Sunday, April 15, 2007

Break Time

Some of you may recall I've mentioned that I'm currently in school working on my master's, while working full time and while continuing to scour the countryside for great wines. Unfortunately, blogging has suffered lately, as a result of the heavy load, and it's about to get worse.

For the next several weeks, I'll be finishing up my research and then writing a term paper, so I'll be taking a break from the blog. I will return in early May at the conclusion of my semester.

Can't wait to get over this immediate hurdle, believe me. And, I'm especially excited because by the end of May, the wife and I will be off on a winetasting trip through the Finger Lakes Region of New York and the Niagara peninsula. So, we'll have lots of good things to blog about in the near future. Sorry about the short-term absence, however.

Happy winetrails!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Don't Touch This

Asphalt on a hot summer day, a stainless steel pan right out of the oven, a working wood stove, an Oregon zinfandel. An Oregon zinfandel?

Yup, these are all things that can be too hot to handle. I just had a 2002 Solena Wooldridge Creek Zinfandel with dinner, the first time I've had this particular label. I could tell it was a little hot on the tongue right away, but when I tried some of this wine solo, I wanted to reach for a chaser. It was all angles and spurs and heat.

I reached for the bottle and scanned the label -- there it was. 15.7 percent alcohol. Now, I'm not one of those people who rails against high alcohol in wine. I don't typically check labels for alcohol levels. I do prefer balanced wines, to be sure, but I don't mind a fully extracted, high octane wine in the 14.5 percent range. But I've never had a non-fortified wine this high in alcohol. And, I hope I never have one again.

Frankly, I'm not sure this wine would go well with anything -- maybe steak au pauve. There is some briary red fruit in there, but overall it isn't much fun on its own, either. Now I really know what some of the critics have been complaining about.

I wouldn't have been all that surprised by the octane if this wine came from California or Australia, but Oregon? I just couldn't quite figure that out, at first. Turns out we're not talking about the Willamette Valley here, where so many great pinot noirs are made and where the skies are frequently gray. These zinfandel grapes are sourced from southern Oregon, where it can get quite warm. A very dry autumn allowed great hang time in this case.

But I still can't get over it. I'm going to have start paying closer attention to the labels. Aware of the problem, a number of wineries (almost all California) are turning to new processes such as reverse osmosis to remove some alcohol from the wine. It remains somewhat controversial, since some people believe it also removes evidence of terroir as well. Who would have thought Oregon wines might also face similarly tough choices.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Better Than Sweet

There's truly something special about a great dessert wine. Anyone who's ever had a great German or Niagara ice wine, a special Sauternes or a Napa Dolce knows what I'm talking about. It's wine that reaches a stratospheric level in concentration and memorably complex, sweet aromas.

Of course, everyone has their favorite, be it a Chateau d'Yquem or a trokenbeerenauslese. Now, I've had d'Yquem several times, though admittedly not from one of the very best vintages. And, I have to say that the best sticky I've ever had may be a lesser know wine from one of the under-appreciated wine regions of the world, Alsace.

Alsatian wines, in general, are among my favorite white wines. But the late harvest wines, such as those of Zind Humbrecht, have been truly amazing almost every time out. Years ago, my friend Tony introduced me to the joys of these wines when we had a picnic at his house for the staff of the wine store where we both worked.

That day we tasted a 1993 Tokay Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendage Tardive, which was great, but we also had a 1989 Tokay Pinot Gris SGN from Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr. Three of us sat back, as I recall, sipping as our eyes rolled back in our heads. The complexity and intensity of this wine was simply an out-of-this world experience.

Luckily, Tony is frequent traveler to France and manages to restock these gems with some regularity. As I have blogged before, Tony is quite skilled at carrying these wines back through Customs even in the face of very tight restrictions. Not quite as creative as this person, but pretty darn close.

Consequently, we recently found ourselves treated once again at Tony's, this time with a 1994 Tokay Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Trie Speciale. This was a really interesting wine. Tony and his wife, Kristen, were visiting Zind Humbrecht for a tasting in 1995 when they were told about the very unusual wine that was still in barrels gurgling away -- its ultra high sugar levels made extra time in barrels necessary and promised eventually to deliver a very rich wine.

Man, they were not kidding. Tony managed to score some of this special wine on a trip several years later, and we had some recently. This copper-colored wine was an intense explosion of peaches and honey -- perhaps the richest, sweetest late harvest wine I've ever had. It lacks some of the acidity I would expect of a really fine late harvest wine, but its richness is such a marvel that you just have to slow down and appreciate that you may never taste its equal again.
Some people may not exactly love this style of wine. But it truly is a marvel. How can anyone not enjoy the experience, regardless of its limited pairing possibilities?

Zind Humbrecht keeps yields in its steep vineyards extremely low, almost guaranteeing intensely flavored wines. This wine is a single vineyard designate from the Clos Jebsal vineyard, a three-acre Pinot Gris vineyard. Here the grapes are allowed to shrivel on the vine as they move past fully ripe into super ripeness with the help of botrytis, or noble rot. As the grapes hang and shrivel, they shed water and their sugars concentrate, producing Vendange Tardive, or "late harvest," and a more concentrated dessert wine known as Sélection de Grains Nobles

This, my friends, can be a wine to die for, like its Sauternes' cousins. If you ever have a chance to try one, go for it. But, of course, it helps to have friends who travel to the right places. Thanks, bud.