Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Petrus - The Most Expensive Wine?

This evening I was able to taste one of the rarest and highly sought after wines in the world. Petrus. From the right bank of Bordeaux, Chateaux Petrus (pronounced PAY-troos) comprises of 30 acres of vineyard which are planted to 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc in the Pomerol AOC north of Saint-Emilion. Yes, you read right, it is mostly Merlot. Production averages roughly 4,000 cases per year. Not a tiny production, but not large by any means in comparison to Lafite or Latour which average 20,000+ cases. Merlot grows best in clay soil and that is what most of Pomerol is composed of. This is Bordeaux at one of its finest. Pauillac being the other "finest" place on the left bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux. Petrus’s history dates back to the late 19th century and was purchased by the modern day owners, the Moueix (pronounced moh-EX) family, from the Arnaud family in 1961. Now, the 1992 vintage was a difficult one in Bordeaux, but Petrus managed to still create a wine worthy of the ages. Robert Parker gave it a 90, the Wine Spectator gave it a 98, and the lowest price for it I saw online was $899. This is the most expensive wine I have ever tasted. How was it? Well, it was unlike anything I have ever had before. Was it the best? It was better than the 1994 Cheval Blanc I had last year which is a top flight wine from the right bank of Bordeaux whose vineyards lie on the border of Pomerol and the Medoc in Saint Emilion. Was it better than the 2003 and 2004 Chateau Angelus? I'll say that it is the best wine from Bordeaux that I have had with this kind of age to it. Still concentrated and complex, yet in a stately, mature way. I get classic aged aromas of tobacco, smoke, leather, and dried currants. I also noted hints of petrol and mint, unusually for a wine of this age. I could imagine this wine in its youth, dense, complex with deep red and black fruit aromas and flavors mixed with smoky oak and silky smooth tannins (mainly from the Merlot).

Our second wine was the California cousin of Petrus, the 2004 Dominus Proprietary Red Wine ($115). Young, rich, and perfectly ripe, the 2004 was from magnum and served decanted. This wine is a great example of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (with small doses of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). Not overly oaked, not overly ripe, it has the right amount of acidity and tannin to balance the ripe fruit. The nose and palate combine to reveal notes of black cherry, currants, sweet oak, and herbs.

I can’t resist telling the Dominus story as it is a subsection of one of the least known family winery stories from the Napa Valley. No, not the Mondavi’s but they had a hand in its creation. Christian Moueix, son of Jean-Pierre Moueix who turned Petrus into the world famous wine that it is when he led the purchase in 1961 of Petrus, traveled to the Napa Valley in the early 1980’s in search of a vineyard to bring the Petrus name and style to the new world wine and latch on to the rapidly growing wine region. Moueix found the 140 acre Napanook vineyard via an introduction from the man who started the modern day Napa Valley craze - Robert Mondavi.

Robert Mondavi introduced Moueix to Robin Lail, daughter of the late (and great) John Daniel Jr. Daniel, who used to own and reside on the Inglenook estate in the mid 1960’s and in many circles is considered the best winemaker in Napa Valley history. His Inglenook wines from the 40’s and 50’s are still opened and enjoyed by wine connoisseurs on the rare occasion a bottle surfaces or Francis Coppola decides to share (he bought most of the Inglenook Estate from Heublin, Inc. in the 1975 and its wine cellars with stocks of old Inglenook vintages). Robin and her sister Marcia kept the Napanook Vineyard in the Daniel family after her father sold Inglenook to a large alcohol conglomerate in 1964 (Heublin, Inc, now Constellation Inc. after about 4 sales and mergers). John Daniel as passionate as he was about winemaking was not a good businessman and had to eventually sell the winery to retain the family’s wealth. The Daniel daughters Lail and Smith decided that Moueix was the right fit for the vineyard and partnered until 1995 when the daughters sold their shares to Moueix. Robin thought up the name “Dominus”, meaning “God” in Latin, and Christian agreed it was a great name and very marketable. Not to mention the stuff inside the bottle being great, the Napanook vineyard lives on in the Dominus ($115) and second label wine Napanook Napa Valley ($39).

Dominus has excelled from its initial 1983 vintage. It still does well as Parker scored the 2001-2004 95, 96, 95 and 94 points respectively. The Dominus Proprietary red wine (not Napanook) we tasted tonight was from the 2004 vintage. Lisa and I both liked it and would definitely recommend picking some up for a special occasion as its not $899 per bottle. Its a mere penance at an average cost of about $100 compared to the Petrus. The Dominus winery is closed to the public and is located in the Napa Valley in the northernmost part of the Yountville district, bordering the famed Oakville district, just west of highway 29.

At the tasting we took home with us a great bottle for dinner that I have to mention (pictured right). Tonight with dinner we had a great table wine from the Rhone. Priced at $5.99, the Paul Jaboulet Aine “Table du Roy” paired well with salmon marinated in a pomegranate sauce. Paul Jaboulet is famous for one of the best Hermitage (Syrah) bottlings from the Rhone (avg. price $150). This non vintage (NV) Grenache (the grape) blend was great. Much more interesting than your average $10 school night wine, I would buy it again. Red berry fruit meshed well with the spicy and meaty notes you find so often in a Provencal wine from the South of France.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jonesy Tawny Port and a California Cabernet

Not to supersede the Thanksgiving wines I recommended a few days ago, I have to talk about two wines I had tonight that would be great tomorrow or anytime. First off was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. We then followed that up with a glass of Australian Tawny Port. With dinner tonight Lisa and I had a bottle of 2001 Mount Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc). The wine just meets the legal minimum to call it a Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the ATF a wine in the USA must contain 75% of one grape in order to call it by that varietal on the bottle. It was an exceptionally pure and complex wine. Wonderful flavors and aromas of currants, mixed berries and herbs jump from the glass and liven the palate. A surprisingly refreshing finish was defined by its acidity by which California wines get knocked for having a lack of. I blogged a few months ago about this winery and recommended all of their wines - check out my May 2007 archives!

The spotlight of this Blog I want to be the Jonesy NV Tawny Port ($8-12!). NV equals non vintage which means the wine is not of one vintage but composed of may different vintages blended together to make one singular expression of that winemaker. 46 years in fact for this particular NV wine! How do they do it? Well first of you may ask what the heck are they doing with all that old wine and where does it come from. Well, no one really knows how much 40-something year old wine is in the blend except the people making the wine. It is also not in any way ever detailed on the bottle of wine from my experience. In a bottle with 46 years of different wines it could be as small as a drop or more if the winemaker feels it is appropriate for the type of expression he'd like his wine to have. It all sits in different barrels by vintage, aging for years and blended in as the winemaker sees fit. It sounds almost like a mad chemistry experience. A little of this year, a little of that until they get what they feels is a complete wine worthy of consumption. If I were to guess (and I am as I did not do much research on port before I wrote this) I would say the winemaker uses the least amount if wine from the old and the new vintages and the core of the wine is made up of the middle to later middle ages of the wines available to blend.

Tawny port is usually brown in color bordered by copper to dark ruby hues. Aromas and flavors commonly include: maple syrup and molasses, candied fruits (think really ripe, sugary ripe, raisin-like or raisins), caramel, hazelnut, and my favorite - roasted nuts (like those in NYC sold by street vendors).

The Jonesy tawny port is ruby-brown with coppery hues on the edges. The nose is fresh and chock full of wonderful maple syrup and overly ripe dark fruit aromas. On the palate the wine is fresh and lively for its concentration and flavors of roasted nuts and maple syrup. I have to say this is a profound finding and I am going to buy a few bottle to stock up and have on hand, especially at about $10 a bottle!

Winemaker: Trevor Jones (aka the Port-meister) and Dan Phillips (importer of rock star Aussie wines)
Cost: $10
Availability: Wide! Wine-searcher.com had many places in NY and NJ that had this bottle for $8-12.
Not to supersede the Thanksgiving wines I recommended a few days ago, I have to talk about two wines I had tonight that would be great tomorrow or anytime. Lisa and I had with dinner a bottle of 2001 Mount Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc)
Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wines for a Thanksgiving Celebration

No doubt you have read countless ideas of what wines go best with Thanksgiving Turkey this year. American Zinfandel because it’s the only indigenous American grape; Napa Valley Cabernet because it’s American, Riesling because it’s versatile, etc. Those are great ideas and feel free to serve that with the Turkey. I am going to take a slightly broader approach and focus on the entire celebration on not just dinner. Here is how I feel an ideal Thanksgiving dinner should unfold.

To start things off I would serve a champagne or sparkling wine, country of your choice of course. I would serve a “Grower Champagne”, preferably a Blanc de Blanc which is always 100% Chardonnay from Larmandier or Diebolt-Vallois ($35-50). BdB’s are lighter and leaner than your average Champagne because the Chardonnay is typically blended with Pinot Noir and a small percentage of Pinot Meunier. BdB’s maybe leaner, but are intense in a different way. They scream minerality and purity in aroma and flavor with a beautiful pearl like texture thanks to the bubbles and vibrant acidity.

A Grower Champagne is from one of the small guys in Champagne. Not a Cliquot or Moet, the small growers only account for 22% of Champagne sales, 3% outside of Europe! The big guys only own 12% of the vineyards in Champagne yet account for 78% of sales. Most growers don’t make their own wine; they just sell it to the big houses. The big guys are great, not doubt I love my Feuillatte and Cliquot, but growers create individual wines full of character and personality because of their small size and unique vineyard sources.

Now if I were to single out a white grape to serve I would choose Viognier. The best from France and California will display notes of citrus and/or stone fruits, honey, floral aromas, an oily texture and refreshing minerality to complement the flavors. The floral aromas and the oily texture are hallmark notes for Viognier, flavors and aromas vary otherwise.

I consider Viognier a red wine drinker’s white wine. My favorites from California are the Alban Vineyards Central Coast Viognier ($20-25) and the Peay Vineyards Estate Viognier, Sonoma Coast ($30, hard to find but worth searching out).

In France Viognier’s home is in the northern Rhone village of Condrieu, but is also grown plentifully in the rest of the Rhone. Condrieu is located on the Rhone river and thus where the village and the vineyards take its name. The name Condrieu is derived from coin de ruisseau, which literally means 'bend in the stream.' Steep hillsides and scattered terraces define the vineyard appearance. Viognier that is not from Condrieu will be labeled Cote du Rhone or Vin de Pays and may contain 100% Viognier or be blended with Marsanne and/or Roussanne. A favorite of ours from France is the Domaine Miquel vin de pays d’oc which is 100% Viognier and priced nicely at about $15. The production in Condrieu is so small that only a few hundred cases each year make their way to the US so prices are a little higher in the $30-60 range. If you want to spend around $40-50 to taste the heights of what this grape can be, try a Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Jean-Luc Colombo or Rostaing Condrieu. If you can’t find my recommendations and come across Viognier in the $15-30 range try one. I would recommend you ask the salesperson first to check that the Viognier is a classically styled wine. Sometimes winemakers get to generous with the oak and that can mask the natural flavors and aromas.

Now onto a few red wine recommendations for Thanksgiving. For the meal, various wines will work just fine. However I think medium to lighter body reds pair best. If you want a more full bodied wine with dinner, maybe serve the lighter reds before dinner, alongside the Viognier and after the Champagne. This time of year is when the Gamay grape is in the spotlight because of the marketing campaign that pushes Beaujolais Nouveau to consumers. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the harvest to be put on the market from the 2007 vintage. The wines are simple, fruity quaffers made for immediate consumption. However, Cru Beaujolais is not a simple fruity quaffer. Cru Beaujolais, also made from Gamay but from 10 special Cru villages in the Beaujolais region, can age 10-30 years depending on the vintage! These are subtly complex wines deserving your attention. Most Cru bottles cost between $10-15, with the very best and rare only costing about $30. These are affordable to just about anyone! Gamay has very similar characteristics to Pinot Noir so if you like Pinot, you may like Gamay. In fact, the Beaujolais region is just south of Burgundy and has similar weather patterns and soils. In 1935 it was declared illegal to plant Gamay in Burgundy where it was planted along side Pinot Noir grapes.

Any Beaujolais from the ten Cru villages are considered the best that Beaujolais has to offer. The ten Cru villages are Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. My favorites usually are from Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin à Vent. Popular producers are George Deboeuf, Brun, Desvignes and Louis Jadot. My favorites this year so far were the 2005 Desvignes Morgon Javernieres and the 2005 Broilly Chateau Thivin.

If you desire a full bodied red wine with dinner your options are quite numerous. Red Zinfandel (not the pink stuff) has been quite popular for Thanksgiving because of its American roots. Most are relatively affordable and give you a lot for your dollar. The Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel portfolio offers up a few different Zinfandels and are some of my favorites. The entry level bottle is about $15-18 and is called the “Sonoma County” bottling. The Sonoma County is one of my “go to” bottles and one of Lisa’s favorites. The Old Vine, Cortina, and Home Ranch are single vineyard Red Zinfandels that cost around $25-30 and are a step up in complexity and flavors. Another reason I recommend them as they are not the ultra-ripe, high octane alcohol fruit bombs that can sometimes be made when ripeness levels are pushed to the extreme which tends to happen a lot with Zinfandel.

Other than that, I leave it up to you the reader to decide what you want to drink with dinner. Maybe open up that special bottle or two you picked up at a winery you visited. Maybe you have a special magnum you have been saving for a special affair. Wine should not be about what you should have but what you want to have!


My Favorites