Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Michel Gahier Arbois Trousseau "Grands Vergers" 2009

Michel Gahier lives in the center of the commune of Montigny-les-Arsures, just north of the central town of Arbois, which is in turn the northernmost of the Jura appellations. Montigny’s marl (crumbly, pebble-y Jurassic limestone and clay) is a medium in which the Trousseau grape thrives. M. Gahier tends 15 acres, of which a bit less than half are planted to 80-year-old Trousseau vines. The remainder is planted with Chardonnay and Savagnin. “Grands Vergers” is the name of the parcel of land (lieu dit) where they’re grown. Although Trousseau is not as widely planted as Poulsard, it is considered by some to be the "main" red grape of the Jura,  as it has a bit more heft and color than it's thinner-skinned rival.  It is obvious that Gahier has benefited from having Jacques Puffeney (aka The Pope Of Jura) as a next-door neighbor. He’s not certified, but he is an organic producer. He picks by hand, one parcel at a time. He gives the grapes a period of cold maceration, then lets the wine ferment unaided for about a month. His wines are bottled unfiltered with minimal addition of sulfites. The wine is aged in old foudres and barrels.

Michel Gahier Arbois Trousseau “Grands Vergers” 2009: 
I don’t know about you, but I get nervous in the presence of a vin de garde with minimal sulfites added. Even more nervous when I know the wine made a bumpy transition from Asheville up to Northampton. So when the cork came out, and the wine shimmered in the glass, smelling of roses, alpine herbs, and a bit of orange peel, the relief was palpable. On first sip, it was earthy, with stemmy black fruit--yes, even though the grapes were destemmed--with astringent tannins, some sherry-like tang from deliberate oxidation, and a mineralic, bitter finish. After some time in the glass, the tannins soften, the oxidative quality recedes, and the fruit just blooms: pretty cherry and berry flavors with notes of forest floor. We drank it alongside some very fresh codfish and it showed like a Cote d’Or country cousin, true to its alpine terroir. Imported by Neal Rosenthal.

The experience was bittersweet, in that this was the last of the bottles purchased at the now long-defunct Vinsite, a brief, brave experiment in retailing only “natural” wines.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cuvée du Chat Beaujolais-Villages: Mature, Absolute, Thrilling Love

Joseph Chamonard was probably the least-known of Beaujolais' Gang of Five (Yes, Kermit Lynch dubbed them the “Gang of Four” but left out Chamonard, which doubtless explains his low profile). Along with Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton,  Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard, he helped show that there was far more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. For many years, he produced world-class Morgon from his 10-acre estate in Corcelette, just a short drive northwest of the town of Villié-Morgon. Chamonard's daughter Genevieve married Jean-Claude Chanudet, himself a proponent of minimal-intervention winemaking, and in 1990, after Chamonard's death, they took over management of the estate. In 1998, the property was renamed “Domaine Chanudet.”

Chanudet, like his late father-in-law, has never bothered to obtain “biologique” certification. Nonetheless, he operates his vineyard organically, picks later than most of his neighbors, relies only in part on the typical carbonic maceration technique, and uses indigenous yeasts to start his conventional fermentation. He makes minimal use of sulfur.

His Cuvée du Chat is the result of a partnership with Mathieu Lapierre, son of the late Marcel; the wine is made with fruit from properties they own in the Morgon and Fleurie appellations. The label reads “Vinifié par  Jean-Claude Chanudet.”

Chanudet Cuvée du Chat Beaujolais-Villages 2011:
Ruby-colored in the glass, this begins with aromas of roses, cherries, raspberries, faint cocoa note. In the mouth there are flavors of soft, deep, fresh red fruits, and an almost glossy mouthfeel. Citrusy notes and tannins appear at the back of the mouth, with a hint of grilled orange peel on the persistent finish.

The wine is charming, and much more. After a glass, I found myself thinking of a scene from The Russia House, in which Barley Blair (Sean Connery) declares his love for the beautiful Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer), saying “It's like nothing I have ever known: it's unselfish love, grown up love. You know it is. It's mature, absolute, thrilling love.” Please understand: I'm not saying this is a great wine, just one that evokes far more than a passing infatuation. Imported by Savio Soares, priced at $21.99 at Table Wine in Asheville. There is one bottle left of the 2011, so if you want some, you'd best get on it now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It is good to begin well: Champagne Grongnet Special Club 2008

We didn't get around to properly toasting the New Year with bubbly until  noon today, popping the cork on a deluxe bottle from a favorite Récoltant-Manipulant producer, Cécile Grongnet.
She's based in the village of Étoges, just south of the Côte de Blancs, where she and her father Guy have a small property, just under 35 acres. She's a member of the Club Trésors de Champagne, a group of 26 like-minded grower/makers who occasionally produce a prestige cuvée called “Special Club.” Click here to find out how the club works.

Champagne Grongnet Special Club 2008: This was fermented in foudres (1,200 gallon oak casks) and left on the lees for a good long while before bottling. I don't know the exact proportions, but since Grongnet is highly regarded for Chardonnay, I'll guess it is the highest proportion of the blend. On the nose: orange zest, fresh pear, dried honey, almond, and lots of lees-y, toasty notes, followed by flavors of pear, lemon, and honey, a strong core of acidity, mouthfilling texture (thanks to time on lees), and a long mineralic finish. Like her regular NV bottling, the attraction is one of balance and finesse more than power. It was a fine brunch accompaniment, and the feeling that we had begun 2014 well brightened the outlook of all at the table. Happy New Year! (This is about $60 at the Asheville Wine Market.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Whaddaya Drinkin' New Year's Eve?

A quick drive by of bubbly stuff for the New Year. All but the last are pretty widely available.

Under $15: Gruet. Nathalie and Laurent Gruet, the sparkling wine geniuses of Alberquerque, New Mexico. I can't think of anything else of this quality in this price range.

$20-30: Domaine Hubert Clavelin "Brut-Comté" Cremant du Jura. Stick a bottle of this into a tasting of typical NV Champagnes and this will pass muster without a murmur. It's 100% chardonnay, and made in exactly the same way as the real stuff, and tastes that way, too.

$30-$60: The truth is, a non-vintage bottle from almost any of the Grande Marque houses will do. I'm partial to Louis Roederer, but the standard is pretty high across the board.

Lotto winners and hedge fund managers: Hard to argue with Krug. But for about $175, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle achieves a similar luxe style. Eb at the Asheville Wine Market says it was the hit of a tasting that included Dom and some other high-end stuff.

Geeky: Champagne Aubry Nombre d'Or Sablé Blanc des Blancs. Note: I've never seen, much less tasted, a bottle of this stuff. But I really, really want to. I fear I don't get enough Arbanne and Petit Meslier in my regular diet. Barring that, an old favorite: Champagne José Michel, Pinot Meunier. Proudly made from Champagne's underdog grape, and just delicious. I think Josh still has some on the shelf.

PS: I'll be pouring at Table Wine on New Year's Eve; not sure yet what the lineup will be, but I'm confident it will be great. Noon to 5 p.m. Stop by and say hello.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Brief Meditation On "Natural" Wine

 Somebody posted a query about "natural" wines and what anyone though of them. I wrote a response, and thought it might be okay to break with the usual wine reviews and post it here, too.

I remember tasting Thierry Puzelat's "Le Telquel" for the first time and being startled at how alive it seemed in the glass. Not long afterward, I learned that if you got 9 good bottles in a case of 12, you were to consider yourself fortunate. Then I had a conversation with a friend in the biz, who wondered whether Puzelat had any notion of the attrition rate on his wine.

In the years gone by, I have purchased any number of wines imported by Louis/Dressner or Jenny & Francois--not inexpensive wines, either--which turned out to be fizzing with refermentation or with the burnt-hair stink of reduction, or varnishy, or just plain unpalatable.

To put the best possible face on it, I suppose it is possible that the people who made these wines had no concept of the rigors of not just the trans-ocean but the U.S. transcontinental distribution chain. I prefer to think they did not just ignore the reality of it. But I don't know. The wines were bad, and they were bad because the winemaker had put dogma before quality, as promoted by Nicolas Joly, they guy who thinks wine must first be true and then be good. Sorry, I'm not having any. I don't ask wine to make me virtuous; I want it to taste good.

Even so, the fact of that first, startling encounter with a well-made and properly stored biodynamic wine remains strong in my memory. Enough to encourage me still to tempt fate from time to time with one of Joly's Coulee De Serrant bottles. (Opened a 2004 recently--just a touch of VA, and some astoundingly exotic fruit.)

At the other extreme, I've tasted many, many deluxe bottles from the Napa Valley that appeared to have been adulterated with boysenberry syrup. And more than one or two "garagiste" wines from Bordeaux. You know what I'm talking about, and you know it is why I still have murder in my heart for The Wine Advocate. (Only in my heart, Uncle Bob, only in my heart...)

The issue isn't whether something is natural or unnatural. It's whether the wine is good to drink. To use my preferred example, most people would be shocked if they knew how Champagne was really made. For the large houses, their NV bottling is not so much wine as it is a beverage. Economics rules all; growing the grapes and making the product are done in the most risk-free way possible. (To this day, I look at the chapter on quality in Tom Steveson's World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine and see the headline "Quality Begins In The Vineyard" and cringe.)

And yet. And yet: The big houses crank out a reliable, and reliably tasty, product, year after year. They are not interested in terroir, their selling points are consistent style, image, and strength of distribution.

Things are changing in Champagne. These days, the Recoltant-Manipulant, the guy who grows his own fruit on his own land and makes the wine himself, is ascendant. He is not interested in making a consistent product, but in making the best of whatever nature gives him. This is admirable, even if it does not always result in a wine that much resembles what the big houses make.

I believe, then, that what matters most is not whether a winemaker follows a particular philosophy, but his intent: Are you making a beverage, or are you making wine? Sometimes a beverage--like a bottle of Mumm's--is just the thing. But for the most part I prefer wine, myself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charles Baur Edelzwicker 2011

Armand Baur was the first in the Baur family to vinify and bottle wine. The Baurs have cultivated vines for several generations, on 30 acres in Eguisheim, of which about a quarter are in the grand cru vineyards of Eichberg and Pfersigberg. The soil is mostly marl: clay mixed with limestone; it is hard, but crumbly, and the limestone provides good drainage. Sandstone is also present. The Eichberg vineyard in particular is known for Gewurztraminer.

Charles Baur Vin d'Alsace Edelzwicker 2011: The nose teases with hints of tropical fruit, green apple, spice, and a whiff of floral notes. In the mouth, the first impression is of dried honey and ripe pear; as the wine moves to the back of the mouth, bright citrus and green apple flavors take over, creating a pleasant balance. The texture is just a bit creamy. Mineralic and appley notes carry the finish. This was made from 50% pinot blanc, 40% Sylvaner, and 10% Gewurztraminer. All fruit was hand-harvested and hand-sorted; prolonged fermentation was temperature-controlled, and the wine was left on its lees for a few months, then bottled. It paired beautifully with moderately spicy Chinese-style pulled pork. At $12.99 (Asheville Wine Market) this is a very good value, as are the other Baur wines, including a pinot blanc and a Crémant d'Alsace that is supposed to be scrumptious.

 P.S.: For those who've wondered: The difference between Edelzwicker and Gentil is that the former has AOC status; the latter does not.

Oh, and check this out: A cork made by the French firm Diam Bouchage, guaranteed to have no cork taint:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dafnios: Drink This Wine Or It Will Die Of Loneliness!

From the Department of Lost or Nearly-Lost Causes:

While Greek wines have become more visible in the United States (ten years ago, being in the Euro-Zone was a plus), most of the attention has been paid to whites. Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini shows up on many lists these days, and with good reason: With it's bright citrus and mineralic character, it's easy to love.

Reds are another story. For one thing, it takes most Americans a moment or two to form the names of the two principal red grapes. “Xinomavro” and “Agiorgitiko” do not flow trippingly off the American tongue. For another, the former can be hugely tannic, and the latter doesn't really have a clear identity: It can be aromatic and fresh-tasting when made for immediate consumption; spicy, smoky, and a bit tough when made for ageing.

And then there is Liatiko, a red grape that is native to the island of Crete. I'd never heard of it until I saw a wine called Dafnios on the by-the-glass list at Table in fabulous downtown Asheville a while back.

Dafnios is a wine from the Dafnés appellation in central Crete, made by Nikolas Douloufakis, whose grandfather Dimitris  began cultivating grapevines and making wine in 1930. Liatiko is native to Crete (and no relation to the Italian grape Aleatico, with which it is sometimes confused). Douloufakis ages it in oak for nine months before release.

Domaine Douloufakis “Dafnios” Liatiko 2010: In the glass, it could easily pass for a red from the Jura: Pale red, with a touch of brown at the rim. The nose has floral and spicy notes, followed by flavors of red and black berries, a light, smooth texture, and relatively low acidity. If you like, think of this as a Poulsard that speaks with a Southern Italian accent. (I was chatting with Mike Tiano not long ago about it, and even he said it was hard to describe. I'm doing the best I can...)

I found it to be very food-friendly, and a pleasant change of pace from other lighter-bodied reds. It is also priced nicely; it is on the shelf at the Asheville Wine Market for $15.99.

Should you find yourself at Table anytime in the near future, I urge you to go ahead and gamble the $8 or whatever it is for a glass of this; the staff tells me I'm the only one who ever orders it, and if that remains the case, it will doubtless fall off the list, which would be a shame.