Saturday, September 26, 2009

1989 Brisebarre Vouvray Moelleux "Grande Reserve"

The recent film Bottle Shock, starring Chris Pine and Alan Rickman, reminded us of the 1976 Paris Tasting, where Napa first reached international acclaim. A little over 30 years ago, no one in Europe knew or cared about Napa wines. But for the last millennium, the wines of the Loire Valley have been known throughout Europe.

Within the valley, the Vouvray appellation has championed the Chenin Blanc grape, producing champagne-style sparkling wine, crisp dry whites, and ageworthy wines of varying sweetness. Occasionally a crop is afflicted with Botrytis cinerea, also known as pourriture noble ("noble rot"), a fungus that perforates the skins, shriveling the grapes and concentrating flavors, acids, and sugars. The greatest dessert wines are made from botrytis-afflicted grapes - Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany, Sauternes in Bordeaux, Tokaji from Hungary. However in Vouvray, Botrytis is rare. Only four vintages in the last century saw a significant natural presence of noble rot: 1945, 1955, 1969, and the birth-year of this wine, 1989.

Older wines are always a gamble. I've had at least as many flawed bottles as intact ones. Even if the wine isn't technically flawed, it is often tired and worn-out. It is a rare wine with enough fruit and structure to last for 20 years, much less improve. They say that for older vintages, "there are no great wines, only great bottles." This was one.

1989 Brisebarre Vouvray Moelleux "Grande Reserve"

Brilliant gold in the glass with a touch of green, this wine had a captivating nose of pear, honey, grape, and apple. Secondary flavors included saffron, candle-wax, flowers, and wet leaves. In the mouth the flavors swirled and blended. Medium bodied, it carried its sweetness effortlessly, with a touch of grapefruit bitterness and crystalline acidity. New, surprising flavors appeared far into the finish. This wine has it all: sweetness, acidity, flavors, finish, intrigue, surprise, and mouthwatering aromatic complexity. Amazingly, all of this is packed into a 12.5% medium bodied moelleux! Superb.

Score: 93 (I've only scored three other wines this high, out of nearly 700 tasting notes).

Temperature: Serve slightly cool (~65F), but not cold.

How much?: ~$35.

... Read more.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Changing Hats

It was disorienting walking into the store and stepping behind the counter for the first time. I've perused the shelves many times before as a customer. Now it's my job. Well... part of it.

I recently joined CoolVines, a 2-year old specialty wine store with branches in Westfield, and Princeton, NJ. My official job description is business development and operations research, but in a small company you have to wear many hats. Besides data-crunching and strategy planning, I've manned the counter, stocked shelves, and helped with tasting/selection. In the process, I got up close and personal with some of the most intractable problems in wine retail.

Our store manager said it right: "Retail is DETAIL. It's simple, but not easy." It's a Jekyll-and-Hyde cycle: When a customer comes in, dig up and awaken your inner wine lover. Every time a customer leaves, turn into an OCD psychopath.

Another dichotomy is that of a wine lover/professional. Ever since Lord Parker rose to prominence on a Nader-esque crusade against conflict-of-interest, amateur wine lovers have been wary of professionals. And rightly so. No other industry profits from as much bullshit as the wine industry does. To borrow a term from Scott Adams, the wine business is a "confusopoly" - making money from people's confusion.

But hopefully this will change. With the proliferation of superb blogs like WLTV and Vinography, consumers are better informed. Parker and Wine Spectator, despite their vague aura of evilness, do their part to herald new wine regions and producers. In the meanwhile, it may come as some consolation that retailers are often just as confused as customers.

... Read more.