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 It has since been replaced by “Appellation d'Origine Protégée” at the behest of the European Union for reasons best known only to itself.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.