The Naked Truth from an Underground POV

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desert haboob? play on!

The Underground Wineletter is one of the finest newsletters covering wine obsessions since the 1980s. John Tilson is the editor and publisher. He knows wine and is a very decent writer. Much better than the tripe found here [ed. Hey. We like tripe and buches too.] John loves many more California wines than the tBoW Tasting Team. At least he knows so much about them that he is a peerless historian on the older established labels such as Ridge, Mayacamas, Diamond Creek…

We love reading his stuff. He also likes to go against the grain and “break news.” He is pretty good at being a newsbreaking contrarian. Among his more notorious subjects was one of his earliest editorial exposes titled Hokus Pokus Opus. He immediately saw through the marketing brilliance of Robert Mondavi and Baron Phil Rothschild [ed. Baron Phil. That's funny.] Blending Cabernet from the top Bordeaux and the would-be top Napa Cab in a first-off-its-kind across-the-ocean venture that was Opus. Just ponder a moment how often this gimmick has been repeated. The Opus vineyard was too new to produce fruit close to the quality of Mouton so he sourced it… starting yet another super trend; custom crush indie labels.

Tilson was also among the first to suspect and write about fraud in the super-collectible wine market. He ridiculed the 100 point scale exposing the joke. What does a scale that never falls below 87 say about 100 points? That is really a lucky 13! Tilson often waits for the wine world to catch up with him. He is an ardent advocate of listing wine ingrediments on wine labels; a practice some winemakers abhor. We hope to read his thoughts on the “naked or natural wine” movement soon.

He is especially strong with California wines however he loves Burgundy. His annual trip to and review of the most recent vintages are highly opinionated in his very detailed way. Forget Parker and the Speculator. If you want to learn a lot about wine then you should read the Underground. You can get the UW for nothing except the effort to sign up online. A very worthy read.

Here are some really great wines we tasted recently. Let me amend. These may be the two of the three best wines we have tasted all year.

 wine grapes 2008 Antonioti Bramaterra $28 (Eno): This is beautiful wine. Originates in the northern most region of Piemonte. 72 acres comprises not the entire vineyard but the entire region. Thank you Louis Dressner for importing this gem. Thank you Eno Fine Wine and Mr. Goldun for getting it to us at such a great price. Juicy, completely balanced. It is the perfect wine right now. 13%

ladoix09CROP wine grapes 2009 Domaine Gaston and Pierre Ravaut Ladoix Premier Cru Les Basses Mourotte $32 (Eno): Mrs. tBoW who prefers New World Pinot Noir was impressed with this wine, another Eno find. “Sophisticated. Pour me a little more.” It is sophisticated high tone Burgundy. We do not know who is the producer or the vineayrd. “Situated on the east side of the Corton hill, Ladoix-Serrigny is one of three communes that produce both reds and whites entitled to the Corton grand Cru appellation. While Aloxe-Corton has the largest Grand Cru vineyard land by far almost equally divided between Corton-Charlemagne and the lions share of the great red Crus, Ladoix shouldn’t be overlooked.” Whenever Corton-Charlemagne is mentioned that is very good. This is beautiful Burgundy with all the finesse and sophistication that will never be found in a New World Pinot Noir. Get it. This is a terrific price. 13%

Eno Fine Wine is on a roll. Tilson and the Underground Wineletter are classics. Here is another classic completely out there on his own stretching the envelope of greatness.

The Fall, Rise and Fall of Beaujolais

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she ruled the 60s

Beaujolais has been forgotten more often than whatshisname. Beauj wines were top shelf in the 14th century until the Burgundy farmers chased the Gamay Noir grape – crossed with the blessed Pinot Noir – and its wannabe producers south. Gamay lost its prestige in the wake of Marie Antoinette’s gehackt kopf.

Gamay grown south of Burgundy can produce a lovely light to medium weight red wine with floral qualities and the requisite acid to buck it all up. Until the 1960s. Yearning for fanfare the Beaujolais producers led by Georges Dubouef came up with Beaujolais Nouveau which became fashionable as Twiggy. And half as interesting. This pompy silly era was Fall #1 for Beaujolais in the Modern Era: Beaj Nouveau. Like the Beatles, still popular.

The Rise. In 2006 the earth around Beaujolais began to move. Suddenly, gratefully, amidst an avalanche of rocketing collector prices and the relentless quest to win a Parker 100 point score, Beaujolais winemakers began producing some very nice wines. The value quotient (VQ) was an island in a sea of [ed. better metaphor please] an outpost in a wilderness of [ed. not wilderness] an outpost in the back country of forgotten appellations. Gamay returned to wine snobs. The 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages were superb. The ten crus offered more variety than Bourdeaux along with far better pricing and far more availability. Superb Gamay cru wines were priced near $15. Beaujolais was on the RISE.

Fall #2. The 2008 economic crash took about 18 months for Parker and the Wine Speculator to concede the 100 point game was over. Tostado. This should have been the tipping point when Beaujolais secured its new position as leader in the quality and value game. But it did not. Instead, the producers raised prices. Dumb. Da Dumb. Dumb. The market was in their hands… and they let it slip away. The last vintages we bought were 2009 2010. We are tasting through them now with no plans to replenish.

Very good Beaujolais costs close to $30. At the same time we are buying outrageously great Chablis for the same price. And super Red Burg for the same price and up to $10 more… except we are buying wines Beaujolais will never become, except for Clos de la Roilette which we still buy. Welcome to the new top shelf.

Here are two more wines from the Not Ready For Prime Time Tasting.

Ridge Montebello 00WEB wine grapes viura spain merlot gamay cabernet sauvignon cabernet franc beaujolais alta rioja 2000 Ridge Montebello $120: A-L-M-O-S-T R-E-A-D-Y. At 14 years this wine can be enjoyed. Ridge Montebello is regarded as the Lafite of US wines. Justifiably so. This wine was gorgeous, not voluptious, not lean. Classically beautiful, something like Lauren Bacall. Perfect California mountain blend with just enough oak to give it the classic style. Last domestic Cabernet we had like this was the 1987 Dunn Howell in mag. Dunn is more rustic. Montebello more refined. Truly spectacular wine and not Bordeaux. Honestly. At $120 and being the benchmark for California GREATNESS in wine, this is a bargain. 13.5%

Tondonia 91WEB wine grapes viura spain merlot gamay cabernet sauvignon cabernet franc beaujolais alta rioja 1991 Lopez de Herredia Tondonia $105 (sorry, it’s a secret for now): tBoW asked Goldun will this wine be ready in another 10 years? “Maybe 100″ came the comeback. 23 years in the bottle and the color is not even golden. Yellow as a five year old Chablis. Flavors enchanting but the wine is n-o-t r-e-a-d-y. We must have another bottle taking into account predicted auto-longevity and the likelihood I will be around to enjoy with the Geezer Troop. 13%

Maybe this could also be “the discrete charm of the Beaujolais?” Cue the electric sitars please. It’s all… so beautiful.

Dom 85!! Who knew?? Harvey Kurtzman knew.

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cosmic comic juice for a young mind

This post is being written in a downpour of potrzebie popup ads. Not good. We have wines and events of import to review so let’s plunge ahead with another furshlugginer post.

First things first. Happy Birthday to Dotoré. OK. That is taken care of. The venerable and toothsome reporter and hopeless Dodger fiend owes tBoW $20. We will have to pull some corks.

Hurricane Iselle blew itself into a Tropical Storm. Family living on the Big Island survived the tempest on Mauna Kea.

Happy birthday to Peewee, loyal Young’un and bad MoFo, who enthusiastically hosts her Payola Show at Paolis Pizza joint Tuesday nights. Congrats to original Young’uns Sawa M and REL now gainfully employed so they will soon be popping their own corks with tBoW and The Geezer Troop.

Favorite Somm Jen Carter is no longer at Saddle Peak Lodge which means that wonderful place with all the potential that she was able to realize, will fall from its roost as the go-to spot in the Calabasas boonies. Jen did a fab job there and we will miss her. Until we find out where she takes up hosting and toasting in a new venue! Please let us know Jen!

In the midst of all, we have had some notable wines to present.

dom85WEB wine grapes syrah sparkling santa rita hills pinot noir paso robles mourvedre languedoc grenache champagne carignane 1985 Dom Perignon $300 (TAFI wine): No need to say champagne right? This is THE champagne. Imagine Bond calling for 1952 Dom Perignon, chilled, in From Russian With Love. This wine came serendipitously to the tBoW clan as a random raffle prize. I know huh? Provenance unknown which is to say who knows how it was stored. We popped the cork and poured. Perfect bubbles, tight and abundant. But the flavor was revelation. Every Dom we have ever had has been steely bordering on austere. This was no fat big boy Krug but it did show golden color, apple flavors and it was delicious! Sometimes the world tilts ever so slightly and something falls into your lap. Truly memorable. Spectacular. 13%melville 1 WEB 300x224 wine grapes syrah sparkling santa rita hills pinot noir paso robles mourvedre languedoc grenache champagne carignane

melvillPN02WEB1 wine grapes syrah sparkling santa rita hills pinot noir paso robles mourvedre languedoc grenache champagne carignane The review to the left is not the work of popup ads or even an overzealous editor. It is tBoW’s policy to try and not say anything directly unkind, uncaring or unfriendly when it comes to bad wine. The harshest term we will is PLONK. However, we could not help expressing the 180 degree turnabout in our wine palate since 2001. The Melville wines represent that switch. The general movement in the direction of food friendly, natural, under or even unoaked wines had something to do with our redirect. Mostly, tBoW has always wanted to apply Harvey Kurtzman’s humor from the Mad magazines of his yoof in a wine blog.

TCPano05WEB wine grapes syrah sparkling santa rita hills pinot noir paso robles mourvedre languedoc grenache champagne carignane 2005 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Panoplie $80: The highest end selection from the greatest Central Coast winery. Still not ready! This is the top selection and it tastes that way… all the way. Dense dark red blood robed liquid. More like a Southern Italian Negro Amaro. Only bigger. TC wines are never about heavy tannins. However, the reds are very long aging. Had it with steak and the beef had to put up a fight. Stick with the whites… long as they are seven years post bottling. Blows by the Melville monster. 15%.coston10WEB2 wine grapes syrah sparkling santa rita hills pinot noir paso robles mourvedre languedoc grenache champagne carignane

2010 Domaine Coston Terrasses du Larzac Languedoc $20: One of the last of the Great Garagiste selections in the cellar. A wine that can do the tango. Sophisticated in a very local way. Imagine an Argentine man in his 50s stepping through the porteño ritual dance. Light on its feet with the gravitas only a country defeated in in every war it ever fought could understand. Outstanding.

Bond is unable to turn down Dom Perignon 1959, from You Only Live Twice.

Drinking Wines Before Their Time

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properly aged

A bracingly warm summer evening in SoCal and an assembly of tasting mavens. Heat driven visions for an epic evening celebrating accomplishments. All that was needed was a collection of wines to taste, discern
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Orson Wine

and discuss their mysteries. We had them… both. But where was the moon?

The wines that were opened showed kind of tight and NOT READY, excepting the Andre Robert champagne that was popped first. Champagne is always ready isn’t it? The wines most anticipated were just not there yet. What does it mean to be “not ready?” The wine needs more time to round out, integrate, come together, settle down, find its equilibrium, mature. Bartod Chambolle 07WEB wine grapes pinot noir malvar madrid cotes de beaune burgundy australia Or, if you are biodynamically literate the wine needs to be in harmony with the lunar cycle. Let’s face it. Astrology.

2007 Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Aux Beaux Bruns $111: Don’t do it they said as he pulled the cork. Big and brooding. Like a Beethoven portrait. Pinot fruit so deep it could not be fathomed. Tight. Weight without mass. A sleeping warlock. Never opened up. Now we will never see it again. 13%

coldstream 06WEB wine grapes pinot noir malvar madrid cotes de beaune burgundy australia 2006 Mac Forbes Coldstream Yarra Valley Pinot Noir $70: By contrast this dusty, leanish drink was fascinating. Definitely tasted like Pinot Noir. Had the Burgundian style with light middle weight liquid and dark Pinot flavors. Not exactly forest floor and definitely not from the cherry/strawberry clan. Savory flavors. Yarra Valley wine country is low (100′) and high (1500′). It is a cool region so Pinot Noir grows well. This bottle pleased almost everyone. The winery is Mac Forbes and they have a young crew. The great about tasting this wine at $70 was to have it near the Chambolle at $111. Neither is quite ready. Which would you rather open tonight? A treat to have them both on the same evening. 13.5%

Malvar 2011WEB wine grapes pinot noir malvar madrid cotes de beaune burgundy australia 2011 Viñas Ambiz Malvar (Maceración Carbónica) $24: We have been waiting to try this bottle of orange wine. Made from a white grape indigenous to the Madrid region. The story is in the winemaking. Fabio Bartolomei reveals his “greatest secrets” at this website. The back label is almost as striking as the wine color. YOU MUST READ IT. He presents a list of what is in the bottle – “fermented grape juice”, what he did and did not do to the wine, and what he did and did not add. How was the wine? Fascinating. Tasting like pure juice, acidic, lean, high flying, without peer. Don’t look for fruit. We decided to decant it! As my mother-in-law might have said “these guys are having too much fun!” As the website says “Practicing environmentally respectful, sustainable and chemical-free viticulture.” The vineards are head cut. The Malvar vineyard so so old nobody knows. If this was Sonoma or Napa the owner would have a geneticist out to the site immediately! This region near Madrid is a must visit for wine tourists. 12%

Here is a seven minute slide show with music of Diane Arbus’ fotos.

Pinot versus Pinot

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Hit me!! Good god!

It’s the BEST of the New World versus the BEST of the Old World… considering VALUE ev kerse. It should be expressly clear by now that Pinot Noir is the second greatest grape among vinifera; the greatest being Nebbiolo, ev kerse [ed. stop that you idjit].

Recent pullage has tested the claim. We pulled corks on two very fine and exceptional Pinot Noir wines at great value from the Willamette Valley which is the top growing region for Pinot Noir in the New World [ed. FYI that includes New Zealand, Ontario and Pennsylvania]. We tasted one red Burgundy with comparable age from Auxey Duresses which is a lesser known and lesser regarded region among 100 point fiends. The Burg blew the Willamette wines off the chart. This is not to say the Oregon wines were not good. They were wonderful.

Let us delay no further. There is reporting to be completed. But there is more. We opened the Burg with a Chablis at the same time. They fit like Kerry and Hagel [ed. they like each other?]. Kismet in a glass.

wahle08WEB wine grapes willamette valley pinot noir oregon eola amity dundee hills cotes de beaune chardonnay chablis burgundy 2008 Wahle Vineyards and Cellars Holmes Hill Pinot Noir $30 (in 2010). Lovely, masculine, middle weight, refined not delicate. Dark red color. Great nose. Definitely New World. Bought this at the 2010 Portland Indie Wine Fest – once the finest wine festival on the West Coast. Dotoré picked this out from many candidates. In its middle age with plenty of youthful spirit [ed. like Dotoré]. Too friendly to be brooding although there is definitely some weight here. We stole much inspiration from this excellent site. Words you will never read on tBoW that you will read, apparently, on the Pinot File: “Upon returning to Oregon he discovered that his family transition plan had stalled and this was a life-changing event for him.” Something you will read on the tBoW site: Cellartracker rates this wine 88.5 points. Dopes! If this isn’t moronic… This is a 100 point wine for at least a dozen reasons. Oh. You want me to list them? 1. The wine is well made. 2. It has finesse. 3. It isn’t Cabernet. 4. Wahle is a physician who it looks like never practiced. The only MD who went to med school so he could make wine when he got out. 13.6%

couer 08WEB wine grapes willamette valley pinot noir oregon eola amity dundee hills cotes de beaune chardonnay chablis burgundy 2008 Coeur de Terre Vineyard Estate McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $30: The premium bottle from the “premium” vintage. Another Indie Wine Fest purchase. Understand we tasted dozens of Willamette wines. This and the Wahle wines are not from what we would come to understand is ideal premium wine country in Willamette. That would be Ribbon Ridge. Whatever. This wine is six years in the bottle. The nose is not full of oak. Smells like teen Pinot. The flavors are smooooth and black cherry. mainly, the weight and balance complement. You want firm and full Willamette Pinot Noir made with careful restraint, this is it. 13.8%

auxey09WEB wine grapes willamette valley pinot noir oregon eola amity dundee hills cotes de beaune chardonnay chablis burgundy 2009 Auxey-Duresses Moulin Aux Clos Moines Monopole $36: Same price point for the Oregon wines. This is stunning Pinot Noir. For the rest of us schlubs who have never ever tasted DRC RC this has to be as good as. The balance is pinpoint delicado. Neither fruity nor forest floor. Fazzinating. Red cherries with a kick of kirsch. Showing the range of Pinot from Burgundy. And this is a less glam community. The Pinot fruit is so Old World I grew callouses holding the glass. The producer is just another guy. Got this from EnoFineWine. I found the wine at a SoCal shop but I ain’t telling. Really should get more. Really. 13%

Here is something we challenge anyone to accomplish with New World Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, same meal, same evening.

chablis picq 12WEB wine grapes willamette valley pinot noir oregon eola amity dundee hills cotes de beaune chardonnay chablis burgundy 2012 Gilbert Pica Chablis En Vaudecorse $28 (EoFineWine): Just enough spine to complement the green pineappley fruit. Served it too warm and it was great. Chilled it down and it was super. Let it lose the chill again and… you know. Just delicious. Even Mrs. tBoW who is a die hard unapologetic New World kind of gal loved these wines back to back and mixed in. Red then white then red then white. What a donnybrook. Like Germany and Argentina in a friendly. Try and put a New World Chard next to a California Pinot Noir at the same time. You’re wincing! 13%

DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP OF JAMES BROWN FREAKING THE FLAMES OUT WITH HIS MOVES. And recall… Mick Jagger had to follow him.