Saturday, November 22, 2008

Domaine La Barroche

Winemakers are thoughtful people. Dealing with fickle weather patterns, temperamental fermentation, and the vagaries of bottle aging seems to preclude the damning judgments, prejudices, and generalizations that pervade the rest of the wine world. I was reminded of this by the stark contrast between two recent tastings .

The first was led by a Rutgers professor, also a certified wine judge. Alarm bells went off as he pronounced "I have a 3000-bottle cellar. I never drink Burgundy before 8 years, Bordeaux before 10." He singled me out a couple times for the glass I brought - a stemless Riedel - saying it was "the most ridiculous thing ever made - if I could, I'd break every glass in existence... Not one self-respecting wine professional would ever go near that glass." When asked about Parker's influence, he gave a ludicrous caricature of a man who "prefers the fruit bomb to the balanced wine, 100% of the time." "Believe me," he said, "I've tasted with the man - I know." It was possibly the most pedantic and condescending speech I'd heard since I was in diapers... but enough about that.

The bitter taste left in my mouth by said "professor" was washed neatly away the very next day at a tasting of Domaine La Barroche. Occupying a hilltop spot in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, bordering parcels owned by Chateau Rayas, Domaine La Barroche produces some of the most exquisite, complex, and powerful wines in the Southern Rhone Valley.

I found the winemaker to be a terrific combination of humility and ambition. His respect for tradition is matched by a burning desire to make better and better wines. And yet when he succeeds, he gives most of the credit to terroir. When only 23, Julien Barrot took over Domaine La Barroche, including vineyards which had been farmed by his family in unbroken succession over three centuries. Now 28, he remembers vividly pruning the vines as a child - reluctantly at first, then with growing interest.

The wines that inspire him, apart from the other great Chateauneuf-du-Pape's, are Northern Rhones and the great Burgundies. With his high pyrazine* sensitivity, he often finds Bordeaux wines too green for his taste. In just five or so vintages, he has already produced wines that rival the nearby Chateau Rayas. Truly a rising star of Chateauneuf-du-Pape!


Dom. La Barroche Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2005

Medium ruby in the glass, the Reserve has a beautiful nose of cherry liqueur with a hint of earth and spice. In the mouth it is lusciously medium bodied, with med+ alcohol, medium acid, hints of spice, pepper, wood, and satiny tannins. Finishes with lingering grace. 88-90 points. $45.

Dom. La Barroche Signature 2006

Medium red in the glass, the Signature has a light but breath-stoppingly gorgeous nose of red cherries, faint liquorice, blackberry, and tobacco. Unfortunately I think this bottle was a tiny bit oxidized. In the mouth it was very light, med- body, med+ alcohol, med- acid, reminiscent of an '04 Rayas Pignan I had at Clo. Silky tannins led to a long finish with faint pepper and roasted papad, again similar to the Rayas Pignan, but with more fruit. This wasn't a favorite of my companions, but I liked it. I won't rate it due to the slight oxidation. $59

Dom. La Barroche Fiancée 2006

Dark purple in the glass, the Fiancée initially had an amazing nose of cured meats and dark berries, that eventually seemed over-the hill. Not oxidized, just like it had been left out overnight but hadn't started to turn to acetaldehyde yet. In the mouth it was full-bodied and fleshy with beautiful fruit, medium acid and medium tannins. Something really smelled off about the nose, though, so I won't rate it. $70

*IBMP (2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine) is a compound associated with green grass/bell pepper aromas in sauvignon blanc and Bordeaux varietals. Some tasters' thresholds are on the order of 15 parts per trillion.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

I am a strange, strange human being

It's been a year and 3 months since I started my wine journey, and sometimes I feel like I haven't gone anywhere. In fact I haven't gone anywhere - I'm still at school, living in a dorm room down the hall from where I lived last year. But whenever I meet someone new and taste wine, or talk about wine, I am reminded that I'm actually a subtly different species. How have I changed?

1. I smell everything. I can be distracted by familiar scents as easily as if a friend called my name. I have identified the principle ingredients in an Odwalla shake by smell alone. There are at least 2 classmates of mine who I can smell as soon as they enter a room.

2. I drink whites at room temperature. People always question this, and I try not to preach that everyone should, but after I tried it once I was hooked. Hey, I had a middle school teacher who microwaved his coke. Now that was weird.

3. I spit out of habit. If you get between me and the spit bucket, I will shamelessly lean in front of you and let loose. If there's a decently shaped bucket, or even better, a garbage can available, I will spit from a comfortable distance of 3-4 feet. Don't give me that look. My aim is perfect.

4. I'm noisy when I drink liquids. Water, milk, coffee, tea, juice - I'll swirl, sniff, slurp, swish, and aerate all of them. So sue me. I like to actually taste what I'm drinking.

5. I'm shy when it comes to talking about wine with new people. Until I establish that someone is open-minded about wine, I keep the conversation superficial. I learned this the hard way when I found myself on the receiving end of a cartoonish anti-Parker tirade.

6. I have a low acetaldehyde threshold, which means I'm every wine bar and tasting room's nightmare. At first I told people, but then they stopped believing me, or rather, my nose. Now I just keep it to myself and don't rate the wine.

7. Anytime I hear the words "Yellow Tail" I involuntarily go through a rapid cycle of emotions. First disdain. Then guilt at feeling disdain. Then appreciation of the sugar-acid balance they've achieve. Then annoyance that American's are such suckers for high sugar and high acidity (Coke anyone?). Then disinterest at the industrial nature of the wine. Then guilt...

8. I have a corkscrew with me at all times. Wing-style corkscrews give me indigestion on sight.

9. I bring my own glasses. Go ahead, look at me funny. I can smell my wine and you can't. When people ask me whether the shape of the glass matters, I fight the urge to look at them incredulously. Even two identical glasses will smell different, depending on who's holding them and a hundred other variables.

10. I don't take notes on everything I taste anymore. Something changed in my gut when I broke 365 CellarTracker notes in under a year. I no longer had the patience to try to learn from wines that didn't excite me. When the best wine I'd ever tasted was a $19 McLaren Vale Shiraz, I payed attention to everything, even wines I didn't like at all. Now when I taste a generic wine that isn't delicious or at least interesting, I forget about it immediately. A wise man once said: Life is too short to drink bad wine.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CLO Wine Bar, NYC

In the Time Warner center, between Per Se and Masa, a simple white table stands, surrounded by a chic enclosure of Enomatic wine dispensers. The tabletop is alive with an interactive projected display that allows you to browse a hundred or so wine-by-the-glass selections, including region/appellation info and tasting notes. After choosing a selection, you take your glass to the appropriate Enomatic station, insert the tab card provided by a friendly server, and voilà! You are the proud new owner of exactly 4 ounces of slightly frothing, tasty beverage. There is also a small menu of cheeses, charcuterie, and other drinks.

At first Clo felt like some sort of bizzare wine-themed space ship out of a Douglas Adams book ("Share and enjoy!"), but the server and sommelier-on-hand were approachable, helpful, and friendly. The slightly clumsy interface had one unexpected consequence: complete strangers talked with each other about the tricky interface, and ultimately about wine.

There are few people more irrepressible than a wine lover who suddenly finds himself in the company of others sharing his strange obsession, and I quickly found myself deep in conversation with a chef from Napa, a group of tourists from Belgium, and a visual designer from NYC proper who graduated from my high school back in California. Such is the magic of Clo.

My one complaint is that they have discontinued the 2 oz taste program. I was looking forward to sampling several wines, but since they recently limited the serving size to 4 oz (customers complained 2oz looked skimpy in the glass), I contented myself with a fascinating, evolving '04 Rayas Pignan. The somm said that once Clo gets more traction, and a base of regular customers, they will try to add the tasting program in again.

Price: Like most wine bars this depends on the wine. Clo covers a broad spectrum, from several sub-$10 wines to a $100+ Leoville Las Cases (yes, $100 for 4 oz). Prices per glass were around 25% of retail price, far less than the industry standard. The food prices emphasized quality over quantity - small plates of cheeses and charcuterie in the $6-20 range.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting Dumb with TheDumbPhase

I never wanted this blog to become a catalog of wine-related exploits, partly because on a student's budget my "exploits" aren't all that extraordinary. However I was recently invited to a tasting of wines that were of such a high caliber that I was intellectually and olfactorily disoriented. From the point of view of a beginning taster, this tasting provided excellent examples of different styles, opening my palate to regions I was previously unfamiliar with.

Here are the wines (minus a couple Champagnes), and the approximate prices (from the Wine Advocate website):

03 Collazzi Rosso (Toscana) $35
05 Tasca D'Almerita Lamùri (Sicilia) 90pts (AG*) $20
01 R. Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 95pts (AG) $200
01 Gaja Sperss (Langhe) 93pts (AG) $220
1999 Allegrini Amarone (Valpolicella) 95pts (DT*) $80

1983 Château Cantemerle (Haut-Medoc) 91pts (RP*) $100
00 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie 'La Mouline' 91pts (RP) $300
03 Château Rieussec (Sauternes) 96pts (RP) $80

03 Colgin IX Estate (Napa) 95pts (RP) $325
05 Alban Vineyards Grenache (CA) 96pts (RP) $120
05 W. Hansel Pinot 'The North Slope' (91-93 RP) $50

03 Bodegas Pintia (Spain, Toro) 92pts (JM*) $50

03 Lost Highway Shiraz(McLaren Vale) 93pts (RP) $45

Stay tuned for tasting notes! All I will divulge now is that the Guigal La Mouline stole the show.

*All notes are from The Wine Advocate - AG: Antonio Galloni, DT: Daniel Thomases, RP: Robert Parker, JM: Jay Miller

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