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December 31, 2008
The bold, haughty Arnould et Fils is a study in biscuits and gravy. It's a toasty, rich Champagne with pronounced spice, but nothing that anyone would consider exotic. These are down home country flavors, a little black pepper here, maybe even some cayenne, like an apple pie baked in a cast-iron pan your grandma (or I) used the rest of the year for jalapeno cornbread. It's full of the dried apricot and hazelnut flavors that Verzenay is known for, proudly displaying its grand cru status. There's something lean and limey about it. That finish makes this wine easy to understand and enjoy--it cleans up after itself and needs no food--but also leaves it surprisingly simple.
December 30, 2008
00 Marguet Pere et Fils, Champagne a Ambonnay Grand Cru Brut
In a lovely coincidence, the 2000 Marguet Pere et Fils from the grand cru pinot noir-heavy region of Ambonnay, is almost a perfect combination between the Vesselle and Turgy wines I had earlier this week. It makes me think back to when I first started drinking wine. My first true Champagne was a 1990 Salon. Yeah, so you see how this all began. And from that moment on, I was convinced that pure chardonnay (like Salon) was the whole point of Champagne. Not even Krug, with its healthy dose of pinot meunier could convince me otherwise. But the more I drink and find wines like this, I see how much richness pinot noir brings to Champagne. Perhaps chard is the truest expression. It's a flimsy grape under any circumstance--the boneless, skinless chicken breast of wine--and freely yields to terroir and house style. I suspect there's a lot of it in here, given the house's southeast-facing slopes. But adding a little pinot noir shows the true art of blending Champagne, and Marguet Pere et Fils' 2000 is a hallmark, up front with rustic, classically French flavors of toffee, gianduja, Meyer lemon zest, and caramel-covered apples (with broken sticks from the old Affy Tapple factory off Clark and Touhy in Chicago, to be precise). Almost two hours later, the glass grows fruitier, reminiscent of the Egly-Ouriet wines from this same region, full of tomato broth, honey, plum jam, and purple grape flavors that take me back to being 10-years-old, pretending to play baseball, sucking on a gumfull of Big League Chew. Anyone who likes Veuve Clicquot would love this wine. It is a rich, dynamic, and moving Champagne that holds its own against every single bottle in its price point.
December 29, 2008
NV Michel Turgy, Champagne a Mesnil sur Oger Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cuvee Speciale Vieilles Vignes
This old vines Turgy Champagne is a completely different animal than the regular bottling, and that animal may be a dove. While it's up front with flavors of green apple and drawn butter, the joy of this wine is in its grace, which is calming to the point of being religious. What seems first like a flatness in the midpalate is actually a place to put more flavor, as the unsweetened cream, marzipan, mineral water, and bearnaise flavors ultimately have somewhere to go. It tastes rectangular, which is to say, there's nothing three-dimensional about it, but each sip has shape and is recognizable. No one would ever think this wasn't good, but few may consider it great. I need all of half an hour to finish the bottle. The texture and nuance you get is rarely seen even in vintage Champagne. In fact, I haven't commonly found this much balance in anything but a 1990. That vintage is what this non-vintage comes closest to, hanging on to some structure while letting you in on the characteristics that make not just old blanc de blancs Champagne great, but in fact chardonnay in general. That's this wine's most impressive trait. It's first chardonnay, then Champagne, then Mesnil sur Oger. Terroir in reverse, it gets that nothing is more important than the grape, not the man, not even the land.
December 26, 2008
NV Maurice Vesselle, Champagne a Bouzy Grand Cru Brut Cuvee Reservee
I'm making torrone today because I can't learn how to make apple pie. It's easier than torrone--cutting apples and putting them in a pan with sugar, compared to whipping cream, egg whites, and cooking sugar to exactly 248 degrees Farenheit. But after all the coring and peeling, I inevitably eat half the apples, always a blend of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. That's exactly where this wine puts me--no, not the common Bouzy taste of baked apple pie, but instead I, specifically, trying to have the patience to make one. I don't expect this much tartness from Bouzy, famous for its 100% grand cru pinot noir. While cold, all you taste are green apples, golden apples, apple apples, apples, and lemon as tart as the greatest of young, blanc de blancs. In a few years, you'd think, it might be rich and custardy. But don't let this wine fool you. What seems like great chardonnay is mostly underripe, cold-feremented pinot noir, and all the boldness you'd expect from Bouzy is lost here. Once warm, it gets more grapey, consistent, fuller bodied, with exotic aromas of smoky hazelnuts, ginger, and cracked coriander. It's a truly amazing smell that anyone who likes wine should commit to memory. Whatever this means, I think the M. Vesselle is too sophisticated to me. Which is to say, I get that it's tart on purpose. I get that its apple flavors show the terroir. And I get that this is better than 90% of the Champagne on the market. It has flavor, structure, and history. But it lacks a bit of grace, maybe the one trait Bouzy gets a pass on, but still. It's hard around the edges. And I want it to go somewhere, from the stray pieces of fresh green apple to the oxidized pieces sitting on the counter. From pie to torrone. Something richer, more hedonistic. Not that all Champagne should be that way, but something in this gorgeous bottle demands it. It wants to change. I would throw you out my window if it meant to set you free, watch you take flight.
December 21, 2008
03 Caprili, Brunello di Montalcino
It's no wonder that these grapes share the same soil as the Chianina, Tuscany's great synecdoche of cattle--heavy, burly, and powerful, but known for its delicate and fragile disposition. Caprili's brunello is a rippling, throbbing chest with last night's perfume on its neck. "We won't eat these animals. They are for lovemaking," says the great Tuscan butcher in Bill Buford's Heat, which can be taken one of many ways, but maybe best describes this wine. It's the 40-day dry-aged ribeye of wine, powerfully flavorful, wild, yet lovingly tender. That walking, lurching contradiction is my favorite thing about sangiovese's purer cousin brunello, but rarely does it show itself this well this young. The tannins are leathery and earthy, up front with a guiding grip that never dries out the mouth, sweet like game and tallow. The sauvage flavors are spicy, like well-seasoned duck sausage and savory cherry jam. Loud at the right times, quiet when it needs to be, it slowly mists aromatics of violets, pepper, and plum blossoms. This is old school in the very best way.
December 16, 2008
96 Alain Thienot, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Stanislas
I didn't know if we would make it through the night. Because when the cork finally gave in, after 12 minutes of prying with an 8" vice grip, I was pretty sure I'd shot it straight up my upstairs neighbor's ass. When the smoke settled, there was a vice and cork in my right hand, a bottle of golden elixir in my left, and three cats perched high in the next room. After nine years in bottle (the cork labeled 1999), this hasn't even begun to calm down. And the hints of oxidation you might expect to see in 100% chardonnay sparklers like this one haven't even begun to surface. These grapes must be grown, harvested, fermented, and bottled in a vacuum to produce a wine so incredulous of the natural world. How else to explain the sucking sound in my mouth every time I take a sip? My cheeks caving in against the anti-matter intensity of this Thienot cuvee. It's about as dry as Champagne gets and, like Clouet's Silver Brut, Orval, and Paillard's NPU, that means it tastes like aluminum foil. The salinity is a fetishist, tightening like a tourniquet the austere flavors of salt-caked honeycomb, green apple skin, raw quince, and undercooked baklavah. It's a candidate for decanting, at least worth pouring a few minutes before you actually drink it. In the meantime, it's more phenolic than any bottled wine I've ever had, closest to the 88 Sugot-Feneuil in its youth. If only you could cut smell like an apple. Think about who you are. Do you drink wines like this? And, if so, what other loves of yours are still unrequited? The Stanislas is every girl who didn't take your phone calls, every elfish English teacher who said you couldn't write. It's your mom in the 90s wondering what it is you do on the internet all day. It's a 10:30pm curfew when the community college bars don't even start letting underage kids in until 11. Which is to say, this wine is a resistance to everything in you that craves change. Why change? Why change when your moment, one harvest day in late 96, so perfectly describes who you are? Yeah, the others grow old. They get richer, softer, maybe even a little gray. But we'll stay who we are. We'll never change. And you'll never pry the spirits out from within our bodies. No matter how firm your hold.
© 2005-2011 Nilay Gandhi