Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Very Happy Surprise

I probably should expect the unexpected more often. Especially when an extended trip north brought my daughter and I to Aunt Pammy and Uncle Charles' house. They live here:

a gorgeous, tucked-away, passively solar, quiet masterpiece. It was designed by my Uncle Andrew, a not so mad genius, who is no longer with us. His legacy remains (in more places than this) but it was my distinct pleasure to visit this spot again for the first time in twenty years.
I knew there would be some happy exploration for my daughter because my aunt has immersed herself in art, poetry, family lore and whimsy...she also teaches yoga. My Uncle Charles is a lover of life with an amazing depth of intelligence, a quick wit and seems closer to being at one with the planet than most anyone I've ever met. Perhaps it's because he's a woodworker, creating art like this. Or this. Or, maybe my favorite, which reminds me of something simple and pedestrian like a doughnut and also something complex and ethereal, requiring a Neil deGrasse Tyson explanation for us ordinary folks. Charles also rollerblades.
I felt fortunate to get some real connection time with them. Being able to spend a day in and around this amazing house, exploring, playing, learning, sleeping, eating and drinking was a lovely bonus. But let's get to the last of those, since that's what really prompted me to write this.
Roast chicken was on the menu for dinner and I stopped at their local wine shop to look for an appropriate bottle that would pair well if we opened it or age well for a few years if we didn't. I selected a St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite vineyards from a vintage that is for lovers of finesse and balance and wines that showcase the place they're grown. We opened that and it was fairly tough right out the bottle but 30 minutes let it open up and begin to strut its stuff.
As always with Mark Vlossak's wines I found structure and suppleness. He somehow manages to find richness and intensity without ever sacrificing the inherent nature of the grape itself. His Pinots taste like Pinot, not Syrah. Although the wines are accessible in their youth, they are among the most age-worthy Oregon Pinots (see some of my earlier posts about some 2006s and 1998s and another 1998). The Shea 2011 was brilliant but paled in comparison to the unexpected surprise that came next.
Uncle Andrew was a collector of wine and hunted around regularly to find some overlooked gems. Many of his treasures remain, some cellared by my Uncle Jim (need a program to tell the players?). We pulled out a few, including a 1969 Romanee-Conti Echezaux that had a very low fill (and isn't from a great vintage to begin with). Then Charles pulled out something that made his eyes light up. A moment later mine did too.
Wow, is the only word. 1955 Chateau Latour! With a good fill (above the neck, almost like it had been re-corked at some point)!! A nearly 60 year old First!!!
The cork was covered in mold and dirt and I managed to break the it in half even using an Ah-So, which is great for older corks. It usually extracts brittle closures brilliantly, wedging down the sides and slowly moving them up and out without the inevitable crumbling cork caused by the intrusion of a corkscrew worm. At least we didn't have lots of floating cork pieces.
The color was impeccable,

and we got very excited about this wine. The core of red was only slightly faded on the edge. It had certainly lightened over the years but was not washed out or oxidized in the least. The aroma was subtle but perfectly previewed what appeared on the palate. The fruit was sweet and juicy, not sugary but in a ripe fruit way. There were fine tannins on the back end that stood out a bit but then the finish washed over them nicely. Some earth notes, like a clean cellar, appeared in the middle and the finish echoed the sweet entry and also added some brown sugar notes. Again, this was not sweet and sugary but, to my palate, was an unmistakable brown sugar note. The wine still retained bright acidity and the finish was long, long, long! It lasted for minutes. It worked well with chicken and even broccoli - stems and tops.
What an impressive wine, amazing to see such an old wine perform so wonderfully and I would have been lucky to share it with anyone but with the family assembled, it became a very happy surprise that I will remember always.

Friday, July 25, 2014

More on Counterfeiting and Foiling Counterfeiters

Here are two pieces on counterfeit wine to go along with my earlier post, Wine Fraud and Lessons for You...Yes, You!.
Counterfeiting has been in the news a lot lately and with Rudy Kurniawan's sentencing around the corner, it will get even more press soon. As it should. The practice has ramped up to new levels as obscenely high profits can be made while status-hounds (almost always men) chase rare wines.
Alison Griswold's piece for isn't exactly a how-to guide but it does explain how many fakes are made, and how hard it is to verify if the bottle (and the wine within) are the real thing. Who knew there was a market for empty bottles of old Bordeaux? Maybe my family could justify buying some old Bordeaux if we sold the empties from these recent tastings - Part I and Part II.
I love the mention of testing for radioactive elements in wines bottled before we produced a particular kind of radioactivity. I would imagine there are few opportunities to employ this option but it's a fascinating concept.
The other piece to explore is about as complete an analysis of methods of authenticating wine as I have ever seen. Elin McCoy on shares some cutting edge techniques used by wineries are to verify if the wine is the real McCoy (couldn't resist). These include, embossing gold (yes, real gold) onto bottles, special paper, marking inks used to print the labels, unique capsules covering the cork, holograms and more. It's a fascinating, well worth a click.
All of these amazing efforts will, almost certainly, have work-arounds from criminal enterprises.
Enjoy the reads.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wine "Glasses" for the pool

Summer in New Orleans will never appeal to me. If I could leave shortly after Jazz Fest (May) and return in late September I would. This year hasn't been too bad. There have been many days where I could breathe deeply and fully without wishing for gills. The pool still feels cool and refreshing (rare for this time of year) and I have been spending a lot of time out there.
Glass and pools do not mix. My landlord's warning about this was unnecessary...but appreciated. Beyond the obvious risk of bare feet and pieces of broken glass I am the guy who always finds the last shard. No matter the toweling, mopping, vacuuming, down-on-your-belly-flashlight-searching, I discover one last piece, sometimes weeks later, embedded in my foot. 
I resisted buying "glasses" made of synthetics because I feared the wine wouldn't taste, or smell, the way it should. However, serving wine for another summer in plastic Mardi Gras cups was even less appealing and I caved.
Govino got my nod for a test drive and now my recommendation! They are shatterproof, though I do think you could break them with a little effort, and did not smell of plastic even immediately out of the package. Impressive. While I maintain a dislike of stemless wine glasses, these are ideal for wine drinking anywhere you don't want glass. The pictures on the home page show some Bocce balls in the background which appeals for my Maine visits where we play cross-country Bocce - no groomed courts for us thanks.
They do give a little if you press them but they are sturdy and I never feared they would collapse or fall over. They can not be packed flat and they do not nest inside one another but a little jostling won't break them and having them at a pool is fine. A friend recommended avoiding the dishwasher as they will warp a bit from the heat, I took him at his word and did not experiment.
I am thrilled to be able to drink wine pool-side out of a proper-ish wine "glass" but these would be great for camping, the beach, picnics, etc. Thanks govino, these are winners.

Govino also makes decanters, flutes and now a beer "glass" too. There is also a "cocktail glass" which is nearly indistinguishable from the wine version - a little shorter and with less capacity but I would opt for the wine version and stick with it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Old Bordeaux with Family

Spending my Fourth of July in Maine is a treasured tradition of family togetherness, lots of lobster and plenty of silly games. Wine has gradually taken a bigger and bigger role with sparkling wine nearly always accompanying our steamers and lobster nights. People pay more attention each year to what corks are being pulled and I am often asked which wine I am choosing for the meal.
Last year we wiped out our collection of sparkling wines. Once we learned they weren't being saved for a special occasion, there was a mad dash of chilling, popping and drinking! Here are the two posts from that fiesta - a reminder not to wait too long and a fantastic surprise
This year we continued digging into a case of old Bordeaux given to my father for officiating a friend's wedding. This was an even rarer treat in Maine and we had a cold, rainy day, due to Hurricane Arthur, that seemed perfect for opening some reds. We were also grilling monster porterhouses that looked like the real world version of the meat that tipped over the Flintstones vehicle...more kismet for some big red wine.
The bottles has stood for more than 24 hours so the sediment would settle.
[The bottle pictures were taken a few days later.]

We started this process in the kitchen with more than twenty people in attendance. I was soaking wet from a lengthy match of cross country Bocce and was also trying to watch a horse race with one of Ms. Wright's stable running. However, I was not about to pass up an opportunity to taste more of these wines!

We started with the Chateau Duhart-Milon-Rothschild, Paulliac 1968:
The fill was very low on the wine, noticeably below the shoulder, but anytime you can try a wine almost as old as you it's exciting. My notes were short. The wine was brown and tired. I thought the nose was interesting for a moment or two, with some old brick aromas and hints of brown sugar and  it drew me in, but the palate was dead. Not surprising at all based on the age, quality of vintage and the fill. Still, I am always optimistic that any bottle possesses the possibility to amaze, so disappointment followed. 

Chateau Rausan-Ségla, Margaux, 1985:
The cork was clean but reeked of cork taint. I was not optimistic. Turned out great! The nose was just okay at first but the palate was really solid. It also showed enough life to have us stash about half the bottle for 20-30 minutes later. 
The edge was brown, moving to a slight orange and then to a decent core of red. The nose kept coming around, it had some old dried fruit but also pretty raspberry and hints of darker fruits too. This was the style of the 1985 vintage I remembered so fondly! 
With time (about half an hour) the nose displayed more appealing character and nuance. Happily, mineral notes and even some gravel emerged as well. This was my favorite of the night and a truly delicious bottle.

Chateau de Marbuzet, St. Estephe, 1983
The wine was not as brown as the 1968 but did not exhibit the core of red that the 1985 so proudly displayed. The nose was similar to the 1985 but had much more presence right out of the bottle. There was a significant tannic bite on the finish, much more than the Rausan-Ségla, as if it were stubbornly clinging to a life that had clearly passed it by. The tannin was subtle but very, very present. The overall impression of the wine was short and tough, supporting the no surrender liveliness of the tannins. It reminded me of a boxer who thinks there are still a few fights left when, in fact, there may not even be a few rounds in the future. The de Marbuzet wasn't unappealing but it was far from sexy. It wasn't polished or refined, like the 1985, but rustic and wild, like a run-down cabin in the woods. It was drinkable and moderately enjoyable but not very rewarding.

Chateau L'Eglise Clinet, Pomerol, 1982: The color was fantastic! Nearly opaque at the center with a nearly purple core - the color of a much younger wine. The nose was immediately appealing, if a bit standoffish, I knew it would relax and open up soon. Intense dark fruits like plum and cassis showed in the middle of the palate. There were plenty of tannins here too but, unlike the Marbuzet, they were integrated and had the luxury of still fresh fruit to keep the wine balance. It was a big crowd pleaser, it was huge and people loved it. The weight and intensity remain, as expected with this massive vintage, and this wine has some life left in it.
I prefer the seamless beauty of the Rausan-Ségla 1985 for my palate but I would be happy to have another glass of this 1982 at any time. The difference is a little like red Burgundy versus Napa Cabernet. Palates hew to one or the other more often, even if they appreciate both.

We still have a few bottles of some of these to try again and a 1980 Mouton Rothschild which I fear will have more aural cachet than oral cachet...but finding out for yourself is the fun part!