Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wines For The Time of "Hard Choices"

This post is in honor of a sentence from the President's Inaugural speech: "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit..." We know what "hard choices" means. At least for the vast majority of us. Here are some wines to get us through what the District of Columbia courtiers refer to as the ever-popular "shared sacrifice."

Not that we have it in for the entire 1%. Nothing could be further from the truth! A few of them are trying to make wine more economically appealing for the rest of us.

For example: An international trio of wine moguls, Alfeo Martini (Italian), Roger Gabb (English) and Christoph Mack (German), got together in 1991 to form Mondo del Vino, a wine producing group that operates a dozen labels across Italy, from the Piedmont to Sicily. None of the three are winemakers; their backgrounds are in distribution, a business at which all have been independently successful. I'd never heard of them (except for the Ricossa name for Barolo) until I came across this odd Grillo/Pinot Grigio blend.

Mánerra Grillo/Pinot Grigio IGT Sicilia 2010: Someone is growing Pinot Grigio in Sicily? Apparently so. This is a unique blend of  Pinot Grigio (30%) and the Sicilian native Grillo (70%). The Grillo gives some citrus and sweet spice notes, and adds body. Pinot Grigio adds a bit of finesse and some tropical fruit notes. There are peach and apple flavors, and nice snappy acidity. At 13%, there's a touch more alcohol, which makes sense, since Pinot Grigio doubtless gets a lot riper in Sicily than it would in the Alto Adige. Ahough the grapes are grown in Sicily, the wine is actually produced in Priocca, in the Piedmont area, where Mondo del Vino has its headquarters and main production facility. It's clean, tasty, and shows quite a bit more character than similarly priced Pinot Grigio from the north. At $8.99 a bottle, I'd buy cases of the stuff.

I've commented before on the way the wines of the Bierzo region of Spain, where the Mencia grape rules, were presented years ago as the Next Big Thing. It didn't happen, but the wines did not go away, either.

Bodegas Peique 2010 Tinto: This is 100% Bierzo-grown Mencía produced from 45-year-old vines and aged in large barrels—50% French, 40% Russian (!) and 10% American—for two months. On the nose, black cherry/berry and earthy aromas lead into a soft, silky palate of ripe yet savory red and black fruits, with mineralic/earthy/tannic notes at the finish. If I remember correctly, this is priced at about $11, and gives a kind of pleasure similar to that of certain Beaujolais Village wines at $15.

Récoltant-Manipulant producer Michel Collon makes Champagne in the village of Landreville, in the Aube region, which is in the Champagne appellation, although it is more than 90 miles south of Epernay. (If it were a bit further west, it would be part of Chablis.)

Champagne Collon NV: This is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay. It opens with some toasty/Brioche-y notes, along with aromas of apple and pear skin; followed by mostly mineralic character on the palate, with a hint of creaminess and apple/pear flavors. I found it lacking in complexity, but it is nonetheless unmistakably from Champagne, and for less that $30, a real value for money.

All three of these are available at the Asheville Wine Market.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Belated Note On A Champion Champagne

Now that the New Year's celebrations have come and gone, a belated word about Champagne. Every year I tell myself I need to drink more of the stuff, but unlike Madame Lily Bollinger, my bank account forbids me drinking it only when I'm happy, or sad, or entertaining company, or when I'm thirsty. But I was in the Asheville Wine Market last Saturday, and I saw a certain bottle on the shelf, and decided that I had a short time to live and a whole long time to be dead, and thus this tasting note.

François Champion is a third-generation Récoltant-Manipulant producer in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, in the Côte des Blancs region of Champagne.  (Chouilly is Grand Cru for Chardonnay only.) The house was founded in 1951 by his grandfather, André, and takes its name from his father, Roland. He has 44.5 acres from several parcels in the village, along with a small vineyard in Verneuil where he grows Pinot Noir. Most of his production goes to vintage Champagnes, but he does make a non-vintage Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs—about 21,000 bottles a year, according to my calculator. It is all free-run Chardonnay juice, aged 30 months on its lees and all R.D. (“Recently Disgorged,” which is to say the lees were removed just before the wine was released). The dosage is relatively light at 8 grams per liter; the southeast-facing vineyards in Chouilly produce ripe fruit, so less is needed.

N.V. Champagne Roland Champion, Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly Grand Cru: Opens with a truly distinctive nose, featuring a strong parmesan-like umami note, with citrus, apple, and just a little yeasty brioche. In the mouth, flavors of lemon, apple, hazelnut, bitter chocolate, and candied citrus peel emerge over time. And after all that mid-palate richness comes a clean, pure, mineralic finish. We opened one of these on New Year's Eve last year, and on New Year's Day this year (the Mule was working the other side of his life, making music, on the Eve). I intend to make it a tradition. At $60/bottle, this blows the doors off many higher-priced bubblies.

As the bar was set quite low during 2012, I feel—no doubt foolishly—confident in predicting a better 2013. Happy New Year!