Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who says big isn't better?

With a massive amount of notes and pictures to sort through, the Cape May reviews have been more delayed than I had expected. However, there’s always something going on in the world of fine wine, so I decided to take this chance to highlight some truly amazing bottles of wine that I tasted through this past Saturday night.

This weekend, wine critic Neal Martin (Wine Advocate) was in town and he put the word out that he was interested in sampling the local scene. Leave it up to Leo Frokic, friend and fellow collector, to organize a massive tasting. With a crowd of 30 guests, Leo, with the help of his wife, managed to turn out a menagerie of salads, cheese and cold cuts, followed by grilled chicken, steak and ribs. The food alone was worth the visit but it was the wine that truly stole the show.

Leo doesn’t do anything small. It’s always big and an exciting time and so it was with last nights event, where all wines were poured from magnums. We’re not just talking a few good bottles either. The mix was classic to modern, French to new world, and everything in between with vintages going back to 1959. I wasn’t even able to taste everything but I did manage to take notes on a few of the standouts.

The Notes:

1959 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules – This came from a double magnum and was enjoyed after two hours of decanting. This was a dream of a wine that made you feel like you were floating on a cloud above Burgundy with a whiff of red fruit and the earth with all its greens and dirt and clays being wafted up to you. It was almost impossibly young and yet perfectly resolved with soft, sweet red fruits, herbal tea and honey. This pinot washed across my palate like velvet and never lost any of its momentum from start to finish. 

I fear I'm falling in love with Burgundy. (95 points out of 100)

1988 Louis Jadot Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles - It scares me how much I find myself enjoying aged white burgs. The nose was fresh and showed pear and brie with a sweet dustiness. On the palate, it was a beautifully aged white with roasted nuts, burnt sugar and sharp cheddar. The finish was lasting with buttery toasted almonds. (94 points out of 100)

2000 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau - Initially the nose was big, sweet and rich that reminded me of a strawberry fruit roll but, as it sat in the glass, the flamboyancy stepped back and what emerged were black currants, clove and spice. This wine was lush and velvety on the palate with dark fruit, honey, cedar and more spice. The finish was medium long with peppery red fruits. (93 points out of 100)

1988 Pierre Bouree Fils Clos de la Roche - The bouquet showed old library books with dried cherry and earthy mushrooms. On the palate, it was juicy and resolved with red fruits and dried herbs. The finish turned dry but kept the red fruit present. Very enjoyable. (91 points out of 100)

2003 Ferrando Nebbiolo di Carema Black Label (Etichetta Nera) - On the nose I found plum fruit with violets, spiced roasting sausage and notes of fresh dug soil. On the palate, this showed restraint and begged for a revisit later in the night that unfortunately never happened. However, at the time of tasting, about an hour after opening, I found red fruits with cloves, and stems. The finish showed short for me, but again; this bottle will likely improve a great deal with a few years time. (90 points out of 100)

1998 Querciabella Batàr Toscana IGT- This was enjoyed over the course of an evening from magnum. At first, it was extremely tight with more buttery vanilla showing than anything else but, as the night wore on, the details began to unfold. The nose showed like a peach pie with a scoop of Breyers vanilla bean ice cream on top. On the palate I found notes of apricot and butterscotch, which lead to a long acid cleansing finish with a hint of olives and medicinal fruit. This wine showed very young tonight, however it was the first magnum I've ever had of this bottling. (89 points out of 100)

1998 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne - This showed a refreshing whiff upon first pour. On the nose I found pear, forest floor and field grass. The palate was dominated by sour apple and minerality. (89 points out of 100)

2000 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Spätlese trocken - On the nose, I found minerals, chalk dust and grapefruit. The palate was full yet vibrant and showed pear with lemon rind and an oily, buttery hint. The finish was long and citrusy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bea and Quintarelli: An Evening to remember

Another remarkable evening at i Trulli took place as we descended on what has become my go-to Italian restaurant in New York City to celebrate with friends and, with a number of stunning top shelf Italian wines. I Trulli’s staff and service was top notch yet again and the food was out of this world. This also gave me a chance to try a few more items off their menu that peaked my interests during my last visit.

Perfection in simplicity is the name of the game here where the best ingredients are assembled by a deft hand in the kitchen and presented beautifully on each plate. It’s such a simple recipe for success that speaks volumes to the forward thinking of i Trulli’s owners and management. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

However, I must stay on track, as I truly intended this addition to The V.I.P. Table to be about the momentous wines that were opened and enjoyed on this evening. These consisted of two artisanal producers who are considered masters at their craft and producers of reference point wines in their regions.

First, Paolo Bea, a producer of Sagrantino di Montefalco, from the region of Umbria in Italy. Paolo Bea is a strict biodynamic producer, who is proud to use the same traditional methods as taught to him by his father. To Bea, these wines are simple expressions of the land that are fortified through decades of experience in wine making and the inspiration he gains from his family. However, I can guarantee that these wines are anything but simple. Paolo Bea Sagrantino is rich and lush, yet finessed and with the ability to mature for decades. Also not to be missed are the stunning and wonderfully unique white wines and Sangiovese from his estate.

Then there is Quintarelli, “The Master of the Veneto”. Although Giuseppe Quintarelli is no longer heavily involved in the wine making of his estate (due to his age), the decades of vintages he leaves behind will surely live forever. Quintarelli is synonymous with Amarone della Valpolicella, a wine of meditation and reflection. Amarone is known for its intensity and layers of deep rich flavors, but Quintarelli takes it to an entirely different level. The aromatics are often so deep and layered that a glass could be enjoyed without ever sipping it. Once you take that first sip, you are transported to a heaven of flavors and sensations across the palate. It is nearly indescribable but, be warned, it comes at a high price. Once Quintarelli was truly discovered and reached cult status, the prices soared. However, in this taster’s opinion, I feel the experience is worth the price of admission, and the Amarone I tasted on this night, at $550 a bottle, provided an experience that I will never forget.

On to the notes:

The 2003 Paolo Bea, Sagrantino di Montefalco showed a gorgeous deep red crimson color in the glass. As I poured, an aroma of candied cherry filled the air. With a little time in the glass, the rich fruit transformed into a Burgundian expression of red fruit with earth and clay. Dusty dried flowers filled out the bouquet and, as a few tasters noted, hints of sausage, which gave the nose a savory edge. The palate followed suit with flavors of raspberry, coffee, chocolate liquor and old cedar. The finish was long with staying dark chocolate and red fruit. (95 out of 100 points)

What could follow such a wonderful experience with the Sagrantino? The 1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva was a dark mahogany color with rich and wild aromas rising from the glass. I found it difficult to take that first sip because the aromatics were so seductive that I simply didn’t want to take my nose from the glass. Black cherry sauce with saw dust were the first aromas to come to mind, followed by butterscotch and hazelnuts, which then turned to spiced ginger cookies and plum reduction. So many layers could be pulled away to continue finding descriptors in this wine, and I was only sad that we didn’t have the time to spend hours with it. On the palate I found a menagerie of red fruits as cherry, then raspberry and cranberry filled the palate. Vanilla and milk chocolate, butter cream and roasted nuts with spicy cedar were also present. However, with all this concentration, the wine remains finessed and fresh on the palate. Its 16.5% alcohol is nearly invisible due to the impeccable balance of this wine. The finish lingered for 30-plus seconds with cherry dark chocolate. (99 out of 100 points)

Lastly, the 1990 Giuseppe Quintarelli, Bianco Amabile del Cere Veneto was the finale of the evening and it was amazing. This was another example of Quintarelli’s ability to make such a rich and intense wine that can be perfectly balanced and fresh on the finish. The color was amber with a hint of orange with aromas of apricot, candied orange rinds, burnt sugar, roasted almond liquor and butter. The palate was intense and expansive with sweet roasted nuts, orange sprits and buttery caramel that goes on and on into the finish. I have officially declared this to be the best sweet wine I have yet tasted. (98 out of 100 points)

Click here to find the 2003 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco on Wine-Searcher.
Click here to find the
1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone Riserva on Wine-Searcher.
Click here to find the
1990 Giuseppe Quintarelli, Bianco Amabile del Cere on Wine-Searcher.

For another take on this amazing evening, I urge you to check out Vigna Uva Vino. It's a great wine blog by, fellow writer and good friend, Dave Trieger.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2006 Black Cat, out of its shell, out of this world.

After last week’s article, “A black cat, crossing your path, is not always bad luck.” I was asked by Merrill Lindquist of EMH Vineyards to re-taste the 2006 vintage. Since my tasting notes of the 2006 were from my visit to Napa in the summer of 2009, I felt it was a very fair request and Merrill assured me that this wine had really started to show its potential. Let me just say that I’m glad I took her up on this challenge!

The 2006 EMH vineyards, Black Cat, was on a whole new level from my previous tasting. Almost a year has passed, and this dark beauty has really come out of its shell. Upon pouring, the aromatics leapt from the glass and filled the room with a bouquet of sweet floral notes and dark fruits. With a swirl in the glass I found blackberry, cherry and anise with notes of pepper and sage. The palate showed rich spicy black currant, cinnamon gram cracker and dark chocolate, yet also showed wonderful vibrancy and finesse. The finish went on and on for over a minute with a seductive mix of clove, cinnamon, star anise and cherry. I am impressed and happy to upgrade my score to 93+ points!

Not only is this a treat to drink but it held up to a plate of Bucatini all'Amatriciana, which is no easy task with this traditional Italian pasta dish that has a lion’s share of flavor and spice.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Black Cat, crossing your path, is not always bad luck.

Last summer, this lover of Italian wine ventured to Napa Valley in search of what his peers declared the best wineries to visit. I didn’t take this task lightly as I polled a number of message boards and trusted friends to come up with a list of the “not to be missed” wineries in Napa Valley. What a trip it was, as I tasted with wine makers, took in the beautiful landscapes and toured the vast vineyards of both giants and boutiques on my quest to understand Napa and all it had to offer.

However, there was one experience on this trip which truly stood out and remains, to this day, one of my most memorable tastings. It was my visit with Merrill Lindquist of EMH Vineyards, makers of “Black Cat” cabernet sauvignon.

Black Cat is the culmination of all the things I love about wine. For one, I want a wine that gives me a sense of place. I want the earth and the sky and the world that surrounds the vines to be somehow transcended into the bottle. Each vintage of Black Cat has given me just that. I can almost imagine that I’m back in Calistoga with a dry summer breeze blowing, a glass of wine in hand and a bowl of fresh picked peaches on the table. With each sip of wine showing that, vintage after vintage, the same telltale qualities of vineyard and place shine through. Next, I want to feel that the winery has a true connection to what’s in the bottle, that there’s a sense of love that goes into the farming of the vines and production of the wine. Imagine, if you will, that the vineyard is literally a step off the owner’s porch. She wakes to them in the morning and tends to them throughout the year. Lastly, I want the best of both worlds. Big, expressive wines that seduce the senses yet glide across the palate with finesse and leave a refreshing layer of fruit behind, wines that can stand on their own but are also a perfect complement to what is served at the dinner table. As my notes will show, Black Cat is all that.

I strongly urge you to seek these wines out. Granted, they are not cheap nor are they daily drinkers, however they are relative values when you consider the prices paid for boutique cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. You could pay $100 and up for any number of cult cabernets that will simply give you the status quo and mildly impress your guests and your palate. Or you could check in on Black Cat and find out what it takes to make the list of wines that fill my cellar.

The Notes: (I'm very happy to be able to provide notes on four consecutive vintages)

Black Cat 2004 (94 points)
The color shows a dark red, almost purple color. The first sniff shows a dark shroud of black currant followed by plum sauce, chocolate and holiday spices with a hint of undergrowth adding a yin to this wine’s fruity yang. The palate shows a full expansive layer of fruit that’s kept in check by vibrant acidity and shows blackberry jam, orange peel and cedar as this cabernet plays a sweet and sour act on the mid-palate. The finish is long with blackberry fruit and still shows a bit of fine tannin that promises life for many years to come. Gorgeous.

Black Cat 2005 (93 points)
This was opened and decanted for two hours before the first glass. The color was dark red, almost purple. The nose showed intense black cherry and licorice, a bit like port but with a creamy milk chocolate that made this intoxicating to smell alone. On the palate the performance continued with an initial rush of black current that was followed by wild red berries, sage, mint and clove on the mid-palate. This cabernet showed wonderful acidity yet was soft with its velvety tannic structure still showing just a bit. The finish was long with black currant. A great performance.

Black Cat 2006 (90 points) (Notes from my visit to EMH July, 2009)
This took the elegance of the 2005 but sheathed it in a cloak of dark, brooding fruit. The nose was full of potpourri, cranberry sauce, cocoa powder and a bit of vanilla. The 2006 was the most closed of the three, but all the ingredients are there for this bottle to turn into a beauty with a little age. I can’t wait to get this bottle in my home and watch it open up over the course of a day.

Looking back on these notes I'm happy to say that I called it right. Check out the most recent tasting notes on the 2006 Black Cat, from 90 points to an easy 93+!

Black Cat 2007 (93 points) (Notes from my visit to EMH July, 2009)
This confirmed what everyone in Napa seemed to be talking about, and that’s the sheer vibrancy of the 2007 cabernets. This bottle will certainly have a long life but, like many of the 2007s, it’s so hard to not drink it now. On the nose, I found sour cherry, confectioners sugar and spice. On the palate, it was refreshing and mouth filling with rich dark fruit complemented by balanced acidity. This is a fun and showy cabernet that should turn some heads at future dinners.

EMH Vineyards website

To find Black Cat on Wine-Searcher, click here!