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.