Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #9

I walk in, take a vacant chair at the bar, see that the two customers to my right have their check and their plastic to-go box. By the time Elaine and Karl arrive, there will be space.

Kathy: Just you?

Dave: The whole crew is coming.

I can see a woman to my left, she is trying to decide what "whole crew" might mean, but despite my Ramones-era black leather jacket, it is very plain to see that I am not leading any kind of horde, barbarian or otherwise.

Les: French or Italian tonight?

Dave: I want some of that orange wine you were talking about last time. Do you still have it?

Les pauses, pretends to be deep in thought. I look at him in disbelief.

Les: Yes, I have it. You realize that this is "intellectual," which may not mean "enjoyable." It will probably be one of the strangest wines you've had.

Karl and Elaine arrive. I tell them the first wine will be Camillo Donati Malvasia dell' Emilia Frizzante IGT. Elaine, natch, is already hip to this wine, as it is a Dressner selection and she seems to know all of them, and she is of course game for anything, but she's dubious about Malvasia.

Elaine: It's not my favorite grape.

Les pours.

Dave: Wow. Clove.

Elaine: Clove and peach and ginger

Karl: Like biting into an orange seed.

Elaine: It's a very intense nose. Sometimes Malvasia reminds me of some household cleaning product. Citrasol orange spray?

Dave: There's this sort of artificial mint aroma here, too. Maybe that contributes to the "cleaning product" note.

Elaine: There should be a Malvasia-scented version of Febreze.

Karl: This is more like beer than wine. It's consistent all the way through.

Dave: Yeah, it's not exactly evolving is it? It does have a great nose.

Elaine: The finish is more interesting than the mid-palate.

We pause to view a montage of scenes from Elvis movies on the TV.

Les overhears our "cleaning product" comments and walks over.

Les: I could put out some soap scum for comparison.

Dave: It sure is orange. The color, I mean.

Elaine: This is actually pretty enjoyable, especially if you think of it as a beer rather than a wine. It's somewhere between a Lambic and a dry cider. I'd rather drink this than most beer. It's lighter, and I think it will go better with food.

Dave: (Looking up from plate of lamb sausage with mint yogurt sauce) It goes nicely with this!

Karl: What's the history of this? Is frizzante Malvasia typical in Emilia?

According to Dressner, there has been demi-sec Malvasia for some time, but Camillo Donati now makes this dry version. Camillo Donati's website doesn't appear to be available in English, and a Google search brings up a comment by a Norwegian guy who drank the Barbera version of their wine and reported that his wife thought it tasted like rat poison, and he wasn't sure he disagreed. All we know for sure is that they're organic/biodynamic, and they obviously don't believe in filtering or fining, since the Malvasia looked more like unfiltered wheat beer than sparkling wine.

The second wine on the bill was a 2006 Marco Cecchini Refosco "Rosso Autoclono." Unfortunately, we had used up all our faculties of discrimination on the Malvasia, and the most I can say is that it was very pleasant, and had all the nice ripe black cherry fruit and requisite almond scent in the nose. There was a bit of meaty funk also, which was intriguing. There was a little too much oak present for yours truly, but then that is often the case these days. I am sorry to report that I did not even once make reference (as I usually do in the presence of Refosco dal Peduncolo) to Pliny the Elder, who was a fan of Refosco and wrote about it in whatever it was people were reading instead of the Wine Advocate 2,000 years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Virtual Basque Dinner

We had to skip another week at The Usual Suspects, so we made up for it with a big dinner at our house. We ended up having a sort of Virtual Basque Dinner. Lucy made a Gigot d'Ageau Basquaise, from a recipe out of a Patricia Wells cookbook, with lots of garlic, smokey red pepper, and mustard. Margo made a squash-and-porcini bisque. Elaine brought a wild Savagnin, and Karl and Bryan and I tried to make ourselves useful; me by opening an M. Maillart Brut NV, which was very nice, but didn't really live up to the "just like Bollinger" hype.

Here we go:

Philippe Bouzereau, Meursault 1er Cru, 'Genevriéres' 1999:

Sort of a miracle to me that this was still in good shape: It still has its red markdown sticker from Marty's, where I bought it, probably in 2003. The nose was expressive for a Genevriéres, with apple, honeysuckle, and hazelnut notes. In the mouth, the fruit was vivid, without a trace of flabbiness. The finish was rich with minerals. It accompanied Margo's bisque of winter squash and porcini cream beautifully.

Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin L'Etoile 2002:

L'Etoile is a tiny appellation in the Jura, where the savagnin grape is fermented and aged like sherry. Elaine brought this bottle, and it was even brinier and nuttier than the '92 Château-Chalon we'd enjoyed last summer. Elaine proposed drinking it with the leg of lamb, which Lucy had made in the Basque style, with just a hint of smokey pepper. Some of us thought the briny character of the wine stood up well to the big flavors of the lamb, but when the chef called for a glass of red, we were ready for her…

Château Montus Madiran 2001:

Alain Brumont had a falling out with his father in 1980, and bought this property in Maumusson so he could make 100% Tannat wines the way he wanted to. He has long since patched things up with his family, and now Montus is more of a second label to Château Bouscassé. We didn't decant, and we probably should have--the wine was still young with some vigorous tannins at the finish. Even so, it was a great match with the lamb, being almost a Basque wine anyway, and showing much more polish than an Irouleguy, for example. The elegance of this otherwise big, burly wine may be attributable to Brumont's love affair with wood. He is said to be meticulous in his use of barrels, and I can believe it.

Lucy had scattered jellybeans across the dining room table (She started doing this a year or so ago, I forget why) and a certain amount of hilarity ensued at dinner's end, as we observed Bryan, the Gummi Bears fiend, scooping up all the Jelly Bellys he could reach...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Lo Sang Del Pais"

No hangin' at the Usual this week, Les and Kathy closed Monday night for a belated staff Christmas party. So I have some notes from the weekend on a truly wonderful bottle Les put before us from the moderately obscure appellation of Marcillac. It's in the Lot, a healthy drive east of Cahors, and it is the home of a grape widely known as fer servadou or braucol, and locally as mansois. According to Paul Strang, it may be a relative of cabernet franc. (There's a new edition available of his "South-West France: The Wines and the Winemakers," I recommend it highly.) It has some of the same grassy character, and aromas and flavors of soft red fruits, currants, and red berries, all of which were present in the wine we tasted:

Domaine Du Cros "Lo Sang Del Pais" Marcillac 2008: In addition to a lovely ripeness and freshness of fruit, this also displayed the iron mineral character that is characteristic of the terroir. The locals call the soil "rouergue" or "rougier," literally "red earth." The winemaker is Philippe Teulier. The wine's name, according to Strang, translates as "blood of the countryside." It is certainly a dark red, although not at all muddy. Teulier has a website worth a visit (click in the appropriate spot for a single, informative page of English). Frankly, the wine is a great introduction to the region: It is quite distinctive, easy to drink, and retails for well under $20.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #8

We've had a long layoff from the Usual Suspects, the holiday season created commitments for all of us, and back there in mid-December when I was working holiday hours at the shop and also working musician's hours with the band, I was pretty beat anyway.

But now we're back, North Carolina's no-smoking rule has gone into effect, Elaine got a big new job (we would never be so insensitive as to ask how much she's making, but I think it is quite a bit more than she was being paid to sell wine, since this is a much bigger job for a much bigger company), and--not that this was a big surprise--Elaine and Karl are dating. It's nice.

And I couldn't help but notice, looking around, that the smoking ban didn't seem to have chased away any regulars. And we can all stop complaining about smoke interfering with our enjoyment of the wines.

Anyway, we had a lot to catch up on, even though we see each other almost every day at the job, and I'm afraid conversation about the wine was sparse. Not that the wines weren't worth talking about: First up was a 2005 Condrieu from Éric Texier, which showed the characteristic nose of yellow fruit and orange blossom, as well as some hints of aromatic herbs. In the mouth, the wine managed to be both brisk with acidity and quite full. With food, a little creaminess showed up. This was very different from the '05 Delas I'd tasted a year or so back, which showed a lot of orange and a lot of creaminess, and was pretty straightforwardly in the off-dry camp. A creamsicle for grownups, I called it then.

We also discussed the generally poor results we got from cheap viognier. The only one we really liked was the '08 Domaine la Bastide, from Guilhem Durand, which had freshness and vivacity that was lacking in comparably priced wines (including the wildly popular Yalumba, which tastes to me of canned fruit salad). Elaine was of the opinion that good cheap viognier was essentially a matter of luck: "They're never consistent from year to year," she said.

Next up was a Canon-Fronsac from Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie 2000, which made Elaine smile. "I've been buying this wine for almost as long as I've been in the business," she said. Naturally, it is a Joe Dressner pick, although the bottle we had did not have the fancy artwork shown on the Louis/Dressner web site. I got a big snootful of chocolate mint on the nose, and Karl mentioned a kind of green wood note, "…like when you scratch the bark off a tree in early Spring." Elaine added that it was also really juicy, "…like blackberry juice, and raspberry juice." I agreed, and thought the juicy quality was worth remarking on since the wine was 99% merlot (plus a pinch of malbec), and some of my recent merlot-heavy Bordeaux notes had included references to "chocolate milk." In this wine, it's just a hint, not the whole show.
Happy New Year, everybody, thanks for looking at this, whoever you are, and no, I would never dream of inflicting a 10-best list on you. There are plenty of those already.