Monday, December 27, 2010

Fondreche Fayard '08

Le Domaine de Fondreche Côtes du Ventoux 2008: I've really got to tear myself away from the Southern Rhone. Soon. But not right now. Grenache, syrah, carignan, mourvedre, lots of pretty herbal notes, a bit of meatiness, then deep, sweet, red and black berries, and a mineral-reinforced finish. If you've been following along in the hymnal, you already know about Vincenti and Barthelemy and their 100 organically farmed acres. The big critical guns (Parker, Robinson) have already given them raves. Anyway, it's $17 and beats the crap out of a lot of village-level Rhone wines. I've been drinking the '08; I think it is not far-fetched to believe the '09 will be even yummier. As delicious as this is now, I think it will take a few years of bottle age, lose some of its baby-fat, and become "serious," or something.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

This Too Shall Pass...

I've worked at the Asheville Wine Market (full time, then part time, then full time again) since 2005, so when I take off the blue apron for the last time this coming week, it'll have been more than five years, which is pretty long for me. Since my last abortive attempt at higher education in the early '80s, I can remember holding 10 different jobs (I may have left out one or two…).

No job is perfect, but this one has been close. I wasn't exactly a novice when I walked in the door, but even so my knowledge of wine and the business of selling wine increased exponentially thanks to Eb, Larry, and the host of wine industry folks who have walked through the door at 65 Biltmore Avenue over the past half-decade.

…Not to mention all the customers who have shared knowledge and stories and generally been enthusiastic about wine. You all know who you are!

I won't be working at the Wine Market anymore, but it's not like I'm leaving town. I'll be around. And you can still pick my brain by leaving a comment on this thread, or e-mailing me:

There will still be reviews and various forms of navel-gazing here on the Winemule blog; they may even become more frequent.

Oh, yeah: I've been working on some musical projects. You can get on the mailing list for upcoming gigs, recordings, who-knows-what at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Wines

Let me be clear: I think you should drink whatever the hell you want with Thanksgiving Dinner. Or any other dinner, for that matter. We are not having turkey at our house this year; we're have capon, because that's what the chef wants to make, and the stove is her domain. So this is already kind of a pointless exercise, but a couple people asked, so here are my recommendations:

Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2010: Hey, why not? This is harvest wine, and this is a celebration of the harvest, right? This is merely an excellent vintage, not spectacular like 2009, and anyway we're talking about something that was bottled maybe a month ago. Big strawberry/raspberry flavors, simple and direct. Even your Great Aunt Madeleine who only takes a bottle of cream sherry now and then for her health will drink it and ask for another glass. It's $8.99! If you really feel like you've got to lay out for something classier, get the Chermette Vielles Vignes 2010. It's so good it doesn't even taste like Nouveau, and it's $14.99. (My inner child is still amused by the idea of new wine from old vines.)

Château de Raousset Chiroubles 2006: It's light, it's graceful, it has notes of cranberry and pomegranate, it will satisfy the wine snobs at the table, and it's under $20.

Meyer-Fonné “Edelzwicker" 2009: It's got Pinot Blanc in it plus whatever else was to hand at harvest time--Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, whatever. I think there might be a bit of Gewurztraminer in this year's bottling, but I'm just guessing. It's got more richness and ripeness than you'd expect for $12.99, and a nice clean finish, and it's fun to say.

There will probably be Champagne, too, because Champagne is always appropriate for celebration. I am happy to shell out $40 for some Jose Michel Brut Tradition. As luxuries go, it's not such a bad deal. Ordinarily, I would at this point say something vile about $40 meaning less than it once did because the Government is rolling the printing presses, etc. And something really mean about Sarah Palin. But nobody wants to hear that, so I refrain, I refrain.

I will probably not be splurging on a bottle of Meo Camuzet Fixin 2007, which is too bad, really, I'll bet it is fantastic stuff. It appears in the market thanks to the efforts of Jeanne Marie De Champs, who is possibly the coolest person I've ever met in the Burgundy business. Read her blog here.

Again, drink what you like at Thanksgiving, and at all other times, too.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Almost Vin Jaune

Domaine de l'Aigle A Deux Têtes Cotes du Jura Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2007: Henry Le Roy has a small property in Vincelles, a little town somewhere between Chalon-sur-Saône (to the northwest) and Geneva (to the southeast), where he grows Chardonnay. This one is labeled "En Quatre Vis" which may mean "in four faces" or may not. The translator-in-chief is not on hand today, so I don't really know. I do know that this is Chardonnay unlike any other I've tasted, as it was made in the typé style of the region, meaning the wine has been subject to a certain amount of oxidation. If you're unfamiliar with the mechanics, you can read about that here.

This wine is not vin jaune, in that it is not made from the Savagnin grape. But the process was the same (although obviously a lot shorter than that for vin jaune, which may age 10 years in the barrel before bottling), and the result is a wine that offers a vigorous nose of green apple, lime, minerals, and sherry-like nuttiness. On the palate, the general impression is of bright green citrus, minerals, walnuts, and a hint of caramel. If you're not ready to plunk down $60 for a Château-Chalon, this might serve as a more economical introduction to the genre. I should probably point out that the Château-Chalon wines are famously long-lived; I doubt whether Le Roy expects this '07 Chardonnay to be aged 10 years before opening.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lava Falanghina Beneventano IGT

Campania may be in southern Italy, but its best vineyards are at high altitudes, since the Apennines run right through it. The wine reviewed here is from the province of Benevento (IGT Beneventano); which is also home to some DOC-level areas, including Taburno and Solopaca. Just saying that it should not come as a surprise to find world-class white wines here. (No disrespect to Mastroberardino, which was an outpost of quality for decades when wine from Campania was mostly mediocre.) Anyway:

Lava Beneventano Falanghina 2009: This opens with startlingly big notes of peach, pear skin, melon, and flowers. There was also some kind of red berry note going on. On the palate, yellow fruit and a rich texture, partly the result of the wine being unfiltered, and possibly the result of lees-stirring. The wine was made by young winemaker Marco Flacco under the Lava name by Terre del Vulcano da Vesevo, which is owned by Valentino Sciotti and Camillo De Iuliis, who in turn own Farnese, which is one honking big operation based in the Abruzzo. Flacco also spends part of his time there, where he presumably absorbs wisdom from head winemaker Filippo Baccalaro and consultant Mario Ercolino.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional 2008: This is from the Valle de la Orotava appellation on the north coast of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The wine is made from the Listán Negro (I've also seen it spelled "Negra") which is the black version of the Palomino grape, which produces great sherry under that name, and boring wine everywhere else under the name Listán. It's dark brother is another matter entirely; you may not like it, but it sure isn't boring.

Some of the grapes were grown in the traditional braided manner, and some on the Cordon de Royat-style espalier. Frementation was via carbonic maceration. Twenty percent of the wine was aged oak.

This opens with notes of toasted cinammon stick, fresh plum, cherry, black pepper, juniper, and an exotic woodsy/earthy character that is beyond my descriptive capabilities. On the palate, there is an almost-jammy plum and strawberry character; some of this fruitiness recedes after about 20 minutes in the glass. The finish is fruity and earthy, with a hint of gamey, animal quality. Whatever reservations I may have had about it were blown away after having a glass while eating some ground lamb that had been charred on the grill and garnished with the last of the fresh tomatoes and a big dollop of home-made hummus, served on a home-made hot dog bun. It was perfect.

This was purchased at 3 Cups in Chapel Hill, from the stalwart Jay Murrie. Long may he wave.

(Blurry photo taken with my brand new ITouch. I have resisted allowing 21st Century technology into my life, mainly because I have found the 21st Century to be spectacularly ugly on the content side, if you know what I mean.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three Spanish Bargains

Celler de Capçanes Mas Donís Barrica 2007: It's true what they say, this is a very good wine at a very good price. Notes of rhubarb, strawberry, graphite, and a little oak spice on the nose, then bright red berry fruit on the palate. Angel Teixido, Jurgen Wagner, and Francesc Perello are the three young winemakers who produce this and a bunch of other wines (including the marvelous Peraj Ha'Abib, aka the world's greatest kosher wine).
Read more about Capçanes here.

Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton Garnacha 2009: "Bodegas Borsao" is an amalgamation of three big cooperatives, in operation since 1958. They control about 3,400 acres in the Campo de Borja, most of which is planted to garnacha. Oceans of this garnacha are bottled under the "Viña Borgia" name; the Monte Oton is sort of the business-class version: Bigger, richer, more refined, with aromas and flavors of black fruit, anise, and vanilla. Now that I think about it, there's a real luxury-class version of this wine, too--the "Tres Picos," which is a joven (not barrel-aged) but sure doesn't act that way. Like its cousin from Calatayud, the fabulous Atteca, it is an unapologetic fruit bomb, its bomb-ness ameliorated by lots of mocha and anise and earthy character.

Bodegas Juan Gil Honoro Vera Merlot Jumilla 2009: I confess, when the bottle was put in front of me, I was extremely skeptical. Merlot from Jumilla? Well, Juan Gil and Paco González at Bodegas Juan Gil (and their importer, the ever-resourceful Jorge Ordoñez) are full of surprises, and this merlot is one of them, offering very soft but not jammy red berry fruit with just a hint of cocoa.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Domaine Huet: Managing Expectations

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant 2005: Opened directly from the fridge, which was a mistake. The wine shows little when it is very cold. After about 15 minutes, a mild nose of honeysuckle, peach, and apricot, with a hint of mineral character. On the palate, ripe, juicy peach and apricot, big flavors yet elegant, with fruit well-balanced against acidity. I kept waiting for some big mineral character to emerge (this is a feature of many rave reviews), but it didn't really happen for us. This may have had something to do with context: Last night we drank some of that '08 Lucien Crochet Sancerre, which has enough mineral character to open a quarry.

This is  without doubt the best sparkling Vouvray that I've ever tasted, and at under $30 a bottle, it represents pretty good value. Yet I confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the experience of drinking it, because I'd already read so many rave reviews of Domaine Huet. Somehow I expected The Earth To Move. Unrealistic, of course, but there you go. Those doggone expectations, they get in the way sometimes.

Superior photography of Domaine Huet by Bertrand Celce at Wine Terroirs, from 2004.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dry Spätlese, A Purple Dwarf, And Recalling An Adventure In Maury

Karl and Elaine, my friends, former colleages, and tasting buddies from the good old days at The Usual Suspects, came to dinner Saturday night. The Chef was in a mood to impress, so there was, as we say in our house, Cuisine. First were home-made noodles made with white anchovies, "sweated" sweet white onion, walnuts, and pecorino. This was followed by a grilled pork loin with grilled peaches. Dessert was a panna cotta made extra-light by the addition of egg whites, then finished with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. This is one of the many advantages of being married to someone who trained at Cordon-Bleu. It's a tough life, I know.

Trying to pair a wine with the first course drove me a little crazy, although after the fact I probably would have gone with a big Gruner, the Tegernseerhof Bergdistel, or similar. But at that moment, there was nothing appropriate in the cellar. What I did find, however, turned out to be all right with the pasta, and completely appropriate with the main dish.

Dr Bürklin-Wolf Ruppertsberger Gaisböhl Riesling Spätlese Trocken 1999: This was a gift; I'd forgotten I had it. A muted golden color in the glass. The first aroma--no surprise--was of diesel and slate, followed by a kind of high note of mint, and then the beginnings of intense ripe yellow fruit. After a few minutes, what I can only call a profound aroma of peach, as though I was somehow inside the fruit, began to assert itself. In the mouth, the initial burst of acidity is shocking. Then more peach and apricot, and citrus, and minerals, all in a richly textured form. At the end, a long finish, just off-dry, driven in part by fruit and in part by acidity. I don't have as much experience with Riesling as I'd like, and most of it has been with wines from the Mosel or from the Donauland in Austria. As a rule of thumb, I approach such wines expecting elegance and nuance. This wine from the Pfalz is a powerhouse! (Ruppertsberg is a village just a bit east of the huge Palatinate Forest in southwestern Germany) On the heels of a wine like this, it is hard to resist the notion put forward by certain individuals I know that Riesling is the planet's most expressive white grape.

After the main course, the first bottle was gone, and as conversation was moving along, it only seemed natural to open something else, especially a bottle with a little story attached.

Domaine de la Pertuisane "Le Nain Violet" 2004: When it first appeared, this was a second label for the Domaine, created by two English winemakers, Mark Hoddy and Richard Case. Recent vintages of the wine are 100% Grenache; the 2004 was a blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Carignan, and 15% Syrah. The nose on this is full to bursting with roasted herbs, licorice, and cooked strawberry and raspberry. In the mouth, the fruit is dark, rich, and full, yet saved from fruit-bombdom by fresh-tasting acidity. The finish is long and filled with fruit and Asian spice.

Ever since I visited Maury in 2006, I have been a fan of this wine and wines made in this style. Jancis Robinson has done a better job than I ever could explaining the appeal of these wines. I brought this particular bottle home in my backpack (yea, those were the days before the idiotic three-ounce rule). Before visiting, I had conversed via e-mail with Richard Case, hoping to arrange a visit to the Domaine. His first response: "As long as you realize that the Domaine is in our garage…" In the event, we were unable to meet, but he told me there was a cooperative in Maury where the wines could be purchased. In fact, there were two shops, across the street from each other, and we went into the wrong one first. Politely directed to the correct one, I went up to the door and found it…locked. I looked in the window and could see bottles of Le Nain Violet on the shelf. I also could see all the way to the back of the shop, where the back door stood open. I was around the block, psyching myself up for climbing a fence and getting past the dog to get in there and get me some of that wine, damn it, when a Peugeot station wagon, driven by the owner, pulled up behind me. I think she was asking me what I was doing, but my French is not so good, especially when I've ben preparing for breaking-and-entering, but I did manage to wave my arms at her and say "Un moment, sil vous plait!" and run back to the main street looking for my French-speaking friends to explain all. And that's how this particular bottle came into my possession.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Other Basque Country

Eric Asimov recently wrote about Txakolina, the wines from Getaria in Spain's Basque country. The region also extends into France. The appellation of Irouléguy occupies about 500 acres in the Pyrenees, 20 miles to the south of Biarritz.

A brief history, cribbed from Paul Strang: The region has been producing wine since the Middle Ages, although production very nearly ended when phylloxera arrived in 1912. A few vignerons kept the faith, and AOC status was granted in 1970. That was the year the Brana family moved to St. Jean Pied-du-Port, where Etienne Brana decided to go into the distilling business (the family produces top-quality eaux-de-vie to this day). His son, Jean, was friends with Jean-Claude Berrouet (Chateau Petrus), one thing led to another, and the first Domaine Brana wines appeared in 1989.

One of the Brana family's best wines is also one of the least expensive.

Domaine Brana Irouléguy "Ohitza" 2007: This is a blend of 50% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (Thanks to David McDuff for correcting the proportions). It opens with a nose of black currant, plum, sweet red pepper, and a hint of roast meat. The palate follows with more black and purple fruit, a hint of black licorice, and mouthwatering acidity. Tannat is famously tannic, but here the tannins seem fully ripe; they barely make themselves known until well into the finish. I also pick up a bit of mineral character.

Wines from Irouléguy are commonly characterizes as "rustic," but I don't get that at all--there is a polished, almost Bordeaux-like quality here.

Here's a link to the Brana website (French only).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière Blanc (Pessac-Léognan) 2001

Some people (customers) think I am a wine connoisseur. I am not. I'm a guy who sells wines and is reasonably knowledgeable about the products. This by way of saying in the usual course of things, I don't get to taste many bottles that have seen a substantial amount of age. But once in a while it happens.

We were at The Usual Suspects on Monday night, coming to terms with the news that Les and Kathy are selling the place, and the Esoteric Wine train will be pulling out of the station for the last time very soon. So when Les asked whether we wanted to drink an amazing bottle of wine, we were not about to say no.

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière Blanc (Pessac-Léognan) 2001: It begins with aromas of cantaloupe and fresh-cut pineapple. Later on, notes of lime and honeysuckle appear. In the mouth, the texture is almost creamy, but there is plenty of citrus to keep things lively. Toward the end, soft vanilla notes emerge. This particular bottle may be one of the best arguments ever made in favor of oak aging. The effects of the barrel never intrude--they're like a choir humming softly behind the main vocalists. (Sorry, I'm getting carried away--it really was a very good bottle.)

Chris Kissack has an excellent backgrounder on Malartic-Lagravière.

I'll have more at a later date on the phenomenon that was The Usual Suspects. (The place is not closing, it's just changing hands. But the most extraordinary wine list in all the Carolinas is going away.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vinho Verde, with a short rant on distribution

I'm going to guess that anyone looking at this page knows Casal-Garcia, because it's the Budweiser of Vinho Verde (I mean that in the sense that it is ubiquitous in the market, not in terms of quality). I am partial to its producer, Sociedade Agrícola e Comercial da Quinta da Aveleda, SA, if only because they rank Simplicity as one of their core values (just behind Devotion--not sure what that denotes, but I'm good with it). Most of the time, I don't think about Vinho Verde at all. But lately, what with the temperatures in my part of the world hovering around 90º F, it's become something of a necessity: A light, refreshing white that doesn't clobber your poor heat-addled head with alcohol. Anyway, as enjoyable as Casal-Garcia is, there actually are other wines in the style worth seeking out. Thus:

Conde Villar Vinho Verde 2009: It's light, it's slightly crackling, in has some pear and citrus aromas and flavors, and a pleasing snap of acidity on the finish. It's made from a blend of 40% Loureiro, 30% Trajadura, and 30% Arinto. The high proportion of Loureiro is a signal of quality: This is the preferred grape for vinho verde, favored for its aromatics, and somewhat difficult to grow. It's produced by Quintas Das Arcas.

Encostas do Lima Vinho Verde 2009: Lima is one of the six official sub-appellations of Vinho Verde.  I found this to be the most interesting of the Vinho Verde wines I've tasted over the summer. The lime aroma and flavor has a real presence, along with notes of more generic citrus character and a bit of white peach. This also has a pronounced mineral character, reminiscent of a good Muscadet. It's sorta like drinking a gin and tonic, except you can drink more of it because the alcohol content is around 10%. Encostas do Lima is imported by Fran Kysela.

Finally, a note about  Broadbent Vinho Verde: Made from 50% Loureiro, this is very good quality wine, although it did not cause me to gush as effusively as Mr. Mackay. It is worth noting that Broadbent claims to be the only producer to ship the wine overseas refrigerated. Unlike some other producer/importers, Broadbent's wines are properly handled by our local distributor.

You would think that every self-respecting producer/importer would do its utmost to be sure its products are delivered to the consumer in the best possible shape, and would be very selective about the distributors who handle their products, but you would be wrong. It's kind of like Alan Greenspan being unable to imagine that corporations would ever be dishonest, because it would be bad for business. Hard though it may be to believe, there are wine distributors who don't handle their products properly, and who lie about it to their customers. (Well, they don't lie about everything: It's hard to claim you use air-conditioned delivery trucks when your customer is right there, unloading bottles that are still warm to the touch.) Barring some kind of horribly intrusive Big Gubmint Regulation, this is a problem that resists easy fixing: If a customer wants Wine A, and that wine is only available from Distributor X, there ain't much to be done about it, except push the reps to push the warehouse to get deliveries to the store as early in the day as possible, etc.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Basque Rosé (with update)

Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina 2009: Pale pink, the color of a really cheap costume-jewel. Fizzy. Nose of Strawberry Jolly Rancher, with just a hint of sweet herb and maybe white peach. Slightly tart red cherry and lemony citrus on the palate, a bit of a surprise, with good mineral character. Made from 50% Hondarribi Beltza (indigenous red grape) and 50% Hondarribi Zuri, (indigenous white grape); I can't locate information on either one. (If you can, please post!) Pleasant and refreshing, but grossly overpriced at $17.99. For more on the wine and the winemaker. visit the Domaine Selections website.

Update: Eric Asimov has an informative post on his recent visit to Basque wine country.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Couple Northern Sparklers

Domaine Moltés Antoine et Fils Cremant d'Alsace Brut NV: Roland Moltés owns three plots in the village of Pfaffenheim, including a parcel in "The Steinert," one of the most highly regarded (and steepest!) vineyards of Alsace. He blends Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir, resulting in a wine that opens with notes of ripe apple, ripe pear, and a hint of toast, and is dry and almost nutty on the palate. Some lemony notes and and attractive mineral character appear on the finish. You're not likely to confuse this with Champagne, the way you can with, say, Clavelin's Cremant du Jura; even so, this is a very good quality sparkler, with fine bubbles and a long-lasting mousse.

Interesting factoid from the Moltés website: "…[T]he estate carries out the visual selection of the most robust vine plants by multiplying the selected plants in the old vines. This method should be distinguished from clonal selection, which involves reproducing the best plants and which can reduce the diversity of the gene pool over the long term."

Champagne Grongnet Blanc De Blancs NV: Cécile Grongnet is a grower-maker of Champagne from the village of Etoges, in the Marne Valley, where she and her father have a small property of just under 35 acres. She makes Champagne from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, but it is her blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) that has given her recognition among Champagne aficionados. With so many producers aiming for a big, powerful style of blanc de blancs, it is startling to come across one of such delicacy and subtlety. The nose gives a hint of graham cracker and green apple; the palate is subdued yet refreshing, with notes of lemon, green apple, and a bit of lime at the very finish. I am the first to admit being easily dazzled by a Grand Cru powerhouse like Roland Champion, but there is also great pleasure to be had in a wine that asks you to acknowledge its subtle qualities.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Couple Southerners

Mas de Guiot Vin de Pays du Gard 2009: The wine begins with aromas of cherries, strawberries, anise, and a hint of cocoa powder. The palate follows with rich, liqueuer-like red fruit flavors and a mild, pleasant note of sweet tobacco. At the finish, notes of Indian spice emerge. For $12 this offers a lot of complexity and exotic character. Sylvia and François Cornut produce this charmer from vineyards near St. Gilles in Costières de Nîmes. The wine is labeled "Vin de Pays du Gard" because the Cornuts insist on putting the grape names on the label (in this instance, 60% Syrah, 40% Grenache.) They also grow Cabernet, and blend it with Syrah to good effect; the Alex cuvee is worth seeking out.

Château Saint Roch Chimères Côtes du Roussillon 2007: This has already received a rave from The Wine Advocate, which you can read here. I have little to add, except to point out that this is yet another very good production from Jean-Marc Lafage, who first came to my attention as the winemaker behind Eric Solomon's famous Las Rocas Garnacha, and now seems to be everywhere in Catalonia, making wine under his own name and the "Cote Est/Cote Sud" and "Novellum" names. And he is still active with Solomon, producing Evodia, which is sort of a successor to the "Las Rocas" project. He has become a force to be reckoned with in Roussillon, not yet on a par with Gerard Gauby, but just wait…anyway, it's always amusing to point out that Lafage's resume includes a stint with Ernest & Julio.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Of Tea-Baggers and Basilicata

I was re-reading Nicolas Belfrage's Brunello To Zibibbo the other day and ran across this passage, which struck me for reasons which will be obvious. He is talking about his experience in southern Italy, but you can substitute "tea-bagger" and get the same result, I think:

"I am bound to say that, in the course of considerable dealing with southern Italians, I have more than once come upon delay, denial and evasion, tortuous thinking and dealing, even when such behaviour seems patently to run against the subject's own interests. A southerner is likely to have an idea about this or that wedged firmly in his head, and nothing you can say will dislodge it. After a while one is simply obliged to recognise that reason will get you nowhere and that you might as well stop banging your head against the wall.1

Just below the paragraph quoted above, is another one, which I believe provides a well-reasoned critique of the type of government bureaucracy that tea-partiers love to rave against (that is, as long as it isn't a bureaucracy that provides them some tangible benefit, as in the classic "get your government hands off my Medicare.")  Thus:

"The southern Italian bureaucrat's special function in life is to make sure that he justifies his existence and covers himself, especially in relation to his superiors, in such a way that if anything goes wrong he is not to blame. The best way to ensure that nothing goes wrong is to arange for nothing to happen at all. This helps no end to frustrate inward investment and maintain status quo in a situation where rationalists might consider change to be urgently needed.1

1Nicolas Belfrage, Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (London, Mitchell Beazley, 2001).

 I have a slightly different take on the bureaucrat's function as it applies in the U.S., which is that an American bureaucrat justifies his existence by defending the rights of the well-heeled, whether as individuals or as corporations. But that's just me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cingalino, Borgoforte, and Portosecco

Villa Pillo is a 1,235-acre property in the middle of Chianti owned by Americans John and Kathe Dyson, who also own and operate the Millbrook Winery in New York's Hudson Valley and Williams Seylem in the Russian River Valley. This is the same John Dyson who was Deputy Mayor of New York City and came up with the "I ♥ NY" campaign.

Villa Pillo Cingalino Rosso di Toscana 2008: Made from 65% merlot and 35% cabernet franc, this is a medium-bodied charmer showing light red and black berry aromas and flavors, wrapped in a bit of oak spice, reflecting six months of aging in French oak. Somehow, the cab franc seems to dominate, which is fine by me. The label is kinda goofy:

Villa Pillo Borgoforte IGT Toscana 2007: A nose of soft black cherry, a bit of cedar, and a hint of tar; followed by a palate of red and black currants, a hint of cocoa, and nice ripe tannins. This is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, which, at the price, qualifies it for mini-Super-Tuscan status. This is of quality equivalent to Villa Antinori, and, in my opinion, a better value.


Portosecco Sangiovese IGT Toscano 2004:  From producer Fabio Bassanelli comes this traditional yet stylish expression of Sangiovese. On the nose, a little cedar and some bright red berries. The palate is bright with acidity, and delivers more red berry flavors plus some tangy cranberry. This is much, much easier to drink than the last vintage, which smelled/tasted primarily of cedar. It is still very far away from being a big-fruited wine, but my guess is that it will play well with a plate of rare steak and a bitter green (which is, as you know, my preferred accompaniment to almost any red Tuscan bottle).

Thanks for your patience and support, everyone.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The Wine Mule has encountered various obstacles, certain of which will be obvious to all 20 of the regular visitors to this site. These obstacles, combined with a completely separate problem of inspiration and motivation, are almost certainly going to curtail posting activity for a while. I'm not giving up the site, and I am deeply grateful to those of you who have encouraged me in this modest enterprise, but there won't be much new here for a while.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #13

Everybody's tired tonight. I think the arrival of mild weather has caused us all to relax a little, and realize how stressed we've been since December 18 when all this snow came and stayed and stayed. But we have good, reviving wines!

Alice et Olivier De Moor Bel Air et Clardy Chablis 2007:

Les: This is not premiere cru, but this is the way Chablis used to taste.

Elaine: Minerals and green apple skin.

Dave: Maybe a little cinammon note. (Drinks) Great lemony mid-palate. I can't put my finger on it, but there's an almost cidery quality. Compared to something like--I'm just pulling a name out of the air--a William Fèvre Premiere Cru, it's a little funky.

Elaine: It's a bit leesy for a Chablis.

Karl: This does not go with 'goons. It doesn't taste very good with cream cheese.

Elaine: I can't think of many of the wines we've tasted that didn't at least work okay with crab rangoons.

Karl: This definitely doesn't. It's kind of nasty-tasting against the cream cheese.

Dave: I am reminded of what happens when you add lemon to tea with milk. It's unpleasant. Just shows what great lemony character this has. It's great Chablis.

[We're sitting next to Ralph who's a server at Horizons at the Grove Park Inn. He used to be at Gabrielle's, the ritziest restaurant in Asheville until it burned down under mysterious circumstances. He tells us Duane Fernandes, who worked for Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York, had been the chef at Gabrielle's, and was now at Horizons, and Horizons was offering 20% off to locals on Mondays and Thursdays. He also said the Kobe beef was still $90 or something.]

Brézème Côtes du Rhône 2006, by Éric Texier.

Les: This is land very near Hermitage, that was highly regarded like 100 years ago, and fell into disuse, and Texier found it. It's more like pinot noir than like a Rhone from further south.

Dave: Here's some minty herb on the nose; not medicinal like the Mondeuse from last week.

Karl: Cola and wax.

Elaine: Cherry cola, in fact.

Dave: Black olive.

Elaine: Yes, like those wrinkly black salt-cured ones.

Dave: Bay leaf? Something like Bay leaf? This is fantastically yummy.

Karl: I want to see "fantastically yummy" in the blog.

Dave: I can't really identify any fruit on the palate. There's no one flavor that's sort of anchoring everything else.

Elaine: It really is all about the nose. The palate is satisfying, but you also want to gulp it. It's sort of clean, unburdened by new oak. Really, it's very good. You don't always want syrah to linger. I tasted a bag-in-box wine from this guy. It was like this, although the nose wasn't as interesting. I often look for a charcoal note in syrah, usually accompanied by notes of meat and smoke. All I get in this one is the charcoal.

P.S.: Having been spectacularly lazy about working on this blog during February, I have a lot of catching up to do. Now that I can see the Sun again, maybe I'll get a little more active. Or not.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #12

A Brief, Gummy Night.

Tonight, we begin with a little something from Slovenia. Les comes out with something called “Toh-Kai,” which is winemaker Aleš Kristancic of the Movia winery seeing what he can get away with now that he’s not allowed to use the words “Tocai Friulani” on his label. Which is only right, since he’s not making Tokai, and he’s not in Friulani (Well, he sorta is, but only partly). Sometimes the EU gets this stuff right. As will be evident, it is already hard to believe this is Tocai, or pinot blanc, or klevener, or whatever. The wine is a release from the “Quattro Mani” series, which is kinda like the Long Shadows Project in the Columbia Valley—celebrity winemakers from elsewhere given access to great fruit. Anyway, Kristancic certainly has license to fool around, if only on the basis of the deep, rich, aristocratic Cabernet Sauvignon he turns out at Movia.

Dave: This really smells like Wrigley’s Spearmint gum.

Elaine: It’s bitter. I’m surprised this is still ’07.

Dave: Maybe a little Maraschino cherry. Odd.

Elaine: His interpretation of the wine is mass-market: It’s juicy and fruity light, but not too light.

[‘Goons arrive.]

Elaine: Look, the color of the ‘goons matches the color of the label: Green and white.

Dave: Parker gave this 91 points? You know, I think it really must be true what they say: The man has a sweet tooth.

Next up, Famille Feillot Bugey Mondeuse 2007.

Elaine: I love these wines! This smells like Ricola.

Karl: Kind of medicinal.

Elaine: That shit that’s good for you. And Heirloom Bing Cherry.

Karl: You really need to swirl to bring up the fruit.

Dave: It smells kinda like Strega, too. Does anybody drink Strega anymore?

Elaine: There is a cru Beaujolais character here too.

Dave: Yeah, I’ve always thought of Mondeuse as Gamay’s crazy country cousin. I’m actually digging the medicinal herb thing.

Elaine: This could be a great flavor for red wine chewing gum.

Dave: That “Toh-Kai” would make a great flavor for white wine chewing gum.

Karl: I bought those wine gums. They all tasted the same.

Dave: Oh, wine gums. Not wine-flavored chewing gum. [Xylis makes a chardonnay-flavored chewing gum, sold in Japan, of course.] (Sips) This has more substance than the Puzelat. I still can't get over that business with Le Telquel. Man knocks himself out to be true to terroir, and gets a vin de pays classification for his trouble.

Elaine: Think of Thierry as traditionally experimental.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #10

Les comes out from the back of the house and just looks at me and smiles. "I'm not even going to ask you tonight. I know what you're drinking." Back he comes with two bottles. Karl and Elaine arrive, and barely have time to get their coats off before there are glasses in front of them.

Les: You know the Puzelat wines are a negociant business; Thierry does it because he's young and energetic and his brother, who is ten years older, doesn't want to be involved. But these wines are from the actual family vineyards. The white is made from menu pineau, which hardly anybody grows. Gros pineau is also known as Chenin Blanc."

Clos du Tue-Boeuf Touraine Le Brin de Chèvre 2007:

Karl: This smells like those stollen we got in for Christmas.

Dave: Yes, fruitcake! Fruitcake and over-ripe pear, and lots of lime.

Elaine: Walnuts. I feel like just gulping this down. It's a bit oxidative. And it tastes like somebody put Vitamin C in it. It's so acidic it's burning my lips. What is Vitamin C?

Dave: It's ascorbic acid. This is like a super-limeade for grownups. No wonder we want to gulp it.

Elaine: Not an easy wine to match food with.

Dave: The ceviche is only on the menu in warm weather.

Karl: Maybe some fried calamari drizzled with lemon juice. But that's not on the menu now, either.

Dave: What it really needs is a grapefruit and chevre salad.

Elaine: (Looking at TV screen) That's Barbara Streisand. She looks like an actor.

Dave: Wow, it's "Funny Girl." Yeah, she was in the original Broadway production.

Elaine: They're all acting. They're not just smirking or looking blank.

Logan: Should I open the red now?

Dave: Yeah, I guess. Les said something about not opening it until we were ready. We're ready.

Clos du Tue-Boeuf Cheverny "La Grevotte" 2008:

Elaine: This smells like something not edible.

Karl: Like a scented candle.

Elaine: It smells like a goat's butt-hole smeared with cherry jam. I mean that as a compliment.

Dave: Acetone and lanolin. This is why my father would never eat lamb: He was fed mutton when he was in the Marine Corps; he didn't like to even smell it cooking.

Elaine: I still haven't actually tasted it. My brain keeps going 'No, wait, wait!' (She drinks) Oh, okay. Cran-Grape with nail polish.

Dave: If I hadn't been told, I would not have guessed this was pinot noir.

Elaine: Maybe it isn't. It needs air.

Karl: Gotta lift the tail.

Dave: No, this definitely is pinot noir. I'm not used to the cranberry being so front-and-center.

Elaine: It smells like a rose plant now. Not just rose aroma, the whole plant.

Karl: Only Elaine can turn a goat's butt-hole into a rose.

Elaine: This is like a Santenay…

Dave: Something from the Côte Chalonnaise? Maybe a Mercurey?

Elaine: Yes, I tasted a Mercurey from the Jenny and Francois collection; this wine reminds me of it. [Probably a Domain Derain?--Dave] There are some very specific flavors the two wines share.

The sausage/peppers/cheese/red sauce hoagies were okay, although I wished they'd used regular sweet Italian sausage and not the smoked stuff…

Then it was off to play a few rousing games of pinball.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #9

I walk in, take a vacant chair at the bar, see that the two customers to my right have their check and their plastic to-go box. By the time Elaine and Karl arrive, there will be space.

Kathy: Just you?

Dave: The whole crew is coming.

I can see a woman to my left, she is trying to decide what "whole crew" might mean, but despite my Ramones-era black leather jacket, it is very plain to see that I am not leading any kind of horde, barbarian or otherwise.

Les: French or Italian tonight?

Dave: I want some of that orange wine you were talking about last time. Do you still have it?

Les pauses, pretends to be deep in thought. I look at him in disbelief.

Les: Yes, I have it. You realize that this is "intellectual," which may not mean "enjoyable." It will probably be one of the strangest wines you've had.

Karl and Elaine arrive. I tell them the first wine will be Camillo Donati Malvasia dell' Emilia Frizzante IGT. Elaine, natch, is already hip to this wine, as it is a Dressner selection and she seems to know all of them, and she is of course game for anything, but she's dubious about Malvasia.

Elaine: It's not my favorite grape.

Les pours.

Dave: Wow. Clove.

Elaine: Clove and peach and ginger

Karl: Like biting into an orange seed.

Elaine: It's a very intense nose. Sometimes Malvasia reminds me of some household cleaning product. Citrasol orange spray?

Dave: There's this sort of artificial mint aroma here, too. Maybe that contributes to the "cleaning product" note.

Elaine: There should be a Malvasia-scented version of Febreze.

Karl: This is more like beer than wine. It's consistent all the way through.

Dave: Yeah, it's not exactly evolving is it? It does have a great nose.

Elaine: The finish is more interesting than the mid-palate.

We pause to view a montage of scenes from Elvis movies on the TV.

Les overhears our "cleaning product" comments and walks over.

Les: I could put out some soap scum for comparison.

Dave: It sure is orange. The color, I mean.

Elaine: This is actually pretty enjoyable, especially if you think of it as a beer rather than a wine. It's somewhere between a Lambic and a dry cider. I'd rather drink this than most beer. It's lighter, and I think it will go better with food.

Dave: (Looking up from plate of lamb sausage with mint yogurt sauce) It goes nicely with this!

Karl: What's the history of this? Is frizzante Malvasia typical in Emilia?

According to Dressner, there has been demi-sec Malvasia for some time, but Camillo Donati now makes this dry version. Camillo Donati's website doesn't appear to be available in English, and a Google search brings up a comment by a Norwegian guy who drank the Barbera version of their wine and reported that his wife thought it tasted like rat poison, and he wasn't sure he disagreed. All we know for sure is that they're organic/biodynamic, and they obviously don't believe in filtering or fining, since the Malvasia looked more like unfiltered wheat beer than sparkling wine.

The second wine on the bill was a 2006 Marco Cecchini Refosco "Rosso Autoclono." Unfortunately, we had used up all our faculties of discrimination on the Malvasia, and the most I can say is that it was very pleasant, and had all the nice ripe black cherry fruit and requisite almond scent in the nose. There was a bit of meaty funk also, which was intriguing. There was a little too much oak present for yours truly, but then that is often the case these days. I am sorry to report that I did not even once make reference (as I usually do in the presence of Refosco dal Peduncolo) to Pliny the Elder, who was a fan of Refosco and wrote about it in whatever it was people were reading instead of the Wine Advocate 2,000 years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Virtual Basque Dinner

We had to skip another week at The Usual Suspects, so we made up for it with a big dinner at our house. We ended up having a sort of Virtual Basque Dinner. Lucy made a Gigot d'Ageau Basquaise, from a recipe out of a Patricia Wells cookbook, with lots of garlic, smokey red pepper, and mustard. Margo made a squash-and-porcini bisque. Elaine brought a wild Savagnin, and Karl and Bryan and I tried to make ourselves useful; me by opening an M. Maillart Brut NV, which was very nice, but didn't really live up to the "just like Bollinger" hype.

Here we go:

Philippe Bouzereau, Meursault 1er Cru, 'Genevriéres' 1999:

Sort of a miracle to me that this was still in good shape: It still has its red markdown sticker from Marty's, where I bought it, probably in 2003. The nose was expressive for a Genevriéres, with apple, honeysuckle, and hazelnut notes. In the mouth, the fruit was vivid, without a trace of flabbiness. The finish was rich with minerals. It accompanied Margo's bisque of winter squash and porcini cream beautifully.

Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin L'Etoile 2002:

L'Etoile is a tiny appellation in the Jura, where the savagnin grape is fermented and aged like sherry. Elaine brought this bottle, and it was even brinier and nuttier than the '92 Château-Chalon we'd enjoyed last summer. Elaine proposed drinking it with the leg of lamb, which Lucy had made in the Basque style, with just a hint of smokey pepper. Some of us thought the briny character of the wine stood up well to the big flavors of the lamb, but when the chef called for a glass of red, we were ready for her…

Château Montus Madiran 2001:

Alain Brumont had a falling out with his father in 1980, and bought this property in Maumusson so he could make 100% Tannat wines the way he wanted to. He has long since patched things up with his family, and now Montus is more of a second label to Château Bouscassé. We didn't decant, and we probably should have--the wine was still young with some vigorous tannins at the finish. Even so, it was a great match with the lamb, being almost a Basque wine anyway, and showing much more polish than an Irouleguy, for example. The elegance of this otherwise big, burly wine may be attributable to Brumont's love affair with wood. He is said to be meticulous in his use of barrels, and I can believe it.

Lucy had scattered jellybeans across the dining room table (She started doing this a year or so ago, I forget why) and a certain amount of hilarity ensued at dinner's end, as we observed Bryan, the Gummi Bears fiend, scooping up all the Jelly Bellys he could reach...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Lo Sang Del Pais"

No hangin' at the Usual this week, Les and Kathy closed Monday night for a belated staff Christmas party. So I have some notes from the weekend on a truly wonderful bottle Les put before us from the moderately obscure appellation of Marcillac. It's in the Lot, a healthy drive east of Cahors, and it is the home of a grape widely known as fer servadou or braucol, and locally as mansois. According to Paul Strang, it may be a relative of cabernet franc. (There's a new edition available of his "South-West France: The Wines and the Winemakers," I recommend it highly.) It has some of the same grassy character, and aromas and flavors of soft red fruits, currants, and red berries, all of which were present in the wine we tasted:

Domaine Du Cros "Lo Sang Del Pais" Marcillac 2008: In addition to a lovely ripeness and freshness of fruit, this also displayed the iron mineral character that is characteristic of the terroir. The locals call the soil "rouergue" or "rougier," literally "red earth." The winemaker is Philippe Teulier. The wine's name, according to Strang, translates as "blood of the countryside." It is certainly a dark red, although not at all muddy. Teulier has a website worth a visit (click in the appropriate spot for a single, informative page of English). Frankly, the wine is a great introduction to the region: It is quite distinctive, easy to drink, and retails for well under $20.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #8

We've had a long layoff from the Usual Suspects, the holiday season created commitments for all of us, and back there in mid-December when I was working holiday hours at the shop and also working musician's hours with the band, I was pretty beat anyway.

But now we're back, North Carolina's no-smoking rule has gone into effect, Elaine got a big new job (we would never be so insensitive as to ask how much she's making, but I think it is quite a bit more than she was being paid to sell wine, since this is a much bigger job for a much bigger company), and--not that this was a big surprise--Elaine and Karl are dating. It's nice.

And I couldn't help but notice, looking around, that the smoking ban didn't seem to have chased away any regulars. And we can all stop complaining about smoke interfering with our enjoyment of the wines.

Anyway, we had a lot to catch up on, even though we see each other almost every day at the job, and I'm afraid conversation about the wine was sparse. Not that the wines weren't worth talking about: First up was a 2005 Condrieu from Éric Texier, which showed the characteristic nose of yellow fruit and orange blossom, as well as some hints of aromatic herbs. In the mouth, the wine managed to be both brisk with acidity and quite full. With food, a little creaminess showed up. This was very different from the '05 Delas I'd tasted a year or so back, which showed a lot of orange and a lot of creaminess, and was pretty straightforwardly in the off-dry camp. A creamsicle for grownups, I called it then.

We also discussed the generally poor results we got from cheap viognier. The only one we really liked was the '08 Domaine la Bastide, from Guilhem Durand, which had freshness and vivacity that was lacking in comparably priced wines (including the wildly popular Yalumba, which tastes to me of canned fruit salad). Elaine was of the opinion that good cheap viognier was essentially a matter of luck: "They're never consistent from year to year," she said.

Next up was a Canon-Fronsac from Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie 2000, which made Elaine smile. "I've been buying this wine for almost as long as I've been in the business," she said. Naturally, it is a Joe Dressner pick, although the bottle we had did not have the fancy artwork shown on the Louis/Dressner web site. I got a big snootful of chocolate mint on the nose, and Karl mentioned a kind of green wood note, "…like when you scratch the bark off a tree in early Spring." Elaine added that it was also really juicy, "…like blackberry juice, and raspberry juice." I agreed, and thought the juicy quality was worth remarking on since the wine was 99% merlot (plus a pinch of malbec), and some of my recent merlot-heavy Bordeaux notes had included references to "chocolate milk." In this wine, it's just a hint, not the whole show.
Happy New Year, everybody, thanks for looking at this, whoever you are, and no, I would never dream of inflicting a 10-best list on you. There are plenty of those already.