Eating well in Alsace

Le Buerehiesel in Strasbourg (restaurant review)

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

24 March 2018

OK so it cost me more than €120 … but lunch here was fabulous.

I had enjoyed lunch here a few years back with a work colleague and it was a positive experience for about the same price. But this time, it was even better.

Since he took over the restaurant from his father Antoine, son Eric Westermann has slowly increased his imprint. “His cuisine is getter finer,” remarked a longtime client of the restaurant, who knew Antoine very well and with whom I enjoyed the lunch.

The cuisine here – in the gorgeous setting of the Orangerie Park near the European institutions of Strasbourg – combines Alsatian tradition and originality, perpetuating the legendary reputation of the establishment, which at one point enjoyed three Michelin stars. It now has one.

In any case, the lunch we enjoyed on a freezing late March day this year could have been less expensive, had my friend and I not ordered a bottle of wine, plus two glasses of white port for the dessert.

But who would we have been kidding? We both love wine and food, so we went for the Jean Francois Ganevat Cuvée Florine Sous La Roche Chardonnay Côtes du Jura 2010. This was my first experience with this Chardonnay, which was not oxidative but rather reductive in nature (for a primer on these terms, wine author Jane Anson published this informative article several years ago). Read More

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Bordeaux 2015 from bottle: Conclusions

Very good to great

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

20 March 2018

Dear readers, pretty much all my notes on Bordeaux 2015 from bottle – many wines assessed since late November last year – are online. Including, finally, some splendid wines from Sauternes and Barsac.

For a quick look at each section, here the links to click:

Pomerol (recently updated) – Saint EmilionGrand CercleCru BourgeoisMargaux – Saint Julien – Pauillac – Saint EstepheGraves/Pessac-LéognanFronsac Focus (I mean, do you want QPR, here is your QPR!) – Sauternes/Barsac

Some are hyping the vintage as the next best thing since sliced bread, and retailers love using big scores to sell wine. Nothing wrong with that. I’m “guilty” too, for hyping the vintage, but I try to be realistic, so you do not get that many inflated numbers from me.

Having said this, 2015 is a very good to great vintage.

It depends on where you are, which appellation, and which producer, to find greatness. Of course some of the most expensive wines are great (Petrus, Lafleur, Margaux among others) but not all, so you should not just choose wines by (lofty) price.

Further comparisons with 2014

Some like to say that 2015 is the best since 2010. In many ways, sure. But it ain’t that simple. Much truth comes from longtime Bordeaux critics, like Jean-Marc Quarin, who says that 2014 can be comparable to 2015. His conclusion on 2015? Here en français:

La poursuite de mes dégustations révèle que certains 2015 ne dépassent pas les 2014. Or, les 2014 sont moins chers ! C’est le cas dans le Médoc entre Saint-Julien et Saint- Estèphe. Plus au sud, en descendant vers Margaux et le haut-médoc, il a moins plu en septembre et la situation varie. Je savais les Saint Estèphe 2015 moins réussis que les 2014 . Eh bien ! à  Pauillac et St Julien certains 2014 font jeu égal avec les 2015…

Basic translation:

The continuation of my tastings reveals that some 2015s do not exceed the 2014s. Furthermore, the 2014s are less expensive! This is the case in the Médoc between Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe. Further south, down to Margaux and Haut-Médoc, it was less rainy in September and the situation varies. I knew that the Saint Estèphe 2015s are less successful than the 2014s. In fact, in Pauillac and St Julien, some 2014s are equal to the 2015s … Read More

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Alsace 2016: the paradoxical vintage

Deceptively soft spoken Zind-Humbrecht

19 March 2018

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

Another year, and another chance to taste the fine wines crafted at Domaine Zind Humbrecht.

Known to produce some of the best Alsatian wines sold in both France and in international markets, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht also offers a “bird’s eye” view of each vintage in March with a very well organized tasting along with detailed vintage reports.

As you can read here, 2016 is “extremely contrasted.”

A mild and wet winter and spring allowed for a fertile bud break, but also caused disease problems (mildew). Summer and the ripening period to the harvest were arid and warm.

2016 thus “strangely” combines the characteristics of an early and late ripening vintage.

“There was a big bud break, with lots of clusters,” explains owner Olivier Humbrecht in the video below.

Yet with drought conditions in August – that threatened younger vines and vines on lighter soils – berries stayed very small, with a high ratio of skins to juice.” In the end it was “paradoxical” because while the grapes were ripe, they were also lower in alcohol: “We harvested relatively late, with much less sugar and alcohol than usual,” Humbrecht says. So there is a lot of wine with “beautiful, ripe aromatics but with lower alcohol,” often “between 12 and 13 percent,” he explains.

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Splendid Sauternes 2015

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

12 March 2018

Having tasted through some 2015s with Jane Anson, I can only agree with her assessment (and that of Ian d’Agata) in Decanter that in 2015, Sauternes are “some of the highest scorers, along with Pomerol and St-Emilion.” Ian adds: “It’s an outstanding vintage, with many fleshy, rich wines but with good acidity levels so as to avoid coming off as heavy or cloying.”

As Sauternes expert Bill Blatch has noted: “The style of these wines is of course very rich, but, with a few notable exceptions, less absolutely sweet than the 05s or the very powerful ’09s very generally,” he said.

And the average sweetness for the crus classés of the ’15s ended up at around 130g/l rather than 140-150 for the ’09s – and that is a positive statistic, explaining a superior balance for Sauternes and Barsac in 2015.

Sure, they seem softer and have slightly less acidity than the ’14s, but this is hardly a problem as my tasting notes reveal.

With the exception of the two final wines, below, these were tasted as part of the UGCB tour in January, in Washington D.C. and New York City.

Château de Fargues: A tour de force and a top Sauternes in 2015. More than fulfilling its promise from barrel! Aged in about 30% new oak, this wine exudes so much fruit driven freshness and ripeness in such an elegant manner, one almost forgets that it is a “sweet” wine. Certainly the spicy notes from the botrytis lend much appeal, but I love the pure expressions of white stone fruit. You also get exotic fruit from the vintage, lending a multidimensional aspect. A generous de Fargues, with plenty of density, tension and vivacity. Do not hesitate to seek this out. 96/100. Read More

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Saint Emilion 2015: Changing Tides

2015 from bottle shows return to freshness, if not for all estates …

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

11 March 2018

When assessing more 2015 Bordeaux from bottle at the UGCB tasting in New York, I was struck by just how much fresher some Right Bank wines especially tasted: wines that had not too long ago come across as too heavy handed or exuding too many oak-derived flavors.

Readers know that I have never been a fan of drying, oak-derived tannin in Bordeaux, pretty much since I started writing about my experiences with Bordeaux wines back in 1998. Saint Emilion had seen too much of that, reaching a kind of sad “heyday” with the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Thankfully, this trend is being reversed – at least to some extent.

With reference to the 2015 vintage, I report happily that several top Saint Emilion member châteaux of the UGCB have been changing their style for the better. This was proven yet again at the 2015 tasting tour at the magnificent Cipriani in New York City earlier this year, where I discovered fine examples of freshness from both Château Clos Fourtet and Château Grand Mayne, which in the first 2000s decade had been too often a bit too heavy and oaky.

Fresher – and better – than ever: plenty to smile about at Clos Fourtet from bottle in 2015

Long before it was a fashion to do so – and like a few other critics and writers – I have long railed against the excesses of new oak combined with high alcohol merlot, which leaves tasters with the unpleasant sensation of drying oak tannins on the finish.

Jean-Claude Berrouet, the long time winemaker at Petrus, decried this tendency, time and again, and seemed sometimes out of fashion. But he was correct.  Another marvelous estate – ok, also very pricey – is Lafleur, which can use up to 20 percent new oak for aging its Merlot. It never had to deal with such criticism…  Read More

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