SSS Pre-Spring Portfolio Tasting: An Overview

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On February 26, at the Gramercy Park Hotel, on the Gramercy Terrace, Savio Soares Selection -a Brooklyn based wine importer- held their Pre-Spring Portfolio tasting between 10am and 4pm, marking their second successful collaboration with this unique location and space. 

I feel I would be amiss if I didn't give a little history of this site.

According to their website, the name for Gramercy Park comes from the Dutch words krom moerasje and means "crooked little swamp." The hotel was built on the site of what was once the home of Edith Wharton and then famed architect Stanford White. The building was designed by Robert Lyons in the Renaissance revival style, was completed in 1925 and, not to turn this into a history lesson, but for much of the 20th century got by and became known as a place for many of the mid-to-late twentieth century's famous musicians as well as many notable celebrities who have existed in the space at one time or another (Babe Ruth, the Kennedys). Following a tragedy in the early aughts and trading hands, it went in for a redesign around 2006 via a join collaboration between architect John Pawson and artist Julian Schnabel giving the hotel it's now unique and stylish look today. 

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Savio Soares Selections first tasting at this location was back in October and collected four winegrowers from three countries, featured wonderfully made suckling pig from the famous Maialino Restaurant downstairs, and occupied the south-facing terrace (approximately a little less than a third of the total terrace). With it's second incarnation in this magnificent space -with curry goat this time prepared also by Maialino Restaurant- the Soares team took over the entire terrace with twenty visiting winegrowers from almost every country in the portfolio. Some of the heavy hitters were there like Jean-Claude Chanudet, Christian Bonfils, Vincent Sipp, and Andrea Calek, alongside some of the portfolio's new arrivals (and soon to be heavy hitters) like Bodega Barranco Oscuro, Weingut Weszeli, Weingut Thiery-Weber and Artu Toifl, Ronsel do Sil and La Ferme des Caudalies. It was truly a diverse collection, artists in the field and many of the times insistent that they were doing next to nothing except carefully and skillfully assisting the vines to their final goal; said in more ways than one, the winegrowers treated the vines as if their own kin, assisting when needed and treating them almost individually while operating, for the most part next to organically or bio-dynamically, whether certified or not. In the realm of the industry this is the hallmark of what the portfolio has come to be know for: craftsman, working with the land, producing quality with what it gives them and often in less than 1,000 cases per item, sometimes as small as 125 cases. 

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Although the centerpiece of the week was the tasting, every preceding day was jam packed with in-store tastings (Appellation Wines, Flatiron Wines), restaurant dinners (Reynard's, Rouge Tomate, Glasserie, and Rouge et Blanc), staff training sessions (Astor Wines), and even a media event (Amali) -the week didn't really end until that following weekend (having worked the tasting and assisted with event planning I can safely say that it was a very long three weeks, not only were there events but educational sessions with almost all of the growers who brought generous samples of their estate's wines which was so much fun). 

I don't think it would justice to try and describe the many wines that were tasted that day, let alone the conversations had and overheard but I am fortunate to be able to work with a company whose ties to its producers are almost like family. 

 

 

Rose, Pinot x2 and Catavela!

I don't know how I ended up getting fixated on tasting individual wines, perhaps it's because I've fallen into a trap of coveting wine for that "special" moment and by that I mean for this blog. To focus ones attention and discernment on unraveling how the different traits interact and overlap in an individual wine is important, but you run the risk of getting caught in a sensory vacuum, whereas if you're tasting multiple wines back-to-back then the differences in a flight of wine become more apparent. 

It's been a while since I've done a tasting of more than one wine at a time. At work we sometimes do this but usually I'm not busting open various bottles on my own, I like to think I spend money on quality wines to enjoy them and opening three bottles of wine not to know how or if they'll go bad or even if they'll get properly used over the course of the next few days is a risk. But it's what I've been missing as of late, it's what I liked and miss about retail tastings so maybe in hoarding wines I got trapped in my collector mode; wine is for consumption and the experience in the now, some can be held for long periods of time but don't kid yourself into thinking that all those bottles you've been putting aside are meant to age or develop further. Suffice it to say I've got a lot of catching up to do...

With that said, I'm going to start this new year with an attempt at reviewing wines in this format and even begin tasting similar vintages, varietals, or tiers (if I can afford it) so as to figure out the nuances.

Domaine de Belle Vue Miam Miam Rose

Domaine de Belle Vue Miam Miam Rose

 

'...a performer, strong and impressive, glistening with a silver sweat, rose to the podium in a boisterous entrance -crowd held at bay as during his flexes, stretches and gyrations a metal hoop is pulled from side stage; he tests its durability giving the impression that he's done this before and quite successfully. It's a feat of strength as he begins to stretch this staunch hoop with every clenched grasp, arches tugged minutes on end, he yanks and jerks to no avail only producing exasperation and sweat. Hardly dissuaded he continues to tug on the faulty metallic ring as if it were meant to open a portal to something and reveal some hidden intent. The crowd duped, cheated of their finale, begins to disperse under the flat baking gaze of the sun; the trick revealed as they left, the strident masculine man is but a child without strength, stature or substance; to the side a faux metallic pinwheel with its matte stripe patterns spinning silently in the wind...'

When I was first presented with this rose from Domaine de Belle Vue during my internship I was pleasantly surprised, even interested in exploring it further and already setting down the sketch I would prepare for a review. It was not soon after that I made the connection of this wine to the same estate who produced the very same Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine and another dubbed 'Granit' -from a smaller plot and both from the Loire- that both had enticing acidity and a beautiful sandy-shellfish and saline note (granted it's been a while, but that's what sticks in my mind). Months pasted, summer turned to autumn and when I moved to my new apartment I was able to retrieve a case of this wine for my house warming -hurrah, a house rose!-and though we had plenty to drink it, we just couldn't get through one case of it. For one, not everyone drinks rose for the misconception that it's either sweet or girly or blah blah blah....excuses excuses excuses... and secondly we had plenty mixed drinks and other bottles brought in by guests to keep us busy. It's not that the rose tasted bad or wasn't doing it's genre a service -it was fresh and crisp- but... well... it's kind of flat. It's crisp, has some ever-so-subtle essence of fruit-juice and something reminiscent of a body to keep one quaffing, yet over the course of months it was established within the house that there wasn't much to it.  In another stroke of luck we were able to replenish our stock as a winter house wine for our Holiday/New Years gathering and in this second round I've become better acquainted with the little character it has: as I've said, the first round as our house rose nothing could really be said about it, in it's second incarnation as the house wine it seems to have developed, a little, just a little, to give it perhaps the character I found when I first sampled it over the summer. The minerality of this wine is perhaps the only real thing going for it, it's the only thing that appears on palate and almost keeps the rest of it contained for fear it would wash away -of course it has some body and an essence of fruit. On the other hand that's not saying much, it simultaneously feels like it can't quite pull itself together, it has one thing going for it and all the other factors are equal producing a flat uneventful rose. I love rose wine and they're often preferable when they have some combination of salinity and petrichor -drying water on stone, or wet stone- emanating and interacting with the fruit or weight or both and when that occurs you get something transcendent, bridging the best qualities of red with that of white (even when it's not blended into it); I'd even beg to say a good rose could one-up red or white any day but this one has none of that.  

The next three wines that I tasted came about because, during our meeting, we were blind tasting two Pinot Noirs and then tasted the wines by Azienda Agricola Denavolo -wonderfully savory whites like nothing you've ever had before! Blind tastings have been a steady theme at our meetings, anywhere between one and four wines are presented to mainly have fun but to also see if we know our stuff and generally their are always surprises along the way. Tasting wines in this fashion can be fun and challenging, mainly because without the bottles before us we have no real preconceptions to base our reactions on, only the color, smell and taste of the wine. It's not unknown to most shoppers that visuals -namely the labels- often play a deciding role as to whether we'll purchase a wine or not: a salesman can talk up a wine until he runs dry in the mouth but the customer might just end up with something entirely different. I should know, I can be a salesman's worst nightmare since I'll jump from section to section out of pure curiosity to seek out something newer or more special than before or because I realize I haven't had a Vouvray in a long time. 

So in tasting these two Pinot Noirs back-to-back it was pretty apparent that one of them was richer, denser, had sufficient minerality yet was heavier -new world character- being pitted against something more austere, expressing a more mineral focused backdrop with more petals than fruit. Blind tasting is kind of like Russian Roulette: any given wine will instigate different impressions in different people, trained palates will be able to pull out traits and hone in on varietal types usually (if it's a single varietal wine) or at least give regional location because it exhibits a certain kind of "personality" that a region is known for, but more often than not I feel like you have a maybe a 50-50 chance of guessing even remotely correctly. The wine world is so vast now that a wine from Sicily or Germany can exhibit characteristics of a new world wine throwing you off on a tangent, it happens and it's okay. There was a time when I thought I was drinking a very dry Riesling from Germany only to find it was Chardonnay, and yes it was good. During our tasting it was apparent that one of these was ours but what kind of grape or from what country or region we were to guess; some of our German and Austria reds were thrown at the dart board, France certainly came up for one of them and a producer and varietal tossed out, and during it all I couldn't really say much. Maybe I'm not a good competitive drinker, that's fine, it's not a competition, we're not in 'The Drops of God' manga novel (meh...). Shortly after the two bottles were revealed, one was Remi Jenniard's Bourgogne Rouge Pinot Noir 2011 and the other, almost as expected was from the new world: Mark West Pinot Noir 2011. I really didn't give it much thought to the Mark West, I came away satisfied with it and not turned off.

At the end of the day these two bottles accompanied me home and in all honesty I haven't been drinking many west coast wines in the past year, every now and then I pick up a Zinfandel in order to recapture the Ferrari-Carano I had years ago, but outside of that I've moved onto everything outside of California, sort of returning to the old world while focused on east coast wines. I feel one can never quite shake that pungent and weighted sense of wood that if uncontrolled supplants all the other characteristics. This kind of handling I feel has not only made a reputation for certain grapes and regions but has also switched off an entire section of consumers; everyone has their tastes, there will always be buyers for buttered popcorn, but you can't just eat buttered popcorn, even that goes bad at some point. I'm not saying this can't happen in other parts of the world but often you're talking about California, Australia, South America or cheaply made wine for the masses. I mean, I like trees and all but just not in my wine where I feel like I'm drinking a wrung sapling. 

The Mark West Pinot Noir 2011 exhibits ripe juicy fruit from the outset -like a sangria fruit bowl- something akin to a berry medley and plunging your nose into opulently crushed red plums rolled in the moist dirt on a charred forest floor. When I was home alone with the rest of the bottle it took to aeration fairly well but was essentially more of the same, each scent enticing yet smothering and not revealing much more. The whole time the wine felt like it was going in two directions: the fruit pinches or almost nails the intensity of the minerality down on your palate forcing it to ricochet out the sides like the anxious wings of a hummingbird caught in a cat's mouth; it becomes drowned against the savory campfire wood, melted burnt wax and earthen notes leaving the synthesis wanting, alluring yet fleeting, enticing yet deceiving, attractive in it's initial presentation and entrance but keeps you wondering if there is more to come (or how much burnt vanilla candle wax you can lick). So far the few west coast wines I've had recently have registered nearly the same, is it the quality, am I picking poorly, or have I fallen too deeply into the funky small batch wines that these almost seem sort of like brash teenagers (why do I feel like I'm speaking as if in the 90's?). Do I just have to drink more domestics to get a better feel for them once again? I have to say, even though the alcohol is 13.8% it never felt overwhelming, it was entirely chained, maybe more hidden within the body and the acidity that at every taste, even after having had taken a break from it, seemed as if trying to escape like a bird caught in a net, wings flapping wildly everywhere for the sky. At some point it was brought up that it smelled so rich and weighted that we wondered if the wine was really all Pinot Noir; Mark West Pinot Noir 2011 comes from 'Appellation California' which means that at least 75% of that varietal come from that area... it doesn't mean they all come from Sonoma though, where the company is based. Their website also isn't very helpful either, with too little information and no specifics as to terroir I can only pout for this wine that can be found almost anywhere.  

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'...about to flee as it flaps its wings ecstatically, emphatically, nervously for freedom- shadowy minerality struggling for place as the structure, smothering and slightly aberrant, plush and deep like plunging your nose into a cooled charred fire pit littered with ripened split open dark red plums amidst burnt vanilla candles, wax coagulated on the dirt; it pulls in opposing directions, at once flares with rich -dare I say, savory edges- of pine residue heavily wafting from the leftover wet logs not quite used but singed, the urgency to flee enervating the air, to flutter like a nervously caged animal knowing it's being readied for the hunt and soon its tracks are hounded by gunshots under starry skies, pines and whips of trees pulverized in their path; sweat and adrenaline soaking the air with fear until an abrupt stop at the creek's edge causes the four hooves to stutter, trample the gravel into the shallow laps of creek water, and then taking off down the stony embankment as the shots increase, ringing against the stones as small bursts of particulate are caught in the stench of musk and soot until the glassy eyes meet ripple as it fades into the night....'

From here I moved onto the Remi Jeanniard Borgogne Rouge Pinot Noir 2011, not because I was biased or saving best for last (psh...) but because I had the least to work with and it's been a while tasting California. Jeanniard's Pinot Noir was on the lighter side of medium but not light, it had the consistency of placid water in the sense that it evoked depth yet inspired lift while being intensely focused around the stony, maybe even metallic, acidity -almost like a gently moving organism whose profile was like a carpet cutting through the aether; austere and mysterious, more prominent and consistent than the Mark West; it was this sense of stillness from which all other characteristics arose, dark flower petals -bitter to the taste- from the trodden muddied ground revealing a synthesis of earth, nuances of spice and a residue of flint; that flint a hint to where the alcohol resides in this wine, it moves with the very same acidity that drives the wine. On the nose and palate the alcohol feels hotter and much more prominent than one would think, it's only slightly off-putting, slightly more abrasive, more mineral as those other notes slowly emanate off it's slow wavy movement. It's perhaps because of this play that kept me wondering about it and that was when I was able to capture what this grape's traits were, bringing to mind as a way of identifying it in the future: roots dug deep, mineral veins stretching from central antennae of the same, dredging through the firmament like old rusted canes trying to keep its hold, churning up darkened fruit singed by oxidation, slightly rustic notes but always giving, a hard to pin down creature of the depths. Perhaps that's too ambitious of me, I need to taste more Pinot Noir, but I couldn't get that out of my head. 

The two wines emphasized very different aspects of the same varietal. Both had that certain distinctive mineral grate yet one was made aged with oak and given weight, while the other was made austere. If one can get both the fruit love of the one and the mineral backbone of the other to exist in tandem, then we're talking. I know I've had them before, I'm more than adventurous enough to try more. Not only is the Pinot Noir infamously difficult to tend and grow, but apparently difficult to craft.  If it's one thing I've learned, I don't drink enough Pinot Noir let alone Burgundy -looks like more homework! 

From here I settled on perhaps the most complicated, or just eccentric, wine of the four: Azienda Agricola Denavolo's Catavela 2011. Just in the last few weeks we've learned that this wine -as are all Giulio's wines- are like experiments from a mad scientist's laboratory: they are made by a kind of intuition that comes with studying a lands formations, taking note how varietals from one part to the other taste and are growing, and then once collected seeing how they develop during fermentation, leaving the wines on their skins for various lengths of time. Denovolo's wines, as explained to us, are from tradition (or maybe just creativity and experimentation): half the wine is kept on the skins for 10 days and the other half for two months, then it's left on its lees with the must cap removed leaving a wine with savory texture and jubilant character. The grapes from this wine come from the very top of the parcel, on a hill about 650 meters up; with regards to the other two wines by Denavolo, Dinavolino comes from the lowest elevation and Dinavolo comes from the upper elevations with Catavela at the top. Each wine is distinctive and essentially a field blend. Catavela is a blend of Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, Ortugo, Marsanne and a mixture of Trebbiano, Santa Maria, and Sauvignon Blanc -talk about a having character. This wine is not for those who are shy -if you're one who goes out and likes to order a big bold character-driven wines like a Cabernet or Mlabec and you're expecting something soft, light and easygoing then I'm not sure why you drink bold reds if you can't handle a bold white; albeit the argument may be more about how the wine delivers itself or presents itself as red and white do this very differently.

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'...a diaphanous cloud bursting above a warmed field of recently flowering herbs and flowers, oils dripping from every surface and vegetal greens abounding at the base; a lightened broth, a sumptuous bath in an angel's wake; the fields of Elysium springing to life and guiding you towards the radiant embrace..."  

This wine is full of character and finesse, it's unique and sings brightly. All the wines by Denavolo are something to be contemplated rather than quaffed; they instigate every sensation both tactile and dreamy, though this is one of the tamer wines, younger and unfiltered, it repays you with something savory and yearning for suckling -a roasted pig, chicken layered in herbs (rosemary, sage, parsley..). One needs a bit of bravery and openness to sit with a wine like this, maybe one really needs the mindset of 'I'm having a Sherry or Port or Scotch right now..', yeah that kind of mindset to embrace these wines but once you're there you'll be okay. They're not rich in weight or sweet, Catavela has a slightly candied air yet dry, with waves of acidity that does something more than shape or integrate, it captures and directs the flowery flavors into every receptor available- so, okay it might seem like a lot, and perhaps it is, but then again, it's a thinking wine. 

(In all honesty it took two attempts to paint the Catavela image and though this one was more successful, I feel like there needed to be more purplish injections where much of the deeper red occurs. Unfortunately this entry has been waiting in vain for me to post it so I figured better to put it up than to leave it hanging.)

 

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http://www.sarfati.it/v-www.sarfati.it.v.Denavolo

Stag's Leap...

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Last night my roommate prepared an amazing meal of lighty roasted carrots and crab apples with a side of yogurt and honey; a soup-styled dish of white beans soaked in the broth of a ham hock with rosemary and herbs, and a purple cabbage and fennel salad -the occassion, it snowed a lot and she had a bottle of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Napa Valley sitting around since Christmas. 

Anyone who knows American wine knows Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, they're famous for their wines because they won a blind tasting for their Cabernet Sauvignon in Paris of 1976, and since then it's become a staple of high end American wine and a veritable cliche status symbol if you've ever worked in a wine shop uptown.

With my two roommates and a friend, we gathered around and enjoyed some rose first (yes that rose!), then a Fuso Barbera -a little bready and acidic as I caught the wine towards the end of the bottle- and then we moved onto the big gun on the table. What kept us from starting off with the Stag's Leap was the fact that it smelled tight and a little off, the cork looked suspicious but we decided to decant it and see what happened. It took about an hour-and-a-half for the wine to really come around, initially it was tight with hints of what was to come -this was not a good start in our opinions and we were patient. 

By the time we were well into the meal we began to pour around the Stag's Leap. The wine had opened up enough for us to change our minds revealing darker forest floor notes beside dark concentrated berries and cinnamon spice; I had a hard time not conjuring up crawling on a wet forest floor with fertile dirt, roots, and other fecundity tossed in front of my face as I hugged a moss stained tree. While I was on my last glass it started to remind me of a very reserved and austere Bordeaux, yet it probably could have used more time to decant, maybe another two hours or wait till the next morning, because this was a big wine and the alcohol showed: 14.5%. Overall the nose was intriguing yet dodgy, the palate was smooth and rich, full and deep, yet finished with acid and alcohol in wedlock leaving almost no mid-palate to speak of and fire racing down my throat.  

Maybe our preconceptions were too high but I think in the end, even though we got to try one of the greats in the American wine market, we were a little disappointed. It just lacked soul.