Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gifts For Geeks

Some of you may remember last year's disastrous foray into gift ideas for wine geeks. As you'll see, I've learned to at least check prices this time. Without further ado:

I bought this for myself, because Amazon had it for $110.25. They still do. Anything this big (1,200 pages) will have flaws; there's an amazing three-panel chart of the pinot grape pedigree, but a big part in the middle can't be seen because of the binding. And listing zinfandel under "Tribidrag" seems willfully obscure. Still, there is a lifetime's worth of study in this book, and any wine geek worthy of the name would be thrilled to receive it. Learn more here.

Here's another geek magnet: Jacqueline Friedrich has visited every Sauvignon Blanc producer in the Loire Valley. The results of her travels come in the form of a diary, rather than a series of encyclopedia entries. She bills herself as a "wine humanist" rather than as a researcher. I happen to enjoy her anecdotal approach. You can buy it directly from her here. $34.50 and well worth it.

Families of the Vine, by Michael Sanders, is about a season in Cahors with three different families of vignerons: The Jouffreau-Hermann family of Clos de Gamot; The Baldés family of Clos Triguedina; and Philippe Bernède of Clos la Coutale. Having spent a little time in Cahors myself, I can only marvel at Sanders' ability to get the Cahors vibe across on the printed page. The subject matter may seem geeky, but the book is such a great read that even non-geeks will find it rewarding. You can get it cheap at Amazon, and I'd urge you to do it soon; there aren't a lot of copies left, and I fear it will go out of print.

I like to read about wine, and I greatly prefer the company of writers who write about wine, as opposed to wine writers. Chris Kissack, Andrew Jefford, Paul Strang, and Eric Asimov are among my favorites. This is worth getting just to read his takedown on wine notes. Available from Amazon for a mere $14.98.

I remember the first time a customer came to me asking for a corkscrew that could be used by her mother, who loved wine but whose hands had been weakened by disease. There are hundreds of devices for separating a cork from a wine bottle, but few as easy to use as this. You stick the needle in the cork, and compressed air does the rest. The device itself goes for around $20; compressed air refills are packed two to a box and usually sell for less than $10. Your local wine shop will have them, or you can get one online here.

When you go to dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, especially if the restaurant is not just French but in France, odds are the sommelier will have one of these. I hope someday to attain sufficient gravitas to actually own a real, hand-made Laguiole corkscrew. Depending on the kind of handle, it will run around $140. That will seem like a lot for a corkscrew, until you hold it in your hand and realize it is an ergonomically correct tool of unsurpassed quality, and maybe even a work of art.

This is Peter Liem. He knows more about Champagne than you do. Were it not for Terry Theise, I'd never have known about Chartogne-Taillet “Fiacre.” Were it not for Peter Liem, I would never have known about Vouette et Sorbée. A subscription to his website costs $89 a year. If you have someone on your list who can afford to be a Champagne connoisseur, this ought to get you invited over a few times for something nice from the 2004 vintage, at very least.

Here's what I want for Christmas: A return visit to Fish La Boissonnerie (69 rue de Seine, 6th). I like it there because they speak English, which makes it easier for me to chat with the barman about Gerard Gauby. They have an astounding list of wines from the Languedoc and Roussillon. And while I'm there, I want to visit their wine shop, too.

Almost forgot: Wine shop gift certificates are a great idea. Ask at your local shop.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Mule-ish Thanksgiving

The remark “Drink what you like; like what you drink” is, I think, Robert Mondavi's greatest contribution to the world of wine. I mean, the world would have gone on turning without Opus One, you know? It is a fitting motto for Thanksgiving Day. Living as I do in The Chef's parallel universe, I was somewhat startled to learn that there is a standard menu that includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean and onion casserole (I know what this is, but never imagined it was standard), cranberry relish/jelly, and pumpkin pie. And some other elaborate dish involving vegetables and pork products brought by a relative. [I'm not making this up!]

People who write Thanksgiving wine columns for a living have learned to begin with the Mondavi position, but then go ahead and produce a Top 10 list reflecting either their own prejudices or, more likely, commercial necessity. Thus Adam Morganstern in the Huffington Post calling the whole thing hopeless, followed by a slide show of West Coast product placements.

Being a lazy sort, I'm going to do the same thing, except without the pretty pictures and without any mercenary considerations (someday I'm going to figure out how to cash in on this). The model here is that you open the cheap stuff first and hide the expensive stuff so Uncle Billy and his corkscrew (see the Morganstern story) won't get at them, at least not immediately. As we always say, YMMV:

Inexpensive red for all-purpose gulping: Montepulicano D'Abruzzo. Masciarelli is a good maker, but there are many. Look also at garnachas from Spain imported by Eric Solomon. Evodia is a favorite, as is Herencia Altes (they spell the grape name "garnatxa").

Inexpensive white for all-purpose glugging: Tariquet classique, from Gascony. Still only $9.99 and my favorite all-purpose white. Next best: Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Some really good ones come in big (1 liter) bottles: Der Pollerhof, Hugl, and Paul Direder are examples.

Red with dinner: Domaine Paire Beaujolais or similar. Try to find an organic producer. Stay away from  Deboueuf, Jadot, Drouhin! There is also something called "Raisins Gaulois" from M. Lapierre which is terrific and relatively inexpensive. And you'll love the label. If you feel compelled to have a Cabernet or Merlot, get one from Chile. Montes, Santa Ema, Vina Errazuriz are all good and reasonably priced.

White with dinner: Salomon Gruner Veltliner, $14.99; or, pretty much any Alsace pinot blanc, or, if you can find one, an Edelzwicker (field blend--Meyer-Fonne makes a really nice one for $12.99). If you really have to have some chardonnay, look for one from the Haute Vallee de l'Aude (yes, it's a mouthful, but the wines are very good, and good values). I like Domaine d'Antugnac, also Novellum.

Dessert wine: The only wine I ever liked with pumpkin pie was Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese, which runs $40+ a bottle, depending on vintage. If that seems a bit steep to you for a bottle that will be opened at the point when everyone at the table is already comatose from stuffing themselves (this is the point of the whole exercise, right?) then we are in agreement: Skip it. If people still want more alcohol at that point, break out the Bailey's Irish Cream. You may be tempted to bring out Moscato d'Asti. Don't do it. I have nothing against a nice Moscato, but it really doesn't pair with pumpkin pie.

This is the quintessential American Holiday! Why don't you have any American wines?
1. The good ones are too expensive.
2. The cheap ones are awful.
3. Go read the Morganstern story. Or Steve Heimoff. They're loyal Americans.

One more time: Drink what you like, like what you drink. Salud! Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Conde Villar Rosé Vinho Verde: Mineralic Fizzy Goodness

Quinta de Villar is one of the three properties in the Vinho Verde appellation owned by Quinta das Arcas. Located in the municipality of Penafiel, just east of the city of Porto, the property consists of 74 acres of vineyards planted mostly to Vinhão and Espadeiro grapes on granitic soil.

The latter grape is used to make the Conde Villar Rosé. Espadeiro (Jancis Robinson spells it “Espadeira”) is also known as Tinta Amarella in the Douro and Trincadeira Preta in southern Portugal. In the Quinta de Villar vineyards, grapes are hand-picked, followed as quickly as possible by fermentation. This encourages the production of fresh aromas in the finished wine. The tech sheet says the grapes are destemmed followed by carbonic maceration; it must be quite a trick to keep the berries intact.

Conde Villar  Rosé Vinho Verde 2011: Aromas of fresh red berries are followed by a mouthful of mineralic fizzy goodness. It is amusing to think that a port grape like Espadeiro can also produce this light (11.5% alcohol) fizzy beverage. Yes, this is definitely an ideal warm-weather drink, but it tastes just fine in November, too. (Here's a link to a column by Eric Asimov on the unfortunate marketing of rosé wine as a “summer accessory.”)

Conde Villar  Rosé is still available at Table Wine; I think it's $9.99/bottle.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Buzz on Bronzinelle* "...a disproportionate amount of pleasure"

Winemaker Jean-Claude Zabalia has presided over Chateau St. Martin de la Garrigue for more than 20 years, making gradual modernizations, including the renovation of the cellars and the adoption of environmentally friendly (as opposed to strict organic) growing practices (he's certified by a French program called Terra Vitis--French only, sorry). Working slowly and carefully seems to be the way to go when you're overseeing a property that has a chapel that dates to the 9th Century and archeological evidence of human presence on the property since the Iron Age (in southern France, that's around 300 BC, give or take a few centuries). The 124-acre vineyard is near Pézenas, the hometown of Molière, and overlooks the Hérault River.

“Bronzinelle” is a blend of 43% Syrah, 18.5% Mourvèdre, 17.5% Grenache, and 21% Carignan.
The Syrah and Carignan are vinified using whole grape clusters; the Mourvèdre and Grenache are destemmed. The juices are blended at the end of fermentation, then spend 12-15 months in used barrels. The finished wine undergoes a series of rackings, but there is no filtration or fining.

Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue “Bronzinelle” Coteaux du Languedoc 2009: The wine has notes of cassis, laurel, thyme, and smoke; big black fruit flavors, and an almost creamy texture. A fine tannic structure underpins all this luxuriousness. This wants decanting; an hour seems about right. It was very good with grilled pork and couscous. At about $20 it provides a disproportionate amount of pleasure for the price. I was intrigued to learn that there is also a white version of Bronzinelle, made from marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc, picpoul, viognier, and terret. Zabalia also makes a Picpoul de Pinet which has a super reputation and which I hope to run into one day. We got this at the Asheville Wine Market; I believe Josh at TableWine has it also, and may have waved a bottle of the white in front of me as well.

*When the crickets and insects are buzzing away during summer in the vineyard, the Languedociens say that they are 'bronzinent', hence the name “Bronzinelle.” 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smells Like Cat! Chateau Massiac “Sentinelle de Massiac” AOC Minervois 2011

From Paul Strang (Languedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers): “The Minervois vineyard may be imagined as an amphitheatre on a vast scale: the Canal [du Midi] as the stage, Carcassonne and Narbonne the wings, while the auditorium rises in terraces to the north....Here, conversation does not start with the question 'Lovely weather, is't it?' but rather: 'Which way is the wind blowing?' Le Marin is humid and usually brings rain; from the northwest Le Cers is cooler and drier.”

Chateau Massiac is located in the village of Azille, just south of the Minervois La Livinière appellation (considered the premier sub-appellation in the district) at the southernmost end of the Massif Centrale, where the soil (limestone and clay with silex and marble) provide the excellent drainage that encourages concentration of aromas and flavors. The property's climate is also influenced by the two winds mentioned in Strang's description. The Boudouresques family recently revived the domaine (the Chateau was long ago demolished) and it is now certified organic. They have 53 acres of vineyards, of which 21 are planted mostly to syrah and carignan. Last year, they produced a little more than 4,500 cases.  Sentinelle de Massiac is a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Carignan. For now, at least the Minervois appellation allows a maximum of 40% Carignan in the blend. As growers like the Boudouresques and others (Sylvain Fadat comes to mind) elevate the quality of Carignan, it will be interesting to see whether this restriction will be revisited and perhaps relaxed.

Chateau Massiac “Sentinelle de Massiac” AOC Minervois 2011: We have an old gray cat named Miles (because he's Kind Of Blue). One of life's small pleasures is to bury your nose in the loose fur on the back of his neck. I think he smells great: sort of musky, with just a bit of lanolin. Holding a glass of  Sentinelle de Massiac up to my nose for the first time, all I could think of was Miles.

There's more, to be sure: Notes of blackberry and blackcurrant, eucalyptus, and the barest hint of bittersweet chocolate. In the mouth, there is sweet red fruit, anise, and just a touch of tannin at the finish. The mouthfeel is soft and relatively light. Served with grilled chopped pork, radicchio, and carrots and new potatoes sauteed in oil with ginger over a piece of home-made naan, it was very pleasant indeed. At 14%, the alcohol level has some heft to it, but there is nothing remotely “hot” about the wine. Imported by Neal Rosenthal.  Available at TableWine Asheville, $11.99.

Miles, aka La Torpille Grise d'Amour (The Gray Torpedo of Love):

Monday, October 1, 2012

Domaine Paire “Les Verchères” AOC Beaujolais 2011

Beaujolais, perhaps more than any other French appellation, has a reputation for high-volume, “industrial” winemaking. The date of the region's decline can be pinpointed: It was November 13, 1951, when the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set November 15 as the release date for what is now known as Beaujolais Nouveau. The négociant Georges Duboeuf saw the commercial potential of the fixed release date: He could move a lot of wine of indifferent quality quickly and at a decent profit. By the mid-1980s, it was an international phenomenon. Bedazzled by the prospect of selling oceans of “Nouveau,” the region's producers embraced chemical fertilizers and sprays, harvested earlier and earlier, added sugar to achieve higher alcohol, used sulfur dioxide liberally as a preservative, abandoned indigenous yeasts in favor of cultured ones, and used sterile filtration to cut down on potential spoilage. In short, they tried to make winemaking as risk-free as possible.

Just as the commercialization of Beaujolais can be traced to a particular date and the work of one  négociant, so can the Beaujolais counter-revolution be pinpointed: In 1977, French wine consultant  Jacques Néauport met  Jules Chauvet, a 70-year-old vigneron  who had never stopped making wine in the traditional way: He harvested as late as possible, from his oldest vines, selected only the best grape bunches, fermented slowly at cool temperatures with no sulfur dioxide and with natural yeasts, barrel-aged his wines, and bottled them without fining or filtration. The proof of his methods was in the wine:   The 1977 vintage was a disaster for most producers, but not for Chauvet.  Néauport introduced Chauvet to Marcel Lapierre, who told his vigneron friends, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, Jean Foillard, and Joseph Chamonard, about Chauvet's methods. They became known as the “Gang of Five,” and  championed the return to a focus on quality winemaking in Beaujolais. Interviewed a few years before his untimely death, Lapierre said: "Every vigneron wants to work like this in his heart of hearts. But you have to be brave, and it can be expensive. Modern enologists are against the whole thing because it's risky, but for me it's the most natural way of doing things.”

The influence of the Gang of Five remains, and for me is personified by people like Jean-Jaques Paire and his son Guillaume, who took up organic growing practices at their 400-year-old estate in 2008. They have 25 acres, of which 95% are planted to gamay, and the remainder to Chardonnay.

Domaine Paire “Les Verchères” AOC Beaujolais 2011: This is just cherries and raspberries, the classic Gamay aromas and flavors, all the way from the first sniff to the last swallow. The texture is both soft and fine-grained. The finish shows just a touch of tannins. If you had never tasted Beaujolais, if you had never tasted a wine made from organic grapes, I'd start you here. It is flawless—which is not to be mistaken for profound. This is not a vin du contemplation, it is meant for drinking. It has the quality that our man Terry Theise is always going on about: Charm. Drink it by itself, drink it with a ham and cheese sandwich, drink it! Imported by Bruno Arricastres of Wine Without Borders, $14.99 at the Asheville Wine Market.

N.B.: The first two paragraphs of this post were cribbed in part from some work I did for the late, great Vinsite. I owe a lot to Les Doss, who got me to put my nose to the grindstone to produce short profiles of organic/biodynamic practices in various winemaking regions.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: Noble Enough For Ya?

Every now and then some geek on one of the wine sites will ask people to name or rank their favorite grapes. I'll enter “grenache” and either be ridiculed or dismissed. “Grenache is not a noble grape,” say those In The Know. “It's a blender, it's a workhorse, it's ordinary,” etc, etc. When I have the energy, I point out that the last time I looked Chateau Rayas (100% grenache) was more than $150/bottle, and if that isn't noble enough for anyone else, it's noble enough for me.

Fans of the grape can argue about whether the French or the Spanish do a better job with it. I'll just say Grenache and Garnacha (or Garnatxa) are different, and point to Jancis Robinson's preference for calling it Garnacha since the Spanish grow more of it than anyone else.

Over the past decade, there have been some wonderful garnacha wines coming out of Spain, often at very good prices. Eric Solomon is responsible for many of them (he was the original driving force behind Las Rocas, and its successor, Evodia), but hardly all of them. Click here for some earlier appreciations.

Josh Spurling at TableWine was raving the other day about yet another new garnacha from the Solomon portfolio. Since we have learned that it is good to pay attention when Josh raves, we took a bottle home. (I should add that many others have been raving about this too, including Big Bob.)

This particular wine is made by Nuria Altés, owner and winemaker for Herencia Altés, in the Terra Alta D.O., in the back country of southeastern Catalonia bordering Aragon. The vineyard is at an altitude of 400 and 530 meters. The soil is sandy and chalky. Little rainfall, lots of sun, with wind either out of the northwest or from the Balearic Sea. Among her great skills is that of picking garnacha when it is very ripe, but not so ripe as to be deficient in acidity. (Altés is no beginner--she's also a partner in Bodegas Albanico which operates in Castilla and other locations in Spain.)

2011 Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: This opened with aromas of red licorice, fresh prune, and a hint of sweet herb. On the palate, intense flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry, with a note of blood orange at the end. It is not an especially complex wine, but it packs a wallop of flavor. We'll go ahead and call it a fruit bomb. A really great fruit bomb. For $11.99, a super value, and excellent with a dinner of meats and vegetables cooked on the grill. I don't usually think of red wine and vegetable pairings, but this was really good with some of those sweet torpedo onions charred on the Weber.

“Herencia Altès is my dream to put Terra Alta on the map and show the true quality of these wonderful old vines,” says the winemaker. I think she may be on to something.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our New Favorite Pizza Wine

Burger wine. Pizza wine. What next, KFC wine? It's coincidence, honest.

The Montepulciano grape grows almost everywhere in Central Italy (except, of course, in the town of Montepulciano, where Sangiovese is the predominant grape). The ones we like best are from the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC, where the wines are soft and fresh and meant to be drunk young.

Every producer in the DOC owes something to the late Gianni Masciarelli, who more or less single-handedly introduced the Abruzzo region to quality winemaking.

Fortunately, others are following Masciarelli's path, and Antonio Constantini is among them. His winery in Città Sant'Angelo is at the northern end of the DOC, not far from the coastal city of Pescara. The family has been in business since 1910, but Constantini is no traditionalist—his facility is up-to-date with controlled-temperature fermentation in stainless tanks. Recently, he brought in oenologist Riccardo Brighingna, who has done award-winning work for Cantino Tollo.  The grapes are picked by hand. There is some extended maceration to pick up color and tannins. The wine is aged in steel for four months before bottling. Constantini also makes Cerasuolo and a white wine from the Pecorino grape, which we'd dearly love to try some day.

Constantini "Febe" DOC Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2010: This opens with notes of red cherry and just a bit of spice; on the palate, red and black cherry fruit in a framework of unobtrusive tannins. A very gulpable wine, and well-suited to the Chef's white pizza. And the red sauced one, for that matter. The propaganda says serve this at 65° F, but we liked it best at about 50° F; the chill firmed up the fruit and improved the mouthfeel. Besides, it's been so humid lately in our neighborhood...At $11.99 (Asheville Wine Market) this is a pretty good value, and its food-friendliness makes it a credible candidate for house wine status. It is certainly our new favorite pizza wine.

PS: We are not fans of the Colonel, but we do think if you're eating fried chicken, the only appropriate beverage is a nice Gruner Veltliner. As Eberhard Heide at the Wine Market likes to point out, Gruner is made by the same people who invented schnitzel, so of course it's going to be great with fried foods.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Burger Wine!

The headline is a bit of a misnomer. It should be “Ketchup Wine,” as in “wine that pairs well with ketchup.” To understand what a feat this is, here is just a brief bit of background, from Malcolm Gladwell's 2004 New Yorker article:

There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. ...Give a baby soup, and then soup with MSG (an amino-acid salt that is pure umami), and the baby will go back for the MSG soup every time, the same way a baby will always prefer water with sugar to water alone. Salt and sugar and umami are primal signals about the food we are eating—about how dense it is in calories, for example, or, in the case of umami, about the presence of proteins and amino acids. What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons. The taste of Heinz’s ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?

Click here to read the whole story, which includes thoughts on why it is that  no “specialty” ketchup has ever really caught on.

So here we have a wine from Spain's La Mancha DOC, the country's largest appellation by area, and a forbidding place it can be: Winter temperatures as low as 5º F; summer temperatures as high as 113º F, and annual rainfall of 13-14 inches. One would think a while about living there voluntarily. Fortunately, winemaker  Rafael Cañizares is a sixth-generation resident of La Mancha, and I doubt he gives these figures a second thought. What he does know is the soil, and the 228 acres of vineyards that comprise Bodega Volver distinguish themselves by the presence of large river stones beneath the typical sandy limestone and clay of the region. The typical tempranillo vine on the property was planted about 40 years ago.

Bodegas Volver Tempranillo La Mancha Single Vineyard 2010: Opens with dark red fruit, anise, and vanilla oak on the nose; with time in the glass, some notes of cassis and woodsy/earthy character emerge. In the mouth, the wine feels rich (moreso with aeration) with flavors of cherry, cola, vanilla, and spice. There are also some bitter cherry-pit notes, and soft yet assertive tannins at the finish. The alcohol level is a bruising 15%, but the wine does not come across as “hot.” It's imported by Jorge Ordoñez Selections.  

So what is it that makes it go with ketchup? Probably the cola note, but the wine also hits three of the five flavor buttons mentioned above: Sweet, bitter, and savory (umami). The most important factor may be that the balance of flavors between wine and condiment seem similar. Whatever it is, a glass of Volver and a well-made burger with lots of ketchup is a surprisingly wonderful experience, and, at $16 a bottle, one that can be repeated without fear of budget-busting.

P.S.: We have noticed the phenomenon of restaurants specializing in fancy hamburgers served with fancy beverages like wine. Zinburger is an example. And right here in lil' ole Asheville we now have a similar place called Juicy Lucy's.

Zinburger's name signals its preferences in wines; there are three imported wines on the list I saw, and two of them are Malbecs. No tempranillo, and certainly not this one. Juicy Lucy's offers alcoholic beverages, but no wines. To the barricades, dear friends. These guys need to know what they're missing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fumin: A Rarity from the Vallee d'Aoste

The Vallee d'Aoste, tucked away in Italy's mountainous northwest corner, is a small appellation (385 acres unde cultivation) that is home to a surprising number of grape varieties, including such obscurities as Petit Arvine, Premetta, Cornalin, Mayolet, and Fumin (the subject of today's review). There is also a fair amount of nebbiolo planted, although here it goes by the name  Picotendro. Similarly, there is some pinot grigio here also, going by the name Malvoisie. Confusing, yes. Given that the entire appellation's production is smaller than some single Italian estates, it is a wonder that some of these wines make it out of the region at all.

This being the Alps, there are glaciers, and the soil of the appellation's vineyards is glacial moraine, a jumble of rocks and sand left by the movement of glaciers. It's excellent soil for grapevines: with rocks small and large predominating, there is no orderly layering of soil, so drainage is excellent, and the rocks transmit the warmth of the sun deep into the earth.

The history of Frères Grosjean began in 1969 when, at the urging of his friends, Dauphin Grosjean began making wine near the villages of Quart and St. Christophe in the Vallee d'Aoste. From very small beginnings, Grosjean Freres now has about 25 acres under cultivation in the valley, at an altitude of about 2,600 feet. The winery was a pioneer in organic winemaking, following natural and sustainable practices in the vineyard since 1975, now under the direction of winemaker Vincent Grosjean.

Grosjean Fumin “Vigne Merletta” DOC Vallee d'Aoste 2007: This is a blend of 90% Fumin and 10% Petite Rouge, harvested from vines planted between 1990 and 2002. Grapes were hand-picked and de-stemmed; vinification was in wooden vats, with 8-10 days of skin contact. The finished wine was aged (not sure for how long) in wood vats and stainless steel tanks. Total production is just 8,000 bottles annually.

We drank this in the company of our good friend Larry Weaver, who made a rare in-person appearance. The Chef had wonderful homemade pork sausage and grilled baby eggplant for us, which proved an excellent pairing. Upon opening, we got a healthy whiff of SO2, which blew off in a few minutes to reveal aromas of brown spice, a hint of bretty funkiness (which receded with time), and some subtle, complex herbal notes. Larry detected a note of sandalwood. On the palate we got flavors of tart cherry, with the firm acidity cushioned by some softer red fruit. Some firm tannins carried the finish. The overall impression was of elegance and freshness. The wine was quite dark, almost purplish—a reminder that Fumin is often blended in as a teinturier grape, to add color. As is typical of so many Italian reds, the wine showed best with the food—it was really very good with the sausage!

The bottle came from Chambers Street; the Fumin doesn't seem to be available in Asheville, although some other Grosjean wines are around, including the charming Torrette, which is a blend of a rarity called Vien de Nus along with a small proportion of Fumin and Coralin.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A New Verdejo Value

There is so much good Rueda white wine on the market these days, that it is hard to remember that the region was not known for quality wine production until 1972, when the Rioja-based Marqués de Riscal, under the guidance of the ubiquitous Prof. Peynaud of Bordeaux, came into the region specifically to make white wine from the Verdejo grape, known to be vulnerable to quick oxidation. The company invested heavily in cold fermentation, and established a policy of picking in the cool early morning hours and generally doing everything possible to protect the grapes and juice from heat and oxygen.

The result of this investment, made 40 years ago, has given new life to the Verdejo grape and its traditional companion Viura (and foreign interloper Sauvignon Blanc, which was planted as part of the Riscal effort).

A modern crusader for quality white wine from Rueda is  Hannibal Paunero Asensio, director of Bodega La Soterraña, established in 2006 in the town of Olmedo (better known for its Moorish castles and cathedrals than for wine production).  Working with winemaker José Lorenzo, he produces several wines, under a variety of names, including Eresma, V&R, SieteSiete, and Olmedal. He has about 330 acres of vineyards, most of it sandstone and clay, with some limestone and clay along the banks of the Eresma River, which runs through the town.

Olmeda  Verdejo Rueda 2011: The nose is Sauvignon-like, with lots of herbal character and notes of grapefruit rind. On the palate, crisp citrus flavors and a faint, pleasing nutty character oddly reminiscent of chardonnay. There is some mineralic character. I've tasted a few Ruedas (Shaya comes to mind) that bore strong resemblance to Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire; this is not one of them. Which is not a complaint; at our house, we're in favor of wines that taste like the place they come from. This is brought in by Wine Without Borders in Durham; we got it at the Asheville Wine Market for $9.99, which is a good indicator that we'll be back for more. [A note of caution: As mentioned above, winemakers have made great strides in preventing Verdejo from premature oxidation. Even so, this wine fell off noticeably after spending a day in the refrigerator with only its original cork as a closure. If you want it to last for more than a day, I'd invest in a Vacu-Vin pump.]

And it looks like there will be more. Current economic crises notwithstanding, Bodega La Soterraña  plans to expand, with a 400,000-euro investment in winery capacity and automation that will bring capacity to 6 million bottles a year, up from the present 4 million.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

OMG! Smaragd!

Les stopped by the other night; we hadn't seen much of him or Kathy since Vinsite closed. It seems that shutting down a business takes as much effort as starting one. He brought a bottle that he said he'd sort of grabbed from the cellar without looking too closely. Lucky us, it was a Smaragd from F.X. Pichler. Pichler may be Austria's premier Riesling producer. As Mr. Parker so breathlessly put it: "…F.X. Pichler is the Chateau Latour, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Zind-Humbrecht, Sandrone and Helen Turley of the Wachau."

Franz-Xavier Pichler grows Riesling (as well as Gruner Veltliner, Gelber Muskateller, and Sauvignon Blanc) on 38 acres in the village of Oberloiben, which sits in a bend of the Donau, with the village of Durnstein to the west, and the town of Krems to the east. He follows the rules of the Codex Wachau, which demand a fairly serious non-internventionist approach to winemaking: No chaptalization, no additives, no reverse osmosis, etc.

 F.X. Pichler Durnsteiner Hollerin Riesling Smaragd 2005: Opens with vivid aromas of rose petal, diesel, peach, apricot, and aromatic herbs. In the mouth, the texture is very rich, with intense flavors of cooked yellow fruit, a touch of gunflint, bright acidity cutting through the voluptuous texture, and an almost saline mineralic quality. The French would call it a vin du contemplation, we thought it was a total knockout, a wine that at once stimulated the intellect with its complexity and the senses with its out-and-out hedonistic aromas and flavors. Smaragd is the highest category of Austrian vineyards, reserved for the sunniest slopes.  “Smaragd” literally translates as “emerald-colored” and refers to a lizard that lives in these warmer vineyard sites. By law, the wines have a minimum 12.5% alcohol level, with a maximum of 9 grams/litre of residual sugar.

A denizen of the Wachau

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Domaine Bahourat Cuvée Elisabeth 2009: “Je suis Rhodanien.”

As Paul Strang says, the Costières de Nîmes is the place where the Languedoc becomes Provence--physically and culturally. Ask any vignerons in the region where they're from, and they'll say “Je suis Rhodanien.” Look at the soil, and you'll see large pebbles that look an awful lot like the galets roules of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And, you know, it's only a half-hour drive from Avignon to Beaucaire. In fact, it was considered part of the Languedoc until 1986, when it got its own AOC as Costières  du Gard, and its present name in 1989. It is one of the hottest regions in France, although the Mistral can be very fierce here, with a cooling and drying wind.

At Domaine Bahourat, vigneron Patrick Bech has a 124-acre vineyard planted to syrah and grenache in the village of Bouillargues, which is back a ways from the Costière--a continuous bluff running parallel to the river--and thus closer to Nîmes than to the Rhone. The terroir is nonetheless typical: soil studded with galets roules in chalky clay. Like many of his neighbors, Bech also grows fruit trees.

Domaine Bahourat Cuvée Elisabeth 2009: With its 80/20 syrah/grenache blend and gamey, herbal nose, this is definitely Rhone-like. I got a hint of blueberry and black tea, as well. In the mouth, this is very soft and round, with pretty black fruit, mild tannins, good acidity, and a little jolt of black pepper at the finish. Like many of its counterparts, it will benefit from 10-15 minutes in the fridge. We had it with grilled steak (recommended by the importer, Bourgeois Family Selections) but I think it really wants pork ribs or grilled lamb to really show itself off. Possibly the wine's best feature is its price: It was $11.99 at the late, lamented Vinsite, and I've seen it in a few other places at the price. It's worth seeking out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Baglio di Vincenzo Catarratto Lucido

The Biscardo brothers, Maurizio and Martino, are, as best I can determine, operators of a rather low-profile Italian wine empire. Based in the Veneto, where they make Soave, Pinot Grigio, and Valpolicella (including a very popular and well-priced Ripasso), they also have operations in Puglia, where they make Primitivo, and in Sicily where they produce Nero d'Avola, Merlot, and the subject of this review, Catarratto Lucido. I've met Martino twice now, and he's one of these guys who is always “on,” enthusiastic about his wines and everything else that comes into his line of vision. He's the sales/marketing brother; Maurizio, the elder brother, is the winemaker. Baglio di Vincenzo is a new project for them. Back in the  day, I probably sold several hundred bottles of his Ripasso, and somewhat less of his Primitivo and Merlot. The wines were always good, and often excellent values. The Catarratto Lucido is a lot better than good, and it is a seriously good value. It is grown on a 100-acre property, where the fruit is hand-picked and the wine is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel.

Baglio di Vincenzo Catarratto Lucido IGT Sicilia 2011: Opens with aromas of stone fruit and cinammon; on the palate, intense flavors of a whole Bosc pear, skin and flesh, an undertone of citrus, plus an almost cider-like quality (long maceration, I'm guessing—the grape is famously thick-skinned). The texture is rich, almost grainy. The finish is clean, with a bit of almond showing up at the end. We had this with tilefish (it's been really good lately and the price is right) that the Chef fixed up in the Sicilian style, with tomato, capers, and golden currants. We'd opened a $30 Slovenian Ribolla the night before, and the Cattarratto showed more intensity and complexity at less than half the price. It's brought into the U.S. by the estimable Lukas Livas of CHL, and is available at the Asheville Wine Market. I think it is a spectacular value. Run, don't walk, etc.

You can learn many surprising facts about the Catarratto Lucido grape at Rob Tebeau's Fringewine blog.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Red Wine From Casal-Garcia. Really.

We have long been fans of Casal Garcia, the gulpable white vinho verde from the Portuguese producer Sociedade Agrícola e Comercial da Quinta da Aveleda, SA. I was in the Wine Market the other day and Larry showed me a red version of the wine. I knew red vinho verde existed, but I think this was the first one I'd ever seen in captivity. “You're not going to believe this,” he said, “but this is good.” He then explained that when the wine was first presented to him, he couldn't help but notice the legend “Smooth and Aromatic” on the label, which is ordinarily, shall we say, a contrary indicator of quality. But the proof, as always, was in the tasting.

Casal Garcia Vinho Tinto NV: This is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (tempranillo); it has aromas of fresh plum, a little berry, and a floral note. On the palate, more plum and red fruit flavors, and a very soft and round mouthfeel. Nothing here exactly jumps out at you, but it has an ineffable pleasantness, which probably has something to do with the fact that it costs $8.99. A nice red to relax with. We drank it alongside little pork sliders stuffed with gorgonzola and slathered with mustard; frankly, I'd sit this wine down next to just about anything—it is exceptionally food-friendly.

The winemaker is Manuel Sores; his consultant is the famous Denis Dubourdieu of Bordeaux and elsewhere.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dumb Wine Story Of The Week

I love reading Eric Asimov, and was unhappy when the Times axed "The Pour." But he did write the dumbest story I've seen in a while this past Wednesday. Titled "Cheese And Red Wine Together Again," it began by debunking James Beard's 1947 observation that "cheese and red wine have natural affinities for each other," then asserted that white wine was a better match, then said that it was still okay to drink red wine with cheese. What made the story dumb was that he never gave the actual reason for drinking red wine with cheese. To wit:

Red wine and tea share a common characteristic: The presence of tannins. Tannins are astringent. You can add all the sugar you want to a cup of tea, and it will not become any less astringent. But if you add milk, the butterfat in the milk softens the tannins; the astringent quality is ameliorated. Don't take my word for it, read Kevin Zraly.

Ordinarily I read something wrong-headed and just let it pass, but I found myself thinking of an old friend, Rick Alles (a sales manager at the Wine Warehouse in San Diego and, among other things, a truly formidable player of stringed instruments) who once remarked that it was no accident that European peasants were so often depicted holding a jug of wine and a wheel of cheese.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Take Me Till The End Of The Terret

You may think Terret is unfamiliar, but if you've ever drunk a cheap white from the Languedoc, especially from Hérault, you've probably had it. In its most common incarnation, it's a cheap blender, light, crisp, and inoffensive. Blended with Clairette and Picpoul, it is a common ingredient in French white vemouth. But there's always somebody who is willing to show how an also-ran can turn into a winner, given enough loving care. Which brings us to Nicole Bojanowski, vigneronne, who, along with her American husband John (and daughter Sacha) grows Terret Gris in St. Jean de Minervois. She grows Terret organically on what she calls “white, blinding phonolithic calcium carbonate rocks,” at an altitude of just over 900 feet. The wine is fermented naturally and aged on its lees for a year in a 500 liter barrel. She's quite a character, and her Ivy-educated husband writes well. The website is absolutely worth a visit. 

Clos du Gravillas “Emmenez moi au bout de la Terret” 2009: Ms. Bojanowski is not much for hewing to appellation disciplines; she's entitled to use “Minervois” on her labels but prefers the lesser “Vin de Pays Côtes de Brian.” This vintage is made from Terret gris, aka Terret Bourret. This is quite yellow in the glass; I thought for a moment it was oxidized. Upon opening, it has a vigorously aromatic nose of clove, allspice, and cardamom. On the palate, yellow fruit, tropical fruit, a note of black licorice, and a minerally, gunflinty finish. After a few minutes in the glass, and served along side tilefish with tomato and capers, it became lemony and not quite so out-there. The wine is imported by Bruno Arricastres at Wine Without Borders; we got this at 3Cups; it cost $22.

Oh yeah: The name is a play on the lyrics to a very romantic Charles Aznavour song. The original line is “Emmenez moi au bout de la Terre” which translates as  "take me till the end of the world."

[Be sure to read John's comments below--he says this is the wine that has made some locals tear up, it so reminded them of wines grandaddy made!]

PS: Has anyone noticed how many women winemakers there are in Minervois? In addition to Nicole Bojanowski, there are Patricia Boyer-Domergue at Clos Centeilles; Françoise Frissant at Chateau Coupe-Roses; Josiane Orosquette at Chateau La Grave; Isabelle Coustal at Chateau Sainte-Eulalie; Emilie Faussie at Chateau de Violet; Mireille Meyzonnier at Domaine Meyzonnier; and Viviane Bellido at Domaine des Murettes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Clessé With Class

A while back on a Facebook forum organized by the always entertaining Peter Tryba, I posted that the only reason for chardonnay to exist was to make Chablis and Champagne. “All else is vanity,” I said, contentiously, thinking of the thousands of gallons of Rombauer and similar oak bombs I'd sold over the years, mostly to the sort of Republicans who spoke fondly of "freedom fries."

It was a stupid thing to say, I was just trying to get a rise out of some Cali Chard fans, and I am glad of an excuse to retract it. In this case, an excellent excuse arrived in the form of a bottle from the Viré-Clessé AOC in the Mâcon.

Domaine de Roally is a 14-acre estate owned and operated by Gautier Thévenet, whose father Jean runs Domaine de la Bongran in Clessé. The vineyard is situated on a limestone ridge, and is planted with a variety of old Chardonnay vines from different clones. No herbicides or fertilizers are employed; copper sulfate is used sparingly. There is a neck label on the bottle that says “Raisin cueilli a la main”  meaning “grapes picked by hand.” Fermentation is unusually long and slow, and the wine sees up to 16 months in vat before bottling.

Domaine de Roally Viré-Clessé 2008: On the nose, lemon zest and apple skin. In the mouth, an immediate sensation of lemon, apricot, and a Riesling-like mineral quality. With time in the glass, notes of ripe apple and honey appear.  Thévenet picks later than his neighbors, and gets a bit of residual sugar for his trouble, which in this case seems to give the wine texture rather than sweetness. It has been a very long time since I've tasted anything of this high level of quality from the Mâcon. Louis/Dressner brings it into the U.S.; it should run around $25/bottle. Thanks to Les Doss for introducing me to this superior example of Chardonnay.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Flight of Whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Scheurebe, Gruner Veltliner

A trio of whites came our way recently, ranging from pleasant to “shockingly good,” each singing a distinctive song, and all priced for the geek seeking some household economies. Without further ado:

Domaine Jouclary Sauvignon Blanc 2010: Château Jouclary is in the Cabardès  appellation, situated a few miles north of Carcassone. Cabardès bills itself as the “home of the east and west winds,” alluding to its position between the climatic influences of the Mediterranean sun on one side and the fresher Atlantic winds on the other. Pascal Gianesnin, vigneron at Jouclary, makes a wonderful red that blends both Merlot and Cabernet (Atlantic), and Syrah and Grenache (Mediterranean).  He also produces this Sauvignon Blanc, which is labeled “Pays d'Oc,” as best I can tell because the AOC is only for red wine. It opens with a reassuringly grassy nose and some floral notes. This is followed by a  mild palate of white peach and tropical fruit, finishing with a pleasant mineral character, although a bit lacking in acidity. I wanted a little more snap and texture, and found myself thinking of it as white Bordeaux lite. The Chef and The Road Warrior both liked it, and asked for more, so what do I know. It's well-priced at $11.99 at the Asheville Wine Market.

Strauss Samling 88 2010: Samling 88 (“Seedling 88” in English) is also known as Scheurebe, a cross between riesling and silvaner, developed by Dr. Georg Scheu in 1916. He was looking to improve the hardiness of riesling; what he got was the grape that Terry Theise calls “riesling's dirty, horny twin.” I don't find anything particularly lubricious in Strauss's take on the grape, but it definitely has an exotic character, offering a jungly melange of tropical fruit and earthiness balanced against a lemony acidity.   The nose implies an almost decadent sweetness, but on the palate it is quite dry. Winemaker Gustav Strauss plies his trade at an estate located in Steinbach, near Gamlitz, where the vineyards are planted on steep hillsides that require manual labor (Strauss jokes that people in his village have one leg shorter than the other, the better to work the steep inclines). This is also available at AWM, and also reasonably priced.

Der Pollerhof Gruner Veltliner Niederösterreich 2010:  Niederösterreich is the catch-all designation for wines from Austria's best regions, including but not limited to the Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal. Winemaker Erwin Poller hand-picks fruit from several vineyards in the town of Röschitz, about an hour's drive northwest from Vienna. He generally follows sustainable agricultural practices, including the use of native yeasts, but is a modernist in other respects, fermenting in stainless and blocking malolactic. For an inexpensive wine, ($13.99 in a liter bottle at Table Wine) this was shockingly good, with an intensity of aromas and flavors—citrusy tropical fruit, the all-important zing of white pepper, and lots of refreshing mineral character—not usually found at this price point. The wine is imported by Monika Caha Selections; click on the links to learn more about her and Erwin Poller.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Let's Bugey!

If you know the Bugey region at all, it is probably for its lightly sweet and sparkling wine, usually made from the Rousette grape, aka Altesse. The best of them are from the village of Cerdon, and the place you are most likely to find them is either Lyon (to the west) or at the ski resorts around Grenoble (to the east). A few of them are imported into the U.S., where they tend to be regarded as sort of a Gallic high-end version of Moscato d'Asti. Bugey is considered part of the Jura, although it is located at the southernmost point of the appellation, and is actually very close to Savoie. I would argue that Bugey really does have a terroir of its own, with a main theme of limestone, with variations of white marl and silica.

Red grapes grow in Bugey, too. Pinot noir and gamay are widely planted, as is the Jura staple Poulsard. Less often cultivated is mondeuse, a grape native to the region that is sometimes compared to syrah and sometimes to refosco, and sometimes claimed to be a vinous relative of one or the other. One of mondeuse's champions is Franck Peillot of Famille Peillot. He's a fifth-generation winemaker who perseveres with mondeuse, growing it on a small portion of his already tiny 15-acre vineyard in the village of Montagnieu. He is one of a handful of vignerons still working this area, which has seen vineyard acreage drastically reduced over the last century, largely because of the onslaught of phylloxera.

Bugey Famille Peillot Mondeuse 2007: It's not an expensive wine, but it deserves a big glass, so you can get the full impact of the nose, which is sort of an olfactory idealization of an Alpine morning: a profusion of sweet herbal notes along with the unmistakable (and Beaujolais-like) aroma of fresh raspberries. In the mouth, the wine offers flavors of tart plum and maybe a little bitter cherry at the end; there are fine-textured tannins present, but not obtrusive. We had it with pan-sauteed pork loin with brussles sprouts and lardons; it would probably also go very well with one of those Bresse chickens, which come from the same larger region. The wine has plenty of satisfying fruit, but not a bit of sweetness.

Note: The label reads “Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure,” once used to denote wines that aspired to Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status. It has since been replaced by “Appellation d'Origine Protégée” at the behest of the European Union for reasons best known only to itself.

You can learn more about Franck Peillot by checking out Bertrand Celce's story, which is, as usual, enlightening and visually beautiful.

This was around $20 at the soon-to-disappear Vinsite.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seifried "Nelson Bay" Riesling 2009

I remember my first encounter with antipodal riesling; it was a year-old 2008 Pike's “Traditionale” from the Clare Valley and I guess I wasn't ready for the sheer intensity of it; whatever else it was, it was forceful in all directions, especially acidity. I was advised that it would show better after 2013. Since then, I've approached southern hemisphere rieslings with caution. Well, I'm looking pretty silly now, with a glass of Seifried riesling from New Zealand in front of me—still refreshing with acidity and mineral character, but very well-mannered.

2009 Seifried “Nelson Bay” Riesling: This opens with mild citrus and floral notes on the nose, followed by flavors of peach and tropical fruit, and slate-like, almost German mineral character. Again, very refreshing, with a mouthfeel that just hints at richness. It played very nicely with a pork loin stir-fry; we'll have to try it with the Chef's latest obsession, bibimbap. Now that I think about it, it would probably make a fine accompaniment to the citrus-cured salmon at Hopgood's, our favorite restaurant in Nelson. It's only half a world away...

The wine is made by the Seifried family, who have been cultivating grapes near Nelson, at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, since 1973. Austrian-born Herman Seifried has nearly 500 acres west of the town, with varying terroirs.  The 2009 riesling is a blend from two vineyards, Brightwater (younger vines, lots of stones and well-drained soil, for low yields) and Redwood Valley Vineyards (older vines, clay, north-facing –meaning more sun, not less—remember where we are). Seifried also grows sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, merlot, pinot gris, and pinot noir. There is a sweet (204 grams/liter) riesling, named for Herman's wife Agnes, that wins lots of awards, that we'd like to run into someday.

Today, the Seifried children are very much involved in production; as best I can tell, Chris Seifried runs the vineyard, Heidi Seifried-Houghton handles the tech stuff, and Anna Seifried is the marketer. Seifried was the first winery in Nelson accredited as “sustainable.” Click here for the winery website; the short video is worth your time.

Nearly forgot: At $10.99 this is an excellent value; it came from Vinsite, and if you go down there this week and there's any left, you'll get an even better price.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” Beaumes de Venise 2009

I have always thought of Beaumes de Venise as an odd duck of the Rhone.   Located just southeast of Vacqueyras, it seemed like an island of white, specifically Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, in a sea of grenache and syrah. Some years back, even in Carpentras, the nearest big town, there was plenty of the Muscat available, but not much red, and that labeled as “village” wine. That was then, this is now. In 2006, Beaumes de Venise got its own appellation, separate from Muscat Beaumes de Venise. And a few producers of reds have shown notable results.

One of them is the Domaine de Fenouillet, a 40-acre property in the village of Beaumes de Venise at the foot of the "Dentelles de Montmirail", aka the foothills of Mont Ventoux. Owned for many years by the Soard family, the vineyard sold off its fruit until Vincent and Patrick Soard took over in 1989 and began to make and bottle wine under the Fenouillet name.

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” Beaumes de Venise 2009: On the nose, an immediate and powerful sensation of sweet aromatic herbs, especially wintergreen and anise. In the mouth, smooth dark red fruits, and some mineralic character at the finish. As we never tire of saying, this is the southern ideal: Richness without weight; fruit without sweetness.

This is the largest production wine at the estate. The Dentelles are steep; terraced vineyards are common. (The grapes are hand-picked because tractors cannot negotiate the terraces.) The soil is clay and limestone. The 2009 is a blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre (more or less).  Grapes are harvested and vinified in batches; maceration is comparatively lengthy for maximum extraction.  The wine is bottled unfiltered after eleven months of aging in cement.  Annual production is just 30,000 bottles, of which 3600 to 4800 are shipped to the US.

At about $20, this is a profound red that also manages to be a crowd-pleaser. At least among our crowd. As the Chef says, “You don't have to know anything about wine to want to drink this stuff.”

We got this at Vinsite. And now a belated endorsement: Asheville, thank God, has for many years now had a wine scene far more sophisticated than you would ever expect from a town of 80,000 in the mountains of western North Carolina. Les Doss, who owns and operates Vinsite, is one of the more visible reasons why this is so. He has not just championed natural wines; he has put his money where his mouth is and made wines available to us here that are hard to find in New York or London or anywhere else, for that matter. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to go in and at least take a look at the little universe of wonders he has created. He's at 64 Broadway, next to Bruisin' Ales. He even has parking.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail two hours ago from Les & Kathy. Vinsite is closing its doors in two weeks; everything in inventory will be sold at closeout prices. I salute them for their courage in opening a store that was uncompromising in its pursuit of natural wines, and I am very, very sad to see it go.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pouring Today At Table Wine Asheville

I'll be helping out with the tasting at Table Wine Asheville today, 2-5 pm. Not exactly sure what's being poured, but probably some Italian obscurities. Stop by to say hello, and you can judge for yourself whether time away has improved or degraded my usual line of patter.

Table Wine is at 1550 Hendersonville Road, just south of the parkway entrance. Click here for more information.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Inebriati

Oh, the depths to which we sink when we feel we have to post but don't want to do any actual work. Heh heh. Watch this:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vermouth Perucchi

We've been meaning to get Josh and Lynn over for dinner for almost a year. A little before Christmas, we went into their shop and, with some iPhone calendar wrangling, got it done. I'm afraid I've forgotten the details of that dinner (three weeks ago—man, that's ancient history), but there was no forgetting one of the bottles Josh brought by.

As best I can tell, Augustus Perucchi went into the vermouth business in Barcelona in 1876. He claims to be the very first Spanish vermouth producer. Vermouth Perucchi is made from best-quality white wine with more than 50 different botanicals that have been macerated, ground, infused, pressed, and filtered, then aged in century-old oak foudres. It is unlike any bianco vermouth I've ever tasted, with prominent aromas of cinnamon, orange, lemon, ginger, and a very high, almost medicinal, mint note. In the mouth, the texture was luxurious; there is some mid-palate sweetness that fades on the finish.

A few days later, we made a negroni with it. The cinnamon note really came to the fore against the bitterness of the gin and Campari; and the color was an amusing girly-girl pink. We found it pleasant, but a bit too sweet for our liking. We also tried it straight next to our long-time favorite, Andrew Quady's Vya Extra Dry vermouth. I've always thought of the Quady as a bit rich compared to the usual run of white vermouths, but next to the Perucchi it seemed positively astringent. There will be further experiments, to be sure. Josh called it “naughty” and I think that's just about right. It seems a little too easy to drink—a notion I intend to check out when the weather warms up. Sitting on the porch with a glass of this mixed with tonic over ice? It says “yes” to me. Vermouth Perucchi is available in Asheville at Josh's store; it's $20/liter.

Monday, January 2, 2012

How To Get Through Christmas Eve Without A Tree

True confession: I have never been very good at dealing with Christmas. I have spent my entire life trying to cozy up to it, trying to get into the spirit of things, and this year I've finally let go of it. No tree, no lights, no presents, no singing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The Bach Christmas Oratorio is permitted on the stereo, because The Chef favors Bach at the holidays, as is Huey “Piano” Smith singing a Bourbon Street version of “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” But that's the limit. The only remaining hurdle is convincing myself that I am not a Bad Person for being this way, but that's my problem, not yours.

Well, there is one other aspect of the holidays that we do engage in: We open a lot of bottles of good stuff, and drink it with people whose company we enjoy.

It's supposed to be "photograph, then drink," I know…

On Christmas Eve, our friend The Road Warrior showed up, eyes glazed over from an unspeakable number of hours spent on I-40. We began the business of bringing her back to the living with Champagne from Jacques and Brigette Copinet, who make small quantities of Rosé composed of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in their vineyards in Montgenost, southeast of Reims. There is some confusion over the composition; it is usually identified as 75% Pinot and 25% Chardonnay, but at the Champagne Copinet website it is described as 100% Chardonnay, to which up to 20% Pinot Noir is added after the second fermentation. When I posted a query about this at my preferred geek source, the best response was from Joe Dougherty (aka the notorious SF Joe), who suggested querying some French mathematicians. In the event, it was lovely stuff, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, peach, apricot, and a clean, refreshing, mineral-driven finish. It was around $55 and came from Josh at Table Wine.

While the Chef put the finishing touches on cute little plates of tapas, we opened our next bottle, a 2009 François Pinon “Cuvée Silex Noir” Vouvray. Pinon has about 35 acres of vineyards in the form of small parcels scattered around the village of Vernou-sur-Brenne, which is sort of a suburb of Vouvray. He follows organic practices, picks by hand, ferments using indigenous yeasts, keeps racking, fining, and filtering to a minimum, and is sparing in the use of SO2. The “noir” in Silex Noir refers to soil rich in flint. This definitely shows up in the nose, which begins with a note of smoke, then follows with pretty aromas and flavors of ginger, citrus; pineapple, honey, pear, and brown spice. The paradox of rich fruit and very firm minerality caused a few abrupt “wows” when consumed with the Chef's vinegary sweet pepper/fresh anchovy/tuna/green olive/mozarella tapas. This was $23 at Vinsite.

Les and Kathy showed up after closing the store (“They say wine and spirits are still one of the top last-minute gifts,” says Les, who kept the doors open until 8) and brought two organic Burgundies, along with some DVDs to watch. Thierry Brouin, regisseur at Domaine Des Lambrays, in the village of Morey-St.-Denis in the Côte de Nuits, crushes whole clusters with no de-stemming, no fining or filtering, more interested in ageworthiness than fruit. The Domaine is organic but not certified. We drank the 2005 village-level wine, not the Premier Cru, and it was lovely, with clove, tart red berry, and a back end that offered well-proportioned tannin, acid, and minerality. Years ago, I sold a couple bottles of Lambrays, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, and never had an inkling that they were organically produced.

Then there was a bottle of “Bel Air et Clardy” 2009 Chablis from Alice and Olivier De Moor, which made me sing “Oranges and Lemons say the Bells of St. Clement's” in my head. I urge you to read this interview with Alice and Olivier De Moor. They come across on the page as honest, sensible, and charming people, an impression that is reinforced by their wine, which may not be “typical” in the usual sense of Chablis, but definitely speaks to you of limestone, clay, and brisk temperatures.

The Chef's tapas; excellent with Vouvray.