2012 Raveneau Chablis

Raveneau is the top Chablis producer, everyone knows it, the prices are sky high, yet worth it in my opinion, as the quality experience is virtually guaranteed, both young and especially with age. 2012 vintage in Chablis was particularly strong, and Raveneau's 2012's that I tasted were fabulous. Riesling-like minerality, honeyed, spicy butteriness that lingered on the lips for hours, viscous oily textures and exotic seawater / seaweed salinity were the hallmarks of this lineup, with the bonus 1999 Montee de Tonnerre showing amazing seamless silkiness and marvelous complexity. Yet with all those admirable attributes, these are not wines of weight and obviousness, but rather of elegance, complexity, texture, precision and enormous class. My oh my, I was smitten, they were the best 2012 white burgundies (if you can call Chablis that) I have had! In 2012, there were other excellent Chablis producers that cost a fraction of Raveneau - the likes of Dauvissat, William Fevre, Christian Moreau, etc... Personally, I hold Dauvissat in almost as high esteem, yet Raveneau is still the king!

Tasting Notes



2012 Raveneau Chablis "Vaillons" 1er Cru - satiny seawater, creamy pillowy oiliness, intensely spicy and very long finish lasting more than a minute. This is great!

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Butteaux" 1er Cru - slightly riper than the "Vaillons", more orchard fruit, still nice honeyed salinity and oiliness. I preferred the Vaillons by a tiny margin.

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Montee de Tonnerre" 1er Cru - beautiful creamy scent, spice, oil, spicy florals, intense finish, silkier and softer than the "Valmur" and "Butteaux", slightly more elegant if perhaps less powerful than the previous two.

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Valmur" Grand Cru - more power and punch here, more flavor, oily buttery finish, Riesling-like minerals, actually reminds me of an Italian wine too, in terms of focus and minerality, but with cream/butter/oil adding an enormously pleasurable dimension of class, very obvious crushed stones covered with honeyed butter, very long finish that reverberates on my taste glands. Wow!



1999 Raveneau Chablis "Montee de Tonnerre" 1er Cru - note of petrol and butter on the nose. Palate: silky smooth, buttery, slightly roasted nuts, wow!, really complex and delicious, great balance, rich! In a perfect place to drink now. Wish I had this in my cellar! Marvelous!...

Initial Look at 2013 Burgundies – Armand Rousseau, Faiveley, and more

Iron Chevsky and Erwan Faiveley (right), with his outstanding 2013 Corton-Charlemagne.

At the 2015 Frederick Wildman Burgundy portfolio tasting in San Francisco, I got a chance to sample some very good wines from the upcoming 2013 vintage. Some (like Olivier Leflaive) are currently being bottled while others are a few months away. But the vintage characteristics already shine through. And I very much liked what I saw, at least from the top producers at this tasting.

I generally preferred the reds here to the 2012's. While the 2012 is hyped by many as a great vintage, I personally don't think so. The 2012 reds are fluffy, juicy and plush - but they seem to lack structure. The 2013's on the other hand have it - they are more serious and angular, with nice ripe dark fruits reminiscent of black tea, with tart acidity and fine tannins. The acidity seems to stick out just a bit on some of the reds at this early stage, but I think it will integrate nicely in the coming months and years, as the reds have plenty of material. The whites are more mixed, some a bit lean and acidic, which on the other hand makes them appear more pure, focused and mineral/terroir-driven, not a bad thing.

Armand Rousseau and Faiveley impressed - no surprise there! All four Rousseau wines were fantastic - Gevrey-Chambertin villages (very good this year, concentrated blackberry and black tea and hint of black pepper, a serious village wine. It has about 10% 1er cru juice, and also this year they removed one of the under-performing village plots, further boosting quality of the final blend), Lavaux St Jacques (more intense than the village Gevrey, with a pronounced pepper note), seemingly more integrated Mazy, and Beze with even more depth and refinement, a wow wine! The four Rousseau's Gevrey's were deeper, denser and darker than Faiveley's, with consistent black tea signature running through, balanced by tart (cranberry / citrus) acidity, without overt tannins. I liked them better than Rousseau 2012's at this point last year, which seemed more formidable and monolithic.


All four Rousseau reds were fantastic. As was ever-so-delightfully saucy Cyrielle Rousseau herself (Eric Rousseau's daughter).

The Faiveley table seemed the busiest at the tasting, undoubtedly a tribute to the rising popularity of this domaine. The standouts for me included Gevrey Cazetiers (though a bit reduced at this stage, with strong note of meat) and Chambertin Clos de Beze (delicious and multi-faceted, I can only imagine how wonderful cuvee "Les Ouvrees Rodin" must be!...

Benu – 3 Michelin Stars

Benu restaurant in San Francisco has recently been promoted to 3-Michelin-Star, an elite designation of top restaurants in the world. In the Bay Area, we only have four: The French Laundry, The Restaurant at Meadowood (both in Napa Valley), and the newly promoted Saison and Benu, both in San Francisco.

I headed over to Benu, for my inaugural visit, to find out for myself what the fuss was all about. A fixed menu of numerous bite-size courses, Asian-fusion style, with an incredibly light touch, was impressive. Almost every decadent ingredient one can think of was somehow represented. The wine list was fairly impressive and versatile as well, with aged bottles of DRC at prices not far above the retail prices of current releases (so relative "value", one might say). Based on a recommendation of a wine guru friend and a Benu regular, I brought a bottle of white burgundy which I had been cellaring for a few years, and indeed it worked very well with the menu. Master Sommelier - Yoon Ha - one of a handful of Food and Wine Magazine 2013 Sommeliers of the Year - started us off with a tasty bubbly - an off-the-beaten-path glass of Cremant du Jura. He then did an expert job with his commentary on my grand cru. The "Montrachet" style wine glasses were perfectly suited for our 2006 grand cru Batard-Montrachet from Bernard Morey - his last vintage before the famed domain was split between his two sons - Vincent and Thomas - who, in my opinion, are yet to reach their dad's level of quality.

The Wine

2006 Bernard Morey Batard-Montrachet. Gorgeous. Vanilla bean, more pear than apple, spice, coconut shavings, creme brulee, smoke, some well-integrated oak, butter cream, hint of mint, luxurious viscous texture, weighty, medium acidity, luxurious long finish, no signs of decline, better than a year ago, seamless and endlessly complex, and could probably continue to improve for years. Was a great match for the Asian influenced menu of Benu.




The Dishes (displayed in the order they were served)
All dishes were well executed, in my opinion, with great attention to textures and quality of ingredients. Every bite left me wishing for one more, but I put a star () next to my favorite dishes that I wanted ten times more of (!).



Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger


Oyster, pork-belly, kimchi (
)


Towel


Fluke, sesame leaf, daikon ()


Smelt, mayonnaise, mustard (
)


Monkfish liver, trout roe, perilla ()


Lobster xiao long bao (Shanghai-style dumpling, with lobster broth inside)


Bread with honey butter (
)


Grilled abalone with chicken liver ()


Eel, porridge, pine


Frog leg, mountain yam, celtuce


Horse mackerel, kohlrabi, charred scallion


Chestnut bun w/ black truffle duck mousse (
)


Roast quail, chard, chestnut, aged tangerine peel


Braised beef in pear juice


"Shark fin soup", dungeness crab, Jinhua ham custard


Desserts

Soda


Sake lees sherbet, persimmon, yuzu ()


Fresh and dried yuba (tofu skin), almond, white chocolate (
)


More Asian inspired snacks (seaweed-like), chocolate and crackers


Cookies



The opinions of the meal were somewhat split between my wife, our friends, and myself. Personally, I loved the food, and thought that five or six dishes were absolutely phenomenal. I am not a big fan of fusion food in general and Asian fusion in particular, as I prefer authentic cuisines....

Araujo Revisit 2014

Last year Araujo was acquired by the Artemis Group, the owners of Chateau Latour. With that, Araujo joined Opus One and Dominus, two others among Napa Valley's greatest wineries closely tied to Bordeaux's greatest estates (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Petrus, respectively). More info on the acquisition can be found here and here. Four years since my last visit, I headed over to Calistoga to talk about the changes, and to taste the wines. The long time director of wine-making Francoise Peschon is no longer there, but her colleague winemaker Nigel Kinsman is still consulting. Largely a new team has been assembled with Frederic Engerer (Latour's president) and Helene Mingot as the Technical Director. Michel Rolland is gone, the Araujos moved on and aren't involved anymore. While the 2011 vintage was made entirely by the old team, the 2012 was the first vintage with the partial influence of the new ownership coming in at the blending phase. Araujo had been a blue chip of Napa for a long time. The Eisele vineyard's successful track record had long resonated the Latour owners' sense for place and quality in wine. As a result, the Artemis Group has not sought to make any dramatic changes - rather continue to tend to and refine the iconic Eisele vineyard. That said, their blending process for the 2012 vintage was quicker and more decisive than the old team's - for the flagship Eisele cab they quickly determined to use only those blocks that had exclusively ever gone into the flagship wine and never into the second wine Altagracia. One of the experiments the winery team is running is the current barrel program, where they are exploring reduced levels of new barrel toast. The production will remain relatively small - less than 2000 cases a year for Eisele cab. A sure sign of the winery's higher profile is prices going up. While member pricing didn't go up significantly, the jump in retail from 2009 to 2011 vintage is over 50% (according to wine-searcher). It is impossible to tell at this point, with not even one full vintage released under the the new ownership's belt, the effect on the wine. What I can tell is that both 2011 and 2012 Eisele cabs were terrific, and some of the best wines I had ever tasted from Napa.

The Wines



2011 Araujo Eisele Syrah - not talked about much, but it's been made since 1994. About 50% new French oak....

2011 and 1998 Dunn

Dunn is one of my all-time favorite Napa Valley wineries, and along with Diamond Creek and Ridge, is a reference point for what a mountain Cabernet should taste like. I love the wines. They have stood the test of time. They are incredibly versatile with food, due to acidity, savoriness, and low-alcohol frame. They are intense (without being heavy) with dark fruit, tar and mountain rocks, and echos of pine forest. They are not easy to understand for newbies because they are tannic and rugged, with zesty herbs and root vegetables pronouncing themselves with age. By the time the tannins soften (10-15-20 years+ down the road), the baby plushness and primary fruit sweetness are gone, and you get great intensity and complexity that is anything but "fruity" - perhaps an acquired taste.

Mike Dunn, Randy Dunn's son who works and makes the wines alongside Randy, has always been an incredibly fun and gracious host. Simple and honest to deal with - no BS, no marketing. The wines are under-priced, in my opinion - less than half of what peers now charge for similar quality. Antonio Galloni recently wrote this about Dunn 1979-1999 vertical: "Overall, the wines were striking and confirmed Randy Dunn’s place among the top winemakers in Napa Valley." He also gave 98 points to their 2010 Howell Mountain. The Dunns can raise prices if they want to, and I am afraid they eventually will. They have a fairly deep library of old vintages, many still available for sale in magnums. For now, the winery remains a go-to "secret" of wine geeks, and for selfish reasons I hope it stays that way, though probably it will not, especially if I continue to write posts like this!

This time I was particularly interested in 2011. Randy and Mike hand-signed two magnums of the 2011 Howell Mountain to my son Evan for his birth-year collection. I was just going to swing by to pick them up and be on my way. But of course, Mike wouldn't let me go without sitting down for a taste!




The Wines

2011 Dunn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - opened for 1 day, with most of the wine still in the bottle....

Opus One Revisit 2014

It has been four years since my last visit. At that time we had tasted across three decades of Opus, a truly remarkable experience. This time I was happy to spend a couple of hours again with Opus One's winemaker since 2001, Michael Silacci. The theme was odd-numbered vintages of Opus One from the 21th century (also all odd-numbered vintages since Michael's arrival at the winery).

The Wines



2001 Opus One - nose: bright, zesty, savory, laser-focused dark red berries. Palate: intense, velvety, spice, very polished, weighty, tannins still there, chocolate covered cherries, some savoriness. Michael noted this was his first, i.e. "transitional" vintage, when he was still learning about Opus One. I think he was successful in his first effort.

2003 Opus One - nose: slightly riper, with whiff of acetone. Palate: slightly stewed fruit, warmer, sweeter, tannins perceptible. Some warm-vintage Barolo-like notes, on a thick, full-bodied frame, a bit awkward and hefty. Michael noted this was not his favorite vintage, but the wine is showing better now than it had in the past. Not a bad wine, but my least favorite of the group.

2005 Opus One - nose: bright and polished. Intense fruit with herbal nuances (in a good way). More like the 2001, but with more of everything and meatier. Palate: velvet (or "flannel" according to Michael), full-body. Michael explained that at the time of its making this wine had represented his notion of a "classic" Opus One, based on his experiences tasting vintages 1979 - 2000....

First-time visit to Atelier Crenn

For Rona's birthday, we ventured to the city to try a new (for us) gastronomic restaurant. We had watched French-native Chef Dominique Crenn battle on Food Network TV's "The Next Iron Chef" (2009) and "Iron Chef America" (2010, "the Yogurt battle" defeating Iron Chef Symon), and wanted to check out her mastery in person. We were able to book the 2-Michel-star restaurant Atelier Crenn three weeks in advance. At slightly over $200/person for a Chef's Menu, and $45/corkage, this is not inexpensive, but after experiencing the art of food that is Atelier Crenn, I think it's worth it. In addition to being absolutely delicious from both hedonistic and intellectual points of view, this was one of the most artistic gastronomic meals we have ever had, and that list includes a number of domestic and international Michelin-starred restaurants. The attention to visuals and especially the most amazing textures in the endless progression of the French-inspired dishes (each dish bite-size) was truly extraordinary. The place originally opened in January 2011 in the space previously occupied by PlumpJack Cafe on Fillmore St., was remodeled in the beginning of 2014. It is small, tasteful, cozy, and Chef Crenn personally coming out to greet guests was a nice touch.

The menu was presented as a poem, each line referring to a dish!



2006 Paul Pernot Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet grand cru white burgundy was drinking well. Rona loved it for her birthday. On the palate: dominant silky butteriness and lemon custard. Substantial density but not heavy or cloying. Distant nuances of dried apricot, smoke, sea salinity. Consistent profile with the same bottle I drank 2 years ago but this one was more silky and better. Very good and proper grand cru, though no fireworks - in my opinion lacking some excitement or kaleidoscopic breadth of a truly great grand cru. This was a great match to the exquisite food art cuisine, which emphasized lighter and oceany ingredients.




Savory dishes (in the order they were served)



Sweet dishes



Iron Chef slayer Chef Dominique Crenn and yours truly, Iron Chevsky.

Highlights of the 2014 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries Tasting

Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries tasting is a great annual event in San Francisco each October that I make a point not to miss. Great venue (Metreon), sharp looking people, delectable food, and seriously good wines. Below are the highlights of the this year's 11th annual event. (The 2013 was documented here, 2012 here, 2011 here, 2010 here, and 2009 here).



Diamond Creek, with dear Boots Brounstein. As usual, Diamond Creek showed well - dark, cool, mountain fruit with good structure, one of my favorite Napa Valley wineries, recently highlighted on this blog.




Dominus, with Tod Mostero, who hosted me several years ago at the estate. This was the second time I tasted the 2011 Dominus, and my opinion improved. The wine has some grippy tannins and herbs, slightly leaner than usual, thanks to the 2011 vintage. I like how the slight austerity and a leaner body give it a Euro-inclined balance. I believe it will age well.




I ran into Burgundy's vunderkind of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Vosne Romanee, Loius Michel Liger-Belair, in an elevator. He is making the most exciting reds in Burgundy right now, including the iconic La Romanee grand cru in Vosne Romanee. Louis-Michel is consulting with one of the Oregon wineries at the event - Chapter 24 Vineyards.




More memorable sights:
Bright earthy fruits in 2011. Chambertin had good stuffing.
Really enjoy the purity of Potel's "Roche de Bellene" wines.
The new Jura-based brand from the famous Guillaume d'Angerville of Volnay, first vintage.
I really liked these, both red and white, for their deep flavors and elegant medium bodies. Not quite as refined as Angerville's burgundies, but characterful, satisfying, food friendly, and well worth drinking IMO off-the-beaten-path.

Too "new world" for me. I much prefer Drouhin's burgundies.
Enjoy Moric blaufrankisch every year.
Wonderful smoky Austrian reds.
The 2010 "Ursules" rocks! Excellent QPR.

The iconic Penfolds Grange. Very refined. 
Beaucastel nailed it in 2011, both red and white.
Classic!

Hard to choose between these two.
For me, the 2000 perhaps was tastier. But both are great!

Top Champagne Tasting of 2014

The 10th annual Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) North America Champagne event roared through San Francisco at the end of September. Held in the gorgeous Ferry Building at Market One, with the largest concentration of venerable masters of wine (MW's) in one room that I'd ever seen, this continues to be my favorite champagne tasting of the year in the Bay Area, and an incredible bargain at $65. Once again, this time it did not disappoint. The quantity and quality of the champagnes seemed as high as ever, and generous selection of cheeses didn't hurt either. Hardly any surprises among the tasted wines, vintage champagnes were the most impressive group, as they should be. I wholeheartedly recommend this event to everyone who is interested in champagne. For more info on IMW events, check here.

Here are my quick notes.



Vintage champagnes were impressive.


All four of the big boys showed well - Bollinger "La Grand Annee" 2004, Dom Perignon 2004, Henriot Enchenteleurs 1999 (out of magnum), and Gosset 2000 Grand Millesime. Perhaps Bollinger and Gosset had slightly more exotic flavors, and Henriot with powerful crystalline minty expression. DP was good and dependable, as always.


Despite the gaudy packaging, Piper-Heidsieck "Rare" (2002) always impresses with what's inside. As did the very reliable Pol Roger with their Pinot Noir dominated powerful "Extra Cuvee de Reserve" (2004, 60% Pinot Noir / 40% Chardonnay), even if this is not their top-of-the-line cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. I have come to expect very high quality at every level of Pol Roger's champagnes, including their non-vintage and the various vintage cuvees. If in doubt, you cannot go wrong with this producer. But the other two - Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" 2002 and Mousse Fils Millesime Brut 2008 were pleasant surprises. Generally, Feuillatte is not mentioned in the same league with other top champagnes, but this top wine stood out with intriguing brown sugar notes. But an even bigger discovery was Mousse Fils. I had never even heard of Champagne Mousse Fils, but I was thoroughly impressed by the complexity and richness of flavor, along with super fine and creamy mousse. This is a relatively unknown grower champagne house with prices below other top wines in Champagnes. This was also my first 2008 vintage champagne, a vintage that is much heralded in Champagne as the best after 2002. Impressed, I proceeded to order several bottles immediately from my favorite wine merchant, for a more "thorough" evaluation later on. This definitely deserves a closer look.



Among the four vintage Blanc de Blanc's, I was particularly impressed with Christian Coquillette Champagne Saint-Chamant BdB 2005 - powerful, flavorful champagne. Dom Ruinart BdB 2004 and Pol Roger BdB 2002 were more steely and classical, seemingly coming from more structured vintages and in need of more time.



Oh, this Perrier-Jouet "Belle Epoque" 2004 Rose is always a beauty - I've tasted it several times with consistent notes - gentle strawberries seduce every time. I know this is a very widely available champagne - you can see it at Costco, etc...  - so maybe it doesn't possess a coolness factor, but it is very very good Rose, and one of my favorites every year.




Another note on Krug - though vintage Krug was not present at this tasting, I just recently tasted the 2000 Krug, and as good as the NV grand cuvee is, the vintage (2000) is a step up in intensity, with powerful, grippy texture and concentrated, lingering flavors. Both are just beginning to hint at their potential, and will benefit from a lot more time. I would not hesitate to stock up, if you can afford.





All in all, Champagne continues to dazzle my palate, and I find that with a few additional years of cellaring post-release, these wines hardly ever disappoint, and with prices of other top regions continuing to climb sharply (Burgundy, Barolo), Champagne prices have remained relatively stable. While there are a myriad of options to choose from, from trendy small grower producers to established big brand houses, I find quality in all camps high, and I think big houses are doing a great job, despite large production. Your good old Dom P, Cristal, Krug, Bolliger, Taittinger, Heidsieck, Dom Ruinart, Perrier-Jouet, Henriot, Gosset and so on, are as good as ever, as are cool growers such as Egly-Ouriet, Henri Goutorbe, and Mousse Fils.