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TN: New friends, new wines, a few old favorites


jrufusj
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Dale Williams from A.F.W. (and, on rare occasion, eGullet) was in town accompanying his wife Betsy and their friend Joe the Italophile. Betsy and Joe play in the orchestra for the New York City Opera, which is currently performing in Japan. Betsy is not only beautiful and interesting (and reportedly a great cook), but was kind enough to allow me to kidnap them for an offline while they were here.

Ten of us gathered at Shunju for an evening that was designed to be a mix of a little winegeekery and a little more general sociability. In addition to the three of them, attendees were my ever patient, indulgent, and perfect wife (Cathryn), my budding wine geek friend (Jonathan) and his charming musician wife (Samantha), a lovely friend of ours from Seoul who is not a big wine drinker but is a great sport(Annalisa), and my Bordeaux nut friend (Bryan) and his wife (Amy). Amy is sneaky smart about wine. She’s quiet about it, but knows what she likes and expresses it well. She is also a dealer of amazing pearl jewelry and presents serious competition for my wine budget.

Even if the wine had been terrible, we would have had fun discussing the Tokyo wine market, palate preferences, Joe’s visits with various winemakers (including Mascarello late in his life), critic preferences, Dale’s amazing not-for-profit program, music, and life around the world. There’s always a risk when you first meet people for offlines, but this was a group where I’d love to spend more time with every person.

Shunju is an upscale izakaya, serving Japanese small plates with enough of a western influence to work pretty well with wine. The people at Shunju were gracious hosts, putting up with our trudging in and out with glasses, bottles, and dumpbucket while supplying us with plenty of great food and copious amounts of water. Jonathan and Samantha were kind enough to bring a flight of glasses.

The wine theme was somewhere between eclectic and “what works with Japanese food?” Given the generally social nature of the evening, twelve wines to taste, and the vast variety of foods, I didn’t take very complete notes, but just jotted down a few keywords. I’m certain the notes below show the results of my carelessness.

2001 Nigl Riesling Privat (Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal)

Dale brought this wine, which I was excited to try, as we get very poor distribution of Austrian wines here in Tokyo. Although the lighting was a little tough for assessing color, this seemed to have a little more yellow depth than I would have expected and I couldn’t find even a tinge of green. Thanks to the inadequacies of Dale and Betsy’s minibar fridge, this was served a little warmer than it might have been otherwise…and that was a good thing. Nose was very tight, with little escaping other than a strong, persistent mineral character. Palate was dominated by unadulterated – but completely balanced – acid with a thrillingly precise spine of lime fruit, backed up by a little apple and even a little peach roundness as the wine opened up more. Perfectly in balance, bracingly refreshing. I’d love to try this again, but with more than a few years of additional age. Performed admirably with the shima-aji sashimi and the omelet(!), and held up surprisingly well against the smoked belly pork. With ten years and some developed and slightly rounder riesling flavors, this would have sung with the smoked pork. WWOTN for me. Thanks Dale and Betsy!

1997 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune)

This was mine. I wanted to throw a white Burg into the mix and was curious how this wine was doing. In most vintages, I wouldn’t touch this yet, but 1997 seemed like it might be about ready. Showed very young color, paler than the prior wine, but clean and clear. Nose was a little restrained straight out of the bottle, but developed a bit of smokiness, a very little vanilla milk, and a bit of apricot and a very little bit of general tropical character. However, I would say this was more restrained and a little less tropical than other vintages from the same producer. One of the things I enjoy from BdM (other than the value) is the surprising combination of minerality and tropical character. I didn’t get that from this wine, making it a bit atypical and a little disappointing. Palate was round, ready to drink, with no discernible acidity, but without being fat either. Acidity was a little more apparent with the pork bits in aspic and that, along with the uni, was the best match for the wine. General assessment is that this wine shows much better with food, is ready to drink but will hold for a while and maybe develop a little more for five or so years. I like old white Burgs, but I don’t think there’s any reason to hold this for the long haul. Slightly atypical and just a little bit less of everything, including definition, than the normal BdM. At the right price, I would pick up more for current drinking, but I’m not racing out to do so.

2000 Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl (France, Alsace, Hunawihr, Alsace AOC)

Generously contributed by a friend who was invited to join us but could not make it. I have a bit of love-hate relationship with ZH. I’ve got tremendous admiration for their skill, dedication, and single-vineyard focus. I think they make the best pinot gris in Alsace and I generally like their late harvest wines. I’m less than enamored with their rieslings and ambivalent about their gewurz. True to form, this was a very well-made wine in a ripe style with explosive floral, honey, and tropical fruit character on the nose – even straight out of the bottle. Nose showed little development with time, just a growth in volume. Palate was rich and unctuous with medium apparent sweetness and a little spice backing tropical white fruits. Paired with the lime-garnished shiro anago yaki, it suddenly showed some balancing acidity and did better than I expected, but I’d rather just sip this one alone.

1993 Michel Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chênes 1er Cru (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay)

This was also a generous contribution from the invitee who could not attend. Let’s see…my favorite recent vintage…one of my two favorite villages…great producer…what’s not to like? When I double decanted this about 5:30, I didn’t taste it, but gave it a quick sniff. At that time, it showed major Burgundy funk and an earthy mushroom and forest floor focus. Color was a little more primary than expected, but did show evolution. When poured at dinner (with grilled duck – what felicity!), it showed green (in a good way) blueberry and raspberry fruit, with the same mushroom and forest floor, but with very little funk. Overall impression on nose was of budding complexity and of freshness. On the palate, the acid focused the fruit into a tight beam that is typical of the best of this vintage and the tannins were present enough to bring balance, but had that Volnay silkiness I love. Finish was good and persistent, with a little cherry and a little more berry, showing hints of spice at the end. RWOTN for me. Entering its drinking window…an absolute pleasure today…but so much more to come. Along with a recent Montille Pommard Pezerolles, this wine has convinced me that traditionally made ‘93s have both the freshness and stuffing to improve for a long time and are going to have a very long drinking window. This was focus and delineation wrapped in a little earth and funk and is a prime example of the reason I drink Burgundy.

1996 Jean Boillot Volnay Les Fremiets 1er Cru (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay)

This one was mine. I was eager to taste this next to the Lafarge, as I’ve not quite made up my mind about Jean Boillot. When double decanted at 5:30, this one showed a little less funk and was more closed in general. Color was a little less evolved than the Lafarge. At dinner, this showed a tighter nose with a little less complexity, a noticeable (but unobtrusive) note of oak sweetness, and riper (but not overblown) fruit. I didn’t really get much earthiness or any secondary evolution. Tannins were more apparent on the palate, but were pretty tame, though perhaps just a little woody. Fruit was perhaps a bit juicier, but lacked the laser beam focus of the last wine. All in all, a more modern style, but not all ripeness and oak. This one isn’t in the prime drinking window yet, but it did prove richer and rounder with food. The meaty/sweet combination of a fried spring roll stuffed with fresh bamboo and shrimp was the best match I found. Rereading my note, it’s clear that I can’t think about this wine without comparing it to the last. That’s not the fault of this wine, as much as a testament to the last one. I think this one needs a few more years to be at its best, but is likely to develop more by opening up than by evolving.

1999 Fattoria di Felsina Fontalloro Toscana IGT (Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Toscana IGT)

This one was mine. I’ve got half a case and – even though I knew this was just a baby – I wanted to check in on it. Also, I thought it would be nice to give Joe a chance to sip more Italian wine than the one he brought! This is my favorite super-Tuscan. I think of it more as a super-Chianti than anything else. This was still dense and pretty dark, not showing any of the lighter red/orange tinges that often surface in even the youngest sangiovese wines. Even though I double decanted this about 5:30, it was still quite closed when first poured. As it opened, it showed a little vanilla, along with cherry and blackberry fruit, with maybe a little soft violet and pine hiding in there. Palate showed what I like best from good Chianti, a tense combination of cherry juiciness and acidic restraint that is hard to describe, but immediately defines the best wines of this sort – at least to me. Solid core of tannins, not at all green, but still noticeable and up front, gentle and solid at the same time. Strong fruit core, ample acid, tannins – this one has a long way to go and is going to be damn good in time. Really wish I’d bought a case!

1997 Azienda Agricola Matteo Correggia Roero Roche D'Ampsej (Italy, Piedmont, Roero)

This was Joe’s contribution and I’m really, really glad he came – both for the company and the chance to taste this wine. It’s as automatic as a word association game; when I hear “Roero”, I say “arneis”. This, however, is a nebbiolo from Roero. Maybe, I’m just uninformed (no maybe about that), but I’ve never seen or tasted a Roero nebbiolo. To the eye, this showed much more development than the prior wine, with the first hints of light red/dark orange that show the wine is starting to move along. Early decanting would have helped (but wasn’t possible in Joe’s hotel room), as the wine came out tannic and tight. From the first impression of the nose, it was hard to approach this wine other than as a compare and contrast with Barolo. There was a whiff of vanillin and toast that made clear this had seen some new oak, but it had all been done with a very restrained hand. Perhaps a touch of VA, but this was positive as it helped to open up the nose. Stepping out from behind the oak was a floral element that was much more evident and easier to isolate than that in Barolo. I was hunting for tar or mushroom next, but there wasn’t much of either – no tar and only a little mushroom. Whether that is a matter of time or terroir, I’ll never know unless I find some of this or Joe tells us. I really hope I find some to buy. Palate showed tannins that were a little rough, but not green or woody. The fruit never really opened up much for me, but what was there was well defined by high acidity that gave the wine a nice tension. Until I followed Dale’s suggestion and tasted this against a salad of wild chives with a sesame-flavored dressing, this wine was entirely about nose. In combination with the salad, the wine rounded out a little and took on a slightly smoky plum component. This was a pleasure to drink and was one of the two most interesting wines of the night (along with the Yarra Yering), from a discovery perspective. I’m not crazy about this vintage in Barolo, but the higher acid and restrained fruit of this wine made me determined to revisit the vintage. Anyone know if this is typical of Roero nebbiolo? Or is this just a standout wine from the vintage?

1999 Parker Estate Coonawarra First Growth (Australia, South Australia, Coonawarra)

My friends Bryan and Amy brought this and opened it at the table, i.e., no decanting or air time. Bryan is a Bordeaux nut, with Australia being his other main focus. This wine is predominantly CS, with a little merlot and CF blended in as well. Think left bank claret. It was still dark and nearly solid purple to the rim, like a young Bordeaux. On the nose, it showed evident sweet oak, probably the most oak of the night, but it was not at all out of control. The nose also showed a nice streak of iron dust that made me think of Graves. Fruit on the nose was where the Aussie attitude came out, with a rich mix of cassis, blueberry, and blackberry, though it took a while for this to show. On the palate, the tannins were a little rough, but receded enough over time to show a huge core of cherry fruit. Eventually, the iron element was even stronger on the palate than the nose. This was a winning match with slow braised beef cheeks. How best to describe the overall impression? Imagine blending a Graves that drinks well young (say…Pape Clement) with a new world Cab that flirts with but stays just on the right side of the extraction line (say…an older Shafer or Caymus offering). This drinks well now, but will definitely benefit from time for the tannins to resolve. I don’t necessarily see a lot of secondary character developing, but time will round out the package very nicely. I’ve liked Coonawarra wines when I’ve tried them before and this is an incentive to try more…especially since Bryan has introduced me to a great Aussie merchant here in Japan that focuses on lots of things other than Barossa shiraz.

1990 Château Meyney (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe)

This was the other offering from Dale and Betsy. Like Joe’s wine, this was not decanted due to the practical limitations of their coming from the hotel. At this point, I was paying even less attention to color, but I recall that this had lost its youthful red and had moved into a lighter plum range, with noticeable gradation toward a lighter rim. When first poured, this showed a huge dose of horsey bottle stink that blew off very quickly. Nose was left with core of fruit – plum, blackberry, cassis – that showed a slightly roasted (but not oxidized or bottle-cooked) character. Secondary elements included a little bit of leather, some earth, and maybe a little leafy compost. Palate wasn’t fat, but the acidity hid completely behind smooth, but still present tannins. Fruit again showed a roasted character with just a little prune added to the mix. There was an iron character that struck me as much more bloodlike than dustlike. Finish was not short, but quickly moved from fruit and iron into a slightly cloudy tannin/fruit skin combo. Almost a bit like stirred up sediment, but there was no visible sediment present. I enjoyed this, but don’t feel like the bottle showed its best. Don’t know whether this was an off bottle, was suffering from travel shock, or got a bit stirred up. Everything was there, but it was a little clouded and the volume was a little low. Other than the roasted character, some of this could also have been palate fatigue on my part. This did match very well with grilled Iberico pork and salt grilled Hinai free-range chicken.

2001 Yarra Yering Dry Red #2 (Australia, Victoria, Yarra Valley)

This was the other contribution from Bryan and Amy and got no decanting or air time. Produced in the (relatively) cool climate of the Yarra Valley, this wine is predominantly Syrah, but is leavened with a small dose of viognier and marsanne. This particular blending trend seems to be a nod to Cote-Rotie that is gaining popularity both in Australia and in the southwest of France. Previously (in other wines) I’ve found it interesting, but a little too obvious, with the viognier aromatics overwhelming the rest of the nose. On pouring, the wine was still extremely primary in both color and nose, with an aggressive orange flower and honeysuckle character doing its job of overwhelming. Unlike other examples of the blend, however, I found that the nose settled down over time and a little warm leather, treacle, and ripe berry came through. Based on the nose, I was expecting syrupy fruit on the palate, but that was not to be. While clearly ripe and extracted and carrying a little oaky sweetness, the fruit showed enough acid vibrancy to do an okay job with bamboo shoot kamameshi. This is clearly Australian, but it is made with a restrained hand and shows the best of the New World without going overboard. Someone asked whether this would age well and Dale and I each commented that it would hold fine, but it probably wouldn’t develop too much…why hold it when it is so delicious to drink now? Well, we were wrong (see below), but I still enjoyed drinking it young, though I’d probably rather sip it alone than have it with food at this age. My wife’s WOTN.

1983 Jos. Christoffel Jr. Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese ** (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Middle Mosel)

This was mine. There has been a spate of older Joseph Christoffel Jr. (Christoffel-Prum) wines on the market at very reasonable prices. I’m told that these have come from the cellars of the domain over the last year or so. Based on imperfect recall, I’ve seen: vintages – ’90, ’88, ’85, ’83, ’76, ’75, ’71; einzellagen – Erdener Treppchen, Urziger Wurzgarten, Wehlener Sonnenuhr; pradikat levels – Spatlese, Auslese, BA. I was eager to try this one; if it sang, I was going to be racing to the market. Color had moved into the deeper gold range, but not excessively. Initial positive impressions of the nose were of cleanliness and complete absence of oxidation. This had clearly been well stored. Initial negative impressions were the absence of any botrytis character or petrol element. Dominant tones were of ripe peach and apricot, honey, maybe a little nuttiness and mineral. With time, a very little petrol came out, but never the zing of botrytis that keeps these so fresh. On the palate, the wine was very round, without any buzz of botrytis or tang of lime, dominated by the same stone fruit as on the nose and maybe a little candied lemon. This wasn’t fat or flabby, but it lacked the precision, vibrancy, and evolution for which I was looking and which I so love in the Mosel. Blind, I might have guessed a well made riesling from a grosslage in a ripe vintage, maybe six or eight years old, spatlese or barely auslese. I’ve written an entire note, but Dale captured it best in a sentence – good wine, well made, but doesn’t taste mature or **/goldkap and completely lacks botrytis. Now I’m curious whether/how much this wine was reconditioned or topped off before release. I’ve seen good notes on other recent library releases from Christoffel-Prum, so I’ll probably try again, but I was disappointed.

1995 Yarra Yering Dry Red #2 (Australia, Victoria, Yarra Valley)

Bryan and Amy are our next door neighbors. After dinner we joined them for one more bottle, which turned out to be an older version of the syrah/marsanne/viognier blend. Man, was I wrong about the aging potential for this wine. Take all of the components described above, tone the volume and ripeness down a touch, add a little more apparent structure, and you get a wine that seems to be much closer to Cote-Rotie and shows more complexity and none of the distraction/confusion. Additional elements that come out include a little anise, some smoky meat, and a tiny bit of bitter chocolate. It’s still Australian, it’s still ripe, and the structure still hides a little behind the fruit, but this is serious syrah. This is still available in the market, but with very limited allocation. I’m going hunting!

Thanks to all for great wines and a great time. Dale, Betsy, Joe...my apologies for making it such a long evening...hope you made your train!

Jim

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Jim:

Sounds like a great evening. My experience with the 97 BDM is that it benefits from a bit of decanting. My last 97 got better after 1 hour in the decanter and time in the glass. I know what you mean about this producer; best value (if such a thing exists) in white burgs.

We're on the same page re the ZH gewurz, but am sorry the 90 Meyney did not show better for you. My most recent was showing its age, but still was beautiful to drink; lots of plums and power, with residual Cordier funk. If you ever find the 89 from a reputable source, it's better than the 90.

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Jim:

Sounds like a great evening.  My experience with the 97 BDM is that it benefits from a bit of decanting.  My last 97 got better after 1 hour in the decanter and time in the glass.  I know what you mean about this producer; best value (if such a thing exists) in white burgs.

We're on the same page re the ZH gewurz, but am sorry the 90 Meyney did not show better for you.  My most recent was showing its age, but still was beautiful to drink; lots of plums and power, with residual Cordier funk.  If you ever find the 89 from a reputable source, it's better than the 90.

It was a great evening. Sorry you couldn't be there, but we'll do it again.

This is my first time with the '97 BdM Charlie. Did you find the decanting time brought more of the tropical/mineral/nut complexity or did you find that it just picked up definition. I enjoyed it this time, but just felt it had a little bit less of everything. Based on that, open time may really have helped.

On the Meyney...two of the people there had recently done a vertical of Meyney. Both agreed that the '90 had shown better then. Also, at least one had preferred the '89. On this night, I think it was the fault of logistics, not the wine. It had been travelling (came from NY) until four days before the event. Additionally, it was poured into glasses from bottle. Either or both of these could have contributed to the roasted character and muddy finish.

The Lafarge really was astounding. I've loved '93 Pommards and Volnays from Lafarge, d'Angerville, Montille...and I think they'll continue to improve for a good long while.

Take care,

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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