Thursday, October 29, 2009

And a Bordeaux Dinner!

Tuesday morning, I received a call from Randy at the office asking if I could help at a Bordeaux Dinner Wednesday night at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. This question came as quite a surprise. I was not even aware of the event. But I wasn't too surprised to decline. The dinner was with a small group of customers honoring the proprietors of two estates that have become cornerstones of Sigel's Bordeaux portfolio, Alfred Tesseron of Chateau Pontet-Canet from Pauillac and Alexandre and Francois Thienpoint of Vieux Chateau Certan and Wings from Pomerol.

The evening began with Krug Champagne and passed Hors d'Oeuvres. The Krug was delicious as always with delicate hazelnuts infused with citrus and lemon oils leading to a long finish of lightly toasted brioche and honey. 

Crusted Monkfish in Lobster Minestrone was the first course. It was paired with Chateau les Carmes Godard Blanc 2007 from Cotes de Franc, owned by the Thienpoints and located near Chateau Puygueraud. The rich tomato broth was complemented by the wine, which gets its richness from its unusual blend 75% Semillon, 25% Sauvignon Gris, and 10% Muscadelle.

Then the dinner took a serious turn as attention was turned to the red wines. Each course was paired with a wine from each estate and the wines were progressively older with each course. As we delved into the recent history of these two legendary estates, the dramatic theme of the evening emerged. Both of the estates had in the past enjoyed excellent reputations but had fallen into periods of relative decline. Both estates have now been taken over and driven to new heights of excellence by their current owners.

Mr. Tesseron and Mr. Thienpoint both spoke to the passions necessary to drive the course to quality. In the words of Mr. Tesseron, "The soil is our gift, our job is to learn to understand it." To that end he is moving from tractors to horses. His expectation is that the vines will live longer in the looser soils. "Horses stop when they are about to damage the vine-tree, tractors do not." The older vines should produce more intense fruit yielding more intense wines. Although it is hard to imagine his wines becoming more intense. 

Roasted Squab on Butternut Squash Risotto was paired with the younger reds. The 2004 Pontet-Canet showed aromas of vibrant black fruit and a initial bright juiciness on the palate followed by waves of dark fruits and fine, gripping tannins on the finish. The wine is quite young and the mid-palate will gain weight as the wine matures. The 2001 Vieux-Chateau-Certan was dark, rich and spicy with layers of red and black berries and plums leading to depths of licorice, chocolate and espresso. Both vintages presented challenges and both were adjacent to vintages considered classic, but both wines were delicious and were well paired with the food.

Petite Filet with Roasted Porcini Mushroom on Parsnip Puree.  The complex flavors of the tender beef, earthy mushroom and creamy parsnips were paired with wines from the classic 2000 vintage. Quick floral notes surrounded the deep cassis aromas of the Pontet-Canet. Massive black fruits integrated seamlessly into a sea of melted tannins. The Vieux-Chateau-Certan moved straight into pools of deep velvety black fruits of unperceived depths with very dark undercurrents. Both wines were spectacular and both spoke of their individual and common origins. Pontet Canet was definitely Pauillac, Vieux-Certan was definitely Pomerol. Both were definitely Bordeaux.

A spectacular trio of cheeses: 5 yr Gouda, Perail de Brebis, Delice de Bourgone were accompanied by the older wines. The Pontet-Canet was from 1994. Though considered an off year, 1994 was the first year Mr. Tesseron began to operate the estate with his aggressive dedication to quality.  The dark wine showed no sign of age in the color. The fruit was beginning to recede from primary to dried fruits but any subtlety was lost in the intense, dark brooding flavors. I thought the wine was magnificent. 1998 was a banner year for the Right Bank and the Vieux-Certan verified the acclaim for the vintage as the wine took us deep into spectacular velvet pools of infinitely dark fruits.

Dessert was a deconstructed Tarte Tatin with a delicious Barsac, Chateau Coutet 1996 and it was almost a disaster from my end. For the first time at one of these affairs, I was given the job of opening the wines unsupervised during the meal. The corks were moist and tender and one totally crumbled. I managed to extract the very bottom of the cork intact averting total disaster, though there were a few floaties, which I was able to fish out. I do mean to tell, I was sweating!

Before their involvement in Bordeaux, the Tesseron family has long been in the Cognac business and have tremendous reserves of old stocks. Tonight he served the Lot 53, which was silky and smooth with more chocolate, praline, caramel and dried fruit flavors and aromatics than I could count. What a treat.

It's difficult to write about the last toasts of the evening. John turned the floor over to Dr. Goran Klintmalm, who started the Baylor Organ Transplant Program 25 years ago. He spoke softly and eloquently of the 'double blessing' made possible by organ transplants. He finished by turning and offering me a toast on the first anniversary of my transplant. I was totally overwhelmed. And he is right. Organ donation and transplantation is a gift of life and I have been doubly blessed to be a recipient. The knowledge and awareness of this gift grows deeper with every passing day.

BT #3 - Post Mortem

BT #3
Oct 27

Once again the group gathered for an afternoon of double blind tasting. After a month of rain with only one or two sunny days, Bacchus smiled and granted us a glorious afternoon. We met again at Urbino Pizza e Pasta on Henderson and enjoyed their terrific cheese and salimi boards, flatbreads and pizzas. The front wall of the restaurant opened to the afternoon, so we were virtually sitting outside. Many thanks to the Urbino staff for their gracious hospitality. Enough about that, on to the wines! 

#1  Though it started in brown paper, the clear bottle and delicious bubbles quickly betrayed the 1999 Louis Roederer Cristal. The bursting bubbles released aromas of rich   yeast surrounding the essence of any citrus oil you would care to name, with delicious notes of honey toasted brioche lingering on the long effervescent finish. Nice start!

#2  This dark black/ruby wine offered aromas of deep dark fruit buried in earthy flavors of mocha and espresso. Definitely Old World in flavor, the wine showed New World richness and texture. It was quickly identified as Malbec and after further discussion as the black wine of Cahors. Chateau Coutale, 2007. It was noted that the local name for Malbec in Cahors is Cot.

#3  Another wine is betrayed by its packaging. The aromatic red fruit and the red waxy capsule left no mistake, this was a Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir. All that was left was to identify the vintage and the vineyard. The lack of pure intensity led some to think it was 2006, but it was 2007. The sappy aromatics and minerality led to guesses of Clos Pepe and the Santa Rita Hills blend, but it turned out to be the high scoring 2007 Cargasacchi.

#4  Whoa! This wine was huge, rich and powerful! It was still close to cellar temperature and the aromas were reticent, but the wine didn't last long enough to warm up. Complex and elegant, with dark smoky black fruit, distinct minerality and a rich velvety finish with a lingering grip of tannin, the wine prompted initial flirtations with Super-Tuscans and Bolgheri, but these notions were quickly quashed. It was finally revealed as an Argentine Malbec, Archaval Ferrar Finca Altamira la Consulta, 2006.

#5  Darkly transparent, the deep ruby wine was beautifully silky and floral with rich red fruits and licorice. Almost Pinot-like, its Southern Rhone origin was betrayed by subtle smoky notes of garrique. The first guess was Vacqueras and the total lack of rusticity precluded Gigondas. The bag was removed... 2005 La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape.

#6  Big rich flavors of classic Pinot Noir jumped out of the glass. The combination of wild cherries and dark black fruits on the rich velvety texture spoke compellingly of the New World. En Route 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir from Far Niente made an auspicous debut! Limited availability.

#7  As the first glass of this beast was poured from the glass, it was immediately pegged as Petite Sirah! Powerful and dark, the wine showed copious black fruits with limestone, mint, pine, rhubarb and a myriad of other flavors buried in the dense finely integrated tannins. Sirius Petite Sirah 2006 from the iconoclastic winemaker Sean Thackrey. Powerful stuff!

#8  This wine stumped the chumps! Black and blue fruits were followed by complex spices and a citrusy finish. Not only that, it had a shiney glass cork! I don't think anyone identified this Austrian blend of zweigelt and blaufrankisch. Heinrich Red, 2005.

#9  Immediate impression of this elegant refined wine: Aged Bordeaux! The tells were the slight hints of brick on the rim and the cedary notes of dried fruits. 1995-96 was the consensus on age, the problem was nailing down the appellation. The cedar and tannin pointed to the Left Bank, the dried tobacco and cigar pointed to Cabernet Franc and the Right. 1995 Chateau Moulin St. George, Saint Emilion, owned by Alain Vauthiers, co-proprietor of Ausone. The wine has an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Franc.

#10  Another wine that threw the group for a loop. The rich red/black fruits with the herbaceous mid-palate and toasty finish had everyone on their chairs screaming Napa Cab. But I know I overlooked the spicy acidity and leathery notes in the delicous structured finish. Hello! A big slug of Napa Sangiovese blended with bits of Cab, Syrah, Petite Sirah and even Viognier sure made everyone crazy happy! Pazzo by Bacio Divino.

#11  Beautiful aromas of cassis, vanilla and refined fruit led to a complex blend of primary red and black fruits with delicate aromatics of dried cranberries filling in the empty spaces. A wine this refined with beautifully integrated structure has to be Bordeaux, though at this point in the afternoon, specificity was getting difficult. 2001 Quinalt L'Enclos, Saint Emilion.

#12  Dark purple color and strong notes of rich cassis and black fruits betrayed the youth of yet another Bordeaux. Beautifully balanced and silky, yet powerful in its youth, this wine is drinking great today! Chateau Coutet, Saint Emilion 2005.

#13  Wow! #13 jumps out of the gate and it looks like... NO! It can't be... but it is! Another Bordeaux. Yessss! Bright black fruits intermingle with red fruits amid notes of licorice, cedar and toasty oak on the long integrated finish. Very ripe fruit with sweet tannins. Marojallia 2003, Margaux. This small garage operation is managed by Jean-Luc Thunevin. Production is usually less than 500 cases.

#14  Definitely brick in color, the 1995 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape showed floral notes with abstracted dried cherries and cranberries over the lengthy herbal and earthy finish.

#15  Vanilla, flowers and jammy black fruits lead to speculation that the wine is an Aussie Shiraz. But the fruit is not quite jammy enough and the pepper is more white than black. The wine was correctly identified as a Washington State Syrah. Doyenne Syrah 2006 from deLille. (delicious!)

#16  Andrew Will Sorella 2006. Damn! How did I miss this? By the time I saw the bottle it was empty.

#17  The last wine was not tasted blind, (well the wine wasn't blind.) Antinori Muffato Della Sala, 2000. A blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc with Grechetto, Traminer and Riesling. Botrytis gives the wine its characteristic honeyed sweetness, it has delicious complexity with dried fruits and candied fruit peel dancing on the long finish. There is enought vibrant acidity to keep the wine alive and fresh on the palate. A wonderful close to a long, wonderful day!

THANKS to all for their valuable contributions to making these special days special and THANKS to Scott for pulling it all together!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Morning Tasting With Joe Briggs

We met and tasted with Joe Briggs, owner and winemaker of August Briggs Winery. Some of the wines we tasted were discussed on postings a couple of months ago. What was great about this meetings was just the conversation that took place with Joe. He's a very laid back and upfront guy. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his relationships with his growers. The most successful and those built on handshakes and mutual respect. In good times his growers don't demand price increases, in hard times he doesn't demand price decreases. Vines take time to grow. Wines take time to mature. Time slows down and the world shrinks. As Joe says, Napa is really a very small community of growers and winemakers. Word gets around. The fact that he places an emphasis on hand delivering payments for grapes rather than just dropping a check in the mail says volumes about his style.

We tasted the new release of Petite Meunier which is grown adjacent to the winery in the Frediani vineyard. He makes it in the manner of its cousin, Pinot Noir, but the wine is dark musty cherries with a spicy finish. It shows its warm Calistoga heritage, but is unique and delicious.

He sources Pinot Noir from a grower that is in the overlap of the Sonoma Coast appellation and the Russian River Valley. In special years Joe bottles the wine as Sonoma Coast. In other years it is blended with the Russian River appellation. 2007 was special. The initial impression of sappy wild cherry fruit leads into a dark earthy finish. Like a Gevrey Chambertin morphing into a Nuits St. Georges. Very nice!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Dinner With a Good Rhone

A couple of weeks ago, we received a new label from one our most reliable producers in the Southern Rhone, Fayard from Domaine Fondreche. Located in the Cotes du Ventoux, Fondreche has long been regarded one of the premier producers in the appellation. The young winemaker Sebastien Vincenti is a protege of Andre Brunel of Chateauneuf du Pape fame. Sebastien takes a firm hand in the vineyard where his production typically cames in at half the yields allowed in the appellation, making his wines intensely flavored with rich texture and deep concentration. The blend is pure Southern Rhone, 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah (the high percentage gives the wine its rich body) with the balance Carignan and Mourvedre. Fermentation takes three weeks and the wines stay on the lees for 9 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. The photo shows the old Grenache vines with Mount Ventoux in the background. I remember the house from a watercolor painting on the labels Fondreche bottlings several years ago.

Anyway, to shorten the story I rubbed a porterhouse with a mixture of red chili led by some spicy Chimayo from New Mexico, threw it on the grill, fried some potatos with onions, red pepper in some bacon grease and served it all with a tomato-onion and lettuce dressed with balsamic vinagraitte. Tasted pretty good!

The dark silky smooth wine pulled all the flavors together but still let them stand on their own. The body in the wine comes purely from the dense complexity of the blended grapes. Typical Southern Rhone two-step: rich red and black cherry from the Grenache up front, a touch of funk and complexity from the Carignan and Mouvedre with a little spice from the Syrah, but not enough to clash with the chili.

 In sum: a great wine from a great producer in a great vintage and a great value!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Slow Couple of Weeks on the Wine Front.... and a Couple of Beers

In case anyone was wondering, it's been a slow couple of weeks on the wine tasting front. Business is starting to pick up. Fall is series of big wine sales, new releases which means new product to bring in and work into the shelves. Many customers don't believe it, but we do try to keep a semblance of order to the wine racks.

Meanwhile, it's been a busy couple of weeks on the 'life' front. If you're interested, check out my other blog, Surviving PKD. Nicholas Kristof wrote a column in the New York Times a couple of Sunday's ago on my sons dilemma about whether to be tested for PKD to become a kidney donor when my kidney failed several years ago. Being diagnosed with the disease can severely limit insurability under current policies. The column received national attention and the reaction dominated our lives for the next week.

Then my son and a friend came to town to see the State Fair of Texas and Matt wanted to see some of Texas. So last Friday we hit the road. We circled the Denton County courthouse and headed west to Jacksboro. We saw the terrain change from the rolling horse country of North Texas to northern outcroppings of the hill county to the beginnings of West Texas. 

In Jacksboro, Herd Burgers has been serving customers since 1916. Follow the link for a discussion of their unique burgers. Heading down the infamous Jacksboro Highway, we circled the Tarrant County courthouse and headed to Dallas where we drove past the Dallas County courthouse while tracing the Assassination Route. We drove past the Schoolbook Depository and accelerated past the grassy knoll and north on Stemmons.

We arrived in North Dallas an hour early and there was really nothing to do but head to the Flying Saucer for a couple of beers. We all had draft, Matt had a Real Ale, Travis had a St. Arnold's cask, I ordered Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA, whereupon the waitress asked if we wanted to wait until 5 when they would be tapping a keg of Dogfish 120. Since it was already 4:30....

The thing that Dogfish does is continual hopping. For the 90 Minute Ale, a variety of hops are added slowly over the 90 minute cooking time. More hops are added over the next month as the beer ages. The result is a high alcohol beer with a tremendous level of IBU's. 'International Bitterness Units.' The trick is that so many flavors:  citrus, red and black fruit, herbs and spices too numerous and complex to identify, are pulled out of the hops that the alcohol and the bitterness become the structural elements that carry the flavors.

What does this process have to do with wine? We have just received the phemonal 2007 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Santa Rita Hills region in the Central Coast of California. The cool, foggy afternoons, nights and mornings allow the grapes to develop intense acid levels. The warm noon hours and the extremely long growing season (there are no fall rains forcing early harvests) produce massive flavors and massive sugars which produce high alcohol wines. So when the massive flavors are balanced by the acids and structural elements of the wine, it is balanced and luscious with tremendous depths of flavor.

The same thing happens during the 120 Minute Ale, which I tasted after the 90. Do not be deceived. The progression from the 90 to the 120 is roughly akin to going from a class 3 to a class 4 Hurricane. Technically they are the same, but the effect is way, way more powerful. IBU's are off the chart, but there is no bitterness. The beer is all hoppy, fruity, creamy and sweet with random bitter notes chiming in from all directions to somehow keep the massive flavors somewhat focused. But with the 20% alcohol kicking in everything becomes blissfully muddled happiness.

And then I think we picked up my wife and went out for Mexican food. I think.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wines Only in Your Dreams

Every fall sees suppliers holding large portfolio tastings to show new releases and to spark sales as the industry moves into the busy Fall and Winter Holidays. Recently I attended Republic/National's 'Toast to the Trade' where they graciously open bottles of the legendary wines normally gazed upon by anxious eyes and read about in publications like Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate.

The first time my wife saw a copy of The Wine Advocate, she remarked that, " This is just like reading pornography!" She was absolutely correct. Reading Parker or any of his colleagues is to read about exotic, rare and expensive sensory experiences that most of us encounter only in our dreams.

Tastings like Toast to the Trade give us lowly wine guys opportunities to benchmark their palates by tasting some of those wines. From the many wines offered I've chosen just a few to reflect on here.

Two Champagnes

Taittinger Comte de Champagne 1998: Blanc de Blanc blended from several 100% Grand Cru rated vineyards, made only in the best vintages. Light notes of citrus float in the delicate foam turning to rich brioche filled with dry honeycomb lingering in the long dry minerally finish. Big, rich and delicate at the same time. Complex and delicious!

Salon 1997:  Blanc de Blanc from Salon's vineyard, Le Jardin de Salon and selected parcels from the famous Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, all 100% Grand Cru rated. Very similar to the Comte except that the flavors are richer and much more defined and precise. This would be expected as the fruit sourcing is limited to a single area. The finish has a deft touch of honey slipping down the back cleft of the tongue. Very sexy!

Four Burgundies

Raphet Pernand Vergelesses 2006:  Tight aromatics give little hint of the dark plums found in the glass. The wine shows promise, but seems a little closed today. Good producers making wine from vineyards in out of the way creases in the slopes can offer good value in Burgundy. This is one of those wines.

Raphet Pernand Vergelesses 2006:  From under the table comes a bottle of the same wine from 2002! Wow! The same dark damson plums that were shy and coy in the 2006 are strutting their stuff in this bottle. Undertones of soy make the dark fruit sparkle! The transforming miracle of bottle age is very evident.

Marc Roy Gevrey Chambertin 2006:  Classic Gevrey showing the sappy vitality of red cherries, berries and plums exploding before the wine closes in tannic darkness. Tasting this wine was just plain fun. Gevrey Chambertin has always been my favorite and it was enhanced by conversations with my son who had recently spent a Saturday wandering the vineyards of Gevrey. He lucked onto a Faiveley picking crew who shared their lunch and wine. He repaid the favor by taking shears and bucket and picking a couple rows of Premier Cru fruit! Domaine Faiveley is represented by Republic/National, but their wine was not shown today.

Domaine Com Vogue Bonnes Mares 2006:  Beautiful aromas of pungent berries and plums that can only be produced by great Pinot Noir jump from the glass. The wine has a rich texture full of ripe red and black berries and plums integrated into long dark earthy finish. The wine is very open and approachable in its youth with beautiful primary fruits bursting from the glass. However, it is ridiculously expensive!

A Big Bad Boy From a Big Bad Vintage

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005:  This is a very nice surprice because RNDC opened the 2005 at last year's Toast. A year ago the wine resembled partially liquified espresso grounds. From very, very good espresso, I might add. But I don't think I've ever tasted a less evolved wine of such massive proportions. In one year's time, the wine has shown remarkable developement. Hints of fruit are starting to emerge from the massively dark espresso flavors. It has lost some of the grittiness and almost seems light on the palate. I suspect this apparent 'lightness' is just temporary. (Even I was skinny for a brief period in my life.) This wine has years to go before the flavors and weight are fully developed.