Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pledging Allegiance To Roussillon

It is a commonplace among people who write about wine and food--especially Old World (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc.) wine and food--to recommend drinking the local wine with the local cuisine. I know for a fact that in certain areas of France, it is not only recommended, it is, as a practical matter, the only available course of action. When you're in the Perigord, you might find a Rhone or two on a wine list, but then again, you might not. Chianti? Forget it! Come to think of it, I can recall a time when it wasn't all that easy to find a bottle from Bergerac or Cahors in the Napa Valley, either.

Where I live in western North Carolina, the wine industry is too small and too new to have integrated itself into the local food culture. Perhaps one day Sean McRitchie's awesome "Ring of Fire" cabernet franc will pierce the consciousness of the region's chefs, but apparently Fate does not want McRitchie to become famous too soon.

So, unlike basketball (30 years a Celtics fan, no matter where I live), I get to choose my wine allegiance. I suppose Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne are obvious choices, and the Loire and Piemonte can be dazzling. But after a life-altering visit a few years ago to Maury and the surrounding area, my heart belongs to the French side of Catalonia. So I pledge allegiance to Roussillon, and to the crazy-quilt of soils for which it stands. One nation, under Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Muscat and Maccabeu, with vin doux naturel for all.

The gentleman who symbolizes Roussillon's transformation from backwater to avant-garde is Gérard Gauby of Domaine Gauby, who recognized the potential in his father's ancient, low-yielding vines. Read Rosemary George's appreciation of him here. Among other things, he has brought up a generation of disciples to carry on his concept of "more bio than bio" grape-growing and winemaking. One of the best is Jean-Louis Tribouley.

Click here to read Tribouley's story in his own words (and those of David Schildknecht). 

Jean-Louis Tribouley "Orchis" Vin du Pays des Cotes Catalanes
This was made from fruit grown in his Coume du Roi vineyard, planted with about 75% Grenache and 25% Carignan. As has always been the practice in most Roussillon vineyards, grapes were hand-harvested. Unlike most, the  grapes were also hand-destemmed. As you'll have read in the link above, yields are ridiculously low. The wine opens with aromas of cinnamon stick, chocolate malt, sweet herbs, and orange rind. In the mouth, assertive flavors of black and red cooked raspberry and cherry. Very full mouthfeel, slightly grainy texture: Rich but not unctuous. There is a bit of alcoholic heat. The overall impression is of a wine that is deep, juicy, exotic, sensual, and to me completely addictive.  Tribouley's wines are usually available in Asheville at The Asheville Wine Market and at Table Wine. Orchis is usually priced in the mid-$30s.

If you think my notes on this wine are over the top, take a gander at David Schildknecht's for the 2010 vintage. (What does "an ineffable sense of crystalline mineral impingement" mean, anyway?)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Macho Rosé

I think it was the spring of 2003 when The Chef and I and our friends Harry and Susan were exploring downtown Biarritz one evening, looking for a tapas joint, or in the local jargon a place for "bocas parilles" (little bites). For whatever reason, nothing seemed appealing, and at about 10 pm we gave up and walked into a little brasserie on the Port-Vieux, across the street from the deluxe-looking "Restaurant of the Midnight Swim." (Restaurant de la Baignade de Minuit). We ate piles and piles of tiny moules, and Susan taught us how to use the mussel shell as miniature tongs for extracting morsels. We accompanied this with a bottle of an AOC Irouleguy wine called "Argi of Ansa," the most macho rosé I'd ever tasted. And no wonder--it was 70% tannat, softened with a bit of two cabernets, sauvignon and franc. It smelled of flowers and citrus, and tasted of strawberries, but with the kind of tannic kick usually reserved for a big Madiran.

This episode came to mind as we tasted a rosé of nebbiolo, pressed into our eager hands by Josh on a recent visit to his place. It was made by the Caves Coopératives de Donnas, a co-op in operation since 1971, located in the southeastern corner of the Aosta appellation, just above the border with Piemonte. They produce a mere 12,500 cases a year of reds, whites, and rosés. The town of Donnas was settled by the Romans--it has a stone arch carved out during the First Century--and is known for a climate mild enough to allow the cultivation of lemon trees as well as grapevines. It once had it's own tiny DOC, but has since been absorbed into the larger Valle d'Aosta DOC.

Nebbiolo is famously difficult to grow. It prefers calcerous marl (chalky limestone) to grow in, and because it ripens late, wants a southern exposure. It is also famously tannic, which is what brought the Irouleguy comparison to mind.

2011 Caves de Donnas "Larmes du Paradis" Valle d'Aosta DOC Rosé: On the nose, citrus, strawberry, and a bit of yellow fruit. In the mouth, red fruit, apple, and lots of tannins. If you like your rosé very dry, you'll like this a lot. It's not as aggressive as the Irouleguy, but still a pink wine for manly men. Context, of course, is everything: It seemed quite fruit-forward when served alongside grilled radicchio and endive.

PS: "Larmes du Paradis" translates as "Tears of Paradise," which is a lovely name except that according to various search engines it is also a euphemism for "acid rain." Go figure.