Friday, February 13, 2009

A Hot-Headed Bordeaux Meets Johnny Cash

Last fall, when I was working in a Bordeaux vineyard in the Fronsac appellation, I was surrounded by other vineyards (when I first looked at the address on Google Earth I was pumped- there was nothing but vineyards there)! So when I found a bottle of the 2003 Moulin Haut Laroque at the Wine Library for $26, I knew I was bringing home a bottle. The winemaker I was working for, Benoît, loved this wine and had several different vintages in his personal cellar. I got to try a few and got hooked.

As the bottle I bought was a 2003, I knew it was time to drink this baby soon. In 2003, Europe experienced an awful heat wave; because of all this sunshine and hot weather, the wines tended to be more fruity while they're young. Now, only 6 years later, you can tell that this vintage is not one to keep in your cellar. Due to the heat, it was almost as though the grapes were cooked- the 2003s I've tasted lack the usual tannic structure that a typical Bordeaux has. It is this tannic structure that allows Bordeaux wines to be kept for 10, 20, 30, 40 or more years.

When I poured the Moulin Haut Laroque into my glass, the color was a deep purple with orange on the sides. This is one indicator of age, as red wines turn more orange and brown as they grow older. The nose was complex and lovely, and I spent about 5 minutes swirling and having fun discovering the new aromas. There were obvious plums, violets, pepper, a leathery gaminess (think beef jerky), green peppers, and a crème de cassis thing going on. Every swirl opened up a new flavor. The mouthfeel was similar in that way, with plums and blackberries leading the way, changing to a drier oak/vanilla influence on the midpalate, and finishing with a cedar box, covered with leather and earth, as well as a lovely caramel note. Even though the alcohol is at 14.3%, you don't feel it. That being said, this is a one-glass wine, to be sipped and enjoyed. Although this is not a typical Bordeaux because of the weather that year, the winemaker, Jean-Noël Hervé, made one killer wine!

The 2003 Moulin Haut Laroque made me think of Sue in "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash. Because circumstances at his birth made him tough, he'll keep up that façade whenever made fun of his name. And believe me, he can whoop some ass. But when it comes to forgiveness, after fighting with his father, the "SOB who named you Sue", he comes to the realization that he only did that to make him grow up tough. Now, when it comes for Sue to have a son, will he repeat this tactic? No. Once was enough, he'll go for something a bit more classic like: "Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!" The Moulin Haut Laroque reminds me of this song because although the vintage made it different, it can still fight tough and is more multi-dimensional than some people might think. This wine might seem simply fruit-forward, but it brings a lot to the table and is a very well-made wine; this will keep you swirling, sniffing and tasting for awhile.

A view of Moulin Haut Laroque's vineyard. One secret to this wine? Lots of old vines.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Expectations of Dão Cut in Half (And No, This Has Nothing to Do With the Economy)

There's a great thing in your wine shop that many people overlook: half-bottles. If you find it hard to get through a full bottle before it oxidizes or if you want to try a wine that would otherwise be too expensive if bought in the 750 ml bottle, then this is a good opportunity. There's a lot of different wines available in 375 ml bottles, although to find them you would have to go to a good wine shop.

I found this half-bottle at my local wine store, Cardoza's. Southeastern Massachusetts has a lot of Portuguese immigrants, so we have two amazing things that are easily available and make my life more amazing: chorizo and Portuguese wines. I saw the half-bottles located at the front of the store. They had wines from many different areas: California, France, Italy, and Portugal. As I'm more of a red wine drinker and the other wine drinker in the house prefer whites, I'm usually alone in my red wine drinking pursuits. For me, buying this makes sense as I'm sometimes working at night and am the only one to have reds. Usually, full bottles of red tend to oxidize before I can finish them, even though I use Vacu-Vin.

I had the 2005 Quinta dos Grilos from the Dão region in Portugal and it was $6.99. It was a gorgeous purple color. It smells like black cherry soda, kirsch, fig, cassis, graphite, and a hint of rubber. On the mouthfeel, the wine had tons of black fruits, cherries, vanilla, but it lacked an intensity that I look for. It was a bit flabby.

This wine reminds me of a movie that's been hyped and you're looking forward to it, but when you sit down to watch, it's a disappointment. For me, this mirrors my experience with "Superbad." I heard "Judd Apatow," "Michael Cera," and "Seth Rogan" and was very excited for a sweet film with some funny, filthy humor. And sure, the whole McLovin thing was funny, but when it came down to it, I was disinterested rather quickly and half-watching, went to do other things. It was the same thing with this wine.

I've had some really kick-ass Portuguese wines before and had expectations that this would be a continuation. However, upon drinking it, I was semi-disappointed. It was really a bad wine per se, just lackluster, like "Superbad." This wine was in no way a "Wayne's World"- something I will continue to quote until I've left this Earth. Cause seriously, I hate when movies bore me.

"I once thought I had mono for an entire year. It turned out I was just really bored."


"Okay, how 'bout F: You're a gimp."

2005 Bordeaux- Off the Beaten Path: Part Two

OK, so to finish up the 2005 Bordeaux seminar I attended at the Boston Wine Expo.

Now, it was time for wines from the Left Bank, starting with the Haut Médoc. The Château Doyac was a garnet color that you could see your fingers through. It had an amazing and very distinct mocha latte smell (i.e. chocolate and espresso), with a dab of red fruits. The mouthfeel carried on that mocha effect with extreme amounts of chocolate, but with some hints of vegetal greenness. Then to the Château Trois Moulins Cru Bourgeois, with a lighter red color. On the nose was extremely complex (I had to keep smelling it as it kept evolving), with leather, vanilla, floral and vegetal components, that it almost smelled sweet. This complexity on the nose carried through to the taste, with the same characteristics coming through, and with sweet but firm tannins. This wine had great fruit and an interesting blend: 50% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, and 2% petit verdot. The Trois Moulins was my favorite of the entire tasting. An absolutely delicious wine. Seek it out if you can.

The Château Pique Caillou from Pessac-Léognan was a lighter colored red with a beautiful spiciness on the nose (cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg). The cinnamon was intense though- it smelled like Big Red chewing gum! The smells on the nose carried through to the palate. It was just good for the price of admission to smell the whole spice rack! Then I tried the Château Larose de Gruaud from Saint-Julien. It was a darker colored wine, one I could just barely see my fingers through. The wine was earthy, plasticy, barnyard-esque, with a hint of red fruit. Awkward in my opinion. On the mouthfeel, the wine was almost totally fruity, mostly cherries and cassis, with some tight back-end tannins.

The Château Deyram Valentin Cru Bourgeois from Margaux was outstanding. The color was very dark and the nose was beautiful: lovely ripe red fruits (raspberries, cherries), extremely fresh and floral. This was an extremely elegant wine that started off sweet and fruity, became drier with hints of oak, and a lovely floral finish. The Château Fonbadet Cru Bourgeois Supérieur from Pauillac was a dark wine, but just light enough to see your fingers through it. It had a very earthy and spicy nose, with dashes of cinnamon and graphite. It was a dry wine with some great red fruits and spiciness that followed through to the palate. This vineyard abuts some of the big name châteaux, including Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, and Lynch-Bages.

Now for another of my favorites, the Château Tour de Termes Cru Bourgeois from St. Estèphe. This was a dark wine that you couldn't see your fingers through. The nose was a complete surprise: tropical fruits (pineapples and mangos) and it smelled like those candy necklaces I used to eat as a kid. The tropical fruits carried on to the palate, but brought some more traditional fruits and a surprising earthiness on the finish. It was a 60/40 of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, which is interesting considering this is the Left Bank, a place more known for its cabernet.

Finally, we finished with the biggest red wine of the bunch, the Château L'Écuyer from Pomerol. The owner/winemaker of the vineyard, Emeric Petit, learned how to make wine with Jean-Claude Berrouet, the winemaker at a little place called Pétrus. The blend is 85% merlot and 15% cabernet franc. The wine was a deep, dark red and the nose was full of dark fruits (blackberries, cassis, blueberries), with hints of white flowers and some nice hints of oak influence. On the mouthfeel, this wine had some lovely red fruits, graphite, and overall was a simply lovely wine. This, my friends, was a wine nerd wine. It coated your palate and brought something different to the table each time. I can certainly see why it was last in the lineup of reds. (Even after the seminar, when people were meeting Margaret Calvet, this was the talk of the tasting).

Finally, we finished with a dessert wine from the Sainte Croix du Mont appellation, the Château Bel Air Vieilles Vignes. Before this seminar, I had never heard of this appellation. I guess that what happens when there are 57 different ones to keep track of! This is located in the Entre-Deux-Mers region facing the Sauternes appellation. As Margaret Calvet pointed out, this is a place that can give you some wonderful value wines, as most people have never heard of the appellation before. This wine is made by the noble rot, or when the botrytis fungus attacks the grapes; it's quite amazing something so nasty, as a fungus, can create wines that are so delicious. The wine is 100% sémillon, with classic notes of peaches, apricots, and that greasy, oily petrol smell. The mouthfeel had a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. It was a nectar of peaches and honey with a hint of petrol. Now this was a wine I most certainly did not spit out. I savored my pour of this wine. If your only experience with dessert wines has been with ice wines (where the grapes are frozen and then crushed) and you find them to be too sweet and over the top, these types of wines are the ones to try instead. Thanks to the botrytis, it maintains acidity that cuts through what would otherwise be an overwhelmingly sweet wine. Now I've found something else to obsess about. Hurrah.

Overall, this was an interesting seminar, if for the wines alone. Most of the information I already knew, having taken a class at the CIVB's École du Vin in downtown Bordeaux. However, I had never heard of any of these châteaux before and it was a treat to be able to try them.

2005 Bordeaux- Off the Beaten Path

Alright, so a little late, but when I was at the Boston Wine Expo I attended a seminar of 2005 Bordeaux, featuring "off the beaten track" wineries. It was supposed to be hosted by Jean-Christophe Calvet, the owner of Aquitaine Wine Company (who supplied the wines), but I guess there was a last minute change up and his wife and CFO of the company, Margaret filled in. We had a lovely spread of 17 different Bordeaux wines: 2 dry whites, 14 reds, and 1 dessert wine. Having recently worked in Bordeaux with a winemaker, I'm always interested to learn more about the area as my three months of meeting people only skimmed the surface of the approximately 10,000 châteaux in the area.

Aquitaine Wine Company's goal, described in one of the pamphlets, is "to provide hand-crafted, discovery, value wines from wines to meet the demands of consumers around the world." Awesome- count me in! In the Boston area, Martignetti distributes their wines.

The first two whites were both from the 2007 vintage (the rest of the wines were all 2005s). White Bordeaux is a blend that is usually made with sauvignon blanc, sémillon, and muscadelle, but can also use ugni blanc and colombard. These two whites were great because they showed two different sides of white Bordeaux: ones with fresh acidity and others that are more creamy, with a touch of oak. The Château Haut Peyruget, located in the Entre-Deux-Mers region. The blend was 60% sauvignon, 20% sémillon, and 20% muscadelle. It was a pale yellow color with apple Jolly Ranchers and lemons on the nose, with a nice attack of acidity, lemony Pinesol, and grassiness. The Château La Freynelle is in the same region, which abuts Château Bonnet, owned by the powerful and well-connected Lurton family. The La Freynelle was half and half sauvignon and sémillon and the winemaker did partial malolactic fermentation to soften the wine a bit. Malolactic fermentation dulls the acid and changes it to lactic acid, similar to the difference between Granny Smith apples (malic) and Golden Delicious apples (lactic). This wine was more golden in color than the last, had a lemony nose with a very apparent minerality. It was creamier on the mouthfeel than the last, with a wonderful freshness and a continuation of the lemons on the nose.

Off to the reds, all from 2005. Small primer: Bordeaux reds are blends and can only use cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, and carménère. We had La Freynelle's red (blend of 65% merlot and 35% cabernet sauvignon). A lighter colored red, this had lovely floral notes and red berries; an extremely up front nose. It coated my palate, had sweet tannins, but was not a wimpy wine. There was some great backbone to it. Next off was the Château Bellevue Peycharneau. The color was extremely dark. It smelled like someone stuck some white flowers into a big pot of strawberry/raspberry jam, though on the palate there was a nice spiciness to it along with the red fruits and some pretty intense tannins, which gave the wine that mouth puckering feel. An extremely dry wine.

The next two wines were from Côtes de Blaye, an appellation located across the river from the Médoc. I've found that wines from this appellation generally do not please my palate; although the first wine was not to my liking, the second was a well made wine. The first, Château Haut Colombier was a very dark wine with bug spray smells mixed with blackberries and cassis. Ick. On the mouthfeel, it was a gamy and herbaceous play. Not for me. The second Côtes de Blaye was Château Roland La Garde. Again, this was a dark wine, but had a more spicy nose with hints of cedar box and cassis. The wine was incredibly dry with intense tannins, some fruit, but more earthy and herbaceous in taste. Although not my favorite, this was certainly a well made wine. The winemaker used 100% new oak, which usually scares me, but it was well integrated in the wine.

Now off to St. Émilion and its satellites. The Château Saint André Corbin (from St. Georges-St.Émilion) was lighter in color with oak and red fruit on the nose, tasted like strawberry Jell-O at first with a kinda sweet finish although there were lots of vegetables at the end too. Really could taste the 25% cabernet franc. The Château Coutet (SE Grand Cru) was a more interesting wine. Although it was probably the lightest of all the reds I had, it vanilla, red fruits, cassis, chocolate and cinnamon on the nose. The wine tasted like cherries, with some spiciness, and had an amazing structure, with some good tannins in there. It was quite an elegant and refined wine- something for your dinner party with the local celebrity.

The rest of my tasting notes will be in the next post.