Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dry Spätlese, A Purple Dwarf, And Recalling An Adventure In Maury

Karl and Elaine, my friends, former colleages, and tasting buddies from the good old days at The Usual Suspects, came to dinner Saturday night. The Chef was in a mood to impress, so there was, as we say in our house, Cuisine. First were home-made noodles made with white anchovies, "sweated" sweet white onion, walnuts, and pecorino. This was followed by a grilled pork loin with grilled peaches. Dessert was a panna cotta made extra-light by the addition of egg whites, then finished with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. This is one of the many advantages of being married to someone who trained at Cordon-Bleu. It's a tough life, I know.

Trying to pair a wine with the first course drove me a little crazy, although after the fact I probably would have gone with a big Gruner, the Tegernseerhof Bergdistel, or similar. But at that moment, there was nothing appropriate in the cellar. What I did find, however, turned out to be all right with the pasta, and completely appropriate with the main dish.

Dr Bürklin-Wolf Ruppertsberger Gaisböhl Riesling Spätlese Trocken 1999: This was a gift; I'd forgotten I had it. A muted golden color in the glass. The first aroma--no surprise--was of diesel and slate, followed by a kind of high note of mint, and then the beginnings of intense ripe yellow fruit. After a few minutes, what I can only call a profound aroma of peach, as though I was somehow inside the fruit, began to assert itself. In the mouth, the initial burst of acidity is shocking. Then more peach and apricot, and citrus, and minerals, all in a richly textured form. At the end, a long finish, just off-dry, driven in part by fruit and in part by acidity. I don't have as much experience with Riesling as I'd like, and most of it has been with wines from the Mosel or from the Donauland in Austria. As a rule of thumb, I approach such wines expecting elegance and nuance. This wine from the Pfalz is a powerhouse! (Ruppertsberg is a village just a bit east of the huge Palatinate Forest in southwestern Germany) On the heels of a wine like this, it is hard to resist the notion put forward by certain individuals I know that Riesling is the planet's most expressive white grape.

After the main course, the first bottle was gone, and as conversation was moving along, it only seemed natural to open something else, especially a bottle with a little story attached.

Domaine de la Pertuisane "Le Nain Violet" 2004: When it first appeared, this was a second label for the Domaine, created by two English winemakers, Mark Hoddy and Richard Case. Recent vintages of the wine are 100% Grenache; the 2004 was a blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Carignan, and 15% Syrah. The nose on this is full to bursting with roasted herbs, licorice, and cooked strawberry and raspberry. In the mouth, the fruit is dark, rich, and full, yet saved from fruit-bombdom by fresh-tasting acidity. The finish is long and filled with fruit and Asian spice.

Ever since I visited Maury in 2006, I have been a fan of this wine and wines made in this style. Jancis Robinson has done a better job than I ever could explaining the appeal of these wines. I brought this particular bottle home in my backpack (yea, those were the days before the idiotic three-ounce rule). Before visiting, I had conversed via e-mail with Richard Case, hoping to arrange a visit to the Domaine. His first response: "As long as you realize that the Domaine is in our garage…" In the event, we were unable to meet, but he told me there was a cooperative in Maury where the wines could be purchased. In fact, there were two shops, across the street from each other, and we went into the wrong one first. Politely directed to the correct one, I went up to the door and found it…locked. I looked in the window and could see bottles of Le Nain Violet on the shelf. I also could see all the way to the back of the shop, where the back door stood open. I was around the block, psyching myself up for climbing a fence and getting past the dog to get in there and get me some of that wine, damn it, when a Peugeot station wagon, driven by the owner, pulled up behind me. I think she was asking me what I was doing, but my French is not so good, especially when I've ben preparing for breaking-and-entering, but I did manage to wave my arms at her and say "Un moment, sil vous plait!" and run back to the main street looking for my French-speaking friends to explain all. And that's how this particular bottle came into my possession.

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