Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Favorite Médoc

I’ve got Bordeaux on the brain and, lo and behold, I’m not the only one. A few things are afoot: the 2009 futures tasting approaches fast and furious (much anticipation) and Eric Asimov’s recent Wines of the Times tasting of the lower-priced crus bourgeoises was well-timed and broad in its reach. Unlike most Burgundy, Bordeaux – the masculine wine of France, adored by Brit and German alike since the eighteenth century – historically has represented a better value and a better bet on cellaring. And this has held true particularly in less-fêted vintages. In fact, some of the very first full cases I ever purchased were from the 1998 and 2001 vintages, Chateau Cantemerle and Chateau Pontet-Canet. At the time, right under the nose of my oblivious landlord, I’d strung off a part of our building’s stone cellar and constructed makeshift wine racks. The bottles were indeed values back then, and I cherished going downstairs with my cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and inspecting my holdings. (Heck, even at the cheap end of the spectrum, a Bordeaux label says, albeit groggily, “Laisse-moi, I need my beauty sleep.”)

Now more than ever, I seek out values wherever and whenever I can. The designer names of the First-Growths and the Napa cult cabernets mean less and less. (Don’t get me wrong: Bring me a bottle of 1987 Spring Mountain Cabernet, and we will talk.) Since the 2005 vintage, I have to agree with Eric Asimov that Bordeaux prices have skyrocketed to such an extent that exploring the better values and, quite frankly, interesting wines from, say, southern Italy and the Beaujolais, seems a wiser move. There is little need anymore to scrounge around the lesser crus on the Gironde estuary. All that said (!!) I confess an old-fashioned affinity for Médoc, especially 2005 Chateau Greysac ($13). I love its dark aromas of pencil lead, cherries, blackcurrant and plums, underpinned by austere, but never unappealing, notes of cedar, herbs, tobacco and bell pepper. Here is a wine where the Cabernet Franc does what it was always supposed to do: to etch complexity and nuance onto the folds of velvet fruit that represent a headline vintage like ’05.

While this wine would lend itself well to meaty dishes, you already know my penchant for lighter fare. I’d just as easily retire with it to a comfortable chair and nurse it with a good novel, film or diverting after-dinner conversation. If I had to label it, I’d call it my “library” wine.

No wonder the British also loved Port.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mr. Pinot

I have a confession to make. Big, bold mouth-staining wines don’t do it for me. So rarely do I eat the food that complements them well: the aged cuts of beef, the savory fatty pork dishes and all that pan-seared caramelized goodness. But give me a lithe and lean pinot noir or a spicy elegant cabernet franc and I’m in heaven. On Friday night, I took a friend for dinner at Momofuku. I hadn’t been there in at least a year, and the food was just as good—or better—than I remember it. And, given their dirt cheap corkage fee, I had a good bottle in tow: a 2001 Fougeray de Beauclair Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru ($105). I figured that a classic year like 2001 would provide an object lesson in what well-made pinot noir can be. Much to my dismay, though, Momofuku does not have stemware. I’ve certainly heard arguments to the contrary, but a good glass does help Burgundy and older Bordeaux. Tumblers are too narrow and deep to allow the wine the proper space to recline, stretch itself out, breathe and warm up. With the door at Noodle Bar opening every thirty seconds, the room was quite cool and our Bonnes-Mares remained chilled throughout the meal. But it showed very nicely next to the steamed pork buns and roasted Hudson Valley foie gras. Deep garnet-purple and medium-bodied and perfectly pleasant to quaff, it all but lacked that iron-fist-in-velvet-glove appeal that should characterize grand cru Burgundy. Noodle Bar is hardly the sort of room where you can relax with your food. It’s more about people-watching and chatting with your tablemates, interspersed with the requisite swoons of “OMG, most delicious thing ever!” Afterward we retired to the hipster-swank Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg for a flight of artisanal rums, while a trio next to us embarked on a most dangerous game of tequila, Tecate and spicy tomato juice.

Last night, a wine colleague and I opened a bottle of Michel Gaunoux’s 1999 Beaune ($48). Two steps down the scale from Grand Cru status, this village-level wine was absolutely stunning. Granted, ’99 was a better vintage than ’01, but this wine showed such poise and restraint. It didn’t advertise its superior vintage with fruit-driven oeno-shenanigans. Britons like to refer to “breed” in wine, and I think that term is apropos. Pinot snobs often thumb their noses at Beaune as an appellation that is better known for its whites, but I’ll take its reds any day. The Gaunoux was pure and mineral-driven with silken tannins surrounding a ruby core of crushed red berries, leather, game and a hint of Asian spice (the ground white pepper called prik thai that you’ll find in a Thai specialty store). A little online research revealed that, while this is a village-level wine, it contains grapes from two Premier Cru parcels. I will definitely be snapping up a few more bottles of this at PJ’s for the cellar.