Friday, March 20, 2009

Chateau Palmer: '82 & '83 in Louisville

For 25 years, the comparison/contrast of these back-to-back great vintages has been fascinating and the opportunity to taste them side by side at prime maturity in Louisville was irresistable. The very gracious staff at L and N Wine Bar provided great glassware and a super environment for the study. James Sichel of Chateau Palmer and I flew in from Cleveland where we tasted the same two vintages (and others) the previous evening at Paul Minillo's Baricelli Inn.
(All bottles direct from the Sichel cellars in Margaux).

In both cities about 25% of the tasters favored the '82, as would be expected by followers of the Margaux appellation. One might generalize that 1982 is a benchmark vintage but in Margaux in particular, the ’83 is favored, especially in the United Kingdom. In the past the comparison was one of a full-blown or over-the-top ’82 versus a classic, right-down-the-middle ’83. The Louisville event showed an ’82 that is beginning a graceful descent toward senility while the ’83 is currently brilliant and hanging quite well. Noted Palmer lover Tom Black of Nashville attended the Louisville tasting and it would be instructive to read his take on the ’82 & ‘83’s at this stage of development for a broader perspective.

If I had to say it, the 1983 Palmer still showed a solid, deep, deep garnet-nearly black core visually with that telltale whiff of saddle leather suggesting a quarter century of development. On the palate, a slightly gravelly entry gave way to reassuring plum and dark fruit with a light magnolia air evident…

As stocks dwindle and the opportunity to compare fades, I’ll always remember this opportunity to experience these brilliant examples once more… especially in the company of new and old friends.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2008 Double-Take

It’s the time of year when I start seeing bottles in my local wine store that already have the 2008 vintage right there on the label. My brain always requests a double take from my eyes when I see it, because it just seems too early in the year for that. After all, weren’t we just harvesting 2008 vintage grapes back in October? How can there be wine in the bottle already? Didn't E.F. Hutton say "We will sell no wine before its time?" Sorry. Not E.F. Hutton, it was W.C. Fields who said that.

So how can grapes picked just a few months ago already be all dressed up and ready to make their debut?

First, remember that in the southern hemisphere; places like Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand … vintners harvest their grapes about 6 months before we do in the northern half of the globe. So 2008s aren’t all that rare from the southern hemisphere by now ... even a few red wines are starting to hit the shelves.

From North America and Europe, it’s time to start seeking out the 2008 rosés and aromatic white wines like Viognier, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio- while we wait a few more months for the earliest release reds to be ready for market.

These aromatic white and rosé wines are best enjoyed when their flavors are young, fresh and vibrant... just as they are right now. So grab some of these early-drinking 2008 vintage wines now, fire up the grill, and start getting ready for those warm spring and summer nights on the patio.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cincinnati Auction indicates recovering economy?

Saturday night I returned as auctioneer at the Cincinnati Internation Wine Festival after a 16 year hiatus. I quipped at the beginning of the auction that my invitation was based on needing someone from out of town as a scapegoat in case things went south during a tough economy...indeed, comercial auctions were quite weak in the in the normally robust fourth quarter (Wall Street bonus) season with the highest unsold lot numbers we've seen in years.

Happily, four up-days on Wall Street and two dozen very worthy charities brought the brown shoes out of hibernation with full wallets and high spirits! Just goes to show: all you need is two or more people who want the same lot and the charity coffers get a much-needed cash infusion...

My deepest thanks to all the bidders and the tremendously hard-working volunteers and board!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Best Red Values Today: North Coast (California) Merlot

On those rare occasions when not drinking brilliantly aged clarets, I can’t help but search for wines within my budget. Today, real fun is found in Merlot from Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma. Following the bashing from the Pinot Movie, it was hard to find the top-rate Merlots in restaurant by-the-glass offerings as restaurant managers shied away from the controversy.

This would be a good point to differentiate between inexpensive “banquet wine” Merlot and the artisan stuff. Yesterday I tasted Souverain’s 2006 Sonoma bottling with a number of restaurateurs and all agreed it to have fantastic depth and finish… I don’t think you’ll often find this level of “fit & finish” under twenty dollars today (in a store), but the range of good 2006 Northern Californian Merlots that are hand-made and age-worthy is on the par of any of the world’s great varietals (read Cab & Syrah/Shiraz) and has a strong price advantage in many cases. It's the classic economic formula of supply & demand...take advantage of it while you can.
Big Charity Wine Tastings: A Five-Point Strategy

There are seemingly thousands of charity wine events around the country every year. I know this because I seem to be invited to pour our winery’s new releases at just about all of them. And while I do enjoy offering our wines and hearing everyone’s thoughts on the flavors and style of winemaking, I am often struck at just how unprepared the attendees are for an evening of tasting that’s both meaningful and fun.

So here’s a strategic approach if you’re planning on attending a charity wine tasting in your area:

1. Let the initial crowd blow by you while you take 3 minutes to actually look at the tasting area map. You’ll know where your targeted tasting spots are, and will be rewarded later for having a solid plan in place. If you don’t know anything about wines yet and this is your first tasting, skip this step, since you don’t know what you’re looking for anyway.

2. Start with lighter white wines and move to bigger reds during the tasting. You may have to double back through the room … no big deal.

3. Sometimes folks tasting with me think the protocol is to rinse their glass with water between every wine. STOP. It’s really only necessary when switching between red and white wines or going from a very thick, aromatic, viscous wine (like an Oloroso Sherry) to a lighter wine. Remember, the dump bucket at each table is your friend … empty your glass well between tastings … and no, we aren’t offended if you don’t finish what we just poured for you.

4. Take a break and eat something from the tasty spread most charity wine events put out. Nothing is more annoying or dangerous than someone who comes to a tasting, eats nothing, pours out nothing, drinks everything, and then comes to my table to tell me their fascinating tale of how they once met Yul Brynner aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean and all he did was play the violin and apply sunscreen … I’ve got wine to pour my friend, and if I think you’ve had too much, you’re not getting a taste at my table.

5. Carry one of those spiffy digital recording devices; even my cell phone has one built in. I’ve found it’s much easier to speak my thoughts about a wine than it is to write them down in a large tasting environment. Geeky? Perhaps, but it works for me and later I can remember the wines that I really enjoyed without carrying around a notepad and pencil.

’06 Mouton-Rothschild at Miami Beach

How can you go wrong with this combination at winter’s end? I attended the worldwide unveiling of the 2006 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at Miami Beach with Baronne Philippine de Rothschild and a group of passionate fellow bottle-kissers. For technical director Philippe Dhalluin, this is the first year where his refined techniques joined a great vintage to illustrate what this property can do in the 21st century. There is consensus in the trade that Dhalluin’s ’06 is finer than 2000, 2003 and even 2005 Mouton, as well as being superior to its’06 peers. It is early yet to see its place among the historic great vintages of 1945, ’59 and ’86. I suggest 2016 will be the year to see where this wine will rank. I’ve followed the ’06 from barrel tastings at the chateau in the spring of ’07 through bottling and shipment this year and feel (considering Dhalluin’s skill and the Baronne’s commitment coupled with the natural conditions of the vintage) it reasonable to suggest it to be not just one of the greatest Mouton’s of the century, but one of the greatest in history. How fun to have this marvel occur in our lives’ time. Patience…