Monday, August 29, 2011

Macho Manzanilla!

A visit from Andre Tamers of De Maison Selections renewed our long-dormant interest in manzanilla sherry. We tasted several courtesy of Les at Vinsite, and found the La Cigarrera especially appealing. We tested it on friends who could not remember the last time they'd drunk any sherry, in any style, serving it along side the Chef's Andalusian gazpacho, which is a very simple preparation that depends on fresh, flavorful tomatoes found at the UNCA tailgate market.

La Cigarrera Manzanilla Fino NV: If there is such a thing as macho manzanilla, this is it: You know the cliché about aromas “leaping out of the glass?” Got it right here. This is briny, ashy, tangy, a bit funky, and then super-clean and refreshing in the mouth. I realize not everyone goes for the oxidative tang, but even so, it is a terrible injustice that so many Americans still think of sherry as something grandmother drank. As enjoyable as the wine was with the gazpacho, it should be pointed out that manzanilla is considered an ideal accompaniment to all kinds of seafood. (I have heard that Sanlúcar de Barrameda is a seafood-lovers paradise; we are going to test that proposition next month on site.)

During the tasting Andre explained that the quality of La Cigarrera, along with all other manzanilla sherries, has to do not so much with the vineyards as with the location of the bodega where the sherry is aged. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which is the only Spanish appellation for manzanilla, is on the Atlantic, near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. What is seldom mentioned by the big sherry houses is that Sanlúcar has two subzones: The Alto and the Bajo. La Cigarrera is in the Bajo, or lower, subzone. It is much closer to the ocean. As Andre explains: “Sanlúcar goes straight up a cliff, and most of the wineries are in this Alto subzone, they're more chamomile-like, fresh and light. Down in the Bajo, the air gets trapped, it's like a sail...Ignacio [the winemaker] is in the dungeon where the flor's that thick!” Flor being the yeast that forms on the surface of the wine as it ages in the barrel. The more robust the flor, the more robust the wine. Yes, this is an over-simplification. If you want to know more, find yourself a copy of the Julian Jeffs book. You can also read more about La Cigarrera here.

We got our La Cigarrera at Vinsite; Les also has some other killer sherries in the house; get them while you can!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Champagne Vouette et Sorbeé “Saignée de Sorbée”

Bertrand Gautherot is one of a very few Champagne producers who is Demeter-certified biodynamic. Here is an excellent essay by Peter Liem on Gautherot, what he does, and why he does it. He is out to prove that terroir counts in Champagne just as it does in Burgundy or any other appellation. Quoted in a NY Times story that ran on July 13, Gautheron said: “A big problem in Champagne is that wines are easy to make by recipe. It’s much harder to learn the taste of your vineyards. That’s why it’s called Vouette & Sorbée rather than Bertrand Gautherot.”

Champagne Vouette et Sorbeé “Saignée de Sorbée” Extra-Brut NV: Disgorged January 17, 2009 (There's the disgorgement date, right on the label. How hard can this be, O Mighty Bollinger?). "Vouette" and "Sorbeé," as alluded to above, are the names of Gautherot's vineyards in the village of Buxières-sur-Arce. In the glass, it shows a dusty rose color, definitely not star-bright. The nose is powerful, with a seemingly endless series of notes: Ripe strawberry, espresso, bitter chocolate, minerals, balsamic, grilled orange, and that ain't the half of it. In the mouth, amazingly persistent, tiny bubbles, fascinating spicy and rich red berry notes, and some sherry-like character that anchors itself toward the back of the tongue. I would put this up against the very best the Grande Marque houses have to offer. It lacks the power/finesse combination that marks a top-of-the-line vintage Champagne, but in my opinion it yields to none of them in terms of complexity of flavor and the sheer pleasure of tasting something extraordinary. Formerly available in Asheville at Vinsite, and perhaps one day to be available again. At about a hundred and fifteen bucks, it's priced better than Dom, and twice as much fun to drink.