Monthly Archives: April 2014

2011 Chateauneuf? Bring it on…

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2011 Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf-du-Pape

2011 Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf-du-Pape

I just pulled the corks on these 2011 Chateauneufs from Vieille Julienne. They are being shown in LA today with Jean Paul Daumen, the man at VJ. He’ll be here until Sunday. These two wines are so beautiful. Clearly, 2011 is an overlooked vintage. It’s never ceases to amaze me how the critical press kowtows to the bigger, more powerful vintages –like 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 – and somewhat neglects a gorgeous vintage like 2011.

Jean Paul discussing the 2011s and 2010s with me.

Jean Paul discussing the 2011s and 2010s with me.

Last year in France, Jean Paul asked me what I thought about his 2011s, in comparison to the 2010s. For me, it was a no-brainer. For JP, the same. He said that the producers of C-n-P were already dropping their prices because they knew they were not going to get the same level of scores as their ’09 and ’10 counterparts, despite the overall success the vignerons, appellation-wide, think they have in bottle. I told him, after tasting the 2011s over an hour or so, that they were nuts to drop the prices so drastically. They dropped them about 30% across the board –so did JP. He felt pushed into it by the movement, so he followed suit. I appreciate how impressive the 2010s are, but four times out of five, I would drink the 2011 vintage over the 2010s, especially in a hot climate area like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Honestly, I’m always waiting for vintages like this so I can enjoy Chateauneuf again – it’s the kind of vintage for drinkers that like their Southern Rhone wines with a more modest amount of alcohol, matched with the beauty of the high-toned red fruits and flowers of Grenache. These are the moments when Grenache really shines to me… That is the complaint these days: too much alcohol, too much power –no? Well, here it is, 2011 Chateauneuf, a vintage of beauty. It’s surrounded by 2012, 2010 and 2009 (not to mention 2007!), all of which were much more ripe vintages (2008, which can be more on the lean/harsh side, is tough but quite good when it is from a great producer). If you follow the track record of CnP in the last decade, it seems that an elegant and beautiful vintage like 2011 is more rare than these monster vintages that flare their VA, alcohol, aldehydes, “inner-animal” and excessive “use of force.”

If, like us, you are sick of being bulled over by these “tour de force” Chateauneufs, this vintage (from most producers, not just VJ) is a vintage that will help you rediscover the merits of one of France’s most treasured appellations. -tv

Mindful(l) Of Wine – Dutraive

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I was in New York for my friend’s bachelor party two months ago.  I ended up spending a full week in the city in the midst of a blizzard and got a chance to hang out with an old friend for a moment.  He’s a sommelier whom I greatly respect. He used to live in Los Angeles, but he picked it all up and followed his heart to New York City.  He went there for “the love of his life.”   He’s listed in my phone as ABCD-WXYZ.  I started calling him that because he loved wines that were extreme on both sides of the spectrum.  He loves the “Sine Qua Non” style and its antithesis too, you know, low-alcohol wines loaded with too much CO2, H2S, VA, Brett and too little SO2 – those are the ones they call “natural” wines.  He loved them equally and passionately.  Judge if you want, but I’ll tell you that he is one of the most talented sommeliers I’ve ever met.  He has his own taste; you can debate him on it, but you’re not likely to win.  He’s a clever boy…he’s changing a lot these days though, I think…  One thing that I really love about this guy is that he LOVES Beaujolais.  He even has more Beaujolais than wines from the Cote d’Or on his French wine list!  Awesome.  The guy’s got a remarkable palate and I just downright respect the man.  Cool fiancée too!

Anywho, we went to the restaurant where he works.  Andrea was with me, along with my friends Jeff and Karen who also happened to be there in the city.  Admittedly, I wanted to see what ABCD was up to since he downgraded the overall quality of LA sommeliers by moving away to New York.  I told him to pick some wines for our dinner that he would be certain I never had before.  Blind.  I knew he wouldn’t waste my time with a bunch of geek-junk only worth tasting, but not worth drinking.  You see, he and I are drinkers, not tasters.  When it comes to wine, tasting does not mean knowing.  Believe me, there are lots of guys out there with a big roladex of tasting experience who don’t know the first thing about how to drink the stuff.  He blinded me on a couple of things.  He knows my taste and is fully aware of my disdain for super-funky and super-modern stuff.  I like hands-off, but brains-on wines.  He put a bottle in front of me with a bunch of great charcuterie crafted in one of the restaurants by Daniel Boulud.  The wine was Jean-Louis Dutraive Fleurie, 2012.  It rocked my inner wine geek.  With the cold cuts, it was an eat-your-heart-out Schiava moment.  I know, douchey wine reference.

I love Beaujolais.  Another good friend of mine –a professional sommelier from the Saint Joseph wine area –put the concept of Beaujolais to me in a way I like.  Velour Rouge -that’s the nickname I gave this one –said that there are three types of Beaujolais.  The first is fruity, cute and dumb, but not interesting. The second is a bit like young “natural” Syrah from the Ardeche; but excessively fruity, sexy and delicious -unapologetically delicious.  The third, made by guys like Jean-Louis Dutraive, are beautifully structured, sleek Burgundy, made in Beaujolais, but in a Cote d’Or fashion.

I drank my first bottle of Dutraive that night with ABCD-WXYZ.  I could see his excitement when he watched me drink it.  It was love at first sight for me.  He knew it would be.  It was just like that with Chamonard (also introduced to me by ABCD) and Alain Michaud, both two of my favs in Beaujolais.  I import Michaud, whom I adore and hold in the highest esteem in all of Beaujolais.  Despite Eric Asimov’s numerous articles about him, Alain is one of the unsung greats of the appellation –mostly because the wines are not an en vogue flashy style.  You will know how great Alain’s wines are after drinking bottles from the mid-80’s and 90’s, especially out of mag.  This bottle of Dutraive represented what, I feel, a lot of the “great” Beaujolais of today lack –it had class, restraint, finesse and master craftsmanship.  It wasn’t an “open-legged” Beaujolais.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love being smothered by the bosom of unapologetically fragrant and overly delicious wines made by the likes of Foillard or Metras; however, I totally fell for this wine from Jean Louis Dutraive because it was intelligently crafted and seductive at the same time.  It was just a lovely wine.

After dinner, we went to this Air B & B – first time, weird – that Andrea booked over in the lower east side.  I got straight on the computer.  Half cocked, I started to write in French.  I was formulating a “drink and email” to Jean-Louis Dutraive.  I was surprised at how easy it was to find his email address online.  Who was this easy-to-find genius that no one is importing to the US outside of New York?!  I wrote to him about how much his wine moved me that night.  I don’t usually wax poetic in French on the first email.  I popped the question about importation to California because I knew that Dutraive was only imported in New York by Doug Polaner.  I respect what Doug has done in New York.  He has great selections.  I wrote that email in the dark, at 1:30 in the morning as my little one fell asleep next to me.  I double-checked the French, hit send, and passed out.

I woke up like a kid on Christmas morning, grabbed my computer with high hopes and there it was, just four hours after I sent him the message, he responded “…on peut essayer de voir cela ensemble, cordialement, JLouis.”.   Wow, what a surprise!  I didn’t expect such a quick reply.  It never happens like that, so I started to question the situation a little bit.  I tell this guy how much I love his wine, and then he offers me five different bottlings, plus magnums?!  I sent the list to ABCD-WXYZ.  He freaked out that I landed Dutraive in a matter of eight hours after tasting one bottle.  Dutraive may be his top favorite at the moment, granted he’s only had his 2012s (I think)…  He was beside himself.  So was I, but something in my head kept me thinking that this was too easy, and maybe I had given this wine too much credit. If getting his wine is that easy, why is he not already spoken for?  I was drinking a lot that night…

I’m drinking the 2012 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes while I write this.  It inspires me to write.  I literally just got it from New York yesterday in the mail.  I am aware of the risks of shipping shock, but I couldn’t help myself, I had to have it.   Upon first smell, I thought, f$%k…, I made a mistake.  I don’t mean a mistake by opening a clean “natural wine” that just had a five day trip from New York to Santa Barbara and landed yesterday.  I’m talking about a major misjudgment here.  My Little One (Andrea) smelled it, tasted it and said with a surprised curiosity, “it’s a little… sparkly”…  I grimaced, and agreed.  Not my thing…  Here is that insecure moment as an importer…  Did I make a mistake in a moment of excess?  I remembered it being so damn delicious in New York!  Now I’ve told this guy I’ll take whatever he’ll sell me!

I don’t subscribe much to decanting, so I impatiently waited it out, one sip at a time.  Gradually, I started to accept that my enthusiasm, for what I thought I had tasted in New York, may have been a mistake.   I was swirling less and sniffing more, waiting for that moment that would take me back to the lower East Side in New York.  Waiting, waiting, waiting…  My mind kept saying that I should have waited a couple of weeks to drink it because of the shipping shock, but I just couldn’t help myself.  Now I’ve ruined it…  no sleep for me tonight.  50 newly imported cases of closeouts coming up…

Well, just as it has happened countless times before, I smell the sound of a horn in the distance. Oh baby, she’s comin’!  The anxiety that built up while I was working my way through the first half of the bottle that wasn’t giving much, slowly started to fade away.  I was starting to re-experience the glory of the wine I had tasted in New York.  I was halfway through this bottle when she started to show that glimmer of pure seduction.  Taking shape in my glass was not a wine from the Cote d’Or, but this precise and classy Burgundy made with Gamay that could rival some of the famous wines from the north. The nostalgia of discovery came back.  The excitement was there.  Now I started to clearly see that bulls-eye that I thought I hit with a New York “shot from the hip” at very close range.

I’m on the last half-glass now.  I am completely taken by the wine, despite its jetlag.  Perplexed by the wine’s unique beauty, I find myself again short on descriptors.  It’s getting late and it’s been a long ride…  It is a completely different face of nobility from a grape that seems to have commonly found its place as the court jester of Burgundy.  This is a wine that doesn’t really fit in today’s supposed “great” and trendy Beaujolais wines.  Despite its crazy low yields and 70 year old vines, it is unique, individual, unapologetically sleek, perfumed and feminine. I love it. I really do.  I can’t wait to get my 50 cases in to spread around and freak out my friends in California.

I’m on my very last sip now…  It’s really beautiful.  F$#K, I should’ve waited…  It’s funny how many times in life we make the same mistakes over and over again because we are impatient.  I can only imagine its taste if I had waited.  I guess I’ll just have to keep my pants on for four more weeks before I start drinking the other five bottles I bought from New York.