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Puzzle me that

Date: Mon, Oct 13, 2008 Wine Tasting

Sorry, just making a bid for the worst wordplay in a blog post title, 2008 edition.

In any case, a Sunday meal of quiche lorraine and arugula salad (or rocket, for the UK faction) gave me the chance to chill a bottle of Thierry Puzelat's 2005 Clos du Tue Boeuf "Brin de Chèvre." Counter-intuitive, perhaps, as I usually like to break out something like Edelzwicker with egg stuff (who knows why); but then, with chunk bacon, onion, egg and cream you can be all over the map, and I have poignant memories of Meursault with the dish. So, shaking it up, here we were with Puzelat's Menu Pineau cuvée in our glasses.

I'd had the 2006 and, probably some time in the distant, dark hipster past, things like 2004 or even 2002, but this was my first encounter with the 2005. It was a thing of absolute clarity and precision. You could walk out on the deck of a seafaring vessel and look through it, seeing sharp for leagues. I've never had a wine with such intense minerality, and such bone-dry command. Not a bit of residual sugar, which had been my slight complaint about the (also much enjoyed) 2006 version of the same.

So, no surprise that this was unanimously (or bilaterally) voted "the best white wine tasted in quite some time."

And the cool thing is that I can actually afford more! (If I can find it.)

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Date: Tue, Oct 7, 2008 Wine Tasting

Heaven, I'm in heaven... Fred Astaire sang it. Driving through the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune under mottled skies, I felt it. This curious emotion that comes from being in places that evoke taste memories on your tongue. Oh! Puligny-Montrachet! Minerally, heart-breakingly taut 2004 J.-M. Boillot. Oh, Volnay. 2002 Pascal & Reyane Bouley Volnay 1er Cru "Champans," beating soft and lush like a heart. One feels surrounded and swept up.

And then, of course, being there gives ample opportunity for tasting the local goods. We found an interesting little producer in Santenay whose white 2002 Santenay 1er Cru "Passe-Temps" was a rich whirlwind of precision (shh, it does so make sense). We drank 2001 Denis Thomas Nuits-Saint-Georges, which was perfectly pinot-y, with fruit and tannin braiding into deliciousness. We had a super young, vibrant 2006 Tollot-Beau Chorey-lès-Beaune with searingly open fruit.

So, we didn't drink any Leflaive Montrachet. But then, did you really think I had?

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Cheesy dreams

Date: Fri, Oct 3, 2008 Wine Tasting

Apparently, the British Cheese Board believes that eating cheese has a beneficial effect on sleep and dreams. This titter-worthy study reveals some of the ins and outs of the curd's influence over our nocturnal life.

Two nights ago, I did an informal test of my own, ingesting a fair piece of Roquefort at the end of my evening meal. Indeed, consequently, my dreams, as the old wives' tale holds, were colorful.

But that aside, eating Roquefort got me to thinking two things. One, that any cheese that requires putting something even higher in fat (i.e. butter) on the bread beneath it is a thing of perversity. And second, that as far as wine goes, Roquefort is the avenging angel, wiping out reds, whites, and bubblies with a cold metallic knife. No quarter! Those wines turn tin.

As I'd already been drinking a fine bottle of dry table wine, I wasn't going to go and open a Sauternes or Jurançon - and of course, I don't like stickies, anyway. So where does that leave me with this curio of a cheese? Will I be able to find something it'll go with?

Probably just a pipe dream.

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Punk plonk (& good stuff, too)

Date: Mon, Sep 29, 2008 Wine Tasting

Here's one to go with pizza. Especially pizza at Pink Flamingo, the Canal Saint-Martin's little pocket of heaven. Especially the Basquiat, with prosciutto and gorgonzola. Or any of them, really. They all rock.

I wanted to cry, nearly. Hadn't been back in ages to the PF, whose delivery fellows on bicycles will deliver canalside in the warmer months, after one has been given a balloon to identify one as having placed an order. And since Le Verre Volé is just up the street, takeout wine and pizza delivery assure a delightful, rustic evening as the deep and filthy water flows by and night starts to fall over random merriment.

But this weekend it wasn't so warm as all that, so refuge was found within the PF. Along with a bottle of On S'en Bat les Couilles, 2006 version. Now, as its label suggests, the wine's name does indeed mean something along the lines of Never Mind the Bollocks (literally: we don't give a toss). But the wine is in no way simply, well, tossed off. It's actually a brilliant little funky gem of "nature" winemaking.

From old-vine gamay in the Touraine-Mesland area of the Loire valley, made by a renegade vigneron with the strangely Corsican-sounding name of Pascal Simonutti, this bottling is totally delicious and totally impudent. The pizzaiolo – probably called Jean-Luc, but never mind – popped it and glugged it into a big magnum carafe, swinging it around to loosen the carbon dioxide, which ushered out. The first glass or so was a bit frizzy, but after that it smoothed and was just a heady, good gamay de Touraine. Deep purple, fruit and bite.

Satisfying stuff.

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Date: Thu, Sep 25, 2008 Wine Tasting

Over on Wine Disorder, MarkS wrote, in response to a tasting note about a Cour-Cheverny:

I don't find romorantin that [sic] unique: to me, but then, many grapes tend toward similarity. Very strongly chenin blanc-like, with maybe a dollop of godello.

This was kicking around in my head yesterday evening. I mean, it's not rare for people to start talking about typicité, often with some debate. But what about unicité? Are grapes' tastes unique? Should they be?

Of course, no one is going to confuse a Gewürz with a Riesling or a Roussane with a Viognier, but are there more similarities than differences?

I suppose that another factor to add to the lot is age. Does great age on wine efface varietal characteristics for an overall "old wine" taste? This is a theory I have heard stated, and it is somewhat convincing. I think back to the lineups of stickies at the end of the three Académie des Vins Anciens dinners I've been to. I don't know if I could have pulled out a Sauvignon from a Sémillon from a Chenin or a Muscat. But then, I was drunk at the time.

The other angle would be to question if it could simply be, as MarkS seems to suggest, that "lesser" grapes are somehow more "same" than nobler, complexer, "more" unique ones.

If such is the case, Pinot d'Aunis is the king of grapes.

*Oh, and a bottle of Chinon to anyone who can identify the cultivar in the photo up top.

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Quick, drink!

Date: Mon, Sep 22, 2008 Wine Tasting

Yesterday evening, slightly dazzled from a surprisingly sunny weekend in the north and head abuzz with thoughts of seashells and the like, I opened a bottle of 2007 Amphibolite.

I'd been enthusiastic about this (as usual) in February, as well as a couple of times soon after, in early spring. But six months will do something to a young wine of its nature. It had lost its pearly bead, shifting from youthful tingliness on the tongue to something more slate-and-brine – which was nice, too, but was more traditionally Muscadet than I'm used to this cuvée being.

It got me to thinking about wines I like drinking young, and how I don't buy too many of them, for fear of not getting to them in time. Hervé Villemade's 2006 "Pivoine" was like that; a dazzling floral, fresh burst of Côt. So was the 2007 non-rosé Costières de Nîmes rosé from Gérard Eyraud (note to self: must drink that soon). Or the Bretons' wild 2007 Avis de Vin Fort.

What's great about wines like these is that, though ready to go from release, they are the antithesis of the big, standardized wines shot out by global-type wineries, heavy in alcohol and toast, with their whatnot processes in the winery to make them user-friendly, fast and forgettable.

These are little asides, beautiful trills, and definitely lovely things to have on hand while waiting for the vins de garde to age. Character in spades – even if fleeting.

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Lost & Found

Date: Mon, Sep 15, 2008 Wine Tasting

This is the best view of my cellar. Once you leave the clean-swept earthen floor of the hall and unlock the padlock sealing away oh so many Sancerres and Chinons and other random fodder (a couple of Apulian reds, some Pic Saint-Loup and two bottles of 2001 Château Pavie (oh yes, my enemies!)), mayhem ensues.

There are two sofas in my cellar (white, blue). There is a broken computer. There are some roller blades that may or may not belong to Arnaud, though I have never seen him rollerblade. There's a table and its detached legs. There is even a framed print with a broken pane.

But this makes it all the more sporty and fun to push through the wild jungle of dreck to get to the good stuff, avoiding giving a little tip to the pile of unracked bottles dangerously lying three-high on the floor. Of course, sometimes this means that instead of coming back up with a Bouzeron from A. & P. de Villaine, there will be a bottle of Villemade Cour-Cheverny in my hand, but no matter!

I suppose all of this is an attempt to fly in the face of the particular madness that seems to inhabit wine "geeks": orderliness. Control. Inventories kept rigorously on online databases. Dated tasting notes.

Plus, it's cool to find something you'd forgotten you had. Especially when it's a bottle of Charmes-Chambertin you run into while looking for a red Anjou. Score!

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Baudelaire interlude

Date: Thu, Sep 11, 2008 Wine Tasting

Deep joys of wine, who among us has not known you? Who has not felt remorse to calm, a memory to conjure, a sorrow to drown, a castle to build in the clouds – all have invoked you, mysterious god hidden in the fibers of the vine. How grand are the acts brought forth by wine, as though we were illuminated by an inner sun! How true, how burning is the second youth man draws from it! Yet how formidable are its searing raptures and its draining enchantments. And yet: say, in your soul and conscience – judges, law-makers, men of the world, you whose happiness leaves you gentle, whose fortune makes virtue and health a thing of trifling ease – say: who among you would have the pitiless courage to condemn those who drink genius?

Baudelaire, Wine and Haschisch

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Date: Sat, Sep 6, 2008 Wine Tasting

As debate rages on as to terroir and the word "natural" applied to wines, I have a counterpoint to my Worst Wine Ever. In the interest of this exposé, I will have to reveal at last that that other undrinkable wine was a California Pinot Noir that tasted like grapefruit and was searingly alcoholic and awful.

The next day, I fobbed the remaining part of the bottle off on Neil for independent corroboration: yes, the forensic Neil study came up positive. I believe the expression was something along the lines of "Holy screaming lord shite alcohol eau de vie Jesus Christ"...

Fast forward to sometime last week (my memory grows vague, as of someone looking back on a burning city). I proudly bring an Alsace-shaped bottle of 2004 Rouge-Gorge to the table. What are we eating? Was that when I made ratatouille? No, probably not. Maybe that was the seared chicken livers. Anyway.

I pour it with excited trepidation into the glass. I mean, I love Eric Nicolas's whites. And that's saying something for someone who has issues with Chenin.

What a tasty nose, a little candied. Bright red in the glass.

And on the palate. Oh, god! What on earth did I do to deserve to have this in my mouth? What a foul, foul thing. Bracken. Rotting moss. Broken sticks of licorice wood. Quinine. Stuff you wipe off a scraped knee with. Bad stuff. Stuff you don't want lingering on your tongue.

I fought my way through a glass.

And thus are set the bookends of the worst wines I have had the misfortune of tangling with. Bookended from California to the Coteaux du Loir.

Available at Lavinia, 15 €. I dare you.

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The latest major marketing fun

Date: Wed, Sep 3, 2008 Wine Tasting

A friend sent me an interesting press release for my perusal.

It seems that the good people at Krug have sat down and said, "Now, how can we get people with more money than the population of Alabama to give lots and lots of cash to us? We already did the Clos d'Ambonnay, and that's selling at a healthy $3,000-per-bottle clip. But that isn't enough, and we don't have enough of it! What can we do?"

Of course, the word lifestyle is an incantation to marketers. Let's see where it leads.

Already having installed "Krug Rooms" - lavish caves of icy crystal and yeasty champagne - in such fine palace hotels as The Dorchester in London and something or other overlooking a Swiss lake, along with a swank skyscraper in Hong Kong - they suddenly decided to amp it up a notch.

For a mere £10,000 ($17,775; 12,275 €; other currencies, please enquire), you may embark upon a splashy, quite fabulous two-day escapade, leaving London's Waterloo station by Eurostar (not included in the package) - to wind up in Paris, the city of light! Behold the gloriously strobing Eiffel Tower by night! The whirling Concorde ferris wheel! Designer stores with things in them by Philippe Starck! Waiters in white gloves handing you petits-fours!

Yes, because you will check into the Plaza-Athénée, and when you wake, you will be served a lavish breakfast alongside a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée. Later, you will do some other stuff, then you will lunch at Le Meurice, with a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée. Following that, you will be whisked off to Reims for more Krug Grande Cuvée and a visit of the vineyards. Then more Krug, maybe a vintage to break it up a little.

Finally, at weekend's end, you will be packed back up into the Eurostar, three sheets to the wind, and sped back home, not quite sure if you still have your keys.

Cost? £10,000. Seeing who buys it? Priceless.

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Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 Wine Tasting

If you will recall, some time ago, Arnaud suggested I keep a "Champagne Tracker" to prove that indeed, despite my plaints to the contrary, I do imbibe quite a non-negligeable amount of the bubble. Perhaps it is time to show you a spreadsheet or graph in all its glory. Maybe I will soon. In any case, the CTracker was abuzz this week, as things to celebrate flooded through and those famous six atmospheres of contained pressure popped open into the ambient world.

NV Jacques Lassaigne "Vignes de Montgueux" - thanks to Alice for the delicious excuse to quaff this en terrasse on a sunny summer afternoon. It had more breadiness to it than the previous times I'd had it, less green apple acidity. A fine glass, and even finer conversation.

NV Dufour Pinot Blanc
- A curious champagne, to my taste. Made from Pinot Blanc, it has a discreet attack, yet is extremely persistent on the palate, with a deliciously pith-bitter finish. Somewhat like a Prosecco in its light body, though with more chalky depth.

NV Duval-Leroy Lady Rose (or is it Rosé?) - This gives what it purports to; a girlish, raspberry-and-strawberry confection; simple, bubbly, weirdly likeable, creamily dosaged: to file in the "guilty pleasure" category. Please tell no one I liked it. Please.

NV Fallet-Prévostat Extra Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs - Once my "little grower that could," this unknown from Avize has disappointed me twice. On this opening, there was a gorgeous, vinous Avize nose: just what makes me weak-kneed. But on the palate, something lurked that was off, unclean, or overevolved. Drat. Drat. Drat.

1998 Jacques Selosse - Why can't something important enough to open Selosse happen every day? This bottle was so good I felt like my mind was going around in circles. I sat there with the glass in my hand and a smile of begoggled childishness on my lips. Full-bodied and vinous, with some honeyed overtones but not as oxidative as the Substance register, it was persistent, enveloping the palate. Not a huge amount of detail, but that's like asking foie gras to be crunchy. That's not its vocation. This wine's vocation was to provoke minor rapture. Which isn't too bad, now, is it?

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Tempest in a tastevin

Date: Mon, Aug 25, 2008 Wine Tasting

Too much noise! Too much clatter! Too much controversy, muckraking and terrorism of varied vinous stripes! My head is ringing.

I've been reading about today's wine world in different media: books, blogs, journals, forums, reviews, leaflets (OK, not leaflets). Words are blitzing about. Yeast. Oak treatment. International style. Volatile acidity. Typicity, for the love of god.

I will take a breath. I will embrace this new, cantankerous, staunchly-opposed world, with its factions and factotums. Some love what they see as talent and opulence in a bottle; others prize unretouched honesty. Some argue that the ways wine is being made now are a travesty and destructive; others that wine has never been better nor more accessible. Everyone's trying to pull back the Wizard's curtain.

No one can deny that the wine commentator faction is drastically split.

I was going to write an article called "In Vino Calamitas," pungent with the irony that this drink that brings us together in broad conviviality should also now be the stomping ground of angry persuasions that tear oenophiles asunder.

But, nah.

I think I'll just read something cool and factual like Jamie Goode's article on phylloxera in The World of Fine Wine.

And have a glass of something I won't reveal. So there.

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White stone

Date: Thu, Aug 14, 2008 Wine Tasting

When we started seeing troglodyte homes lining the side of the street, tucked into the greenery-covered stone hills, we knew we were in the land of plenty that is the region around Chinon. Tuffeau walls and homes abound. There is an amazing clarity to the villages, with their luminous castles and churches and houses.

It was late morning and we had an 11am appointment with Bernard Baudry, a maker of remarkably pure Chinon wines. Each time I taste his wines, I marvel at their simplicity and purity; nothing is out of place.

Baudry himself is of that same kind of perfect simplicity, with a dash of humor. He was there with a group of young blond men and women from Normandy (I picked out the 14 on their license plate: the Calvados region), going through the tasting of his current lineup. He came over and greeted us, let the youngsters consult with his wife and make their purchases, and what ensued was a three-hour marathon of talk, barrel-sample tastings, bottle tastings, and a visit to the cellars up the street.

When we tipsily said goodbye at 2pm - we had stopped spitting at some point along the line - I felt a pang as I closed the car door. Baudry was opening the metal gate for us (visits had officially stopped some time earlier), and I nodded as I thought back to something he'd said a half-hour earlier. He had once been a wine consultant and had traveled around different regions visiting different vineyards. Now, he said, "Chinon is special. It really is all about Rabelaisian delight, shared pleasure and conviviality. You can see that right away by the way different winemakers greet you. In Bourgueil, the wines are similar, the same grapes, similar terroir - but there isn't the same feel. Vouvray is completely different, very businesslike." Then he smiled. "And don't get me started on Montlouis..."

I have to agree about Chinon; there is something in the wine that incites to excess, generosity and gluttonous pleasure. Accordingly, Arnaud and I drove back into the town proper from Cravant-les-Coteaux and found a wine bar at which to eat a late, lush lunch. Damn if that wasn't some of the best charcuterie I've had - washed down with some Pascal & Béatrice Lambert Chinon, of course.

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Degas with bubbles

Date: Thu, Aug 7, 2008 Wine Tasting

Joe had a camera in his hand as we were starting into our second bottle of bubbly at Le Verre Volé two days ago. I said, "Just don't take one of me looking like Degas's Absinthe drinker..." and started to mime that downtrodden visage. Snap. Oh well.

Joe was in town for one day, so we arranged to dine, and fellow wine person (or is that "personality"?) David and I met up with him on a hot night at Le Verre Volé, a great wine bar whose only downfall is having a revolving fan pointed the other direction, behind the bar.

David and I plotted our attack as we strolled around the empty, cozy space looking at the different bottles on their shelves and waiting for Joe to turn up. Drawn, then, both like moths to a particularly sparkling flame, we gravitated toward the Champagne shelf. Tempting stuff, indeed. Larmander-Bernier, Ulysse Colin, Vouette & Sorbée... and oh, hey, Selosse V.O.

Now, I did have the pleasure of drinking a bottle of Substance in the Palais-Royal garden last week, so it was a particularly spoiled and hedonistic move to pounce on the V.O. But, well, you only live once, and I really only said yes because David seemed to want that one so badly...

The patron had gone back into the cellar to see if there were any left, and had (phew!) brought one out and set it on the bar when Joe walked in. David and I turned around, looking like children caught opening the snack cupboard.

But Joe, despite a grave aversion to Chardonnay in its still expressions (why?!), is a Champagne enthusiast, so we were set to go.

The evening rolled on from that first, joyous note, as we reconnoitered, slipped, slurped, and ate terrine, andouillettes and a stunning slice (yes, slice) of black pudding (boudin noir) prepared by the potentially alcoholic but assuredly talented charcutier Joël Meurdesoif.

And I was even strongarmed into what turned out to be a delicious surprise, a 2006 Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin that was light on its feet yet an intense tangle of young fruit and bitter tannin - I loved it.

As the evening wore on, we had finished our food and the Gevrey; there was only one road to head down, and it would not yet be the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir on a bicycle, which would be my route an hour or so later. No, it was back to Champagne.

The NV Vouette & Sorbée Blanc d'Argile Extra-Brut is a thing of beauty. I'd tasted it in horrible conditions last December - under an awning in the freezing cold, caught by rivulets from a driving rain, shoes and feet soaked as I sipped and talked to the affable Bernard Gautherot.

These conditions were better: friends, laughter, a comfortable wine bar, giving the patron a glass, strolling outside to talk (until the moths started to bother me and I ducked back in). And the wine was delicious.

So the snapshot would have been more appropriate if glass and bottle had been empty!

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