Archive for December, 2017

Dec
09

French White Wine “Collectibles”

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2005 Coche Dury Puligny Montrachet “Les Enseignères”–there is no doubt that Coche Dury is at the very top of the “A” list of white Burgundies today.  While this domaine is based in Meursault, they also own 1/2 hectare of Les Enseignères vineyard in Puligny MontrachetWhen I first tasted the 1986 Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne, I was absolutely floored by its boldness, grandeur & magnificence.  It had presence, personality & mojo that was previously only seen from the Montrachet from Domiane de la Romanee-Conti.  Their style was certainly game changing & would inspire others to follow & emulate.  The 2005 is still surprisingly closed.  It certainly & almost vainly has the stuffing, but, even at 12 years in age, still has a LONG way to go in resolving itself.

2010 Château Haut Brion Blanc–one of our regular VINO guests likes to come in & blind taste me on one of his wines now & then.  On this night, it was this wine!  I was very thankful he shared such a wine.  The point of this exercise for him I am sure is to stump me or watch me struggle.  Ha! Ha!  For me, however, the exercise is to see if the wine was good or not…..how much would I pay….& think about what kind of foods I would consider pairing with it.  After all, how many times would someone have an opportunity like this, with such a wine?  This wine tasted VERY sophisticated, refined & high quality with a dollop of very expensive oak to it & I thought a distinct salinity.  Upon a quick 2 minute assessment (this is during service after all), Burgundy came to mind.  I would have paid, $125 to $150 a bottle online, but not $335 as is quoted today.  The wine as it turns out is 46% Semillon, 54% Sauvignon Blanc (not sure if there was a % of Sauvignon Vert in this vintage)….9 to 12 months in oak, 50% new.  The parcel is but 7.09 acres in size.  Yes, I was very thankful to try this wine.  The last Château Haut Brion Blanc I tried & purchased was I believe the 1986 for a winelist I was working with at the time.  I remembered being so inspired by a bottle of 1966 Laville Haut Brion in the early to mid 1980’s that we went on a Château Haut Brion Blanc buying binge of 5 vintages in pursuit of the wonderful perfume & regality I had experienced from that Laville Haut Brion.  It unfortunately never came even close.

2014 “Y”–another rarely seen white wine from Bordeaux.  The question is was this wine brought to assess quality or to stump fellow tasters in a blind tasting?  Again, my thought is always, I am so thankful for tasting such a wine, as opportunities like this don’t around too often.  Here is something I recently read “The dry white wine of d’Yquem. The chateau produces this wine in certain years when conditions permit. ‘Y’ comes from the same exceptional terroir and vines as Yquem’s famous sweet wines. It benefits from identical strict vinegrowing methods, but is harvested and produced differently. ‘Y’ is produced when the deliberate decision is made to pick certain plots of sauvignon blanc grapes at the beginning of the vintage and overripe Semillon grapes later on. This accounts for the small quantities and irregular production. There have been only 23 vintages of ‘Y’ since the first one in 1959!”  The 2014 is 75% Sauvignon Blanc & 25% Semillon, 7 g/l, residual sugar. 

2005 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos”–despite being so VERY youthful, this wine on this night was really strutting its stuff that’s for sure.  This is without a doubt a real thoroughbred.  In the past, the Valmur grand cru vineyard was typically the Raveneau bottling I gravitated to each vintage.  I guess it is because of the remarkable ethereal, sophisticated, high pitched minerality & pedigree the wine typically offers.  This wine in comparison had more bass than treble….more stony & about grandeur.  Furthermore, this wine is WAY more open than my previous encounter, eventhough that was only 3 or so months ago.  What a wine, to say the least!

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This is actually Part Three of our post on the wines of Santorini.  I was so taken by this particular wine project, its visionary, dedicated patriarch & his whole mission of growing & producing wines in as natural way as he can…..we thought this one needs its own post.

As I had mentioned on a previous post, while at Gaia winery on Santorini, the very enthusiastic, highly professional winetasting room host, Melina, after our taste of the Gaia wines, handed the keys of her own car to her friend & told her to drive us to Art Space.  She did mention this was an art gallery, who also happened to make wines……my kind of wines, as she put it.

Art Gallery?  Part time winemaker?  I didn’t know what to expect.   

When we drove to the spot, our driver wasn’t even sure if this was it.  (There is but one very small, plain sign, almost un-noticeable, that she finally saw that confirmed we were there!)  I can honestly tell you my apprehension really grew at this point, as we were far removed in location & a considerable wait for any taxi or driver to come.

After a short time (which seemed like an eternity to me), a gray haired, bearded, wily man came out to greet us.  (It turned out this was owner/winemaker Antonis Argiros himself).  He then took us down to his labyrinth of caves ranging from 30 to 40 feet below, with 21 feet thick pomice walls & ceilings creating a cool, quite remarkable space.  The first few tunnels were decorated with many paintings, separated now & then with sculptures & other artistic pieces.  Yes, this is a really cool looking art gallery, BUT, I couldn’t help but wonder, what am I doing here? 

Then, I saw a concrete hole in the ground & some other winemaking/distilling equipment here & there, all cleaned & neat.  It became apparent, that his space allowed him to have a vertical vinification system (or was it created for that & the art was used to fill in the spaces.  Since he spoke no English, I didn’t know)–3 levels–designed to use natural, gravity flow.  Now, I knew we were on to something. 

He also showed us pictures of the old days–1861 when it started–as well as pictures with him as toddler; how they grew grapes & how they dried the grapes for their vinsanto bottlings.  Since he spoke no English & me no Greek, it was another way to communicate.  As our time together went on, I got a growing sense & appreciation of his fiery passion & his mission.  He was something special & I grew more & more intrigued at the possibilities.

By the time, we sat to taste his wines, he had asked someone to come & interpret for us.  The first wine he poured was produced from the indigenous Aidani grape variety–2014 (organically grown grapes from 70 year old vines, 24 hours skin contact, wild yeast fermented, no ML, 7 months on the lees–looking like an “orange” wine–unfiltered, unfined, coppery color, unusual fruit, slight oxidative taste & showing a distinct bitterness & alcohol in the finish).  I thought it was good, in fact the best Aidani based white wine we had had on the island so far, with real character & mojo.  Sensing our fascination, he then disappeared & came back with a taste of the still fermenting 2017 (with 10% Assyrtiko)–still displaying unusual fruit–quince, starfruit, peach skin, minerality, & still had the same mojo & character to its core.  One could readily see this was some kind of winemaker, whose wines touched me much more so than the other wines we ran across on Santorini.  The defining moment of this visit, however, proved to be the third wine–2015 “Saint August” (98% Assyrtiko, wild yeast fermented, 7 months lees contact).  My notes include–“copper tinge, unique fruit, nutty, full of character, heart, minerality/salinity, surprisingly sublime, seamless, holds 14.5 alcohol surprisingly well“.  This wine really moved me!  I was quite stunned, as the wine was quite unique & idiosyncratic–to the point where I don’t think too many wine lovers would embrace its wildness, its “orange” wine nuances & its completely atypical character. 

At that point, the game changed.  I inexplicably & surprisingly got chicken skin (something that has happened only a few times over the years, especially on a first visit like this).  Because of my obvious reaction, at least partially, I could also see Antonis change.  His demeanor became softer, more like a father talking about his children AND his eyes blazed with excitement & his passion clearly was showing in all its glory.  We definitely connected at that moment.  I made a new wine friend, halfway across the world.

He then disappeared & came back out with a sample of the 2017, which was still fermenting.  I was amazed, despite how hazy, unpolished & fizzy it was, the wine still showed the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness, mojo & obvious winemaking mastery of the bottled wine. 

Antonis then disappeared again, this time coming out with a 2013 “St August” (which when the “interpreter” finally came, noted that he last opened this wine on his BIG birthday, meaning it was something truly special).  Well, it was something truly special.  This slightly aged version again had the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness & mojo, but with a unique nuttiness, peach skin & insane etherealness.  I was absolutely taken by this wine, the grape growing & the winemaking genius of Antonis Argiros.  “Chicken skin visit!”.

Antonis was kind enough to give us the remainder of the 2013 to take back to the hotel so we could taste it again later, after it had aired.  I could more clearly see then, it was not a white wine for everyone’s palate.  Quite candidly & realistically, probably just a few would really get the genius behind his wine, even more so, because the wine is VERY tasty, but not really delicious, charming or truly noble.  I later asked myself, was I just caught up in the moment? 

To that, I would reply–quite candidly, it is possible & probable.  Still, I must add, I don’t get chicken skin like that too often.  (I, in fact, recall less than 10 times previously over the years).  Secondly, I don’t need someone to sing a song pitch perfect.  I just want to someone to sing from the heart AND that it moves me.  That was the case here.  Furthermore, this visit reminded me of what true artisan can mean.  Antonis grows & makes wines like no one else I have encountered.  Lastly I met a very special, new wine friend on the other side of the world AND, I will treasure meeting him & tasting his wines forever.

Thank you Antonis!  Aloha, my friend.

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Dec
02

Wines of Santorini, Greece Part Two

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This is Part Two of our visit to wineries on the Island of Santorini.

Domaine Sigalas–founded in 1991, Sigalas is certainly one of the most heralded in all of Greece.  Paris Sigalas is not only celebrated by the international press, but we found how highly revered he is within his country.  As I noted in an earlier post, we had not set up any winery appointments prior to traveling to Greece.  It was so serendipitous how things worked out for us on this trip, especially winery wise.  Yes, we visited a wine bar in Athens named Vintage & had a fabulous winetasting experience with their resident wine sommelier Effie Anastopoulou, a VERY knowledgeable, charming, welcoming, consummate wine professional.  After tasting several top notch Greek wines with her, she asked if we would be visiting any wineries during our stay in Greece, to which we replied, nothing scheduled yet.  But I said there were at least one winery I had in mind to see–Sigalas in Santorini.  Her eyes lit up & she beamed I used to work there!  She helped us to get an appointment there, a private wine tasting & an audience with Paris Sigalas himself.  Thank you so much Effie!  Sigalas not only produces some stellar wines, but they are always looking to do things better, which means continual experimentation & evaluation.  (They, for instance, train some of their vines along the lines of Burgundy–see picture— versus the traditional koulara style).  I view Sigalas as very scientific in its approach versus the more renegade charge of Hatzidakis.   The wines were therefore, quite pure, minerally, well crafted, stylish & classy.  There is no doubt his Assyrtiko white wine sets the standard for others to aspire to be.  What a great visit!

Hatzidakis–Haridimos Hatzidakis started his namesake wine project in 1996 when he took & worked a small half hectare parcel roughly located at 1200 feet in elevation.  This parcel had laid essentially fallow & unattended since 1956.  Currently the Hatzidakis winery organically farms more like 10 hectares in Pyrgos Kallistis, Megalochori, Akrotiri & Vourvoulos, ranging in elevation from 100 feet up to 1200.  Haridimos represented the New Age of winemaking in Greece, someone who thought & played “out of the box”, & was helping usher Greece, its winemaking & resulting wines into a new era.  It was really sad that we lost him & his genius a couple of months ago.  Wines & Spirits magazine–“He was quiet, hard to draw out; the wines, on the other hand, weren’t shy at all: they were big, rich and concentrated. He raised them organically and vinified them without added yeasts or enzymes and a minimum of sulfur, often in old barrels. They were, on one hand, a throwback to older times; on the other, they spoke of an obsessive attention to farming and a commitment to low yields that could only happen today, when an international audience clamors for wines like these“.  Although, Hatzidakis was respected for championing indigenous Santorini grape varieties such as Aidani (white) & Mavrotragano (red).  It was, however, his work with the Assyrtiko (also indigenous), especially old vines & single vineyards (specifically the Mylos & Louros “Vignes Centenaires”  bottlings) which won his acclaim & his cult like following, internationally.  Assyrtiko de Mylos (the proper name) is very ripe, old vine Assyrtiko grapes of a single vineyard in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis–wild yeast fermented, 8 months on the lees & bottled unfiltered & manually with minimal sulfur.  Assyrtiko de Louros Vignes Centenaires” is 100% old vine Assyrtiko from the village of Pyrgos Kallistis at roughly 360 to 750 feet elevation.  The wine is also wild yeast fermented & spends 24 months on its lees in old barrels & is regarded as their crown jewel.  For me, I would also add that his Assyrtiko grappas (VERY limited) are worth seeking out.  It is really quite a blaze of glory in its category.  His former wife, Kostantina Chryssou, looks to keep the legacy going forward.

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Dec
02

Wines of Santorini, Greece Part One

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We finally arrived at Santorini.  And, while the majority of the time, we walked around to the various towns & breathtaking scenic routes, we did squeeze in a little wine time here & there.  Since Santorini is based on a volcano, the soils are very volcanic in nature.  I found it amazing how one could drive around 3 turns in the road & see its 3 main soil types.

In addition, the island has quite a constant, gusting, ocean wind (at least when we were there) which I would say also affects the vines & especially the grapes.  Interestingly, the local vignerons have therefore over the years (centuries?) trained the vines in a very unusual, bird nest looking style, which they call koulara (bush vine training).  It seems outside of the towns, everywhere you look, there are fields of these koulara trained vines.  We were told, they help to shade the grapes from the blazing sun & help shield the grapes from the gusting winds & flying pumice.

We were fortunate to visit several wineries during our stay. 

Venetsanos–this was a recommendation by our tour guide.  The winery & tasting room is located on a hill over a breathtaking view of the sea.  The wines were tasty, cleanly made & would appeal to a wide audience of wine drinkers.  The view, while one sits there tasting is also well worth the visit.

Gaia–we visited this winery based upon the recommendation of the iconic Sigalas winery.  The winery is located right on a beach with the sea right outside.  We were told, they are one of the most innovative on the Island.  They are also highly acclaimed, having been named Top 100 wines by Wines & Spirits multiple times.  One of their   innovations is to submerge a cage of 500 or so bottles–40 to 50 meters under the sea…….for 4 years, just to see how the wines age.  Their white wines are mainly produced from the Assyrtiko grape variety grown on Santorini.  I was fascinated how they are able to masterfully integrate their new oak into their white wines.  Interestingly, they also feature red wines, produced from the Agiorgiotiko grape variety grown in Nemea, of the Peloponnese at 2300 feet in elevation.  One of them, pictured here, was one of the real standout red wines of our trip to Greece.  It was very classy, well textured & balanced.  Cheryle found this wine to be delicious, provocative & a wonderful, memorable treat!  (Also, pictured here is the amazing Melina, whose knowledge, enthusiasm & beaming personality completely won us over!  She also arranged a visit to a little winery, in fact had her friend drive us there, which would surprisingly be the most profound visit of the trip & truly one of the memorable visits of my whole career.  Thank you Melina)!

Faros–we were taken by our tour guide to a VERY unique, small shop, run by Maria Valhou, named Faros products.  She is especially known for her tomatoes & tomato products, but she also produces fava, chloro cheese, capers, caper leaves AND “homemade” style wines, all uber naturally.  Where some people say such things, Maria lives it & has developed quite the following because of her beliefs.  Her products are amazing!  I was a little apprehensive of what her wines would taste like, given her au naturale approach & her shying away from sulfur use.  (We all have had such wines, & in many instances find wine with many flaws).  Honestly, I would say her wines are NOT for everyone.  They have quite an oxidative edge & all kinds of atypical qualities one would not normally associate with wine.  Still, I have to say, I was quite moved by several of them.  They were so personal & I was taken how she fawned over them, as if they were her children.  She is a true artisan & her wines also reminded me of her devout beliefs, passion & dedication.  Thank you Maria for sharing your heart.

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