Bubbly 2007

(Yes, it’s been a long time. I have much to write about, including two incomplete articles that I started in August. I promise to catch up soon.)

To celebrate the coming year, I went out tonight and purchased a bottle of Paul Goerg Demi-Sec champagne. According to the company website, this is a non-vintage champagne comprising 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir grapes. Upon popping open the bottle, I was greeted by a yeasty, bready aroma — the artifact of the addition of liqueur de tirage to the bottle in the first steps of its production, and a telling sign that this wine was indeed from the Champagne region. The wine emerged a pale gold, pouring into the flute with a generous froth that gave way to a steady stream of very small beads rising from the bottom. After a few minutes, the nose developed to include slight undertones of honey and sweet flowers. The bubble proved lively on the tongue, as they should, complementing the relative sweetness and weight of this demi-sec wine. There was a predominant citrus character interlaced with juicy pear, giving way to a tangy and slightly dry finish. In fact, while I know that French demi-secs still run somewhat dry, I was a little surprised by the tannin-like sensations that lingered on the palate.

This is a modestly priced bottle of champagne, in line with most French non-vintage offerings. As such, it offers a nicely balanced taste profile and presents a good value for the money. Within its price range, it stands up very well for itself. We used it mostly as an apertif, but also in combination with buttered home-made bread to great success. I think it would also work with lighter, somewhat fatty dishes that would benefit from the bright acidity and fruitiness of the wine.

Happy New Year! I’ll save the deep reflections for another day; for now, let’s just look forward to 2007 and face the future with good cheer.

Better less cold

I cracked open a new bottle tonight – a 2004 Peter Stolleis Riesling Kabinett Haardter Herzog Trocken. Riesling Kabinett is obvious enough in the name, and Trocken simply refers to the very dry style in which this wine was made. I don’t know what “Haardter Herzog” is, but it sounds like a name with much other significance.

This Riesling has a light yellow-green hue to it, with notes of nectarine/honeysuckle combined with a mineral character on the nose. Promising enough. My first sip of this wine, however, was overly grassy, lip-twisting and just weirdly tart. That wasn’t what I was expecting, and I was pretty disappointed. I’d heard good things about this stuff from the wine shop that sold it to me, and I was about to give up so easily; after all, German wines are hard to find here, and I’d never seen this one anywhere else. I set my glass aside for a few minutes, then tenatively took a second sip.

…Aah, much better. At a somewhat milder temperature, the tartness mellows to a much more pleasant level and balances out a playful palate of sweet apples and grapefruit, all the while presenting a touch of the expected mineral flavor. The finish is long, tart and mildly spicy, inviting another sip.

Earlier today, I surprised myself by succeeding at making braised barbeque ribs with my own two hands. The sweet and tangy meat was just falling off the bones, and I think this wine would have been a perfect complement to the meal. As nice as that would have been, I’m actually happy to have experienced it alone. Come to think of it, I’ve got a few of those ribs sitting in the fridge….

Barboursville Blanc

In an effort to break my “blogger’s block” and get back on track, I cracked open a bottle of 2004 Barboursville Sauvignon Blanc. Barboursville is a small town near Charlottesville, in an area steeped with Revolution-era history and tradition. Thomas Jefferson’s mark is everywhere in the area, including (to some extent) the viticulture. As it turns out, Jefferson had visions of establishing European-style vinifera vineyards around his Monticello home and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Things might have worked out if phylloxera hadn’t wiped out the imported plants like it did in Europe. Barboursville Vineyards are keeping the dream alive by growing vinifera stock and turning the fruit into classic varietal wines.

This particular example introduces itself as a pale yellow wine in the glass, with a very light fragrance of grapefruit and minerals. It’s predominantly tart/tangy in the mouth and presents flavors of fruit, but the predominant character after a couple of minutes is herbal. There is light but lengthy herbal finish. I don’t normally drink sauvignon blanc, but from what I recall, this is a good version of that varietal. It has a rather subtle stage presence and would probably be best served with lighter fare, such as seafood or lightly seasoned poultry. The acidity of this wine would probably work well to cut rich foods, but not ones with very strong flavors. The finish might be unsettling after a while, and in some cases I noticed that it took on a surprisingly strong herbal trait, but overall this would be a good wine to pair with dinner. I found it best served cool, but not immediately out of the refrigerator. The taste goes decidedly more herbal — almost grassy — when the wine becomes too warm.

A Mild Gewurz

Alsace is known for a few prime varietals. Riseling is one of them, but another is represented in the bottle I opened tonight: a 2004 Willm Gewurztraminer. The first thing I noticed was its color; it’s definitely yellow and still rather pale, but somewhat richer in presentation than a Riesling from the same area. The nose is sweet, yet crisp, sort of like a honeyed nectarine mixed with Asian pear. Gewurztraminer is typically known for a somewhat stronger aroma, often with a “cat pee” quality to it; if it’s here, it’s very faint. This is a lively wine on the tongue, tingly and playful with its crisp character. I’m reminded of Fuji apples, a bit of tart plum, and perhaps a hint of citrus in the tangy finish. Speaking of finish, this wine displays some of the traditional Gewurz spiciness. My tongue was treated from a gentle tickling at first glance to a slow, subtle rasp after swallowing, like cinnamon gum without the heat. The spice fades away to a lingering sense of fruitiness after a moment, as if I had just eaten a slice of apple.

Overall, this is a competent wine that is unsurprising in its high quality. I can see pairing this one with either rich sauces or mildly spicy foods, contrasting or supplementing the nature of the dish. Drunk by itself, I find myself taking small sips to experience the transition from tang to spice to fruit over and over again. The truth is, however, that this wine is not what I would consider a perfect example of Alsatian Gewurztraminer. The flavor feels dilute to me, and I sense a little too much alcohol-related heat that detracts from the experience. Still, it’s quite pleasant and probably good enough to try again, although I’m curious to see what other wineries in the region have to offer with this tantalizing varietal.

A Nouveau Track

New year, new varietal. I love Rieslings, in case you haven’t noticed, but there are so many other great wines out there. Let’s try a new one, shall we?

There’s more to wines than just the taste. I was reminded of this as I proceeded to open tonight’s 2005 Jean Lafitte Beaujolais Nouveau, using my waiter’s corkscrew to slive and remove the foil wrapped around the bottle neck. The firm, elastic resistance as I wound the corkscrew into the freshly cut cork, the lively pop as it came out with little fuss and no crumbling — all characteristic of a freshly bottle vintage, and all part of the tasting ritual.

Poured into a glass, this wine takes on a deep plum color and a nose reminiscent of ripe red berries and (oddly enough) grape juice. There’s an unusual tanginess to this wine, a little twist on the tongue enhanced by moderate tannins. It’s fruity and bright, almost juicy, although I can’t really ascribe a specific flavor. The astringency and tart notes linger into the moderate finish.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made from Gamay grapes and intended to be bottled just months after the harvest. It is meant for immediate drinking, not aging; right-now enjoyment, not necessarily careful tasting and aging. For this purpose, and for the $10 price, this wine serves its purpose admirably. It went very well (and very quickly!) with turkey at our Christmas dinner, and it’s just as fun by itself tonight. Good times.

Like Old Times

I was at a local grocery store last night when I found their extremely small German wine selection. It was relatively easy to find good German Rieslings in Ithaca, but the pickings are extremely slim down here; nevertheless, I took a chance and brought home a bottle of Dr. Loosen 2004 Riesling. Dr. Loosen owns a handful of vineyards in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany, known for its slaty soil and bright, lively wines.

This wine cost me about $14. I raised my eyebrows when I discovered that the bottle has no cork, relying instead on a metal screw-on cap! Not a good way to start a wine tasting, I thought to myself, as it poured into my glass and showed its pale yellow, slightly greenish color. My doubts vanished as soon as I lifted the glass to my nose. I was greeted with a flinty, floral scent with predominantly rosy notes. Ah, the scent of a good German Riesling — something I hadn’t experienced in years, yet instantly familiar like a good friend. The nostalgia trip continued when my tongue was greeted with a playful effervescence, proving to be slightly sweet and of medium-light weight in the mouth. There is a subtle undertone to the overall flavor of this wine, which reminds me mostly of bright grapefruit and plum. The acidity makes itself known in the bubbly texture and develops into a tart, tangy finish. Despite its sweetness, this Riesling actually has a nicely crisp and dry balance to it that invites another sip.

I did some research on this wine after tasting it. While Dr. Loosen does make several estate wines, it turns out that this particular wine is a blend, made of fruit purchased from vineyards located throughout Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. $14 is a lot of money to spend on a blend, but the money was well spent; this is a great casual wine, easily paired with food and priced well enough to enjoy in quantity with friends. It’s comparably priced to the Wiemer Riesling but distinctly and refreshingly German in character. Dipping into this wine immediately brought to mind my senior year at Cornell, the Introduction to Wines class that sparked my interest, lazy afternoons spent browing through Northside Wine & Spirits, rare warm spring days spent along the Finger Lakes wineries, all as if they happened last week and not nearly seven years ago. Not bad for a blend, and not bad for $14.

Of course, this is not a perfect German Riesling. I would really like to have more mineral character, and I feel like the fruit character is a bit too simple and uncomplicated. But it had most of what it needed — the invisible bubbles, the flinty nose, the crisp acidity — and that was enough to make me a very happy birthday boy. I’ve got to find a wine shop around here that takes German vintages more seriously.

The Wine Next Door

Tonight’s wine: Dr vytorin generic. Konstantin Frank 2004 Johannisburg Riesling, Semi-Dry. For those keeping track, I tasted Frank’s dry version of this varietal a couple of weeks ago. This wine is, like many Rieslings, a pale yellow color in the glass. The nose is predominantly fruity and floral, reminding me of lush canned peaches with just a dash of a brighter, crisper taste, perhaps a sweet citrus, with a backdrop of honeysuckle. It’s rather easy to take large sips of this wine, which rolls around the tongue with a weight and texture that again reminds me of canned fruit. There are bursts of bright, sweet fruit on the palate; I’m reminded of the tongue-tingling crispness of an Asian pear and the nectar of ripe peaches. The finish is short-lived, faintly sweet but also floral, perfume-like, and reminiscent of grapefruit. There is a pleasant level of acidity throughout.

This is a nice, fruity wine, good for lightly spicy food or on its own (my personal favorite “pairing”). It’s not very complex, and there’s no discernable mineral character to it. But its fruitiness is gentle, rather than cloying, its sweetness balanced by the traditional tang of a good Riesling. It presents itself pleasantly and makes a graceful exit from the palate, doing so without pretense or any discernable fault. Of the two Frank Rieslings, this one is certainly better.

Delicate

The majority of Emerson’s umbilical cord fell out last night, and the rest of it came out earlier today Full Report. She now has a little semi-inside-out navel, and I expect it to be fully “normal” in a few more days. I came home more than once last week to what I swore was a vastly larger baby; I’m sure she’s growing, but I’m a bit surprised to see just how quickly (yet subtly) it’s happening. She’s still so delicate, so helpless; of course, her lungs are anything but when she’s upset.

Tonight’s wine: 2003 Trimbach Riesling. Have you noticed a preponderance of Rieslings in these reviews? I have. Anyway, this wine is from the Alsace region of France, which is located along the northeast border (butting up against Germany, perhaps my favorite producer of Rieslings). Riesling makes up a fair portion of Alsace’s varietal output, although one can also find a good Gewurztraminer or Sylvaner. The Trimbach I brought out tonight is a plain old AOC varietal, sort of the base-level wine available from the region. Nevertheless, even the basic can fetch a decent price over here; this bottle sold for about $16.

This wine is a light-to-medium yellow in the glass, with a faint grapefruit aroma when poured cold that shifts gently to notes of other ripe, nectary citrus fruits and hints of cantaloupe as the temperature warms by a few degrees. There’s also a surprising bit of alcohol in the nose, although it is not a big detractor. A mouthful of this wine is crisp without being overly tart. I’m reminded again of juicy citrus, perhaps mostly lime, mixed with cantaloupe. There’s also a classic Riesling mineral character that lingers into the slightly dry, slighty sweet finish. The finish itself is pleasant and segues quite nicely to another tip of the glass.

I really like this wine, although it has very little in common with Finger Lakes varietals of the same name. There’s something about the Alsatian terroir that imparts this refreshing, crisp taste to the wine, something elegant and delicate. Terry Thiese spoke of the “stones” that are featured in German Rieslings, and the same character is found here. What is so tantalizing is the balance between the mineral and the fruit, two seemingly incongruous notes that work together playfully on the tongue. I would pair this wine with any manner of light food, but I would prefer (as I do with most good wines) just to enjoy it alone.

One last comment: Some Grand Cru Rieslings from Alsace actually improve with age. I don’t know whether the same applies to this AOC wine, but it tasted just fine “fresh.”

Stealthily Tart

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve become accustomed to Emerson’s cries. For the first couple of days, I must admit that the sound of her voice would aggravate me after a few minutes. I put my best face forward, of course, since most of her cries came while we were becoming acquainted with breastfeeding and its challenges. It was frustrating enough to know that an ostensibly natural process could be so difficult, never mind the fact that a fussy baby only compounded the challenge. Now that Emmy’s been with us for 10 days, the crying no longer makes me nervous. In fact, I wouldn’t call it comforting, but I now respond with quiet patience and not desperation. After checking the diaper, making sure she’s been fed recently, and keeping her warm, I’m confident enough to just provide comfort and wait for the wailing to subside.

Tonight, during an especially long crying session, I decided it was time to get back to my wines. Tonight’s selection: Dr. Konstantin Frank 2004 Dry Riesling. I bought this wine for Thanksgiving (yeah, yeah, trying to get rid of wine collection…sue me) but never got around to opening it. Frank is widely credited for bringing vinifera stock to New York from Europe and for creating a truly world-class wine from the Finger Lakes. This wine is a pale yellow color in the glass and has a nose reminiscent of mandarin orange, with perhaps a touch of mineral, though not as much as I remember from true German Rieslings. There’s also a bit of sliced apple, the kind you might find in a pie. When rolled around the tongue, this wine is somewhat thin with a gentle tartness. There are flavors of citrus and apple, with just a bit of effervescence and mineral character to balance out the fruit. The finish is intriguing, a long-lasting evolution from mineral fruit to an long-lasting and subtle tartness that withstands several lip-smacks. That part was quite entertaining and unique; I haven’t had something with quite this finish.

I’m not sure what to make of this wine. It’s certainly worth the money, and I appreciate its flavor subtleties. There’s a lot to like, but to me, this wine only really stands out in the finish; everything else is just solid, quite good but not mind-bending great. Why, then, has this wine earned so many accolades? Perhaps because it’s so competent at everything, a notable feat for any wine. I’ll take that, but I wouldn’t say this is any better than the outstanding Wiemer I had a few weeks ago. They’re different tastes, suited for different tables. I would pair this wine with something very light. I feel that this wine is rather delicate in nature — take that for what it is, whether you find that attractive or annoying — and stronger cuisine might overpower the little details that make this wine notable.

Oh, about Thanksgiving: We had a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a 1998 Alain Jaume. I did not have the time to give this wine a proper tasting, but it was a good pairing with the turkey. A nice red fruity nose, with a very rounded tannin that rounded out the tobacco- and plum-laced body. It would have been nice to spend a few quiet moments with a glass of this wine, but that was not to be.

A So-So Merlot

Tonight’s wine is a Bogle merlot, 2001 vintage. This is another “value” wine; I think my parents brought it over one weekend.

This wine is a dark red-purple color in the glass. The nose is predominantly oaky with some earthy undertones, though it only develops after a bit of swirling. A sip of this wine immediately presents a healthy mouthful of tannins, paired with a strange and somewhat unpleasant alkaline tang. In fact, that mouth-screwing flavor seems to take over any other character to this wine; it’s very hard to discern much else. After a lot of tasting, I detected a bit of fruitiness; perhaps a bit of tart plum, with a vanilla/oaky finish. I know that vanilla is generally how one characterizes the flavor imparted by oak barrels during the aging process, but some wines seem to exaggerate this trait; this is one of them, I think.

If there wasn’t so much tannin in this wine, it would be a decent table offering for everyday use. As it is, though, I’m not impressed. It looks like this wine is available for $10 or so; it’s probably worth that price, but not much more.

Note: A second glass was more eager to present its fruity notes. There’s definitely some plum in there, which is actually quite good; however, it takes quite a while for the fruitiness to develop, by which time the alkaline nature comes on strong. Still not ecstatic about this wine.