Thursday, May 14, 2009

Four Red Burgundies from 2005

I promise to move on from Pinot Noir for a while after this. There are still a few 2005 Burgundies floating around the New Orleans area and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to taste three from Louis Jadot and one from Domaine Newman.
I find the whites from Jadot, especially the upper end selections, unexciting and a bit rough around the edges. Reds offer much more pleasure even though they sometimes exhibit more tannin and structure than the fruit can support, at least in their youth.
Chris Newman, an American, lives in Beaune and returns home to New Orleans regularly for an extended stay around Mardi Gras. For years, his wines suffered from inconsistency, but lately they are much more enjoyable and reliable. He produces some of the best value Grand Cru Burgundy on the planet. Those of us who know him, smiled more naturally when tasting over the last five or six years and cheer him on for future success.
2005 received lots of hype as yet another 'vintage of the century.' Portland, Oregon worships local first and the Burgundy presence there dims in comparison to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Tasting a few 2005's with a bit of time in bottle was a nice treat. I found the 2003 vintage a bit overdone, huge amounts of fruit, and tannin too - perhaps too much. The balance of the 2002 reds appealed to me, and I think the 2005's offer more of the same, although they are generally bigger and may not age as well.
Jadot Savigny-Les-Beaune Guettes 2005 - Savigny, from the southern half of Burgundy, shows plush fruit in general, medium-body, and early accessibility. It is one of my favorite villages in the Cote d'Or for those factors and good value, although value and Burgundy rarely go hand in hand anymore. The 2005 from Jadot featured pretty, juicy, red fruit as one should expect from Savigny. Hints of deeper complexity exist, but the showpiece here is clearly the bright fruit. Guettes is a Premier Cru vineyard site and I find those wines slightly darker than other Savignys with more weight, muscle, and earth tones; the Jadot fit these to a tee. Not riveting, but well done. Importer - Kobrand $35-$40
Jadot Nuits-St-George 2005 - This village in the northern half of Burgundy often is considered to be one of the biggest, chewiest styles around. This version is full of attention getting grip and tannin, but good fruit balances it nicely. The palate is lively and I find this to be a textbook example of Nuits profile; again, well done but not riveting. However, if you ever wondered what Nuits gives you that other villages don't, try this and the Savigny, you will understand well. $36-$42
Jadot Gevrey Chambertin 2005 - The wines from Gevrey can be big and intense or more silky and supple. Unfortunately you must know the producer, true with Pinot Noir in general and Burgundy especially, to have a good idea of style before opening. This bottling toed the line between the extremes. Earth showed up on the nose, with a hint of tar. The fruit makes enough of a statement that balance became a word I repeated again and again. Clearly the most compelling Jadot of the day. Bravo. $37-$44
Domaine Newman Beaune Clos des Avaux 2005 - More often than not the wines emanating from the village of Beaune have very minerally palates and I find them challenging. The fruit tends toward the lighter, red berry end of the spectrum but the intense mineral structure sometimes makes them taste metallic to me. That being said, when they are good, they are lots of fun. This is the best Avaux from Newman yet. The fruit dances on the tongue and the minerality appears as a spice accent rather than a tongue drying grip. The sheer naturalness of the wine appealed to me more than anything else and I found myself wishing for a bottle, a roast chicken, some friends, and a quiet spot in a park. Delicious. Importer - Various, Wines Unlimited in Louisiana. $45-$55

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another 1998 St. Innocent Pinot Noir

I purchased a bottle of this from a friendly retailer in Oregon and brought it back to New Orleans to offer to friends at a regular weekly gathering of wine geeks at one of my favorite restaurants in town.  Clancy's is located way uptown, off the streetcar route, but plenty of tourists still vie with locals for treasured reservations.  The kitchen works magic with seafood, especially crab, both lump meat and soft-shell, and I can not resist their sweetbreads.  Veal is another specialty and the pork chops could change your life.  
A recent lunch seemed like the perfect excuse to bring an aged bottle from a good vintage to the group, which includes the owner, since everyone loves Pinot Noir.  Older Oregon Pinot Noir is still not all that well understood by many, myself included.  
I had the opportunity to taste a number of 1998 Oregon Pinots last year, in particular some St. Innocents (see October 11 and 12, 2008 posts).  The two St. Innocents from last year left very different impressions on me; one amazed and entertained, the other underwhelmed.  The Brick House Vineyard that I brought to Clancy's fell somewhere in the middle.  It had more lively fruit than the Freedom Hill but not as much pretty intrigue as the Shea.  Here are my notes for the St. Innocent Brick House Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998.
Earthy nose, maybe even iodiny (that faded with 15-20 minutes open) but good old fruit too.  The fruit emerged more and more in the first 45 minutes open, but never fully blossomed.  The palate was all earth, spice and that bricky, dried fruit found in many wines with age.  The wine was lovely, although not so pretty as it was meaty.  With more time, the earth eventually overwhelmed the fruit but the wine remained lively on the palate.  Overall, a solid wine, well worth the wait, but I would drink it soon if you happen to have any.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yet More 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir

Last one on this subject for a little while as I find locating these wines in New Orleans to be challenging.  It will not be the end as more of the serious versions are yet to be released.  
I find myself excited about the wines as I continue my exploration, but fear that they will come off too light for many palates.  That should not be viewed as a flaw of the vintage so much as a flaw in people's perceptions of Pinot Noir.  I imagine many consumers tasting and wondering where the stuffing is, because I have witnessed it time and again.  I admit to similar reactions to wines from time to time, including Pinot Noir.  
We are mostly trained to expect more brawn, more beef and more general oomph as we spend more money on wine.  The $25 bottle should be bigger and more intense in the mouth than the $15 bottle.  That is an unfortunate result of some cult wines and, in my opinion, flawed winemaking.  Squeezing every massive, opaquely colored drop out of the grapes can result in a terrifically concentrated wine, but it can also result in horribly out of balance wine.  This can, and does, happen with nearly every red grape on the planet from time to time.  Pinot noir is a regular victim because due to the price charged for most versions of the grape, people expect a certain amount of power in the bottle.  
We're trained in restaurants the same way.  What's the least expensive item on the menu (more often than not)?  Chicken.  Lighter, less complex, less interesting on some level.  The most expensive item?  Beef.  Bigger, brawnier, meatier and more intense, regardless of the sauce.  Chicken can become big and rich, but often only in sacrificing its 'chickenness.'  Pinot Noir is the same way, when manipulated with excessive extraction, lots of new, toasty oak and sometimes even some other (darker) grapes it loses its inherent delicacy, finesse and nuance.  
I am no apologist for Pinot Noir in the same way I wouldn't dream of apologizing for an acoustic band playing ragtime.  If you don't like that music, move on to something else, don't keep going to listen to them live and complaining they don't sound like Led Zeppelin.  
Okay, enough of that...bring on the wine.
Broadley Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007 - A veteran producer in the valley for over 20 years.  I have found their wines to be well balanced, with a moderate  oak influence, and the few older versions I have tried have at least been intriguing.  The 2007 Willamette Valley has a subtle nose, pretty, vibrant color and a lovely palate.  There is good, fine tannin on the finish.  Pure Oregon Pinot Noir, cherry, subtle earth notes (found consistently in their wines), and bright acidity.  The 2007 fairly dances on the tongue with just the right balance of fruit and earth.  Delicious.  Wait another six months or so and the nose should open up nicely.  $20 - a relative steal!  More from this producer later.
Kings Ridge Pinot Noir 2007 - Ryan Harms has worked at Rex Hill, Bergstrom and Torii Mor while his vineyard manager, George Hillberry is a second generation member of a vineyard owning family.  The fruit is mostly Willamette Valley with about a third from Umpqua Valley and there is less than 20% new French oak used for aging.  This is their third release of Pinot Noir; however, I must admit to ignorance until now.  Smoky deep cherry fruit on the nose, very ripe, and nearly sweet.  The palate is round, soft and juicy with more smoke notes.  Although the wine is a tad simple it has good body and proper acid with no noticeable tannin and for a mere $16 a bottle it is a ridiculous bargain; no, that's not strong enough, I felt like I stole the bottle for $16 less 10% for buying a mixed case along with it.  Tasty and well done.  This is easy access Pinot and may even satisfy those who want the deeper, bigger style, although, I also found myself quite pleased with it and I prefer the lighter style generally.  You will neither confuse this with Syrah, nor water.  They made 13,000 cases, so you should be able to locate some.  By the way, kudos to the winery on the website, they actually have real information about making their wine and names and phone numbers of distributors around the country.  Thank you!
Adelsheim Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007 - While in Oregon I had the distinct pleasure of being able to spend considerable time with David Adelsheim.  He is not only a thoroughly engaging, passionate wine man but his attention to detail with everyday things shows his level of care for wines bearing his name.  I have always enjoyed his reds, but found the whites more intriguing, unique, and (sorry David) better values.  He produces one of the best Pinot Noir Roses I have ever had the pleasure to taste...well, truth be told, we actually were drinking it, quite a few bottles as I vaguely recall.  However, he and Dave Paige, the winemaker since 2001, hit a home run with the 2007 vintage.  I think it may be the best Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir I've ever had.  75% of the grapes come from the estate vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains, the remaining 25% come from various Willamette Valley locations, hence the designation.  The color is vibrant, strawberry at the edge, it is nearly a Gamay color - consistent through the glass.  Deep cherry resonates on the nose with just a hint of earth tones.  The earth note is that enticing, come hither, loamy kind of earth, not funky or mushroomy.  The wine is on the light side. although I often find this bottling to be that way, but with great focus.  The nose is a bit raw, but the wine was just opened, and not quite together.  The fruit is beautiful, juicy, correct and very Pinot noir.  Juicy, even succulent, Bing cherry appears on the mid-palate.  More strawberry notes on the back end, quite lovely.  It is a tad short now, but clearly all there, give it some time - at least 6 months and up to 5 or 6 years.  The next day things came together nicely which led me to claim this as the best Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot I have tasted.  $30-$34.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jazz Fest and Wine

For my money, the food at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is nearly as important as the music.  If all they served was the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos with melted plastic 'cheez' on them, etc. I would spend less time at the Fairgrounds.  I guess I would spend less money as well, but I'm not willing to trade.  However, the alcoholic beverage options do not even approach the level of quality offered by the food purveyors.  
The beer choices have always been suspect, although they did add Pilsner Urquell on draft a handful of years ago.  When Foster's is the highlight beer available all over the festival, for $5 a can, it clearly tells you, like a bad chain restaurant, that much less attention is paid to the liquid than the food.  I missed the last two Jazz Fests (talk about withdrawal) while living in Oregon, but happily returned this year for all seven days.  
During my absence, a few beverage choices were added - daiquiris and yes, even wine.  I saw a sign, "Wine and Champagne", and could hardly believe my eyes.  I knew better than to get too excited, but was curious to see the options.  Ugh.  Sutter Home Pinot Grigio and Merlot in plastic 187ml bottles.  For $6.  The 'Champagne'?  Coppola Sophia in the  187ml can.  I find that too sweet for me, but hey, that could be fun outside on a warm day.  Except for the fact that they were charging $9 a can.  Apparently it helped get Mr. Coppola out to the Fest though.  I saw him headed into the Gospel Tent over the first weekend.  
I don't expect a 50 glass wine bar, nor would I drink red wine for the most part (as it is almost always over 80 degrees outside in New Orleans this time of year), and glass at the Festival is dangerous, but I continue to be amazed how weak the beverage choices remain while the food is the best festival food anywhere.  
Still tired, a bit overwhelmed, but happy and sated and waiting for next year already.  
More Pinot Noir 2007 from Oregon coming next.