Saturday, April 23, 2005


When I was in Paris a few years ago, I ate several times at Anacreon, a small neighborhood place where the main clientele seemed to be couples my age entertaining each other for dinner – not a party place or big deal. The first time I went, I overheard several tables exclaiming with pleasure that the Ladoix was back. I had no idea what they were talking about but it became clear that this was a wine they all liked. I had already ordered something else but returned the next week, partly to see what the buzz was about. At first, I thought the waiter wasn’t even going to bring me the bottle of Ladoix I ordered. It turned out that Americans never ordered it (busted again for bad French) so he assumed that what I wanted was Badoit mineral water. We got that straightened out and my daughter and I enjoyed the wine very much and the reasonable price added to the pleasure. Back in the states, I looked it up in Parker’s wine guide, only to find this: “Ladoix is Burgundy’s least-known appellation.” I proceeded to forget all about it, until this week, when some 2003 Ladoix from Jean-Luc Dubois turns up at big Red for $20.00. The wine has a fairly light red color and a powerful nose of sweet fruit. The scent is not the usual red fruit/cherry of a new burgundy but a combination of blackberries and stone fruit – it seems like peach to me, improbable as that sounds in a red wine. The aroma is so intense that you can almost pour it into your mouth. There is a background of spice, hints of ginger and pepper I think. The taste has plums and a touch of blood, with a good shot of tannin. Maybe some of the wine's distinctiveness is due to the fact that 2003 was the year of the heat-wave. This is my first 2003 Burgundy. Anyway, this is authentic Burgundy, a complex and interesting wine, with good structure, and an amazingly low price. I’ll not be so quick to forget it again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Waiting for the Court

I had been hoping that yesterday would see the wine-shipping case among those the Supreme Court handed down, but no such luck. Even when the decision comes down, and even if it is on the right side, nothing much will improve in Bloomington immediately. The most the Court is likely to do is to say that in-state wineries and out-of-state wineries have to have equal shipping rights – which will then call on the Indiana legislature either to stop Oliver from shipping or allow Screaming Eagle to. It is true, however, that a legislative victory for the anti-competition forces will not be automatic. Indiana winemakers are part of the farm community and voting to narrow markets for in-state farms may give legislators pause. What I really want is not to receive wines direct from California wineries, even though that’s a good start. I want to be able to buy wine from Sam’s and Convito Italiano and John Hart in Chicago and have it safely shipped to me. In return, I’d be happy to pay taxes for legal access to a full range of smaller producers, hard-to-find new releases and futures, and auctions of older wines. Speaking of auctions, John Hart has now become a major world player, forming a new firm, Hart Davis Hart, with former auction managers from Christie’s and Sotheby’s. There’s nothing illegal about an Indiana resident buying at auction in Chicago. It’s getting the wine home that may be the legal problem. Under one reading of this state’s law, you can only bring it home one bottle at a time. I wonder about this: suppose I pull my station wagon up to the Indiana state line on the Illinois side. Then I step out, and one at a time, bring my bottles over the line, then drive my car across the line too, load it up, and tool on home. Seems legal to me (?) but I suppose the hazards of actually doing this on the Tollway are too numerous to contemplate. Anyway, there’s a major auction at Hart Davis Hart on May 7. Despite the sentence underneath this blog’s title, how could I resist pointing out that you could probably pick up a half-dozen bottles of 1995 Le Pin for $4000. (So cheap because it’s not a stand-out year.) If you get the catalog, you’ll see some stuff for mere mortals as well – the real deal, though, is the pre-auction tasting. For $65 you can taste a lot of the gems for sale – the 1970 Lafite, 1982 Mouton, 1976 Echezeaux, great Californians.... Or you can just bid on the Internet, which I have done before with great ease (Julia has suggested it might not be prudent for me to actually be there, sample some really great wine, and then stroll into the auction room with a bidding paddle. I think she’s right.) Locally, there are a couple of good tasting opportunities too. Tomorrow, April 21, you can taste some Australians from five to seven in the back room of the Uptown. These are good but not great wines, mostly not to my taste but perhaps to yours. Every Saturday afternoon, Big Red conducts an informal tasting at the front of the remodeled store. Patrick promises some unusually interesting things this week.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Oregon bargain

Thirty years ago was the breakthrough for Oregon, when an Eyrie pinot noir shone in a competition against top French burgundies. Robert Drouhin, of the well-known Burgundian family, responded by opening a major vineyard in the Willamette Valley. The Drouhin wines from Oregon have always been good, but not the best even if among the most expensive. I wonder if the hippie spirit (perhaps I should say contrarian individualism) that drove the early days in Oregon simply doesn’t translate perfectly into French. Anyway, members of the Drouhin family have collaborated with a new venture, called “Cloudline.” This is a bargain-priced Oregon pinot noir, made of grapes purchased from growers who have long worked with Domaine Drouhin Oregon and produced in consultation with Veronique Drouhin-Boss. Big Red has a lot of it. The Cloudline 2002 is a first-rate pinot for the stunningly low price of $15 – wine from the Domaine Drouhin itself costs three or four times as much. My notes on the Cloudline: “Deep red but not dark, nose of sweet cherries, a hint of gunpowder, a whiff of oak. Silk in the mouth, a long finish with notes of plum and prune. Not complex but pure and delicious.” The only question I had about the wine was the acidity on the finish, which was a little much for plain drinking. But at dinner, the same acidity made it work beautifully. (I thought the acidity was like a good Italian barbera, which can be sharp when you first taste it but then complements a meal perfectly.) If you serve this wine, your guests may not think you’re a wine guru but I bet they will think you have become a good cook. And if they find out how little you paid, they’ll be wanting investment advice too.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Last night, for fifty dollars as part of a benefit for the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, you could go to the “connoisseur room” of the Big Red Wine Festival at the Bloomington Convention Center. Ths is an annual event but I’d never been before. The ticket gave me the chance to sample some 59 different wines, ranging in retail price up to $120 a bottle. At first I found it really difficult to taste at all critically over such a huge range of wines. Fortunately a good idea struck me: drink Champagne, stupid! There were ten real Champagnes and a couple of other sparking wines to taste, and this is a manageable amount for an amateur like me. I find it surprising that, entirely apart from the alcohol, just the variety of tasting a dozen different wines is hard work for the taste buds. After the Champagnes, I tried a few other wines but they were closed books to my senses. I found three Champagnes I particularly liked. First, the Pommery Cuvee Louise. This was a big wine, with persistent bubbles and a lovely flavor of raspberries? Red currants? At $120 a bottle, I can hardly claim a discovery. But the $42 Egly-Ouriet Brut nonvintage Tradition was very similar and every bit as good. This is a big wine and it wants a lobster or a rich cheese. The other hit was the Trouillard Brut Cuvee du Fondateur 1995. This $60 wine, unlike the Egly-Ouriet, is made entirely from white grapes and tastes of pears and peaches, with notes of toast, nuts, and yeast. It doesn’t want a lobster at all. It just wants someone to drink it. It makes sense to have a bottle of this chilled and waiting. That way, you’re ready for a friend to finish a book, for someone you love to stop by, for your grandchildren to be born. If all you have cold is some beer, all you’re ready for is mowing the lawn.