My Top Wine Experiences of the Year

Dear Amateur Winos out there,

I apologize for the length of time that has passed since my last post – it’s been a busy last quarter of the year for me. As the clock winds down on 2013, I wanted to take a look back on the year and mention some of the great moments with wine that I had.

I dubbed this post “Top Wine Experiences” because these aren’t necessarily the best wines I tasted all year – but the experience of wine is also about context. Where you had it, what food you had it with, and who you had it with often defines what you take away from having had a particular wine. Some top experiences, like tasting wine in Germany with the people of Weingut H. Donnhoff and Weingut Gunther Steinmetz, have already made it into these pages. Others, for one reason or another didn’t get blogged at the time, but have stayed with me in some way. So here goes, in no particular order:

2013-01-29 20.47.341. Tasting California cabs at a dinner with Antonio Galloni. This dinner took place in January shortly before Antonio left Robert Parker’s publication The Wine Advocate to start Vinous Media. Antonio was personable, generous, articulate, and fun to taste with. He is certainly confident in his tasting abilities, but one nice takeaway from this dinner was confirming my confidence in my own palate. Although I think Antonio and I enjoy a similarly broad range of wines, from restrained to hedonistic, where he and I differed on our evaluations of certain wines, I am confident in my take, his status as an established wine critic notwithstanding. Some of the memorable cabs on the night for me were a 2001 Abreu Madrona Ranch, a 2001 Bond Vecina, and a 1997 Philip Togni. 2007 Corra and a few Schrader T6’s (2006 and 2007) had the group split; though most in attendance disagreed with me, look for the beautiful, high-quality fruit on the 2007 Corra to outlast the time it takes for the considerable oak treatment on it to resolve. A special shout-out is due to Mike Pobega for organizing.  His fuller write-up of the night can be found here.

2. A couple of terrific 1982 Bordeaux.  A 1982 Pichon Lalande poured by a dear friend to celebrate his 50th birthday and a 1982 Grand Puy Lacoste poured by SteveC at a Leo’s Blind Tasting Group dinner showed that well-stored bottles of 1982 Bordeaux still seem to be drinking at peak.

3. A bottle of MV Krug brut champagne to celebrate the birth of a much-anticipated child to good friends wasn’t as opulent as other bottles I’ve had, but this was refreshing and most of all, incredibly meaningful.

Emrich-Schonleber tasting room

Emrich-Schonleber tasting room

4. Tastings in the Nahe with winemakers at Emrich-Schonleber and Gut Hermannsberg.
At Emrich-Schonleber, it was a real treat to get an object lesson from Frank Schonleber himself in the Monzinger Fruhlingsplatzen and Monzinger Halenberg terroirs (pictured here) that are the source of their top wines.  A lovely stay at the Guesthaus at Gut Hermannsberg was topped off with an interview with rising young winemaker Karsten Peter, who is doing some great things with historically great terroirs in need of revival – Donnhoff fans should take note given the geographical proximity. I hope to have fuller posts on these visits in the New Year.

5. New pairing epiphanies.  Credit to salilb for showing us at another Leo’s BTG dinner what a great pairing gruner veltliner could be with salmon crudo.  And sometimes, the best wine pairing is… not wine at all.  Local German beer enjoyed with good friends over heaping plates of schweinehaxe was unforgettably good.






6. Opening some great wines on ordinary nights with a Coravin.  Many of you know about a nifty new gadget called the Coravin, that allows you to pour some of the wine out of a sealed bottle without removing the cork, replacing the removed wine with argon.  One of my experiments with the Coravin involved accessing multiple pours from a 2006 Arcadian Hommage a Max syrah (one of the two best syrahs I have ever had) and a 2010 Saxum Broken Stones. Pours of these wines poured two months later tasted just as fresh as the first two glasses accessed.  Color me impressed.

7. Some great nebbiolos and a lesson in proper aging. A bottle of 2001 Renato Ratti Marcenasco with family at Barbetta NYC, and an early 2000s Ceretto Barbaresco Asij enjoyed at Allegro Romano in SF were magical, and just entering their prime drinking windows.  They were mere babies compared to numerous barolos and barbarescos from the  60’s, 70’s and 80’s poured at various Leo’s Blind Tasting Club dinners, which were youthful and still showed noticeable tannin.  These wines need 40 years to mellow!

Visiting German wine country, Part 4: cutting edge Mosel wines at Weingut Günther Steinmetz

If visiting Dönnhoff was like heading to a venerable opera house to watch an established virtuoso perform, visiting Weingut Günther Steinmetz is like sitting in on jam sessions at the studio of a steinmetz signgenius indie jazzman.  Equally intriguing, the former is a standard bearer flawlessly executed, and the latter is about improvisation and pushing the boundaries of expectation. Stefan Steinmetz, the capable steward of the legacy created by his father Günther, showed me an accomplished and eclectic collection of both whites and reds.

steinmetz tasting

The experience at Weingut Steinmetz is an intimate one. Stefan was kind enough to accomodate my request for a visit on a weekend morning because of my tight schedule, and upon our arrival he led me into a tasting room within the family home; we are introduced to his mother,and our kids play together while we taste the wines. In contrast to the sleek and modern tasting rooms I found at Weil and Donnhoff, the tasting room here is cozy and homey – characterized by warm woods, classy and traditional furnishings, and Zalto glassware that allows the terroir-driven minerality of the Steinmetz wines to really shine through. Here are some notes from my visit in late May:

Dry whites

2012 Pinot Gris – has a bit of pinot blanc mixed in; not sold in the US.  Very nice, neutral oak treatment, fresh, slightly golden in color.  Shows typicity, in a light-to-medium-bodied package. Really quite nice.

2012 Brauneberg Riesling – shows a really fine slate minerality. From a single site, but Stefan chooses to label simply as Brauneberger.  Look for this one as an overachiever in its price class.

steinmetz 1st pic brauneberger juffer

Juffer – brown to gray slate


2012 Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Feinherb Riesling – from the top part of Juffer, this showed lots of minerality.








steinmetz 2nd pic geierslay

Geierslay – purple slated, slightly harder rock, more quartzite.


The 2012 Geierslay Trocken Riesling is very stony on the palate; the 2012 Piesporter Goldtropfchen even more so (and moreso than Piesporter

Goldtropfchen bottlings I’ve had from other producers); has an earthy minerality and a pine needle menthol note that Stefan pointed out to me.




steinmetz 3rd pic Hofberger

Hofberger: gray slate.


2012 Hofberger Trocken Riesling – From gray-slated soil.  Has a different kind of minerality, very fine; a little bit more body on the palate, a touch less dry than the other bottlings tasted so far but retains the signature minerality of Steinmetz.

2012 Juffer “HL” Riesling – taken from the old name for the vineyard, Hasenlaufer.  Some gravel and sand at this site gives the wine a touch more bite on the palate.  Very pretty fruit on this one – a slight perfumed quality on the nose.

Fruity white wines

2012 Kestener Paulinsberg Spätlese Riesling – a nice, very balanced style of spätlese, 60 g/L of sugar; still a touch spritzy at this point.  Still has the Steinmetz minerality coming through on the palate.  My kind of spätlese, not

steinmetz 5th pic paulinsberg larger stones

Paulinsberg: gray-slated, with harder and bigger stones; less powder than other sites.

over the top. Very very nice.  Stefan notes that in 2012, this has a bit of red apple character to it.  In less ripe years, this bottling takes on yellow and green apple notes. 92-93 points

2012 Sonnenlay Spätlese Riesling – a bit more opulent on the palate than the Paulinsberg. Pretty, fatter but again has plenty of fine slate (from blue slate I am told) on the palate that is recognizable for this estate.  In most years, this comes out lighter than the Paulinsberg according to Stefan Steinmetz, but he agrees it came out richer than usual in this vintage.  A few weeks prior, this wine was showing more effects from a blocked fermentation he says, but shows well today.  92-93 points.

2011 Pinot Meunier  – From a site called Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg (also source of Steinmetz’s Alte Reben riesling), this is an interesting red with a slightly herby quality on the nose; very pretty.  Appearance is light red with a touch of cloudiness, due to being unfiltered.  On the palate, nice touch of sweetness to the fruit, with some juicy-tart acidity to go with it.

2010 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – on the nose right away, shows pretty sweetish fruit and some oak, with more development than the ’11 pinot meunier.  Really interesting palate – lively and electric.  Has sweetness to the fruit, and transparency, but the dominating characteristic is that liveliness.  Some good, significant tannin lends impact to the flavor and bodes well for ageability here. 91-92 points.

2011 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – a slightly higher alcohol vintage than 2010 according to Stefan Steinmetz, but I don’t really feel it on the palate, not heavy at all.  Has a touch of spice that adds interest.

2009 Merlot Trocken – Also from the Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg site, this is steinmetz merlot trockenrecognizably merlot – has plenty of nice earthiness, with good leafy varietal character.  13.5% in alcohol, this doesn’t show as ripe as most St. Emilion.  Retains earthiness really well, would be fun to throw into a blind tasting someday.  91-92 points.

2010 Merlot Trocken Unfiltered – a little richer than the 2009, with fine tannins.  Shows less minerality than the 2009 at this stage.

steinmetz with stefan


Late for my next appointment, I find myself wishing for more time – Stefan has so many more wines he wants to show me. He’s an edgy winemaker with a vision of what he’s trying to do.  One aspect of this is to make wines that are truly transparent and terroir-driven. Everyone and their brother in the wine industry cites terroir as a goal, but at Steinmetz the wines actually reflect this. Another aspect of his vision seems to involve pushing the envelope to show what can be done with dry rieslings as well as other varieties that are less well known internationally as German wines, including pinot gris, pinot meunier (as a red), pinot noir, dornfelder and merlot. I appreciate that Stefan is not content to merely continue the traditions established by his father, but to forge new and sometimes surprising roads ahead. The high quality of the wines I tasted on this trip have me looking forward to tasting future results.

German Wine Country Series, Part 3: Visiting Weingut H. Donnhoff

We arrived at Weingut H. (Hermann) Dönnhoff in the middle of a driving rain. Mommy was feeling a 052713 794bit under the weather and wanted to sleep in the car, but baby M was wide awake, so I did what any intrepid and thirsty daddy/wine blogger would do: strap the baby to me in the Ergo carrier and head on in.




052713 796Current proprietor Helmut Dönnhoff’s daughter-in-law Anna greeted us, bemused by the rain-soaked but indomitable daddy-daughter team standing before her, and led me through the 2012 Donnhoff dry wines:

2012 Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)

  • Very fresh, very nice – balanced, complex. A wonderful buy at the price range.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Dry Slate – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    The slate and the fruit combine here to present a very perfumed nose. Has great acidity, with a balance between minerality and generosity to the fruit. A fine, slightly smoky ashy quality on the nose makes this a very distinctive bottling.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Höllenpfad Riesling Trocken – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Means “road to hell”. 2nd vintage of this wine, from a vineyard bought from another branch of the family, this is considered to have been of GG-like quality historically, this is a vineyard in the process of being revived. My tasting notes seem to have been lost, but from memory this was very good, included it in my purchases at the estate. Anna Donnhoff told me this vineyard is known for a certain herbal quality, but I felt it less on this bottling than on the Felsenberg.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Not yet bottled, so this is from a sample bottle. Very pretty, tightly coiled. Mineral, and a touch herbal. Gentle, appealing note of sweetish fruit (orchard fruits, green apple) on the nose. Very dry and stony on the palate, with a green apple acidity. In sum, an elegant, tightly coiled GG.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Not yet bottled, so from a sample bottle – even had a bubbly frothiness in the bottle. Immediately on the nose, you get sweeter, more present fruit than in the Felsenberg. Richer, more opulent – apricot notes to the fruit as opposed to the green apple-ish quality of the Felsenberg. Really plays to my wheelhouse. Such a floral and perfumed quality to the nose, yet the fruit also comes to the fore. Easy to understand why this is one of the great GGs of Germany.

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    Soil types of the different Donnhoff vineyards

Anna described 2012 as a vintage with vivid flavors (an apt description in my eyes based not only on what I tasted at Dönnhoff but elsewhere as well), blessed with excellent weather that allowed for each lot to be picked at optimal times.

As we reached the fruity wines part of the tasting, we were surprised to be joined by Helmut Dönnhoff himself. Because Anna had been very knowledgeably leading us through the tasting already, I hadn’t really expected to meet Herr Dönnhoff, but I was glad to do so, as he shared some terrific insights with us, and he’s one of a handful of winemakers worldwide that I regard with rock star-like status. In person, he is

herr donnhoff

Tasting with the master

conpletely down-to-earth, friendly and when tasting the wines, shows a youthful curiosity and engagement with each sip, all wonderful qualities that are certainly not a given when meeting a winemaker of such reknown and stature.

Mr. Dönnhoff told us that 2012 is a vintage in which the fruity wines at the spätlese and auslese levels especially excelled. There was no botrytis so there are no BA (beerenauslese) or TBA (trockenbeerenauslese) bottlings in 2012; even the auslesen were quite hard to get.

  • 2012 Dönnhoff Riesling – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Very typical Donnhoff estate bottling – pretty, balanced and terrific for the price range. The 2012 edition has plenty of generosity on the fruit. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    A very natural spätlese vineyard according to Helmut Donnhoff. The 2012 version is very good, with the strength of the vintage making this bottling on par with other Donnhoff spätlesen despite it having perhaps a bit less reputation than some of the other spätlese vineyards.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    A little more floral, and richer than the Felsenberg spätlese. Really beautiful, with some of the creamy mouthfeel of past vintages I’ve had. A bit brighter, more lively and vivid than the Felsenberg, and I prefer this bottle slightly for those reasons. 94+ (94 points)
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    As beautiful as the Kirschheck, Felsenberg and Brucke spätlesen are, this bottling is on a whole other level. You stick your nose in the glass, and the minerality here is the final piece to the puzzle, a perfect example of what makes Germany the pinnacle for off-dry riesling. The complex interplay of minerality, luxurious but controlled sweetness, and racy acidity can’t be matched anywhere else. 96+ (96 points)
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Helmut Donnhoff greets his youngest fan.

When prodded for a recommendation for a wine to put into baby M’s birth year case, Herr Dönnhoff noted that he feels the Hermannshöhle spatlese in particular will be a special wine.  As you can see from my notes above, I agreed.  We picked up some bottles of this and the other transcendent 2012 Dönnhoff wines from our special visit and headed back off into the rain with spirits lifted.

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German wine country, Part 2: the Rheingau – sample itinerary and a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A visit to the Rheingau wine region of Germany presents a perfect opportunity to intermix visits to some of Germany’s top wineries with some unforgettable tourist experiences. I tried to combine most of the following into a single day but found we didn’t have enough time. But my loss is your gain, as I’ve reworked it into a two day itinerary that should bring you much pleasure.

Day 1: Kiedrich and Johannisberg

Start your day off in Kiedrich at the charming Weingut Robert Weil, which does a great job of blending a traditional German-styled exterior with a sleek new tasting room

weil exterior

bathed in modernity. The wines are widely regarded as among the top of the Rheingau. For tasting notes from my visit, see the bottom of this post.

Continue on to the town of Johannisberg, about a ten minute drive away, where the sprawling estate of Schloss Johannisberg offers a wine tasting studio, an outdoor restaurant and plaza, and an indoor restaurant with a picturesque view overlooking vineyards.

Nearby you will find other excellent producers including Johannishof, known
for riesling but also spätburgunder pinot noir, as well as a guest house and a wine temple(!) if you need accommodations; and Schloss Vollrads, which claims to be the world’s oldest wine estate, situated in a castle above the village of Oestrich- Winkel.

After a day of sampling wines and sights from some of the above, head back to Kiedrich to Kloster Eberbach, a monastery dating back to 1136 that houses a winery since with vinicultural tradition going back 900 years. A variety of tours and wine tastings are offered, and you can have dinner in the cloistered atmosphere of their restaurant to round out a full day.

Day 2: Rudesheim and Assmanshausen


The towns of Rudesheim and Assmanshausen offer more wine tasting opportunities but Day 2 is about seeing the sights. After arriving in Rudesheim, we wandered into the Drosselgasse, an area filled with kitschy (some might say tacky) tourist souvenir shops, and made our way to Breuer Rudesheimer Schloss to have some fresh seasonal asparagus dishes for lunch, alongside traditional German favorites like schnitzel and local wild boar sausage. The wine list offered some wines from the restaurant’s affiliated winery, including some back vintage riesling and spätburgunder by the glass.

After lunch we took the Rudesheim Seilbahn, a picturesque cable car ride over rolling vineyards, up to see the Niedervalddenkmal, a statue monument to the establishment seilbahnof the German republic. (For those of you who prefer to have lunch up in the hills, there are sone cafe-type concessions at the top)

After seeing the Niedervald, you can take the cable car back down to Rudesheim, but we opted instead to hike over to the nearby town of Assmanshausen. The 30-40 minute hike turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Visiting in late May, we were a bit unlucky to get some rain on every day of our visit, but assiduously watching the forecast allowed us to time our comings and goings well enough to have glorious sunlight suffusing our walk. The fresh air of the hills invigorated us and really got us into the spirit of the Rhine valley.

When you reach the hills above Assmanshausen, there is a ski-style chairlift down to the town, but we chose to keep on hiking down and were rewarded at the bottom with a glimpse of these friendly faces:farm

The reward for wine lovers when they actually make it into town: Assmanshausen is espcially known for producing excellent spätburgunder pinot noir. Seek out August Kesseler, one of the top spatburgunder producers in Germany, before heading over to river’s edge, where one can take photos of Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, a castle situated in the middle of the river, and then catch a ferry back to Rudesheim.


Our visit to Weingut Robert Weil / Tasting Notes of 2012 Rieslings

A stop into Weingut Robert Weil was an eye-opening introduction to tasting German rieslings young, as many of the 2012 rieslings were newly-released in Germany and not yet available in the US, with most grand cru-type bottlings (Grosses Gewachs or Grosse Lage) available for tasting but not yet released, even in Germany. Amidst the sleek and modern tasting room at Weil, what I found was that the wines did not yet show much, if any, of the petrol aroma that many German rieslings exhibit, and while I personally dig some petrol from my riesling, without this element, the underlying terroir of these wines seems to shine right through. The style of Rheingau rieslings showed as well, exhibiting a subtler, and perhaps finer sort of minerality on the nose as compared to rieslings from the more widely-known Mosel region.

weil modern

On to my tasting notes:

  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013)
    Some floral on the nose, this is a solid gutswein. However, for the difference in price I recommend stepping up to the Kiedricher ortswein. 87 (87 points)
  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013) Like the Rheingau bottling, this has floral qualities with a touch of herb on the nose, together with stoniness that I don’t often get from bottlings of this level. However this bottling is just richer and more complex on the nose. Fresh and light, transparent style. 88-89 (88 points)


weil bottles


Be aware, they accept only cash (no credit cards), so I had to cut my order down to a few choice bottles. Would have loved to walk out with an assortment like these!weil cases

One special part of tasting 2012s was that M was born in that year. The long-aging Grafenberg spätlese was our first purchase for M’s birth year case of wines. Tune in to the next post to see what else we picked up at our next stop, Weingut H. Donnhoff in the Nahe region. Cheers,


Burgs at L’Apicio

Before I continue with the Germany report in the next post, some quick notes from a fun byo group dinner last week:20130620-225012.jpg

We got off to a great start with a vertical of William Fevre Les Clos. First up was the 2007, which I was looking forward to trying in order to track its progression. A bottle I had last sunmer alongside an 07 Fevre Les Preuses showed just a touch of oxidation compared to the completely fresh Preuses. On this night, the first taste was happily, not flawed. However, the rich, ripe palate did show hints of butterscotch. Is it too much age for an 07?

We got our answer with the next wine – by comparison, the 2004 Fevre Les Clos is fresh and crisp. It’s more of what I look for in Chablis, and though I might rate these first two wines at roughly the same quality level, style-wise I easily prefer the 04. This is especially notable considering that 2007 has been my favorite vintage for white Burgundy pretty much since its release. The ’07 I rated last summer at 92-93 last summer has slipped to a straight 92 for me a year later, and while it’s perfectly delicious and should be for a while, it’s just not as fresh as it should be, especially considering how lively the acidity of 2007 is – that may be all that’s keeping this wine together as well as it is.

Things get even better when we step over to the 2002 Fevre Les Clos, which is the most complete wine of this vertical. It’s fresh and clean, with just a dollop of richness that plays as more age-appropriate than the butterscotch hints on the 2007 (though if a Burg enthusiast with more experience with aged Chablis were to argue that this should be showing a tad younger too, I would not argue.

All of these bottles of Les Clos exhibited typical Chablis aromas of saline mineral and oyster shell, but the funk factor got a bump up in the 2000 version, up to what one of my dinner companions described as blue cheese. On the palate, this was again, correct Chablis, with a slight herbal edge. It seemed about right considering the vintage, but couldn’t match the charm of the 2002 tasted alongside.

Next. I tasted a 1985 René Collard champagne, yeasty and showing some age, but held together still by an admirable acidity. The last white to hit our glasses before the reds was a showstopper: the 2000 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet made an entrance amid a cloud of flinty smoky mineral, giving way to an opulent yet elegant palate. Close call between this and the ’02 Les Clos for best wine so far. The richness in the Leflaive made for some nice counterpoint to a spicy grilled octopus app.

And onto the reds, for which the loose theme was Burgundies, augmented by pinots from other regions, and anything else consonant that people might want to bring. The first two: a 2002 Mongeard Mugneret Vosne Romanee Les Orveaux, and an 02 Clerget Volnay. The Clerget is corked, so into the flight goes Matt N’s Blind wine 1. Mongeard Mugneret wines that I’ve had before have been slightly modern but still correct Burgundies – a style that doesn’t always appeal to terroir-focused Burg purists, but can appeal to drinkers who may be more used to New World pinot, perhaps cab, or other wines that are generally less austere. Here, the 2002 Les Orveaux showed damp earth and leather on the nose that you might expect from a correct Burgundy, with ripe fruit and good acid befitting a quality vintage.

Blind wine #1:  Alongside the Vosne, this clearly feels New World – vanilla oak and fruit uncomplicated by earth or leather-type notes. The fruit is not over-the-top but there’s just a hint of cola if you listen hard. Based on this, I guess California, and Rhys. It turns out to be Oregon, and Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurene. I’m satisfied with my guess, but after the reveal I go back to the wine and detect some signature Oregon pinot loaminess on the nose that I should have picked up on. Blind tasting is always a learning experience.

The next flight are two blind wines brought by Josh K. We are told that they are both 2006 Burgundies, one 1er Cru, and one Grand Cru. Josh further adds that I have had one of these wines before, because he’s seen a note from me on it. Intriguing. Now to figure out which one it is.

Wine A of the flight shows red fruit on the nose and palate, and floral aromas that are quite engaging despite the feeling that the nose is tight and has a lot more to show in the future. The mouthfeel is notably smooth, despite some considerable tannin on the finish. There isn’t much earthy complexity, but it’s clear there’s good material here. I have a hunch as to what it is, but before I settle on an answer I must look into…

…Wine B of the blind flight. Early on, Justin C suggests that this wine is ever so slightly corked, but most of us don’t get TCA, including me, though I do get a slightly green woodsy note. Ripe perfumed fruits show on the nose and palate, of a slightly lusher variety than what you get from Wine A, with even a touch of raisiny quality, together with some earth. When I come back to the wine for a second sniff, I get it – that faint first whiff of TCA. The next sniff, I”m not so sure. The mouthfeel is fairly smooth, so I guess that the wine is another Chambolle or a Morey St. Denis, from a producer who uses stems. It turns out to be 2006 Henri Boillot Volnay Fremiets 1er Cru, and I’m satisfied with my guess – at least it turned out to be a village known for softer, silky wines.

And Wine A?  It turns out to be what I guess it is – 2006 G. Roumier Bonnes Mares.  The wine is showing a bit more developed than when I last tasted it in 2011, but still way early in its development.  But call me a believer, this is going to be a terrific wine when it hits maturity.

The next flight are two wines that I brought. 2001 Jadot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes is expressive on the nose at first, but feels flat compared to the wines from the 2006 flight before it. Slightly green and a touch light in feel, perhaps this wine is all I should.expect from a vintage like 2001, but the wine gets a bit lost in this lineup.

Not so with the next wine; poured blind for a group of wine biz pros and serious wine drinkers who are largely Burgophiles, this wine passed for burgundy with almost everyone. Matt N sniffed it out though, calling this as California and guessing Rhys, a pretty good guess based on style; other comments about the wine included “damn good, whatever it is”.  Opening with flinty, smoky aromas, this wine does read like a burg on the nose… except for a slight sur-maturité to the fruit that is a sign for me of the Santa Barbara origin on the 2000 Arcadian Pisoni Vineyard pinot noir The Allen Meadows melted vinyl descriptor might even fit to a tiny degree, but not enough to be a fault – just enough to make this a lush, pleasing wine, in its prime now.

We finish with an 89 Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten auslese riesling, and the floral nose leads to an interesting if less than integrated feeling palate. Its age shows a bit in the form of apricot flavors that feel separate from the noticeable (but not quite sharp) acidity that keeps this wine lively.

One curiosity that occurred at the outset of the dinner: when I picked up my water glass, I got a strong smell of TCA.  I looked around at my dinner companions, but decided it might be too pretentious-sounding to declare that the water was corked.  I got up to tuck my bag away in the corner, and by the time I had returned I heard a few of the other attendees discussing the water, and I knew it wasn’t just me.  Yes, water can be contaminated with TCA, and the sommelier at L’Apicio  promptly replaced the water for us all.  The service all around was excellent, and the food similar in the level of deliciousness delivered at L’Artusi (if a little less consistent), its sister restaurant from the same group, also responsible for Dell’Anima.  Standout dishes included the roasted mushroom polenta, spicy with chilies, and the charred octopus that was so tender that I was able to split it with a spoon.  Just writing about it now flashes me back.  Yum.

Next post: back to my Germany series, with a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A Guide to touring German wine country: the Rheingau, Nahe, and the Mosel Valley, Part 1

Over the last few weeks, I visited a number of wineries in several of Germany’s top wine regions. In my next few posts I hope to give readers some insight into the wines I tasted, especially from the excellent 2012 vintage, as well as some useful info to help readers in planning their own trips through German wine country. Part travelogue, part tasting reports, with the help of this guide, hopefully you can enjoy Germany as much as my family did.

Home base for me, my wife P, and our daughter M was mostly a homestay with friends living near Frankfurt, with a few strategically placed nights at accommodations on the road in the Nahe Valley and in Trier, one of Germany’s oldest cities, which also happens to serve as the perfect springboard to visit the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer subregions of the famed Mosel Valley.

Before heading off to Germany, I made appointments for visits to a number of my favorite German producers. While almost all had websites with contact info and in some cases, opening hours listed, only two responded to an email request for an appointment. For all others, a telephone call was necessary to get the ball rolling on actually getting an appointment confirmed. In all cases, I got someone who spoke English, so if you don’t speak German, don’t let that stop you from picking up the phone.

My first wine experience in Germany (not counting a glass of Rotkäppchen sekt poured by our hosts on the night of our arrival) wasn’t by appointment at all, just a serendipitous turn. After visiting the Lindt Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum), Ludwig Museum, and Cathedral in Köln (Cologne), we stumbled into Kölner Weinwoche (Cologne Wine Week) – undoubtedly the most elaborate wine-driven street fair I have ever seen.


Row after row of pop-up stands for what seemed to be small family-owned estates lined the Neumarkt square. The place names of origin on the banners were all familiar – Rheingau, Nahe, and in some cases, more specific, like the village of Neumagen-Dhron in the Mosel Valley – but I had never heard of the estates. A great way, I thought, to test the depth of quality of German wine, beyond what we get to see imported to the US.




I was pleased to see such a vibrant wine culture in a country often associated with its love for beer (and the local beer I had on my trip was indeed very good). On a drizzly and sometimes cold day, there were throngs of people filling almost every table – some standing to enjoy a glass of riesling, maybe weissburgunder (pinot blanc), perhaps some sylvaner or scheurebe…

But it was spätburgunder (pinot noir) that piqued my interest on this day. During our trip we were going to visit a smattering of German wine regions but one that we weren’t going to have time to stop in on was the Ahr Valley, a region known for its pinot noirs. If you are a regular reader of these pages, then you know that pinot noir is probably my favorite grape, and a chance to try some pinot from an area whose wines are well-regarded but rarely imported into the US was suddenly possible when I found this:


20130605-234536.jpgJackpot! The Frühburgunder, I was told, is a variation of pinot noir producing small berries that give rise to a lighter-styled wine. The wine didn’t lack for color in any way though, giving forth a hue of true garnet. This was solid and competent pinot, with some Old World earth and nice floral perfume on the nose. The “früh” part of the name means “spring”, I believe, and if this was supposed to be “spring Burgundy”, the name was apt enough. This was the perfect drink for the setting, fresh and uncomplicated and quite enjoyable with a good German brezel. And this was essentially a random sample – someday I’d like to look into who the best producers of the Ahr Valley are and give their wines a whirl.


We also tried the Domina offered on the menu. Domina is a cross between pinot noir and blauer portugieser. I decided to try this unfamiliar variety, and it did have some pinot-like characteristics, but the true profile of this hybrid grape was obscured a bit by a noticeable amount of oak in this rendition of it. Darker and more brooding than the Frühburgunder, this was likeable, but perhaps trying a bit too hard, and I preferred the relatively unadorned frühburgunder.

Next post: a visit to the Rheingau at Weingut Robert Weil, and a suggested wine lovers’ itinerary for visiting the Romantic Rhine Valley.



Coming soon: visiting German wine country

Check back through these pages in the coming weeks, where you will see reports from my visits to some of the top producers of riesling, spatburgunder (pinot noir), weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and more from some of the top winegrowing regions in Germany, including the Rheingau, the Nahe river valley and the Mosel river valley.  As true riesling lovers, my wife and I are getting excited to visit the mecca of riesling, including stops to see some of our favorite producers, including Donnhoff, Emrich Schonleber, Von Schubert, Karthauserhof, Markus Molitor and more.  Stay tuned for tasting reports, recommended travel experiences and lots of photos and video from our travels through some of the most hallowed hillsides of world-class winemaking.

Learning more about Mourvèdre: a sampling of varietal wines from around the world

It recently occurred to me that I hardly ever drink mourvèdre. Or more accurately, I probably do without knowing it, as it’s often used as a blending grape that comprises a tiny percentage in a lot of wines, mixed in with other Rhone varieties like grenache, syrah and cinsault. I realized that, after all my years of tasting and learning about wines, that I couldn’t tell you what mourvèdre on its own tastes like.

Another factor complicating matters is that mourvèdre is like a secret agent among wine grapes – not just often appearing undercover, but also under many names. In parts of Spain like Jumilla, mourvèdre is known as monastrell. Some producers in Australia call it mataro. So, when it came time to choose a theme for the next tasting for one of my wine groups, naturally I chose mourvèdre.

I’ve had some good luck with monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain in the past. In my early years of wine drinking, the Altos de Luzon bottling from Bodegas Luzon tarantas monastrellhas ranged from good to fantastic depending on the vintage – though that wine is only 50% monastrell, blended with tempranillo and cab.

Last night, I got a look at the 2011 Tarantas Monastrell, also from Jumilla. A wine of deep and rich reddish-purple color, the Tarantas gives forth aromas of dusty plums. On the palate, the fruit tastes more like slightly medicinal red and dark cherries, with plummy acidity and a slightly herby brambly edge on the finish to lend some interest. At $12 retail, this is a nice bargain-priced wine from 100% organically grown monastrell grapes and a good first glimpse into the character of this variety.

Next up, we had a French entrant, a 2010 Bandol called Le Galantin. 95% mourvèdre with a splash of grenache thrown in, this wine tastes true to its place of origin, with lavender and other Provençal herbs adding a floral edge to this rustic country wine.

Two New World takes on the variety took us to a slightly higher price range, with the 2007 D’Arenberg The Twentyeight Road mourvèdre at $31 and the 2010 Carlisle Two Acres, a California blend of mostly mourvèdre with small amounts of petite syrah, mourvedre 2syrah, peloursin, alicante bouschet and carignane. The D’Arenberg immediately justifies its higher price tag, with a perfumey nose that’s instantly appealing. To be fair, this is a bit older than the other wines, and has had time to become wine, as opposed to tasting like very primary grape juice. Ripe fruit and judicious oak have played their roles perfectly here, resulting in a slightly redder-fruited wine than the others, and it’s delicious.

The Carlisle shows a slightly meaty edge that the other wines didn’t. If we had had this double blind, I might have guessed from the nose that this was from the Rhone Valley, but the palate is classic Carlisle – dark, brooding but recognizably New World with its powerful, fruity style. The D’Arenberg wins wine of the night honors for me, but perhaps with the same amount of age on it, this Carlisle might be equally deserving.

So, after tasting these wines, what is mourvèdre like? My take is that the grape produces richly colored wines, and has a wild, brambly edge that feels part bushy, part peppery. There’s a thread of racy acidity that seems to come naturally to each of the wines tasted tonight, producing starkly flavorful and aromatic wines without forbidding tannins, even in youth. Fans of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel/ primitivo might do well to check out mourvèdre/monastrell/mataro, in all of its guises. -Alan

The Tarantas Monastrell was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from its distributor.

2010 Bordeaux: What to Buy / In-bottle tasting notes part 2: UGC and BurdiGala Grand Tasting

As promised, here’s the follow-up to my first set of 2010 Bordeaux tasting notes from bottle: this time I’m covering the value-priced appellations of Moulis, Medoc and Haut Medoc, and the Left Bank communes of Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Estephe.  These notes are from the UGC Bordeaux tasting in January and the BurdiGala Grand Tasting last week here in New York.  My faves/ recommended bottles for purchase are starred*.  If you are going to make any purchases now, you may want to make them before Robert Parker’s scores get released on the 28th, which may cause prices on high-scorers to rise.  You got the inside scoop first, right here!


Chasse-Spleen – showing leafy green tobacco herbal notes and licorice on the nose.  Brooding, with anise flavors on the palate. 89-92

Poujeaux – slightly higher toned nose than the Chasse-Spleen; fresher but a slight picklish(?) quality.  Licorice on the palate like the Chasse-Spleen, but the added freshness here gives this the edge this year in Moulis.

Cantemerle* – has a very pretty nose; sweetish fruits, and certainly some oak here, but nicely done.  A perfumed quality to the fruits on the nose makes this promising.  Palate is quite tannic, boding well for ageability, but


already delicious due to sweet fruits on the palate – with a freshness that makes this better than many of the higher classified growths today. A touch of red-fruitedness and delineation here.  One of the top outperformers of the day, for sure. A bit more giving on the palate than the more structured La Lagune tasted right after.  92-94

La Lagune – an herbal tobacco leaf quality on the nose, and sweet fruits and some oak to make it work as well.  Structured and fresh on the palate.  91-93

Tour de By – On the structured, graphite, stony side.  Very good.  90-92

Belgrave – green pepper and dark fruits on the nose.  Lead pencil palate, earthy. 90-91+

Beaumont – A lot of dirt on the nose with a bit of stinky mineral funk. Dark-fruited, with licorice and green pepper notes. A bit bitter on the palate. Not my favorite. 87-89.

Margaux – as a group, the 2010 wines from the commune of Margaux showed quite differently than any of the last 5 vintages or so; quite dense on the nose and tannic on the palate.

Rauzan Segla – a bit of floral perfume on the nose.  Somewhat silky onthe palate.  Good acidity, I think this will stay nice and fresh through its development.  Not overpowering, has an easy charm, and I think the Margaux character will come out more over time.  Really like the freshness. 92-95.

Prieure Lichine – A touch of coffee on the nose.  Much more dense, powerful and tannic than any vintage of Prieure Lichine I have tasted, even compared to the 2009, which was charming.  Not sure how this will develop compared to other vintages; first taste a bit confounding. Second taste: much better, showing much more open; nice and pretty. 91-94

Malescot St. Exupery -Definitely showing some oak and modern style, with some perfume on the nose.  Palate is way tannic but less brooding than a lot of the wines today.  True to reputation, this feels kind of modern; open, but not overextracted, and not as inscrutable as the Prieure Lichine on first taste.

Lascombes – A little lightish on the attack, which is probably good for a Margaux, especially given how modern recent vintages of Lascombes have been.   The power does kick in on the midpalate, continuing through with some spice on the finish.  Not as brutally tannic as even some of the Graves reds were. This chateau seems to have dialed it back a bit now.  92-94

Kirwan – Dense and extracted compared to the other Margaux wines.  Smooth, with a dense modern feel.  Tough to detect any Margaux typicity here.

Giscours* – Better than the Kirwan, with some detailed aromas, red-fruitedness, and cologne quality on the nose.  On the palate, there’s some real delineation and true Margaux feel here.  A surprise outperformer for me today.  92-94.

Du Tertre – Compared to its sibling Giscours, this has more of a lead pencil, darker profile – not as open and delineated.  Dense and tannic, this feels a bit broad.  Lacks charm, which is not the greatest quality in a Margaux.  Still, a very decent wine.  89-91.

Rauzan Gassies – Not a big fan of this wine – lots of licorice character on the palate, without much charm to the fruit to go with it.  Has rockiness, with an overpowering quality to the licorice flavors.  87-89

D’Issan – Pretty, definitely more structured and slightly cooler in fruit profile than the 2006 tasted before it.  On the palate, structured, nice, will be very good. 92-94.

Palmer* – Nose is very perfumed, with perfectly sweet fruit.  Perhaps a bit more dense, round and rich than I might have expected from a Palmer, but nothing like the Cos.  Palate is beautiful, perfectly balanced, sweet-fruited; impactful with finesse, with no need for high extraction.  A wonderful, complete wine.  96-98+

St. Julien

Beychevelle – showing damp dirt on the nose, which I like.  Tough to read, but falls within the house style.  Has a dark, brooding quality – clearly good, but not as readable as the 2009. 91-93

Branaire Ducru – shows more perfume and openness on the nose than the Beychevelle.  Not as broodingly tannic, either.  Has some slightly bitter licorice quality – one can see the comparison to the ’89s, with a bit more power.  Maybe like the 2000s?

Gruaud Larose* – the house style is very recognizable here.  Has refined mineral, a touch of leafy green, but also cigar/tobacco leaf sweetness to the fruit on the nose.  Very engaging sweetness to the fruit on the palate; among the most delineated wines today.  Easily among the best overall, as well.   Will be a very good Gruaud Larose. 94-96  Tasted again in February at BurdiGala, with consistent notes.

Lagrange – shows more lead pencil on the nose than Gruaud.  On the palate, very similar to the Branaire Ducru in its licorice flavors.  A little more dark perhaps.

Leoville Barton – showing sweet purplish fruits on the nose, with some peppery spice like the 2009.  Not quite as engaging though.  Still, very good.  92-94+

Langoa Barton – redder-fruited nose to it than the Barton.  Some perfume on the nose that I really like.  Has power and spice on the palate.  For once, I like this as much as the Barton.  The Barton has sweeter, higher quality fruit but the balance here, somehow with the slightly redder fruits and open style, make this just as good as its more heralded sibling wine.

Leoville Poyferre – some refined mineral on the nose.  Dark, powerful, anise-inflected.  Don’t like it as much as some of the other St. Juliens however. 91-93

Saint-Pierre – some sweetness to the fruit on the nose, and some tobacco leaf, cedary sweetness present too.  A little similar to the Gruaud. Has an oaky perfume, but a perfume nonetheless.  On the palate, has a tough-to-read density and power.  From the nose, definitely promising, in a way similar to the Gruaud.  92-93++, chance for some big upside, but tough to tell right now.

Talbot – has an interesting quality on the nose – some caramel oak, but also a certain nuttiness.  A touch of red fruits in the mix, with some licorice as well.  Stony mineral on the palate makes me feel very good about this wine.  More readable than a lot of the others – like the touch of delineation here.  Has a sense of dynamics – not all density.  92-94

Gloria – kind of a licorice-dominated palate.  A bit brooding, a little more detail than most vintages? Solid, competent for the vintage. 90-92

Ducru Beaucaillou* – Wonderfully perfumed on the nose – so much so that I checked – twice – to see if someone around me was wearing perfume.  Such sweet, pretty fruit.  Very good on the palate as well – juicy, balanced.  One of the best 2010 Bordeaux I have tasted.  Retasted at the end of the tasting (different bottle) with consistent results.  94-97


Clerc Milon – Has a liveliness to the flavors that I didn’t feel in a lot of the St. Juliens, definitely a step up from most of them.  Not as brooding, has a dynamic quality to it.  Excellent wine.  93-94+

Armailhac – Nose has a nutty, roasted oak quality.  Palate is tannic but a bit neutral.  90ish.

Pichon Baron* – A bit of the plummy quality that the Lalande has; very nice, showing easily better than the 2009 did last year. A little spice and power here, with a nice balance between red-fruitedness and darker fruits, with some engaging sweetness. Has the power I’ve come to expect from Baron, but also a finesse that almost feels more Lalande to me than Baron. Good acidity, a touch of floral here… this is definitely less ripe than the 1990 Pichon Baron. Probably my favorite vintage of Baron to date. 93-95+

2nd taste: denser and less floral than the first sample,

Grand Puy Lacoste – tannic, sweet-fruited, but feels a bit tough to judge. Looks to be quite good, but I think I preferred the 2009 at the same stage.

Pichon Lalande* – (January note) Has power, but also an easy quality to it.  Not overextracted, but has density, for a Lalande anyway.  Smooth, with freshness.  A touch of spice.  Power without being too expansive.  One of the beautiful wines of the tasting.  Will always be a dogfight between this and the 2009 Pichon Lalande as to which is better. 94-96

(February note)  Similar results as prior tasting at UGC.  At BurdiGala, this is more tannic and a touch less ripe than the 2009 tasted just before it, but the consistency from vintage to vintage is noteworthy.  Slightly brighter acidity on the 2010, boding for a long life; like this balance just a shade more than the 2009.  95-97+

Tasted back-to-back with Palmer 2010, this showed a bit stonier, with a darker-fruited perfume and not as sweet on the nose, and more anisette character.  On the palate, more structure, more tannin, more licorice flavor.

Lynch-Bages – Big, structured, with even more anise quality than the Pontet- Canet.  The acidity on the Lynch-Bages is a little livelier, racier, with cooler fruits than the PC.  Some real potential for this wine to turn out like the legendary 1989 Lynch.  Very good. 92-95

Pontet Canet* – A little darker, more powerful, and structured than the 2006 Pontet Canet tasted before it, with graphite notes.  Sweet-fruited, tannic, and rounded on the palate.  Very very nice.  Structured in style, this is very true to the nature of the 2010 vintage.  Has a slightly plummy quality to the acid, which I really like, and again, the lead pencil notes on the palate.  93-95+

St. Estephe – The St. Estephes seem to show a bit more mineral quality than the other appellations, based on a small sample size tasted so far.

Phelan Segur – showing plenty of mineral and open red fruits on the nose. Safe value pick – has got all you could ask for at this price level: pretty, open fruit, lots of structure, graphite and mineral notes. On the palate, lead pencil, touches of sweet fruit. 90-92.

Lafon Rochet – damp earth, a bit of primary-fruited magic marker pungency to the aroma on the nose, with some caramel oak and a touch of refined tobacco leaf peeking through too. Decent fruit, lots of mineral, nice typicity. 91-93

Cos Labory – stony, with fruit that’s not overdone, some sweetness showing through. 90-91+

Cos d’Estournel *- A recognizable house style for recent vintages is demonstrated by this range of 2006/08/10 Cos – a somewhat muddled style to be frank, characterized by dense fruits, some coffee notes, and damp earth on the nose, etc., which results in wines that don’t excite me in the 2006 and 2008 wines.  However, the 2010 is clearly a great rendition of this style, offering livelier fruit that lifts this above the 2006 and 2008 by quite a margin.  The fruit explodes with some sweetness but also charm and beauty, putting the elements together in a way the other two vintages don’t.  Tannic, but quite pretty on the palate, again with lively fruit, juicy acid yet sweetness to the fruit.  Lots of structure, some graphite notes.  I think this will be a great wine.  94-96

 Sweet wines of Sauternes/Barsac

Climens – very nice, not over the top. Good in a balanced way. Served out of decanter, which served this well.

De Fargues – more generously honey-fruited than the Climens, with a slight floral quality. Not over the top. Pretty balanced, really lovely.

Suduiraut – prettiest nose of the sweet wines so far, captivating in its floral qualities and sweet fruit. On the palate, the richest and most honeyed so far, but certainly very delicious.

Guiraud – lighter on the nose and palate than the Suduiraut. Has a slight herbal quality that comes across as a touch bitter on the palate, putting this behind the other sweet wines tasted thus far in quality. Certainly an engaging nose, though.

Coutet – [notes on nose truncated]. On the palate, nice and on the richer side but something doesn’t quite work here, lacking in the finish? Suduiraut is better today in this style.

La Tour Blanche – most captivating nose yet – floral, with a lychee fruit thing going on. Light in style, with just a touch of grapefruit and green apple that makes the nose intriguing. Smooth, lightish palate – very likeable, very very good. Delicate, with personality too. Best sweet wine here?

These notes are gathered from tastings put on both by the UGC and the BurdiGala Grand Tasting, which I attended free of charge as a member of the media.

What I’m Drinking: a casual President’s Day dinner with some winners from Austria and Portugal

Last night was an example of my favorite way to enjoy wine – a casual dinner with good friends, with a manageable number of wines ranging from unassuming (but perfect partners to the right foods) to transcendent.  Tasted over the course of a leisurely evening, the wines got sufficient air time to open up aromatically and unfurl their full flavors on the palate.  Things got off to a bang with a pair of wines that had been opened on nights previous and were ready to strut their stuff.  2006 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Spatlese Trocken shows some nice late-harvest fruit in a dry package, but although my favorite rieslings are usual German ones, tonight it can’t keep up with the otherworldly 2005 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain from the Wachau region of Austria that my friend M has generously brought.  Every time I stick my nose in the glass, this wine sends shivers down my spine.  Light petrol and flinty mineral aromas float above golden orchard fruit, and I hirtzberger 2come back to it again and again. Dry and stony on the palate with a touch of bitter pith, but buffeted by deceptively generous fruit, this plants notions of nectar in your mind but goes down like glorious mineral water.  I’m enjoying and not scoring any wines tonight, but this one would clearly be in the exalted 95+ point range for me.

Next I pair a 2011 Casa de Vila Verde vinho verde from Portugal with a butter lettuce  salad with carrots and roasted butternut squash.  From the grapes arinto, loureiro and trajadura, this light, fresh white lives up to the “green wine” name, presenting a palate with fresh herbal green that manages not to come off as vegetal.  A nice citric snap here makes the wine lively and juicy. The next time you’re thinking of having sauvignon blanc, try a vinho verde instead –  this is better than the vast majority of the perfunctory sauvignon blancs in the same $11 price range.

Chicken and mozzarella ravioli is partnered with two pinot noirs, 2004 La Famille Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin La Gibryotte and 2010 Anthill Farms Demuth Vineyard pinot noir.  The Dugat, a negociant bottling, is from the 2004 vintage in Burgundy, in which a significant number of wines display a distinct green character of debated origin (one popular explanation involves pyrazines released by ladybugs).  I’ve had a number of bottles of this over the years, haven taken a chance on a number of bottles at a bargain $20 price, and it has generally shown some stalky, stemmy character that seems to be a manageable amount of the 2004 greenness, and tonight’s bottle still shows the same.  M and I agree that it’s not enough to be bothersome, and this wine delivers enough burgundy typicity and pleasure to justify the bargain price I paid.  M does a nice job of picking out the Anthill Demuth as an Anderson Valley wine when I serve it blind to him – and this one is true to the Anthill style – floral and fragrant tart red fruits and hints of beetroot, framed by oak in an accessible, cool-climate-fruited package.

I serve two blind wines with New York strip steaks, and though they are both from Portugal, they show very mariana alentejanodifferently.  The 2009 Herdade do Rocim Mariana comes across as a light-to-medium bodied red that’s smooth on the palate, with touches of a bushy, herby pepper on the nose to add interest.  All three drinkers who try this one one prefer it to the 2009 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto Douro, which is a good wine in a different style – darker-fruited, brooding and more intensely flavored on the palate.  A blend of alicante bouschet, aragonez (which you may know as tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and trincadeira, the Mariana is from the Alentejano region and aged in stainless steel, which together with a nice plummy acidity, keeps it fresh.  On the other hand, the Quinta do Portal  tinto is a brooding, dark blend of tinto roriz (yet another name for tempranillo), touriga nacional and touriga franca from the Douro DOC, and shows the profile of an international red – French oak aging and dark, concentrated primary fruits.  Both wines sell for $15 or less generally, and to me the Mariana especially is a very solid wine for the money.portal colheita douro

As we linger after dinner, comparing the reds, I find I can’t help but keep going back to the fabulous Hirtzberger.  From there, we move on to a tasty 2003 Gimmeldinger Schlosser Spatlese rieslaner from Muller-Catoir, pleasing with light cinnamon-like spice inflections, and a perennial favorite producer of sweet wines, Alois Kracher of Austria, is the source of our capper for the evening, a 2002 Kracher Nouvelle Vague TBA chardonnay.  The residual sugar in both of these wines goes fabulously with a light and pleasing champagne cheddar cheese from the Finger Lakes, giving our guests a last bit of fortification before they venture back out into the blustery New York night.


The Portuguese wines in this report were complimentary review samples received from representatives of Wines of Portugal.