Sunday, December 23, 2007

December 22, 2007. Christmas time is here

It's hard to believe that a year has almost gone by and Christmas Time is here. In getting into the holiday rhythm, I went looking for some music only to find most of it unsatisfying (surprise, surprise). There are exceptions, and here I think is one of them.

December 1965, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was aired and became an instant standard. Most people will remember the Charles Schultz cartoon along with the catchy tunes. Upon listening to the recent 2006 re-master of this album by Fantasy records, I was amazed. This is so much better than coming out of a 14 inch mono TV. Arranged & composed by Vince Guaraldi, there is an underlying quality of happiness and cheer to the music. Perhaps it brings back happy memories of my childhood but I think it is intrinsic to the music. Guaraldi to me, has the lyrical qualities of Bill Evans together with the rhythm and swing of a Dave Brubeck - it is a shame he died of a heart attack at an age of 47 between sets at a jazz club. Thought I would share this one with you, the album code is FCD-30066-2 in case some of you are interested.

Merry Christmas, good health, peace on earth and may joy come over the world.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

October 13, 2007 - Pouilly Fuisse

Pouilly Fuisse should not really be mixed up with Pouilly Fume although it happens. While both are white wines Pouilly Fuisse is rightfully Chardonnay and Burgundian. The other Pouilly is from the Loire Valley and is made from Sauvignon Blanc ( to be covered someday!).
While Pouilly-Fuisse is an appelation on to itself it would be a shame not to give the individual terroirs recognition also. There are 4 villages in the appelation: Vergisson, Solutre-Pouilly, Fuisse and Chaintre and arguably 5 terroirs as Solutre and Pouilly are distinctive.

From a distance the twin rocks of Vergisson and Solutre are a clear giveaway that you have arrived. The certain soil zones around these rocks are limestone and give the wines that mineral taste which is lacking or more subdued in the other communes outside of Vergisson, Solutre and Pouilly.

The 5 terroirs within Pouilly-Fuisse are :

Vergisson - mineral driven, punchy with acidic backbone.
Solutre - mineral driven but softer with pronounced acidity.
Pouilly - Good harmony of mineral and fruit - most balanced.
Fuisse -
More fruity, does not have the minerality of previous 3.
Chaintre -
Fruit dominant.

The next time you try a Pouilly-Fuisse take a closer look at the label and see where it comes from - there should be a difference. Personally my favorite is Pouilly proper. It seems to have the right balance of fruit, minerality and lively acidity. The other all have their unique characteristics but not in the harmonious balance I get in a benchmark Pouilly.

Not a comprehensive list by any measure but the wines I liked were made by:

Domaine Carrette
Domaine Nadine Ferrand

Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1, 2007. Some Burgundies and a Pinot

2005. Vincent Girardin Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravieres.
Fruit, minerals, acidity, fine tannins - feels as if one could feel the sun shining down. I don't think you can really ask for more in a Santenay - I think this is an amazing value. True balance here, if this is a good representation of the '05 vintage then I would say that it takes the best attributes of '02 and '03 together. 91pts.

2004 J.F Mugnier Nuit St. George 1er Cru. Clos de la Marechale.
Good depth of fruit, acidity, mid palate. Very good showing for a 2004. Unfortunately, the 2005 Santenay came before it. 90 pts.

2005 Felton Road. Block 5 Pinot Noir.
Very Generous fruit and good tannins, aromatically less complicated than the previous 2 Burgundies. Given the price of this, I'm not sure it's really worth the money. It's just not as complex as the previous wines. 89pts.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

September 29 - Beaucastel Part.2

A visit to Beaucastel isn't complete without trying some so off to the tasting room....

2006 - Beaucastel Blanc.
The Roussane grape is dominant with 80% (small percentage of 60 year old vines) and another 20% comprised of Grenache Blanc (10-40 year old vines). Honey, flowers, good acidity and a minerality. Good to serve on the cool side i.e. 10-12 centrigrade.

2006 - Beaucastal Blanc Vielle Vignes
Again made of Roussane but this time 100% pure and straight up. The vines are old (I'm told 78 years). Production is absolutely miniscule at 6000 bottles per annum ( sorry now 5999 for '06). With the Roussane variety I am told you either drink it within 5 years of the vintage of 10 years later. The 5-10 year period is supposed to be a funky phase where the wine shouts down and appears oxidised. Strangely enough I have not it during this phase but have had ones over 10 years - you will be nicely surprised. The RVV belies it's age in comparison to Beaucastel Blanc - you can tell the age of the vines in the wine! If the regular version is a child then the RVV is a middle-age adult - more complex, more depth, more layers, more of everything. If you do have both and then go back to the regular version - you will find it lacking and "shallow". I would not be afraid to serve this warmer than the regular Beaucastel Blanc say 13-15 degrees.

2005 Beaucastel
Comprised of 13 grape varieties. The various grapes bring their unique characteristics to the table and balance one another out. Mourvedre for it's tannic structure and ageing potential, Grenache for the warmth and texture as well as others. The CdP true to its roots. Given the various varieties and their maturation profiles that each variety would come forward at different times during the ageing process. You can try one young (i.e. within 5 years) but it won't reach a sense of harmony without 10 years of age - this is my own personal view of course. Right now too young but good raw materials should be fantastic.

1998 Beaucastel
Here we are starting to get serious. IMHO still not quite there in terms of harmony but getting there and should do it within 5 years? Depth, breadth, fantastic stuff.

1986 Beaucastel
IMHO has reached the stage of harmony. Leather, animal, dried fruits it's all there. Not a stellar vintage but drinking well and probably at it's peak.

* Note with food - Try something hearty almost rustic. The typical cuisine is Provencal - so olive oils, thyme, basil, tomatoes. Perhaps even Tuscan food may work ....?

Monday, September 24, 2007

September 24, 2007. Beaujolais

The fresh, bubble gum like wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau released on 3rd week of November is what most people think of when this appelation is mentioned. Beaujolais rouge is made with the Gamay grape and actually encompases 3 categories.

1. Regular Beaujolais - Beaujolais Nouveau is a part of this.
2. Beaujolais Village - 38 communes claim this category. Again Nouveau can come from this.
3. Beujolais Cru - These consists of 10 vineyards :

The largest Vineyard with 1300 hectares at the foot of Mount Brouilly. Annual production : 10million bottles. Really massive production not really that interesting.

The smallest vineyard with 280 hectares. Annual production : 2.1 million bottles.
One of the better Crus.

Situated at 400 meters is the highest of the vinyards. 370 hectares. Annual production 2.7 million bottles

Cote de Brouilly
On the slopes of mount Brouilly. 320 hectares. Annual production : 2.4 million bottles

870 hectares. Annual production : 6.5 million bottles

600 hectares. Annual production: 4.5 miilion bottles

Full bodied wines. 1100 hectares. Annual production: 8.7 million bottles

Moulin a Vent
'King of Beaujolais' from the ancient windmill in a nearby town. 670 hectares. Annual production: 5 million bottles. That's alot of bottles for supposed the king - buyer beware.

Designated relatively recently (1988). 550 hectares. Annual production : 4 million bottles

Northern Beaujolais. 310 hectares. Annual production: 2.4 million bottles

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

September 20th, 2007, A visit to Chateau de Beaucastel - Part 1

A visit to Chateau de Beaucastel

Chateauneuf-du-Pape. What does this word usually mean to you?
Strong, robust, rustic, wild, wooly, complex, monolithic all the above?

Several hundred years ago it was none of the above. In the 1300's, the papal court moved to the city of Avignon along with the papacy of Pope Clement V due to political reasons. So ensued several generation of French Popes called the "Avignon papacy". South from Avignon in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the papacy made their summer homes and encouraged the growing of vines in the surrounding areas of Bedarrides, Sourgues and Corthezon. It was at this time that the wines became known as "Vin du Pape". It was not until 1923 when the first Appellation controlee rules were drafted under the leadership of Baron Le Roy thatPublish Post Chateauneuf-Du-Pape AOC was born. In fact, this probably was the first AOC and the precursor of the various regulations to come later on. Returning to Corthezon, we that we come to one of of the most famous Rhone estates in the world, that of Chateau de Beaucastel.

Front gates of Chateau de Beaucastel

On of the characteristics of the terroir of CdP is a layer of stones throughout the vineyards called "galets" which were torn from the alps and placed on the plains by the action of the rhone river in prehistoric times. The layer of stones is supposedly 1.5meters deep and lay flat and hereby constructing a matrix of stone pebbles in which vine roots alternately intertwine their way outwards and downwards towards sources of water - thus creating a robust root system.

Vines are typically grown in gobelets (bushvine). Given the scarcity of moisture and the strong drying action of the mistral winds in this area, this method actually preserves moisture where in other areas would cause the plant to retain too much and encourage rot. In the case of Beaucastel it utilizes the traditional 13 (or more) grape varieties ( Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Clairette, Roussane, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc. The philosophy being one of symphony and harmony where each variety is not able to go at it solo.

To be continued......

Monday, August 13, 2007

Apologies again

It's been a while since any postings and apologies are due. A combination of a busy workload, lack of thematic tastings and too many things on my plate. Believe me when I say, would rather deal with wine topics than sub-prime and market turmoil - but such is life. Promise to have some articles lined up in the not too distant future. Hopefully late summer/early fall.

If it smells like a dog it probably is - Grand cru Burgundy don't sell for the price of of a Vin de Pays. Likewise, high yields and high credit ratings (i.e. AAA/AA rated CDO tranches) don't go together-that would be a contradiction. It's taken the market this long to realize it. Which reminds me of a passage from one of Warren Buffets annual reports "You can't tell who's swimming naked until the tide goes out". In the meantime be careful out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 14, 2007. A smorgasboard

August Clape - 1995 Cornas.

Initially a bit closed and astringent. With time and about 1.5 hours it unfolded, figs, earthy, good finish. However, as it breathed more it also became a bit more sour and thin. Mid palate just didn't seem to have sufficient density - for a Cornas. The finish was quite decent. Perhaps this needs another 5 years to even out. Hopefully then all components would be "synchronized" at least for that 1.5 hours. 90 points. Maybe 2 more in 5 years.

Pierre Morey - 2001 Mersault Perriers

Right out of the bottle oozing with minerals and flint. Not a super hot year so this came through very pronounced. Do not serve this too cold as this would make it too Chablis-like. Give it ~45min to warm up and the overall aromatic profile should be even better. Again a bit light bodied for a Mersault so don't overchill. A bit short on the finish and not exactly my idea of a typical Perriers - a bit on the lean side but nevertheless a very good wine. 92 points.

Billecart Salmon - Brut Reserve - Champagne

Bright and light are my initial impressions. Subtle yeast. Abundant mousse and then a slow but consistent trail of small bubbles. Think of this and Krug as being in the opposite ends of the spectrum in style. In all honesty a little bit short on flavor. Value for money - Jacquesson would probably be my choice.

Henri Bonneau - VdP NV

Last bottle I have. Rustic wine not in a bad sense but one with guts, heart and full of flavor. Suspect Syrah, Grenache and quite a few other ones in here. Decent finish. CHEAP for what you get but I don't find this often - didn't even know Henri Bonneau does this. This would trounce a few appelation wines with names. Have to have this with some good old Provencial fare. Some cassoulet, game or sausages.

Friday, May 04, 2007

May 3, 2007 - Poking around in New Zealand

I'll just admit it right now - I don't really know much about New Zealand - save for the Cloudy Bay, Oyster Bay, Kemeu River, Montana and a handful of others. Definitely good, competent wines but not really stuff that gets your's truly excited... Until I ended up going through Central Otago on vacation. Central Otago is situated on the "South Island" - for those who don't know, New Zealand is actually divided into North and South Islands.

Central Otago - is dry and cool.... perfect for Pinot Noir Burgheads, at least that is what is mostly planted here (>80%). I'll cut to the chase, the promise was Pinot and most producers here make small amounts and the price is not exactly cheap. Many are good competent renditions of Pinot Noir (other's not quite so) but not something that makes my heart skip a beat. I have been told to give some of the special reserve bottlings a try. That will be done but frankly they are not easy to get a hold of and definitely not cheap (~ 2-3 times price of regular stuff). This has alot to do with the strong New Zealand currency lately. Will get back on the results of those later...... No, what had got me excited was not the Pinot Noir but Riesling! Frankly, I was just about to give up on New World Riesling until now.

It's really got potential and the key is - acidity. A couple of them caught my attention such as wines from Felton Road and Mount Difficulty. I would say they are stacking up quite well in the Trocken all the way up to Auslesse territory ( though wines are not classified in this manner). Unfortunately, due to the dry climate it might be a bit difficult to get BA / TBA type wines here. Eiswein has been tried but the yields were frighteningly low and probably not commercially viable. I also get the impression that the domestic markets don't seem to care for higher residual sugars.... a shame because it sure seems the acidity is there to balance this out ( can't pull it off otherwise). Most impressed with the Mount Difficulty Riesling portfolio - I think it may give the Germans a good run. Felton road was another good example although I preferred their drier offerings here. I didn't quite like the '06 Block 1 Riesling which has higher residual sugar but a smatter of bitterness. To me this character is distracting in an Auslesse type wine. Having said that there is still a perceivable gap between this and the Egon Muller's, Donhoffs and Kellers ..... Well to be fair everyone else is in the same boat. Hmmm what else... I really liked the Pinot Gris made by Amisfield - more than alot of the Italian Versions. The Pinot Gris has potential as well I would say. Given that the region here is relatively new (15-20 years at most?) - the vines really have some potential and even more so for the above mentioned grape varieties.

The problem as I see it now is the strong currency. Wines from this region and especially Pinot Noir are going to face a quandry because they are no longer "cheap". At those price levels we begin to expect a little something extra - and in most cases it falls short. So at this point it may seem there are 2 roads to choose from. (1) Try to minimize costs and perhaps quality in some areas to compete (2) Go for the high end markets and no-compromise wines. This is risky in itself and is partly dependent on vine age (compared to France's with 30-70 year old vines). Perhaps in a way it's a good thing the Euro has strengthened as well - if not this problem would be even more pronounced.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

March 25, 2007. Wine lovers of the world unite to cure diseases!

Have you ever wanted to help out in understanding and perhaps even finding the cure to diseases such as Alzheimer's, Cancer, Parkinson's and others?

Well now you can.

The Idea

folding@home is a distributed computing effort organized by a nonprofit institution affiliated with Standford University's Chemistry department. Protein folding is involved in very basic biological processes. If we understand these processes and mechanisms better then a cure could be possible. In order to do this, computer simulations are required. On the other hand, the se simulation requirements are beyond even most supercomputers. The trick is to pool together hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Desktop, Laptop, and now even the Playstation3 to cut the problem down to size. Currently, the combined computer power of this network could very well be the most powerful floating point computing unit globally.

The results are will not be owned or sold but will be submitted to scientific journals and available to everyone.

How to contribute
You can read all about it at their webpage:

What is required is your own machine and a piece of software download from their website. This software works on a piece of the problem whenever the computer has "spare time". When computations are completed - the results are uploaded back to the server at Stanford. On a fast PC each work unit will most probably take a couple of days. On the new Playstation 3 system this takes ~8-9 hours!!!. In the last couple of weeks, an add-in has been included to enable PS3 machines to help in on this. The PS3 can complete a job in a fraction of the required time of a PC. At this stage, roughly ~20k PS3 units have signed up and the combined computing power has already matched all the available PC units in the network - globally. If you have one of these unites - why not put it to good use when idle?

Join Team "Bacchus"
Computation of these problems can also be organized into "Teams" for identification purposes (combined computation time, work units etc...) If anybody cares, I have set up team "Bacchus" (Team #59314) on the server. Let's show people that wine lovers care too!

March 24, 2007. Smorgasbord Tasting

1996 Jacquesson Signature Champagne.
Friends tried to pull a fast one and claimed it was a Salon. Certainly did not taste like something from Mesnil. Hints of green apple, toast/bread, good acidity. This will needs more time to settle down even now - A higher class version of the non vintage version. The grapes from Avize ( Chardonnay) seem to be quite prominent. 91 points now and should get better ( ~94pts) in 5-7 years.

2003 Coche Dury Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Very different from the last tasting. Aromas of minerals and pinot now in much better balance and more forthcoming. Caveat are the hints of slightly burnt pepper & grape smell that seems to be common many 2003's - not sure if this is a good thing. Certainly not typical of Burgundy character. Nevertheless, it has a medium body whereas it seemed thin and withered when it first arrived - fruit is abundant and the tannins are quite refined. Still it lacks the multi-layered dimensionality and finish that is required of a great wine. But hey it's just a Bourgogne. 89points.

2001 La Fluer Mongiron
Nose seems to be evolving and developing more complexity. However, the body seems to have hollowed out - didn't seems to have the "stuffing" like before. Not sure if it's starting to go downhill or entering a "shut down phase". If it was the later, it should have done this a while ago in previous tastings. 87-88 points.

2005 Joh.Jos (JJ) Prum. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatslese.
Bright vibrant rich, good acidity and sugars. Like most 2005 arguably could be classified as Auslese in less gifted years. It has a good balance of sugars, acidity and concentration. Like most other 2005, mineral and petrol hints seem sublimated and hard to pick out because of the dominance of other characters - I'm sure they will surface with time. Definitely can benefit from a few more years in the seller but is seductively easy and good drinking now. 92 points.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March 21, 2007. Champagne demystified

Much myth and disinformation exists around the wine and history. Perhaps it's better to start from the beginning. With annual production >300 million bottles a year - make double sure you are getting the real deal.

Champagne Trivia
#1 - Originally Champagne was not fizzy
Originally, Champagne at least up until the 17th century was probably more along the lines of a rose than the sparkling we know today.

#2 - Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne
That was more marketing blitz byMoet & Chandon in the early 20th century. Actually, it was the English who added sugar to still wine from Champagne before our famous Benedictine monk.

#3 - Napoleon's favorite Champagne house was Moet & Chandon.
Jacquesson came in 2nd - the medal awarded to the house was for the grandiosity of the cellars.

In 1728, the law forbidding shipment of wines in bottles was revoked. Soon after, many Champagne houses began to appear. Among them Ruinart, Moet, Cliquot, Heidsick and Jacquesson to name a few. It was only in the early 20th century that the practice of disgorgment arrived (i.e. removing the sediment by freezing the wine at the neck). Prior to this, Champagne always had sediment due to the lees. Over the years different Champagne houses "targeted" different markets. The houses of Cliquot and Roderer looked at Russia while the houses of Bollinger and Krug looked to Britain.

The Grape & Wine
Three types of grapes are used in the making of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay). Two of these varietals are what Burgundy is famous for. In Champagne however, the northerly location and hence cooler climate gives these varietals a higher acidity - a key component to longevity in a great Champagne. Very often Champagne is a blend of these grapes. Non vintage Champagne (NV) would be this and a blend of various vintages to maintain a "house style". This requires the wine maker to have an expert knowledge of blending. The NV tends to get the 2nd rate juice is frankly less interesting than vintage Champagne. The Pinot Noir in the blend is supposed to give the wine structure while Chardonnay is supposed to add acidity and bouquet - both have good aging potential. Pinot Meunier is a very hardy grape and was probably prized for that rather than any inherent qualities over the other two varietals. Blends with this grape are purported to be shorter lived - perhaps unbalancing the other components over time.

When to Drink
IMHO Vintage Champagne is usually opened too early. If you like the fizz open an NV - Vintage Champagne needs age especially the good ones. Now comes subjectivity and personal preference - I like mine (especially Blanc de Blancs) north of 10 years. The balancing point between youth, complexity & maturity (without going over the hill) is where I like it - in other words guesswork. For Vintage Champagne from good producers in good years 10 years is way too young... The 1990 Vintage is only coming into adolescence.

Types of Champagne
  • NV or Non-Vintage Champagne. A blend of many vintages to form a consistent style.
  • Demi-Sec/Sec. Sweet or semi Sweet Champagne (usually the worst juice goes here).
  • Vintage Champagne. Usually offered only in good vintages but not adhered by many.
  • Blanc De Blancs. "White from white". Wine from Chardonnay grapes only (usually). Best examples need age
  • Blanc De Noirs. "White from Black". From Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Probably needs more aging than Blanc De Blanc. Aromas can have vegetal and animal nuances - bit like a mature red Burgundy. Not to everyone's liking.
  • Special bottlings. Usually the best and most expensive juice the house has to offer. Examples are Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Bollinger R.D. , Pol Roger Winston Churchill, Salon "S", Krug Clos De Mesnil etc...

Notable Champagne Villages
  • Ambonnay - Pinot Noir 80%, Chardonnay 20%
  • Avize - Chardonnay 100%
  • Ay - Pinot Noir 86%, 4% Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay 10%
  • Dizy - Pinot Noir 29%, Pinot Meuinier 41%, Chardonnay 30%
  • Epernay - Mainly because most Champagne houses are represented
  • Mareuil-sur-Ay - Pinot Noir 82%, Pinot Meunier 9%, Chardonnay 9%
  • Le Mesnil-sur-Oger - Chardonnay 100%
  • Reims - Pinot Noir 31%, Pinot Meunier 38%, Chardonnay 31%
  • Verzenay - Pinot Noir 90%, Chardonnay 10%
  • Verzy - Pinot Noir 80%, Chardonnay 20%

Favorite Champagne Houses (Value, Quality or both)
  • Billecart-Salmon
  • Bollinger
  • Charles Heidsck
  • Jacquesson
  • Krug
  • Piper-Heidsik
  • Pol Roger
  • Salon

* Reference material from Richard Juhlin's excellent book "4000 Champagnes"

Saturday, January 13, 2007

January 11, 2007. A Happy (belated) New Year.

First off, a Happy New Year and good health to all. It has been a busy past year and unfortunately this has led to a slowdown in new posts lately. This year we start of with a new look and hopefully try to write more about wine and also it's natural partner - food. Besides, would you trust the advice of someone in wine if they couldn't tell chicken from pork?!! Stay tuned.