Château Lascombes 2009

Château Lascombes
Château Lascombes

Here’s something to maybe try with a younger Grand Cru Bordeaux:  double-decant it* and then re-cork the bottle, and leave it a couple of days before drinking it.  Try this at your own risk, but I found that it worked beautifully for a bottle of Chateau Lascombes 2009, which is a 2nd Growth (from the 1855 Classification).   Frankly I’d not do it with a First Growth, at the prices you’d pay for a bottle.  You’d be kinda crazy to open a young First Growth, no matter what you do it with:  its best drinking is likely decades from its vintage date.

Chateau Lascombes is in the commune of Margaux, and at one point was co-owned by the late Alexis Lichine, who wrote one of my favorite wine books “Guide the the Wines and Vineyards of France” (which he actually co-authored with a current colleague of mine, I recently discovered).   These days it is owned by a French insurance group, and Michel Rolland is a consulting oenologist.

With that in mind it is not surprising that this wine is quite plush with lots of fat fruit.  The wine is dense and inky in appearance, with dark fruit and floral notes on the nose.  The palate is stewed red plums, blackcurrant pastilles, licorice, crushed rose petals, cocoa, and peppermint, a little graphite minerality.  Easy tannins, soft and ripe (albeit, I am tasting after being opened a few days).  The wine has a high percentage of Merlot for a Medoc wine:  48% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot.  The wine costs about $125 retail in New York City.

*Double-decanting can be done my pouring the wine vigorously from the bottle into a clean decanter (or water jug), and then pouring back into the original decanter.  The aeration opens up the wine.  Sommeliers often do this to cheat the wine along a little to make it more enjoyable for their customers.

Ornellaia 2009

photo(33)Many of the cellar-worthy 2009 red wines from France and Italy I’ve been trying recently continue to evolve nicely – they have shown very well in their youth but still have plenty of aging potential.  I’ve been lucky to have had a chance to try Ornellaia 2009 a few times now – once when it was released early last year, and then a couple of times last week.

Ornellaia is the flagship wine of one of the great Tuscan estates, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, owned by the Antinori family.  The vineyard is located in Bolgheri, on the coastal part of Tuscany. While no official label designation exists, it is one of the so-called “Super Tuscan” wines that were created out of a desire by ambitious winemakers starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s to create wines using non-native grapes, and largely based on the Bordeaux varietals and blending model.  Ornellaia (the first vintage was 1985) is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, is considered a Tuscan “First Growth”, along with the likes of original mavericks Sassicaia and Tignanello (Masseto, from 100% Merlot, is the super-premium offering from the Ornellaia estate).

Ornellaia 2009 bursts from the glass with dark fruits and candied violets on the nose, and on the palate is a melange of dark cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant, raspberry jam, chocolate, graphite, and eucalyptus.  The wine is well structured, with tannins that are ripe and approachable, but which will last in this wine for many years to come, when they’ll break down to add more complexity.  I hope to revisit this wine several times in years to come.   About $190 – $200 in NYC wine shops.

Cockburn’s 1994 Vintage Port

photo(31)There’s still a bit of a chill in the air, so we thought it would be a good evening for a nice glass of vintage port.  Vintage port is a port where all the grapes are from a single year, much like vintage Champagne (and most still wines): if the port house decides that the wine is outstanding, usually after tasting it 2 years after the harvest, it will declare it a vintage port.

Cockburn’s 1994 Vintage Port has matured very nicely at almost 20 years old.  The glass I had was a little cloudy from sediment, and the wine had turned a brownish-purple, with a faded rim.  On the nose there were notes chocolate, raisins, and caramel.  On the palate the flavors were prunes, cocoa, coffee, licorice, candied almonds, and some savory notes of roasted root vegetables.  The wine was well-balanced (the 20% alcohol did not feel too hot), and had a very long finish.  Very nice indeed.

The wine costs around $80 a bottle if you can still find it.  Oh, and, by the way, it is pronounced “Coburn’s” …

La Rioja Alta “904″ Rioja gran reserva 2001

photo(28)La Rioja Alta is an old-school Rioja winery that has mostly eschewed making more modern types of Rioja, and certainly the classic brands across its line – including Vina Ardanza, “890″, and “904″, hold up as examples of traditional Rioja winemaking at its best.   I’m definitely a traditionalist when it comes to Rioja.

I recently tried the just-released 2001 vintage of La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja gran reserva, a blend of Tempranillo and Graciano.   La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja gran reserva 2001 is a sensory experience that evolves beautifully in the the glass, and which whisks me off to little towns in Spain that I’ve wandered through over the years: the smell of wood polish and dried flowers and incense in an old church or cathedral.  Sweet new leather filling the air whilst walking past the the local tannery.  The melange of spice aromas from an open air market stall.  Lavendar.  Cedar.  Pine. Toasted almonds. Black cherries. Dried fruits. Dark chocolate. Coconut (yes, that reminded me of suntan lotion on the beach!). Bitter orange rind …

I’m pretty crazy about 2001 Riojas at the moment, it was a fantastic vintage that has produced many amazing wines – the aforementioned Vina Ardanza reserva, this “904″, the CVNE Imperial gran reserva, and Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina gran reserva to name a few (I’m still waiting to try Vina Tondonia 2001), that are drinking beautifully now, and should for many years to come.. La Rioja Alta “904″ gran reserva costs about $50 in NYC wine stores.  There should be plenty out there, but get it while you can.  I’m planning on squirreling a few bottles away for a while.

Breca 2010

breca2010So – old vines!  Tonight’s wine is from Calatayud in Zaragoza in Northeastern Spain, made entire from very old Garnacha Tinta grapes (Garnacha is Grenache, of course).   More than 100 years old in fact, much of it planted in slate-y soils at the end of the nineteenth century.  In our last blog post we mentioned how old vines are much sought after by wine makers (and consumers), and we’ll expand upon the reasons why here.

There are many reasons to like wines made from old vines. Old vines are quite tired, and produce less grapes.  It is important to know that, for wine, a prolific vine is not really a good vine.  The less fruit a vine produces, and the harder it has to work (often in poor soil) ,generally the better the resulting wine will be: more of the energy of the vine will go into those few bunches of grapes rather than producing an abundant supply of grapes.   Old vines also have their roots much deeper into the soil than younger vines. which means they are getting their nutrients, including water, from deep into the earth, and are not reliant on rain to ensure their growth.  If a vine has its roots close to the surface and it rains close to harvest the grapes will be too swollen with water, resulting in a dilute wine.

Breca 2010, from Bodegas Breca, is extremely dark in its flavor profile, perhaps the darkest of any Garnacha I’ve had in recent memory.  On the nose it has blackberry and pencil shavings, with bitter dark licorice (Bassett’s is my personal reference), blackcurrant cordial, my mum’s Christmas pudding, prunes, and graphite on the palate.  The wine also has a good acidity, which is important in a wine with such a dark flavor profile – the grapes are from a high altitude, 3000 feet above sea level, which helps maintain good acid levels in the grapes.  I talk about how this happens in more detail in my private wine classes.  The wine is quite high in alcohol at 15.5% but it doesn’t feel hot. Breca 2010 costs about $18 in NYC wine stores.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2011

photo(24)The Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France had a long-held reputation for producing bulk wines of inferior quality, much of it being part of the so-called “wine lake” that was subsidized by the EU government, and which would end up being distilled to produce industrial alcohol..   As with many old wine-growing regions, new technology, renewed interest from younger members of winemaking families, as well as outside investment, has contributed to a considerable leap in quality over the past decade or so.  Of particular interest to many outsiders were the old vines.   While jaded winegrowers were ripping up vines to get government grants (I guess the theory was it was better to pay them to get rid of the vines, rather than continuously subsidizing wine no-one wants), established winemakers from France and abroad (frequently Australian) were clamoring for access to these precious old plantings.  I’ll not get side-tracked too much, and we’ll revisit the concept of old vines in a future post …

On a quiet Sunday night at home reacquainting myself with one of my guitars, I fancied something that was easy drinking.  Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2011, which is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, is made by Michel Chapoutier, better-known for his wines from the Northern Rhone, and also Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but who has also quite recently invested in Languedoc-Roussillon.  The wine has lots of dark fruit, pain grillé (“grilled bread”, or toast: this is a common tasting note for Syrah-based wine) and toasted sesame oil on the nose, with blackberry, elderberry, black cherry, strawberry jam, soy, graphite and cola on the palate.  Very easy tannins.

To me the wine tastes quite like a young Chateauneuf-du-Pape and drinks really well right out of the bottle, but also opens up nicely in the glass.  Really good value at around $14 in wine stores in  NYC.

Champagne Canard-Duchêne Cuvée Léonie Brut

photo(21)This week’s degustation at Vin Sur Vingt was a non-vintage Champagne from Canard-Duchêne.   The Champagne house was established in the late 18th Century when a cooper (Canard) married the daughter of a wine-maker (Duchêne), and it initially found favor in the royal courts of Europe, including the champagne-loving Tsars.  After an acquisition in the 1990s which saw much of its wine being blended into Veuve Cliquot, it became a supermarket Champagne in France.   An investment from Champagne Thiénot a few years ago put the house back on track in terms of quality, and it now has ambitious plans for the US market.

Champagne Canard-Duchêne Cuvée Léonie Brut is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 25% each of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  It has nice fresh berry and some floral notes on the nose, with lemon zest and ripe raspberries on the palate.  It is quite concentrated, and has good acidity and minerality.  A nice easy drinking Champagne, this particular wine is going to be marketed for restaurants and bars only, Vin Sur Vingt is the first place in NYC to be serving it by the glass.

New York Wine Expo

nyexpotastingThis past Saturday we spent a few hours walking around the New York Wine Expo.  The show comprised mostly wines from Italy, Greece and Portugal, as well as some domestic and South American wines.  We have some photographs of the event on Facebook.

We really enjoyed our tasting and chat with Robert Bower from the Fladgate Partnership, who had some interesting stories about the processes his company goes through to ensure quality in their Port, including a simulated foot-treading machine.  He also explained how an end to the government-controlled sourcing of alcohol for Port meant they can better control the attributes of the ethanol they add to the wine (very quick wine lesson:  Port is made by adding neutral alcohol to not-fully-termented grape must, which kills the yeast and leaves some grape sugar behind.  I talk about fortified wines, including Port, in one of my wine classes), so it feels less “hot”.  In addition to Taylor Fladgate, we tried Fonseca and Croft, and we also tried Graham’s and Cockburn Port at a different table.

New York Wine Guy is pleased to report that there were several New York State wine producers present, our favorite we tried being Dr. Konstantin Frank from the Finger Lakes. We tasted though a number of their white wines, including a Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, a couple of elegant Rieslings, and a Rkatsiteli, with nice floral and stone-fruit notes (first time to try this varietal), as well as a tasty Cabernet Franc.  We encourage our readers to explore NY wines – buying locally, and supporting family-owned businesses. There is some very good wine out there, whether from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, or elsewhere in New York.

Marion Valpolicella Superiore 2008

marionvalpolicellaAppassimento is the process of drying grapes to concentrate their flavors which is used in many parts of Italy, but probably most famously in the Veneto region, in Northeastern Italy, where is it used for the (dry) Amarone and (sweet) Recioto styles of Valpolicella.  The grapes are harvested and then dried in large well-ventilated sheds, either on straw mats or hanging on hooks from the rafters.  The semi-dried grapes – not yet quite raisins – have concentrated darker flavors and a high sugar content.  When they are pressed, the juice has a higher ratio of sugar to liquid, and the potential to have higher alcohol  content than most wine, and/or residual sugar.

Azienda Agricola Marion Valpolicella Superiore DOC 2008 is one of several dry Valpolicellas (that are not Amarone of Recioto) that use semi-dried grapes, which were harvested in mid-September.  The rest of the grapes  harvested very late, in  early October, when they are super-ripe.  Each selection of grapes are fermented and aged separately in barriques for 30 months, then blended before bottling.   It is a blend of mostly Corvina Grossa, with some Corvina gentile, Rondinella, with a little Teroldego and other varieties making up the rest of the blend.

This is a very rich wine with powerful aromas and flavors of cherries, chocolate, vanilla and some sweet spice notes.  The wine is full-bodied with soft tannins, for easy drinking.  I enjoy it with hard cheeses and braised meat dishes.  I’ve also tried their Cabernet, which is excellent:  it also applies the technique of using both semi-dried and super-ripe grapes, but applying them to a French or “international” varietal.

Viña Echeverría Carmenère Reserva 2010

photo(18)Now considered the signature grape in Chile, much as Malbec is the signature grape in neighboring Argentina, Carmenère had for much of its history in the region being thought of as Merlot.  It was only in relatively recent years that ampelographers noticed the leaves were not quite like true Merlot, and compared them to old botanical prints. It turned out that the long-thought-lost Bordeaux varietal Carmenère had been thriving all along in in the New World, since Bordeaux wine makers fled to South America in the late nineteenth century with vine as the phylloxera louse destroyed their vineyards back home (real Merlot is also grown in the region along with many other varietals).

The Viña Echeverría Carmenère Reserva 2010 has notes of vanilla, dark fruits, and smoke on the nose, which plays out on the palate with blackcurrants, blackberry and strawberry jams, and some charred green bell pepper, which I find quite typical (bell pepper is also a typical tasting note in Cabernet Franc).   This wine is from a single vineyard in the Curicó Valley, grown on original French rootstock.

You’ll often see Cabernet/Carmenère blends, but it is good to try it as a single varietal if you can to get to know its character.  $8.50 a glass at Terroir, it is also on their happy hour list at time of writing for $7.