Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Jawdropping Riesling from Heymann-Löwenstein

I've written a lot about the extremely high quality of 2010 rieslings from Germany's Mosel valley. With their fresh fruit flavors, intense minerality and razor-sharp acid, the wines offer tons of pleasure now, while the best will evolve for decades. And when an expert winemaker like Reinhard Löwenstein of Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein gets his hands on some 2010 grapes, the result is a perfect storm of riesling.

Specifically, I'm praising the 2010 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling "von blauem Shiefer Reserve." These riesling grapes are grown on some of the tallest and steepest slopes in the Mosel Valley, near the town of Koblenz. The vines here are forced to dig deep into the blue slate soils to survive, hence the "von blauen Schiefer" designation, which means "from blue slate." The grapes in this wine were harvested at high levels of ripeness (auslese levels for the wine nerds who are wondering) but this wine is fermented bone dry to 13% alcohol. The "reserve" designation was only tacked on to the 2010 vintage, another demonstration of this vintage's unique place in the world of of Mosel riesling. The result is one of the most stunning examples of 2010 Mosel riesling I've tasted so far.

This wine went perfectly with a pork
schnitzel and a riesling mustard sauce.
The wine is a golden yellow color in the glass. Exotic aromas abound: white peach, fresh wildflowers, orange zest and hints of clover honey. Or, as an enthusiastic fan writes on a popular wine forum: "Aromatically, it's bumpin' like J-Lo."

The acid hits the palate right away, and sticks around through the finish. The acid is lip-smackingly high, but I have to admit: I friggin' love it. Crazy-good flavors of rich white peach, Granny Smith apple, lime zest, margarita salt, tangerine rind... the flavors go on and on. The level of freshness is absurd. This riesling shows rich fruit but it's laced with tons of acid and minerals for balance. Hints of chestnut on the long finish.

Basically, it's a classic riesling. No joke, for me this is a 95 point riesling. It's one of the best wines I've had all year, without a doubt. I'm going to try and age several bottles of this wine because it will improve for 10, 20 maybe even 30 years. But it's so delicious, I'm not sure if it stands a chance of being left undisturbed for long.

"This wine is blowing my mind AGAIN," says the forum member, "and I'm wondering if it's just exploiting a genetic predisposition in my makeup, or if it's as utterly bad-assed as I think it is."

It's not just him. This wine is indeed bad-assed. And for $28 from Weygandt Wines in DC, it's also the deal of the year. It's so good, I had to make sure I bought some more before I wrote about it.

This riesling inspired me to cook up some German-esque food to go with it. I had a few pork chops that I pounded until they were flat and thin. I was feeling creative and adventurous so I crushed up a bunch of fortune cookies and mixed in bread crumbs, salt, pepper and Tony Chachere's seasoning for the breading. I dipped the meat into an egg wash, then into the breading mixture and sauteed them in a pan of olive oil. When the "schnitzels" were done, I opened up a jar of riesling mustard I got in the Mosel Valley last year and spread some on top. This recipe might sound quite bizarre, but it actually turned out to be delicious. The fortune cookies added a bit of sweetness to the schnitzel while the riesling mustard gave it great bite and tang. When paired with this riesling, it was nothing short of beautiful.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Love and Insanity in Tim Sandlin's Novel "Sex and Sunsets"

I’ll get right to the point: Tim Sandlin’s novel “Sex and Sunsets” has to be one of the best I’ve read in… well… some amount of time. The first line hooked me: “The need has come for me to explain myself to someone.” And the book doesn’t let up for a moment.

The narrator and protaganist is a man named Kelly, a 30-something drunk, dishwasher and failed writer of Western novels. He’s also a divorcee who hears voices speaking to him through moving water. The sink, the creek, the rain, they all talk to him. Kelly tells the reader early on: “I’m not crazy. Remember that.” Of course, as soon as he brings it up, the reader can’t help but look for clues about Kelly’s sanity, or lack thereof. And Kelly engages in a lot of what could be called crazy behavior.

For example, while watching a bride at her wedding kicking a football, Kelly decides that he will marry her. No worry that she has just married someone else that same day. No worry that he doesn’t know her name. Another example: Kelly hang-gliding into the side of a lodge in a desperate attempt to impress that same woman.

Kelly isn’t totally ignorant of his lady problems. “My Romantic Interests are generally confused when I meet them, unhappy while we’re together, then ridiculously at peace about six months later.” But he cannot envision a world where he and Collette (the newlywed woman he’s obsessed with) aren’t together forever. He’s completely harmless in his obsession (well, maybe not completely), but Collette understandably gets a restraining order.

Kelly doesn’t know how to quit. “This series of obsessions, if you want to call them that, has made me into what I consider a unique individual,” he confesses. And that’s what makes him such a lovable narrator.

Kelly is poor and a bit lacking in cleanliness, while Collette is beautiful and recently married to an incredibly wealthy man. Despite these odds, Kelly manages to pry his way into Collette’s heart. Soon, they’re actually spending time together. This, of course, encourages Kelly’s delusions of grandeur: “My calling in life was to save this beautiful woman from her calamitous marriage. I would hound her into loving me for her own good – not mine.”

“Sex and Sunsets” is the story of Kelly’s neverending quest to get Collette to love him. The novel is also an ode to the power of fiction. Kelly is a man with desire, and what he desires is constricted by reality. So, instead of giving up his desires, Kelly rages against reality. If he pushes hard enough, if he commits himself fully to his goals, can he break down the barriers of reality? Kelly sums up this predicament when he talks about why he writes: “I never told Mom that I write books. I was afraid she might want to read one. She might decide I’m a bad writer and try making me face reality. She’s always after me to face reality, but I don’t see how it’s possible to do that and write a novel at the same time.”

The cover of this book contains a quote from People magazine that says this novel, “falls somewhere between On the Road and Bright Lights, Big City.” Maybe Sandlin’s paying some homage to Kerouac here, but the comparison seems like a bit of a stretch. One thing’s for sure, in my mind at least: Sandlin is a far better writer than Jay McInerney. To me, this book is written more in the tradition of Charles Bukowski’s novels. There’s as much drinking and hilarity as Bukowski, less sex (despite the title of the novel), and where Bukowski is always chasing after women, plural, Sandlin’s character is always chasing after one woman, singular. And he won’t stop until he gets her.

This novel was first published in 1987 but it’s stood the test of time. It’s still fresh, punchy and provocative. Sandlin is a wordsmith, a romantic and a comedian, and Kelly is as real as narrators get. Whatever his inspirations may be, Sandlin demonstrates his own style and tells his own story. And it’s a hell of a good one.

Monday, July 23, 2012

2005 Mitolo "G.A.M." Shiraz

Here’s the next chapter in my Australian shiraz chronicles...

2005 Mitolo Shiraz "G.A.M." (Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale)
This Aussie shiraz is named after the children of the winemaker: Gemma, Alexander and Marco. If the goal was to create a worthy tribute to the Mitolo family, the winemaker succeeded wonderfully.  

It looks like textbook Aussies shiraz as I poured it into the decanter: a pitch purple color, almost black. I noticed a significant amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle and some crust around the neck. For that reason alone, it’s worth decanting, but this wine definitely benefits from oxygen.

The aromas start off like a tight ball of dark and compact fruit. With some air, the black cherry and plum aromas start to come out, and it begins to smell like a fresh fruit tart dessert. There’s a bit of charcoal and just a hint of rich loam aromas as well.

The tannins add a texture of finely ground coffee to the palate. I’ll admit that the alcohol is evident, but it’s inoffensive. I recommend serving this wine at a little above cellar temperature (about 60 degrees) or giving it a good half hour in the fridge if it’s been stored in passive conditions, because the cooler temperature will help tame some of the alcohol. I’m a big fan of acid in my shiraz, but that’s not something you find often in Australia. There’s just enough acid in this wine to keep it from tasting too big and overwhelming, although I’d prefer some more. Flavors of black cherry, cola, licorice and hints of mocha abound. Hints of and creamy cherry fruit toast accent the finish.

I’m glad I’ve held off on opening this bottle and let it reach an interesting stage in its evolution. If anything, I’d say this wine could use another three to five years of age. I get mixed results with aged Aussie shiraz. I start off hoping that they’ll lose some of the baby fat fruit and calm down a bit, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes I find that the fruit simply fades and leaves you with flavors of prunes and stewed tomatoes. That’s not the case with this shiraz, which is made for the long-haul. I had a 2003 vintage of this same wine last year and absolutely loved the leather and meat aspects that it showed. The 2005 currently lacks some of those secondary characteristics, but I think they’ll come out in due time.

A lot of wines of this style can come across as overblown and boisterous. It sounds counterintuitive, but I’m frequently bored by such in-your-face wines. But the 2005 Mitolo "G.A.M." shows a level of purity and boldness that makes for a great drinking experience.

I rated it 91 points.

Lastly, some technical info from the winemaker: "The G.A.M. Shiraz comes from the Chinese Block vineyard which is located in the Willunga district at the southern end of McLaren Vale. The soils... are heavy grey loam soils over sandstone, intermixed with black Biscay clay..."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Justice Kills: Love and Anarchy in 1880s Chicago

“The lives of working people like us don’t often get written down; our stories and struggles don’t get passed on to the next generation, or into the textbooks. The monopolists control history to the same extent they do the economy.” – Albert Parsons

In 1887, the State of Illinois executed Albert Parsons and several of his cohorts. He was hung from the gallows, but his neck was never broken, and witnesses say his body twitched for eight minutes before he finally suffocated. Parsons, one of the most prominent voices for workers and minorities this country had seen, was not executed for some malicious act. Parsons committed no actual crime. The charges against him lacked any and all evidence. But this did not stop a bloodthirsty judicial and political system from literally choking the life from Parsons. In the plainest of terms, Parsons was executed for his political beliefs.

If you haven’t heard this American story, re-read the Parsons quote I opened with. Luckily, Martin Duberman, a renowned historian and novelist, has taken this piece of our nation’s history and brought it to life in his novel “Haymarket.” This novel tracks the life and love of Albert Parsons and his wife Lucy. It’s their love story, but it’s also the story of their love for working people and basic human rights. It’s a novel, yes, but it’s a damn well-researched one. Duberman dug through every possible document and resource related to the working class struggles of the late 19th Century. The product is a timeless and tragic story whose power and vibrancy still reverberates today.

Parsons’ time was not a hopeful one. When he and his wife Lucy moved to Chicago in 1873, a veritable war was underway. The monopolists, police and politicians, with nearly unlimited resources and “the law” on their side, waged war on a divided, poor and angry working class. This was a time of extra-judicial executions of labor leaders. The Chicago police, who were using their power and force to defend their racketeering empire, were nothing more than a mob of trigger happy hoodlums. Striking workers demanding a few cents more a week got bullets and batons. The workers demanded bread, and as one police official put it, they could instead expect “the rifle diet.” The factory floors, picket lines and streets of Chicago (as well as other cities all across the country), ran red with blue collar blood.

Since leftist history is nonexistent in America, books like this are vital in understanding where the American working class came from. What does it mean to be a “worker” in America? Why are unions demonized in our society? Why are working people viewed as the problem and not unchecked corporate power? How does control over the means of production impact political power? These are questions we don’t ask. These are questions “Haymarket” forces us to confront.

More Muscadet

If you don't know muscadet, you're missing out. Grown in the western part of France's Loire Valley and made from the relatively unknown white melon de bourgogne grape, muscadet offers some of the best bang-for-your-buck white wines anywhere in the world. The wines frequently feature laser-like acid, green apple and citrus fruit and a distinct sense of minerality. At their best, muscadets have an uncanny ability to translate sea breeze, salt water and sea shells into a glass. And as someone who grew up on the beach, there's not much more I can ask of a white wine.

Because of the insane heat wave we've been getting here on the East Coast, I find myself looking more than ever to muscadet for refreshment. Last week I opened a very modestly-priced bottle ($12 at Weygandt Wines!) and experienced just that. The 2011 Domaine de Beauregard (Laurent Gregoire) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie. It showed aromas of sweet peach, sea breeze and chalk. The palate is light and tangy, with lime zest and green apple flavors. There's not as much creaminess in this wine as I get from other sur lie wines (which spend some time on the yeasts), but it's by no means a thin wine. There's a nice canned peach flavor as well. It's not the most complex wine, but if you're in the mood for a salad or oysters on a hot summer evening, you could do a hell of a lot worse. I gave it 83 points.

If you've tried a muscadet recently, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wine Book Review: "Is This Bottle Corked?"

Review of "Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine" by Kathleen Burk & Michael Bywater

“Wine, more than any other food or drink, is a storyteller…”
As a writer, storyteller and oenophile, I love this analogy. In simple terms it explains why I fell in love with wine and why it has been such a big part of my life ever since.
The book is structured in snippets. From cover-to-cover it’s a bunch of small musings on wine in literature, history and science. Each chapter is a question, which the authors then attempt to answer.
Some snippets are interesting and informational, such as: “Why does Chateau Palmer have an English name?” The section “What can you do with leftover wine?” contains a decent recipe for a red wine sauce to serve with steak. Some other questions border on the ridiculous, such as “Is there wine in Paradise?” and “What links Papuan pigs, peacocks, and Petrus?” The answer is unsatisfactory.
While a bottle of good wine can have a fascinating story to tell, I can’t say the same for co-authors Kathleen Burk and Michael Bywater. Like overzealous journalists, these two get carried away, and the story gets lost.
Let me offer a few examples…
In a snippet on cork taint, the authors explain that corked wine smells of “mushrooms” and the “dead leaves of the woodlands.” Not to be nitpicky, but many an aged Burgundy or Northern Rhone syrah show these aromas as part of their natural evolution. If I poured down the drain every wine that smelled of mushrooms or dead leaves, I would’ve missed out on all the great wines of Barolo, St. Joseph, Hermitage, Pauillac, etc. These aromas might not be signs of taint, but signs that the wine has been aged perfectly. To me, cork taint (also known as TCA) smells not of mushrooms and “autumnal woodlands” but moldy cardboard and newspapers that have been left out in the rain for a week. Have you ever been in a basement several days after a flood or water leak, when all the boxes have been soaked and attacked by mold? That’s the aroma of cork taint, and once you smell and recognize it, you’ll never forget it. The aroma of a portobello or shitake is heavenly by comparison.
I don’t want to beat up on the authors too much, but they also remark: “If the sommelier has sniffed the cork after pulling it, he ought to have already spotted [cork taint] for you…” First of all, who said the sommelier had to be a dude? Secondly, cork smells like cork. You detect TCA by smelling the wine in the glass and, if it doesn’t reek enough, by tasting it. TCA has been studied and written about for years (and it’s a common discussion topic for wine nerds like myself), so I really wonder how these two authors could be so clueless about the basics.
The authors spend a while discussing the French term terroir, summing it up as “… all the natural elements of a place. This means that the place matters.” Only a few sentences later they proclaim: “Many growers and winemakers in the New World continue to deny that such a thing exists.” Really? New World growers and winemakers actively state that soil type, microclimate and vineyard aspect have nothing to do with a wine’s essence? I guess that’s why there are no vineyard-designated New World wines, right? (Insert sarcastic emoticon). This is the wine writer’s equivalent of a Fox News anchor prefacing some craziness with “Some people say…” It’s lazy, not to mention an incorrect statement.    
In an essay on the trend of higher alcohol in wine, the authors write: “Now that so much wine has such high levels of alcohol… two people sharing a standard bottle (750ml in volume) could feel unpleasantly inebriated, as well as feeling guilty at exceeding the daily alcohol consumption recommended by doctors.” All I’ve got to say about that is: Ha!
The book does contain some information I didn’t know, or knew at one point and forgot. For example, I learned that the founding fathers cheered the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira. I also learned that “People under a pleasant degree of intoxication make longer eye contact than the virtuously sober.”
Unfortunately, these interesting facts and stories are few and far between. Even for beginners, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book. There are so many more accurate and readable books on wine, Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible”  for example.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tasting New Wines with Peter Weygandt

Thank Bacchus for Peter Weygandt. Not only does he import a wide array of hand-picked, terroir-driven wines, but he's a damn nice guy. Over the years I've tasted a lot of wines with Peter, and it never ceases to amaze me how much he knows about his wine. He's got an experienced yet nuanced palate and a great ability to communicate, so the tastings are always informative and fun.

On Saturday Peter had a few dozen bottles open at the shop. He already sells some of the wines, while others will soon be on the shelves. Like all of Peter's selections, those at the tasting demonstrated traditional characteristics and a sense of place. Here are some notes on a few of Weygandt's imports.

2010 Tenuta Adolfo Spada Fiano di Avellino - Italy, Campania, Fiano di Avellino
Nothing like a good Campanian white on a summer day. Floral and melon aromas. Melon rind on the palate, a bit of oiliness. Nice cut on the finish. As my buddy Truman said, "It's a sticky day wine." (86 pts.)

2011 Marc Plouzeau Sauvignon Touraine Les Devants de la Bonnelière - France, Loire Valley, Touraine
When I tasted this blind last week, I guessed it as a Sancerre. Aromas of lemons and minerals, but I also picked up just a hint of green onion this time. Lots of acid, minerals and a bit of brine on this one. For $15, this is such a good sauvignon blanc. (88 pts.)

2010 Weingut Dr. Siemens Riesling Scivaro - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Initially there was a bit of hay and herbs on the nose, but it shifted to show white flowers, apricot nectar and circus peanuts. The palate is zippy and full of minerals, backed up by ripe melon fruit. That 2010 acid carries the wine from start to finish. A really solid riesling for the price point. (89 pts.)

2011 Herdade do Sobroso Vinho Regional Alentejano Sobro - Portugal, Vinho Regional Alentejano
I was surprised by the vibrancy and personality of this Portugese white wine. Sweet peaches and cotton candy on the nose. But the palate isn't sweet or overripe, just full of lush pear and melon fruit. Acid sings the entire time, and the finish is laced with minerals. Great party wine. (87 pts.)

2010 Catherine et Pascal Rollet Pouilly-Fuissé Domaine de la Chapelle Aux Bouthières - France, Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé
Gorgeous, elegant nose of pear, yellow flowers and hints of hazelnut. The palate is full of acid, from start to finish, and mixed in there are flavors of sweet pear, honeydew melon and a hefty shot of minerals. Delicious. (90 pts.)

2010 Domaine Daniel et Denis Alary Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange La Grange Daniel - France, Southern Rhône, Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange
Honey, ripe peach and clover on the nose. The palate shows a lot of rich melon and apricot fruit, but balanced acid, and a hint of nougat. 100% roussanne. (87 pts.)

2008 Domaine David Clark Côte de Nuits Villages - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits Villages
I was very impressed with the way this wine showed. It was really open and expressive, not shut-down at all. Fragrant aromas of cherries, smoke and beef broth. The palate shows silky tannins, tangy acid and flavors of pure cherry fruit, smoke and earth. Very subtle toast on the finish. Overall, this is a really balanced and complex village wine. (90 pts.)

2011 Domaine les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse - France, Southern Rhône, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse
Aromas and flavors of sweet cherries and cola. Simple, but quite yummy. (84 pts.)

2009 Domaine Canet-Valette Saint-Chinian Une et Mille Nuits - France, Languedoc, Saint-Chinian
I'm glad Weygandt Wines will be bringing this stuff in. I've been a fan of Canet-Valette since I tasted their wines when I was a 21-year-old wine newbie. It's been years since I've had one, and the 2009 Une et Mille Nuits was a great re-introduction. Very fragrant, showing black olives, smoke, and lots of plums and dates. The palate is packed with dates, plum skins and gritty tannins. The fruit is backed up with savory broth, smoke and black pepper. Long, complex finish. This begs for lamb. (90 pts.)

2008 Domaine Canet-Valette Saint-Chinian Le Vin Maghani - France, Languedoc, Saint-Chinian
Cavent-Valette's high-end bottling, the Maghani, deserves serious credit. Lovely Languedoc aromas of sheep farm, charcoal, pepper. There's also this lovely aroma that reminds me of a combination of fresh cherries and rhubarb. Incredible, complex nose that will only get better with time. The palate is so savory: bacon fat, grilled meat, charcoal, mixed with black cherries and cassis. The finish is seamless and silky. 91+. I imagine this will get better of the next three-to-five. (91 pts.)

2009 La Bastide Blanche Bandol - France, Provence, Bandol
Aromas of plums, smoke, graphite and beef broth. The palate is medium+ bodeid with grippy tannins. It tastes very young, and needs a decant at least, but more likely two years of time in the cellar. Brute flavors of grilled meats, iron, tobacco, along with hardcore plum. Very enjoyable, but this youngin' needs time. (89 pts.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Things I See in DC - #2

I'm an observer. I watch people and things and try to make some sense of them. This world is a strange place, and writing down what I see makes me feel like less of an alien. I see a lot of interesting things in my adopted hometown of DC. Here are a few such things:

Things I See in DC - #2 (June-July, 2012)

A chipmunk scurries through a hole in the fence, onto the patio, eying a saltine cracked I left out, knowingly, just for her. She chomps it down and stuffs her cheeks full, escapes through yet another hole in the fence. The whole time my cat, Sonoma, watches from behind the glass, keen, focused, shivering with the want of violence.

I’m on a red line train, coming home from a baseball game, when a young man walks up to me. He slaps me five, gives me a hug and asks, "Where'd you serve time, bro?" After some interesting discussion about my lack of time behind bars, this gentleman informs me that the placement and design of one of my tattoos has a deeper meaning than the one I ascribe to it. Apparently, according to my tattoo, I’m a member of a certain Latino gang, a member who has served time in California state prison. After explaining this to me, the man pulls up his shirt and shows me his tattoo, which is strikingly similar to my own.  

Click here for the May-June 2012 installment.

A bird stops by to say hello while I'm working on some writing in Cleveland Park .

A Coconut Chardonnay

Sometimes I come across a chardonnay that is so full of butter and toasty flavors, it's like drinking some sort of coconut product. Here is just such a wine....

2010 Michael Pozzan Winery Chardonnay Annabella Special Selection (USA, California, Napa Valley)

This Cali chard was fermented in French oak and aged six months on the lees (yeasts), giving it a rich and nutty personality. It's bright yellow colored with aromas of shredded coconut, golden delicious apple and marshmallow. Rich apple and canteloupe melon flavors lead the palate, along with toasted coconut, circus peanut candy and orange marmalade. Very rich and compact, like a cocktail on the palate. This wine ain't kidding with its butter and coconut. It's just so damn rich. The 2009 vintage of this wine had almost no acid, but the 2010 shows a bit, especially on the finish. And acid, for me, is so important, and in this case it makes the rest of the wine likeable. Toffee nut and yellow apple carry on the finish as well. This is clearly Napa chardonnay, doing its thing, and at a fraction of the cost ($12!) of other similarly-styled California chardonnays. If you like butter and coconut in your chardonnay, seek this out.

85 points IJB

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Blind Tasting of Loire Wines

I love blind tasting wines with good friends. We always end up having great discussions, bouncing guesses off of each other, debating, thinking... drinking. The theme for this blind tasting was "Loire varieties," meaning the wines could come from the Loire Valley in France, or they could be grown elsewhere but made from Loire varieties (chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, melon de bourgogne). Except for the few noted wines, these were all tasted blind, and I wrote down my scores and guesses before the wines were unveiled. There were some seriously crazy wines in this tasting, but also a lot of straight-up delicious ones. This event served as yet another reminder of why I love wines from the Loire. They're so versatile, so full of unique flavors and minerality. And the New World versions did pretty well, too.


Whites and a Rosé

2011 Marc Plouzeau Sauvignon Touraine "Les Devants de la Bonnelière" - France, Loire Valley, Touraine
Very pale color in the glass. Big nose of flowers, lemons, minerals and sea shells. The palate shows tart lemons, lots of minerals and focused acid. It's very precise, with solid length on the finish. Tasted blind, guess: 2010 Sancerre. I was happy to see this was a Marc Plouzeau, as I've been a fan of his wines. This is a great summer bargain, and as my guess showed, it performs well above its price point. (88 pts.)

2010 Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex - France, Loire Valley, Vouvray
Aromas of oil, apricot, a bit of nuts, and some herbs (sage?). The palate starts off quite rich, with lots of peach. It transitions from tangy lime and margarita to minerals. There's a thickness to the palate (higher alcohol?), but the acid keeps it balanced. Guess: South African chenin blanc. (85 pts.)

2011 Clos Roche Blanche Pineau d'Aunis Touraine Rosé - France, Loire Valley, Touraine
I tasted this blind and as soon as I took a whiff, I knew it was from Clos Roche Blanche. There's an earthiness, a natural, dirty component to all of this producer's wines, and I recognized it right away. It shows a pretty light salmon color in the glass. On first pour, this wine smells like musk, pepper and wild strawberries. Over time it opened up to show cinammon candy, dried leaves and a hippie incense sticks. The aromas are complex and volatile, shifting with time and air. The palate shows zippy acid, and the flavors explode with tobacco, dandelion greens and minerals. This wine is insane. I give it serious crazy points, but I also really enjoyed drinking it. (90 pts.)

2009 Domaine de l'Ecu (Guy Bossard) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine "Expression de Gneiss" - France, Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Aromas of oil, dried pear, lemon and a bit of wax. The palate starts of smooth and plump with green apple fruit and lemons, then transitions to a real zingy acid. Flavors of lemon and a hint of herbs made me think sauvignon blanc. Tasted blind, my guesses for this were all over the place, but I finally guessed this as a Northern Italian sauvignon blanc. Turns out this is a really unique muscadet with a range of interesting flavors. Solid stuff. (87 pts.)

2005 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine "Trois" - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Medium yellow color with thick legs. Some sweet apricot and honey on the nose, underlined with some lemon zest and citrus. I also get a really yeasty aroma, almost like a Champagne. The palate starts of big and full, with apricot, lemon rind and grapefruit flavors. There's a solid dose of acid and a streak of minerals. Sea shells and salt carry the finish, which is long and delicious. Tasted blind, I guessed this as a muscadet that spent some serious time on the lees. It's not as precise and steely as some of Pépière's other muscadets, and it's quite rich, but it's undeniably delicious. This wine has the stuffing to age another five years at least. (90 pts.)

2007 Celler Escoda-Sanahuja Conca de Barberà "Els Bassots" - Spain, Catalunya, Conca de Barberà
What an absolutely insane wine. The only thing remotely comparable to this wine is chardonnay from the Jura, but this wine is crazier than any Jura wine I've had. It's unfiltered for sure, showing a smoky apricot color in the glass. Right out of the bottle this wine reeks of cheese rind, campfire, charred peanuts and wax. It smells like it was fermented in one of those ancient open-topped cement containers. On the palate, this wine is even weirder. Very tangy acid, which I like. Flavors of roasted nuts, english breakfast tea and onion grass. No joke, this wine is a medley of bizarre flavors. I tasted this blind, and knew it was some sort of crazy natural chenin blanc. Go figure, it's from Spain. It's almost like a Nicolas Joly, but with a bit less nerve. Thanks, Brett, for bringing this. It's a wine for the open-minded, experimental palate, but I can understand how a lot of people would simply pour out this wine. Some of the tasters did just that. (88 pts.)

2009 Domanine Bonnet-Huteau Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Vieilles Vignes "Goulaine" - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
This wine was not tasted blind, but I like to think I would've guessed it as a muscadet because it's just so classic. Aromas of lemon-lime, sea shells, white flowers and a bit of potpourri. The palate is zippy with acid, showing lots of lemons, melon rind and even a bit of pineapple. Focused, mineral-driven, yet creamy at the same time. Gorgeous finish of limestone and sea salt. This wine will improve with a few years, but it's so clean and refreshing right now. (89 pts.)

2008 Cullen Wines Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon Cullen Vineyard - Australia, Western Australia, Margaret River
Almost clear straw color in the glass. Aromas of almonds, creme brulee and a bit of musk. The palate starts of plump with green apple and pear fruit, then a rush of lemon zinger tea and herbal greens sweeps in. Searing acid on this wine, but its complemented by an oily finish. Tasted blind, I had a really hard time figuring out what the hell kind of wine this was, but I ended up guessing a new world chenin blanc. Thanks, J, for always bringing really cool Australian wines to our tastings. (88 pts.)

This has been one of my favorite dessert wines, year-in,
year-out. It beats a lot of Sauternes at three times the price.
2004 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon "Clos de Sainte Catherine" - France, Loire Valley, Coteaux du Layon
Gorgeous apricot honey color in the glass with big legs. The aromas are so sexy: apricot, white peach, some lemon oil. With time the wine showed more wax and floral aromas. The palate starts off thick and creamy with lots of apricot, peanuts, orange rind and a dose of brisk lemon. With time the acid came out more, balancing the flavors, but this is definitely a rich and luscious wine. Lovely lemon candle and sweet apricot on the finish. This was the wine I brought and I was really pleased with the way it showed. I'd love to taste this again in 10 years because it has so much complexity to unpack. (92 pts.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My First 2011 Mosel Riesling

2011 riesling grapes await harvest in the Mosel town of Bernkastel.
The 2010 vintage in Germany's Mosel Valley is a hard one to follow. Despite a meager harvest, the wines show tremendous depth of flavors, as well as powerful minerals and (perhaps the tell-tale trait of the vintage) their consistently high acid. For those wine drinkers like myself who relish the acid in Moserl rieslings, 2010 is a stunning vintage. The wines tasted wonderful upon release but they have the staying power to last decades. (Here's a full report on the 2010 rieslings I tasted last year in the Mosel.)

So, what's on tap for 2011? Well, it seems the most noticeable difference in 2011 will be the acid, which is fresh, but not as intense as many of the 2010s.

When I visited the Mosel Valley in early October of 2011, it was sunny, warm and all-around delightful. Many Germans told me that this warm weather in September and October would allow them to delay harvest until mid-October, and many were excited about the potential of the late-harvest wines.

Importer Terry Theise referred to the 2011 vintage thusly: 2011 is a two-week trip you take with a new lover, the first such journey through the familiar crucible of 24-hours together day after day, and you can’t believe how well you got along, how un-messy it was, how good you were together. If 2010 was Yikes Mikes, 2011 is easy-peasy. This doesn’t mean the ‘11s are simple wines. They make fewer demands than did the ‘10s, but most of them are interesting and some of them are markedly complex. Their extracts are normal – not low – and their acids are often gentle. Since German Riesling often attracts drinkers who relish high acidity, some of you might find these wines gentler than you prefer. The rest of us – yes, us – will find the wines structured on the smooth side, but acids are not conspicuously absent.

When I asked some fellow wine nerds on WineBerserkers forum what they thought of the 2011 vintage, I got this creative reply: 2011 is a really good back rub, where 2010 is something al ittle more... adventurous. They each have their place.

I think that's a great metaphor, and it helps explains why I'm a huge fan of the 2010s! Still, all signs point to 2011 being a likeable, easy-drinking vintage. Here's a note on my first 2011 riesling from the Mosel.

The bountiful 2011 harvest in the village of Graach.
2011 Weingut Nonnenhof Riesling Classic (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer)
This riesling showed a delightful little spritz in the glass. Aromatically, it shows flowers, orange rind, white peach and a whiff of smoky minerals. On the palate the wine is so tangy, with lovely freshness and lots of minerals. There's a hefty dose of acid on this wine, although it's not mouthpuckering. At 14% alcohol, this wine is dry with some serious thickness and richness from the alcohol. But the acid and fruit keep it all in balance. Lovely apricot and white peach linger on the finish. My brother-from-another-mother, Fritzroy, brought this wine back from Germany and we opened it on a 105% day in DC. This wine was perfect for the occassion. I give it an admittedly biased but unabashed 90 points.

I can't wait to try some more 2011 Mosel rieslings to develop a greater understanding of the vintage. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I'll make it to Germany this year, so I'll have to gather up some rieslings here in the States. If you've tasted any 2011 rieslings recently, I'd love to hear your impressions.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Drinking Jura Chardonnay... Again

In my never-ending quest to taste as many expressions of the chardonnay grape as humanly possible, I frequently stumble across the Jura region of eastern France. With their high acid (sometimes austere) and complex flavors of mineral, chalk and nuts, chardonnays from the Jura are some of the most unique in the world. Different producers obviously craft different chards, but almost all the Jura chardonnays I've sipped seem to possess a racy and mysterious quality, a bit of je ne sais quoi.

The wine that started me thinking about Jura chardonnays again was a 2007 Domaine Rolet L'Etoile (France, Jura, L'Etoile). Bassins, a DC-based wine shop with a shifting cache of wines from the Jura, is practically giving this wine away for $17.99. I had to try it.

This 100 percent chardonnay is a pretty yellow color in the glass with thick legs. The aromas are packed with lemons, rich yellow pear, minerals and almond shell. The palate is an interesting combination of oily thickness, razor-sharp acid and brisk minerals. It near full-bodied, with orange rind and honeydew melon flavors, but the acid and mineral intensity keeps it balanced. The flavors of oyster shell and salt brine might not be for everyone, but I love them. If I was searching for a perfect wine to drink with oysters or clams, this would be a serious contender. I also think it could age beautifully for at least five years. I scored it a whole-hearted 91 points.

Chardonnay makes up 34 percent of Domaine Rolet's vines, while the rest of the vineyards are split between the staple Jura varieties of savagnin, poulsard, trousseau and pinot noir. The domaine puts out a range of wines under the Arbois, Côtes du Jura and l'Etoile appellations, wines that I'm now very eager to try.

This is just another example of the unique and value-priced chardonnays that the Jura has to offer.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Milan Kundera and the Art of the Novel

Kundera is a master novelist. In my mind, few other writers take the novel as an art form to such depths. Basically, there are novels, and then there are Kundera novels.

His language so poetic, his words so perfectly woven together, his characters so complicated and knowable, his themes so deep that his novels defy analysis. As someone who writes essays on books, it’s a bit intimidating, like writing an essay on the Sistine Chapel. You’re fucked before your fingers even touch the keyboard.

But here I go anyway…

What is this book about? Art, specifically the art of the novel, erotica, how others will remember (or forget) us after we’re dead, suicide, Hemingway, and on and on. Kundera uses narrative elements (rising tension, interconnected story lines, character development, back story) but the end result is something I’m not sure I can call a “story.” It’s more of a discussion, a slip into some deep poetic trance. It’s a philosophical text without the bullshit academic ornamentation.

Speaking through one of his characters, Kundera offers some thoughts on the novel as a relevant art form. This quote, I believe, sums up what he is trying to do with Immortality: “The present era grabs everything that was ever written in order to transform it into films, TV programs, or cartoons. What is essential in a novel is precisely what can only be expressed in a novel, and so every adaptation contains nothing but the nonessential. If a person is still crazy enough to write novels nowadays and wants to protect them, he has to write them in such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they cannot be retold.”

If this was his goal, he achieved it masterfully. The end result is a novel that should silence all those poor, helpless souls who say things like “I just can’t get into novels... They’re just stories somebody made up... I only read nonfiction... blah, blah, blah...” Those ignorant fools who go through life missing out on humankind’s highest artistic heights are simply wrong, and this novel is proof.

Like another Kundera novel I’ve read and loved, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality is translated from Czech. I don’t know much about the Czech language or novel translation, but there’s something marvelous about Kundera’s native tongue when it is translated into English. Kundera’s description is full of intense emotion and power. Like this: “It is the most beautiful part of sleep, the most delightful moment of the day: thanks to the radio I can savor drowsing and waking, that marvelous swinging between wakefulness and sleep which in itself is enough to keep us from regretting our birth.” I too love that part of the day between sleep and wakefulness, so maybe that’s why this sentence stuck out to me. But Kundera is such a talented artist that he could write about hanging sheet rock and I’d love it.

This novel is also laugh-out-loud funny. In one scene Goethe and Hemingway (both dead and speaking together in some sort of anonymous afterlife) are having a conversation about their lives on earth. Goethe says: “To be mortal is the most basic human experience, and yet man has never been able to accept it, grasp it, and behave accordingly.” When Hemingway dissents, Goethe counters: “Don’t make a fool of yourself, Ernest… You know perfectly well that at this moment we are but a frivolous fantasy of a novelist who lets us say things we would probably never say on our own.” This is one of many examples of Kundera inserting himself into this novel. At times he refers to himself by name and uses his own first-person narration. This is very rare in literature, the novelistic equivalent of the Wizard of Oz voluntarily pulling up the curtain and introducing himself to Dorothy and her fellow travelers. Under most circumstances, this tactic would be distracting at best, but more likely iridiculous. Not with Kundera, of course. Somehow he pulls it off.

And then there are sentences like this: “I knew that if I didn’t go with him on his tire-slashing expedition he would never find anyone else and would remain isolated in his eccentricity as if in exile.” Wow. Who the fuck writes like this? No one but Kundera.

Kundera’s insight into love, sexuality and relationships is impressive. This man must’ve had quite the romantic life, or else an incredible imagination, or both. Regardless of his own between-the-sheets experiences, he really knows how to write hot sex. I’m just being honest: Kundera pulls off erotica with ease.

If you’ve read to this point, you still probably have no idea what the novel is “about.” I just finished it, and I can’t nail it down. It’s art, beautiful art. That’s all. Read it and tell me this man isn’t a genius.