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.