Afpilsers Christmas 2010 tasting

It’s great to have a tasting club. Wine is social and is best enjoyed in good company, where it can be praised, critiqued and discussed, and the tasting club gives us the perfect, intimate venue to do that.

Our club in Amsterdam is called the afpilsers (which sort of translates into ‘the beer after drinkers’). We’re a group of about 8-10 people, some wine professionals and some enthusiasts, who take turns organizing wine tastings by theme.

Our latest evening together was organized by Doris Vroom from Winefields Auctioneers, who surprised us with a blind tasting of nine vintage Bordeaux wines, and a Californian Mondavi at the end to confuse us. David brought a white Hermitage 1998 from Chave to round out the evening.

tasting Doris Vroom

1. The first wine, a Lalande-de-Pomerol, Laborde 1959 caught us by surprise. Stewed red fruits and tomato in the nose, woody with a hint of iron. Very soft and delicate in the mouth. I correctly identified it as right bank, but who would expect a Lalande-de-Pomerol to last fifty years? As Milan Veld from Winefields remarked, 1959 was one of the best vintage years of the twentieth century. more>>

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Is Pomerol Pomerol?

To say x is x is being obvious, yet there is a deeper meaning. X is x is an affirmation of itself, that only x can be x. And so we get France is France, life is life, war is war, that is that. If I say George Bush is George Bush, you know what I mean.

But now try saying, wine is wine. Doesn’t work for me. And I’m not sure I’d say Pomerol is Pomerol either, since I’ve tasted a number of Pomerols now, and each time I seem to taste a different wine. I’ve had heavy, pensive, iron-rich Pomerol, autumnal Pomerol with wet forest and truffel smells, and Pomerol that was so purely neat in extraction that I thought it had something in common with elegant Burgundy.

Château Hermitage Mazeyres 2007 Pomerol

It’s such a tiny area, so how is this possible? Is it because of the capricious Merlot grape, which offers so many different kinds of wines around the world? Is it because of the many small and different winemakers? Or is Pomerol so complex that it takes years of serious tasting to understand it? more>>

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Beware of Pine Nuts!

As David mentioned in his next to last posting, the weekend of October 10th brought beautiful weather to Holland, and we also decided to go “sailing” on my own small boat (a sloep, as the Dutch call it) through the canals of Amsterdam.

It was a beautiful day on board with some delicious snacks and a couple of delicious wines, a white Bordeaux called Grand Bateau and my favourite rosé from Domaine de la Fourmi.

It was later the next evening when I first noticed something was not right. My girlfriend had bought a bottle of Vermentino from Tuscany which she wanted me to try and it tasted horrible. The more I tried to drink it, the more I was assaulted with an extremely bitter, metallic aftertaste.

Figuring it was the wine, I opened a different bottle, a white wine I sell and know well. The effect was the same: it was like I was drinking heavy metals. more>>

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Three Canadian Wines

You don’t see many Canadian wines in the Netherlands. Everyone knows by now that Canada makes wines, and a few years ago Jancis Robinson publicly praised the Canadian wine industry. (She recently did the same for Dutch wines, and that has left a few people here scratching their heads.)

3 Canadian Wines

There is a specialized importer here, Canada Food, and I know a couple places in Amsterdam that sell a few bottles, but I think Europeans still look to Canada chiefly for icewine.

I was back in Canada this summer and was able to taste the wines in bars and restaurants, and of course from bottles purchased in the government stores. Canadian wines feature prominently in bar and restaurant wine menus, and my experiences ranged from meager to good. At the Hilton Garden Inn restaurant in Halifax, for example, the wine menu featured Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay and Sartori’s Soave Biologico for $38 Cdn, ex taxes. The wines are available here in the supermarket or shop for six euros, including tax. On the other hand, the Halifax airport lounge had good wines by the glass for airport-friendly prices. more>>

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Beating Canada`s Wine Communists

To this day, most Canadian wine consumers go to the same place Soviet citizens went to get their wine: the government shop, monopoly and cash cow created for and by the state.

Growing up in Canada in the seventies and eighties, I remember the wine section was almost an afterthought in the Provincial Liquor Board shop in my town, one or two aisles filled with mostly Liebfraumilch, Mateus and Baby Duck, a Canadian sparkling sweet wine made from vitis labrusca varieties. It was extremely popular, so much so that Andrés, the company that made it, actually discouraged Canadian vintners from planting vitis vinifera varieties.

The vintners eventually did plant European vines, and the quality of Canadian wine increased dramatically, thereby not only creating a viable Canadian wine industry but also sparking consumer interest in wine in general. The selection in the government shops has grown better: I can buy Grand Cru Classés and even Dom Perignon in my Saskatchewan hometown, and happily I came across some wines by Chapoutier in New Brunswick.

Still, I find it appalling that so many years later, provincial govenment shops still have a monopoly on the liquor industry in Canada. And it is ironic, since the province of Alberta has been quietly showing for the past 25 years that there is a better way. In 1985, the Conservative government there toyed with the idea of privatisation by granting three licenses to privately operate wine stores. By 1988, this had grown to twenty licenses; strangely, the number is now five or six. more>>

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Vos & Partners Tasting

Not wanting to post about an event far too late, I will now report on the Vos & Partners tasting that was held at the beautiful Duin & Kruidberg estate on March 29th. Representatives from 33 reputable producers were assembled to present and discuss their wines. more>>

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Why Not Import Wine?

“Why don’t you import wine yourself?” I’ve been asked this question a number of times, and I got to wondering why. My answer is sincere and always the same: because I don’t have to. Yet if I leave it at that, the person gets a puzzled look on their face and I realize I haven’t satisfied their curiosity.

You see, in order for someone to ask that question, it must be generally regarded that there is nothing finer than being a wine importer. It’s as if that is what every person who works in the wine industry aspires to do. It’s true the Dutch have a long history of being traders and merchants, particularly in wine. A quick internet search will show you that this has not changed much in the past 400 years. Only God and the Chamber of Commerce know how many wine importers there are in the Netherlands, but Holland’s Master of Wine Frank Smulders once told me there are “far too many.” There are importers specializing in virtually every wine producing region in the world, whether it be Australia, Hungary, Canada or India (who in the Netherlands drinks Indian wine?). more>>

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How Mouton Rothschild found me

Château Mouton Rothschild is one of the world’s most prized wines and this is reflected in its price which, depending on the vintage, can easily run into hundreds or even thousands of euros per bottle. To put it simply, it’s a bit out of my price range. The best I could hope for would be a sample at an organized tasting, such as the latest Winefield’s auction in Amsterdam, where several vintages of Mouton Rothschild were generously made available. As luck would have it, I was unable to attend that day!

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1997

But luck swings like a pendulum, they say. So I was astonished to get a phone call a couple weeks later from someone I had met very briefly at a previous auction. We had spoken for perhaps ten minutes, I mentioned that I write about wines for a blog and gave her my card. It turns out she was leaving Amsterdam and had a present she wanted to give me: a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1997! At first I was perplexed: what had I done to deserve such a gift? But she simply explained that she was moving, couldn’t take the bottle with her, didn’t want any money for it but wanted to give it to someone who could appreciate it. So I told her, “that I certainly can do.” more>>

23/02/10 Idem, opgenomen door Bibendum Times

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2009 Icewine harvest; how`s it going?

Here in Europe, we are experiencing one of the coldest winters in recent memory. All this snow and ice makes me think… of icewine! 2009, by all accounts, should be an excellent year for this highly prized (and priced) nectar.

I assume you know what icewine is, and how it’s made. If not, I wrote an article (in Dutch) which you can read here. I also wrote a piece for this blog on a Canadian sparkling icewine.

It’s not easy to make icewine. More than anything, you are dependant on the weather. You need to have healthy grapes which are untouched by botrytis, and you may only harvest when the temperature reaches -7° C. At this point, the water in the grapes is frozen, which results in a much lower yield but a higher concentration of sugars, acidity and extract. Rot and predation by birds and animals are major problems, and vinification is difficult and lengthy, This helps to explain why real icewines are never cheap, but a good one is worth every cent. I sell the delicious 1999 Eiswein by Weingut Debus in the Rheinhessen for €35 per half bottle. more>>

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On lunar golfing, Jefferson, Mozart and wine

It’s one of those useless questions, sort of like asking “What is it like to play golf on the moon?” but sometimes when I’m drinking a great wine, like a Hermitage or a Bordeaux grand cru classé, I can’t help but wonder, “What did this wine taste like hundreds of years ago?”

M. Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette

Well, guess what? During the Apollo 14 mission to the moon in 1971, Alan Shephard strapped the head of a six iron to a sampling instrument and purportedly drove a golf ball several kilometers in the direction of a crater, the largest sand trap ever. So that’s what it’s like to play golf on the moon. more>>

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Taste Champagne and Sparkling

There were plenty of corks popping, and that is always a happy sound. Proef Champagne en Sprankelend (Taste Champagne and Sparkling), Holland’s largest sparkling wine trade show, took place at the Mövenpick Hotel in Amsterdam on November 22nd. This event used to be called “Champagne aan Zee” and indeed used to be held on the beach at Noordwijk. The reason for moving it indoors is unknown to me, but given that Dutch weather is unpredictable at best, plus a windy, sand-strewn beach is not the best venue to seriously taste wines, it seemed like a logical decision.

The event was held in two large rooms: one for champagnes and one for other sparkling wines. To say it was busy would be an understatement: at every table a large group was gathered, champagne glasses in hand, eagerly waiting to be served.

I managed to taste about 40 different wines; here are some of my impressions, starting with the sparkling non-champagnes: the Ferrari Spumante Maximum Brut, Chardonnay (imported by Vinites) was my favourite in this category. Soft and elegant with good persistent fruit and healthy acidity, this was actually better than certain champagnes I tasted. The cava Giro Ribot Tendencias, Brut Extra 2008 (imported by Cava.nl) is very creamy with spicy notes of cinnamon and the lesser acidity cava is known for. The biggest surprise here was the Deutscher Sekt Weingut Am Stein, Silvaner ‘Winzer Sekt’ Brut 2006 De Wijntherapeut), with notes of pepper and spice above a bed of apples, with a very light sweetness in the aftertaste. more>>

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The Downside of Organoleptic Development

Funny thing, the nose. We all have one and tend to take it for granted, but the nose is the most important organ used to judge wine and particularly to recognize wines. Furthermore, what we taste is directly related to what we smell, so the senses of smelling and tasting are connected.

So it is that Robert Parker insured his nose for $1 million, an outstanding feat at the time. Years later, Holland’s own Ilja Gort, maker of such fine supermarket wines as La Tulipe and French Rebel, insured his own facial protuberance for $8 million, a master publicity stunt in its own right. I wonder how much his premiums cost? In any case, Gort seems to be enjoying success. more>>

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Visit to M. Chapoutier

The Rhône is strangely disparaged by some and venerated by others. While everyone seems to blindly agree that Bordeaux and Burgundy make excellent company, putting Rhône wines on the table is like inviting the in-laws to your house: you either like them or you don’t. I do, and in fact southern Rhône wines like Gigondas and a good Chateauneuf du Pape (I happen to sell Château Fortia) are some of my favourite wines.

The bridge over the Rhône at Tain l'Hermitage

The bridge over the Rhône at Tain l’Hermitage

But it is the northern Rhône which gets the serious wine lover’s attention, and this is largely due to its noble grape, Syrah, seen by most to be superior to its thin-skinned southern neighbour, Grenache Noir. In fact, I was told at WSET wine college by a Master of Wine that Grenache is almost to be despised: low in tannins, oxidative and one-dimensional, it is incapable of producing vins de garde. But for the French, opinions are like wines; everyone has some. more>>

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A Success Story: Giovanni Negro

It can get very hot in Piedmont, and this is primarily red wine country, but fortunately white wines are also made to quench the thirst of locals and visitors on sweltering sunny summer days. The favourite house wine of most osterias is made from the Favorita, an uncomplicated grape which renders fruity, quaffable wines. More complex whites come from the Arneis variety, with its distinctive tones of apples and chalky minerals.

Amphitheater-like landscape of Roero

Amphitheater-like landscape of Roero

But in introducing the wines of Giovanni Negro, I want to begin with something more rare than a white Piemontese truffle, and just as delicious: his Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005, a beautiful sparkling wine made in the traditional method, with two years bottle ageing with lees contact. Thank goodness someone had the common sense to do this, for as we all know, nothing refreshes better on a hot day than a bottle of bubbly. Negro is the only producer in the world to make a sparkling wine from 100% Arneis grapes, and the result is something quite like champagne, a wine with great acidity and minerality, full-bodied and extremely refreshing. more>>

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King Barolo and His Friends

Ah, Barolo. As they like to say here, “the King of wines, and the wine of Kings.” If you want to appreciate it, you need to have patience, and let’s face it, few people possess this trait nowadays. Really, a good Barolo should not be drunk until it’s 10 years old, but if you want to purchase one of these finer old specimens in a shop here, count on spending between 50 to 100 Euros for a bottle. You can buy them for about a third or a quarter of the price when they’re young, but you need to have a cellar and you need to have patience.

The rolling hillside vineyards of Barolo

The rolling hillside vineyards of Barolo

Barolo the place is eye-candy: rolling land stretches out from the foothills (Piedmont literally translated) of the Alps where medieval castle towns sit perched on the tops of escarpments, looking over geometrically aligned terraces where virtually every square meter is planted with a Nebbiolo vine. I came here in a used VW Polo and on a budget, but what I found was winemakers consumed with a passion for their craft, good honest people ready to share their enthusiasm with a devotee, and willing indeed to share the wine itself. This place represents southern European hospitality at its best. more>>

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Back to Ticino: Werner Stucky

As I noted in the first posting I made for this blog, few Swiss wines will ever find a public outside of Switzerland, because they are practically all consumed in their home country. There are two major reasons for this, and they are both economical in nature. Swiss wines are expensive to export, given that land is costly in this tiny mountainous country and production costs are high. Secondly, foreign wines are heavily taxed in Switzerland, which gives local wines an advantage for the Swiss consumer.

But the Swiss know a good wine when they drink it, and there is little doubt that Ticino is the country’s rising star. When Hugh Johnson compiled his Wine Companion in 1983, he listed no more than five producers. But there has been a renaissance happening here in the last 20 years, and the region is now producing some outstanding Merlots, some of which can rival St. Emilion and Pomerol, both in quality and price.

Werner Stucky Ticino

Werner Stucky in his “garage” in Rivera, Ticino

One of the winemakers Johnson mentioned in his guide is Werner Stucky in Rivera, a small producer working 4 ha of land, who studied both in Switzerland and in Bordeaux under the famous oenologue Emile Peynaud. Stucky is an unpretentious man who makes only three wines, all of them seriously good vinos da tavola. When I asked him why he doesn’t produce wines which fall under the DOC classification, he simply replied that that doesn’t interest him. His customers, all restaurants and private individuals, know that a Stucky wine stands for quality. more>>

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WSET Trip to Austria

Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn’t know much about Austrian wines, but my impressions from what I had tasted were generally positive. So I jumped at the chance to take part in a trip organized for Dutch WSET diploma course students by Holland’s only Master of Wine, Frank Smulders. This was a four-day trip where we visited some of Austria’s top wineries. more>>

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Bodega Horacio Calvente

One of my pet peeves with Spain is the lack of interesting white wines with recognizably individual characteristics. Yes, you have some affordable and tasty Ruedas if they are made from 100% Verdejo, nice drinkable wines with fresh fruit and citrus flavours, but I tend to tire of Rueda pretty quickly. I’m rather bored with oakey, vanilla-rich Viura-based blends from Rioja.

Bodega Horacio Calvente

Somontano has built its reputation on varietals made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Gewurtztraminer, but do these compete with similar wines from Burgundy, the Loire or Alsace? The same could be asked about the oaked Chardonnays of Penedès. Why bother when you can get the real thing from Pouilly-Fuissé and even Meursault for about the same price? Finally, there are some amazing Albariños from Rias Baixas, but they also cost a pretty penny and are not always worth it. more>>

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Domaine de la Laidière, Bandol rosé

In this time of rosé confusion, let’s make it a point to drink quality rosé.

By confusion, I’m referring to the recent decision in Brussels to allow EU wine producers to make rosé simply by mixing red and white wines. Bah. I’m sure there are people somewhere who’ve been doing this at home for years. Thankfully, this ridiculous legislation has been rescinded. more>>

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William Fevre; real chablis

“Real Chablis,” I was told while still an apprentice, “comes from Kimmeridgian clay, and if it doesn’t, it isn’t Chablis.” So what is this magical clay, so important that it determines the very essence of France’s most famous white wine?

Chablis

The secret to chablis’ terroir: ammonite with oysters attached

About 150 million years ago, in the Kimmeridgian era (the upper Jurassic geological period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth), Chablis and all of Burgundy was an inland sea. Today, Chablis’ marl and clay limestone soils contain copious amounts of oyster fossils and ammonites from that period, and it is these fossils which give Chablis its mineral character, and in the better crus its gunsmokey, flint-like bouquet. more>>

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