Sunday, August 29, 2010

Domaine Huet: Managing Expectations

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant 2005: Opened directly from the fridge, which was a mistake. The wine shows little when it is very cold. After about 15 minutes, a mild nose of honeysuckle, peach, and apricot, with a hint of mineral character. On the palate, ripe, juicy peach and apricot, big flavors yet elegant, with fruit well-balanced against acidity. I kept waiting for some big mineral character to emerge (this is a feature of many rave reviews), but it didn't really happen for us. This may have had something to do with context: Last night we drank some of that '08 Lucien Crochet Sancerre, which has enough mineral character to open a quarry.

This is  without doubt the best sparkling Vouvray that I've ever tasted, and at under $30 a bottle, it represents pretty good value. Yet I confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the experience of drinking it, because I'd already read so many rave reviews of Domaine Huet. Somehow I expected The Earth To Move. Unrealistic, of course, but there you go. Those doggone expectations, they get in the way sometimes.

Superior photography of Domaine Huet by Bertrand Celce at Wine Terroirs, from 2004.

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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Other Basque Country

Eric Asimov recently wrote about Txakolina, the wines from Getaria in Spain's Basque country. The region also extends into France. The appellation of Irouléguy occupies about 500 acres in the Pyrenees, 20 miles to the south of Biarritz.

A brief history, cribbed from Paul Strang: The region has been producing wine since the Middle Ages, although production very nearly ended when phylloxera arrived in 1912. A few vignerons kept the faith, and AOC status was granted in 1970. That was the year the Brana family moved to St. Jean Pied-du-Port, where Etienne Brana decided to go into the distilling business (the family produces top-quality eaux-de-vie to this day). His son, Jean, was friends with Jean-Claude Berrouet (Chateau Petrus), one thing led to another, and the first Domaine Brana wines appeared in 1989.

One of the Brana family's best wines is also one of the least expensive.

Domaine Brana Irouléguy "Ohitza" 2007: This is a blend of 50% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (Thanks to David McDuff for correcting the proportions). It opens with a nose of black currant, plum, sweet red pepper, and a hint of roast meat. The palate follows with more black and purple fruit, a hint of black licorice, and mouthwatering acidity. Tannat is famously tannic, but here the tannins seem fully ripe; they barely make themselves known until well into the finish. I also pick up a bit of mineral character.

Wines from Irouléguy are commonly characterizes as "rustic," but I don't get that at all--there is a polished, almost Bordeaux-like quality here.

Here's a link to the Brana website (French only).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière Blanc (Pessac-Léognan) 2001

Some people (customers) think I am a wine connoisseur. I am not. I'm a guy who sells wines and is reasonably knowledgeable about the products. This by way of saying in the usual course of things, I don't get to taste many bottles that have seen a substantial amount of age. But once in a while it happens.

We were at The Usual Suspects on Monday night, coming to terms with the news that Les and Kathy are selling the place, and the Esoteric Wine train will be pulling out of the station for the last time very soon. So when Les asked whether we wanted to drink an amazing bottle of wine, we were not about to say no.

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière Blanc (Pessac-Léognan) 2001: It begins with aromas of cantaloupe and fresh-cut pineapple. Later on, notes of lime and honeysuckle appear. In the mouth, the texture is almost creamy, but there is plenty of citrus to keep things lively. Toward the end, soft vanilla notes emerge. This particular bottle may be one of the best arguments ever made in favor of oak aging. The effects of the barrel never intrude--they're like a choir humming softly behind the main vocalists. (Sorry, I'm getting carried away--it really was a very good bottle.)

Chris Kissack has an excellent backgrounder on Malartic-Lagravière.

I'll have more at a later date on the phenomenon that was The Usual Suspects. (The place is not closing, it's just changing hands. But the most extraordinary wine list in all the Carolinas is going away.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vinho Verde, with a short rant on distribution

I'm going to guess that anyone looking at this page knows Casal-Garcia, because it's the Budweiser of Vinho Verde (I mean that in the sense that it is ubiquitous in the market, not in terms of quality). I am partial to its producer, Sociedade Agrícola e Comercial da Quinta da Aveleda, SA, if only because they rank Simplicity as one of their core values (just behind Devotion--not sure what that denotes, but I'm good with it). Most of the time, I don't think about Vinho Verde at all. But lately, what with the temperatures in my part of the world hovering around 90º F, it's become something of a necessity: A light, refreshing white that doesn't clobber your poor heat-addled head with alcohol. Anyway, as enjoyable as Casal-Garcia is, there actually are other wines in the style worth seeking out. Thus:

Conde Villar Vinho Verde 2009: It's light, it's slightly crackling, in has some pear and citrus aromas and flavors, and a pleasing snap of acidity on the finish. It's made from a blend of 40% Loureiro, 30% Trajadura, and 30% Arinto. The high proportion of Loureiro is a signal of quality: This is the preferred grape for vinho verde, favored for its aromatics, and somewhat difficult to grow. It's produced by Quintas Das Arcas.

Encostas do Lima Vinho Verde 2009: Lima is one of the six official sub-appellations of Vinho Verde.  I found this to be the most interesting of the Vinho Verde wines I've tasted over the summer. The lime aroma and flavor has a real presence, along with notes of more generic citrus character and a bit of white peach. This also has a pronounced mineral character, reminiscent of a good Muscadet. It's sorta like drinking a gin and tonic, except you can drink more of it because the alcohol content is around 10%. Encostas do Lima is imported by Fran Kysela.

Finally, a note about  Broadbent Vinho Verde: Made from 50% Loureiro, this is very good quality wine, although it did not cause me to gush as effusively as Mr. Mackay. It is worth noting that Broadbent claims to be the only producer to ship the wine overseas refrigerated. Unlike some other producer/importers, Broadbent's wines are properly handled by our local distributor.

You would think that every self-respecting producer/importer would do its utmost to be sure its products are delivered to the consumer in the best possible shape, and would be very selective about the distributors who handle their products, but you would be wrong. It's kind of like Alan Greenspan being unable to imagine that corporations would ever be dishonest, because it would be bad for business. Hard though it may be to believe, there are wine distributors who don't handle their products properly, and who lie about it to their customers. (Well, they don't lie about everything: It's hard to claim you use air-conditioned delivery trucks when your customer is right there, unloading bottles that are still warm to the touch.) Barring some kind of horribly intrusive Big Gubmint Regulation, this is a problem that resists easy fixing: If a customer wants Wine A, and that wine is only available from Distributor X, there ain't much to be done about it, except push the reps to push the warehouse to get deliveries to the store as early in the day as possible, etc.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Basque Rosé (with update)

Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina 2009: Pale pink, the color of a really cheap costume-jewel. Fizzy. Nose of Strawberry Jolly Rancher, with just a hint of sweet herb and maybe white peach. Slightly tart red cherry and lemony citrus on the palate, a bit of a surprise, with good mineral character. Made from 50% Hondarribi Beltza (indigenous red grape) and 50% Hondarribi Zuri, (indigenous white grape); I can't locate information on either one. (If you can, please post!) Pleasant and refreshing, but grossly overpriced at $17.99. For more on the wine and the winemaker. visit the Domaine Selections website.

Update: Eric Asimov has an informative post on his recent visit to Basque wine country.