Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wine With Bill, VolumeTwo

It helps to keep a wine blog fed with good material when you have some good pals who share your interests and who don’t shy away from opening two (or four or five) bottles at a session. One of my most steadfast tasting partners in that context is my comrade Bill. When first I chronicled one of our tastings, my write-up of the evening spawned some rather prickly feedback, much of it off-line, from several quarters. This time around, I’ll see if I can stay out of trouble. In any event, here are some quick tasting notes from our most recent dinner and tasting venture.

Viré-Clessé “Quintaine,” Domaine Emilian Gillet (Jean Thevenet) 2002
Old school juice. Firm, tightly wired, green and giving a little wood tannin grip. Thevenet’s Viré-Clessé shows loads of acidity and wears its oak well, more in the context of its texture than its flavor and aroma. Though Thevenet apparently pushes for extreme ripeness levels and picks very late in the season, this ’02 hints at the expected outcome of such an approach only in its intense vinosity. It’s still showing young and fresh, with minerality, lemon rind, green apple and a savory vegetal tone on the palate. This is drinking well now but should continue to develop interest in the bottle for at least another five years. I’ve drunk way more than my share of Viré-Clessé over the years. Nearly all of it, though, has been from Domaine André Bonhomme, whose wines are an elegant and pure expression of peaches and cream. The Gillet is in stark but welcome contrast. Terry Hughes at Mondosapore makes some interesting comments about the intrinsic worth and comparative value of Thevenet’s Macon Blancs.

$Mid 20’s. 13.5%. Natural cork closure. Importer: Martine’s Wines, Novato, CA.

Savennières “Cuvée Spéciale,” Château d’Epiré 2005
I’ve enjoyed many a Savennières from d’Epiré in the past and have always thought of them as falling soundly in the strong second tier of Angevin Chenin Blanc producers. Their 2005 came as a bit of a disappointment for me, I regret to say. The problem, I think, was one of runaway ripeness. The wine’s been finished to complete dryness and clocks in at 14% (not atypical). But it finishes with more than a little heat. There are some whiffs of typicity – quince, green gage and lavender. But both fruit and minerality seem a bit lacking. The wine may just need some time to integrate but, based on its awkwardness now, I’d proceed with caution before buying long.

$20. 14%. Natural cork closure. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.

Pauillac, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1990
It’s not everyday that I get to taste a first growth Bordeaux. Lord knows I can’t afford to buy any. So it was with a little hiccup of excitement that I spied the bottle of ’90 Mouton among Bill’s possibilities for the evening. As it would turn out, the excitement was unwarranted. Though I suspect the bottle may not have been handled with kid gloves at every step of its journey, it was, no matter how you slice it, a dog – a dirty dog. Apparently the big critics agree to disagree, pointing out, if nothing else, a strong tendency toward bottle variation and questionable winemaking hygiene at Mouton in 1990. Though the wine showed some interesting traits in an academic sense and retained some hints of red currant typicity, my overwhelming sense was of a faulty, tired wine. Aromas of smoked meat, iron and clay dominated, followed up by a faint suggestion of clove. On the palate, the fruit seemed surprisingly dried out for a first growth from a theoretically great vintage. Fully mature, bordering on over it. While I’d love to taste an example with pristine provenance, I’m not sure how much of the disappointment with this bottle I’d chalk up to bad handling over the years versus bad handling at point of origin. The wine’s most redeeming factor? The 1990 Mouton label featured a painting by the abstract/figurative artist Francis Bacon, serving as an homage both to his art and to his memory: “En homage à Francis Bacon qui offrit à Mouton l’une de ses dernières oeuvres.” Bacon died in 1992, after the wine’s vintage but prior to its release.

$250 plus on current retail and auction market. 12.5%. Natural cork closure.

Valtellina Superiore Sassella, La Castellina Fondazione Fojanini 1998
Though I hate to give short shrift to the Gillet Viré-Clessé, this was hands down the wine of the evening. The high altitude, alpine slopes of the Valteline area of Lombardy can turn out some of the most haunting and surprisingly layered examples of Nebbiolo out there. Don’t think power or richness. Instead, imagine delicate color and seemingly, at least at first, sinewy texture. As this wine opened up though, layers of sweet fruit cascaded over the palate. Soft tannins and scintillating acidity gave framework to aromas and flavors of red licorice, violets, and warm spices. As the wine opened up, it reminded me of raspberry pastries – in the best possible sense. At nearly ten years old, it continued to evolve and improve over the entire course of the evening. It also proved an enjoyable match with a supper of roast venison loin, potato purée and sautéed greens.

$16 on release. 13%. Natural cork closure. Importer: currently unknown.

Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Forey Père et Fils 2004
Bill pulled this one out of the cellar as a vino da meditazione. By this point in the evening, relaxed and sated after a good meal, I must admit my note taking dropped off a bit. What I did note and do remember was a bright, high acid wine redolent of young red cherry fruit. A firm, lean mouthfeel delivered good balance but somewhat simple, straight forward fruit. Perhaps it’s just going through a dumb stage but I can’t help but wonder if this Vosne-Romanée will develop any more interest over time.

$45. 13%. Natural cork closure. Importer: Rosenthal Imports, New York, NY.


Lyle Fass said...

The Forey has too much tannin and not enough fruit. Will definetly not come around.

David McDuff said...

Hey Lyle,
Thanks for the feedback. I kind of felt the same way but, not having any previous experience with the Forey, was inclined to be kind.

Lyle Fass said...

I have never had a Forey that has not been anything but foursquare. Even in 2002 and 1999. I have some 2005 in the store. Might as well try that as if they could not get proper ripeness in 2005 then I will call it quits.

David McDuff said...

Let me know how it goes with the '05. Any thoughts on where that foursquare/austere character stems from, Lyle?

Terence said...

Thanks for the link, David...and I love to see Thevent's wines written up.

Last year I was at a tasting at Lyle's shop and Dressner told me that JT was considering ending this line and using his Roally vineyard to represent the lower-end wine of the house. I regret this but undertsand; there has not been a big enough quality difference between the Emilian Gillet line and his higher priced Bongran line.

David McDuff said...

Hey Terence,
Thanks for passing through. It's always a pleasure to receive a comment on a six-month old post. Of course, I also appreciate the added insight into Thevenet's practices. I haven't yet managed to taste any of the Bongran line. Yet more for the never ending shopping/tasting list....

Terence said...

Bongran is v good...but it really isn't that much richer, deeper, etc. than the E. Gillet when comparing them from the same vintage.

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