Friday, March 7, 2014

Boston Wine Expo: Vintner's Reserve Lounge Reviews

As I previously discussed, I visited the Vintner's Reserve Lounge at the Boston Wine Expo for the first time since 2008. The event has seen some significant changes since that time, and it is now a much better event. From more (and tasty) food to a better tasting format, the Expo appears to have listened to prior complaints and worked towards improving matters. I still would like to see more diversity in the wine selections, and hopefully that too will change in time.

With approximately 100 high-end wines available for sampling, about 60% which were from the U.S. (primarily California), there was much to savor and enjoy. For example, it was a real pleasure to taste a 1979 Bordeaux (pictured above), which you might find for $150 or so. You don't often get the chance to taste such a wine. I am now going to highlight three tables of wines, those which most impressed me for their quality and value. All of the wines I will discuss cost under $100, and as low as $28. Thus, they are within the reach of most consumers, even if only as a special splurge.

Though I enjoy French Burgundy, I'll admit to much ignorance about the region and its producers. Sure, I understand the general basics and know some of the larger producers, but I certainly know little about its smaller producers and best values. What I must do then is to rely on the greater knowledge and experience of others, such as trusted wine shop staff. Or an importer like Elden Selections.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Sherman of Elden Selections, an importer of small production, estate bottled Burgundy. Though from the U.S., Dennis has spent about 30 years in Burgundy, bringing an insiders view of the region to American consumers. Back in 1983, Dennis and Eleanor Garvin packed up and moved to France, hoping to work in the restaurant industry, though their first job ended up being at a vineyard. Eventually, they bought a barge, Le Papillon, which could carry six passengers. In 1995, they started Elden Wine, mainly to obtain wines for their barge passengers, but their wine business soon grew. And now you can get their wines delivered to your door, though maybe not quite yet in Massachusetts.

After tasting five selections, both white and red Burgundies, from the Elden portfolio, I was impressed with what they presented. And once I delved deeper into the backgrounds of these wines, the stories behind the wineries seemed compelling. With around 90 selections, their portfolio is priced from $20-$180, meaning there are bottles for whatever your price point. I also found their website to be well done, containing plenty of information about their wines.

I started with the 2010 Domaine Borgeot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 'Morgeot' ($75). Pascal and Laurent Borgeot, brothers, are fourth generation winemakers and have about 48 acres of vines, the majority being 30 years old or older. They also use only organic fertilizers. The "Morgeot" was crisp and clean, elegant and complex, with intriguing tastes of pear, peach, and an underlying spice component. It was rich and compelling, with a lengthy and satisfying finish. When you taste this wine, you understand the amazing potential of superb Chardonnay.

The 2011 Maison Capitain-Gagnerot Ladoix 1er Cru 'Les Grechons' ($60) is from a winery founded in 1802 by Simon Gagnerot. It was one of the first wineries in Burgundy to offer estate-bottled wine directly to the public, rather than through a negociant. Again, this wine was crisp and clean, elegant and complex, though its taste was more green apple and minerality. It was not as rich as the Morgeot, going for a leaner style which was also compelling.

Onto the red wines. The 2010 Maison Capitain-Gagnerot Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru 'Montottes' ($75) is made from grapes on vines that are 67 years old and it was aged in 10% new oak. With a light red color, the nose was composed of alluring red fruit aromas with hints of spice and earth. On the palate, it shows some concentration of red fruit flavors, blended with earthy elements, yet still presenting elegance rather than being too muscular and powerful. Plenty of complexity, well balanced, and a lingering finish.

The 2009 Domaine Jean Fery Vougeot 1er Cru 'Las Cras' ($90) is from a winery with a line extended back to the mid-1800s. Since 1994, the winery has been biodynamic, though not certified, and and has conducted several improvements during the last 20 years. I found this wine to possess a bit more power than the Montottes, but still possessed of a certain elegance as well. Its red fruit flavors were deeper and the earthiness was more prominent, along with a touch of minerality. And like the Montottes, there was lots of complexity, a nice balance, and a lingering finish. Another winner.

My favorite of the five wines though was clearly the 2005 Domaine Potinet-Ampeau Volnay 1er Cru 'Clo des Chenes' ($85). The winery, located in the southern part of the Cote de Beaune, has seen five generations and consists of about 22 acres of vines. They also hold many of their vintages, aging them, prior to release. This wine was a marvel from my my sniff of its aromas, a killer melange of earth and fruit, promising the best of Burgundy. It too was elegant and ethereal, with a blend of complex flavors that seduced my palate. Each sip seemed to bring something different and the flavors seemed to last forever. A most impressive wine which is going to please any Burgundy lover. This is also a wine which definitely is worth the price. Highly recommended.

If you love Burgundy, then you must check out Elden Selections,

Ole Imports, a partnership between Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, imports an excellent portfolio of Spanish wines and I have previously enjoyed a number of their selections. At the Vintner's Reserve Lounge, they presented several wines new to me which both pleased and impressed.

The 2011 Quinta da Muradella Alanda Blanco ($35) is from the Monterrei D.O., and is a blend of Godello, Treixadura and Doña Blanca. The winery conducts organic farming and winemaker Raul Perez consulted on this project. Less than 1000 cases of this wine were produced. With am aromatic nose, the palate delighted with crisp, clean flavors of lush pear and citrus with a vein of minerality. Nice complexity and a pleasing finish. Simply delicious, I could easily enjoy this on its own or paired with seafood or a light chicken dish.

Perez once again impresses with the 2011 Raul Perez Vico ($48) a killer Mencia from the Bierzo D.O. Another small production wine, only about 500 cases, this dark red wine with compelling aromatics, was stunning. It possesses a complex and concentrated blend of black cherry, blackberry and blueberry with elements of spice, smoke and earthiness. With well managed tannins, it was silky smooth and enticing, with a lingering finish meant to impress. One of the best Mencia wines I have tasted in quite some time. Highly recommended.

The 2008 Vinyes Domènech Teixar Garnacha Vella, produced in the Monstant D.O., is produced from 100% Garnacha Peluda, which makes it a rarity. The winery has a 42 acre estate., with vines planted as far back as 1946, and is organically farmed. This was a bigger, more muscular wine with intense black and blue fruit, lots of spice, a bit of smoke and a rustic sense. A very interesting and well balanced wine. I definitely would choose this to pair with wild boar or a steak.

The 2008 Mather Teresina Cellar Pinot, produced in the Terra Alta D.O., is the flagship wine of the Celler Vinos Piñol. It also is small production, from organically farmed grapes. It is made from 35% Garnacha, 35% Cariñena, and 30% Morenillo (an indigenous grape that is almost extinct). This wine possessed more juicy, ripe fruit flavors and milder tannins, making it very easy drinking. There were some subtle spice and herbal notes beneath the fruit. This is the type of wine you can easily enjoy on its own, savoring each lush sip.

Ole Imports continues to satisfy with their Spanish wine selections.

Flying saucers at the Wine Expo? Yes, and thanks to Randall Grahm, the founder and winermaker at Bonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz. Le Cigare Volant, the "flying cigar," is a French reference to "flying saucers."  Interestingly, there is a law in Chateauneuf du Pape that prohibits the arrival of flying saucers. Randall thus decided to name his Rhone style blends after le cigare volant. He produces a white and red Le Cigare Volant, as well as a Reserve bottling of both.

I loved both of the whites! The 2011 Le Cigare Volant Blanc ($28) is a blend of 62% Grenache Blanc and 38% Roussanne, presenting an alluring taste of pear, melon, and lemon, complemented by excellent acidity and a lengthy finish. It is rich and full bodied, a savory delight. The 2010 Le Cigare Volant Blanc Reserve ($54) is a blend of 56% Roussanne and 44% Grenache Blanc, and it too is rich and full bodied, with plenty of savory notes. It presents some similar fruit notes, with a bit more prominent melon, but there are some underlying herbal notes with a bit of nuttiness. Both wines are complex and well balanced, and a pure delight to drink.

As for the reds, the 2008 Le Cigare Volant is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignane. It is an intriguing and complex blend with alluring aromatics and a pleasant melange of red fruits, spice and earthiness with restrained tannins and a lengthy finish. It compares well to a fine French Rhone, and you would be hard pressed to guess this was made in California. The 2008 Le Cigare Volant Reserve ($79) is similar, though it presents with more spice and depth. a sublime wine meant to be slowly savored with good friends.

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