Arnie’s European Odyssey Day One

We arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, March 27th, at 9:30 a.m. (or 12:30 a.m. our body time). We immediately got our rental car and drove 7 hours to Bordeaux, arriving atMaison Sichel’s offices at nearly 6:00 p.m. Up nearly 23 hours, we tasted through some 20 wines (see picture).

Most, but not all, the wines were Bordeaux from the 2009 vintage. I focused on one wine, Chateau Piochet, and purchased all available stock – it is a terrific value and will arrive at Esquin sometime in June.

From there, we proceeded toChateau Cap Léon Veyrin in Listrac where would have dinner with the owners and spend Sunday and Monday nights at their small inn. We arrived quite late, around 9:00 p.m. Dumped our luggage in our rooms and went right downstairs to dinner with the Meyre family (Alain, Maryse and daughter Natalie). Alain and son Julien tend the vines, Nathalie oversees the winemaking and marketing, wife Maryse does administrative duties. Alain Meyre, whose family owns three estates, is also President of the Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Listrac appellations.

First we went to the cellar and tasted the 2009 and 2010 vintages of Cap Léon Veyrin from barrel. Nice dark fruit with minerality and slight earthiness. They were pretty good, typical Listrac with the 2010 showing good acidity and bigger tannins than the more lush 2009. This was to be the story of our Bordeaux trip; the 2010 vintage has excellent concentration of fruit, possibly from lower yields (down 30-40% from 2009), higher levels of phenolics, especially tannins, and higher levels of acidity than the 2009s. This was true nearly everywhere in Bordeaux. 2010 is a vintage which needs time and which should age well.

After the tasting, we proceeded to dinner with the warm and hospitable family Meyre. Maryse is a locally well-known chef who is famous for an obscure local specialty called Grenier Médocain, which is made from pig parts, including the face. We also enjoyed her homemade pâté, steak, sautéed mushrooms, fresh radishes and white asparagus, which just came into season. We enjoyed a variety of Cap Léon vintages, capped by a surprisingly good 1949 poured from decanter. What a treat!

 

Our host Nathalie framed by 1949 and 1961 Cap Léon Veyrin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling (and looking!) fuzzy

 

By the time we got to bed, it was nearly 11:30 p.m. – we had been up nearly 29 hours. We had to be up at 7:00 a.m. and be at our first stop by 8:30 a.m.

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Amazing Bordeaux 2008 Vintage Tasting in San Francisco

I flew into San Francisco last for an intensive tasting of top Bordeaux from the 2008 vintage. The Union of Grand Cru de Bordeaux put on this tasting of 100 top estates. It’s almost easier to list who wasn’t there: all the five First Growths (Mouton, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion), Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus and other high priced exotica of that ilk.

Alas, we were to taste only the other remaining top classified, or otherwise renowned, estates and have the rare opportunity to meet the Chateaux’s owners; people whom we only heretofore knew by name, mentioned in print in somewhat hushed tones.

How cool is that? And they were all pleasant and unpretentious.

Overall, this is an excellent vintage which favored the Right Bank (Pomerol, then Saint-Emilion) and the estates of the Médoc, particularly Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux.
These wines are drinking well now and I think they’ll show even better with age.

The biggest disappointment was the wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. They did not show well at this tasting. I hope age will be kind to them. This was the only region from which we tasted dry whites. The superior white was from Château Pape-Clément followed by Domaine Chevalier. One of my favorite estates there is Smith Haut Lafitte but the wines were disappointing, especially after tasting Pape-Clément immediately beforehand. On the plus side, I was able to meet and chat with the charming proprietress Florence Cathiard and her husband.

My list of the top wines of the tasting must start with Pomerol’s Château La Conseillante and Pauillac’s 2nd Growth Pichon Baron (de Longueville). They were extraordinary and smoked the rest of the pack. They were both distinguished by a vibrancy, a depth and complexity of flavor which was transparent and fresh. Amazing.

Other top wines were Les Ormes de Pez, a Saint-Estephe I tasted with Sylvie Cazes whose family owns this estate along with Lynch-Bages (tasted but not as good) and whose brother is the famed Jean-Michel Cazes. What a lovely, unassuming person!

Also, I enjoyed Saint-Émilion’s Pavie Maquin with owner Nicolas Thienpont (above), whose family also owns Pomerol’s elite Le Pin. Canon La Gaffelière was delicious, represented by the irrepressible and perpetually grinning Count Stephan von Niepperg (see lower right below, dressed in amazing style).
A surprise was the Médoc’s Chateau La tour de By. This is an obscure small estate whose inexpensive wine was first-rate.

Here are the others I enjoyed, not already mentioned:


Saint-Julien

Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Barton, Talbot, Branaire-Ducru, Lagrange, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose and Saint-Pierre

Pauillac

D’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon, Grand Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Pichon-Lalande

Margaux
Rauzan-Segla, Brane-Catenac, Giscours, Kirwan, Lascombes

Pomerol

Clinet, Gazin

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Angelus, Canon, Clos Fourtet, Figeac, Larcis Ducasse, Troplong Mondot

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Saturday’s Flirting with Perfection Dinner at Crush

Saturday, 12 of us enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Crush Restaurant. It was a perfect dinner amazing food paired with equally amazing wines crowned by outstanding service.

 

 

Bacon & Eggs
Parsnip Flan, Smoked Salmon Roe, Bourbon Bliss
2002 Pierre Morlet Champagne

Japanese Hon Hamachi Crudo
Celery Root, Black Garlic, Preserved Lemon & Pickled Ground Cherry
Chapoutier 2004 l’Ermite Blanc

Sautéed Hawaiian Mero Sea Bass
Crushed Cajun Chokes with Fine Herbs, Cippolinis & Watercress
Kongsgaard 2007 The Judge Napa Chardonnay

Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras “Steak”
Apples, Pears & Mascarpone Farro
Rieussec 2001 Sauternes

Douglas Fir Sorbet

Rosemary & Cinnamon Roasted Elk
Smoked Parsnip, Rutabagas, Black Trumpets, Squash & Apple
Numanthia 2004 Numanthia
Fattoria Galardi 2000 Terra di Lavoro


48 Hours Painted Hills Braised Beef Short Ribs


Yukon Potato Purée, Bacon & Sage Scented Baby Carrots
Greenock Creek 1998 Shiraz Roennfeldt Road

Warm Chocolate Coulant
Praline Ice Cream, Salted Caramel & Cherries
Alois Kracher 2002 #12

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2008 Burgundy vintage report

This vintage report is intended to better inform your choices about upcoming Burgundy releases which begin arriving in this Fall.

To-date, I’ve tasted over 200 red and white Burgundy from the 2008 vintage, from village level to Grand Cru. I have also spoken with over a dozen vignerons, exploring their thoughts on 2008. This experience has given me a sense of the complex vintage.

Overall, 2008 appears to be a much better vintage than I’ve been led to expect from the professional pundits. I find the whites outstanding and the reds to be fresh, lively, elegant but not thin. These wines will age well; the reds need more time to show their stuff. To be fair, I’ve tasted from top producers and, although I’ve tasted my share of barrel samples (around 80 wines this past February), I’ve tasted wines closer to release (over 100 wines). Burgundy – especially red Burgundy – is very difficult to judge when young in barrel, especially before the malos* have been completed. But vintage judgments from all the top critics** have been made solely from barrel samples.

The whites are showing lively acidities and mineral notes. Normally lush Meursaults come across more like Puligny! This is a very fine vintage for whites; many show a subtle rich complexity. Outside the Cote d’Or, I even enjoyed a sensational Premier (1er) Cru white from Mercurey in the Chalonnaise (Chamirey’s 1er La Mission) and some amazingly rich and complex Pouilly-Fuisse (Chateau Fuisse)- both barrel samples. The Cote de Beaune whites are particular successes, from Beaune 1er Cru (Prieure’s Champs Pimont) to dazzling Meursault from Buisson-Charles (especially their village “Tessons”, 1er Goutte d’Or and Bouches-Cheres) and superior Puligny, Rully, and Corton-Charlemagne from Olivier Leflaive.

Reds fared well, too. For these wines, the successes were made in the vineyard, not the cellar. Painstaking vine care, leaf canopy management, yield reduction and scrupulous sorting were necessary to produce top notch fruit with good concentration. Acidities were high and, in some cases, lesser wines are high-toned. Biodynamic vineyards fared particularly well. The top reds, however, are terrific!

Standout reds for me were Armand Rousseau’s Clos de la Roche and Chambertin Clos de Beize, both Grand Crus (available in 2011). Wow, what elegant richness. I loved Perdrix’s Echezeaux. These were barrel samples tasted in February. Recent tastings show the quality of this vintage and indicate how the wine will age in bottle. I was surprised recently at how complex and fresh these wines tasted; indeed some were dense and rich. I’m reminded here of Raphet’s delicious Clos de la Roche Grand Cru. These reds demonstrate how important the producer is to selecting good Burgundy, rather than the vintage.

More recently tasted Burgundy include Jean-Jacques Confuron’s Chambolle 1er Cru, Comte Armand’s amazingly concentrated Pommards (the younger vines 1er cru is a terrific buy). Huber-Verdereau’s biodynamic 1er Cru Volnay and Pommard were sleek and refined. I was wowed by the depth and complexity of Lafarge’s Volnay Clos des Chenes. Freddy Mugnier’s Nuits-St. Georges 1er Cru monopole Clos de la Marechale was outstanding. Pavelot is usually an earthier style of Burgundy but not their terrific and richly styled 1er cru Savigny Serpentieres or Dominodes; I think they are excellent values. Gevrey-based Taupenot-Merme turned out some intense 1er Cru Gevrey and Chambolle (Combe d’Orveau) and grand crus like Charmes- and Mazoyeres-Chambertin. Finally Violot-Guillemard’s top Pommards (the Clos Derriere St. Jean, Rugiens and Epenots) showed beautifully.

Please let me know if you’d like to find out about upcoming Burgundy offers bycontacting me at Esquin.

Cheers!

Arnie

* Malolactic fermentation usually proceeds after alcoholic fermentation, especially for all red wines, converting tart malic acid into softer lactic acid through the action of lactic bacteria.

** I’m referring to the Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Stephen Tanzer and Burghound

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A Dinner to Remember February 15th

What an incredible evening! Chef/owner Jason Wilson graciously opened his doors on Monday only to us lucky few.

Chef Jason himself greeted us and came by to describe each dish as it was served.

Jason and staff double decanting the wines

We began with decadent Cave Aged Gruyere Cheese Gougeres drizzled with truffle oil accompanied by Coultier Grand Cru Champagne

We then sat down, with our Champagne, to enjoy an incredible seaood trio of Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Crudo with Blood Orange, Olive & Fennel

Sea Scallops Sashimi with Warm Black Truffle Cauliflower & Meyer Lemon

“Bacon n Eggs”, Parsnip flan, Smoked Steelhead Roe, Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

A fantastic pairing was the 1990 Fontainerie Vouvray Moeulleux with a complex flavored dish of Dungeness Crab and Mascarpone Raviolo

Buttered Pumpkin, Pinata Apple, Frisee & Chervil

The saut�ed Rhode Island Black Bass & Meyer Lemon Sabayon with Baby Octopus, Sunchokes, Chorizo, Baby Fennel, Sherry Brown Butter was backed by the exceptionally rich 2003 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc Le Meal.

Perhaps one of most stunning dishes was the Black Garlic Sausage Wrapped Lido Farms Lamb Loin with Sous Vide Root Vegetables, Soubisse & Rosemary. Chef Jason told us how he painstakingly prepares the sausage wrap. We enjoyed a 1996 Troplong Mondot Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Class�e. It was perfect, tasting it just at the apex of its maturity.

Oh, my goodness, talk about decadence! After the Lamb loin, we enjoyed the Grilled Painted Hills Wagyu Beef Rib Steak with Potato Leek & Truffle Terrine, Thumbelina’s, Hedgehogs & Cabernet Sauce. We accompanied this dish with two wines: the 2001 d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz (the first bottle was corked but, thankfully, we had a back up bottle) and a spectacular 2005 Mas ‘en Compte Les Planots Priorat.

We were nearly ready to surrender when Jason presented the Vahlrhona Chocolate Bombe with Cocoa Nib Merignue, Salted Butter Caramel, Chocolate Ganache & Hazelnut Mousse, Huckleberry Spice Beignets. Yikes. When I sipped the brilliant 1985 Graham’s Port with this dish, I closed my eyes relishing the moment.

As if this wasn’t enough, the meal finished with an artistic array of Mignardises: Poppyseed-lemon brittle, walnut macaroon, coconut truffles, earl grey caramels, Vanilla madelines, Smoked Salt Caramel, Chocolate chip cookies.

Thank you, Jason!

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An unforgettable trip to Bordeaux

 

Recently, I had the great good fortune to take the trip of a lifetime, to Bordeaux on a private jet – a Gulfstream G4.The trip was courtesy of a wine-loving billionaire who invited 10 wine professionals from around the country to tour his estates in Bordeaux and his friend’s domaines in the Loire Valley.

During the flights, we were pampered by an attentive flight attendant with glasses of Champagne, top Bordeaux and amazing platters of foods. Once on the ground, we were whisked around the French countryside in two Mercedes vans. Of course, we drank amazing wines and enjoyed spectacular cuisine!

Highlights of the trip:

* Touring Chateau Fontplegade, a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

* Barrel sampling the outstanding 2008 vintage in Bordeaux

* Catching air in front of Pomerol’s legendary Chateau Petrus

* Dining like royalty in charming Saint-Emilion

* Goofing around the lawn of Chateau Cheval Blanc

* Staying in the picturesque village of Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley

* Visiting the “troglodyte” caves of Vouvray

* The wonderful, charming people I met, especially my fellow travelers – no self-important snoots on the trip!

* Getter better acquainted with Bordeaux and the Loire by insiders

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Where do Wine’s Scents and Tastes come from?

I’m often asked how wines attain their varied aromas and flavors. When we smell or taste lemon citrus, vanilla, blueberry, anise, pepper, tobacco and myriad other delights (some not so delightful!), are they present because the winemaker has added a dash of lemon or blackberry to the wine? How do they happen?

The short answer is that these aromas and flavors occur naturally in wine. The process of fermentation creates a complex stew of organic compounds and some of them are volatile. It is these volatile compounds which are chiefly responsible for wine’s scents and tastes. There are many groups of these naturally-occurring compounds but we’ll just cover a few of them; I’m not writing a textbook!

Esters: These are a form of organic acids responsible for many of wine’s flavors and aromas. They can be analyzed and replicated, which is one reason why we have the multi-billion dollar artificial flavor and aroma industries developing new food dishes and perfumes. For example, the scent of banana is the ester amyl acetate. If you could analyze and chart all the esters in a wine, some might be similar to the lemon citrus or blueberry notes wafting from the wine glass.

Aldehydes: Acetaldehydes give you that tang you find in many fino style sherries. Those vanilla notes you might observe in oak-treated wines are a type of benzaldehyde.

Terpenes: These are highly aromatic compounds. Those lovely smells of lychee and Alpine mountain flowers in Gewürztraminer result from terpenes.

Methoxypyrazines: A mouthful to say but this class of compound, found in Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, can give a wine herbaceous aromas; the grassiness of some Sauvignon Blancs or the green bell pepper scents of some Cabernets.

Sulfur compounds: In high concentrations they can be nasty and responsible for unpleasant compounds like mercaptans, which result from the presence of hydrogen sulfide in the wine. They can smell like a burnt match, cooked cabbage or geraniums – yecch!

This is just a brief, simple discussion of where wine’s aromas and flavors come from. There are many more important compounds I didn’t mention but you get the idea. These scents and tastes, in the right circumstances, give us the magic in wine.

If you’d like to explore this further, check out the book, “The Science of Wine from Vine to Glass” by Jamie Goode. It is an excellent primer on wine science and inspired this posting.

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Holding the wine glass

First thing, you will not see the words “must” or “should” or the phrase -it is essential.  I don’t believe there are any absolutes regarding the way to hold a wine glass.

The main rule to properly holding the wine glass, is that you hold it comfortably for you. I’d suggest holding the glass by the stem, not the bowl, in order to keep your warm hand away from the wine in the bowl. Some people prefer to hold the glass near the base with the thumb and forefinger grasping the stem and the remaining fingers supporting the glass beneath the base; this keeps the hand farthest from the bowl.

If the wine is too cold, by all means feel free to hold the glass with the palms around the bowl in order to warm the wine until it reaches a more acceptable temperature.

Don’t stress if you need to hold the glass by the bowl or near it. It takes quite a few minutes of constant contact before the wine begins to warm. Often you’ll set the glass down so, normally, you’ll not hold onto a glass for an extended period.

I’m not a fan of stemless wine glasses; I prefer stems but this is matter of personal taste. The main idea is to enjoy the wine! A glass can enhance or reduce the enjoyment of wine but good wine will always speak out regardless of the vessel containing it.

For more on wine glasses, please see my post from last August Wine Glasses and Tasting Wine.

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Wine Glasses and Tasting Wine

My recommendation is to choose a thin-walled stemmed glass or crystal glass – avoid a rolled lip on the edge. The bowl should be at least 5 inches high with a moderate 2.5 inch throat. This ensures enough air space in the glass to swirl the wine vigorously and thoroughly assess the wine’s variety of aromas and flavors. The thin wall and thin lip assure you are as close to the wine as possible.

Premium glass manufacturers like RiedelSchottEisch and others make many different kinds of glass; in the extreme, Riedel makes one for nearly every type of wine! As a wine guy, I have four different types of glassware: a Riesling, a Riesling/Zinfandel all-purpose, a red Bordeaux and a red Burgundy glass – oh, and Champagne flutes! That’s probably more than anyone needs. For most occasions, a good all-purpose glass is fine. Look for a Riesling/Zinfandel/Sangiovese glass – it’s great for reds and whites.

Use the stem and its base to hold the glass, avoiding holding the bowl. Holding the bowl adversely affects the temperature of the wine due to glass contact with your body heat. Swirl the wine while holding the glass on a firm base, like a table, in order to avoid spilling the wine.

To evaluate the wine’s color, hold the glass away from you at a 45 degree angle, preferable tilting the glass against a white table cloth or paper, in a well-lit room. This way, you can see all the wine at once in the glass allowing you to better assess the density of color and saturation of hue and the clarity of the wine. A clear wine is well-made (white wines can show bright stars of light below it) while a cloudy wine is a red flag; the wine may be unstable or have undergone an unintended secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Examine the color, or lack of it, of the rim of the wine or where it touches the glass. A clear rim indicates a young wine while, conversely, an orange, amber or brown rim may indicate stages of possible oxidation.

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The Thrilling Agony of Rinsing Wine Glasses

Do you worry about how best to rinse your fine glassware? Do you need to rinse if you serve more than one wine in the same glass. Well fret no more!

Let’s look at two types of rinsing: 1) Rinsing glasses after use and 2) rinsing glassware in order to serve more than one wine per glass.

1. Rinsing after use

For thin walled crystal or thin walled glass, it is best to rinse by hand. I recommend using a glass brush and minimal diluted detergent, using lukewarm water. Obviously, you’ll want to brush gently. Make sure all of the detergent is rinsed out. Let the glasses dry on a clean, dry cloth. To best polish glassware, steam over boiling water, then use a clean polishing cloth. To polish the bowl, cradle the bowl in one hand while polishing with the other hand. Never twist the bowl against the stem -something will break! To polish the stem or base, hold by the stem or base.

The problem with using a dishwasher is two-fold. You are more likely to break fine glassware and the glasses are more likely to contain detergent residue. If you must use a dishwasher, use only a tiny amount of detergent (gels or fine grain, preferably with glass guard like Cascade (with Shine Shield) and use cool water. Only wash glass with glass – never with plates or silverware.

Even a small amount of detergent residue can have a big impact on the wine therein. For still wine, residue can affect aroma and taste. Detergent residue can render sparkling wine, like Champagne, flat. The smooth surfaces of glassware absorb odors easily so smell the glasses before use, when they’re dry, for off-odors like soap, chlorine, etc. If detected, wash again!

By the way, lead leaches out of crystal when the glass is in contact with hot or even warm water. So no soaking and no hot water!

2. Rinsing for multiple wines

Sometimes, you are hosting a dinner or tasting and you don’t have enough glasses to provide one for every wine. What to do?

I do not recommend rinsing with water between wines; rather use wine to rinse. I believe that water residues can affect the taste of the wine, especially if the water is even slightly chlorinated. I also believe that there is a slight dilution factor and there might be a slight change in surface tension and mouth-feel of the wine. To be safe, rinse with wine. Use a tiny amount of the next wine to be served to rinse. This is also called “priming” the glass.

If you carefully order the wines to be tasted, you can minimize your rinsing. Go from white to red, from light body to fuller body, from dry to sweet. If you follow this order, you may not need to rinse at all. If you go from a hearty red with dinner to a white dessert wine, I recommend rinsing with a dry white or, if not available, then using water, providing a cloth to dry the bowl.

Priming Glassware

By the way, a small but growing number of high-end restaurants are having their sommeliers “prime” glassware by rinsing with a very small amount (half an ounce or less) of the wine to be served. They believe this improves the tasting experience by ridding the glass of impurities or possible off-odors. But I wonder if this is necessary if you properly clean and polish your glassware. Sometimes they leave the priming wine in the glass and then pour the serving over it. Why? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of “priming”?

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