Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel #1 - Cour-Cheverny

Is there room for another blind tasting panel? I think there is, and I'm trying to organize it. I think it will be interesting to gather bloggers and other people with whom I enjoy sharing wine, taste and discuss together with the goal of being able to say something meaningful about a group of wines. Hopefully it will be of interest to you. We''ll do our best, and let's see how it goes - your comments, suggestions, and criticism will be most helpful as I continue to do these.

Our first theme is Cour-Cheverny. Cour-Chevery is a tiny area within Cheverny, itself a small AOC to the northeast of Touraine. There are about 50 hectares of the now obscure Romorantin grape planted in Cheverny, and it is this area that in 1991 was given its own AOC status. There are obviously not many growers in such a small space, and after much scouring, I could identify only five producers whose wines are available in the NYC market. Five - that's pretty manageable for an amateur blind tasting panel.

Cour-Cheverny is high-acid wine, even by Loire Valley acid freak standards. When good ripeness is achieved, the wines can show an apple-y kind of fruit that complements the intense minerality and acidity. When not ripe or not done well, these can be shrill wines that pierce the teeth and the spirit. The most famous Cour-Cheverny wine (and famous is a silly word since it is only the wine-geek who knows and drinks these wines) is François Cazin's Cuvée Renaissance, a wine made only in the best vintages when the grapes are affected by noble rot. It is a delicious and complex off-dry wine that ages beautifully. But we limited ourselves to dry wines in this tasting, so no Cuvée Renaissance (until after the tasting, anyway, when we enjoyed the excellent 2004 with a group of raw caow' milk cheeses). Four of the five wines we tasted were from the 2007 vintage, a classic year in that it presented the typical array of problemsthat growers have to content with. Not warm and easy ripening like 2005, not as bad as 2001, typical perhaps, classic.

I was joined for this tasting by three friends - Alice Feiring, Keith Levelnberg, and Michel Abood. Alice is the noted wine writer and passionate defender of natural wines who recently wrote a book entitled The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization. You can follow her day to day adventures at her blog In Vino Veritas. Keith Levenberg is a securites lawyer by day and by night a prominent and very well respected participant in the New York and internet bulletin board wine scene. He writes a thought-provoking blog called The Pickyeater. Michel Abood owns Vinotas Selections, an importer of French and Spanish wines. He shares his professional and personal experiences in wine at his blog called Random Ramblings on Wine and Food.

As I mentioned, there are five Cour-Cheverny producers whose wines are available in NYC, represented by three importers who very generously donated the wines for this tasting. Thank you Louis/Dressner Selections, Savio Soares, and JD Headrick! We blind-tasted the wines and individually picked our two favorites for current drinking, along with a wine that we would want for the cellar. We also did a whole lot of discussing. So without further ado, here are the results of our Cour-Cheverny blind tasting.

In general the wines showed very well, better than I expected. it was interesting to note that some of us were reminded of Chenin Blanc when drinking these wines, in that they took on a woolly note as they aired out. Maybe it's more of a terroir thing than a grape variety thing? I think Alice and I liked the wines as a group more than Keith and Michel did, but Keith and Michel were very enthusiastic about their favorite wines. Keith declared that he would happily buy his favorite for his own cellar. Two of the five wines received almost all the votes (each received two 1st place votes and one 2nd place vote) - the 2007 Domaine des Huards, and the 2007 Domaine de Montcy. The Huards was unanimously selected as the wine we would want in the cellar for aging. The only other wine to get any votes (two 2nd place votes) was the 2006 Domaine Philippe Tessier La Porte Dorée. I was not the only one who was surprised when François Cazin's wine was unveiled, and had not shown as well as the other wines. Here are some notes on the individual wines:

2007 Domaine des Huards Cour Cheverny, $17, JD Headrick Selections. Keith and Michel really liked this wine. Keith said that it was "pure with fresh fruit and powerful minerality, with flint and gunpowder notes." Michel suggested pairing it with Marcona almonds, and Keith thought it would be great with ceviche. I liked this wine very much also, its depth of material was obvious. But I thought it was more tightly wound than the other wines, and preferred to drink other wines at that moment in the tasting, putting this one in the cellar. And I will tell you that the next day (host kept the leftovers, thank you) this wine was really stunning, working way above it's paygrade. It had real complexity, layers of fruit and minerals, and was very well balanced. This is fantastic bottle and a pretty crazy value at $17.

2007 Domaine de Montcy Cour-Cheverny, $15, Savio Soares Selections. Alice loved this wine. She said that she wasn't crazy about it at first, but that it changed a lot in the glass, and as we were discussing the wines she could barely pull her nose out, saying "there are violets in this wine, and they're killing me." I assume she meant killing in a good way. I also thought this wine was great, perfect for current drinking. Very clean, lovely and pure apple fruit, a floral depth to it, very well balanced and very drinkable, impossible not to like. Keith liked this wine too, and said it reminded him of a Chablis.

2006 Domaine Philippe Tessier La Porte Dorée, $19, Savio Soares Selections. This wine was entirely different from the others, and not just because of the vintage. It is overtly oxidative in style with an almost oily texture. Michel and I both liked it enough to vote for it, but not everyone was convinced. Michel liked the chamomile notes he got on the nose and the long finish. I liked the freshness and the mineral depth of the wine, but in the end, I'm just a sucker for this oxidative style of white wine.

2007 François Cazin Cour-Cheverny, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. All I can say is that blind tasting is humbling, and often surprising. Cazin is definitely the leading producer in the appellation with many years of great wines under his belt. But this bottle of his wine simply wasn't as good as the above wines on this particular night. I found it to be reticent, almost mute on the nose, and not in a tight, drinking too young way. Just mute. Others said that it was short on the finish and without the aromatic pungency of the others. I thought it tasted good, but that it was a simple wine. It wasn't any better on days 2 or 3, by the way. I have another bottle that I'm eager to taste to see if this one was weird in some way. In any case, Cazin is a star, and even if his wine isn't great in this vintage, he makes great wine that is worth buying.

2007 Domaine de Moulin Cour-Cheverny Les Petits Acacias, $15, Louis/Dressner Selections. I cannot, however, be as forgiving with this wine, because even during our discussion there just wasn't a lot good to say about it. It's not bad wine, but in this company it was definitely not distinguished. People said it felt dull, unfocused. I thought it was too smokey and that the fruit was oddly tropical, something that Michel picked up on also. In any case, this one would be difficult to recommend. I don't have the experience with this producer to know whether or not this is representative of the wine, but Joe Dressner is behind it and that's good enough for me - I will look forward to tasting more from this producer.

I hope this was interesting to you in some way. We certainly had a lot of fun doing it.


keithlevenberg said...

Great writeup BG, I'm honored to have been a part of the inaugural panel.

My main take-home from the lineup was the polar divergence in styles, between the deeper, slightly oxidized versions and the ones that were more crisp, bright, and minerally. By the standards of oxidized wines I liked those more than most - I think only one of them was bordering on sherried - but the whole oxidized genre is an acquired taste I never acquired. People who are hypersensitive to brett argue that it's a flaw because brett tastes the same no matter where it is, so it stamps out individual character, and that's usually where I stand on oxidation. The Montcy and Huards were definitely more my kind of whites.

Anonymous said...

How can post define statements like: "Cour-Cheverny is high-acid wine, even by Loire Valley acid freak standards." There are woinderful, well-balanced, certainly non-too-acid white wine in Loire Valley. and how can you speak about Cour-Cheverny the best wine makers in this area.
There is a real world that you have to discover besides Louis Dresner and François and Jenny.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write:
"...and how can you speak about Cour-Cheverny without mentioning the best wine makers in this area."


Wicker Parker said...

Great post! I am ignorant of all these producers save Cazin, and I'm definitely going to try to hunt down the Huards (Soares Selections aren't distributed 'round these parts, sadly). Anyway, the Cour-Cheverny blind tasting was a great idea.

Brooklynguy said...

@Keith - it was such a pleasure to do this with you, thanks again. your comments are always insightful. i like oxidized wine, so grain of salt, but i think that although Lopez de Heredia, for example, and Jura veiled Chardonnay are both oxidized, they show entirely different terroir. this is one of those things that like art, really comes down to the beholder.

@anon - i want to reply to your comment, which interests me on several levels. but it's kind of a weird comment, as if you either have never read my blog before, or you're a romorantin grower whose wines were not included and you're annoyed. maybe i'm wrong, but why not introduce yourself? no matter who you are, i will not note your name and send you to Siberia. this is a conversation, i promise, you're safe here.

@mike - thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. hunting huards is a good idea, and a worthwhile pursuit.

Vinotas said...

BG, thank you for including me on your inaugural panel. It was both an informative and a pleasant experience.

I found it interesting to see where everyone's palates fell: mine was closer to yours in terms of preferences, while Keith's and Alice's seemed to match up more. Like you, I enjoy the oxydative style of wine. I didn't feel the oxydation took anything away from the wines, in fact to me it was an added level of complexity.

I think I was surprised by the gap between our top-scorer and our least favorite, the Moulin. They really were worlds apart.

Thanks again!

Weston said...

thought for a second you were asking for Volunteers for a Blind Tasting! Damnit so close hah, Love the part where you name the area in Loire and I have never heard of that name love this blog.

You made me like Champagne (bubbly) even more. And I have always loved high acid wines just didn't really know it gotta love a good Loire. Sauv Blanc / Chenin. Waiting for my case of Muscadet to show up then I shall see if I love all three whites?

sadams62 said...

The first vintage of cour cheverny that I tasted was the 2002 vintage. I bought both Tessier's and also the Cazin. For my tastebuds, the Tessier was the winner no contest. I have never been as impressed by the Cazin as much as the Tessier. I will admit that the 2002 Port Doree was not oxidative. I still have some bottles in my cellar.

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Unknown said...

Re: the Cazin, possible it was an awkward stage? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's Cazin who does late releases of this wine--I seem to remember having them back to '93 and they're often more in keeping with what you wished this '07 was. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

BG, just drank an 02 Huards Cour Chverney last week and it blew my mind!

keithlevenberg said...

On the acidity, I didn't find any of them notably acidic -- way, way, way less than the Austrian wines that account for the majority of whites I've been drinking lately and less than the typical Muscadet, too. There was enough to give the wines freshness of course, but it isn't like acidity per se stuck out as a prominent feature of the wines for me.

Ian Black said...

It's so rare to see anything on Cour Cheverny, then along comes a comparative tasting - well done guys! It's made my day.

You have certainly picked up the fact that there is a very wide range of winemaking styles here. I don't know of one more out there than the "Les petits Acacias", but I've noted that the '06 (haven't had the '07) combined sherry notes with a certain amount of maderization, as well as base wine notes. I presume they make it as a vin de voile.

To be fair, I think you are tasting these wines as babies. Most aficianados would suggest they all benefit from many years slumber in the cellar. My own personal comment (not seen elsewhere) is that they rather resemble a sort of northerly semillon style. Very pure and finely focussed when young but not with a lot to say for themselves. That comes once the secondary notes start appearing, and I think the comments as they became aired are to be expected.

The standard Dom. des Huards is nice, but their top cuvee (Francois Ier) is even nicer - do try it if you get the chance.

Re the sweet wines (they are really demi-secs) - most producers offer them. Cazin's Cuvee Renaissance '03 is indeed well worth seeking out. But so is Michel Gendrier's (Huards) "J.M. Tendresse", and Robert Morin also made a good one in '04.

Incidentally, in the useless facts department, I believe Michel Gendrier and Francis Boulard are good friends and went to college together.

Vinotas said...


I found the wines' acidity to be high but not searingly so. As you say, there are more higher-acid wines out there, especially Austrian and some Muscadet. Yet in the pantheon of whites that the average consumer tries, these were *relatively* higher in acidity. For my part, I found it to be bright and refreshing, but I do like that in my wines.

I also enjoyed the slight oxydative note I got in some of the samples. I love the whites from the Jura, so these fit right into my palate's preference.

Anthony Clement said...

18th March 2010. I've just started my 2005 Tessier Cour-Cheverny and its really good. I bought it at Tessier's and was told not to drink it for several years. Unlike many Loire wines it needs time in the bottle