Thursday, May 20, 2010

BT#5: Descent Into Bacchanalia...

Well, it was supposed to rain, but it didn't. Instead the sunny afternoon found the crew at Taverna, a casual Italian restaurant opened by Alberto Lombardi,  who has been at the forefront of Dallas Italian restaurants for 30 years. The long table was jam packed with a staggering array of brown bags. Nothing to do but take a deep breath and start tasting and taking notes!

1)  The first wine (NOT in the above photo...) showed aromatics of lemon zest with brisk acidity and a dry minerally finish with a slightly bitter edge. Medium bodied with tons of flavor but a modicum of fruit, the wine had to be Italian. The weight pointed to Cortese and Gavi di Gavi it was. 2008 from Marchesi de Barolo.

2)  Butterscotch and Meyer lemons with nicely integrated toast on the finish. The wine screamed California Chardonnay. John astutely picked up aging notes in the touch of darkness in the butterscotch. Brilliant acidity suggested Sta. Rita Hills. Indeed the wine was Gratis 2004 Chardonnay with fruit from the famed Seasmoke Vineyard.

3)  Layers of citrus oils and rocks inform the aromatics and flavors of the next wine. John exclaims, "Pinot Bianco" and then "or Pinot Gris or Pinot Auxerrois or Riesling or one of those Alsatian..." If only he'd stopped with his first thought. Terlano Pinot Bianco 2008 from the rocky vineyards of Alto Adige. I guess nobody reads my blog.... check it out. Tasting the Rock at the Center at the Center of the Wine.

4)  Whit introduces the next wine as just something fun they brought to stump the group. And stump us it did. Gorgeously floral and complex with both indescribable lightness and depth with a beautiful balance of acidity and minerality. Wow, I really enjoyed this wine. Turns out to be from young producers in Friuli. The main grape is Rondinella Bianca. The grape is normally red, but they found some trending to white in a corner of their Valpolicella vineyard and isolated and developed the clones. Hence the name, From Black to White, Il Bianco, 2008. From Zyme.

5)  Poached pears, apples and hints of citrus. The fruit is sweet, the texture is rich, the finish is dry. Tasting with a fuzzy brain, instead of instinct, I kept trying to fit it into the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros, but no, the wine was French and NOT Chardonnay. If anyone said Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, it went unnoticed. Les Cailloux, 2008.

6)  Finally a decanter of red wine is passed around and like a sprinter jumping from the blocks, the wine is mowed down. France, YES! Bordeaux, YES! Right Bank, YES! Pomerol, YES! 2000, YES! Vieux Chateau Certan, YES, YES, YES!!!!  The wine is, in fact, quite spectacular and pretty damned perfect in my humble opinion. 2000 Vieux Chateau Certan. Pomerol. Thanks Will, and good luck in Charleston. We'll miss you, that's for sure!

7)  One whiff and the cat's out of the bag on this wine as well. Napa Cabernet redolent with black fruit, a touch of smoke and dark chocolate, well-integrated fine grained tannins. Again, John calls for an older wine. And it was. 1996 Sullivan Estate Cabernet, in perfect condition. In a  perfect state of transition, showing both primary and secondary fruit and only 13.2%

8)  Dark purple in color, showing milk chocolate and dark black fruit with a structured smoky, toasty finish. The wine is pegged as South American, but every variety is called out except Merlot. Santa Ema 2007 Reserve Merlot.

9)  An older wine. The aromatics perplexed some tasters. What's that smell? Hmm. Barnyard or brett, brett or barnyard? You gotta know the territory. Sweet dried fruits on a silky yet grippy finish. France? Most definitely. 1995 Chateau de Fonbel, Saint-Emilion. 

10)   Wow, cherries, chocolate, chocolate covered cherries. Giuseppe yells out "Brach's!" from the other end of the table. Long, lingering finish. Definitely grenache! 2005 Olivier Hillare Chateauneuf du Pape. 

11)  MORE cherries, this time with brilliant acidity, a long leathery finish and surprising tannic grip on the finish. I'm thinking Sangiovese, but I'm told to go west. Rioja, tempranillo, time in barrel. It all adds up. Marques de Murrieta Reserva Reserva, 2005.

12)  Is my glass just stained with flavors? Am I really tasting more cherries? Yes. This time they turn dark and perfumed, rich and spicy. Pinot Noir? Yes it is! Is Pinot's long run started to fade? We've tasted 11 wines before the first Pinot Noir. The group pegs this wine. It's been at just about every one of these groups. 2007 En Route Pinot Noir.

13)  More bright red fruit. The name Hermitage is kicked around, but this didn't taste like Syrah from the Northern Rhone, not enough meat, no bacon. Just clean red fruits with dark edged minerals. But Hermitage it is. Definitely not Australia and the acid's high for California. From Betts and Scholl, 2005.

14)  "98 points Robert Parker," announces Giuseppe as he walks around the table with a decanter. Dense, dark, cloudy and opaque. Monolithic notes of licorice, violet, black and blue fruits overlay minerally asphaltics, underbrush and roasted meats with a dense structured finish. This wine didn't come within 100 feet of a filter. Glasses are stained with grit, but that doesn't compare to the sludge in the bottom of the decanter. 2001 Clos Mogador, Priorat. (Hmm. Someone needs to buy really expensive unsold wine. 98 Point Cellars. Make some real money!)

At this point, we start to become aware of the time. It's a large group and many people brought numerous wines and everyone's getting a little loud and rowdy. But we've got to be out of the restaurant before the evening crowd starts to arrive and we've still got 7 or 8 wines to go. So we pick up the pace and cut back on examination and conversation (such as it is at this point) about wines. Which is a real shame and not very fair to the people whose wines are at the end of the tasting. Wines are chose with a lot of thought and often at considerable expense and now they're not receiving reciprocal attention. Some great wines are going to be overlooked.

15)  Case in point. The next wine was opened and double decanted around noon. (Maybe a little early, as John is very disappointed at how the wine is showing. We probably should have tasted it much earlier.) Still, it's magnificent wine, the fruits are a little muted, the aromatics are dried and dusty, but the perfumes are still delicate and beautiful. But the boisterous setting does the wine no favors.  A treasure, 1994 Diamond Creek Cabernet. Volcanic Hill. 

16)  Spicy cherries, wild berries, brilliant acids, long complex finish. Gorgeous wine. Sounds like the theme of the day. Whit offers 5 bucks to anyone who gets close. Didn't matter. A hundred bucks wasn't going to get me any closer. Another wine from Alto Adige. Bressan Schioppettino, 2004 from the Bressan winery in Fruili. And yes, Schioppettino is the local name for the grape. You might know it as Ribolla Nero. I do now.

17)  Hmm. Lush black fruit, hints of eucalytus and vanilla. Rich, full-bodied, integrated tannin. Balance and integration hint at some bottle age. Napa Cab anyone? Yes, by golly! Rudd Oakville Cabernet, 2001.

18)  More big dark fruits, rich tannins and a kiss of barrique on the finish. California, NO. France, NO. Italy, YES. Super-Tuscan, YES. About as far as anyone gets. Will calls out Montpulciano and yes, it's Montepulciano, with Sangiovese, Marselan, and Alicante. Eneo, 2006 from Montepeloso.

19)  Wow, another older Cabernet. Need more time for this wine as well. Structure is a little atypical for Napa, but it's a beautiful, well aged wine from a great producer in a much maligned vintage. 1998 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon.

20 & 21)  A couple of 2006 Barbera's from Marchesi di Barolo, Ruvei 2006 and Maraia 2006. By this time, we were paying checks and people were starting to leave. No notes were taken.

So, 14 people, 21 bottles of wine. Not many empties. There's some left in a bottle I brought, but I put a pour restrictor on the bottle, which made the pours a little stingier.

These tastings started with a group that wanted to taste wines blind and try to reason through the wines as an interactive group. That requires a little self-discipline. Every glass, every bottle does not have to be consumed. There is nothing wrong with spitting or dumping (even the staggering high quality wines people have generously brought to share.) It's always fun to be able to go back and retaste favorites. OOPS. Sorry. Didn't mean to lecture, so please forgive this old man's rant.

We've had a great thing going, let's keep it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Just Black Bean Ravioli and Yesterday's Wine

Many years ago, while Susan and I were both exploring the counter-culture of the late Sixties and early Seventies our parents met and became best of friends. Particularly the Mom's. One of the common traits of both women was their unfailing ability to make friends with every shopkeeper with whom they did business. Since these relationships are reciprocal and they lived in the same neighborhood, it is not surprising that they did business with the same shopkeepers. One of those businesses was an automotive repair shop run by the Lucido family. Susan and I continued to business with them for years after we met and were married.

The story continues at the local White Rock Local Market which has started near our house. Susan has been buying pasta from Lucido's Pasta and Herbs and last week she finally popped the question. Sure enough, it's the same family. I've maintained for years that Dallas is the largest small town in the world. So tonight we had their Ravioli filled with Black Bean and Jalapeno. Tossed it with olive oil, butter and garlic; coated lightly with tomato sauce and it was delicious. The jalapeno was not spicy while eating the pasta, but the heat did aggregate and the mouth began to tingle. We washed it down with a cool, refreshing bottle of dry Rose'.

Spring brings many wonderful things. In the wine world it means rose' wine. Specifically dry rose' wine. Young, fresh, the first serious offerings from the harvest of the previous fall. (Apply your choice of metaphor for the magical rotation of the seasons here.)

In the retail world it means "get rid of last year's rose's!"

Conventional wisdom tells us that the fruit fades as the wine grows older and certainly no one would choose to pay full price for last year's wine when the new wine is on the shelf. So down come the prices. But what's in the bottle?

In the name of science, I picked up one of last years' bottles and that's what we had with our Ravioli. 2008 Mas Carlot. Mas Carlot is located in the Costieres de Nimes, on the Western Bank of the Rhone River. The wine is made from the typical Provencal varietals, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and from grapes ripened for red wine. The juice is bled from the tanks during maceration when the desired color and flavor is attained, and then fermented to dryness. (Usually the same alcohol as the red wines.) Arrested maceration leaves higher apparent acidity which gives the wines their fresh crispness and creates dry, delicate fruit flavors of strawberries and raspberries, which can range as deep as black cherries, depending on the length of the maceration.

Interestingly, the Mas Carlot was a little disappointing when it arrived last spring. But it really showed well tonight. The fruit was clean and bright and the wine was crisp and refreshing. Color was pink with no hints of amber. It's possible that it's just been a long time since I had a bottle of rose, but the wine seemed better tonight than it did a year ago!

Anyway, at the drastically low prices, last year's wines are selling briskly. When the new container hits town, we'll be thirsty and ready for the new harvest to see us through the hot summer months!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tasting the Rock at the Center of the Wine

It was a gorgeous day. Gentle warm sun, cool breeze, no clouds and it was time for lunch. 

There was an Italian portfolio tasting downtown. I could go. Time was tight, I had to try to be back at the store on time. Transportation, parking, negotiating the changes of elevators necessary to get to the 42nd floor. Taste wines. The winery reps were there from Italy, you have to show some interest and respect and then there's always people you know. It's tough to be quick!

On the other hand, I had a sandwich, I could just go park my car in the sun and nap.

I fell asleep at my desk just thinking about it. Whatever it was that was in my hands fell on the floor. The noise woke me up and I went to the wine tasting. Good decision.

Emerging from the third elevator, I gave myself 30 minutes and plunged into the wines. The first table found Petra Egarter pouring the wines of Cantina Andriano from Alto Adige. What caught my palate was the Pinot Bianco. Very lean, very mineral with suggestions of green pears and apples barely defining the precise edges of the wine. Hello! I love this wine! Theme of the day.

Inspired, my next stop was Cantina Terlan, also from Alto Adige, where I saw an old friend, the Terlan Classico. I used to sell a lot of this wine when I first got into the wine biz. It's a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that's a fresh, clean alternative to the standard California expressions and especially to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. The brand has changed suppliers a couple of times and I'd lost track of the wine, which showed well, gentle aromatics, easy viscosity and the characteristic mineral finish.

But before I go on to the Pinot Bianco's, let me put these wines in their geographic context.

Alto Adige is located in the foothills of the Dolomites (Alps) in Northeast Italy. The vineyards are located on the south and east facing slopes of the valleys at altitudes between 800 and 3000 feet.  Soils are decomposed dolomite and calcareous rock. The high mineral content gives these wines their signature intense mineral core. The warm days gently ripen the grapes, the cold nights give them their brilliant acidity.

The Pinot Bianco Classico was very lean. Notions of lemon oil infused the hints of green apple and pear that surrounded the intense mineral core. Technical notes inform the wine: fermentation in stainless steel, no malolactic, aging on the lees in steel for six months. Very direct, very focused. (Now in stock at the store!)

The Pinot Bianco Vorburg was next. Fruit for this wine comes from older vineyards higher up on the slopes. Yields are lower and the juice more concentrated, the wine is fermented in large oak casks with full malolactic and twelve months aging sur lees. Again, the signature polished river rock provides the rich, mineral core. The wine is still lean but the acids are not as crisp and prevalent as the Classico. A thin veil of elegant richness wraps the tongue. A burnished patina colors the bottom of the rock.

Sales Director Klaus Gasser had a couple of treats under the table...

The 1993 Pinot Bianco was made from the same fruit as the Vorburg. Like the Vorburg it was fermented and aged for 1 year in barrel, but this wine had been racked back into steel and aged for 9 years on the lees before bottling. Aromatics were a melange of delicate floral perfumes. The wine was a delicate fusion of flowers, citrus and cream. Emphasis on delicate veil, the acids keep the wine from heaviness. As always these notions are wrapped around the rock at the center.

Klaus then pulls out a dirty, crusty bottle, a 1955 Vorburg, recorked about ten years ago. The wine is the color of old gold. Flavors and aromatics are difficult to analyze. Complex notions of toasted nuts, dried fruits and citrus peels inform the aromatics and expand on the palate where they, yes, they coat the rock at the center. It's a visual thing, this round rock, dark on the bottom where it rested in the soil. Years of handling impart an amber burnish and rich layered patina.

Tasting old wines is time travel. In 1955, in the Italian Alps, the grapes were transformed by the sun from earth and water. They were preserved through fermentation, then stored in cool, dark caves until they were revealed in Dallas, Texas on a glorious spring afternoon in 2010. In 1955, I was five years old. My youngest sister was born in October, about when the wine was being made. Elvis arrived in 1956 when the wine was bottled.

2010 finds us both alive. I don't know about the wine but I've had some dicey moments along the way. We both have replacement parts. I have a new kidney, the wine has a new cork! I only wish I was as alive, vibrant and healthy as the wine.