Tasting on Twitter & WBW #48 follow-up

I'm on a steep learning curve, finding my way around 'Twitter' with my fingers all tangled up in Web 2.0, but I couldn't pass this one up: I love the bit of Alsatian wine I've had & none other than Étienne Hugel will play world-wide 'virtual' host in tasting a selection from his family's portfolio of wines, this coming Thursday, August 21st.
Robert McIntosh, wine blogger extraordinaire in the UK, makes a clearer intoduction to the event than I could ever hope to, here.

What have I had? Gewurztraminer from Hugel-- & Trimbach's too, I think. Easier to tick off what I haven't had: this will be my first taste of an Alsatian Riesling, & I'm looking forward to it-- even if it's not the '04 'Jubilee'. I'm also frustrated & sorry that V.Suárez has none of the Pinot Blanc-- after drinking a couple of interesting but fairly simple American efforts, I was wowed by a glass of Trimbach's sipped at Luna Park in San Francisco during the waning days of '06. Good to see it still seems to have a place on their wine list!

Meanwhile, I've been researching DeLoach Vineyards on the strength of their Zinfandel, which I had as part of my approach to Wine Blogging Wednesday's 'Dig Down Memory Roots' fourth anniversary assignment. There is a historical chronology here, which documents a veritable who's-who of winemakers associated with the operation.
Last Sunday, five days after pulling the cork, both the DeLoach as well as Montevina's Terra d'Oro Sierra Foothills Zinfandel evidenced an autumnal nutmeg & cherry-infused pipe tobacco spiciness. Smokier character with beginning oxidation in the DeLoach contrasted with brighter but simpler fruit in the Terra d'Oro. I thought I'd end up adding most of what was left of both bottles to my pasta sauce after a final taste today, a full week later. I was pleasantly surprised to find the tart-sweet berry notes I'd been missing come to the surface & ring out as tannins & acidity muted-- in the DeLoach.

Yet to buy the Jean-Marc Brocard 'Les Clos'...à suivre...


Kevin Johansen - Campo Argentino

...trying again...OK, now, three weeks later, it turns up on my blog, as if by magic! (Tip for Kevin: you might rhyme-- 'Je ne sais pas/pas d'idée' ! ;))


Wine Blogging Wednesday #48: Back to Your (Vinous) Roots (UPDATE August 19)

Excuse me, I have to run out the door to buy some wine! First, however, I wanted to thank Lenn for hosting the event he instigated on its fourth anniversary & congratulate him on the inspiration to round up the blogosphere's widely ranging cabal of Oenological scribblers through the simple, effective ritual of tasting a shared yet individualized assignment. A ritual that has succeeded at forging something like a sense of community. Kudos, Lenn!

'The Scribe' seems to have beaten me to the punch in this instance, but I'd like to follow through on my own habitual pattern & use the topic of this Wine Blogging Wednesday as motivation for more than one posting. As a matter of fact, my third installment may take some time & some doing, since, as a nod to Mr. Thompson's particular turf, I'm looking for a chance to re-view my 'Aha!' moment regarding Long Island wines: during an extended return stay in New York City back in that fateful year of 2000, I discovered & repeatedly shared the impression made by a Merlot from Pellegrini Vineyards on the North Fork. The vintage was 1997-- I wonder, is any of that still to be found, & (gulp) at what price?
But before then, I have two divergent 'taproots' to trace: one for red wines & one for whites. They represent contrasting experiences that shook my take-it-or-leave-it complacency regarding wine, bred by the middling to cheap Rioja that was the vinous norm in my family as I was growing up, & later, by extension of habit, among friends.
The wine that gave me the fruit & spice I wasn't getting from the Riojas-- or from the occasional treasured Premier Cru that was usually, at the very least, 'diminished' by stewing unrefrigerated in the tropical heat-- was a Sutter Home Zinfandel. In all likelihood, a '92 or '93, the latter being an especially good year for California Zinfandel. (--or maybe it was 'Non-Vintage' at that point?) I went on a Zin binge that lasted-- oh, maybe seven or eight years. I weaned myself slowly, gradually, with much help from Rhone varietals.
While the experience with Zinfandel gave me an exhilarating sense of gaining access to the sensuous richness in wine-- which had seemed to elude me up to that point-- my visit to the Domaine of vigneron-négociant Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis during the Summer of 1995 rubbed my unprepared nose in wine's subtle complexities, making the dramatic point that most of this richness was still beyond my 'sensory means'. The circumstances of my visit bear retelling at length, but first I have to locate some of the wine.
In relation to my task at hand: the Trinchero family continues to bottle Zinfandel under the Sutter Home label, but the local distributor, Vicente Suárez, did not have it in stock. They had the Sutter Home Merlot, their Cabernet, & their White Zinfandel, of course! But not their Zin.
(As I write this & review some of the contributions already posted, I see Tim Eliot over at Winecast located & tasted some of this juice. Salud, Tim!)
As an 'acceptable faccsimile', I bought a bottle of 2004 'Terra d'Oro' Amador County Zinfandel from Montevina, which is another of the Trinchero Family's labels. In an attempt to compensate somewhat for not locating my self-assigned vinous 'madeleine', I also bought some 1998 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zin-- & I'm glad I did. On first opening yesterday, cedar spice-box notes from the oak tended to dominate the Montevina, while the DeLoach seemed a little 'brett-y': mostly loam & leather. I missed the bramblebush & berry at the usual core of Zinfandel typicity, as the fruit character tended more to plum & some black cherry. The DeLoach seemed to lighten in body & 'died' in the glass with a clear, surprising cranberry tartness. Paired with some chorizo-spiked kidney bean 'chili' stew to bring out spice notes as well as buffer their 14.5% alcohol level, both wines evidenced some wonderful evolution this evening: the Montevina Terra d'Oro opened to a creamy milk chocolate nose that seems to be reflected in the midpalate texture. In the DeLoach, the earthiness was offset & balanced by some orange zest acidity. My nose seems to be half asleep-- there is a touch of herbaceousness in both of them, but I can't pinpoint it-- maybe sage? Let me just say that the DeLoach sells for $19.50 plus 7 1/2 % tax here, & they seem to me an unjustly underappreciated producer. Maybe I'll leave it at that, & promise some further tasting notes as a third-time-charm addendum. Tomorrow I'll have to begin to search in earnest for some Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis...à suivre...

UPDATE: Méndez & Co. have J-M Brocard's Grand Cru 'Les Clos'!
Some further notes on the Zinfandels are here.


At Long Last, Viognier--

Let's see if I can finally get this over with & make it fairly straightforward--
If memory serves me right, I tried a total of five different Viogniers in Argentina, & I don't believe any were from wineries or vineyards too far from the immediate Mendoza area. (Will check & report back.)
The backpedaling qualification above stems from a senior moment in buying my fifth example of the varietal at the Rosario Carrefour 'Hyper-Marché': I passed on Henry Lagarde's offering at thirtysomething pesos, & picked up what I eventually found out was Lagarde's second label, 'Altas Cumbres', for something over half the price. It was only as I was about to pull out the cork back at Luis Paz's house, dismayed at not having noticed the 15% alcohol level before then, that a dim memory came to me of having bought a bottle of the very same wine at the Carrefour in Mendoza, not long after settling into my apartment share, maybe right after New Year's. Yikes.
Anyway, this was tropical fruit salad in a bottle, with some stone fruit preserves adding typicity. Not too bad for the price, if you like that sort of thing, I guess. It faded to tart citrus over the course of a couple of days-- a little too quickly, considering it was an '07.

I had some mixed expectations for Mauricio Lorca's 'Lorca Poético' version, bought 'under the table', as it were, from friendly attendants at the Vines of Mendoza showcase tasting room. I was prepared for a fair degree of spoof in the juice, but the buzz on Señor Lorca is positively worshipful so I was figuratively holding my breath, trusting the winery labwork might translate into some enjoyable International style flash. What I got was frightfully voluptuous FrankenWine. Nose & palate were tight to the point of metallic impenetrability on pulling the cork-- 'maybe this bodes well', I reassured myself: slow to evolve, & all that-- maybe he's semi-natural in his winemaking...?
The next day, like tumblers turning in a lock, the wine opened up & I got gobs of fruit salad-- syrup fairly well-controlled for a touch of elegance, though, & a stronger peach & apricot character supporting the tropicalia throughout. Ah, my sense-memory kicks in-- some sweet apricot blossom in the nose!
The scary part came as I sipped half-glasses over the next five evenings, speculating whether the whole fruited scaffolding would tumble to sour citrus or somehow stabilise gracefully, but-- nothing happened. No evolution-- not one Brylcreemed, vinous curl came unstuck in the swirling Autumn gusts, not one fatty fold shifted in the broad carriage to spread & settle its comforts, not a twitch troubled the self-satisfied composure of this Iron-fruit Maggie. Never was an oxymoron more--imperative? --this was one compact monolith of overripe sensuality.

Early on after my arrival in Mendoza, I'd had some of Escorihuela Gascón's Viognier, by the glass with different meals at the winery's restaurant, Francis Mallman's '1884' (here's a review in Spanish of one memorable evening).
My original idea was to put the wine 'through its paces' for Wine Blogging Wednesday #46 along with Conalbi-Grinberg's Ugni Blanc, but the posting deadline loomed as I rushed around to wrap things up for my return, & I decided to file an early report. I only barely made it to the winery to make my purchase by closing time the afternoon before heading back to Posada Cavieres to pack. To complicate matters, curiosity got the best of me, & I bought the last bottle of 2004 sitting in the tasting room, instead of the current 2007 release. Bad call. The wine seems to have cooked in marginal storage, probably for more than one of those hot, Mendoza summers, so that the oak barrels where 10% of the juice fermented overwhelm the faded flower & fruit. Dommage. I'm still fairly angry at myself about this one, as in retrospect, it seems the most balanced & correct of all Argentino efforts with the grape.

I shared half the bottle over late lunch at Domaine Du Mont with Hans & Alina of Posada Cavieres, (after they fetched me in town while running errands) then finished it off with the Domaine crowd the next evening. I guess that's what got Jasmine up from her sickbed: I brought three bottles to taste, the others being the Ugni Blanc & the Viognier from Cavas de Chacras. I've already gone on at some length about the Ugni Blanc, here. The Viognier, in retrospect, seems to have had more stone in it than stone fruit. People chimed in with 'wet stones' & 'snowmelt grass?', & Meg Montgomery felt compelled to write, 'Meg said grapefruit & everyone agreed!!!' in my 'Moleskin' notebook.
As a quaffer with great 'Quality-Price ratio' (besides the surprising minerality & shortness of varietal typicity) it's a cut above the Santa Julia Viognier by Familia Zuccardi, reviewed by Alex for WBW #46 at 'Eating Leeds'. I had this last iteration of what seems to have become my te noire in lovely company, too: Sylvie & Pierre Hébert from Montréal brought me memories of my days as a wannabe performance artist, with news of Marie Chouinard, Le Théatre de La Veillée & the current avant-garde scene in Québec. (Pierre does amazing, painstaking work in direct-on-cel animation, here's his website.)
Our own bottle started varietally correct with promising subtlety, showing white flowers in the nose, with contained stone fruit & lemon pith on the palate, but it thinned to tart limeade all too quickly during the course of out meal at Casa de Campo. Dommage, redux.

In closing, I hope I may be forgiven some speculative conclusions about Cuyano terroir & its possible adequacy for the varietal: Lagarde & Escorihuela both claim the earliest South American plantings of Viognier, dated 1992-93. The vineyards are not far from each other, in the Perdriel & Agrelo districts of Luján de Cuyo, respectively. It's possible there is soil variation I am not knowledgeable about here, but the great difference in their product would seem to be more a matter of vinification style.
Meanwhile, Cavas de Chacras & Zuccardi both have their vineyards East of Mendoza, the first in Santa Rosa & the latter in San Martín: this is a hotter, drier, lower elevation area with sandy soil lacking the alluvial-clay mix I think is dominant in Luján's climbing slopes. My guess would be these circumstances force early ripening & early picking, with phenolic maturity lagging, therefore limiting full expression of Viognier's particularly lovely character. Finally, Lorca has his Viognier plantings higher up in Valle de Uco, in Tunuyán to be precise. I don't know much about soil conditions there, I would hazard his grapes easily get a lot more hang time. It's a shame he's not interested in a more natural style, as the typicity beating like a smothered heart in his wine evidences he may be located in the most propitious environment for a world-class Viognier.
Apologies for the paucity of practical information on price & availability. Reviewing other posters' take on wines from Argentina, I started questioning the value of quoting winery prices at an unrealistic distance from stateside rates. Winery websites tend to have well-featured links to importers & distributors since they are the better part of their business. Myself, I have my own agenda as to figuring import channels & duties that I must & will, as publicly as possible, follow through on.