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Archive for the ‘Tastings’ Category

A Pinot Gris at 15

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 16 - 2010

I decided I'd have an easier time adjusting to the missing finger if I was consuming wine while writing (after all, the old writer's adage is "write drunk, edit sober"), so on this beautiful, warm Spring day I pulled out a bottle of 15 year-old Pinot Gris from Alsace: the 1995 Clos Windsbuhl Pinot Gris from Zind-Humbrecht.

In the end I didn't drink enough to even get a buzz, because this is the kind of wine you want to stay sober for! Those of you who are surprised that a Pinot Gris lasted this long, I hope you'll revise your thinking, as this is not uncommon from the great sites in Alsace. Clos Windsbuhl is a single vineyard in Alsace that, for a variety of reasons (which I'll spare you unless someone asks about it) yields wines that generally age well, and are often very tense when young.

Since I was an insufferable newbie AND somehow also a know-it-all when I bought this wine back in 1997 (I was insecure and had a huge ego that was completely in the way of any sensory reception at the tasting I went to. To the extent that you care, we can thank maturity and my wife for feeding me the humble pie.), I have absolutely no recollection of what this wine tasted like back then. However, based on my unusually broad knowledge (umm...where's that humble pie?) of Alsace wine, I imagine that there was some residual sugar that was prominent. If so, this is no longer a principal feature, but has absorbed into the wine as a whole. This is not uncommon in wines this powerful as they age. Think of it this way: this wine was made for a long life, so it's sweetness and acids were not communing very well early on, whereas in some of the very, very popular Chardonnays from Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast--those that many people think are actually dry--are made to co-mingle this sugar and acidity more precociously.

A Pinot Gris like this would be a mind-bending alternative to fans of such wines. The Pinot Gris was fresh, didn't taste "old" at all, and had marvelously vivid stone fruit qualities to go with similar but significantly more suggestive aromas. It was hard to stop smelling this one.

Zind-Humbrecht wines are not inexpensive, but this estate makes some of the greatest wines you can buy. I paid $45 for this wine (at a time when this kind of price made my head swim). That $45 has paid huge dividends for me so far, and I don't doubt that it will continue to do so for the rest of the day (and tomorrow). Strangely, these wines are not as in-demand as they should be. I've known many people who buy those aforementioned Chardonnays--which shall go unnamed (to protect the innocent, since this article is not meant to deride them...maybe I'll write one of those later)--by the case and put them in their cellar, but then they don't drink them all within three years. Naturally they complain that the wines don't taste like they did or--my favorite descriptor--"should." I can only offer commiseration and a new buying strategy. The Clos Windsbuld Pinot Gris currently sells for about $65, equivalent to many of those California Chards, but this wine has no trouble lasting 15 years. Is it any wonder I still can't fathom the relative stagnance of Alsace wine sales at the upper end?

Oh well, I'll just go back to my glass and enjoy it. If I can't get other people to buy these wines, then that'll just leave more for me. But I like sharing, so I'm afraid you'll be in for a continued assault.

Popularity: 4% [?]

White Wines from Southern Oregon

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 20 - 2010

The longer I've been in wine, the more captivated I am by white wine and the wide range of possible flavors that it can give you. This spectrum of flavor is far, far broader than it is in red wine, but somehow white wine has become less satisfying to us as a wine buying public. I don't think white wine has more of an intellectual appeal, besides such a descriptor is better reserved for specific wines that are somehow more mentally stimulating than emotionally nurturing. I can see many possible reasons why red wine has become so popular, though I suspect that it'll be quite a while before I decide I don't have better things to think about than this. For now, I'm willing to settle on the idea that white wine is becoming less fashionable.

If indeed white wine has become significantly less fashionable, then that means that too many people will miss out on the two very exciting wines that hit my glass the other day, both from Foris Vineyards in southern Oregon's Rogue Valley.

I have a long history with Foris, back to the days more than a decade ago when they had a bad label design, which I will admit I actually kind of liked for the fact that you simply couldn't stop looking at it--like a train wreck! Well, if it happened to get you to pick it up, as it did me, you'd find a mesmerizingly chewy Pinot Noir, and you'd go back and buy more. Now the labels have some sleek style, more reflective of all of the wines in their line-up, especially the whites. I love the Pinot Blanc from Foris, but the public doesn't clamor for Pinot Blanc the way I'd like, so common business sense meant that I spent more time getting under the skin of the excellent Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris.

I tasted the Riesling and the Muscat Frissante recently, and they were evocative, fulfilling wines. The Riesling--which is a standby for me--is scrupulous, teasingly aromatic, and tensile, plus it is dry enough to make you rethink your definition of "dry". This is great winemaking, because the Riesling is utterly drinkable, and for $13 that's overachieving.

The Muscat is made in the Moscato d'Asti style, so it has plenty of sugar and plenty of acid to buttress that; low alcohol and light fizz so that you can consume it on your deck in the heat of the day; and such an expansive, perfumed aroma that you feel like you've walked into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. $15 seems cheap for this wine! This one is probably a one-off, because there is usually only enough fruit every year for the dessert wine. Since 2009 yielded a bumper crop of Muscat, I'd take advantage of this and buy a case and drink it liberally, as few wines will bring as much joy this summer as this one will.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Burnet Ridge Cabernet Franc

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 19 - 2010

Two weeks ago I tasted a wine that should create a stir, but it probably won't, just because it's from fruit grown in Ohio. The Ohio State University manages a research vineyard on the shore of Lake Erie, and they called Chip Emmerich, winemaker at Burnet Ridge Winery (based on the west side of Cincinnati), and asked him if he could use it. Obviously Chip said yes, since I'm writing about the wine, and he made a first rate wine.

Burnet Ridge generally makes wine from fruit grown in California and shipped on a train to Cincinnati. Burnet Ridge wines are reliably delicious. The most popular wine is called Purple Trillium, a delicious wine made from a blend of Bordeaux varieties. This isn't Chip's first foray into Ohio wine: a few years ago, he made an excellent Pinot Gris, also from Lake Erie fruit.

The Cabernet Franc that I tasted had just been bottled. It had a marvelous floral aroma that kept me coming back for another sniff again and again. So compelling was the aroma that five minutes passed before I actually tasted the wine itself. The wine was treated to some maturation in American oak, but the aroma didn't reveal this at all. It does show up in the flavor profile with a dusty cinnamon quality that is very attractive. Chip tells me that this is because he used Minnesota oak, which has a tighter grain than the more commonly used Missouri oak. Whatever the case, the result is delicious. It has been released, and you can inquire about getting some here.

Popularity: 8% [?]

Misspeaking & Drinking: Cahors in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 24 - 2010

I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»

I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."

The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....

Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.

Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.

Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.

If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!

Popularity: 11% [?]

A 2009 View of 1993

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Posted by Burke Morton On January - 12 - 2010

Ridge VineyardsWe consumed a ridiculous amount of wine over the holidays. There were many, many people around to drink with us, so the wine covered lots of ground and it stayed pretty peaceful. I toyed with the idea of writing about each "wine day," but I thought better of it when I realized it would lack the requisite cast of characters who get more entertaining by the glass. The wines that we had were great, and I'd like to write about them all (well, not really, but the idea sounded good for a while), but there is one that I can't keep to myself--the Ridge Vineyards 1993 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet.

My Dad bought the wine in late 1999, and it spent the ensuing decade in a temperature-controlled cellar. It's hard to count on longevity if you don't have a good place to store your wine, but conventional wisdom has it that this particular wine would be lucky to live so long even under the best circumstances. This wine did have something extra going for it in that the '93 growing season produced grapes with higher acids than average, and this no doubt contributed to this wine's long-term prospects.

A Bit of Background
The Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, the estate's flagship wine, is one of the icons of California wine. It waves the freak-flag of the vintage, as the wine is intended to be an unadulterated expression of the unique qualities of the growing season. It is long-lived and extraordinary wine, and at upwards of $140 a bottle, it had better be! The Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet is the Monte Bello's significantly more affordable companion wine. It is made from unused ("declassified" might be more accurate) Monte Bello fruit along with fruit from another nearby vineyard, and is crafted to be more fruit-forward, which generally involves some significant intrusion from the winemakers. I'd contend that it is a shining example of outstanding winery practices, though, because--interventionist or not--after sixteen years this wine is glorious.

I praise the winery work because there are many wines (from across California...and around the world really, but that's another discussion!) that are made to be fruit-forward (including some $100 Napa Valley wines), which also hold a promise of long-term maturation--according to the winemakers. Such wines, in my experience, rarely follow through. This gem from Ridge does! You'll find the standard drinking suggestion on the label of the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet (which says it can be drunk immediately but will last for 10-12 years), but the wine way out-performs the prognostication: here we had an old bottle of it that was very exciting, and not even starting to decline. Now I'm going to have to lay my hands on a bottle of '93 Monte Bello! That won't be easy....

I clearly need to buy some more Ridge--probably a single-vineyard Zinfandel this time. Let me know if you have favorites, too.

So here's the low-down on the wine
It started off with some bottle sickness, but this blew-off after about five minutes, revealing fabulous black fruit aromas with both freshness and moodiness. No sign of being "old"--its age shows only in qualities that run much deeper than before...like your high school ex whom you see again after 20 years...their eyes are kinder now...oh, and they look good. Maybe you wouldn't mind getting back into some of that.... Its sensuous, robust aroma is backed-up by a voluptuous mouthfeel and excellent black fruits again, accompanied by a slightly smoky tone that leaves a bit of meaty flavor to the otherwise florally-motivated finish.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Champagne–Farmer Fizz

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Posted by Burke Morton On December - 28 - 2009

Rosé of ChampagneI tasted a handful of excellent estate-bottled Champagnes last week that were magnificent. Champagne is synonymous with luxury, and that is largely thanks to the masterful worldwide representation of the region by some famous name Champagne houses. The wines that I tasted were certainly luxurious, but as far as Champagne is concerned they were a bargain. Of course, we're talking about Champagne, so the idea of what is a bargain is rather skewed. Land costs more in Champagne, and getting the grapes off the vines is not cheap, and of course the process of making sparkling wine isn't terribly inexpensive, so all this conspires to bring the price of Champagne up more than anyone would like, but there is certainly no Sparkling Wine better than a first-rate Champagne.

The line-up:
Jean Milan Carte Blanche--a spectacular Blanc de Blancs (i.e., all Chardonnay) that is even drier than it has been in the past. I have tasted this wine many times through the years, and I am newly dazzled by the purity of its expression, which was--once upon a time--sort of soft and diffuse because it had more sugar (more along the lines of Veuve Clicquot, which is itself technically a dry wine, though it tastes rather sweet to me). This is more vivid than it was formerly, and would be well attuned to some fine oysters, or caviar of course.

René Geoffroy Cuvée Expression--A dynamic little spice bomb...at least the nose gives that impression. I understand that this wine has more Meunier than Pinot Noir, which probably accounts for that and the strawberry-rhubarb quality in the background. It has an excellent earthiness in its flavor profile--an excellent drinking experience.

Vilmart Grand Cellier--all the tell-tales of a luxury cuvée: broad-shouldered wine with long, robust flavors which leaves a Great Impression. Barrel-fermented, so this significant character is going to be a feature. It has a silky plushness yet is well defined and pointed. Has a brioche quality that keeps drawing me back to the glass, do doubt because it is a suggestive flavor, not an obvious one. Remains one of my favorites, and isn't priced like the luxury cuvées at about $70 (I know, I know--that's no small purchase, but other luxury Champagnes are over $120, so it's all relative).

Jacques Lassaigne Cuvée le Cotet--Also a barrel-fermented Champagne, it is not as vivid as the Vilmart, but it is also $20 less. It is a richly appointed wine, beautiful in its expression of a pain au chocolat series of flavors--croissant and chocolate that are continuously emerging over each other--a very cool effect. A really wonderful wine.

H. Billiot Rosé--A wow wine for sure! Rosé of Champagne is typically more expensive than its white sibling, and this one is around $70, as I recall, but it's dynamite. This wine is historically made with a small percentage of still red wine to make your glass rose-colored, and its red-fruit qualities are hard to beat. This is usually one of my favorite Rosés of Champagne, and judging by the fact that I didn't feel like writing anything down because it was so captivating, it remains so.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Video Today


You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 65% [?]

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