Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zinfandels at a Brazilian Churrascaria

Zinfandels with Brazilian-style steaks, as I just discovered the other day, is a sensational food and wine pairing. I frequent a local churrascaria, where I've enjoyed Burgundies, Bordeaux, Cabernets, and Spanish reds. But I found out that Zinfandel is tasty, maybe even more so, with Brazilian eats!

My friends and I opened three Zinfandels: 1998 Ridge York Creek, 2000 Ravenswood Old Hill, and 2006 Turley Old Vines. All three tasted very well. The Ridge, not surprisingly, was perfectly balanced. It has matured well—the texture is velvety and the wine is absolutely seamless.

Ravenswood's Old Hill had a lot of sediment. Age has given it old world appeal. Edgy and a bit rustic, it was attractively dry and elegant as well; yet its powerful fruit was still fresh with a delicious spicy bite.

The slices of grilled lamb, sirloin, garlic pork, chorizo, brisket, and chicken hearts were luscious with both the Ridge and Ravenswood, but the Turley Old Vines tasted too sweet for the meats. To our amazement the side dish of sugared fried plantain (standard in churrascarias) provided a great neutralizer for the Turley. A bite of plantain with the grilled meat turned out to be the perfect way to enjoy the Turley!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

En Primeur 2008: Chateau Latour Follows Angelus’ Footsteps!

In a reversal of the usual en primeur pattern, which is sitting it out until the end of the campaign before announcing a big price, Chateau Latour released its 2008 primeur price now at a nearly 40 percent discount from the 2007 price. This follows and reinforces the impact of what Chateau Angelus did about a week ago (read my blog post on it).

I doubt if anyone can remember a time when a first growth announced its price during the first few weeks of the en primeur campaign. To the consumer, Latour’s announcement means a bottle of its 2008 bought at futures now will be just a little over $200 a bottle—at this price it is the cheapest Latour of any vintage selling these days!

I believe Latour’s move will stir up excitement in this en primeur campaign. Now all eyes will be not just on the other first growths but also on the rest of the top classed growths like Leoville-Las-Cases, Palmer, and Pichon-Baron and right bank luminaries like Petrus, Ausone, and Cheval Blanc.

Whether the excitement will be in the form of feverish buying by consumers of 2008 Bordeaux futures or just a lot of talk we’ll wait and see. And considering Bordeaux is the bellwether of wine prices all over the world, particularly of top wines, it will be intriguing to watch how this downward trend in 2008 en primeur prices, if it gathers more strength in the coming weeks as I expect it, would impact prices of top wines. So far, everything seems to be pointing to an unprecedented buyers’ market

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More About Tasting

As an addendum to my previous post on tasting I want to direct your attention to this thoughtful blog by my friend at K&L, David Driscoll.

David used to live next door from the store so he would often stop by to do our tastings. This was four, five years ago, and at that time he was still somewhat new to wine and his occupation was teaching English to kids in San Francisco's Chinatown. Almost solely through regular tastings his wine knowledge grew by leaps and bounds. At K&L I think he has one of the most enlightened palates and I also believe that store's brightest young staff. Look him up when you're there, he'll steer you to a great value wine that you've probably never heard of.

I feel good that somehow I've contributed to David's start in wine. The other month he stopped by the store to say hi. He also handed me a surprise gift, a bottle of 2004 St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes, Joel Taluau. A few years ago, I happened to mention to him about this Loire wine. I can't believe he remembered.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tasting and Wine

Fortunately for us who love wine, tasting teaches us most about the subject. This week at the store I lined up a tasting flight consisting of four red Burgundies that are about ten years old. They all come from the same area, around the neighboring villages of Meursault and Volnay. The vintages covered are 1997, 1998, and 2000—not great vintages but good ones that tend to be overlooked. I find the elegance of these vintages perfect for tastings as the character of the wines are revealed well.

Young Burgundy is not the easiest to appreciate, especially in vintages where ripening was difficult, which happen to be most years! But patience is needed. With about ten years or so the wines as if by magic transform. For the impatient wine lover, a ten-year on tasting like this is a great opportunity to understand what all the fuss is about Burgundy.

To get the most education out of a tasting, the wines in the flight and their order have to make sense. In this tasting I start off with the 1998 Blagny Rouge Premier Cru La Piece sous le Bois, Domaine Matrot 1998 ($39.00). This comes from Meursault—if it's a white the appellation is Meursault Blagny. Already drinking peak to my taste, it is cherry-colored and soft-textured with a very attractive sweet fruit and layers of earth and spice. It stands out now for its openness and delicacy allied with a vivid freshness. Anyone who tastes this wine now would find it irresistible.

The second wine in the lineup is the 1998 Blagny Rouge Premier Cru La Piece sous le Bois, Domaine François Jobard 1998 ($49.00). Note that both the vintage and appellation are exactly the same as the first wine, but this second one is from François Jobard. Tasting the two Blagny side-by-side the difference in personalities of these two Meursault-based producers and their respective wines emerge. Matrot's Blagny soars with its sweet, ethereal fruit; while Jobard's Blagny is weighted and close to the ground with notes of undergrowth; it's darker, leaner, and muscular fruit is brooding. You get a sense that this has not reached peak, unlike Matrot's, and it is not a charmer, but serious and complex.

These first two wines explain something of the 1998 vintage character. It's a vintage with high acidity and lean fruit but with very good concentration. With time these wines have softened and unlocked a juicy sweetness.

The third wine in the flight is the 2000 Volnay, Domaine des Comtes Lafon ($42.00). Volnay is a village that lies next door to Meursault. This Volnay is soft but true to form. Its fruit is generous and seductive, with a round, fine texture that feels creamy in the mouth. Its soft acidity and tannins easily make it appealing, but it is not for long-term aging. Yet, what it lacks in structure it makes it up in its surprising depth and finesse. When you have a good producer like Dominique Lafon the vintage may be difficult but, as one discovers after so many tastings, there would be something to like about the wines. In this Volnay that is clear. He achieved it by declassifying the premier cru Clos des Chenes and blending in fruit from young vines in Champans. This is really splendid to drink now just like many 2000s.

I remember in the mid-1990s when Arnaud Ente decided to establish his own domaine after some years of working at Coche-Dury with Jean-François Coche, there was a scramble among US importers to represent him. Ente was Coche's brightest disciple. Kermit Lynch won out and I believe 1997 was the first vintage that Kermit imported. This 1997 Volnay Premier Cru Santenots du Milieu , Domaine Arnaud Ente ($46.00) were from young vines. This is ripe, dark, lush, and really generous. I love the sage, menthol flavor that brightens the fleshy, black cherry; and its texture is so lovely as well, a mix of coarse and fine tannins. It doesn't have the elegance or the finesse of the preceding wines, but it stands out in power and depth of flavor. I think it will age for a while. 1997s have very good concentration and reserve power, just don't expect a lot of elegance.

After tasting through the flight I feel I've learned some new things about wine and discovered facets in these Burgundies I've never known before. Tasting is such a worthwhile exercise, especially if done in a thoughtful format. It hones our tasting skills and makes us appreciate wine better.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

En Primeur 2008: Angelus Blinks

Seemingly like Pontius Pilate washing the wine stains off his hands, Chateau Angelus wasted no time to be the first to release the 2008 primeur price of its prominent grand vin, slashing it by 40% from 2007, thereby consigning the fate of the yet-to-be-delivered, somewhat mediocre 2007 wine to a dead market.

Is the price reduction significant enough to stir buyer interest? Some merchants are calling for a downright price collapse of at least 50% to be even interested in looking. Knowing these merchants much of that may prove to be grandstanding if the scores are right (more on this). But with the Angelus move the chateaux now seem likely to abandon price support for their 2007s.

Meanwhile, the other dynamic is the critics, after venting much anger at 2005, 2006, and 2007 prices, seem to have softened for the 2008. Surprisingly, the en primeur tasting last week has generated very favorable scores, particularly of famous wines. First growths and other top classed growths have rated in the mid to high 90s. Check out Wine Spectator, Decanter, Jancis Robinson, and the Wine Journal at erobertparker.com.

Only the big guy still has to weigh in. And knowing how Parker tends to support the underdog he may just show his love on the 2008s. But, and this is a big but, provided declared prices follow the Angelus trend. I don’t think we’ll see a 50% discount from 2007 prices—the Bordelais would rather sell their first-born. But 30%-40% should be de rigueur to move Parker, hence the market towards a favorable direction.

I skipped both the 2006 and 2007 en primeur, but I’ll be watching the 2009 campaign for potential buys in 2008s. If prices for the top growths do drop by 40%, say putting Latour at $250ish, then there may be a buying opportunity.