Friday, September 2, 2011

Reunions, Chance Encounters and New Old Friends

Wine reviews of what I drank last week.

2002 Cline Small Berry Vineyard Mourvedre – Contra Costa County, CA
Like a reunion with a high school sweetheart, this encounter with Cline’s single vineyard Mourvedre was nearly 10 years after the fates separated us and I was reminded how much I loved her then.  While rekindling the old flame I also noticed how this flower has blossomed! When I first tasted the 1998 Small Berry in 2000 for my wine list – its intense eucalyptus, menthol and underpinned luscious fruit was the suggested pair for lamb at Bistro 309.  I bought the 1998 with abandon and sold it just as quickly, but saved a ½ case and sprang the last bottle in 2005. That last bottle was intensely minty with green peppercorn flavors, but the rich primary fruit was gone – with air, is all but disappeared completely.   To my despair, in its youth the wine was amazing, but couldn’t last.
Fast forward to August 2011, Dr. Harvey Allen, a regular of Bistro 309 drops off a carefully cellared 2002 bottle of Small Berry Mourvedre – a gesture of appreciation for turning him onto this wine 11 years ago. With vivid palate memory for this wine I waited for some superior lamb from Border Springs Farm (Virginia) and smoked it on my Weber grill to give the Cline its due.
Dark purple, ink-like in the glass, with some visible sediment in the bottle.  The familiar eucalyptus and menthol is there on the nose.  Hurrah!  A rush of memories – subtle herbs and lavender – the bouquet is pure South of France in a bottle.  On the palate, you get a slosh of intensely bundled, sharp fruit that is a little confusing.  The wine is very integrated at this point, but a lot like a dark chocolate bar with dry cherries and chiles peppers.  There is so much going on all at once, that the wine can easily stand alone as a novelty.  The 14.5% alcohol is balanced well by the intensity of the fruit and a firm acidity that shows in the bittersweet chocolate tones.  The finish is very long and very intense.  A worthy pair for the smoked lamb, without a doubt. 
The label back on this bottle references the Small Berry Vineyard as a 9 acre tract.  Previous discussion with the winemaker tells me that not all 9 acres are bottled as single vineyard, so this bottling can be a rare find – often only available on-premise or from the winery.  Cline claims that the Small Berry Mourvedre does well to bottle age over 5-7 years, but I’m confident that it has as long plateau and my continue to develop out to 12 years.  The benefit I anticipate is that it will further integrate and become less jagged in the mid-palate.
Cline Small Berry Mourvedre – $33-42 upon release.   A near impossible find.  It helps to know a guy.

2006 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz – McLaren Vale, AUS
The Dead Arm Shiraz is d’Arenberg’s money-shot.  Parker, Tanzer, Spectator, Enthusiast – they all love this wine.  What’s not to love about one of the most consistently delicious, deeply developed expressions of McLaren Vale Shiraz in the market.  There is so much wolfish fruit and meat to this wine, but it’s all wrapped in such silky sheep’s clothes, you might find yourself waiting for the hammer to hit.  But there’s no blunt impact – leave that for the Barossa Shiraz – this, IS McLaren Vale. 

The 2006 Dead Arm delivers an elegant, Royal purple juice with a no-apologies fistful of alcohol.  The nose is a cloud of smoky meat, earth, tack-shed and fruit, fruit, fruit.  On the palate a sinuous undulation of flavor carries you through the riot of blackberry jam, cherry, cinnamon, star anise and allspice woven together without a seam.  The finish is an experience by itself as it has its own evolution with peaks and plateau finishing finally with a silky sweet lingering kiss.  This d’Arenberg iteration is exotic and complex, distinctively feminine.  Truly ancient, starved vines on the edge of their lives turn out minimal, elegantly refined juice that is a must-drink.  Robert Parker says “this beautifully rendered Shiraz demands a decade of cellaring… superb from 2018 to 2036."  Of course Parker said that in 2008.  That’s great if you bought cases and expect to live that long.  Three years have passed and this elegant Cougar has been tamed.  Opening The Dead Arm a little early will not be punished – decant, drink and enjoy tonight if you want to make an ordinary barbecue EXTRAordinary; save it if you possibly can, but those sneers from your curtain-twitching neighbors are envy, not scorn.  
2006 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz - $50-65 retail upon release.  Still available in some markets.

2009 Dominique Roger, Cuvee “La Jouline” Sancerre – Loire, FR
After a 4 week wait for my case to be shipped from WineAccess, I anxiously followed the FedEx shipping on line.  When I saw that the package had been delivered and signed for, I went looking for the box.  WineAccess, an on-line specialty wine shop, spends much thought and time on packaging their wines for delivery so that they arrive in top condition.  This case not only was way oversized and filled with injected foam, there were chemical cool-packs inside to assure that the temperature of the wine inside didn’t soar during shipping in August.  Upon opening the box, I shot a temperature reading with an infrared thermometer – 61 degrees, damn fine in my book.
I have been looking for 2009 Sancerres since a Loire tasting over a year ago.  I also had a chance to taste several 2006s at that tasting and some 2003s.  If 2009 was as good as the critics were saying, these wines would taste even better than the excellent and age-worthy examples that a sampled from a few years back. 
Dominique Rogers’ Cuvee La Jouline, has a brilliant fresh green hay color, it has sparkle in the glass.  A rich and earthy nose of wet rocks and smoke – it is hard to imagine the smoky nose of a Cotes Rotie in a white, but it’s there.  Crisply acidity with intense mineral notes and a piercing attack.  The palate is abundantly acidic and absent of cliché citrus tones – this after all is Old World Sauvignon Blanc, from an O.G. winemaker.  In the mouth, there are crab apples and under-ripe pear flavors up for grabs.  Allowing the wine to linger in the glass affords time for lemon curd to develop, but the strong underpinning of flinty minerals still evokes that smoke.  There is gravity and backbone here, a depth and width not often seen even in the Loire.  2009 was very kind to the Loire in general and Sancerre in particular and I look forward to watching these wines develop. This classic, “old skool” Sauvignon Blanc has horsepower enough for pork, strong greens, bacon and a variety of cheeses – we enjoyed this tremendously with a Frisee Lardon and a La Tur triple cream cheese.  This is a gem of a wine and a refreshingly delightful, expression of terroir and the grape.  Will benefit from a 1-3 years of holding.  For grins, I’m putting some away for a long stretch.
2009 Dominique Roger Sancerre, Loire, FR – $35-45 retail.  Small lots imported, worth tracking down.