hollow on the mid-palate, but with a fine, round finish that came bouncing back at the end.

1949 Ph. Meunier Puligny-Montrachet - the nose on this was discreet, almost inexistent. Vigorous swirling refused to bring it out. The original impression on the palate was of a much less seductive wine than the Meursault, less immediately pleasing, but its acidity was well-balanced and it showed excellent Puligny typicity. Then, when tasted with the starter dish of marinated white fish on a little tower of quinoa, fascinating crunchy, toasty notes came forth. A wine made for quinoa, apparently!

1975 Château Montrose
- the first of the reds were poured, and I stuck my nose in this glass. Ooh. A sumptuous nose on it. Just lush and powerful. On the palate, it was powerful and silky both, with fruit and ash; I loved it. Outstanding wine.

1964 Château Brane Cantenac - cloudy purple in the glass, this had a much less "flattering" nose on it than the Montrose, but was more complex; it was fascinatingly backward yet unabashed about it. Curiously, then, its tastes were all fruit and softness. It tired in the glass before long, but it was a pleasing wine.

1955 Château Moulinet - another incredible surprise; a very dark color in the glass, it gave off aromas of dried rose petal and lilac, almost like pot-pourri; it was lush and round once tasted, with poised, offhand balance. Wonderful stuff.

1965 Château Lafite-Rothschild - lighter in color than the precedent, this had a slight, very slight whiff of cork on the nose. It was silky, complex and long, and I don't think the cork taint was present on the palate. Seamless and very long, utter finesse.

1934 Pomerol "mise de Luze" - this had a very "confited" nose of prunes; it was compact, somewhat confited and skewed a little toward acidity on the palate; it was not up to the level of the others.

1921 Château Rauzan-Ségla - somewhat cloudy in the glass, this was also "confited" on the nose, similarly to the Pomerol, but less so. And what I loved about this wine (I loved this wine) is that it was utterly "flawed" yet utterly seductive. I loved its tastes of compoted fruits; it had sweet charm.

1969 Louis Latour Corton "Clos de la Vigne"
- Hm! As someone who loves Burgundy, I went weak in the knees when I smelled this, as though finding in its aromas of pinot noir and soil the memory of pleasures past and to come. And tasted, it did not disappoint; it was lacy, long, complex, brilliant. My favorite red.

1964 Clos de Tart
- smelled after the Corton but before tasting either, this gave off a nose of mint and menthol; on the palate, it had tastes of moss and dark fruit; it wasn't as sensual as the Corton, but it had aged well, showed no signs of tiring, and was a powerful Burgundy with a very distinctive style.

1953 Pommard Epeneaux (prod. unknown) - dark and brooding, this was like a punch in the nose after the heady grace of the Corton and Clos de Tart. A taste of grilled steak at the end!

1934 (?) Jaffelin Bourgogne "Grand Vin des Caves du Chapitre" - this was off; corked or compromised.

1959 Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape - a second strike in a row, this wine had seen better days. Didn't linger over it.

1959 Vega Sicilia Unico - though this still had the power of a Vega Sicilia Unico, this is the second time I have had the 1959 and it did not show as well as the previous time. A sugary, stewed side was peeking out. Enjoyable, but not grandiose.

Now, as people were starting to talk a little louder and walk around a little more, we moved on to the dessert wines (and my notes grew more sparse):

1957 Truilhé Langoiran moelleux - this is either from the appellation Cadillac or Premières Côtes de Bordeaux; it had a petrolly nose to it; I moved on quickly.

1962 Château Sigalas Rabaud - classic, elegant Sauternes. As the French would say, "Rien à redire" - i.e. it gives you just what you want from it.

1934 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives SGN
- when I taste old sweet Alsace wines, I am always shocked by their supernatural ability to age. This was, though it did have a bit of petrol on the nose, incredibly young. It is also the lucky winner of a tasting note I can no longer read: "slight apisanchare"?!

1969 Château Suduiraut - another stunner of a Sauternes. I only got a taste of this from someone else's glass, but it was lovely.

1932 Rivesaltes ambré Cuvée Prémisses - dark, dark toffee color; amazingly light fare in the mouth (I don't know why I always have the image of Rivesaltes as heavy; they are closer to port in alcohol level, no?); it was delicate, with an amusing maple syrup finish. I liked it a lot.

1937 Domaine du Pin Premières Côtes de Bordeaux moelleux - another great surprise from an unprestigious appellation, this was refreshing and had aged perfectly. It was also as dark as toffee, but it was light and nicely balanced. I drank more of it than I should have.

At least, afterward, I was able to locate my coat in the cloakroom and had the good fortune of having put my umbrella in my pocket, so was able to bid François Audouze and the other revelers good night and head out into the rain with a light if somewhat imprecise step...

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Around the Hexagon

Date: Sat, Mar 29, 2008 Wine Tasting

Yesterday I met up with Neil at 1pm. We had a serious agenda, but unfortunately, I had grabbed a quick bistro lunch with Arnaud just before and ordered dessert - a Paris-Brest, which is a puff pastry filled with hazelnut buttercream - and, to my horror, and then unbridled gourmandise, the dessert was sized for a party of four with a hearty appetite.

So, it was in a sugar comatose haze that I met Neil before the Saint-Paul metro stop, next to a whirling merry-go-round.

We headed up to the Caves Bossetti to taste lineups of Chablis from William Fèvre and Côte de Beaune whites from Bouchard Père & Fils. Afterward, we would jump in the metro and go to the biggie: the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants, which is a bi-annual show in which some five hundred independent winemakers come and pour their wines, taste, discuss, and sell them.

When I got home at 7pm, my lips and teeth were a bit dark, and I was a bit sleepy. I had tasted quite a fearsome amount of wine. I will be systematic in the future, but at this early date, and before a tasting this afternoon, I will just jot down a few impressions.


2007 Amphibolite (Jo Landron) - I cannot get over the sheer exuberance of this cuvée. Landron's other Muscadets are more polished or classic (or, like the one aged in old oak - whatsit called, Fiefs du Breuil? - atypical and full-bodied), but Amphibolite is one quirky, jumpy, lively wine; its green-apple and brine are great.

2005 Breton Bourgueil Perrières - (with special mention to the splashy, crunchy 2007 Avis de Vin Fort and Nuits d'Ivresse - I am going to snap up cases of those babies) - this one was extremely elegant, smooth and not at all in the usual Breton "it's green because we like it" vein. I have hereby renewed my cultish adherence to the domain, after some doubts a year ago. Even the sparkling Vouvray - with far, far less RS this year - was delicious. And Pierre Breton remains the coolest person to talk to.

2005 Dupasquier Jacquère + Altesse + Altesse Marestel - Where has Dupasquier been all my drinking life? Back up the truck; this is Muscadet of the mountains, with a wild, incredible spicy thing going on. First taste; want much, much more.

2005 Bouscassé Madiran - Great bite, smooth then barky and hard on the finish. The starter of their lineup, this was, to my tastes, the outstanding bottle of the Montus/Bouscassé offering, though I also liked a tannat/cabernet blend, which I found quite suave.

We also tasted some more traditional fare: many Burgundies (a shock of pleasure with the Domaine Bernard Bachelet's 2005 Meursault Narvaux; bis repetita with Domaine Chevalier's white 2004 Ladoix "Bois de Gréchons," which both took the stuffing out of Bouchard's lackluster lineup.)

I was left with a couple of questions: why do people like William Fèvre's Chablis? I have never gotten any pleasure from them. And how come not more people enjoy Irancy - especially with a 5% slug of César grapes? (Much enjoyed a 2005 Ferrari Irancy "Paradis"; yes, aptly named.)

I also confirmed my opinion that old oak on Champagne is good.

All right, off to taste some cru Beaujolais.

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Pop! And, crash...

Date: Sun, Mar 23, 2008 Wine Tasting

Friday night, we had a lot of wine, preceded by a lot of champagne. A bottle of NV Raymond Boulard Tradition Brut Nature opened the door for our debauchery: steely pinot excellence. Next up was the old standby I am always glad to repop, NV Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru "Moncuit-Delos." Then we went through a bottle of NV Charles Cazanove, which I found too common and indifferently dosaged.

*Cue sinister music*

I had put my favorite to chill in the freezer, because Sara was going to be late and we were running out of everything bubbles.

NV Fallet-Prévostat Extra-Brut. Now that, which I had first tasted last week, is one heady, vinous blanc de blancs from Avize. I was dying to taste it again.

This morning, of course, two days later I found it. (See picture, above.)

On a more positive note, I got to test run the Zaltos, which were thin enough to be like a blade against one's lip and gave an incredibly expressive and sharp take on the champagne in the glass.

But it's hard to judge calmly with so much banter and commotion (not that I have anything against friends and revelry... au contraire). So my new party line (Arnaud, take note) is that I need to try another bottle of champagne in the very near future, just to confirm and hone my first impressions.

And not be such a dolt with the chilling method.

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