Friday, March 30, 2012

The Italian Job

It would have been over four years since we had a meal with Mar and Treasure, and to celebrate SWMBO chose fine Italian fare. Our host Just a Sippy is one of the most convivial in town, and his establishment was truly humming like a bird. We’ve eaten there many times, and we have always been very pleased with the food. While we decided what to choose, a glass of refreshing unidentified Prosecco hit the spot. A hint of sweetness, and a touch of body, something to bring a smile on, and perfect with warmed oysters on a bed of slightly spiced angel’s hair pasta. With veal, lamb, risotto and pappardelle ordered, it was time to the big Italian vino to do the job.

Just two wines, a bianco and a rosso were sufficient. Both from 2008, and both at opposite ends of the maturity spectrum. The 2008 Antinori Cevaro della Sala is fully-worked Chardonnay with 15% Grechetto. Deep golden, it warned of its age. Restrained nutty notes wafted and built, without giving too much away, but on palate a minor explosion of richness, warmth and flavours. Totally interwoven and harmonious, and indistinguishable from a good premier cru Meursault. Strangely the oysters stood up to this, their piercing piquancy showing their independence and non-Italian nature.

The 2008 Allegrini ‘La Grola’ Valpolicella is about as serious as Corvina can be before it heads into ripasso or amarone country. Dark ruby and youthful, this was brimming with primary, juicy dark fruits and sweetness, along with a pepper-spice edge. No doubt the 20% Syrah playing its part. Tannins grew and picked up from the initial fruitiness, and the seriousness of this wine became apparent, but it never lost its succulence. Both these wines did their jobs wonderfully, though neither a perfecto match, maybe the veal with the white best.

As we settled up with Just a Sippy, out came the compulsory limoncello, perfect to simultaneously clear and sate the palate after the gelato. Our host certainly knows his job.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bright and Lively

That was what it was all about. The meeting of like minds to assess some wines where purity, finesse, clarity and liveliness is all. And we had the AC Electric Man and the Aromatic Ace on board, as they are among the brightest if not liveliest people around. The main feature was done with seriousness and properly, and doesn’t need reporting here. But some bright and lively wines (and some not) are worthy of a note.

The ‘befores’ were consumed at our favourite Asian eating house, where such wines seem to be well suited to the food. First up was an Italian co-operative wine, a 2010 Eisacktaler Kellerie Sudtirol Eisacktaler Kerner. At 13.5% it is no weak or watery wine. With Riesling-like overtones on the nose, showing limes and flowers, it was more like a Viognier on palate, with its weight and heat. But this had plenty of zingy acidity too. This worked well, and was a pleasure to drink.. However the nest wine was a 2008 Muller-Catoir Haardter Mandelring Scheurebe Spatlese from the Pfalz. Only 10%, and great for it, the gentle honey, notes of spice and soft florals increased in richness, hinting at the presence of botrytis. The precision and finesse of texture was a joy to behold. No wonder this German label is an icon.

There had to be some more OTT styles to counter the fresh styles. And the 2007 Ivicevich Waimauku Chardonnay was certainly it. Intense, powerful nutty and mealy-rich, a touch of oxidation was detected, but we were not fazed by it in any way. Complexity knows no bounds? Yet there was excellent acidity to keep it all alive. The mandatory red was a rare 2009 Penfolds ‘Bin 150’ Marananga Shiraz. I love this wine. It’s all shiny and bright with lush new American oak, ultra-smooth, and super ripe without being over-done. Classic Penfolds as it should always be, without being too robust. I see it as a ‘junior’ RWT, but better than be a junior.

The ‘afters’ followed a more usual approach with some of the old ‘treasures’ from the long lost cellar. To prime ourselves up, a pair of Chardonnays. The first, the 2010 Villa Maria ‘Keltern’ Chardonnay, has been one of the most successful wines on the New Zealand show judging circuit. I’ve been intrigued by its complex lees and sulphide working, and the cream-corn character was pretty clear this showing. Sometimes it can be overbearing and swmnp the fruit, but here in balance, but obviously still tight and young. The previous bottle of 2007 HdV de la Guerra Los Carneros Chardonnay also walked the same complex reductive sulphides tightrope. Unfortunately this bottle distinctly oxidised. Nevertheless, great power and structure with body, alcohol and acidity with grunty grip.

Red time was based on a trio of trouble, three 1986 Hawke’s Bay Cabernet/Merlot blends. The 1986 St George Cabernet/Merlot, aged in American oak, pungently green and stemmy and marked by high acidity, quite harsh to drink. No trace of the U.S. wood. Time has done it no favours. But surprisingly integrated, balanced, harmonious and totally harmless was the 1986 Esk Valley ‘Private Bin’ Cabernet/Merlot 1986. Smooth, mellow, soft, and not really herbal in any way. Good premium wine a quarter of a century ago, but without great aspirations. The word must come out – attractive. Then we expected the most from the 1986 Brookfields Cabernet/Merlot, sporting a flash gold label, and aged in oak with a significant portion new. This had the most weight, sweetness of fruit and detectable oak shine, but spoilt by a grubby streak. In its youth, this was full of bright interest. But other things have got in the way.

To see off the reds, a 1989 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. Easy to see the Cabernet Sauvignon, with blackcurrant flavours, and reasonably easy to see the Australian, with a mild underlay of eucalypt. Or is that Coonawarra mint? Ultra soft, ultra rounded and very smooth. The tannins have been resolved completely, so the backbone has faded. But still sweet, soft and mildly delicious, and surprisingly alive. The final blast was a 1997 Rolly Gassmann Alsace Riesling ‘Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr’ Vendages Tardive. Golden, honey and earth, sweetish in more the spatlese-equivalent class rather than more, where it should have been? Lovely weight and identity, but a bit of a misnomer calling it a VT. Or had it dried out and thus losing its sweetness and richness? Still, this is a lovely drink.

As we tasted much and did not drink a lot, we retired bright and fresh so we could wake up bright and lively. I’m glad to report we all did. Except the AC Electric Man.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Warm and Generous

After a long day out in the country, with the sun making a welcome return, wine flowing, food to consume and music to dance to, we finally made it back to base camp at the A-Prentices. What else but more wine and food, and a balmy evening making the warmth and generosity complete.

A couple of interesting rosé wines to start the proceedings. A lovely, reasonably dark coloured, near-lurid, juicy, bright raspberry fruited 2011 Tiki Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé, absolutely delicious with its off-dry sweetness and simultaneously thirst-quenching. Perfectly made wine for the good autumn weather. A good comparison with the classical 2010 Ch. Roubine Cotes de Provence rosé. Pale coloured, quite dry, with phenolic textures that work so well at soaking up food on platters, but this vintage marked by sulphur reduction, making it hard on the palate. It will definitely handle bottle age, and drink well over time.

We went through a gamut of pretty classy Rieslings and Champers through the evening. Sitting by the fire, outside, well sated from the food, it was the perfect time to sip on three 1998 wines. A 1998 Martinborough Vineyard Riesling, 12.5% alc. and 5/L rs, still not overly golden, but fully toasty, almost smelling creamy. Dry and very fine on the palate, totally developed and integrated honey, lime, butter and toast mix, and just a trace of oxidative complexity in the mix. They say cooler years are best for aromatic whites, so this was a bit of a surprise.

There’s a bit of a backlash against the traditional, hearty full/over ripe Aussie reds at present. The Mod-Oz crowd espousing cool-climate finesse, acid and freshness, citing how good they go with modern cuisine’s lightness and health-conscious aspects. But, these warm and generous, soft textured Shirazes of old are still superb at the end of the night, to sip on for their sweetness, or matching with hearty red meat dishes and cheeses. I’m not giving up that sort of food…

Making a case for this point firstly was a 1998 Rosemount ‘Balmoral’ Syrah. Really Shiraz, not Syrah! Sweet, ripe, lush black plum, liquorices, black pepper and some sweet, meaty game. Warm, soft, and truly generous, with no harsh edges. Drinking so well no, but another 5-8 years easy. Then a 1998 Penfolds ‘Bin 389’ Cabernet/Shiraz. Also with preserved plums and liquorice, black fruits, just starting to show some earth, tar and leather. Hints of decrepit age. A touch drying and astringent, but clearly Aussie warmth and ripeness at its heart. Maybe this was a lesser bottle, as I know this wine and label can go on for decades. But this was still a great drink. I couldn’t have a wimpy, lean, skinny, dare I say it, elegant Pinot Noir at this time of night, as the embers from the fire floated into the dark of the night.

Friday, March 9, 2012

French Frere Fare

A petite soiree with P-Prince saw SWMBO whip up a meaty meal. Three French wines helped us in our friendship and brotherhood of wine! They also sat comfortable with each other with their connections, somewhat analogous to our bond.

As always, Champagne is a good opener. P-Prince brought out a bottle he’d been waiting to share with someone. While a drink alone is more than acceptable, Champagne needs to be shared. The Taittinger ‘Folie de la Marquetterie’ NV is a lovely addition to this house’s portfolio, a single vineyard near Epernay, and with over 55% Pinot Noir, it had a commonality with the next two wines. Excellent brioche nose and quite a gentle richness and building sweetness, with freshness still to keep the sugar at bay. Just right to entice the palate, and satisfy a thirst.

As the hearty fare appeared, the first of two Pinot Noir table reds. An unusual 2009 Domaine Genevat ’Cuvee Julien’ Cotes du Jura. Plenty of wine here with good weight and bright acid. Flavour interest for SWMBO and P-Prince, and more than enough grip underneath. The flavours certainly on the rustic and countryish side, which I found a little sour cherryish, whereas it was complex to them.

A lesson in class came with the 2009 Drouhin Beaune 1er ‘Greves’, from Burgundy, parallel to the Jura, but far more recognized and noble. The brother of the Jura wine that went to the city. A very good vintage with ripeness and sweet perfumes, building richness and tannin grip, but all with refinement. Perfumed florals and silky textures, and a proportion that spoke of elegance with strength. As with all good Beaunes, accessible too.

Three French brothers, being what they are, and happy with it. Just like us.

Tears of Remembrance

Yet again we headed over the hill to accept the hospitality of the A-Prentices. They are always so accommodating and the latitude they give us in opening strange and odd bottles with the specialist commentary, is really quite remarkable. We also had the presence of The P-Prince, and this seemingly added some gravitas to the occasion, but the truth is, we’re all human, and egalitarian principles apply.

The night gave us the opportunity to open more 1986 Cabernet and Merlot blends from New Zealand. A quarter of a century on, and most of us would not hold out too much hope. But our experience of wines from this era, in this country, has surprised us. We live in hope! But in reality, viticulture was not what it is today, and green was the rule then. Anything that rose above unripeness is a wine of merit.

The 1986 Nob Hill Waiheke Island Cabernet/Merlot was lively, vibrant and sappy, and a little grubby. If you got past that, it was still a fresh drink. But it was difficult to get past the corruption. I suppose that’s why Goldwater Estate had it as a second label. The fruit didn’t measure up. I was more happy with the 1986 Kumeu River Merlot/Cabernet. Riper for sure, because nothing really stalky or stemmy showed. It had a togetherness which made it quite palatable. But in the final analysis a light weight with modest interest. Still it was my favourite. Then the most strikingly green wine in the group, a 1986 Collards Cabernet/Merlot. Sporting a ‘Flash Gordon’ label, this was jagged with its unripe flavours and acidity. The tannin harshness was exacerbated, and acid ruled. Odd, because Collards was a ‘hot’ label at the time, but to be honest, their reds didn’t match the whites. Contract fruit without viticultural care? The most distinctive wine was the 1986 St Nesbit. A Cabernet/Merlot blend aged in 100% new French oak. Expensive and extravagant stuff in those days. Tony Molloy QC was the proprietor, and his aspirations were extremely high. Unfortunately virussed vines put paid to the project. I understand he has vines today, and wine is coming. But this 1986 stood out for its shiny, spicy oak, still burning bright. But no fruit underneath now…

1986 was a big year for P-Prince. He was in the Auckland region then, and visited and was familiar with all the wines and people involved. He changed direction in making a move down south to start a new life. The wines from that vintage nearly brought tears of remembrance. The question we asked was “What were you doing in 1986?” Some of us drinking these wines had not been born!

To show how quickly things change, in a short time, the A-Prentices brought out a 1991 Corbans ‘Private Bin’ Merlot. Slightly green. But much more fruit weight and richness. Green turning to green tobacco which is much more acceptable. 5 years down the track from the 1986 wines, and a world of difference. SWMBO and P-Prince backed this wine as the best of the bunch.