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.