Wines Above $40
Last week, I attended a dinner at Bouley, where winemaker Axel Heinz presented four vintages of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto (the highly acclaimed Merlot-based Super Tuscan), including the not-yet-released 2006 as well as the 2005, 2001 and 1997. Heinz invited everyone who attended to bring a bottle—one they felt was iconic in some way, from a producer who had “stood the test of time.” Unfortunately, I have no cellar to pull such a wine from, so instead I opted for the 1998 López de Heredia Viña Gravonia ($28, find this wine), a white Rioja from a traditional producer who holds wines at the estate for years—even decades, for its top wines—before releasing them. (1998 is the current vintage of this wine.)
As the sommelier poured me some 1988 Dom Pérignon, he set my bottle down next to a 1970 Château Margaux and a 1990 Ridge Geyersville, which made me feel more than a little sheepish. Thankfully, my humble bottle—one that at eleven years old tastes fresh and, in some ways, even too young to drink—provoked a great discussion about López de Heredia’s iconic status. I said I chose the wine because I admired the producer for sticking to its traditional-winemaking guns. In Rioja, many producers have embraced a more international style of wine: The whites are aged in stainless steel (instead of old oak barrels) and are often crisp but unmemorable. The reds are highly extracted and aged in new oak barrels for a richer, more polished style. Everyone agreed that López—with its elegant reds that age wonderfully and its extraordinary whites that often last even longer—has become an icon, but some people at the table wondered if it's simply because the López is the "last man standing" in a sea of producers who have modernized. Whatever the answer, I was happy it that it paired beautifully with Bouley’s porcini “flan,” an egg white–thickened dashi broth studded with meaty chunks of Dungeness crab. Better than the '06 Masseto, I must say.
And what about the Massetos? I found it fascinating to taste how all of the vintages had a distinctive (and wonderful) combination of mouth-filling fruit, terrific structure and a luxuriously long finish. The 2006 was much more opulent than the 2005, which was a tougher year in Tuscany; the ’05 seemed a bit closed. The sexy 2001 and 1997 were both noticeably silkier, thanks to their softening tannins, but had little in terms of secondary notes; I imagine more will start to develop as they continue to age. These wines have a lot of extraction, yes, but their balance across the board was impressive. In summary, the wines were correct—impeccable, even. It was hard to find a flaw. But does being flawless make something inspiring? Does flawlessness make a wine an icon? Perhaps. But is it worth paying upwards of $250 for that?
I'm not so sure. But I'm grateful to have tried them, and if you ever get the chance to taste Masseto, I would say definitely do. —Kristin Donnelly
Wines Under $20
Every spring, I wait for that transcendent moment when everything comes together and the season hits its most refreshing, jubilant, birds a-chirping note and there's no looking back to the bleak days of winter. That moment finally arrived last night over a couple of pizzas on the patio of Franny's in Brooklyn. I was with my dear friend John, we could see the Big Dipper, the pies were expertly wood-fired and I discovered the absolutely most perfect pizza wine ever in a glass of Bonarda from Italy's Lombardia region. The 2007 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepò Pavese ($16, find this wine) is deep red and lightly frizzante with lively cherry fruit and a kick of juicy mandarin orange flavor that was incredible with the tangy tomato sauce on our buffalo mozzarella pizza. Served chilled, it's similar to a Lambrusco but not as dark and frothy, just bright and clean. And to think this is only the beginning of patio-Bonarda-star-gazing weather. —Megan Krigbaum
Wines Above $40
© Ray Isle
Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!
If you've read through our just-released June issue you may know that I spent some time a little while back engaged in a cork-taint sniff-off with a Labrador named Ziggy. A fun story to write—but I didn't get to run a picture of Ziggy along with it, so I'm rectifying that now. Cute, isn't she? And don't ever try to get a TCA-tainted barrel stave past her.
The other thing I didn't have room to write about in the story were the wines of Sojourn Cellars, a partnership between Craig Haserot, Ziggy's owner, and winemaker Erich Bradley. That's a shame, because they're well worth writing about. Sojourn makes a number of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets from various Sonoma vineyards, and is open for salon-style tastings (by appointment) in the small white house off the main square in Sonoma where I had my showdown with Ziggy.
The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36) is a blend from four different vineyards, pale ruby in hue, with appealing sweet strawberry and cherry cola notes and a hint of rhubarb. It has an impressively silky mouthfeel, which jibes with Haserot's comment as I was tasting: "From a philosophical standpoint, we are hyper-focused on mouthfeel. It has to feel good before it tastes good. So we focus a lot on tannin management."
The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Windsor Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) offered cooler fennel-herbal notes with dense, sweet berry fruit, a touch of candied raspberry, and smoky tannins on the end; lots of saturated flavor here.
My favorite of the Pinots, the 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) has impressively sustained flavors of ripe wild raspberries and spice, a note of grapefruit peel in its acidity, and, overall, just exceptional balance and poise. The section of Sangiacomo that Haserot sources grapes from is, he says, "a nice cool spot right at the base of Sonoma Mountain, with a lot of marine influence; essentially the northern end of the Petaluma Gap."
Of the Cabernets, I thought the 2006 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) was a steal for the quality it offers. The vineyard's called Home Ranch because it's essentially Haserot's backyard; the wine itself is luscious and rich, with mocha and black currant flavors and a touch of minty eucalyptus—a big, robust, embraceable Cabernet. Thinking about it makes me want to go out and grill a bunch of steaks right now.
On a different note, the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is powerful and dark—much more a classic mountain-fruit Cabernet—with blackberry and black-currant fruit that's wrapped up in gripping but ripe tannins. The wine comes from the best seven barrels off Sojourn's Mountain Terraces vineyard; it's drinking very well now, and it should be drinking even better after four or five years in the cellar.
Sojourn's wines are available in some shops and at restaurants, but the production is fairly small, so they're easiest to find by getting in touch with the winery directly.
© Trapiche/Frederick Wildman
Finger-squeezing at Trapiche
Ever since a lunch last week, when I had the opportunity to taste a slew of single-vineyard Malbecs from Argentina's Trapiche winery, I've been trying to wrap my mind around something flabbergasting that I was told there. When we came to the last wine of the tasting, a luscious deep, dark, black cherry-flavored Malbec called Manos, Gustavo Arroyat, Trapiche's Export Manager, informed us that wine is called Manos because it's entirely handmade. Not only are the grapes hand-harvested, and the best bunches hand-selected and hand-sorted, but each and every grape is hand-pressed. Meaning, each grape is squeezed between a human finger and thumb to release its juices. Now, call me a cynic, but I've have had a hard time buying this. Foot-stomping grapes, sure, but finger-squeezing?
Well, express doubt, and ye shall receive. In response to my queries came the above photo. For obvious reasons, there's not much Manos around—only about 500 cases—and at $90 it's definitely pricey, but the inaugural 2004 vintage has loads of juicy black fruit and an elegant structure. It's a perfect match for barbecue, especially the sweet-glazed Kansas City Spareribs from Blue Smoke that I had with it that day. — Megan D. Krigbaum
Wines Above $40
I stopped by briefly this afternoon at a tasting of the new 2007 Vintage Ports (here's a lengthy report from Jancis Robinson on the vintage) from some of the major houses, and walked away very impressed. Based on this group, the '07s are more precise and fragrant than I recall the 2003s being; not as lusciously ripe (no surprise—it was a much cooler growing season through the entire summer, though it ended on ideally warm days in September) but more complex and graceful; and with a refined, powerful, spicy tannic grip on the finish of almost all the wines. I'll blog more about the vintage when I taste a few more examples—the wines won't be out for quite a while—but the two at the top of the heap today, for me, were the compellingly floral, layered, powerful Quinta do Vesuvio and the plush, black-currant-and-chocolate Croft.
Wines Above $40
This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend Taste Washington, an extravaganza of Washington State wines put on in a few places around the country every year. I was at the mothership incarnation of the thing, in Seattle, a mighty cool town (like you need me to tell you). For me, festivities started off with a seminar I led, in which three of our former F&W Best New Chefs—Johnathan Sundstrom of Lark, Jason Wilson of Crush, and Ethan Stowell of Union (and Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf, and the new Anchovies & Olives)—chose some of their favorite Washington wines to pair with recipes made with some of their favorite Washington foodstuffs.
I left it to the chefs to do most of the talking, meanwhile enjoying the heck out of the pairings they'd come up with. First up, Ethan Stowell produced a local mussels-fennel-citrus salad—details forthcoming, as I was too busy moderating to take notes—to go with the 2007 Mark Ryan Klipsun Vineyard Viognier ($29) from Red Mountain. Along with the other Viogniers I tasted throughout the weekend, it made a strong case for Washington as an impressive source for New World Viogniers that can balance the grape's natural lushness against a good spine of acidity.
Wilson, next up, brought an intensely luscious stinging nettle vichyssoise with grilled shigoku oysters—I'm going to see if he'd be game to run the recipe for this here, because it was pretty insanely delicious—to go along with a 2007 O’Shea Scarborough Klipsun Vignoble Semillon ($20), also from the Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. It was a sort of oddball but appealing wine whose floral-herbal notes went strangely well with the chlorophyll-herby taste of the nettles.
Finally, Sundstrom paired his pork rillettes with fleur de sel butter—no sadness there—with a dry Riesling from the Lake Chelan region (headed toward an AVA designation later this year, apparently). The wine, the 2006 Vin du Lac Lehm Dry Riesling ($45), was flinty and focused, its crisp acidity and green apple fruit an ideal foil to the rillettes' porky richness. The ultra-local butter, by the way, came from a two-cow dairy on Vashon Island, whose young proprietor cooks a couple of days a week at Lark.
I'll mention a few other highlights from the event in my next blog, along with the red wines that we poured at the seminar just for the fun of it, but this was a mighty nice way to start the weekend.