The A-Team (the best of France)

#138 – August 6, 2010

It wasn’t all that long ago that questions like “What is the best kosher wine” or “What is your favorite wine” were moot as there was no really good answer since quality kosher wine was basically a null set. Taking things one step further, it wasn’t even that far back that answering such a question was relatively easy, as the number of really great, available kosher wines could be counted on one’s fingers without too much difficulty.

Boy have we come a long way. These days, given the explosion of top-notch quality kosher wines available on the market (with that number growing exponentially every year), answering such a question presents me with great difficulty. Another difficulty in answering that question is how cost relates to judging a wine – clearly a rich, complex, truly varietaly representative wine that retails for under $25 should get some extra credit if it stands up nicely to a cult or boutique wine with the same characteristics which retails for over $100 – no?

All that said, I had the opportunity a few months ago to be a guest at a truly special wine-tasting event where a significant number of those highly regarded and exceedingly expensive wines were served. In addition to thanking MK for his generous invite to the event, I wanted to share with you a number of tasting notes of wines that I have not recently reviewed and thought would be of interest to you. As many of you know, at least partially resulting from the fact that I started to learn, appreciate and enjoy wine while growing up in Israel for 22 years, my palate preference leans heavily towards Israeli wines. This is the dominant reason that this newsletter is so heavily slanted to Israeli wines and why all those French beauties are somewhat under-represented on these pages (that and my limited budget). That said, there are some truly delightful and exceedingly well made delights available whose only crime is that they are very expensive and, more relevant to us, overpriced, especially when compared to their Israeli brethren (although the pricing on some of the Israeli’s has started to become an epic problem as well – more on that another time).

All of the wines below are of the French persuasion. The sole reason for such lopsided favoritism is that all the magnificent Israeli (and one Spanish) wines served and tasted were wines I had already reviewed and written about relatively recently. The other Israeli wines included the (i) Carmel, Limited Edition, 2005, (ii) Yatir Forest, 2005, (iii) Castel, Grand Vin, 2005 and (iv) and Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, 2005 – all among the best available kosher wines. The obvious missing wines were those of Yarden who, over the last few years, has churned out, in steady succession and growing numbers, awesome wine after awesome wine.

Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien, 2000: A delicious and extremely well crafted wine, representing the French wine world with honor and persuasion. This brick colored wine has blackberries, currants and black plums on both the nose and palate accompanied by chocolate, vanilla, wet forest floor and toasty oak. A long lingering finish rounds this mature beauty out. Drinking nicely now, the wine will continue to cellar for another 3-4 years; but probably isn’t going to see much additional bottle improvement.

Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien, 2003: Most of the 2003 French wines really seem to need another couple of years to settle down but can still be enjoyed now with a little patience and time to open up in the glass. Decanting at this stage (for those of you who like to decant) is advisable to allow the wine to show you its potential. Not quite as enjoyable at the 2000 vintage, this royal purple colored wine is full bodied and somewhat muscular with lots of juicy black forest fruit and cassis on the first attack followed by more of the same, charred oak, dark chocolate, mocha all leading into a long and mouth filling finish that will leave you feeling sated and satisfied. I would give this wine another year or so before opening but at least 10-20 minutes in your glass if opened now (or early decanting).

Château Lafon-Rochet, St. Estephe, 2003: One of the few 2003 wines that are readily drinkable now and not for further cellaring. This purple colored wine is medium bodied and just starting to come together with soft, rounded and mouth coating tannins blending nicely with the fruit and wood. Smokiness and some hints of leather provide some complexity as does the good structure and spiciness. A medium finish rounds this one out.

Château Labégorce Zede, Margaux, 2003: One of the few French wines I tasted while still living in Israel, I had last enjoyed the 2000 vintage almost 7 years ago and it was nice to see a familiar face. This dark red colored wine was full bodied with a lot of fruit on the initial nose including cherries, currants that led to hints of freshly nicely. More fruit followed as hints of blueberries and tangy plums crept in as well as some underlying spiciness I found intriguing. Hints of freshly turned earth tinged with leathery/musty notes that complemented the fruit were also present in the mid palate. A medium and somewhat “minerally” finish rounded out a very nice wine.

Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003: The first time I have ever tasted this wine (about $110 retail) and happy I had the chance. Delicious! A full-bodied French Bordeaux done the way French Bordeaux should be made. Dark garnet colored and nicely full-bodied, this wine is still coming into its own with the fruits peering from behind a muscular wall of powerful tannins well balanced and forecasted to integrate very nicely. A very round and elegant (dare I say sexy) wine with loads of fruit on the initial nose including blackberries, red cherries, currants and juicy plums tinged with tantalizing bitterness and hints of dark chocolate and warm baking spices on a very long finish with anise and more fruit (!) than anything else on the finish. I had more than one taste of this beauty! Just about ready for its debut, this can be cellared for quite some time and will continue to improve. A special wine.