Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rioja or Beer?

Euro 2008 Finals




The exciting finals of Euro 2008 get underway on Sunday pitting Germany against Spain. Two great football teams. Who will win? I'm torn. I would probably be more elated to see Spain win, which won the championship once back in 1964. Germany has won the tournament three times, the last time in 1996.

If Spain wins I'll be cooking paella for dinner that night, to be washed down by a nice Rioja. And if Germany wins, I'll be grilling sausages and drinking beer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

François Blanchard’s Brilliant Touraine

photo courtesy by François Blanchard

Last Friday night was another fun dinner at Day Break. Patrick made a delicious puréed cauliflower soup that was refreshing on that very warm night. I chose the entrée of pork roulade stuffed with raisins, wilted greens, and apple sauce, and afterwards finished off with a nectarine Melba with vanilla ice cream. Yumm! I could have gone for seconds.

The wines we drank were a mix of California, except for one—I’ll talk about this in a moment. Helen Turley’s 2000 Marcassin Alexander Mountain Chardonnay Upper Barn was fat and smoky, overripe with fading orangey flavors. The 2000 Pride Claret Reserve was in that opulent Napa style; sweet, chocolaty, and redolent of oak. The 1986 Johnson-Turnbull Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was drying out a bit, though still elegant and heavily infused with spearmint. Much better was the 1986 Laurel Glen Sonona Cabernet Sauvignon, which lacked bouquet but surprised us with its youthful concentration and grace. And finally for dessert, the 2004 Sine Qua Non Mr. K Straw Man Vin de Paille, a Semillon concentrate that must have contained a ton of sugar; unctuous and thick, with honey and fruity botrytised scents and lots of apricot flavors.

I really enjoyed the variety of these California wines, but the surprise wine of the night and one I have never tasted before was the Vin de Table de France, François Blanchard, a 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine region of the Loire Valley made by François Blanchard of Château du Perron. Relegated to the lowest of the low, Vin de Table wines are not permitted to have any identity—no vintage, no varietal name, not even the region of origin on the label. It is practically death to any wine to receive such an ignoble designation. Yet, by force of personality this wine sparkled, figuratively and literally. Its ethereal fizz tickled the lips and popped on contact, leaving the palate with an almost off-dry, intense taste of cidered pear and apples with a tip of white pepper. Underneath the fruit was a layer of minerals that lingered solo in the long finish. I felt happy to have enjoyed this unique wine for the first time.

François Blanchard, Loire’s latest enfant terrible since Didier Daguneau, is a thirty-something local jazz musician in Tours. Just over five years ago he decided to resuscitate his family’s long-neglected tiny wine estate. He did little to modernize the winery, except to install electricity. The main improvement were the two manual vertical basket presses be brought in!

In the vineyard, farming has been organic from the outset (AB certified), though Blanchard doesn’t plow, and allow weeds to run almost amok in the vineyard and around the winery. His winemaking is totally artisanal and as natural as possible. He almost never uses SO2 and certainly never touches industrial yeasts or bacteria. He ferments in ambient cellar temperature without any temperature control in the vat. The cellar itself is maintained in ambient temperature with perhaps some adjustment if necessary. Blanchard believes that vinification should proceed with the season. Soutirage or racking is kept at the most minimum to preserve the carbonic gas created by the fermentation, hence minimizing the use of sulphites. I can tell you that after opening the bottle, the gas is intact and the wine is fresh and lively. The bottle, by the way, is enclosed in crown cap and sealed with a wax capsule.

Alas, François Blanchard’s wines are not exported. I would have to visit him soon, maybe next March and pick up a few bottles.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Burgundy's So-called “Off-Years”

Like a lot of wine enthusiasts these days I and my friends at the BNO (boys’ night out) have been troubled by the escalating prices of our favorite beverage. Call it the euro strengthening, the failing dollar, the Chinese and Russian buying spree, the sub-prime collapse, etc. etc. as factors for the price inflation. But one thing is clear we’re not gonna take it lying down. Solution? Buy “off-years”.

If nothing else it's clear that the BNO has contributed immensely in us becoming experts on finding gems overlooked by the score pimps (to quote Matt) allowing us to buy even more wine even in these inflated times. This night of the Burgundy Off-Years is Exhibit A.

Kudos and thank you to Steve for the hospitality and the great food. I swear you can't eat better beef in the Peninsula than at Steve's. It was simplicity itself—prime rib from Pape’s grilled in the outdoor rotisserie for about an hour—yet brilliant. With the crunchy salad, his signature potato fritters, and the slow-cooked croutons Steve yet again proves he's the master of the yummy, no foo foo kinda food that Kevin always clamors for.

As for the wines, there were 6 of us vs. 9 bottles opened. An equitable and democratic ratio. A couple of bottles barely escaped sentencing. The 69 Chambolle and the 97 Clinet Pomerol.

So here are my impressions. Another refreshing Prosseco starter, with the Drusian Prosecco NV, on another warm evening. Nice call. Its fruitiness went well with salty Marcona almonds.

The 1989 Jadot Corton-Charlemagne was the color of young Sauternes, and started out with marzipan, fino sherry, and roasted nuts; then exploded with citrus and pear, buttered corn and minerals. Wow! Comments: "great with the sushi" (I totally agree) "regal" (Kevin) "opulent and sporty" (Steve) We score it 4

2000 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Hautes-Doix. Loads of ripe cherries, earthy spice, cola nut. Great energy. Seductive as one might expect from Chambolle. And though deceptively soft-flavored I expect it to evolve for many more years. My only knock is it lacks a bit of grace for a premier cru. Comments: "just beginning to enter peak" "big surprise upside" "expecting green (for 2000) but very approachable" "won't get any better". (Kevin). “I felt the 2000 Groffier is that fine blond 18-year-old lass by Steve's river (a creek actually) who will be giving us her tender side for the next 15 years.” (Matt) We score it 3+

2003 Clos des Lambrays Morey St. Denis Les Loups. Fleshy, meaty, lush concentrated stewed fruits with noticeable oak and seems to lack enough grip. But way too young and may yet surprise. Comments: "California wine" (Lenny)". Group score 2+

1982 Henri Jayer Echezeaux. Super elegant and amazing focus and length. Well-evolved mature flavors of tart cherries, mushroom, game, soil, and beets. Fantastic sustained flavors, freshness and grip that never let up or faded throughout the evening. It may lack flesh but not intensity and spirit. "Wine of the night" (Lenny) and I concur. And this is an off year for Jayer 4+

1972 Bernard Grivelet Chambertin Clos de Beze. Impressive concentration and power for a wine approaching 40 years from an off year! Its why Chambertin gets the big bucks. Fleshy, flavorful, and great with the beef. Comments: "Mister Ed horse draft going on" (Matt, who else?) 3

1973 Louis Latour Corton Grancy. For bouquet this was hands down the most pleasurable. A combination of cherries, balsamic, cedar, peppercorn. The fruit is drying somewhat and the tartness is starting to dominate. "Better 10 years ago" (Kevin), but there is still ample flavors and the elegance is nice. 3

1983 Santenay Leroy. Darkly colored, muscular, lean, sinewy, and firm. What it lacks in charm is made up for by its energy and graceful flavors. I score it 3

1978 Martin Ray California Pinot Noir. This was darkly colored and still appeared strong but it was showing hints of TCA and the VA was starting to take over.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An Eclectic Mix of Wines

After much delay, warmer weather finally arrived in the Bay Area, hence the outdoor patio was the perfect setting for barbecued steaks and this eclectic mix of wines at Steve's last Saturday June 8th.

1983 Pauillac Premier Cru, Château Mouton-Rothschild: dark, fleshy, soft, good fruity and cedary perfume. Not intense but fresh and meaty, earthy and somewhat spicy dark berry fruits with soft tannins. A pleasure to drink and I would not hesitate to declare it very open for business at this point. 4 Stars

1994 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain: High-toned red currant, even a bit of cranberry fruits with spice. Fresh fruity, herbal nose. Nice elegance. Very good balance. Expanse in the mouth with a good, long finish. Drinking very nicely and will age further. 3 Stars

1998 St-Emilion, Peby-Faugeres : Very darkly colored. Earthy jammy fruit scents. Densely, fleshy textured blackberry and blueberry fruits with cedar, earth tones. Rich, lively tannins. Powerful, mouthfilling palate. Good finish, though not extraordinary in length. Opulent, but harmonious overall. This is evolving very well. Can’t wait for another ten years. 3 Stars

1985 Ridge Zinfandel Geyserville, Sonoma
: Perfumy currant, herbal Cabernet nose. Good savory red berry fruits and bright herbal notes with good concentration and acid balance. Still very fresh with very soft tannins. Good length on the finish. The surprise wine of the night. 3 Stars

2004 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “Southing”, Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara)
: This nearly escaped being opened, but some of us insisted we needed to have a dessert wine. Candied cherries and caramel flavors accented by oak vanilla. Juicy, softly textured intense forward ripe flavors, with good brightness. Warm on the palate and a touch alcoholic. Pleasurable and simple. 2 Stars

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Emperor on Burgundy

OMG! The Emperor has turned into a Burgundy curmudgeon! Read.

While I would never give up a DRC for any of the California Pinor Noirs Robert Parker cites, he does list some of my favorite names like Calera's Selleck (many vintages from the late '80s to mid-'90s along with those of Williams Selyem's were my California Pinot Noir epiphanies), Williams Selyem Hirsch, and Rochioli Russian River.

Why, just last week I drank a 2000 Rochioli Russian River. It was fresh, powerful, and deliciously spicy. Would I trade a DRC for it or a de Montille Volnay Taillepieds or a Barthod Bourgogne Rouge Bons Batons? Not a chance. But I did love that Rochioli and I still have a few bottles I'm looking forward to opening.