Saturday, July 30, 2011

Susucaru 3: "Natural" With A Vengeance

“Susucaru 3” Vino da Tavola Rosato, no vintage indicated, but the “3” is from 2010. This is “natural” winemaking with a vengeance, from the famous eccentric Frank Cornelissen, who makes it from Nerello Mascalese grapes grown on Mt. Etna in Sicily. It's not like he doesn't warn you that the contents might be a bit, ah, variable. It says right on the label: “ATTENTION This wine has not been modified, neither chemically, nor mechanically and does not contain preservatives or stabilizers. It will develop natural sedimentation as our wines are not filtered or altered. It is important to store the wine below 60.8ºF (16ºC)”

On the nose, dipalmitoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate, aka fabric softener, White Shoulders perfume, and hints of other commercial cleaning products. After 30 minutes the nose subsided a bit, or maybe we just got acclimated. There is some spicy red berry and cherry fruit somewhere on the palate, underneath the ongoing chemical assault. It's hugely ironic that a wine that has been so painstakingly produced without the aid of any additives should emerge from the bottle with the aromas of a surfactant factory.

We are told that every now and again, one of these wines can be magnificent, but not this bottle, not this time. It was tried again the next day: The nose had subsided a bit more, but the olfactory and other organoleptic references to cleaning products remained durable.

Those who have read this and still want to roll the dice on one of these should have a word with Les at Vinsite.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I was in Charleston for a couple days last week, and on Les & Kathy's recommendation visited a few places, including the Social Restaurant & Wine Bar, Pearlz, and the Bar at Husk. The Social started out as a wine bar, or so I'm told, and it really does have a super by-the-glass list, but it also has gone the big-flat-screen-TV route; it just looks like a bar now. Similarly, Pearlz started out as a Champagne bar with oysters; now it's just a bar with oysters. Geezer that I am, I found both the Social and Pearlz too young and too noisy; 20 years ago I probably would have loved them.

The buzz on Husk (the restaurant) and it's next-door bar had reached Asheville some time ago. All our favorite chefs knew about the fearsome Sean Brock of McCrady's and his new ultra-locavore place. “If it doesn't come from the South, it's not coming in the door,” is one of his better-known declarations. Husk is the apotheosis of this attitude: Everything, and I mean everything, is “house-made.”

Except the wine, thank goodness. I got to chat with Sommelier Adam Burnelle for a bit about his by-the-glass list, which included such goodies as the Do Ferreiero Albariño and a wonderfully fresh Vouvray from Lionel Gauthier's Domaine du Viking. The bar menu offered “Smoked Trout Paté with Heirloom wheat thins,” which cause a certain amount of eye-rolling, except when the dish arrived damn if those wheat-thins weren't house-made. There was a burger on the menu, also, and Weaver, the bartender, explained that it was made with three different cuts of beef (all, of course, raised south of the Mason-Dixon) plus a little bacon thrown in for lagniappe. Adam happened by, and recommended a new Valencia red he'd picked up:

Bodegas Enguera Dis-Tinto D.O. Valencia 2008: This is a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Syrah, from mostly 25-year-old and older vines, grown in sand and limestone (the former retains heat, the latter provides good drainage, both important for the relatively cool and wet climate). Diego Fernandez is the winemaker. There is no indication, but I'm guessing this never saw any barrel age. The nose is floral, with black and blue berry notes; tangy dark fruit flavors follow, with some black pepper notes and just a bit of mineral edge. I don't often talk about color, but in this case it's worth remarking on: A very dark, yet vivid, almost black ruby hue. The medium weight and dark fruit/pepper combination was in fact an excellent match with the burger. I would imagine this retails for less than $15, if you can find it (5,000 cases made; no idea how many of those make it into the U.S.). It's imported by Olé Wines.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Carignan: With Old Age, Nobility?

Martine Pages and her brother Christophe Moliner run Domaine de la Bouysse, a 124-acre property in Saint Andre de Roquelongue, in the heart of the Corbières region. About one-fifth of their land is in the Boutenac commune, where the soil combines clay, limestone, and quartz pebbles.

The 2007 Corbières Boutenac Cuvée Mazérac is made with 60% very old Carignan vines from Boutenac (80 to 110 years old) 20% Grenache, and 10% Mourvedre. All the grapes are hand-harvested. The Carignan undergoes carbonic maceration, for greatest freshness of fruit and color extraction. The Grenache and Mourvedre are destemmed and conventionally vinified in temperature-controlled stainless. Once blended, the wine is aged 12 months in French oak barrels.

On the nose, cooked strawberry and plum, with hints of licorice, cocoa, and roasted herbs. In the mouth, bright fruit and that deluxe, pinot noir-like mouthfeel that imparts richness without weight. With time in the glass, the wine reveals more dark fruit, and the texture softens while retaining a sense of freshness. Experiences like this are beginning to make me think that Carignan, so long dismissed as high-yielding easy-growing material for the production of vin ordinaire, is in fact—given the necessary four decades or so to find itself—capable of nobility. This was $20 at the Asheville Wine Market, and worth every penny.

The Chef, in an acquiescent mood, made us a dinner to go with the wine, and the ingredients were mostly local: Hangar steak from Hickory Nut Gap (rare, yeah!), baba ganoush made with local eggplant and garlic, local corn, and local green and red tomatoes. And a few foreign interlopers: Fancy Italian olive oil (Tiburtini, from La Ferrata Tivoli, first cold pressing, organically grown, unfiltered, from Villa Adriana in Lazio, blah-blah-blah.) And frozen “oven fries” from Alexia, which were done on the grill—not exactly a failure, but not in the same league with the rest of dinner. (The Chef wishes to point out that the frozen taters were my idea, not hers, and that she would have served local fingerlings, cut and brushed with olive oil, and done on the grill, and that they would have taken just as long and tasted better. So there.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Calce Report

"The Cellars Strike Back!" Poster for a tasting of Calce-based wines. (That's Lionel Gauby, son of Gérard, in the pink sweater)

I got a field report from my friend Michael Culley (aka Michele Colline from his years in Italy) who visited Roussillon earlier this year, which he was kind enough to let me share with you. These notes and observations are from his visit to the village of Calce, home of Domaine Gauby and several other notable producers. I've added a few links. Take it away, Michael:

The best way I've thought to describe the hills leading up to Calce is like a huge, spread out 'bald'..few trees and tons of scrub and other low lying shrubs like heather, blueberries, and huckleberries (don't know for sure if they were or not). We were approaching from the west side. Tons of little vineyards set in the landscape as space allowed, planted in different directions and curves.

On the day of the tasting we elected to drive the 'main' road past and around through Baixas (pronounced Bay-sha) which, coming from the east, was much quicker and easier. The soil here is mostly red clay with limestone. But the color! I've seen a lot of soils in my time, but this kind of electric/transparent orange-pink has something magical about it's really alive....soaking in all the solar rays and energy. The main (and only) road through the village snakes past three of the five famous caves, all located like little cantinas on the ground floors of the buildings. It is simple to walk to all of them in minutes. My kind of tasting...small, focused, and uncrowded. The weather was a bit cold and blustery, and grey. We got there at opening time so never had to deal with the probably more crowded afternoon.

Domaine d'Horizon had two wines, a red and a white that were both excellent, and, I guess, worth 30 euros each but we passed. Thomas Teibert is the young winemaker.

Domaine Padié was my favorite. We barrel sampled Jean-Philippe's white and tasted two reds (both excellent). You may remember that my quest was for carignan, carignan, carignan and he has one from old vines that he now mixed with a little syrah. It should be noted that each varietal comes from its own parcel because of the soil type. We brought back a bottle each of his reds. With just 2,000 cases a year he doesn't sell in the US...yet.

Gauby and Matassa were next a bit of a walk down the hill and side by side since Tom Lubbe, a young South African guy who owns Matassa married a Gauby...his wine were all good but his white from muscat and viognier (a Cotes des Catalanes) was pretty uniquely aromatic and since I have long been a viognier fan we are looking forward to uncorking it here in Bend this summer.

At Domaine Gauby we talked with a young woman there who was passionate, strongly opinionated, and very knowledgeable. To give you an idea, everyone has lots of small plots of vines of specific varieties depending on soils with Gauby having (I'm pretty sure) the most. Consequently, it is almost an insult to ask what the blends are because the soil is most important. It's like blending the soils is really what it's all about, and the grape varieties just happen to grow in them. Three whites, three reds..all good...even tasted the 'grand cru' white Muntada (accent on the first syllable). I told her I had sold the wines back when Kermit Lynch had them in the mid-nineties but she was unfazed and could only remember someone in NY buys a couple pallets a year in the US.

I found a tremendous carignan while in Roussillon but it was a "Vin de Pays de la Cité de Carcassonne", labeled Plo Roucarels 2008. It was made by a youngish couple (Julien Gil and Julia Hubrich) that bought a hectare and a half of old vine carignan in the village of Couffoulens, a few miles southwest of Carcassonne. It was amazing stuff: polished, plush, and complex, and delicious even at 14% alcohol. I figured the second day it would fall apart, but no—it tasted the same as the first day—unprecedented!

We also found, in a SuperU supermarché, a producer I recognized from some blog in the recent past so we bought it and gave it a go and it was excellent. It was a 2009 St. Chinian from Domaine des Soulies' that cost 4.95 euros.

We did drink one wine from Eric LaGuerre, the 2008 Le 20 that was pretty unique from what else we drank. It, at times, reminded me of pinot noir and was only 12.5% alcohol. It was the only wine we had under 13% the whole trip. We did taste some old Maury from the co-op there and wished we had room for the 750 ml (there were no 375s) as they were really inexpensive. So much wine there, and so much ground to cover....