Contest for free trip to Tuscan wine country!

Hi all,

Just a quick post this morning with a link for any of you AmWino readers who may be interested in a storytelling trip to Tuscany being sponsored by DaVinci Wines.  Check it out here.

Also, keep an eye out for upcoming posts right here about the recent In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York, and a roundup of burgundies tasted at Terroirs and Signatures.

A burgeoning brunch in Astoria: finger foods and Finger Lakes

I recently attended a brunchtime tasting that was chock full of up-and-comers: set in Astoria, home of a burgeoning food scene including quality markets, cafes, and eateries, we tasted a range of wines from Red Newt Cellars and Atwater Vineyards,  both from the emergent Finger Lakes region of New York, together with some tasty small plates served up by Winegasm, a wine bar and restaurant just steps away from Astoria’s famed butcher shop K&T Quality Meats.

What I found was more evidence to support my proposition from my post on Finger Lakes wines from a few months ago – that this is truly a wine region worth watching (and tasting).  The highlight of the day for me was Red Newt Cellars’ 2009 Lahoma Vineyard Riesling (about $20-22).  Despite coming from young vines (less than five years old, I was told by assistant winemaker Brandon Seager), the 2009 Lahoma Vineyard bottling had many of the things that get me excited about a riesling – a nose that offered not just fruity aromas but also a flinty minerality and a touch of petrol.  These qualities are hallmarks of Old World riesling but something I’ve never found in, say, rieslings I’ve tried from Washington.  Edge goes to the Finger Lakes on this count – there’s terroir here that I’m interested in, that is distinct from other top riesling regions around the world.

One thing that surprised me is how well the Red Newt riesling paired with foie torchon with mandarin chutney.  The residual sugar in the riesling combines nicely with the delectable richness of the foie gras, which I might have otherwise thought to pair with a red because of the dish’s meaty intensity.  If you make it out to Winegasm, ask for this even if you don’t see it on the menu.  You will be rewarded if they have some on hand.

Another riesling-based wine that I appreciated was the Atwater Celsius 2010 sweet table wine.  Nice, not over the top in its sweetness, with apricot notes and a floral quality.  The controlled dollop of sweetness had just the balance I was looking for to wrap up a nice afternoon of hors d’oeuvres.

I also had the opportunity to sample some reds from Red Newt and Atwater, including pinot noir, cab franc and a blend that included cab sauv, lemberger, and syrah.  While the reds (tasted alongside yummy bacon-wrapped prunes) showed some promising characteristics – delicacy, herbal aromatics, varietal correctness – I wasn’t as taken with them.  But there is potential, especially with the pinot noir for my palate, so I will be keeping an eye on how the Finger Lakes reds improve in future vintages.

One more wine worth mentioning for those looking to get their riesling fix in a slightly more budgety way was the 2010 Red Newt Cellars “Circle Label” riesling ($10-12).  An appellation blend priced to compete with the “Kung Fu Girl” rieslings of the world, this is a smooth, fruity riesling with just a touch of mineral. Green apple and other orchard fruits are evoked, and a citrusy acidity keeps this fresh, while a touch of residual sugar makes this appealing and approachable for the average consumer looking for an affordable entry level peek into the Finger Lakes.

I attended this event free of charge as a guest of the organizers at Winegasm.

2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 3: Graves reds and Margaux

Today’s installment covers two more communes of the 2009 reds presented at the UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York.  The first is Graves (officially called Pessac Leognan these days, but old habits are hard to break).  These wines tend to be close to a 50/50 split between cabernet sauvignon and merlot, making them distinct from either Left Bank (cab-dominated) or Right Bank (merlot-dominated) wines.  Most importantly, the gravelly soils (thus the name Graves) often lend what I experience as a flinty, crushed rock aroma to the wines that make the Pessac wines more easily identifiable as a matter of terroir, which I really like.  The 2009s have performed as well as any other commune, and that’s not even taking into account top performers that I missed tasting, including Haut Bailly (my oversight in forgetting to go back for this one at the UGC tasting), and others not present like La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion.  Top performer in the group I tasted was the Pape Clement, but the Domaine de Chevalier certainly gives it a run for its money in a similar style, but at a lower price point.

The other commune covered in today’s post is Margaux, which traditionally has been known in the best examples, to exhibit a floral, lighter, feminine style; though I would note that there have also been a lot of lower-tier Margaux that have shown much more rustic and barnyardy to me as well.  Anyway, the elegant style of Margaux wines are a natural fit for my affinity for pretty, nuanced wines, but for the second year in a row, I’m a bit disappointed with the wines that the producers from the Margaux appellation have put forth.  Some fall prey to too modern a style, that may be nice and rounded in the international style, but loses the distinctiveness of Margaux, and more importantly, doesn’t play to the strengths of the region.  As a result, the wines seemed a bit one-note to me, showing lots of cherry licorice flavors that just left me a little flat.  One happy exception was a wine that I have looked to as a value play in classed-growth Margaux over the years – Chateau Prieure Lichine.  The 2009 edition may be their best yet, and it’s arguably the most Margaux of the wines tasted, showing floral notes, body with definition, yet ample ripe fruit flavors to be enjoyable even now.

My full tasting notes on the Graves reds and Margaux wines are below.  Still to come in upcoming posts:  two of the top-performing communes in my opinion, namely Pauillac and St. Julien, as well as my top picks from the value appellations like Moulis, Listrac, Medoc and Haut-Medoc, as well as the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Pessac Leognan reds

Haut Bergey – tasting this after the Pomerols, this feels much more rustic, with blocky tannins.  A touch of meatiness to the nose as well.  On the palate, again rougher, but has decent acidity, rounded by oak.  90-91+

Carbonnieux rouge – similar to Haut Bergey, but a touch more refined.  Talcum powder, red-to-purple fruits, a dash of licorice on the nose.  Cherry licorice flavors on the palate.  Again, a touch more refined than the Haut Bergey, but not quite a world-beater, just a solid wine.  90-91+

*Domaine de Chevalier – immediately on the nose, you sense this is a step up from either the Haut Bergey or Carbonnieux.  In line with recent vintages of this wine, this shows some coffee on the nose, high quality fruit, and a touch of Graves mineral coming through.  On the palate, very smooth, more power here than the ’06 or ’08 editions, but retains great balance.  Has the right fruit, and power but is not overextracted.  Will be a beautiful wine in its maturity.   A great cheaper alternative to the Pape Clement, to which this wine bears some similarity. 93-94

Pape Clement rouge – lead pencil, Graves mineral, perfumed fruits on the nose.  On the palate, has power, with tannic material in reserve.  Perfectly ripe fruits, shows the character of the vintage well.  A complete wine.  Quite a bit of similarity between this as the Domaine de Chevalier, with slight edge to the Pape Clement because of the superlative fruit. 94-95

Smith Haut Lafitte – more licorice on the palate than many of the other Graves.  Some lead pencil in there too, as well as purplish fruits with a touch of pruny sweetness.  Has potential to age well, less sweet and immediately pleasing than some of the other wines, but has character.  I prefer this to the 2006, because it seems to rely on oak less.  93-94

Note:  I had intended to taste Haut Bailly last among the Graves wines, but missed it as an oversight on my part.


Cantenac Brown – reddish-purple, not inky black.  On the nose, more cherry and licorice than some of the other reds so far.  Decent, with a bit of the feminine style you might expect from a Margaux, with some power in reserve.  Better than the ’08, but nothing stands out on this for me. 90-91+

Du Tertre – a touch of  exotic curry spice on the nose.  On the palate, again cherry licorice flavors, though I like this a bit better than the Cantenac Brown.  Better than the ’08, but I’m not that taken with the Margaux wines so far.  91+, maybe pushing 92.

Giscours – pretty nose, this is more like it.  Has some green pepper elements lending an herbal and slightly floral edge here, and a touch of mineral.  Palate shows graphite and good sweet fruit, some potential to age.  92-93+

*Prieure Lichine – one of my bellwethers.  Thicker than recent vintages, but has plenty of pretty floral action here.  Ripe fruits, lead pencil on the palate, with some definition.  Not too spicy, just pretty and floral, exactly what I want from this chateau – a great value pick and arguably the most Margaux of the wines here today. 93-94

Lascombes – ripe, smooth, rounded. Not overly modern unlike some past vintages.  Will be very good – ripe fruits, some peppery spice.  Ample power without overdoing it. 93-94

Note:  Ch. Rausan-Segla seems to have brought only two sample bottles, which were already poured out less than two hours into the trade tasting, so I and most of the attendees did not have the opportunity to taste their wine.

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.

2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 2: Right Bank, St. Emilion and Pomerol

In today’s post, we move on to the reds tasted at the UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York.  Overall, I was pleased by the reds in that they were not overripe, overly extracted and dense, or hugely manipulated.  The wines show quality fruit but also plenty of the earthy, mineral, herbal and aromatically leafy characteristics that I think set truly complex cabernet and merlot-based wines apart from simple and merely ripe ones.  In other words, the wines are still recognizably Bordeaux.

Today I profile the Right Bank wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol, which tend to contain mostly merlot with lesser amounts of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and other Bordeaux blending grapes like malbec and petit verdot.  In the overall context of this tasting of 2009s, St. Emilion and Pomerol were among the most successful communes for my palate, along with the Left Bank communes of St. Julien and Pauillac (which will be profiled in another post soon).  There are successful examples in a range of styles ranging from traditional to modern, and my favorites included the refined offering from La Conseillante, the perfumed and red-fruited Larcis Ducasse, the multifaceted Troplong Mondot, and my value pick (remembering that Pomerol is expensive in general) – the overachieving 2009 Chateau Beauregard.  Here are my notes in the order I tasted the wines:

St. Emilion

 Canon – on the nose, the fruit  feels very primary, almost confected; not what one would expect from this estate.  On the palate, more what I expected – lead pencil, a touch of green.  With a bit of air the perfume of the fruit comes out on the pretty nose.  Fades a bit on the palate, with a slightly saccharine feel on the finish.  91-92+

Beausejour Becot – this and the Canon are reassuring me right out of the gate that the reds are not all jammy fruit, etc.  Some coffee, dark lead pencil and slight green pepper on the nose, with sweet fruits.  Modern-ish, but not over the top.  Perhaps a touch bitter on the finish, maybe a bit extracted, but these wines so far offer more than just plush mouthfeel – there’s decent plummy acidity and Bordeaux typicity here.  92

Canon La Gaffeliere – strong coffee aromas intermix with damp mossy underneath on the nose, as well as a touch of black pepper.  Acidity good here as well – actually quite similar to the Beausejour Becot in style, with the Beausejour priced slightly lower, but to me the extra complexity here is worth the difference. Palate not overly modern here either – pleasantly surprised by the graphite and touch of green to give this note some bass notes. 92-93+

Clos Fourtet – some exotic spice on the nose, together with anisette aromas.  Quite a bit of herbal green on the palate, which I believe will take time to show well but be beautiful and aromatic in the end.   Kudos to Clos Fourtet for making a real ager that won’t necessarily show well early; a big step up from the ’08 here. 92-93+

Figeac – leafy green merlot notes, with cab franc green pepper lending herbal perfume on the nose.  The palate is a bit jarring – the acidity not yet integrated, lending a picklish feel.  But this is distinctly Figeac and will need time to come together.  A little spice, not overly lush.  Honestly I feel this vintage doesn’t quite suit the house style because ripeness doesn’t play to their strengths.  Perhaps up to a 92 eventually, but one might do better picking up the ’08 at a much lower price.

La Dominique – has a funky mossy dirt thing going on the nose..  Not that pretty on the palate – a bit disjointed, with neither gorgeous fruit or acidity that puts the wine together.  Leaves me a little flat. 87.

Larcis Ducasse – very pretty nose.  Juicy tart acidity runs through this surprisingly red-fruited wine.  Nice mineral on the nose, juicy on the palate.  Lush but not extracted.  A style I really appreciate and would choose to drink over many inky black wines.  92-94

Pavie Macquin – darker, more purple-fruited, with a touch of talcum powder on the nose.  The palate is very much the international, modern style.  Powerful, with a long finish carried by juicy plum acidity.  Very pretty wine for the style.  Those who like power will really enjoy this.  Not especially fresh or complex, but has an undeniable, exuberant tastiness. 92-94

Troplong Mondot – a bit airier than the Pavie Mac on the nose, with a perfume to it that pushes it a cut above.  Sweet fruit on the palate, on the purplish side though not as dark as Pavie M; however, more perfumed and pretty.  Has an engaging balance, for a modern-styled wine; nothing like earth or mineral showing at this point in its life.  94


Clinet – refined mineral on the nose, together with an impression of dark purplish fruits.  Smooth, powerful and even a touch peppery; not one of the most powerful here, just smooth like a Pomerol should be, with some minerality on the finish.  More interesting than some of the straight-up modern wines.  93-94

Gazin – primary, red-to-purple fruits on the nose, with talcum powder hints.  Rounded and smooth, very Pomerol.  However, the acidity is a shade tomatoey and unintegrated.  Not overripe, but not entirely pleasing either.  89-90

*Beauregard – a bit of mineral and lead pencil on the nose. Surprisingly good on the palate, with spice, pepper and lead pencil.  Very nice wine, quite complete – a good value pick in Pomerol; will stand up to most wines tasted today. Kind of what I was hoping Figeac to be – keeping varietal character that is very Bordeaux, but also showing the ripe character of the vintage and doing something with it. 93, pushing 94; a breakout performance for this chateau?

La Conseillante – returns to the refined style that I value from this chateau, much better than the ’08.  Does show plushness, and feels a bit closed compared to other wines today but the lead pencil, mineral, and leafiness together with pretty, perfumed fruits hint as to a very bright future for this wine in my opinion – you just have to pay attention to the clues that peek out from behind this wine. 93-94+ in the future.

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.

2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 1: overview and Graves whites

Over the last several months, I have been able to taste a good cross-section of 2009 Bordeaux, with the lion’s share of the tasting done at the recent UGC (Union des Grands Crus) tasting in New York.  The conventional wisdom has been that it would be an exceptional and ripe vintage, but I was a bit surprised to see that the reds are a bit different in nature than I had expected.  I liked the 2009 reds as barrel samples (you can see my notes on barrel samples here) but I had some fear that 2009 would in some ways be like 2003 for Bordeaux reds, which I have found to be enjoyable but a bit of a “California” vintage.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that for the most part, this is not so; many of the 2009s have retained more Bordeaux typicity than I expected and are not the overripe, thick and overly plush but simple wines that I had at least some apprehension that they might turn into.

I’ll be posting my wines on the wines from all of the different major communes in a series of posts.  First, let’s take a look at the Bordeaux whites.

Graves/ Pessac-Leognan whites

I found the Bordeaux whites, which are generally a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and sometimes a small percentage of other grapes like muscadelle, to be a bit of a mixed bag in the 2009 vintage.  The lower end wines included in the UGC tasting struck me as a bit dull in comparison with the 2007 and 2008 whites, which have a livelier acidity in general.  That said, there are some strong performers, and overall, I found a lot of chateaux have managed to keep a consistent house style over the last several vintages.  My perennial favorites in this group have generally shown the best once again – these include Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte,  and Pape Clement.  The breakout pick is the 2009 Chateau Carbonnieux blanc; while many of the richer wines in the top group offer opulence, Carbonnieux is fresh, light and the only one of the whites that I could drink more than one glass of in a single sitting without tiring of it.  On top of that, it’s the most affordable of the top group of whites, with prices on Wine-Searcher as low as $33.  To use an analogy to a different grape, Carbonnieux is a Bordeaux blanc that Chablis lovers could enjoy, with de Chevalier offering some similar lightness but a bit more richness.  In contrast, if you’re the type of wine drinker who likes a fuller-bodied, rich chardonnay, then Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte will be more your speed.

My notes on the whites are below, and please check back in the coming days for posts about each of the major communes for the reds, as well as notes on the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Haut Bergey blanc – Graves mineral on the nose.  Fairly unctuous, but I don’t love it.  Doesn’t have verve to me – full, but not lively.  Don’t like this as much as the 07 or 08.

*Carbonnieux blanc – not as much mineral as the Haut Bergey, but lighter and prettier.  Palate confirms – this is tons better; has acidity, lift, verve.  Same light, fresh style as the last few vintages.  Retasted, and the juiciness makes this a joy to drink, without tiring the palate or growing cloying.  92-94 points.

Domaine de Chevalier blanc – has some lightness like the Carbonnieux, but a bit richer, although the first sample was served a bit too cold.  Flavorful, but retains acidity for freshness.  Doesn’t feel totally integrated right now, as the acid hits first, with a slight aspirin minerality, then a separate layer of rich fruit that hits after.  However all the pieces are clearly there, this will be one of the contenders today.

Retaste:  Now at a better temperature, this is easier to assess: fresh, pretty, smooth, and clean.  One of the best today. 92-93

Larrivet Haut Brion – has more mineral and funk than the Dom. De Chevalier.  Pretty nose, another competitor.  More seamless than the de Chevalier, similar style to the Carbonnieux with more richness.  Integrated in feel, fits the house style.  Quite good. 91-92.

Latour Martillac – a bit more stink to the mineral here, as prior vintages have had.  Fairly rich on the palate, a bit bitter on the finish.  A decent wine for its price range, but not as delightful as the best wines here.  87-88

Smith Haut Lafitte blanc –  Has a refined nose with pretty notes of crushed rock.  The fruit is a touch unctuous, with a sweetness that is appealing.  A bit of aspirin mineral aftertaste, but definitely one of the stronger wines here.  Not quite as much lift as the de Chevalier and the Carbonnieux.  91-93 points. Probably the prettiest nose among the wines until…

Pape Clement blanc – scratch that, I think we have a new winning nose – sweet, slightly dewy fruit on the nose that makes it really inviting, and some mineral if you listen hard for it.  Not quite the winner of the day on the palate though – but consistent with recent vintages in terms of having a slightly richer style, much like the SHL, and among the best of the Graves whites depending on your style preference. 91-93

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.

My top champagnes, from $30-$130

My last post was about an alternative to champagne, so today will be for those of you who believe “there is no substitute”.  Here are the champagnes that impressed me this year, ranging from $30 on up:


  • For those who want something a bit rich, my favorite at this price range is consistently Henriot Brut Souverain – really pleasing for the price.


  • For those who like their champagne a bit crisper and tarter, Ruinart blanc de blancs has zippy green apple hints, citrusy acidity and floral aromas, and possesses a nice overall liveliness.


  • 2002 Gaston Chiquet Special Club is my choice in this range – a bit oxidative on the nose; on the palate, just plain delicious – perfect balance for me when it comes to champagne. Some honey/brioche, but also still fresh. Love this.

…and a champagne that is flat-out amazing

One champagne that rocked my world this year can be yours for $100-120, from the excellent grower champagne house VilmartIf you’re serving this for New Year’s, I’ll be right over!

  • 2001 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée– France, Champagne (12/10/2011) Right off the bat, an absolutely captivating nose. A touch of honey, with a smoky mineral note – there’s something indescribably delicious about this nose. Very interesting palate – some honeyed flavors hit you on the palate up front, then an expansive acidity hits you – tongue-coating, vibrant and full. A winey, sappy quality here makes me think of my favorite red burgundies even, which is accentuated by a floral quality that becomes more apparent on the nose with some time. Not perfect – the feeling of separate stages from honeyed richness to tingly acidity is very distinct and may be jarring to drinkers looking for something seamless. But for me, this is captivating, complex – one of the most interesting champagnes I’ve ever had, and one of the best. 96-97 (96 points)

Cheers, Happy New Year’s Eve and all the best for 2012!  -Alan

Countdown to New Year’s: cava as an alternative to champagne

As New Year’s eve approaches, many of us will be looking for some sparkling to ring in 2012 with some extra pop.  Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about some good rosé sparklers, basic champagnes, and one splurgy champagne that rocked my world.  But for today, I want to focus on cava, which is not only a great value choice because of the reasonable prices they go for, but is an excellent choice on its merits, regardless of price.

Cava – these sparkling wines from Spain are made from the same method as champagne, but to my palate they bring a somewhat lighter body and more of a saline minerality than champagne.  For many of them, I feel like they have a bit less carbonation as well, for those who want less of the gassy feel.

Good examples of cava can be found for less than $10 with reserve versions for $25 or less, so there’s lots of pleasure to be had for a reasonable sum.  At $10ish, the basic Jaume Serra Cristalino, one of the most popular brands, is quite decent, with some savory mineral. Lady of Spain cava is also less than $10, comes in a kitschy decorative bottle and pleases me a bit more by comparison, with smoother texture and deeper fruit flavors.

Stepping up the $ ladder just a bit, 2008 Raventos i blanc cava L’Hereu Reserva is pretty smooth and very tasty, dry and clean at just $15.  If you can move up to $20ish, I found Naveran’s Dama cava to be an interesting, complex wine, combining an olive note on the nose, sunny sweet fruit on the palate, a touch of floral aroma, and a salinity to lend further interest.

The wines mentioned in this post were tasted at free retailer or trade tastings, with the exception of Lady of Spain cava, which was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from the distributor.


How to recognize a wine geek

Has someone you know become obsessed with wine? (Admit it, it’s not “a friend” -it’s probably you if you are reading wine blogs like this one).  Anyway, here are some signs you can look for to diagnose a severe case of wine geekery in your, um, friend.

-Hand them a glass with a stem, but filled with water. See if they swirl the liquid in the glass anyway.

-Have they started rating fruit and giving tasting notes?  “This Macintosh could use some more acidity and the tannins in the skin are just a shade too bitter.  They’re not as good as the ones from ’05.  Remember those?  Now those were outstanding apples.”

-Do they say wine-related things in contexts that have nothing to do with wine?  “This park bench is corked.  The wood definitely smells of TCA.”

If you recognize all of these signs, don’t worry, as long as drinking in moderation is not an issue.  Just enjoy the ride, you’ll probably get to partake in lots of good wine!

In the meanwhile, here are notes on some bottles recently enjoyed by someone who may or may not have exhibited some of the signs described above.

  • 2009 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (11/20/2011)
    Really enjoyable – has the elements I want in a CA pinot – light, silky texture, appealing fruit, fresh acidity. The fruit is quite sweet and has a bit of sap to it. My only quibble is that on the finish, the sweetness to the fruit reminds me slightly of saccharine. With extended air, floral notes and a touch of anise come out on the nose. Some might find this a bit thin, but I find it properly delicate for a pinot. 92, seriously pushing 93 at times – an irresistable wine, and surprisingly approachable now. (92 points)
  • 2005 Château Lascombes – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux (11/15/2011)
    Not as modern as I expected given the reputation of recent vintages of Lascombes. Tight for the first three nights, on day four this opened up to show luscious fruit, a touch of peppery and herby spice, and hints of mineral. At least for this vintage, I believe that criticisms that this property has lost all Margaux typicity will be unfounded in the long run. Nice wine. (93 points)
  • 2009 Carlisle Two Acres – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (11/15/2011)
    Tasted briefly but this had aromatic red and dark fruits, together with some herby spice, on the nose. Palate was tasty and expressive, and was a group favorite among a strong weekend lineup. Did not take enough notes to rate this, but this is a strong performer at this stage.
  • 2004 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (11/13/2011)
    Winning bottle in our wine group’s big annual double blind contest. At first I thought this might be a burg or even a classy CA pinot from the nose, but the palate didnt match. Then on second sniff I got that it was either barolo or barbaresco. On the palate this feels young now but smooth, with bright red fruits. Lovely stuff, 94 with a + for the future. (94 points)
  • 2006 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Brunet Maison Champy – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (11/11/2011)
    Very solid Beaune 1er cru, has lots of flavor and material. Not a light styled Burg, but showed very smooth on the palate – Volnay and Chambolle fans might be pleasantly surprised. A good deal at $40ish. Some transparency here, revealing earthy notes underpinning the fruit, which is midway between tart and sweet. (91 points)
  • 2008 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (11/6/2011)
    A very solid Beaune 1er – this delivers a lot of typicity and good quality for the reasonable price. It’s still early for this, as you feel the structure upfront, but if you give it a little time to mellow this delivers a solid burg experience that’s very reflective of ’08. I wished for a touch more sweetness to the fruit, but given the level of this bottling and the vintage this gives everything that can be expected. I do see more than the usual upside potential here – one senses a bit of sappy flavor waiting to get out from under the tannin in a few years, and this could turn out to be beautiful. For now, an enjoyable burg with smoothness and transparency, an enjoyable 89 points, with a ++ for lots of potential improvement. (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Finger Lakes wines: You need to pay attention now. Really.

So, I have to admit, whenever I come across publications or blogs centered around a particular emerging region’s wines, I’m suspicious that the ratings and reviews will be subject to a little “home cooking” – overenthusiastic, or worse yet, paid reviews that overstate the quality of the wines, coming from a local cheerleader.

In addition, my early experiences with wines from New York state were, well, unpleasant to put it kindly.  Tasting wines in the Hudson Valley two years ago didn’t really change my mind.

The tide started to turn for me last summer, when I did some tasting at a few well-regarded wineries in the North Fork area of Long Island.  There I found competent whites and some reds that really did show well – pushing the 90 point range for me in the best cases.  Still, the reds that I might say could compete with wines from other emerging regions like South America were unfortunately two to three times the cost of wines from those international competitors.  To me, despite the progress, there wasn’t yet a reason for nonlocals to seek out the wines especially.

That changes now.  With a few tastings of Finger Lakes wines (mostly rieslings, and a bit of pinot noir), I’ve come to the view that New York state wines have arrived.  I’ll cover the lovely, delicate Ravines pinot noir in a future post, but today I’ll cover the Finger Lakes wine region’s strong suit:  riesling.

With pioneers like Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemer and newer producers like Ravines Wine Cellars leading the way, Finger Lakes rieslings have reached an impressive level of quality.  In addition to some outstanding wines from the above-mentioned producers, I have tasted very solid offerings from other Finger Lakes producers including Red Newt Cellars (who sadly lost one of their co-owners in a car accident recently), Glenora Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, and Billsboro Winery.

Across the board, the wines tended to show a bit of petrol or minerality on the nose (both of which I love as an avid fan of German rieslings), tart greenish orchard fruits, and lively acidity.  The entry level wines tend to come with synthetic cork closures, indicating to me that the producers expect them to be consumed within a few years, but in my estimation, the best examples have a lot of aging potential.  Overall the wines tend to be a bit on the restrained side on the palate, closer in style to Alsace or Austria than the full-flavored styles found in German rieslings.  I don’t think the Finger Lakes wines have quite reached the level of German riesling yet, but they are the best rieslings from the U.S. in my mind – their freshness together with appealing fruit may have even pushed them past Alsace and Austria in my heart, at least for riesling.

Here are tasting notes on some of my favorite Finger Lakes rieslings.  Check them out, and prepare to be surprised; I never expected to sound like a cheerleader for wines local to this New Yorker, but I’m happy that I can, at least for now.  Cheers!  -Alan


  • 2010 Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) A terrific entry-level riesling, with smoky flinty mineral to distinguish the nose as well as typical Finger Lakes green apple notes. The palate maintains a nice tension between the mineral, acidity and a dollop of richness to the fruit. Put together with the performance of the Argetsinger riesling and the wonderful pinot noir, this is probably my favorite Finger Lakes winery. 89-90+ (90 points)
  • 2010 Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) More floral and aromatic on the nose than the Fox Run dry riesling, this wine also shows richer fruit on the palate while staying solidly dry. An accomplished and pleasing wine with more fullness than many of the other Finger Lakes rieslings tasted this week. Very nice. 89-90 (89 points)
  • 2010 Billsboro Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake (10/2/2011)An off-dry riesling with some pleasing body and a slight herbal bitterness on the finish. A bit monolithic perhaps, but pleasing nonetheless. 86-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) On the nose, a hint of petrol, flinty mineral and light green apple aromas please the nose. On the palate, this is crisp, again evoking tart green apple, with an herbal finish. A very solid, restrained dry riesling. 87-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Glenora Wine Cellars Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (9/24/2011) Slightly stinky mineral nose gives way to crisp green apple flavors on the palate. The mouthwatering acid lends a long finish to this tart, properly dry riesling. Very solid. 87-88 (88 points)
  • 2010 Hosmer Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake (9/24/2011) An off-dry riesling with a satisfying bit of fatness to the tropical stone fruit flavors that show on the palate before giving way to slightly herbal underpinnings. A hint of petrol on the nose contributes to a feel akin to something between a German and an Austrian riesling – has more in common with Old World rieslings than other New World ones from Washington or Australia. Very enjoyable. 88+ (88 points)
  • 2008 Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Dry Argetsinger Vineyard– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake (6/15/2011) An impressive wine that redefines for me what can be achieved with dry riesling in the Finger Lakes. Some petrol on the nose, with a great chalky minerality. The palate shows great complexity, balancing developed orchard fruits and tingling acidity. Excellent. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011)A gorgeous riesling that I could drink endlessly. The sweetish fruits give a pleasing unctuousness, but this not over the top; it has nice acidity to balance it out and give this a bit of dimension. As a lover of German spatlesen, this like nectar to me. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011) Green orchard fruits and a surprising stony minerality form the profile of this wine. Restrained in its fruit on the palate, but with a liveliness. Delicious. 89-90 (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Some of the wines mentioned in this report were tasted from review sample bottles received free of charge from the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, including the 2010 rieslings from Dr. Konstantin Frank, Glenora, Ravines, Fox Run, billsboro and Hosmer.  Other wines were tasted at free retailer tastings or from bottles purchased by me.

2009 Burgundies: a first look

In the last several weeks I have had my first real look at 2009 burgundies in bottle.  Overall, I’m a bit disappointed given the hype that this vintage was going to be great.  Comparisons to the terrific, structured 2005 vintage that you may have heard are unwarranted in my opinion.  So far, the 2009s I have tasted remind me more of 2003, one of the hottest years in recent memory, which resulted in atypically ripe red burgundies.

I dipped my toe into the 2009 pool with a few bourgognes from Joseph Voillot and Dominique Gallois.  I found the wines to have a slight roastedness to the fruit flavors – not to the extent of full-on jamminess, but enough to give the red fruits a distinct cherry cough syrup flavor, which reminded me more of gamay than pinot noir, to be frank.  I would consider these two producers to be unexceptional if solid, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

A few weeks later I had the opportunity to taste a range of wines from Bouchard Pere et Fils, a large producer whose wines in the post-2000 period have been among the mainstays in my Burgundy collection.  While I found the wines to be lush, with a lot of fruit-forward deliciousness, I also found them to be a tad overripe, again with a roasted fruit character in almost all of the wines.  This was not severe enough to mar the higher-level bottlings, but this aspect was enough to make me decide that I would prefer to backfill 2005 red burgundies if I could find them at comparable prices to the 2009s.  That’s not to say there weren’t some terrific wines – in particular, the Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots 1er cru and the Beaune Vigne l’Enfant Jesus were gorgeous, complete wines, and some of the lower-priced bottlings like the Savigny-les-Beaune Les Lavieres and the Beaune Clos de la Mousse will provide lots of early-drinking pleasure for fans of opulent and lush pinot noirs.

As for the 2009 Bouchard whites, I was surprised to find them quite fresh, strikingly unlike the reds.  The white wines were restrained for the most part, leaning a shade toward greenness even, with good freshness and balance overall.  However, the wines don’t have the electricity of the 07 burgundy whites, or the tensile acidity of other vintages like 2008 that may appeal to die-hard burgophiles.

My impressions here are based on a very limited sample of course, but based on these first tastes I believe that in the long run, 2009 will be viewed as a good vintage for both reds and whites, but not a great vintage to rival 2005 as much of the early buzz for this vintage claimed.  For the reds, look to them for pleasurably lush early drinking, but not freshness or long age; for the whites, ageability is more promising, but the greater and perhaps unsolved problem of premature oxidation in burgundy whites may render the point moot for many buyers.

Here are my full tasting notes below.  Cheers to all!  -Alan

  • 2009 Dominique Gallois Bourgogne– France, Burgundy, Bourgogne (8/21/2011)Dark – more purple than ruby. A bit spicy and rustic. Ok, but wouldn’t buy again. (85 points)
  • 2009 Domaine Joseph Voillot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes– France, Burgundy, Bourgogne (8/15/2011)A decent bourgogne, but the slightly roasted character to the fruit worries me a bit about this vintage overall. The extreme ripeness results in cherry cough syrup flavors, that make me think more of gamay than classic Burgundian pinot noir. This is lush and approachable, but unlikely to age well in my estimation. Not a big flaw for a bourgogne, but makes me wonder about the village, 1er cru and grand cru levels in 09. (87 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Lavières– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Nose a bit estery at first, but comes around with air. Perfumed and pretty, yet rustic with a slight roasty sense. Palate is medium dense, fairly velvety, and fuller feeling than you might expect from a Savigny. Really quite perfumed for the appellation. 88-89+ (89 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune 1er Cru Clos de la Mousse– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Has a funky, flinty earthy aspect to the nose, with slightly roasted red fruit and sweet oak apparent as well. As it opens up, the nose gets quite pretty, if on the ripe side. On the palate, shows the roasted character. Concentrated, but a shade overripe. However, there’s a lot of deliciousness here. 90, pushing 91. (90 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Chambolle-Musigny– France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny (9/14/2011)A slightly stinky mineral funk on the nose dominates over sweet fruit underneath. Very smooth on the palate, with some unctuousness but also apparent acidity. Feels a little light. Decent. Arguably better on the palate than the Savigny Lavieres, but nothing more than decent for a Chambolle village wine. (87 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Cailles– France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Much like other wines in the range, this is opulently tasty. Fairly dense, smooth (relatively for an NSG) if less fine than some of the other wines. Pretty but not complex at this point, but very good NSG 1er cru nonetheless; enjoyable and about worth the asking price.
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots– France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru (9/14/2011)More power immediately apparent on the nose than the Savigny Lavieres and the Chambolle village. Exotic spice leads the way on the powerful but balanced nose. A touch of cola in the ripeness here too. Sweet oak and fruit show in a dense and textured palate. Easily the most complete wine of the tasting so far. Pretty, structured but balanced. With air, a hint of an orange blossom not develops on the nose to add interest to the increasingly perfumed nose. 92-93+ (93 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers– France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru (9/14/2011)A dark, deeper nose than the Suchots; brooding rather than perfumed; portends power. Oak shows on the slightly airy alcoholic nose as well. Palate is surprisingly smooth, has prettiness – more harmonized than the early wines in the tasting. Closer to the Suchots in that it has a harmony and sense of completeness, but in a way lacks impact for me – doesn’t have a distinctiveness or defining characteristic. A solid 1er cru Gevrey though. With air, the high degree of ripeness shows a faint citrus blossom note like the Suchots or even a Rhys – an indication of the almost New World style of this vintage. 92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune 1er Cru Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Affectionately called the “Baby J” by the company rep pouring this, definitely has the same very ripe and alcoholic profile to the nose, as well as powerful dark fruit and some mineral funk in the expressive and perfumed nose. Very smooth, with opulent sweet fruit on the palate. A very together wine, a pretty Enfant Jesus, but the same slightly overripe, very California feel here nags at me. Delicious but not my favorite style; has structure to age somewhat. I prefer the style of the more balanced 2005 as far as rich vintages go. 93 (93 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Corton-Le Corton– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru (9/14/2011)Nose is perfumed and has power; most structured of all of these wines perhaps. Feels less California than some of the wines in the range. A very pretty wine, very smooth and balanced, but I worry that these wines will be a bit simple. Pleasurable for sure, for those who enjoy hedonistic wines. I prefer the Vigne l’Enfant Jesus as a bit more perfumed and pretty, which is not the way I go in all vintages. 92-93 (92 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Shows a lot of ripeness, perhaps overripe. A perfumed wine with a touch of smoky burnt quality to it. Very Volnay, lighter on the palate than many of the other wines in the range, with a little sweetness to the fruit. I feel a bit of alcoholic burn on the palate upfront, but the sweet fruit manages to linger on the finish. Quite decent for the price, but a bit overripe for me. 91-92+ if you like the style, but fans of taut, acid-laden wines may want to look elsewhere. (91 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet (9/14/2011)Clean, crisp, light nose – leaning toward greenness; almost feels like a sauvignon blanc more than a chardonnay. This feeling is not borne out on the palate, but this is light and somewhat crisp nonetheless – I would not have guessed this to be Chassagne if served this blind; like a Meursault, almost. 87-88 (87 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault (9/14/2011)Surprisingly fresh considering how ripe the 09 reds are; controlled ripeness, good acidity. Slightly leans toward green but a good balance here. 88-89 (88 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault 1er Cru Charmes– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru (9/14/2011)More opulent than the village Meursault, with some butteriness on the nose and palate. Has some herbal/green-leaning characteristics, not just a ripe butter bomb. I like this a lot. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru (9/14/2011)Not as rich as the Charmes, more restrained. Don’t quite like it as much as the Charmes.
  • 2009 Bouchard Père et Fils Corton-Charlemagne– France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (9/14/2011)Like the other whites in the Bouchard range, this Corton Charlemagne is pretty, crisp, and not only not showing nearly as (over)ripe as the 09 reds, but actually a shade on the side of unripeness. Fresh, but not as good as the 07s. 92-93 (92 points)

Posted from CellarTracker