Posts Filed Under wine review
“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
– Johnny Graham
As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.
The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).
Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).
Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…
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A vintage Sekt, a northern-Italian inspired Napa white blend, a Vintage Port from a sleeper of a producer in a not-so-sleeper of a year, and a single vineyard, old vine Chilean Malbec. All have taken the #1 spot in previous “vintages” of the 1WD Most Interesting Wines of the Year list. Believe it or not, the MIW list is now in its fifth consecutive incarnation, and it sure as hell ain’t getting’ any easier to produce each year!
Both the number and quality of wines that I sample increases exponentially each year, and so the competition (such as it is) for those that stand out as somehow being the most special in some way/shape/form increases dramatically as well.
Having said that, there’s a crap-ton of very good, but not very memorable wines out there… and I tasted a LOT of those to get to the ones on this top ten list.
Having said that, I feel somehow emotionally cheated with the list I’m presenting to you today… because so many excellent wines that I tasted in 2012 are missing… wines that could have been on here if it were a top 25 or top 50 list.
This list, as long-time 1WD readers already know, is not a “best of” or “highest rating” or “circle jerk” comparison (no mater what the PR folks do with it!). It’s intended to be a list of wines that stood out, to me, as being particularly interesting, high quality and full of complexity; an attempt to shine an additional spotlight on vino that I found to be among the most compelling drinking experiences I had this year.
A few more moments of preamble: these are not wines released in 2012 (though I try to favor recent releases, so that you have a chance of actually trying them), they are wines that I tasted in 2012. Not all the wines I tasted in 2012 qualified – the wines have to be at least somewhat available (also so that you have a shot at trying them). Things got expensive again this year; not sure what that says about me, or the wine biz in general, but not all of the vino on this list is stratospherically priced (though a few are – sorry, I gotta call this stuff as I see/taste it!).
I invite you to take a gander at previous vintages of the Top 10, to see how things have evolved over the last five years: 2011, 2010, 2009 & 2008. Reactions, exclamations, bitching/moaning, exaltations, and the like are all, of course, welcome. But most of all, I hope you enjoy the walk down 1WD memory lane.
Oh, yeah – and this year, at one spot in the list we have a tie, so technically there are eleven wines in the list (go ahead… flame me up for it… you know you wanna…).
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In high school, I had a math teacher who used to tease us when we were timid in class about providing an answer that should have been obvious. He would hold out his lanky arms in the fashion of scales, feigning the weighing of agonizing choices, while muttering, “Sex? Or… death? Sex… or death? I can’t decide!!”
So when I was in Bordeaux this past September (a media guest of Planet Bordeaux), and oenologist Vincent Cruège asked my group if we wanted to meet André Lurton, I had a flashback to those high school days. Now near 90, Lurton – apart from being a near-legend in Bordeaux winemaking – has been Mayor of Grézillac, a WWII soldier, a Military Cross recipient, member of the Legion of Honour, a Knight of the Agricultural Order of Merit, and a collector of… tanks (not steel tanks, though there are plenty of those on the property, but the kind of tanks that shoot explosive shell rounds).
“Sex? Or Death?”
Hell yeah, I wanted to meet Lurton. I’d want to meet him by virtue of the tank collection alone, actually.
And so it was that our tour of Chateau Bonnet, headed by Lurton’s daughter Denise Moulle (whose husband, Jean-Pierre, was head chef at Chez Panisse for more than twenty years, but as far as I’m aware didn’t cook for us during this visit… the audacity…!) was to conclude with a visit from the tank-collecting legend himself, who basically heard that we were a group of bloggers and wanted to meet the new blood in the wine biz. It would also conclude with the popping of the cork on one of Lurton’s rarer Monbazillacs – something I didn’t know when we toured the grounds on a chilly, wet Autumn mid-morning, but something else I certainly wouldn’t have turned down if it had been offered (talk about “Sex or Death?”)…
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