A great Riesling – 2007 Christmann Riesling Konigsbacher Idig Grosses Gewachs

There are a few vineyards in Germany renowned for both outstanding white and red wines. One of the greatest is the 19 ha Idig vineyard near Konigsbach in the Mittelhaardt region at the heart of the Palatinate, which might be likened in this respect to Corton in Burgundy. Also comparable to Corton is the soil at Idig, marked by limestone clay with a high percentage of rocks. Alongside elegant, silky Pinot Noirs, remarkable Rieslings grow here and rank among the richest wines of this variety in Germany.

The modern fame of this location is linked to the Christmann family from Neustadt-Gimmeldingen, which owns about 7 ha at the core of Idig. Steffen Christmann has, for years, created one of Germany’s most impressive dry white wines. Steffen Christmann is new president of the VDP.

Erste Lage is a vineyard site of exceptional quality, classified according to criteria set up by influential wine-grower’s association Verband Deutscher Pradikats und Qualitatsweinguter (VDP). On labels, Erste Lage sites are marked with a grape logo with a “I” next to it. A producer’s best dry wine from an Erste Lage site is called Grosses Gewachs or Erstes Gewachs. Grosses Gewachs translates as “great/top growth”. Off-dry or sweet wines from Erste Lage vineyards display the logo, but they are not called Grosses or Erstes Gewachs. Rheingau has its own Erstes Gewachs classification.

2007 vintage rewarded those growers who waited to pick until October, achieving ripe grapes with cool nights conserving good acidity levels. Very good for Pinot Noir and other reds as well as Riesling. However, dry wines seems to be maturing faster than expected.

2007 Christmann Riesling Konigsbacher Idig Grosses Gewachs Pfalz

Medium gold-coppery color. Developed and complex nose of real intensity, showing a melange of  baroque style aromas of quince marmalade, apricots and melon,  mixed with subtle white truffles, lemon rind, light petrol and plenty of yellow Asian spices. Full bodied, showing depth and richness on the palate, well balanced, a silky texture reminiscent of fine white Burgundy, with mouth-watering acidity and a kaleidoscope of flavors. Long finish, lively, with huge Asian spice flavors in the aftertaste. 13% alc. (93/100)

Who needs pricey high end white Burgundy when we can have such a beautiful wine for decent money ? Had this wine with turbot cooked in a salty crust.

With appetizers I had Serve’s top white wine from the 2010 vintage: Terra Romana Cuvee Amaury a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling aged for 6 months in oak barrels.

2010 Serve Terra Romana Cuvee Amaury

The wine is fresh and exhibits a mix of citrus fruit, well blended oak and spices, with pleasant acidity and a medium spicy, citric finish. There are certain similarities on the flavors profile between the two wine as there is a big portion of Riesling in the Cuvee Amaury, but not with the same amplitude. (85/100)

Year end reflections – highlights of 2011

Looking back at what 2011 meant for me, from a wine related perspective, I can only be grateful and cherish all those special moments I lived visiting exciting places, attending interesting wine tastings and meeting amazing people in Romania and abroad.

I visited 15 wineries in 4 wine regions from 2 different countries – France and Italy, plus the 7-8 visits to Romanian wineries(Lacerta’s new winery is the most exciting of all with its modern design). I am looking forward to visit Avincis in 2012, as they also built a state of the art winery.

The wine trips started in April with a visit and a dinner at Masi in Veneto, then immediately followed by a weekend spent in Champagne where I could only visit Moet Chandon’s cellars, but also the small Grand and Premier Cru producing villages; in June I managed to visit 9 prestigious producers in Bordeaux – with emphasize on Petrus and the stunning lunch at Cheval Blanc, the others were: Ducru Beaucaillou, Figeac, Leoville Poyferre, Gloria, St-Pierre, Pontet Canet and Cos d’Estournel; in September I was impressed by the gorgeous landscape of Barolo while visiting Luciano Sandrone, Cavallotto and G.D. Vajra, and Braida in Asti area.

I attended two International wine fairs: Vinitaly in Italy in April and Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June that completely changed my perspective of what a wine fair experience should be and, sadly, also made me realize how far away we are from having a similar situation in Romania at this moment.

I visited the impressive cellars of two negociants: one in Bordeaux with over 4 Million bottles that is just like a Bank dealing with a different currency, sometimes more valuable, and one in Belgium that works strictly with rare and old vintages of both Burgundy and Bordeaux. It is always exciting for a wine geek to see piles of cases of the most sought after wines – Petrus, Romanee Conti or 100+ years old Yquem in one single place.

I attended several Wine-dinners in Bucharest with older vintages of Bordeaux and Spanish wines and, in December, I actually organized such an event myself. Always nice to meet new people having the same passion and I am certainly looking forward to repeat this experience in 2012 as often as possible.

I had a few articles published in the Romanian wine magazine Vinul.ro about my wine trips (here and here) and the investment in wine, the monthly wine recommendations, and also an interview structured as the portrait of a wine collector published by the Good Food magazine.

The number of wine events organized in Bucharest increased exponentially compared to 2010, ranging from launching of new local and imported wines, new wineries and verticals of several years organized by the very few producers that can do that. However, the most distinguished of all was the event organized by Le Manoir, where major International wineries had representatives showcasing their wines during dedicated seminars. It was a first to see La Spinetta, Ch Canon and Rauzan Segla, all Joseph Drouhin’s range of wines, Michel Rolland collection presented by his son in law, Michel Redde, Ch Laubade and some similar producers present in one single room in Bucharest. A similar event was organized later by the importer of Banfi wines, but at a much smaller scale.

While writing this article, I made an attempt to establish a top of the wines I had during this year, but it was impossible to do it. There were so many outstanding wines that it would take too much time to even try to make it. I started to enjoy more and more older vintages and I made a new year resolution to drink wines that are at least 4-5 years old. Ideally, starting from their 6-8th year from the vintage.

There is however one wine that I particularly enjoyed while having lunch at Cheval Blanc: the 1996 Chateau d’Yquem that, so far, is the best sweet wine I had. I am just glad that this year I had wines from 1966, 1969, 1970, 1975, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990 and a few more recent vintages. I can just hope that next year brings at least similar experiences.

To finish on the same note as the beginning of this article, I am grateful for all these experiences shared with special people and all those amazing wines I had.

Happy New Year and all the best to you dear Reader !

2006 Davino Domaine Ceptura Rouge

Received this bottle from Mr Dan Balaban while visiting the winery in December and had it with some friends on the second day of Christmas at their home. Popped and poured in the glasses where the wine rested for 15-20 minutes before sipping. The 2006 is virtually out of stock at Davino and now can be the last chance for anyone interested to grab some bottles to act. A predominantly Feteasca Neagra blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, aged for up to 10 month in new Romanian oak.

2006 Davino Domaine Ceptura Rouge

Red garnet color. The nose is developed, youthful and has a medium intensity, with plenty of small red berries, spices: cinnamon, cloves and a touch of dried herbs; still very primary. Full bodied, with assertive tannins and pleasant flavors on the palate, with a medium minty finish. The wine does not have a particular high complexity, but it delivers. (87/100)

My favorite still remains the 2004 Domaine Ceptura Rouge that I had the chance to sample during a vertical tasting of six vintages organized in December by Mr Dan Balaban and Vinexpert.

Davino Domaine Ceptura Rouge vertical of six vintages: 2004 – 2009

Dan Balaban, Davino’s major shareholder, and Vinexpert organized on THU evening a unique vertical tasting of five vintages of Domaine Ceptura Rouge. I say unique because there are just very few wineries that made wines that lasted over the years or still have a stock of older vintages.  I know Serve did it with Cuvee Charlotte 2002 – 2008 and Vinarte with Merlot Matei 1998 – 2006/2007 if I am not wrong. The steepest leap in quality was made in Romania only after 2005 when there was quite a boom in new premium wines released and quality focused wineries launched. Therefore, it is very rare to see and actually be able to attend such events in Romania. I am sure that in 5-6 years from now such events will happen more often, or at least I hope so. For now, the Davino’s event had a limited attendance due to the scarcity of older vintages available.

Mr Balaban conducted the wine tasting and explained very well the story of the winery and the work they did every year in order to show progress. This progress was made not only because of maturing vines capable of providing better fruit with each new vegetative cycle, but also because they gained better understanding of each parcel of vines they own with every new harvest. For more information about the winery please visit my previous article about my visit at Davino.

The vertical tasting started from the oldest vintage to the newest. Unfortunately 2003 was not available anymore. At the winery there are only about 120 bottles left of 2004 that are reserved strictly for such events. There is the same situation for 2005 or 2006. This event brought also a premier as we had the chance to taste en-primeur the 2009 vintage that will be released in the second part of 2012 the earliest. Domaine Ceptura Rouge is usually released on the market only after two years of aging in the bottle and it is a blend of predominantly Feteasca Neagra with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged for 8 to 10 months in new Romanian oak barrels. The oak used is from from the South, around Valcea. How were the wines ?

2004 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

8.950 bottles made. Yields of 1440 l/ha for Feteasca Neagra(FN), 1780 l/ha for Merlot(M), 1210 l/ha for Cabernet Sauvignon(CS).  14.1% alc

Ruby red color with a brown tinge. Well developed and maturing nose, with seducing aromas of truffles, dried mushrooms, leather, dried leaves mixed with primary-red fruit aromas and mint. Velvety mouth feel with completely melted tannins and enticing purity of sweet red cherry, raspberry and strawberry, mixed with tobacco and spice. Not a long finish but a really nice wine. A mature wine at its peak. Can hold on this plateau for at least 1-2 years more and offers great drinking pleasure at this stage. (91+/100) for the purity of fruit.

2005 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

19.488 bottles made. Yields of 1240 l/ha FN, 1130 l/ha CS, 1580 l/ha M. 14.1% alc

Ruby red with light brick rim. A developed nose, with sweet red fruit, mint, earthy. A firmer tannins grip, but still very pleasant mouth-feel and elegant overall. Chewy tannins on the finish with flavors of smoky plum in the aftertaste. (86/100)

2006 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

26.950 bottles made. Yields: 1780 l/ha total production. 14.1% alc

Youthful ruby red-garnet color. Well developed nose, with more pronounced Cab like aromas, light green bell pepper, leather, spices and generous red and black fruit. Definitely more concentrated than the ’05, there is better intensity of flavors, but maintains a pleasant mouth-feel with round and integrating tannins. Medium plus finish with chewy tannins and very spicy. (89/100)

2007 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

29.743 bottles made. Yields: 1870 l/ha overall. 14% alc.

Youthful red garnet color. Developed nose, well mastered oak, but retaining the mark of the hot ’07 vintage: aromas of very ripe fruits, figs, cloves, cinnamon and somehow still being able to preserve freshness. Firm chewy tannins on the finish, less generous on the palate compared with ’06, but finishing spicy and mineral. (88/100)

2008 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

29.412 bottles made. Yields: 1780 l/ha overall. 14.4% alc.

Red garnet-purple color. Youthful and developing nose, showing plenty of primary aromas of ripe red and black fruit, figs mixed with spices: cloves and cinnamon. More concentrated and rounder than the ’07, tight and a bit oaky, well balanced, with a medium plus finish. A very young wine that needs a few more years of bottle aging. (89+/100)

2009 Domaine Ceptura Rouge

Almost opaque red garnet-purple color. Already a well developed and gorgeous nose with brooding complexity. There is a mix of smoky plum, ripe fruit, spice and truffles that is really enticing. Well balanced, with a great tannins backbone that promises a long aging potential, the wine is tight as a rock on the palate. The finish is long with lingering spicy and fruity flavors. This will start to be more open in 3-4 years and has potential to last longer than any of the older vintages. (91/100)

According to Mr Balaban 2009 vintage was the best in the last 30 years for Dealu Mare. So naturally there are high expectations from this wine to prove itself in time.

As conclusions: one can notice the consistency of a style that aims for balance more than anything else. As much as the last vintages bring more intensity of flavors and appear to be fuller and rounder, all the wines tasted show a continuation of the same desired equilibrium. Nothing seems to be out of its place and the future wine seem to confirm this path.

Visit at Davino

Davino is one the first Romanian wineries that made an important move a few years ago and started to sell their wines only through the HORECA network. Therefore, the end consumer is able to find its premium wines only in selected restaurants and specialized wine shops. Davino is like a closed fortress when it comes to visits: very few people – only the important clients and seldom wine press related persons –  manage to get the chance to visit the winery. The reason for this, as explained by Mr Dan Balaban – Davino’s main owner – is the fact that all visits are conducted either by Mr Bogdan Costachescu – the winemaker and also an associate, either by Mr Balaban himself, therefore the time reserved for visits is very limited. The acquisition of two old lordly houses in the area creates the premises for this situation to change in the near future, once the properties are renovated.

I managed to visit Davino’s winery at their present location on Dec 10 together with Nicusor Cazan. Initially scheduled to be hosted only by the winemaker Mr Costachescu, we were shortly joined by Mr Balaban during our visit.

The property was started in late ’90s, the first wine released as Davino was the 2000 vintage and now owns about 50 ha of vineyards in Dealu Mare. Mr Costachescu joyfully explained that he was about to permanently leave for Canada when he was approached by Mr Balaban with the plan to build the winery together. During the first couple of years since inception, they were buying grapes from different private growers in the area to make the wine, a situation that changed dramatically with their new acquisitions of land and plantations of selected clones over the last years. They still have contracts with a small number of growers from the area that have to follow their instructions during the year in order to maintain a quality level for the grapes they buy.

In the winery, they use strictly new Romanian oak barrels: for whites Romanian oak from the North, as it tends to give more pronounced oaky flavors, and for the reds oak from the South, as it tends to be more discreet. It’s only recently that they produced a barrel aged white wine (2009 Davino Reserva alb – blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Italian Riesling aged for 6 months in new Romanian oak barrels), most of their whites are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The top whites produced by Davino are Domaine Ceptura Blanc(Sauv Blanc/Feteasca Alba/Italian Riesling), Sauvignon Blanc Edition Limitee, Alba Valahica(100% Feteasca Alba), Revelatio(Sauvignon Blanc/Feteasca Alba) and the barrel aged Davino Reserva alb.

The reds are aged for 6 to 8 months in new oak barrels and then aged for another 2 years in bottle prior to their release. The top reds produced are Domaine Ceptura Rouge – a predominantly Feteasca Neagra blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Purpura Valahica (100% Feteasca Neagra) and their flagship wine Flamboyant, a blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Feteasca Neagra and Merlot. They also started recently to produce a red Davino Rezerva in a more concentrated style. There is a rose wine made under the Domaine Ceptura Rose label, usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Feteasca Neagra and Merlot.

As an example for the commitment for quality, Mr Costachescu mentioned that they use five different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon planted on different regions in Dealu Mare from which they select the best result for the top wines. The yields are usually fairly low for all of the wines in the Domaine Ceptura category: 10-15 hl/ha for the whites and 14-18 hl/ha for the reds.

Most of the wines have powerful visuals on their labels and can be easily distinguished from any lineup. Mr Balaban, an important art lover and collector, had numerous collaborations with prestigious Romanian painters for many of his limited released wines.

Sorin Ilfoveanu signed all these labels

During the visit in the winery, I got to taste several of their 2011 whites from tanks and barrels. I tasted two 2011 Sauvignon Blanc’s that will most likely be blended to make the Edition Limitee cuvee and the wines are already extremely promising – especially a SB from 25-30 years old vines that pleasantly surprised me with its intense aromas and concentration on the palate. I also tasted the wines that will make up the Davino Rezerva alb: a Sauvignon Blanc that was already in barrel for 1 month and an Italian Rielsing that was in barrel for a shorter time. Even the Sauvignon Blanc that comes from very young vines and makes the cheaper Ceptura category shows a good potential.

Something that was very clearly stated by Mr Balaban is the improvement that can and will be seen each vintage in all of their wines due to increased maturity of the vines capable of producing better fruit every new year. The consumer experiences better wines now than any of the last vintages. It is important to mention that in 2008 there was no Flamboyant produced, all the fruit went into the Domaine Ceptura rouge, therefore an even higher step in quality was made for this wine.

In the tasting room we sampled five wines:

2010 Davino Sauvignon Blanc Edition Limitee is my favorite of their un-oaked whites. There is a level of concentration on the palate rarely seen in any other Romanian Sauvignon Blanc based white wines. Pale yellow-green color, the smoky aroma is really pronounced and steals the show on the nose. Other aromas remind of grapefruit, citric fruit and green herbs. Crisp and lively palate with a medium fresh finish. Yields of 13 hl/ha.

2009 Rezerva Alb shows a racy oak flavor and, perhaps not that intense, but it certainly reminds of a white Pessac Leognan. The wine has good richness of citric and stone fruit, green leaves, spice and oak flavors. A more complex wine than the Edition Limitee.

Domaine Ceptura Rouge 2008 has a dark red-purple color. Youthful and developed on the nose, the wine shows a spicy Feteasca Neagra character mixed with aromas of green peppercorn, dark chocolate, fresh red and blue fruits and smoked plums that remind of bacon. Medium plus bodied, the wine is very drinkable already showing good freshness and assertive tannins on the finish. Yields of 17,8 hl/ha.

Domaine Ceptura Rouge 2007 has a red garnet color. The nose is more evolved and already showing secondary aromas. Leather, herbs and fresh fruits make a very interesting bouquet. I did like the nose more in this 2007 than the 2008. However the wine is less intense in the mouth, with more mellow tannins and a shorter finish than its younger brother.

Flamboyant 2007 has a dark red-purple color and a great typical Cabernet Sauvignon character. Rich and well developed on the nose, showing also a light fruity sweetness, and aromas of green peppercorn, coffee, black currant and spices. Fuller mouth-feel than any of the two Domaine Ceptura Rouge tasted, powerful while preserving good freshness,  round, it feels a bit closed on the palate at this stage. Medium plus finish with assertive tannins and it needs some more time. Decanting is advisable. Yields of 14,5 hl/ha.

Based on the conversations with Mr Balaban and Mr Costachescu, one cannot neglect the passion that breathes from these two men when it comes down to their work. As much as the terroir is a key important part of making wine, there is also continuous research and development at this winery using state of the art technology for getting the best from the fruit harvested every year.

Wine-dinner by From Grapes to Wine

Last SUN, on November 20, 2011, I organized my first Wine dinner themed: Bordeaux of the ’90s. The place was the cozy and fancy The Vineyard section from Crowne Plaza’s La Veranda restaurant. We were 16 people all together and enjoyed an almost 5 h dinner and 6 courses meal. There were 11 foreign wines scheduled for tasting, plus another 3 Romanians that we served before and after dinner.

I uncorked the wines around 18:00 and I was happy to discover that almost all corks went out in one piece. The most difficult to pull out were the corks of the two oldest wines: 1970 and 1975. However there was no problem to uncork them and no piece of cork managed to fall in the bottle.

The event initially scheduled for 19:30, started around 20:00 when all the people arrived; meanwhile a 2010 Sole Sauvignon Blanc from Recas was served to open up the appetite for what was scheduled to come. An easy drinking wine that served its purpose very well.

The first course of the meal was Tuna Tartare with baby greens and avocado served with two Champagne’s: a white vintage from Moutard and a rose Bollinger NV.

2003 Moutard Cuvee des 6 Cepages Brut Champagne

This is a rather unusual Champagne as it contains all six grapes varieties allowed to be grown in Champagne. Most of the producers use only the three well known Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Moutard uses for this blend also Arbanne, Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier. These latter three grape varieties are grown only marginally in Champagne and considered to produce a wine of lesser quality. Moutard is a well known producer of spirits and until 2000 its Champagnes lacked raciness and were rather average. But a major shift in quality was made in the early 2000 and the level of quality continues to climb every year ever since. There is even a 100% Arbanne Vieilles Vignes Champagne produced by Moutard which unfortunately I did not taste so far.

2003 was a challenging vintage in Champagne in the face of an unprecedented heat wave during the summer months. The frosts conditions early in the season led to the demise of half of the crop, so the Champagne production from 2003 was severely restricted. The harvest began as early as the last week of August, in a way similar to 2011. As a result, grapes enjoyed exceptional ripeness and fruitiness, but low acidity. Pinot Noir fared better than the Chardonnay.

The 2003 Cuvee des 6 Cepages Brut has a light gold color with microscopical, subdued bubbles. The nose is rich, intense and evolves with aeration, exhibiting complex aromas of biscuit, dough, citric fruits, baked apple and even an interesting old cognac-caramel aroma. In the mouth, this medium plus bodied Champagne is racy, creamy and well focused on the palate, showing good tension and pure flavors. The finish is medium plus long, with a refreshing mix of minerals and citric fruit peel aftertaste. Really good purity of flavors. (92/100)

Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut Rose NV

This Champagne was kindly provided by the importer: Cramele Halewood. Bollinger is one of the few producers that uses oak casks during the first fermentation process.

The color is a light pink salmon with smooth bubbles. The nose is more showy and less refined  than the previous Champagne, intense, with sweet aromas of small red fruits, dough, baked apple and sugar cane. It probably has a higher dossage because the taste is fuller, but still creamy on the palate. A medium finish with red fruits in the aftertaste. (88-89/100)

The second course of the meal was Foie-gras terrine with caramelized apple served next to three German Rieslings from the left bank of the Ruwer river, about two kilometres before it joins the Mosel.

1993 Maximin Grunhaus(er) Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett trocken 10% alc

1993 was a small, excellent vintage: lots of Auslesen/botrytis, with near perfect harmony. Wonderful to drink now.

There is a medium gold color. The nose is well developed and youthful, intense, with a strong aroma of petrol, exotic fruits, tangerine, pineapple and wax , a nose with great typicality. Medium bodied, showing a tremendous acidity and lively palate, very youthful, a dry wine, with a medium and fresh finish. The flavors are not very intense in the mouth, but the balance is really good. A good surprise from a simple Kabinett with a real sweet nose and a dry to off dry sensation in the mouth.  (88-89/100)

2002 Maximin Grunhaus(er) Abtsberg Riesling Spatlese 7.5% alc

2002 vintage is a small miracle how the Riesling grapes survived one of the wettest harvests on record to give ripe, succulent, lively wines (mostly Kabinett and Spatlese), and attractive drunk young or mature.

A medium gold color, similar to the 1993. The nose is more reductive, but more elegant, with a lighter aroma of petrol, and with good exotic fruits and honeysuckle. Full bodied, well balanced and showing a really lively palate, with great intensity of flavors. The finish is medium plus long, with racy acidity and lingering flavors. This remains an elegant and delicate wine from the nose to the finish. (91-92/100)

2009 Cati Riesling Spatlese 9% alc

A wine kindly provided by the importer: Winero. The wine comes from the small 2 ha property owned by the same partnership that owns Enira in Bulgaria: Stephan von Neipperg and dr Karl Heintz Hauptmann. 2009 was, as far as I understood, their first vintage produced.

A medium gold color. A Riesling with good typicality, with intense aromas of petrol, exotic and tropical fruits, pineapple, peach, yellow apples and citric fruit. The aromas are more intense than in the 2002 but do not have the same complexity and delicacy. Full bodied, with good acidity, good balance and a medium plus fresh finish. A more rustic wine than the previous, but charming nevertheless. (89/100)

Next course of the meal was Pancetta wrapped Atlantic cod, corn and mushrooms with veal jus vinaigrette. For this dish the chef suggested the oldest wine of the tasting: a 1970 Pomerol.

1970 Chateau Nenin Pomerol

1970 was successful throughout Bordeaux, but St-Emilion and Pomerol produced many of the top wines.

A ruby red color with a brick rim. A completely matured nose, with discreet aromas and very little fruit left, even a bit metallic and dusty. Medium bodied and unfortunately past its best, there is still some acidity left but the wine finishes very quickly and there is virtually no aftertaste. Past its drinking window. Probably tasted in the first 30 minutes of uncorking it, the wine would have fared better. (70-72/100)

The Beef Mignon with potato puree, foie-gras Ravioli, wax beans and veal reduction was served in the company of three wines: a 1990 Saint-Emilion, a 1994 Pauillac and a 1995 Pessac Leognan.

1990 Chateau Pavie Decesse Saint-Emilion

1990 was overall a hotter and drier year than 1989. Sugar levels were close to the highs of 1989. Because of the size of the crop, many conscientious estates practiced green-harvesting in July to reduce the yields. It was also the driest year since 1961. Overall 1990 was an excellent vintage.

The wine has a red garnet, youthful color with surprisingly light signs of aging. The nose is well developed, elegant and maturing, sweet, with good intensity and aromas of smoke, red currant, cedar, red fruits and dry plums, mint and even a light touch of balsamic notes. Medium bodied, lively and youthful in the mouth, well balanced, with appealing juiciness, with ripe tannins and finely balanced, and flavors of tobacco, leather, black tea and red fruit. The finish is fresh and medium plus long, with aromatic black tea and plum in the aftertaste. There is reasonable concentration and length. (91-92/100)

I was talking to a friend some time ago and mentioned him the wines for this tasting and he was convinced that the 1990 Pavie Decesse is a dead wine. I am happy to confirm M. that not only this is not dead, but the wine is really charming and pleased most of the guests.

1994 Chateau Baron de Pichon Longueville Pauillac

In 1994 conditions looked highly promising by early September, and then from September 7 the rain began and continued for most of the month. Fortunately temperatures were fairly cool and there was little rot, but the wet weather did cause some dilution. Growers did not delay the harvest, as the grapes, especially Merlot, were as ripe as they were going to get, and there was nothing to be gained by waiting. The red wines turned out to be dark, quite rich and tannic.

A red garnet, still youthful color. A well developed and Cabernet nose of considerable sweetness, youthful, with good intensity, and aromas of black currant, cedar, tobacco, green vegetables, bay leaf and quite ethereal. Medium bodied, youthful, forward and easy-going, not too extracted,  subtle red fruit and tobacco, round and mellow tannins, but still well structured and balanced. Medium plus finish with a drying black tea like sensation. (91-92/100)

1995 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Leognan

Some critics declared themselves unimpressed by 1995, but with time it has become clear that this is easily the best vintage since 1990, and the best wines are evolving slowly but impressively. They will be long-lived.

A youthful red garnet color. A well developed nose, a bit more closed than the previous wine, with Cabernet like aromas of green vegetables, black and red currant, mocha and a bit of stinky brett. Medium bodied, with a sweet palate and assertive tannins, youthful, and similar flavors as on the nose. There is a medium plus finish, very minty, with an aromatic black tea aftertaste and chewy tannins. The tannins are still strong and there is plenty of life ahead for this wine. (90-91/100)

I was a little bit nervous about this Smith Haut Lafitte because I already had a bad experience with a corked 1995 ( a couple of weeks ago) and a cooked 1985 almost one year ago. Fortunately this bottle showed well.

The Cheese with beetroot jam dish was served with a 1992 Saint Julien.

1992 Chateau Leoville Las Cases St-Julien

1992: this was the wettest summer in fifty years. Green-harvesting was essential to reduce potentially enormous yields. Rain fell in late August and again on September 20, the day before the harvest was set to begin, and intermittent rain and cool conditions continued for 3 weeks. Rot made selection essential, and muddy conditions hampered estates used to harvesting by machine. Sugar levels were modest in both Merlot and the Cabernets. The quality of the wine was lackluster, with much dilution; the Northern Medoc fared best. This proved a wretched vintage on the Right Bank, where there was widespread rot, although in Pomerol, where picking was under way before the heaviest rains fell, some adequate wines were made.

The 1992 Leoville Las Cases has a red garnet color, still showing youthful. A well developed nose and youthful, with aromas of forest floor, red fruit, sandalwood and green vegetables. Medium bodied, pretty tannic, perhaps too extracted, going for concentration at all costs and ending up rather charmless. The finish is medium plus with red fruit and tobacco. (90/100)

For dessert we had Quince and plum crumble with Vanilla ice-cream and was served in the company of three wines: a 1975 Sauternes, a Romanian sweet wine not yet launched on the Romanian market and a 2007 Stirbey Feteasca Regala Genius Loci, which for me is a classic wine to pair with a crumble dessert. I am a big fan of 2007 Genius Loci but I absolutely love it paired with a tart like dessert.

1975 Chateau Filhot Barsac Sauternes

The year was acclaimed as great, but it became more apparent that many wines had more tannin than fruit. There is great variation from estate to estate. Many of the best wines came from precocious soils, such as Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc and Petrus. In Sauternes an Indian summer permitted the gradual spread of botrytis. The wines are fruity and stylish and still drinking well.

The 1975 Filhot has a deep amber color. The nose is developed but somehow not that expressive. Full bodied, in the mouth the wine is lush,  peachy, with flavors of marmalade, a touch of pepper from alcohol and a tendency to be caramelized. The finish is long and sweet. The acidity is really good and balances very well the natural sweetness, therefore the wine is unctuous without cloying or being sticky on the palate. (92-93/100)

The night finished rather late for a regular SUN evening, but I am glad that we were able to enjoy the food and talk about wines and wine regions. I am also glad that my audience had a lot of good and interesting questions about what we had tonight and it was not just a simple presentation and a monologue from my side. Therefore I would also like to thank my guests for their presence and I am looking forward to taste wines together again.

For more pictures from this event please go here.

1st of May at Crama Stirbey – part II

You can read the first part of this post here.

Their red wines spend between 12 to 24 months in old and new oak. I tasted:

–          Novac 2006, Negru de Dragasani 2007 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 were aged in 300 and 400 l French and Romanian oak barrels. Not my favorites.

–          Merlot 2006 –  spent 14 months in 2 years old oak.

–          Merlot Rezerva 2007 – had a long maceration on the skin, spent 2-3 months in tanks and another 24 months unfiltered in new Romanian oak. My favorite of this flight.

–          Feteasca Neagra 2008 – produced in limited quantity, spent 14 months in 300 and 400 L oak barrels(2 years old). The wine has 14.9-15.1% alc and already shows a nice balance.

What worries me is that most of the Feteasca Neagra wines I tasted in the last 4 months had over 14.5% alcohol which I find disturbing as all of these wines don’t have enough body and fruit to sustain that alcohol. Both Messrs. Marc Dworkin(Enira) and Oliver Bauer(Stirbey) talk about the big potential of this Romanian variety which, so far, has not produced any outstanding wines.

Usually the Romanian producers do not limit the yields, the result: thin, light body and very unbalanced wines. Perhaps in the near future the Romanian producers will have an epiphany and we, the consumers, will have some pleasant surprises.

In the afternoon we moved to the terrace and had a vertical tasting of Merlot 2004-2009 and Merlot Rezerva 2007:

2004 – was completely closed on the nose and taste. It seems the second day the wine opened and became more approachable. The winemaker advises to decant this wine for 12 h before serving.

2005 – had a bad weather. The 2005 vintage was considered the worst year out of the five tasted. The wine, however, is already drinking well. The wine is very Bordeaux style with a green nose: green vegetables, asparagus, green bell pepper and spices. The wine is very nicely done with no green tannins. In the mouth it has nice acidity, a medium body, with spices, asparagus, discreet dark fruits. The wine finishes delicate with a spicy medium aftertaste. My favorite wine of the vertical. This wine is already very approachable and doesn’t need any long decanting.

2006 – already shows integrated oak, good fruit and balance.

2007 – this was the most difficult wine to taste. The wine has a strong astringency in the aftertaste, really unpleasant. Perhaps after a few years in bottle the wine will be more approachable.

2008 – according to Mr Bauer this vintage evolves better in the bottle that’s why 2008 spent the least amount of time in oak.

2009 – this wine just finished fermenting 3 weeks ago and was in oak barrels for only 1 week. It was more of an academic exercise to taste such a young wine and see an initial phase in the wine evolution.

The vertical tasting finished with a very interesting sweet Tamaioasa Romaneasca 2007 “Stafide” from Magnum,  made from dried grapes only.

2007 was such a hot year that the grapes just dried on the vines without any sign of noble rot. The dried grapes were picked from the 6 ha they have with Tamaioasa Romaneasca. 35 women manually picked only the dried grapes using pincers. This process took 3 days, collecting these jewels each grape at a time. They produced only 70-75 l of this wine with 12% alc and 120g of sugar. The wine was bottled manually and unfiltered. The winemaker feared initially that because of the high sugar levels the wine will not ferment, but the result was a success. A very nice pairing wine to a good cigar.

Do not confuse this wine with the regular sweet Tamaioasa Romaneasca they sale, as this 70-75 l of wine produced is not available. If you are fortunate enough to be invited at Crama Stirbey for a special event, you will probably have the chance to drink this wine.

Both Oliver and Raluca Bauer are warm and welcoming persons so I strongly encourage you to visit Crama Stirbey. Go ahead taste their wines and you will find out how wonderful they are. I end this article with a picture of a beautiful sunset at Crama Stirbey.

Thanks for reading…

1st of May at Crama Stirbey – part I

I spent a lovely 1st of May attending the 6th year celebration from the rebirth of Crama Stirbey. There were far more people than I expected: 320 persons. I enjoined the event as it felt like the 1st day of summer with sun and a pleasant temperature. It gave me the feeling of a rustic celebration but made in an very classy and elegant manner, almost like the time stopped and I traveled back in the past being invited at a royal anniversary from hundreds of years ago. The hosts were baron Jacob Kripp and baroness Ileana Kripp-Costinescu and the celebration was organized with class, being a real success. It was such an antithesis between the image of this party and the 1st of May that all the media channels presented, broadcasting from the seaside, mountains and all other regular barbecues. But, hey, one can make his own choice how to spend his time. If you attended the party you probably know what I am talking about, if not I am really sorry you missed such a great event.

Crama Stirbey is located near Dragasani and they produce wine from International grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Romanian grape varieties: Feteasca Neagra, Feteasca Regala, Tamaioasa Romaneasca (here Tamaioasa comes in two different styles: the usual sweet wine as it is known in Romania and the second produced dry) and local grape varieties: Cramposie Selectionata(dry white), Novac and Negru de Dragasani(both dry reds). What is remarkable about the winemaker, Mr. Oliver Bauer, is that he insisted in maintaining these local varieties, rather than planting Chardonnay or any other International grapes. Therefore they kept the old vines and also initiated a plan to replace some parts of the vineyard with new ones. They are using the Guyot double cane training on the old vines and probably for the rest.

Developed by Jules Guyot in 1860, both the double and simple forms represent the most conservative style of cane training possible. It is the least complicated concept for growers to learn and, providing the number of fruiting canes and the number of buds on them are restricted, Guyot is the easiest means of restraining yields. Even when growers abuse the system, it is still the most difficult vine training method with which to pump up production. This system is commonly used in Bordeaux, where the number of canes and buds are restricted by AOC rules. Guyot is also used for some of the finest wines throughout the wine-making world, both Old and New.

The average age for the vines is 30-35 years old so the vines are not being prone to suffer of hydric stress in hotter years. They have some small parcels of Sauvignon Blanc older than 50 years old. For the old vines the average rootstock number is about 3500, for the newly planted 5500. The yield per ha varies between 3,500 – 5,500 kilos from one year to another, with an all time high of 7000 kilos per ha of Cramposie. The winemaker admits that his goal is to harvest maximum 1 kilo of fruit per vine. For maturing they use four different types of oak: French (usually old oak from Grand Cru’s from Bordeaux), Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian (Transylvania). Their goal is to use only Romanian oak.

Mr Bauer is firm about the use of oak for the wine aging: oak is just a tool that should not be overused and the wine should be made in the vineyard.

I tasted 7 whites, 1 rose, 6 reds, all their current releases and in the afternoon did a vertical tasting of their Merlot 2004-2009.

The whites are all dry, unless specified:

–          Cramposie Selectionata 2009 – this is an easy going white with light body, very aromatic.۫

–          Tamaioasa Romaneasca 2009 (dry) – dry Tamaioasa has peach flavors similar to the sweet wine. These 2009’s wines are lighter in body than 2008’s, almost watery like, which I didn’t like.

–          Feteasca Regala 2009 – a lively wine with good acidity.

–          Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – very delicate with nice floral and mineral flavors.

–          Cuvee 2007 – this is a blend of Feteasca Regala and Cramposie. Last time I tasted this wine last summer, in 2009. Since then the wine gained more in complexity showing greater flavors and a nice medium- aftertaste. For 29 RON(7€), the ex cellar price, this is a serious competitor to any 30-50 RON(7-15€) Romanian white wine.

I want to talk more about their two top white cuvee’s: Feteasca Regala Genius Loci and Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus. These 2 cuvee’s are produced in very limited quantities: about  3000 bottles each. Both wines are fermented with in house yeasts, therefore the winemaker takes a higher risk and so far the reward is amazing. For the rest of the wines they are using controlled yeasts.

–          Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus – made from a parcel of 1.2-1.4 ha of 50+ years old vines located on a hilltop just next to the actual building where the wine is made. This wine was not offered for tasting at this event, but I remember drinking it last year and was more concentrated and complex than the regular Sauvignon Blanc.

– Feteasca Regala Genius Loci 2006 and 2007 – according to Mr Bauer, Feteasca Regala is a grape that needs hotter weather to fully ripe. In 2007 there were more than 3 months of constant 40+ Celsius degrees, so they have been able to achieve the full potential of this indigenous grape.

FR Genius Loci 2006 spent 14 months in Romanian oak. The 2007 spent 22 months in oak. I think this is the very first Romanian white wine that undergoes such a long aging process in oak. Frankly speaking, I do not know any other white wine to spend so much time in oak. The result is EPIC.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the very few guests to do a comparative tasting of the Genius Loci 2006 and 2007. The 2007, already bottled, will not be released on the market sooner than July 2010, and even that month is still under question mark. Mr Bauer confessed on making a big mistake by releasing the GL 2006 too early. This time he decided to let the wine overcome the bottle shock and also let it evolve more prior to release.

Genius Loci 2006 has a nice acidity, lovely flavors of honey, white flowers and a medium to long aftertaste. A very good wine. One of my favorite whites for 2009.

Genius Loci 2007 is a big wine. It has a clear gold color. The wine was bottled unfiltered. There are tartaric crystals in the wine, commonly referred to as “wine diamonds”. There is another interesting correlation between wine stones and the quality of a wine: the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more wine acid will accumulate in the grape, and it is this wine acid which is the building block of wine diamonds. Furthermore, the more time the wine is given to ferment, the less wine diamonds will fall out during fermentation, but the more they will instead build up later in the bottle.

In other words, wine diamonds are an indicator that the grapes ripened for a long time, and that the winemaker fermented the wine slowly and with great care. Both are important precursors to crafting high quality wines.

GL 2007 has an extremely complex nose with lots of honey, flowers, spices and mineral flavors. In the mouth the wine is full body, highly concentrated, almost oil like, with the same flavors of honey, mineral,white flowers and spices. The wine has a nice long aftertaste finishing spicy and leaving you with a desire for more. This wine is already Excellent, but I believe in 2-3 years will become Exceptional.

Part II available here.

Thanks for reading…

Visiting Crama Stirbey

Tomorrow, the 1st of May, I will attend a big celebration at Crama Stirbey as I received an invitation from their winemaker, Oliver Bauer. They are celebrating 6 years from the rebirth of Crama Stirbey .

(in the picture winemaker Oliver Bauer)

I am very excited about it and looking forward to re taste their wines. I have also received a promise to try again Feteasca Regala Genius Loci 2006 and 2007 as a comparative tasting. The Genius Loci 2007 is bottled but the winemaker chose to wait at least 6 months time before putting it for sell. He confessed that he did learn from his mistake in the past when he started selling Genius Loci 2006 too early. Now the 2006 has evolved into a complex and beautiful white wine. Last year when I tasted the 2007 while still in the barrel I found the wine more concentrated, richer and focused than the already excellent 2006. So I believe 2007 will be a big white wine.

If things will be similar to last year I will probably have the chance to participate to a vertical tasting as well.

Stay tuned as I will write a full review of the tomorrow’s event.

Thanks for reading…

Nachbil Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and Lorca Fantasia Torrontes 2008

I love a quiet SUNDAY morning with hot coffee and without the rush of reaching the office by a fixed hour, usually very early. I like to spend quality time with my better half planning the new refurbishment of the house and trying to figure out how to find a good and reliable working team for that. I think that is as easy and possible as finding a free parking place in Piata Romana at noon: it is really about one’s luck. This SUN we invited over our friends Crina and Catalin for a group cooking session. The menu was very simple and easy to make: grilled chicken stuffed with orange, asparagus and mash potatoes. I am sharing the menu with you  not because is something fancy, but to give you an idea of why I chose the  wines we had: a white Torrontes from Argentina and a red Romanian Cabernet Sauvignon.

Torrontes became the emblematic white wine of Argentina. I believe Argentina is the only country to produce it and therefore it is considered a wholly Argentine variety. One variety that is inexpensive and delivers great pleasure.

Lorca Fantasia Torrontes 2008

This bottle of wine was 8€. The bottle represents the entry level from Mauricio Lorca bodega. He is chief winemaker at Enrique Foster and formerly of Chilean-owned giant Finca La Celia, Catena, and Luigi Bosca. He creates his own wines using grapes from high-altitude vineyards in Vistaflores, Uco Valley.

This wine has a clear medium lemon color. The nose is clean, youthful, with medium intensity of peach, flowers and orange citrus fruit. It has a beautiful structure on the palate, a very pleasant acidity, lots of fruit and floral flavors, mangoes, rose petals, plenty of body for a wine with such delicate aromas and flavors. The wine is quite dry even if it leaves the impression of some sweetness on the finish. Good.

I read a very interesting article this morning published by Financial Times-FT.com wrote by the famous Jancis Robinson on Hungarian wines. It seems that “Hungarians are so proud of their viticultural heritage that they are prepared to pay high prices for their best and/or most famous wines, which tends to make them seem overpriced outside Hungary. The same phenomenon curbs exports of the new generation of much-improved wines from countries such as Greece, Turkey, Israel and Mexico – and even makes the top wines of Spain difficult to sell abroad.”. Full article here.

I believe the same applies to Romanian producers and their wines. It is the case for the red wine we had from Nachbil as our second choice. I tasted several wines from this producer last year: Shiraz 2003, a nice complex wine, Chardonnay 2003 very similar to a good Chablis from Burgundy. Shiraz 2004 and 2005 were big disappointments with very light aromas and pretty much no aftertaste.

Nachbil Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The wine has a pale clear red color. I decanted this wine for about 1 h. The nose reveals aromas of red cherries, smoke and tobacco. Unfortunately they are overpowered by alcohol. In the mouth the wine has a light to medium body, medium acidity, showing discreet notes of blackcurrant, violets and black cherry. The wine finishes with light aromas of blackcurrant and some slight bitterness in a short aftertaste.  I find this wine poor and overpriced,considering the 60 RON price. For the same price Hyperion 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious competitor.

Dear reader,  I’ll finish my post leaving you with a question. If you can spare a few moments of your browsing time please write a comment, you don’t need to use professional words, and share your experience:

–          Have you had Torrontes so far and how did you like it ?

Thanks for reading…