Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wierd Wines #2
Les Vins qui Tachent

It seems that as the temperature rises blog updates decrease… I will try and maintain at least a weekly post (but thanks to those who emailed me for an update).

The south of France is home to some of the meanest, darkest and densest wines in the viticultural world. Cahors, Madiran and Irouleguy with their Malbec and Tannat grapes are but a couple of the regions whose wines, if perhaps a touch somber, are built to accompany only the richest, and the most gamey of foods. These wines scare me (see cahors post ), however, I opened an interesting bottle last night which merits inclusion in this ignoble club.

Alicante 2000, Vin de Table de France, Pech Redon ($25..importation)
A cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, the Alicante grape reminded me alot of Malbec. Dark and foreboding, it’s opacity is rivaled only by it’s tannic structure. Grown mostly in the Languedoc region of France, it is mostly used for blending to add depth and color. Like it’s southern compatriots, this is not the wine to sip by the pool on a hot, Sunday afternoon. Perhaps a touch more fruit than a Cahors, and with less of the black licorice finish, it is loaded with pepper and spice, and of course tannin. I found it actually more hospitable than the majority of the other ‘tooth stainers,’ and perfect for a mushroom dosed braised lamb, wild boar or other tasty meat. Pech Redon is a fantastic estate in the La Clape region of the Languedoc and run by Christophe Bousquet, a young vigneron who also produces great Cabernet Sauvignon as well as more classic Syrah, Grenach and Carignan blends.

Another Near-Perfect German Riesling
Rauenthaler Baiken, Rheingau Riesling, 2001, Spatlese, Kloster Eberbach ($39..saq)
I must admit that I love them all, but this one blew me away. It is widely considered that the Mosel produces the best Riesling in Germany, however, this Rheingau effort has piqued my interest in the region. More delicate than a classic Mosel, the Eberbach was more floral, softer and with less sugar than I had expected. At $40, it’s expensive, but well worth it if you want to start an evening off in style (or an afternoon in the sun).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weird Wines #1
The Pain and Pleasure of Drinking Jura

There are certain wines which require a certain reflection before casting judgement. Many of these wines have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, and have remained true to their roots, oblivious to the whims and scruples of changing tastes. I am speaking of the resin infused Retsinas , the aromatically challenged Bandols, the oxidized Grenache Blanc and Terret Blanc whites of the southwest, the Coulée de Serrant of Savennières and perhaps at the head of the pack, the Savignan based wines of the Jura. These wines are often not easy to drink, often needing an appropriate food accompaniment and an open mind. To this day, I have yet to find a wine that so well compliments garlic, yoghurt and oregano as a good Retsina.

So in defference to those who have remained unique in the face of the homogenization that is much of the world of modern wine, here is the first installment of wines to discover, understand and appreciate.

Arbois 2000, Béthanie, Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois (saq..$23)
It is hard to think of the Jura without a mention of Vin Jaune, or ‘yellow wine.’ Made in it’s entirety with the local Savignan grape (a distant relative of the Traminer family), it is aged in old 60 gallon open casks in similar fashion to that of fino sherries, allowing a film forming yeast to develop on the surface. And there it rests for 6 years and 3 months until bottling. The result is a wine with a phenomenal richness, nuttiness and spiciness that accompanies a variety of strong cheeses and the classic vin jaune chicken.

A good way to enter the world of the Savignan is with this Arbois. Composed of 60% Savignan (aged for 3 years under the film) and 40% Chardonnay, it has the distinctive nuttiness of the vin jaune but with an added touch of browning apples, lemon and vanilla. Serve it at 15 degrees Celcius (around 60F) so as to bring out as much of the richness, spice and nuts that it has to offer. Any cooler, and the oxidized flavors are too strong and the wine becomes way too acidic. It will work wonders with terrines, chicken and with a strong, ripe cheese like Raclette. We serve it at L’eau with a fondue of Victor and Berthold Reserve, laced with cumin and nut bread as the dipper, a phenomenal mix and one which very few wines can handle. My first bottle took me a week to drink but I am now a convert.... So take your time, open your mind and mouth, and discover an extraordinary style of winemaking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Food Quandry
Shrimp Provençale

There are a couple of plates that I have yet to nail down a great ‘go to’ wine. But as I gain a more profound understanding of cuisine and the inherent subtleties of it’s ingredients (and here is a lesson to all you wineheads out there), I find there are fewer and fewer mysteries. Tonight I nailed down the Shrimp provençale, at least my version of it. With tomatoes, herbes de provence, and of course garlic, I always favored a lighter red instead of a white, believing that any of the shrimps delicate saltiness was already overpowered by my Provençal sauce. But I had yet to find the perfect red for the job.

Well, here’s a solution... Roussanne, a strange but wonderful white from the Rhône.

Côtes du Rhône 2003, Brézème, Roussanne, Eric Téxier ($25...importation)
Made by vinificateur at large Eric Texier, this is a wine for the seasoned white wine drinker. It smells of browning apples, a hint of scotch, black tea and a mixture of garden herbs. I smelt it next to a bottle of marjoram, and I don’t know wether that was one of the herbs of the mix, but it was wonderful together. With little or no acidty, it is a strikingly rich wine and the slightly oxidized feel in the mouth gave it a wonderful freshness. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the acidity of the tomatoes. It held up to the garlic, enhancing the spices and was a perfect match for the texture of the shrimp. Even it’s rather gnarly bouquet dissipated with the joy of each effortless bite and sip. In short, a shockingly great match.

Next hurdle is the ubiquitous yet tasty ‘Jambon a la Bière.’

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wine Blog Wednesday #7
Near Delerium with Patapon

For my regular ‘non-blogging’ readership, wineblog Wednesday is a forum for all of blogdom to get together and jam on some wine related topic. Number 7 is the bizarre cépage, a grape that either has fallen out of favor with today’s viticultural tastes or hails from some obscure wine making country. Ultimately my choice was helped by our host Andrew at Spittoon ,who in his efforts to eliminate one of my favorite wine making regions jogged a memory of a wonderful bottle(s) that I drank in NewYork last autumn. So here’s to the Loire and the Pineau D’Aunis.

Patapon 2002, Christian Chaussard

Pineau D’Aunis, also referred to as Chenin Noir, is a black berried grape grown mostly in the Anjou-Saumur area of the Eastern Loire. Apparently it is being pulled up in favor of Cabernet Franc, so leave it to the Vin Nature gang to recognize it’s worth and exploit it’s potential. Served slightly chilled, it has Gamay style fruit but with soft tannins and a spicier finish.

Patapon is a mix of Pineau D’Aunis and Gamay, organic, without sulfites, and the label befits the wine like no label I have ever seen; the scribbled name ‘Patapon’ and a drawing of this disturbing ‘Jack Nicholsonesque’ smiling clown. As we sat down to dinner at the end of a long day of tasting organic wines, my 2 hours of sleep from the previous night was catching up with me. Joe Dressner was opening what seemed an endless variety of great bottles, but despite all the choice, Mike and I hung onto the Patapon as we gorged ourselves on some of the best Vietnamese food I have ever tasted (I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant). As my sleep deprivation cocktailed with the wine, the disturbing clown began to smile at me and Mike and I would scream ‘More Patapouf!,’ and thankfully another bottle was plopped down in front of us.

The great wines, while the details may fade away, linger in that corner of our brains oblivious to excess. Patapon and Pineau D’Aunis, a very worthy member of that club.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Naked Wine #2
A Morgon 3-Some

The best way to get intimate with a region is to throw yourself into it with a certain abandon. So with all the recent discussion about terroir versus style, I decided to go back to back to back with 3 different Beaujolais and see what I could unearth. All 3 producers are from the ‘Vin Nature’ school (see previous post) and work the vine in a similar fashion and avoid excessive use of sulfites. While one of the wines was from the 2003 vintage, it was interesting to taste the difference in wines made in vineyards that were walking distance from one another. You know, check out the terroir discussion on a micro level. For a great New World versus Old World style comparison, Beau did a great pizza comp at Basic Juice.

Morgon 2002, Côte du Py, Jean Foillard ($29…importation)
Not the brightest in terms of fruit but the most deliciously rich. Soft on the palette, the typical cherry Gamay is a little darker than normal, and finishes with a hint of mandarin orange. This Côte du Py is considered the best terroir in Morgon, and this was the only wine of the 3 tasted that was 100% Py. According to a man in the know, Foillard filters the lees to gain a little more color, and for me, a little more richness than what you get from Lapierre. It was wonderful with a plate of thyme laced roasted vegetables.

Morgon 2002, Marcel Lapierre ($27…importation)
My third vintage of Lapierre so I am starting to get a feel for his style. A part of this bottle comes from the Côte du Py. Super bright cherry fruit and almost translucent compared to Foillard, and what it lacked in depth, it made up for in spice. In almost Beaune fashion, it picked up on the curry sauce that covered my sole filets. More delicate than Foillard, it stayed refreshing and crisp until the very end (which came way to quick). A very sunny wine but a touch less complex than the Foillard.

Morgon 2003, Vieille Vignes, Jean-Paul Thévenet ($27..importation)
Much denser in both color and texture than the previous two, but that could be a result of the 2003 vintage. It had a ton on fruit, going beyond cherry into an almost candy-apple finish. But most interesting was this lead pencil minerality that I had never tasted in a red wine. It was almost as if I could taste something that was deep inside the rocks. While it was the most complex of the bunch, I found the lead pencil thing a little bit of a distraction.

But the best Beaujolais on the block year after year is still Métras' Fleurie, a wine which a number of people (vignerons and wine affecianados) have told me comes from one of the best drained and best exposed vineyards in the region. Terroir?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Stylizing Terroir

Tom at fermentations has written an interesting post in which he deals with a number of interesting questions regarding style and terroir.
1-‘shouldn't the traditional wine style that is associated with a region be seen as part of the terroir’
2- ‘Isn't a desire to see wines be "terroir-driven" just an aesthetic philosophy?’
3-‘ Couldn't a wine lover, with just as much care and enthusiasm for wine, take the position that style-driven wines are on an equal plane with terroir-driven wines?’

I would agree that these two concepts should be considered with equal worth, though on different terms. From my understanding of the notion of ‘terroir,’ I would have it include all those factors that are beyond the control of human intervention, and that influence the ‘raw material’ that the wine-maker has to work with when it comes time to ferment his wine. These include meso and micro-climates, soil and sub-soil structures of which indigenous yeasts and micro organisms, and topography.

These factors are all constants and to my understanding can create subtle differences between wines made under similar conditions and ‘exigence,’ even if the vineyards are but a few miles from one another.

It is here that style comes into play. How a particular winemaker works his vines, the degree of ripeness he seeks, how he deals with fermentation, etc.., have a very profound, and without a doubt, a greater effect upon the wine that we guzzle back on Friday evenings. While there is little doubt that there is a general movement towards a riper, ‘fruit forward’ style, this component is in constant flux. For example, in the early 90’s, Burgundy went through a faze of heavily extracted, dense, and oakey wines. Over the past few years, we have seen a number of younger winemakers move in the complete opposite direction. There is room for all and it is this diversity of styles that make wine so interesting.

It is here also that we as consumers value and judge the style of the winemaker. On a personal level (and that is the beauty of blogdom), I appreciate much more those winemakers who work to expose those subtle differences that are a product of his particular terroir. I love ripeness, but I find that the heavily extracted style pushed by Parker and Rolland tend to mask subtle aromas and flavours at the expense of nuance. It is my chief complaint against much of the wines of the New World, that they are too massive, too intense. And as I see wine as an accessory to eating, I find that they are not delicate enough for the majority of foods. But that is my stylistic penchant.

So am I thus a style–driven ‘terroir aesthetic?’ I think the answer to question 3 is that ‘terroir-driven’ wines must be regarded as a style of winemaking. But in the end, isn’t it just about making great wine?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Naked Wine
Beyond Packaging with Vin Naturel

The ‘vin nature’ movement extols as it’s primary virtue that a wine must reflect as honestly as possible the millisème that it was made, the terroir where it was grown and ultimately, the skill and soul of the winemaker. Entirely organic in the vineyard, it's proponents attempt to maintain the ‘signature’ of ‘the place’ throughout all stages of vinification. In practice this means the addition of little or no sulfites, allowing the indigineous yeasts that already exist in the soil to work their magic, and no filtering or fining. They buck the trend towards using international varietals, embracing instead the traditional grapes of their region.

This ‘vinideology’ and the resulting wines are in sharp contrast to the plethora of generic Merlots, Cabernets and Chardonnays that are filling the shelves of our stores. These wines are not always bad, they have simply lost their sense of place. Their character, instead of reflecting the typicity of the terroir is due instead to manufactured yeasts and other ‘modern’ viticultural techniques which guarantee a consistent, if unexciting, product year after year. What’s left is up to the marketing departments with emphasis placed on cool bottle shapes, sexy labels and hipster ad campaigns. The wine becomes secondary as it all kinda tastes the same anyway.

So are the ‘Natural Wines’ any better? Many are great and most are an interesting drink, often challenging my preconceptions about both the varietal and the region. Are they better for you? I don’t know about that but with less sulfites I can attest to easier mornings after the occasional excessive soirée. Is it good for wine lovers? Definitely. Globalization at it’s best should offer the wine enthusiast an opportunity to discover the plethora of tastes and terroirs that exist in the four corners of the wine world. It would be a shame if the thirst to conquer certain markets means losing regional typicity. I guess that is why I am drawn to these wines and the people that make them.

Over the next couple of posts I will delve into the ‘Natural Wine’ world, reviewing some of my favorites, some that I didn’t quite understand, and others that were just plain weird.
Thanks for reading and check out Basic Juice for another related take on the subject.