Category Archives: Burgundy

Traveling the Old World: A European Red Blind Tasting

Some may remember the Malbec tasting Nina and I hosted last month. We had so much fun that night, that in our drunken state of mind we all agreed to have another tasting soon. And so it was, last week, that the same group of friends gathered. We had agreed to make it a blind tasting and had chosen an area as wide as possible, European Reds, so that we could actually play around with the wines and no one would feel intimidated talking about them. Blind tastings can be a very humbling experience if you think you have some wine knowledge at least, and it is a great equalizer as everyone is free to associate as much as they want.

If you are contemplating a tasting with friends at home, here are some tips that I jotted down a while back but are still helpful, I believe.

We met at 6.30pm (I actually went earlier because I just had to play Wii with our hosts’ son). Everyone brought one bottle of wine, which added up to seven bottles because one fellow wino was sick. I had brought a Riesling to clean our palates with after the tasting, the 2003 von Hövel which I wrote about last week. One of our friends had volunteered to arrange the order of bottles and conduct the tasting so that all others were in the dark except for their own wines.

Because it worked, we had the first bottle of wine with a traditional Roman pasta dish, Pasta cacio e pepe. The first wine, a bottle of 2009 Banfi Chianti Classico (13% ABV, Italy – Sangiovese-based), poured in a medium, clear red color. The aroma intensity was on the lower end of moderate, and the wine smelled young. There was not much I could detect in the nose, very subdued. The wine tasted dry, was light with fresh acidity and low tannins which were fairly balanced. I got some cherries and an overall fresh note from this wine with medium length. I thought this was a decent light wine. My guess was a Sangiovese-based Italian, from 2010 or 2009.

Up next was a 2011 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais (France – Gamay-based), which poured in a pale to medium red and was slightly hazed. The nose was aromatic with some age, showing tobacco, cedar wood, hay and some grape aromas. The wine was dry and light bodied, with low tannins and moderate aromas. On the palate it had quite some unpleasant heat, hardly any fruit with a harsh and disappointing finish. It tasted like it had its best days way behind it. I did not care for this wine much, and guessed 2011 Northern France or Austrian wine.

2010 Banfi Chianti Classico and 2011 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais AOC

The third wine was a 2012 Domaine Pral Beaujolais nouveau (France – Gamay-based). It showed a medium ruby red in the glass. Its nose was young and aromatic, with red fruit, jammy raspberry, gooseberry, pear mustard and roses. Quite the nose!! On the palate this dry, medium bodied wine was smooth with medium tannins and great balance. It showed strawberry and red fruit aromas, was floral and had some red currant to it. There was some heat in the end which I did not care for too much, but it was a very yummy wine with a long finish. Very pleasing. My guess was a 2010 Northern French wine.

And up was wine number four: A bottle of 2009 Andrieux et Fils Gigondas Côtes du Rhone (14.5% ABV, France – Grenache, Syrah, Mograve). Of deep ruby red color, the nose was aromatic with some age, and had plum, coffee, earthy aromas and some dark chocolate. Very different from the last wine! The wine tasted dry, with a medium-full body, smooth acidity and medium to high tannins. All in all it was very balanced and flavorful, with a very long fresh finish. It was the most complex wine of the night thus far and impressed pretty much everyone (as far as I remember). My guess was a 2010 Côtes du Rhone.

2012 Domaine Pral Beaujolais nouveau and 2009 Andrieux et Fils Gigondas Cotes du Rhone

The fifth wine, a 2010 Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines (15% ABV, Spain – Garnacha), poured as a deep, ruby red and slightly hazy wine. The nose was aromatic, young and very weird: water colors, chalk, cherry and petrol. Not at all what I am used to, very intriguing. The medium bodied wine tasted dry with smooth acidity and medium to high tannins that were fairly well balanced. On the palate it was flavorful, with very ripe aromas, spice box, chocolate, and very juicy. There was a hint of residual sugar which made it absolutely fascinating. I liked this wine a lot, it was probably my favorite of the evening. Pretty early on, I decided in my head that this must be a Merlot from a Southern European area. Not sure about the age, but I kept yelling “This is a Merlot” across the table….

The sixth wine was a 2009 Az. Tilli  Concetto Terre di Chieti IGT (15% ABV, Italy – Merlot). It showed deep to dark ruby red with a slight haze. The aroma intensity was powerful, with berry compote and raisins. Very ripe, very impressive nose. I could have dove into this for longer. The wine was medium-full bodied, with fresh acidity and medium tannins, all very well balanced. On the palate, it had depth and was incredibly smooth, very likable with mostly red berry aromas. The finish was medium long. The Concetto is just a super yummy wine, I like it a lot. This one had to be a Merlot (by that point I knew that it was Nina’s wine, which she had bought in Germany at a wine store we both like with the one purpose of throwing it in at a blind tasting).

2010 Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines and 2009 Az. Tilli Concetto Terre di Chieti IGT

The final wine in the tasting was a bottle of 2008 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Domaine de la Bila-Haut L’esquerda (13.5%  ABV, France – Syrah, Grenache, Carignan). It was the wine I had brought, and it proved to be the most controversial. I had bought it during Wines Till Sold Out‘s big sale the week before and it arrived in the mail just in time. I did not have a chance to try it before this tasting. It poured in a very dark, almost purplish red. The nose turned pretty much everyone completely off, and I have to admit it was the most unpleasant nose I have come across in quite a while: dirt, sulphur, manure. That is all one got for the first 30 minutes. With a heavy emphasis on manure. It was, frankly, disgusting. I was very surprised,  had not expected that at all. After 30 minutes, there were some red fruit aromas fighting their way through, but it was still not enjoyable to smell. On the palate, the wine was extremely intense, mostly earthy. There was some cassis, but mostly dry, dusty earth aromas. I still defended it and want to see what it tastes like after an hour or two in the decanter (I have a couple more bottles). What I tasted at this tasting though, was not very enticing…

2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut L'esquerda

2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut L’esquerda

We finished the tasting, as is fast becoming a tradition, with a bottle of German Riesling Spätlese. I reviewed that wine over here.

Overall, I was very impressed with this tasting: Most of the wines were really good, and there were some really great surprises in it for me. We all played the guessing game, and it was fun. The best surprise though was a friend from Nina’s undergrad days who just began working in Detroit. He and a friend of his joined us for some of the wines later on and oh my God, did the friend of the friend play the guessing game. He nailed the last wine, and was pretty much spot on with the others he tried. That was really impressive! Time was just flying by and  I am sure I see another tasting in the not so distant future…

 

 

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2010 Melini Chianti Borghi d’Elsa and NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva

2010 Melini Chianti and N.V. Seguras Viudas Brut Reserva

As I indicated last Thursday, we had these two magnum bottles to accompany our Thanksgiving festivities.

I have written about the Melini chianti previously, you can check out the review here. All of what I said back then held true, and the nice acidity in the wine helped with the rich sauces and dishes on our table.

We started the day (around 1pm) by popping the NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, a cava that we had bought at a previous Costco run. I think the bottle was $12. Cava is the Spanish equivalent of a sparkling wine. According to the producer of this particular sparkler, it is a non-vintage blend of Macabeo (50%), Parellada (35%) and Xarel-lo (15%) grapes (YAY, great for our Wine Century Club application – see more here -, three more grapes to tick off!!) and was made in the traditional method of making champagne.

I love magnum wine bottles, but I love champagne magnum bottles even more: Because of the pressure in the bottle, the glass has to be much thicker and sturdier which makes these bottles look even more humongous. Add the pop when opening a champagne bottle, and everything is in the right place. Our friends’ kids loved how the fog came out of the bottle after opening (they called it smoke), and I couldn’t wait to try the wine. One more caveat: As much as I like champagne bottles, I am not the biggest fan of sparkling wines. I drink them, I can enjoy them, but they don’t do as much for me as for others (cough, cough, thedrunkencyclist, cough).

But to this one. There was not much of a nose going on, quite low on aromas. But on the palate, this one really hit all the right notes: apple and citrus, refreshing and balanced with nice acidity. One of my biggest problems with a lot of sparkling wines is that the bubbles are offensive to me, which was not the case with this one at all. Really pleasant. It was so good that Nina opted to drink it straight, without the helping of crème de cassis that I offered her. And that says a lot, because who can resist a Kir Royal? :) But seriously, even without that “helper” this one is really good for its price. I have had champagne that cost a lot more and was not better…

We used the crème de cassis pictured below, a gift from my exchange partner in France. We go back to 7th grade, and he is like a brother to me. So I did not want to open this cassis without a proper reason. And this Thanksgiving seemed just right. In Dijon, Burgundy, where I spent my school exchanges, crème de cassis, a red currant liqueur is added to either white wine to make a Kir, or sparkling wine (usually a crémant de Bourgogne) to make Kir Royal. The result is startlingly good in either case, and has become one of my go tos when in Burgundy. It is a great aperitif, sweet and acidic, fruity and zesty. Just right. If you get a chance, pick up a bottle at your booze store and add about 1/4 or a 1/5 to your dry chardonnay or sparkling wine. Be warned: It is addictive.

Edmond Briottet Creme de Cassis

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1997 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese* and 1999 Bonnes et Guerre Pommard AOC

Two beauties, meant for each other

Some pairings seem to be made in the heavens: Think steak and malbec, think cheese and sweet riesling, think cooked beef and burgundy wines…the list is endless. But sometimes, we have the chance to reconsider our preconceived ideas, and be surprised, because a whole new horizon opens up as we do.

On one of these days, Nina and I were visiting Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes. We were trying our way through his newer wines and on to older wines. I mentioned it before, but the cool thing with his winery is that his father has stashed away wines of virtually every vintage. We were trying the 1996 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese against this 1997 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese* (they make up to a *** Auslese to distinguish between them according to what Stefan and his father consider the most stellar ones). Both tasted beautifully, unfortunately I cannot find the tasting notes for that visit. Stefan started explaining that he had had the 1997 with a grilled steak the other day and that that was amazing. This is when I intervened and told him to stop pulling my leg. I was incredulous. A steak and a Riesling Auslese? I know Riesling is versatile (think Korean food and riesling), but that versatile? Stefan just laughed, handed me a bottle and challenged me to try it out.

The next day, we did. We threw coals on the grill and seared beef steaks with friends. And, oh man, did it work. The wine nor the steak were ruined by the pairing. Incredibly, the sweetness of the wine gave the steak a new feel and aroma, and the smokiness of the steak gave the wine a certain depth. I was stunned. We stocked up on the wine (because it is amazing, steak or not) and were looking forward to the next BBQ Riesling dinner.

The occasion arose when we made plans with two good friends for dinner. She is falling more and more in love with German Riesling, while he has remained a bit skeptical, but is definitely indulging in the older vintages we’ve brought along. We agreed on steak, a butternut squash with sage risotto and baby potatoes. This was to be followed by a cheese platter, our usual routine.

I knew I wanted to take another bottle of wine, too, and my eyes fell on a bottle of 1999 Bonnes & Guerre Pommard. It was a gift by my French exchange partner and great friend Fred (another match made in the heavens). Pommard is a very well renown village just south of Beaune on the Cote d’Or and my friend knew full well that it is also the sister city of my home village Nackenheim. He had brought two bottles of this wine. I have not been able to find out anything about Bonnes & Guerre, so if any of you know them, please let me know. The first of these bottles I shared with two friends in my last weeks in Germany before heading over to Ann Arbor. It was an utter disappointment: The wine had clearly been dead, whether of cork or another flaw or just bad wine making, I could not determine it. It was just sad. So, I had been worrying about the bottle sitting here in Ann Arbor for a while, and I decided it was time to take it and see…

The Pommard and the decanter

The white was opened and left to breathe for about 30 minutes prior to tasting, the red was decanted and stood for about 45 minutes. We had parts of the Würzgarten with our steaks, and then some of the Pommard as well. That led over to the cheese course, where we also had both wines.

My notes on the 1997 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese* (the wine had 7.5% ABV): The color was surprisingly light, not as ambered as one would expect an Auslese to be when 15 years old. The nose initially was not very prominent, I could not distinguish any particular aromas. As the wine opened up, there was peach in the nose. On the palate, the wine was very fresh, no significant indications of ageing. The peach aromas came through very nicely, the acidity in the wine balancing the reduced sugar beautifully. I guess I was most endeared by how fresh the wine still tasted. About 2 hours into the evening, the wine opened up further and there were tropical fruits coming in. The wine paired nicely with our steaks, but we were also happy to have preserved some for the cheese, because it definitely shone more on the cheese course, when it opened up and was supported more by the goat cheese we were having. It is a marvelous piece of art that Karl Erbes created…

So light…

I knew this bottle of 1999 Bonnes & Guerre Pommard AOC was not flawed as soon as I uncorked it. The cork looked clean and intact, and when I poured the wine into the decanter, a full blown raspberry attack was going on. I don’t recall ever to have had such a prominent and distinct raspberry aroma in the nose. The wine was incredibly light in color, almost translucent. There was no darkening or browning on the edges when poured into the glass. It was remarkably fresh as well. In the nose, the raspberry aromas persisted, with some jam and tartness mixed in. I also smelled something like dough batter, but that might have been my brain playing tricks on me (I love raspberry tartes). There were also notes of chalk in the nose. On the palate, the wine was condensed, but very fruity. The alcohol of 13% ABV was noticeable, but at no instance was the wine heavy. Later in the evening, when we were having cheese, the wine showed cherry, plum and slight tomato notes. There was also a certain earthiness to it. The wine was such a surprise to me. I had expected it to be flawed or a heavier, darker pinot noir. The light color deceived that it was deep and subtle and strong. The finish was long, and it shone through.

Was this a pairing made in the heavens? I think it was. Trying old wines with friends, from two regions in the world that matter a lot to me, both fruity, both light, both deep. They expressed some great European wine making, and to have them side by side, was an experience I likely will not forget for quite some time…

Playing with filters to show how light it looked…

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