Last week I was privileged to attend a dinner of our local Chapter of La Commanderie de Bordeaux featuring a vertical of Chateau Haut-Bailly. The 9 wines featured included the following vintages with short descriptions provided by Veronique Sanders:
2002: A Very Pleasant Surprise
1998: Merlots Blessed By the Gods
1995: Velvety (or Sexy Playboy)
1986: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
1985: Splendid Maturity
The wines were very elegant overall with maturity providing some beautiful complexity. The wine of the night was voted on by the group with the impressive “powerful” 1990 the winner though I had a soft spot as well for the balance and classic elegance of 2001. What was brought home to me again at this event was how different the wines showed from several older wine reviews on them. Take for example the two oldest wines of 1986 & 1985. Robert Parker ‘s Bordeaux 4th edition (2003) showed both last tasted in January 1997 with scores of 85 & 86 respectively. Certainly they showed far better now some 19 years later than those scores indicated deserving at least 89 and probably 90+ in this new era of inflated wine scores. We know there will always be bottle variation with older wines but we don’t always appreciate that wines (especially Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont and others) can develop and change dramatically over time.
Notes of Parker show:
1986: RMP 85 – “a soft wine that can be drunk at a very early age”, “The full-intensity bouquet of sweet, smoky oak and ripe plummy fruit is very attractive”, Maturity to 2005. In 2016: Excellent purity of classy cabernet sauvignon, stylish and still fresh. Impressive.
1985: RMP 86 – “not a great deal of depth”, “quickly narrows out to a lighter-style, supple yet unexciting wine”, Maturity drink now in 1997. In 2016: Some bottle variation but best bottles showing typical mature Graves earthy tobacco and lovely drinking right now.
Don’t always believe that older tasting notes accurately reflect the description notes and score of the wine you are actually drinking many years later!
For anyone who thinks that a famous French monk invented sparkling wine–well, here’s some news for you! More than a century before Dom Pierre Pérignon began experimenting with bubbles on the chalky soil of Champagne, a small commune in the foothills of the French Pyrenees named Limoux was already producing its very own fizz. Back when Épernay and Reims were best known for their wool exports and the surrounding vineyards grew mostly red wine grapes, this small community on the river Aude became the birthplace for French bubbly.
Today, Limoux is largely seen as sparkling wine’s redheaded stepchild when compared to the names Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger and Krug. However, with some experts predicting that the market for high-end Prosecco is about to chill, Limoux may experience a renaissance for those seeking out a competitively priced alternative to Champagne. So here are ten facts to get you up to speed on this French wine region.
10. Most sparkling wine from Limoux is dry and sold as a non-vintage.
Coates, Clive. An Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
Gasnier, Vincent. A Taste For Wine: 20 key tastings to unlock your personal wine style. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Hammond, Carolyn. 1000 Best Wine Secrets. Naperville: Sourcebooks Inc., 2006.
Joseph, Robert. Eyewitness Companions: French Wines. New York: Penguin, 2005.
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing, 2015.
Question: More of my recent wine purchases have a screw-top closure. Should I be storing these in my cellar on their sides just like for my cork closure wines?
Answer: Cork closure wines should be stored horizontally in order to keep the natural cork moist so it doesn’t dry out and allow air to get in oxidizing the wine. With screw-top bottles you can follow the same procedure but you have other choices open to you because of their tightly fit closure. This is really a bonus because it provides you with versatility to not just put them lying down in racks but to utilize in any position every nook and cranny of open space available in your cellar or even upright on the cellar floor. Your choice.
Just returned from an interesting food and wine update week in Washington & Oregon. Our very weak Canadian dollar sure has an impact on prices outside the country. Encourage all the tourists out there to plan a visit to Canada in 2016 to take advantage of this currency value situation. A few dining recommendations in Seattle & Portland:
SEATTLE: Pike Place Market is always a draw. Some good casual lunch spots there including fresh soup and panini at Michou Deli or quality Italian items at DeLaurenti. Elsewhere check out Bitter/Raw the new upstairs Bar at Lark Restaurant for an aperitif with innovative charcuterie, crudo, oysters, and cheese selections. I liked their Popcorn with Parmigiano Reggiano, Truffle Salted Sunchoke Chips, and Roasted Eel.
I highly recommend Trattoria CASCINA SPINASSE (spinasse.com) 1531 14th on Capitol Hill, Telephone 206 251 7673 (and their Artusi Bar artusibar.com next door):
It first opened in late 2008 immediately winning the Seattle Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of the Year under then Chef Jason Stratton. I was fortunate to attend those Awards and enjoyed dining there for the first time in 2009. However it continues today with even more amazing top Italian cuisine bringing it to new heights by talented Chef Stuart Lane and crew. Chef Lane has an impressive bio including Café Juanita and culinary experience in Emilia-Romagna. Outstanding handmade in-house pasta include Tajarin with either butter and sage or Ragu, Mezzaluna of moist roasted butternut squash with toasted almonds, rosemary and Parmigiano, and Agnolotti filled with veal, pork, and beef + marjoram & Parmigiano. My dish of the year might be the magical so delicious Roasted Cipollini Onions stuffed with sausage & Braised Fennel! Innovative mains like Pan Roasted Rabbit Meatballs with Polenta & Pickled Horseradish. Get a reservation!
PORTLAND: Still a consumer’s delight with no State sales tax imposed. Hot Tip: Amazing salt selection at Jacobsen Salt Co. (jacobsensalt.com) including our fav of Gold Label Black Garlic Salt 4 oz. for $14. Value lunch sandwiches at J Café 533 NE Holladay (near the Lloyd Centre) owned by super host with my namesake Jonathan Cross. The South East region is hot and trendy especially along SE Division Street. Lots of breweries and Happy Hour beer specials. Bar Avignon at 2138 has fresh Heather Allen Sandy Paws Dark Lager & Double Mountain Stout and informal value food items including smoked pork cheek and mushroom risotto. Pinolo Gelateria at 3707 has authentic Tuscan hazelnut gelato.
Recommend Portland Wine Merchants 1430 SE 35th Avenue off Hawthorne with owner Rory so knowledgeable and fun discussing with him our mutual wine buying experiences at cheap prices (1959 Ch. Suduiraut) during the 1980s at Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco where he was then working. Great values at his store for Willamette Valley pinot noirs from Medici Vineyards (2004, 2006, and ripe 2008 all $24.95) and Delinea label of 2013 Sokol Blosser $19.95.
I highly recommend AVA GENE’S (www.avagenes.com and @AvaGenes on Twitter) Italian restaurant 3377 SE Division Telephone: 971 229 0571:
Wonderful extensive list of Italian wines at fair prices. Even feature top Frank Cornelisson wines from Mt Etna in Sicily and value 2010 Aglianico del Vulture from Carmelitano Serra Del Prete in Basilicata for $38. Open Food Kitchen and enthusiastic service is really excellent. Highlights included Burrata, Dates, Marmellata Squash, and Nuts; Sagna Riccia with Chicken Ragu & Chestnuts; Lamb, Cecis, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pine Nuts, Mint; and a Family Style Platter $50 (would feed 4 but we sampled for 2) of slow cooked succulent Pork Shoulder, Pistachio, Fennel, Olives, Citrus, and Nduja (spicy pork sausage).
For those who want to learn more about wine, finding the right book can be a bit tricky. Of course, there’s always the latest edition of Wine for Dummies from which you can try to memorize all the interesting facts and figures. Or, if you want a more academic perspective, there are plenty of studies and peer-reviewed journal articles dealing with how the changing climate is affecting terroir from Bordeaux to Napa. But perhaps the best way to soak in winemaking’s rich and colorful past is through the lens of narrative nonfiction.
Back in 2008, author Benjamin Wallace received widespread critical acclaim for writing about a series of fraudulent bottles supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson in The Billionaire’s Vinegar. Detailing one of the greatest scandals in the history of wine, Wallace’s thrilling story, which reads more like a detective novel, is now the subject of an upcoming motion picture starring actor Matthew McConaughey. And carrying on this irresistible blend of viticulture mixed with true crime is Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine by Maximillian Potter.
Published in 2014, the story begins in Burgundy where the holy grail for wine collectors exists on just 4.46 acres of land in the sub region of Côte de Nuits. Romanée-Conti, a grand cru known around the world for its pinot noir is consistently ranked as one of the top wines in the world—just one bottle of a recent vintage sells for approximately $10,000. Headed by Aubert de Villaine, the stoic patriarch of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estate, he is known by his employees simply as the Grand Monsieur. As a fellow vigneron from a nearby vineyard tells the author, “Learning wine from him, you must realize, this is like learning physics from Einstein.”
However, by owning one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on earth, de Villaine became a prime target for extortion. Receiving a threatening note in the mail, he is informed that certain vines at Romanée-Conti have been booby-trapped with poisonous substances drilled into the soil by the culprit over a period of several nights. If a ransom is not paid, the poison will be released as the sap rises and his vineyard will be destroyed, ruining the reputation that DRC has built for centuries.
Unfortunately for the extortionist, he fails to realize that an attack on such a prestigious vineyard is viewed as an attack on French culture as a whole. Detectives working on the case make sure that no stone is left unturned until the suspect is brought to justice and faces the full extent of the law. Fans of the true crime genre will simply devour this game of cat and mouse as police set a trap that hopefully catches what they believe is a criminal mastermind.
In between details of the investigation, we learn all about DRC, Burgundy and the history of wine as Potter describes de Villaine’s personal journey back to his family-owned vineyard. Being part of some of the industry’s biggest moments, including the Judgment of Paris, we read not only about these major events but also why the Grand Monsieur is so respected by oenophiles worldwide. Through a rich history full of fascinating anecdotes, you quickly see why this crime was seen as an attack against French heritage, of which wine is deeply embedded into their collective DNA.
Of course, this is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Using this 2010 crime as the hook, both seasoned aficionados and newbies to the world of wine will actually learn so much about the subject. Whether it’s the négociant system once used by French wine merchants (that resulted in enormous fraud long before any Jefferson bottles were put on the auction block), or Burgundy’s current classification system being based in part by the writings of Cistercian monks who cultivated the land for centuries, there is a treasure trove of useful information in Potter’s book. And by weaving it into the story of what took place just a few years ago, casual wine drinkers eager to learn more about the topic will absorb the content quicker than reading fact books that feel more like dry encyclopedias.