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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Windows on the World
Text and photos Charles W. Borden

Kevin Zraly was the first wine steward and wine director of what was one of Manhattan’s top restaurants, Windows on the World. The restaurant, with its 50,000-bottle cellar atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center, disappeared forever on September 11, 2001. During Zraly’s years there and since, he has instructed more than 18,000 students in his famous Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, and his book by that title is America’s top-selling wine edition. His semiannual wine course in New York, which costs $995 and gives students the opportunity to taste $4,000 worth of wine, is always sold out.

Two regular Knights of the Vine, Kim and Jim Balaschak, invited me to the first session of a Windows on the World Complete Wine Course at their Moscow home. This would be a serious wine event; each of the guests had ordered a copy of the Zraly book and was prepped to cover the first chapter, French white wines. All had been instructed by Kim to eat light beforehand and avoid perfumes and cologne. Jim found each of Zraly’s suggested wines, which were displayed as we gathered around a large table laden with assorted glasses and light snacks. One of the cheeses was Adygeysky, named for the autonomous republic of Adygea, located in the Krasnodar region in the south of Russia. This light, soft white cheese (which makes a good substitute for paneer in Indian food) was a surprisingly good, neutral accompaniment for wine tasting.

Betsy and Kim studying the map of wine regions

More, please

The first stop was Alsace, with a Riesling from Maison F.E. Trimbach, one of France’s oldest wineries, founded in 1626. Alsace is located in northeast France adjacent to Germany, and the dry Riesling demonstrated the neighbor’s influence. Other good Alsace wines, traditionally served in a glass with a green stem, are made from Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat d’Alsace grapes. While the Trimbach Riesling was light, fruity, and very pleasant, guests noted that it lacked the “sweet” character of Rhine Rieslings.

We next headed west to the Loire Valley, south and west of Paris, an area noted for its fruity and complex Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc wines. However, the first wine was a simple Muscadet, made with Melon de Bourgogne grapes. The name is derived from this wine’s slightly musky taste, though it is also noted for its citrusy character, a good accompaniment to shellfish.

Comparing opinions

This is a good time

Vouvray, which is one of my favorite whites, is hard to find in Moscow. Our third wine, a Vouvray from Marc Brédif of Chinon, is one of the few available in Moscow and hence on many Moscow wine lists. The 2006 vintage example we tried carries a score of 88 in Wine Spectator, which described it as “generous, with medium-weight notes of fig, quince, and lime followed by a mouthwatering finish.”

Next, south to the Graves, one of the first vineyard areas of Bordeaux. The white we tried came from Chateau Carbonnieux, a 14th-century building constructed by Benedictine monks who planted the first vineyards on the site. White wines of Bordeaux are normally blends of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and this 2004 was a representative, if somewhat soft and unfocused example.

The remaining wines were Burgundies, which are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay grapes. The Burgundy region stretches from just north of Lyon in southeastern France north to Dijon. Many Burgundy wines are sold under the label of a “negociant,” who purchases grapes and wines from local growers and then blends and bottles finished wines. Wines sold by grower/producers carry the designation “domaine,” and such wines are labeled “mis en bouteille au domaine.”

Host Jim Balaschak doling out wine to (l to r) Kim Balaschak, Chris Einchcomb, Olga Hegner, Bun Einchcomb, and Bruno Hegner

The first Burgundy was a simple Chardonnay from Domaine Roulot in the Côte de Beaune district in the heart Burgundy. This wine was a good expression of the grape, with familiar oak. The second wine was a very pleasant Premier Cru from Chablis, a district that lies about 150 kilometers north of Beaune. Chablis is know for its crispy white wines, graded up from the simple Petite Chablis, to wines selected from around the district labeled Chablis, and then to the Premier Cru and top Grand Cru vineyards.

The next flight consisted of wines from areas considered by many to produce the world’s best white wines, Meursault and Montrachet in Côte de Beaune. Unfortunately, the first wine, Olivier Lefl aive Meursault Casses-Têtes 2001, was fairly oxidized. A Meursault this young should still be drinkable, which led to speculation about the handling of the wine, sometimes a problem with bottles sold in Moscow where transportation and storage conditions can be uncertain.

Then to the final and top wines of the night, a Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet 2005 and an Antonin Guyon Corton Charlemagne 2004, both just ready to drink or cellar well into Barack Obama’s second term. These drew cheers from the guests and the evening’s highest scores. The first is described by Wine Spectator as “ripe and bursting with apple, peach, and melon notes … Juicy and mouthfilling with a touch of oak on the finish,” and given an 88. Domain Antonin Guyon owns just 1.37 acres of south-facing vineyards of Corton Charlemagne, one of the top Grand Crus, and its grapes are handharvested, carried to the winery in small boxes, and sorted before fermentation in oak and 18 months of oak-barrel aging.

Now, I would give this a four...

At this point we had the opportunity to enjoy Kim’s considerable kitchen skills with two recipes from Le Cordon Bleu at Home — Gratin de Langoustines and Poulet Sauté al Grecque — before fi nishing with a 2001 Sauternes from Chateau Lamothe-Guignard. This chateau, which dates back to the 8th century, grows mostly Semillion grapes with small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Sauternes is France’s signature dessert wine, produced from grapes that have been attacked by botrytis mold just before harvest, which concentrates the juice and fl avors. Now we are ready for Lesson 2.

Knights of the Vine

Kim & Jim Balaschak
Betsy & Brad Steer
Debbie & Richard Leturno
Olga & Bruno Hegner
Bun & Chris Einchcomb
John Ortega
Charles Borden

Ortega Easy Rating System

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.

French White Wines Price (rubles) Price (USD) Rating
1 Trimbach Riesling 2005 (Alsace)
2 Muscadet 2006
3 Marc Bredif Vouvray 2006 (Loire)
4 Chateau Carbonnieux Bordeaux 2004 (Graves)
5 Roulot Meursault 2001 (Cote de Beaune)
6 Vaillons Chablis Premier Cru 2006
7 Olivier Leflaive Meursault Casses-Tкtes Meursault 2001
8 Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet 2005
9 Antonin Guyon Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2004
10 Lamot Guignard Sauternes 2001

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