Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another busy Tuesdsay tasting

As is so often the case with Tuesdays, today was quite a full line-up of wine tasting. About 50 wines tasted by day's end, almost entirely Spanish and Italian. Rather than cull the tasting notes for wines which were particularly good or bad, I thought it might be interesting to state a few disparate thoughts on wine which were solidified throughout the course of the day. To complement these observations, I will include a tasting note on a particular wine for each one.


So much wasted potential in this DO. Old vines, premium grape variety (tempranillo), great terroir. And for what? Largely for super jammy cooked black cherry/blackberry, vanillin dominated, technology and media influenced wines that truly taste very similar. Why? Because they are all aged for similar amounts of time in largely new French allier barrels, with similar toasting levels, from the same coopers. That's why. Method is defining the quality and taste of the wine more than any other factor which, unless we are speaking of Sherry, Madeira, Vin Jaune and Vin Santo (notice the absence of red table wines on that list) cannot be a good thing. That having been said, my favorite wine of the day was a 1996 Arzuaga Gran Reserva. It was delicious, complex and positively claret-like. Sort of a cross between the terrific power, intensity and acidity driven structure of '96 Bdx and the herbal, spicy savor of many wines from the early maturing '97 Bdx vintage. This illustrates how good Ribera can be (oh, and byu the way it doesn't have to be a pricey Gran Reserva to be distinctive and good - check out Valduero and Pesquera, for instance).


Today I tasted a 2007 Arzuaga 'La Planta' Ribera del Duero. It is their 'joven' or 'cosecha' wine. Not enough oak or bottle aging to be called a Crianza, in other words. It struck me as a bit oakier, coarser and more lacking in nuance when compared to the last vintage I drank of this wine, the 2005. The smoke tinged cherry fruit was still there, but a bit more obscured by smoke than I recall. In other words, a bit of a let down. After tasting through three Chilean wines (Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet) from Armador, I poured myself a bit more of the Arzuaga 'La Planta' about an hour after initially tasting it. Relative to the Chilean wines it tasted like friggin' Burgundy.

In a similar vein, what I thought to be a very pure, honest, multi-layered elegant expression of sangiovese in the 2005 Vecchie Terre Chianti Classico, somehow seemed more of a mid-palate dominated, monochromatic wine compared with the 2007 CRB Pineau d'Aunis I drank tonight alongside it. The CRB really is a finishing wine, a bit strict on the front and mid-palate (especially when first opened), but very pretty and well-structured when you start drinking more than just a taste.


Poggiarellino, a Brunello producer, sure makes some rustic, funky, brettanomyces dominated wines. There are really coarse, unruly tannins that expand all over your mouth - I've seldom had tannins cover so much surface area. Also, the wines show that weird, nutty savor of a minimally or unsulphured wine that has been open for a bit as well. At least two of my co-workers really enjoyed these wines, though, one of whom bought a case of their '06 Rosso. Upon quizzing Jim (who also happens to be a longtime winemaker and former vineyard owner) why he liked the Poggiarellino so much, what with all of the Brett and, to my palate, bacterial issues, he replied that it seemed interesting and balanced to him. 'But Jim,' I said, 'You love fruit, enjoy California wine, and preach about the importance of clean, modern practices in the cellar.' [ok, I did not say this word for word but that was the gist] 'Why do you like this Bretty, funky wine.' He basically replied that he hates brett in California wine, because there is not enough acidity and other characteristics to offset, or add interest to, the funk. In other words, California wine should be full of bright, juicy fruit, and it is ok for European wines to be teeming with brettanomyces and other bacteria, provided the acidity is high enough and the terroir is decent. Hmmm....

That's enough for tonight, hopefully some food for thought for all of you out there.

Alton Ellis RIP

Alton Ellis, the ‘godfather of rocksteady,’ passed away last Friday October 10th. He was 70 years old. There had been a premature rumor circulating regarding his death on Thursday, which my good friend and former bandmate Chet forwarded to me. So apparently he was not well, in the final stages of lymphatic cancer. Here is an obituary in today’s Guardian by reggae authority (and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry biographer) David Katz. And below, I thought I’d post a tribute featuring what is arguably Alton Ellis’ most famous song, recorded by Sir Coxsone Dodd at the legendary Studio One.