Monday, January 28, 2013

Best Cabernet Franc from Napa

While in Manila recently, I felt underdressed in shorts and t-shirt as I walked in the most plush wine store I've ever set foot in. It was straight out of the Tatler magazine or FT's How To Spend It. More like a Cartier store than a wine shop, its ultra-modern glass shelves housed mostly first-growth Bordeaux in various large formats with vintages dating back to early 1960s. The rest of the stock not Bordeaux were mainly Krug d'Ambonnay and Burgundies from Coche-Cury, Ponsot, Leflaive, and, yes, DRC. As I was buzzed in by the security guard I was greeted by a smiling trio of young female staff in dark suit uniform.

I thought, times have really changed in Asia, I don't think I could afford anything here. But my gaze stopped at a wall covered by several gleaming enomatic machines. I came closer to see what was being poured. Okay, so here's the affordable stuff, mostly second labels and petits chateaux. But wait, what's that at the far end? A Napa? A Cabernet Franc?! I didn't recognize the label. "World's End." "Against the Wind." The Bob Seeger hit!

I reached for a Riedel glass, punched a button, and let the enomatic dripped me a small pour. Wow! Glorious stuff! Perfumed, a touch floral, gorgeous dark concentration, biting tannins, and a spectacular long finish. I call myself a wine merchant based in the San Francisco Bay Area, an hour from Napa, but I've never even heard, let alone tasted, World's End before?! Okay, I'm impressed. I had to travel halfway around the world to discover this wonderful wine from my own 'hood.

When I got back to the States I fired an email to the World's End contact. The next day a response was waiting in my inbox from the sales director whose name was Jean-Pierre (JP), and he was contacting me not from Napa but from St.-Emilion in Bordeaux.

World's End is the latest wine project of the celebrated British wine tycoon Jonathan Malthus. In 1994 after making a pile in the energy industry and taking up winemaking Malthus and his wife moved to St.-Emilion and started purchasing several vineyard properties. One of these estates he established into Le Dome, one of the pioneering cult vin de garage or garagiste wines. Soon this was followed by others, all producing less than 400 cases a year (Le Dome has now ballooned to a 1,000 case production): Vieux Chateau Mazerat, Les Asteries, and Le Carre--all in St.-Emilion. These are some of the most sought-after, hardest to find, super-expensive Bordeaux these days. In the 2009 vintage Parker scored Le Carre 97 points, Les Asteries 98 points, Vieux Chateau Mazerat 97+ points, and Le Dome a whopping 99 points. All these Bordeaux are produced by Jonathan Malthus and his team.

Le Dome is the obvious inspiration for the World's End Napa Cabernet Franc Against the Wind. The cepage is very similar. Le Dome is 80% Cabernet Franc, apparently the wine with the highest percentage of Cabernet Franc in St.-Emilion and, perhaps in all of Bordeaux. On the other hand, the 2009 World's End Napa Cabernet Franc, the debut vintage, also consists of 80% Cabernet Franc and the remaining 20% Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit comes from vineyards in Sugarloaf Mountain in southeastern Napa and in Coombsville. Neil Whyte, the Scottish head winemaker at Le Dome and all of Jonathan Malthus' estates, flew with Malthus into Napa to take charge of making the World's End wines. He and Malthus made sure the Napa wines are made in the same quality standards as their prized St.-Emilion wines.

Being wowed by the 2009 World's End Napa Cabernet Franc "Against the Wind", I must say Malthus has the golden touch. He has produced a seriously fine wine that parallels his success in Bordeaux. And he's done it on the first release! But here's the clincher, whereas his 2009 Le Dome St.-Emilion sells for several hundreds dollars a bottle if you can even find one, his 2009 Napa Cabernet Franc we are introducing at just $39! Do not miss this opportunity to purchase this extraordinary debut vintage and start building a vertical collection.

Napa Cabernet Franc "Reserve--Against the Wind", World's End 2009 $39.00 (Click to buy!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tasting with Valdicava's Vincenzo Abbruzzese

Vincenzo Abbruzzese of Valdicava in Montalcino contemplates his estate's magnificent crop of recent releases. He stopped by the store Saturday to present his wines.

Valdicava's flagship 2007 Madonna del Piano Brunello Riserva is a thing of power and beauty. The bouquet is sweet and the flavors convey the awesome depth of this exceptional Brunello. It will arrive at the store by March 2013.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Smoking Jacket

As an attorney I know Kevin is keen on smoking guns, but last night at his and Marguerite's New Year's Eve extravaganza he was more dangerous in a smoking jacket. Some extraordinary wines flowed, mainly out of Kevin's infamous old bitch cellar,  and I'm glad I was there for the preliminaries.

I helped pop a cold magnum of Perrier-Jouet Blason de France NV. I'm guessing theses Champs, especially in mags, are no longer easy to find. Perrier-Jouet came up with the Blason cuvee in the 1980s and must have stopped producing them after the 1990s or so. A distinctive cuvee, about equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. According to Kevin, this was a release from 10 to 15 years ago. It exhaled almost imperceptibly as I removed the cork, which worried me a bit, but the mag turned out to be fresher and crispier than I imagined. Its bubbles were a bit coarse, but the flavors were delicious and thirst-quenching. A very good Champagne.

Next Champ was a Krug Grand Cuvee that Kevin said was purchased back in 1998. There's Champagne and, of course, there's Krug, as the saying goes. I find Krug GC drinks best when given sufficient age as it really fills in. A newly released GC often tastes a bit hollow. But not this one, as its flavors were broad and powerful and delivered with that Krug elegance.

Part of the run-up to the party involved discussions of pulling out older vintages of Creme de Tete Sauternes from the obscure and venerable 18th century estate of Chateau Gilette. These Sauternes are aged at least 20 years in cement vats before they're bottled and deemed for release. We recently received the 1983 and 1989 Creme de Tete vintages at the store and did a tasting--both were marvelous, opulent and graceful. Not to be one-upped Kevin unleashed his bottle of 1953 Creme de Tete which was absolutely pristine. Having now tasted my third bottle of Creme de Tete within a week the unique--some might say idiosyncratic--style of this Sauternes is clear. Soft and pillowy textured, but not creamy. The flavors are as delicate and juicy as an Auslese's, with honeyed papaya fruit and apricot notes. Living in a hermetic cement vat for 20 years, instead of a porous wood barrel, the Sauternes showed no vanilla or heavy caramel flavors. Above all, for a wine pushing 60, it is astonishingly youthful and fresh. Its flavor purity, highlighted by botrytis is truly unusual. Brilliant and alarmingly easy to drink amidst the richness.

In contrast, the phenomenal 1975 Chateau d'Yquem has a mindblowing powerful concentration that I had to adjust down my intake to small sips from full gulps as it fills the mouth with massive flavors. A profound Yquem that, aside from being insanely rich, is vivid and radiant as a star.

And so off to the two pairs of reds for the night. The first was a mano-a-mano between 1975 Pauillac first growths--the Lafite-Rothschild and Latour. Matching them up clearly reveals their difference. The 1975 Lafite-Rothschild had a pronounced camphor-metallic smell that could be off-putting. But the palate showed just a touch of drying out, it's beauty unfaded and still fresh. Austere, intense, and elegant that altogether convey the aristocratic Lafite finesse.

In contrast, the 1975 Latour is muscular, full, and powerful--very Latour indeed. What makes me like this even more are its long, rich tannins that give texture to the fruit. It is drinking prime and Latour fans would love this.

The next pair of reds go back a few years to 1971. The 1971 Lafite-Rothschild is purer, fuller, and at peak condition, unlike the 1975. A complete Lafite in all its glorious power and finesse. My favorite Bordeaux of all.

The 1971 Trotanoy Pomerol might seem like the oddball in the trio of Pauillacs, but it fits in the group seamlessly, offering a progression towards increasing power, richness, and fleshiness. This is an amazing Trotanoy, I think the best that I've ever had.

On my exit after these preliminaries, Kevin saw me out at the gate. I took one last look at the smoking jacket and thought, what a tremendous evening. A triumph.

P.S. Many thanks to Kevin and Marguerite for hosting this memorable New Year's Eve get together.