Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:28 am

The Vanity Article: My Top Ten Producers in the World (The First Five)

The title is vain I know but my twist might be a bit different I hope, as being around wine since I have been 20 it’s almost all I know. Many people not in the business get into wine later in life and go at it from a pure qualitative perspective. Which is fine. At that point in their lives, they have careers, families and numerous responsibilities and want the best that they can afford and for it to deliver at meals, tastings and casual evenings in front of the television. It is a way to have a wonderful and fulfilling wine life.

I am a bit of a different nut. I have always had some sort of obsession in life, which fits in perfectly well with my detail-oriented personality. Minutiae rules my life and is a factor in what I enjoy and why. Not the only factor but a pretty big one. From Baseball Cards to wine and the many iterations in between, I have had obsessions. And when I get the obsession, no detail gets left unturned. Currently it is cactus and succulent raising in my apartment in midtown Manhattan and it has been a blast.

That attention to detail has always shaped my outlook on wine. I am known as one of the biggest wine geeks out there because I love the minutiae. The big concepts say like the 1855 Classification, the complexity of Burgundy interest me too but I am much happier booking a plane to the Mittlerhein and exploring that region for a week and being all the more richer for it. In minutiae, I find there is wonderful beauty.

That is how I look at my top ten producers in the world. Some are there for just being absolute top-notch quality, others because of quality mixed with memorable visits to the estates, some for absolutely amazing consistency year in year out, some for the cerebral qualities they can assume and as a result make me really think, some for amazing quality at an easy price and some for other reasons yet unknown. Yet I continually gravitate to all of these producers, well except one, due to price restrictions, but that would never stop me from adding a wine to the list. Many people say the devil is in the details but I say the beauty is in the details.

Here is the list with some brief thoughts. It is no particular order.

Joh Jos Prum, Mosel – The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the J.J, Prum estate has to be Katarina Prum. I had always loved the Prum wines, in fact, a 1993 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, was my German epiphany wine. Until 2006, which was before I visited the estate, it was always a pleasure to drink these startlingly pure, crystalline, and elegant like no other, concentrated and age-worthy wines. But like all great art it does take a while to get and fully understand these wines. I never got Jazz, for example, until around two years ago. I wanted to get it, I knew it was good but my interest was periphery. But something, something that you cannot control, just goes off inside you one day and you get it.
That happened with my first visit to the Prum estate with importer Rudi Wiest in 2006. Manfred and Katarina were there and we tasted through many wines over a tasting and a long dinner. Katarina was lovely. Very articulate, intelligent, astonishingly knowledgeable about the vineyards and just a pleasure to talk to. One of those people you just click with instantly. Talking to her, asking her questions and seeing her passion about her estate, the estate’s history had forever changed and enhanced my pleasure and understanding about the estate’s wines. The consistency from year to year is amazing. The winemaking, which is shrouded in mystery, has rarely changed and you can taste it, as the wines are true monuments to the vintages and vineyards they are sourced from. I visited two more times and as anybody who has every visited JJ Prum knows the wines are served blind and rarely do they let you spit. I think I have learned more about blind tasting at that estate than any other bind tasting experience ever. Is it Wehlen? Is it Graach? That is the usual first question although they throw in some Zelting and Bernkastel stuff every now and then. Even a Bernakasteler Lay once! If you’re wrong, which usually you are, Katarina explains the vintage and why it’s from that vintage, and then explaining this is classic Wehlen because of this and this. Plus you are sitting either in their lovely dining room or on the gorgeous patio, with wonderful flowers everywhere, as Katarina is a gardener, looking over the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, and you just think, can life get any better? Every time I open a bottle of Prum now, it completely transports me to a different place.

Bernard Baudry, Chinon – I have not visited the estate of Chez Baudry but had a lovely dinner with him and his wife Henriette in Soho. He barely speaks any English and I speak no French but that dinner is not one of the reasons I put Bernard Baudry on this list. The quality for the price is just top-notch and there are very few, if any estates, that can compete with Baudry for pure quality, terroir-focused, well-fruited and wonderfully ageable wines. I cherish my Baudry in my cellar like no other red wines. Once they are gone from the market they are gone. Try finding some ’96 “La Croix Boisse”. I challenge you! Because I’ll buy it from you if you can, but honestly you’d be better off keeping it yourself.
Baudry makes wines at all price-points from his easy-drinking, yet finely detailed Chinon Les Granges all the way up to, in my opinion, the top Chinon being made today, the “La Croix Boissee.” But in even in between these cuvees there are so many special wines. The earthy, gritty, tobacco infused “Les Grezeaux” which is a wine I always call his Graves. Many people consider this even better than his “La Croix Boissee” , but hey can you really have a favorite child? The purity in these wines is just so top-notch and the balance is impeccable. Of course the acidity is wonderful as this is my list. I have been known to been called an acid-freak in my day.
Then there is my satisfaction factor when I open a Baudry. It satisfies me in a way that few wines do. I know it will be good and interesting and my expectations are never high, as they are not for any wine, but the wines always deliver and at Bernard Baudry they are making better wines all the time. Each vintage is better and better and they don’t try to make the wine to outperform the vintage. They roll with the punches, I am not an ’03 Loire red guy but Baudry made great wines with wonderful acidity and freshness, which were the two things I thought the vintage, had the least of. Just a great, great producer

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Vosne-Romanee – I tend to gravitate towards smaller producers, not that DRC is not small, but smaller in name and prestige. But I have tasted a good amount of DRC, albeit mostly young, but the high quality is something that really makes you step back. I tasted the 2000’s, 2001’s, 2002’s all when they were first released and had a bottle here and there of older stuff but in no way do I consider myself a seasoned DRC drinker. Not many people do. I still never had that older DRC epiphany moment, until one night, on my birthday, I got handed a glass of ’53 La Tache and had that moment. What makes these wines special to me? Again it is consistency and an attention to detail. These are by far amongst the most detailed Burgundies I have ever tasted. From top to bottom the wines have amazing complexity and no hard edges. They are like spider silk in the mouth and are constantly evolving to places you cannot even imagine once the first glass is poured for you. The perfumes are overwhelming. The fruit is so pure and deep and the hierarchy of flavor from the Echezeaux to the Romanee-Conti to the Montrachet is awe-inspiring, Wines that live up to the hype. I have had a couple bottles of not-so-great DRC, (as with Prum, Baudry and Rudolf Furst), but I am not looking for perfection but experience. Bad experiences, as we all know, are good experiences in context, and vice versa.
The first time I had the opportunity to taste the wines it was a large tasting in New York where all the journalists, retailers and restaurateurs are invited to taste the new vintage with Aubert de Villaine speaking. The 2000’s were tasted at Robert Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. A lovely, classical room and as soon I entered, the perfume of the DRC was almost too much. All the glasses of the 100 or so people in attendance had been pre-poured, so in the air was the most heavenly scent of anything I had ever smelled up to that point in my life.
I have never bought a bottle of DRC in my life and have none in my cellar and odds are never will. But I know I will taste more and look forward to those bottles and even I never taste another drop for the rest of my life, the tastes that I have had will resonate in my memory forever.

Georges Descombes, Morgon – Probably the one producer on my list that has only come into my life within the past three years. I remember exactly how. When I was working at Chambers Street Wines, we had a Descombes Morgon, 2005 vintage, on the shelf. It was a lovely wine, very textured; elegant and well fruited with a lovely minerality. I liked it but preferred Lapierre, Thevenet and the ilk. My salesman called me and said I needed some of the 2005 Descombes Morgon Vieilles Vignes. I trusted him, even though the price was a bit high, but he convinced me and I bit the bullet. The wine did not show up for around three months. But once it arrived I quickly took a bottle home and my love affair with the wines of Georges Descombes began. The wine was just so deep and haunting. So many layers and so much going on. Opened, closed, opened again. All the signs of a great and complex wine. Next came the Brouilly VV, the Regnie VV and the Chiroubles VV. All sensational wines with outrageous purity, terroir-accuracy, and ageability. Immediately, out of seemingly nowhere came the brilliant Beaujolais’ of Georges Descombes.
Georges Descombes makes Beaujolais according to the Chauvet methods, which are also the methods that the Gang of Four (Lapierre, Breton, Thevenet, Foillard) use. Unfined, Unfiltered, natural yeasts, old-vines, picking a bit later than usual, wood (not new), low or minimal addition of sulfur are the mantra at Descombes. A great way to make wine and for my palate if you don’t go too extreme they are some of the most enjoyable and contemplative wines the world has to offer. The reason I love Georges Descombes is because I think he pulls off “natural” wine better than anybody.

Rudolf Furst, Franken – Burgstadt, where the wonderful somewhat hidden gem of a winery Rudolf Furst inhabits, might be one of the most beautiful, idyllic and classic small German wine country towns. While the Mosel can be breathtaking, Franconia has a different charm of mostly dry wines, very quaint villages, deep forests, and the feeling of being somewhere old, historic, a bit eccentric and utterly honest.
I had only tasted Paul Furst’s wines passingly at large industry tastings and it was not until a visit to his winery in Burgstadt that I got the magic that goes on here. After a morning at Wirsching, a stop in Wurtzberg to see the Residenz, and an extremely stormy ride up, we arrived 5 hours late for our appt at the Furst Estate. It was around 10:00 PM I’d say.
It was ok though, we were with Rudi Wiest and he calls the shots in Germany. Sebastian, Paul’s son was there to greet us, and he had a table that was slowly gathering dust with glasses and spittoons ready for us to taste. The group was tired, I was tired but that did not matter as these wines brought me back to life. I had never tasted such lively, tension-filled, dry Rieslings as these. I was woken up in an almost jolt. The first wine, which was not even a Riesling, but a Muller-Thurgau, blew me away. Right after that, I knew I had arrived some place special. The scintillating acid structures of these elegant and lithe wines were a wonderful juxtaposition, the achingly beautiful minerality and the just plain clarity of these wines was a taste to behold. The reds were wonderful too. Spatburgunder at its finest with alluring textures and aromas, with bottles as old as 1997 stealing the show. The best was saved for last with the rare Fruhburgunder. WThere are maybe 20 hectares planted in Germany, and it was a dazzling wine.
There was a follow up visit the next year and it was day so I could see the gorgeous Burgstadter Centgrafenberg vineyard that surrounded the Furst Estate and finally meet Paul. He drove us around the vineyards in a jeep and nearly killed us, at least in the opinion of this car-cringey New Yorker. I have rarely been disappointed by a bottle from this winery and do hope they get more recognition for what they are doing on a more global scale.

Please check back soon for the second installment of My Top 10 Producers.

In the meantime, what are your top 10 producers? Why? What is your best wine story that is connected to a particular producer? Did you propose over an old bottle of Dom Perignon? Close a deal with a bottle of Haut Brion or just have a great meal with friends in a bistro with a bottle of Cru Beaujolais from Chermette?
Lyle Fass
 
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby matcohen » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:07 am

Kartauserhof - great tasting room and really different wines.
Jakob Schneider - great, young guy, love his wines across the board - I wish I could get more of his lineup
JJ Prum - Katerina is a remarkable person and the wines are terrific

Huet - terrific wines
Foreau - I love just sitting down and sipping their wines all night

Coudert - very interesting, meaty wines
Descombes - I love that he produces in some many villages.

Occhipinti - great wines, Arianna is tres cool.

Texier - I love his wines and he and his wife are tres cool

Puffeney - great wines and terrific values
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:18 am

Good post.

Occhipinti huh? Just the wines there? :twisted:

Not gonna give away my next five but some are on your list and some are not.

Huet is a no-brainer as no one really comes close, but you think Foreau does it seems. Love the wines but not a world-beater in my book like Huet. Less pure and more rugged but they do have their charm.

Karthauserhof - I love. Surely makes my top 25. Like Ruwer mineral water that just happens to be made out of Riesling grapes.

Descombes we agree as Prum. To disclose fully Matt was with me at Prum on one of my visits.

I love Texier wines and he another top 20 guy no doubt.
Lyle Fass
 
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby CorkPullerPHL » Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:30 pm

Allain Graillot: Fantastic, meaty Crozes with a perfect balance of polish and rusticity.

Olga Raffault: the '85 Les Picassses is the best Cab Franc I've ever tasted. i could drink the '89 everday for the rest of my life.

Bruno Giacosa: Terroir in a bottle.

Salon: Not my favorite champagne for everyday drinking, but having tasted 5 decades worth of Salon's, this is the best bubbly made. (Honorable mention goes to Monte Rossa for making truly world class bubbles in Italy)

Trimbach: For Freddy Emile, my dessert island wine.

If asked again tomorrow, I'd have 5 different producers. I'm not sure how i didn't include a single german producer.

Side note. I take Foreau over Huet. I've had too many "great" Huet's that didn't live up to their hype. Foreau impresses every time
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby matcohen » Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:32 pm

Foreau - I like the animalistic nature of the wines.

re Occhipinti ... no comment. :-)
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Jun 04, 2009 1:21 pm

CorkPullerPHL wrote:Allain Graillot: Fantastic, meaty Crozes with a perfect balance of polish and rusticity.

Olga Raffault: the '85 Les Picassses is the best Cab Franc I've ever tasted. i could drink the '89 everday for the rest of my life.

Bruno Giacosa: Terroir in a bottle.

Salon: Not my favorite champagne for everyday drinking, but having tasted 5 decades worth of Salon's, this is the best bubbly made. (Honorable mention goes to Monte Rossa for making truly world class bubbles in Italy)

Trimbach: For Freddy Emile, my dessert island wine.

If asked again tomorrow, I'd have 5 different producers. I'm not sure how i didn't include a single german producer.

Side note. I take Foreau over Huet. I've had too many "great" Huet's that didn't live up to their hype. Foreau impresses every time


Great list. These lists fascinate me more for the reasons than the actual producers listed. If someone posted Yellowtail or Jean-Luc Colombo, both of whom I dislike immensely, and related their passion on why they love those wines, I would be into it.

I have had less "great Huets" but my hit rate has been higher I suspect. The three times I have had 1971 Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec each one was better than the next. Have not had much older alas. Have had older Foreau and I think they are best drunk a bit on the younger side as they get a bit broader as they age from my experience. FWIW I might prefer Foreau in the moelleux category as the acidity tends to be electric in his sweet stuff. Less so than few Huet desert-style wines I have had.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Alexander » Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:51 pm

Looking at my top-5 list, I can't help notice how blatantly it exposes the influence my favorite importers have had on me in my last 8yrs in the business: Started w/ K. Lynch in college, Moved on to Skurnik...and am on the tail end of a Dressner obsession. Kinda pathetic. Anyhow, here goes in no particular order :

Weingut Kurt Darting -
All the wines have this playful, flamboyant character that I love. Sometimes they're complete dogs but that's part of the fun. ...not to mention that dude always seems to be wearing rubber cover-alls and covered in shoot when I visit, which cracks me up. Unpretentious and affordable wines, unpretentious people, and a zillion crazy varietals and styles to choose from.

Domaine Tempier -
Still my all time favorite rose'. Add to that how blown away I am every time I stumble upon back vintages of single vineyard reds (pre-millenial, at least). Zero hipster points here and there's been a definite change in style/quality recently, but I dig this stuff.

C&P Breton-
I don't think I need to explain (or apologize for) this readers of this thread.

Emidio Pepe -
Integrity and amazing, inimitable wines. Worked with a 4-decade vertical at my last somm gig and really fell in love with their stuff...and the challenge of selling 'em to coked up Gaja/Tignanello drinkers.

Lopez de Heredia -
Not always the reds, but the rose' and whites are always stellar and never hard to track down.

-AL
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Keith Levenberg » Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:21 pm

With allowances for regional diversity:

A.J. Adam
Alzinger
Clos Rougeard
DRC
Haut-Brion
Lopez de Heredia
Renaissance
Giuseppe Rinaldi
Salon

I will leave a slot open for Comte Peraldi which could be on this list if I ever get any more (hint, nudge)
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Andrew Hall » Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:50 pm

Alexander wrote:
Emidio Pepe -
Integrity and amazing, inimitable wines. Worked with a 4-decade vertical at my last somm gig and really fell in love with their stuff...and the challenge of selling 'em to coked up Gaja/Tignanello drinkers.

Lopez de Heredia -
Not always the reds, but the rose' and whites are always stellar and never hard to track down.

-AL


Bang! There are two of mine.

Others like Gravner are tougher - maybe not absolute in quality, but always a vibration and the sense of compulsion behind the bottle.

Since this thread is so totally un-American, Sean Thackrey. First producer whose wines I tracked with obsessive intent.

Raveneau. Too obvious, I am sure.

Cotat. All of them - I can't keep them straight and they both produce different but compelling expressions.

Paolo Bea. That Sag has rocked our world more than a few time and the whites are bizarrely sexy.

A.

PS Just noticed Keith got Haut Brion. Almost put that in there since Bdx was getting no love. I agree - always elegant and alternately revealing/mysterious. Have found a new love for LMHB lately though.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 6-4-09; Top Ten Producers

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:06 pm

Great stuff.

Keith,

I expected all from you except I am puzzled with Adam. I love the wines but have had more misses than hits. But when they hit, they hit me over the head they are mindbogglingly good. A 2007 Hofberg Spatlese was average and lowish in acidity last night.

Rennaissance is a must for anyone who hasn't tried it. I saw someone commented there was no CA love. Rennaissance is top notch and easily the most interesting earth-driven California Cabernet out there,

Keith, If I also may ask, a brief one or two sentence on why you like each guy on your list. Always a treat coming from a wordsmith such as yourself.

Alexander,

Great piece on darting. Perfectly describes the essence of the winery with a little personal touch. When he bombs he does bomb hard though. But I love the wines. Had a '77 Spielberg Spatlese, actually two bottles that were lovely and help up well. The Rieslaners are crazy good when the vintage has zingy acidity. His Portugieser Rose is a favorite of mine too.

I agree on Lopez, the reds can be inconsistent bit the whites and the roses always blow me away.
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