Showing posts with label Wine of the Week. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wine of the Week. Show all posts

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Friday Night Bubbles - 2002 Diebolt-Vallois

Last night, after a night of many a Poulsard with friends (more on that soon), I wanted to open a bottle of good Champagne to close out the evening. But what to open? My companions included a guy who until recently worked at Michael Skurnik wines, so nothing from Terry Theise. A woman who works at Chambers Street Wines, so nothing that they sell. And a prominent Sommelier at a great NYC restaurant, so nothing off his list. I decided to open a bottle of 2002 Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs, $65, imported by Petit Pois Corp. Turns out that the Sommelier has the 1997 on his list. I did my best. I tried, okay? Why are you being so judgmental?

2002 was a great year in most of Champagne and the idea is to actually hold onto the wines to allow them to reach their true potential, not to drink them frivolously after many other bottles at the end of the evening. But I don't own any of the Diebolt-Vallois 1999's, which my good friend Peter Liem says is what we should be drinking now while we wait for the 02's and the '04's to develop. And I was in the company of people who deeply love and know wine - who better to drink this with? And I have one more bottle that I will use all of my powers to save for another 5 years. So I opened it, we drank it, and it was just excellent.

Even at the end of a night of many wines, it is immediately clear that this is a special drink. The nose is fresh and harmonious, the wine is quite full in body, silky in texture, the fruit is clean and ripe, the finish is chalky and refreshing. I loved the sheer class and elegance of this wine, its effortless depth, its resonant fragrance. What will happen with additional cellaring that could make this wine better than it is right now?

Although it is expensive in absolute terms, I now understand how huge of a bargain it is in relative terms - you can easily spend much more than this on many Champagnes that simply aren't as good.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Night Bubbles

It's natural to overlook Champagne Delamotte, as its superstar sister Salon gets most of the attention. And like many whose siblings have attention-grabbing personalities, Delamotte wines are of the quiet type. They don't show particularly well at big tastings, at least in my experience, where the loudest wines draw the crowds. But as an apértif with friends or at the table, these wines are surprisingly lovely.

This post is in part a tribute to Peter Liem and his recently deceased blog Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel. I don't know this for sure because we've never discussed it, but I imagine that Peter would like these wines, particularly the one I drank the other night, a gift from my friend Tista (who I met through Peter), the NV Delamotte Brut Rosé, about $55, Wilson Daniels Imports.

Peter would like this wine because it smells and tastes great. Period. It is not a super-cool skateboarding and mussy-haired hipster Champagne, it doesn't appear on the list at any of the hottest Paris bars, or at Terroir or Ten Bells. The wine maker did not grow the grapes or spray them with biodynamic treatments, and there are no former-bankers turned hippie horse farmers involved in any way with the production, importing, or distribution of this wine. Many of the wine cool-cats would say, then, that Delamotte Rosé isn't worth drinking, or at best would simply ignore it. And this is one of my favorite things about Peter Liem as a wine writer - he thinks about and writes about wine based on merits, not based on hipster caché. Some of the wines he loves are cool-cat wines, like Overnoy/Houillon, La Bota Sherries, and Vouette et Sorbée, but he also likes decidedly un-hip big house wines, négoce wines, and anything else that speaks to him. And if you don't think that's cool, that's your problem. I'll miss his blog very much, but there are other ways to follow Peter's wine writing, praise be.

The NV Delamotte Brut Rosé is a saignée wine. That's cool, isn't it? So is Vouette et Sorbée, so they have that in common. It is 80% Pinot Noir, the rest Chardonnay. It needs a half hour or so to open up, and then the fresh red berry aromas become quite vivid, the nose airy and fresh. It is elegant and balanced on the palate, without sacrificing the energetic exuberance of a good saignée. The fruit is ripe and there is a tender chalky and floral fragrance on the finish. We loved it, and I look forward to serving it blind the next time I am hosting a Champagne-loving uber-hipster.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Wine of the Week - Jean Foillard Morgon

If I were putting together a Noah's Ark of wine, Jean Foillard's Morgons would represent the Beaujolais species. There are many lovable Beaujolais wines, but I love these the most. And it's funny, because Foillard's wines are not, in my experience, all that lovable upon opening. They can be a little gassy at first, also showing some reductive aromas until the wine meets up with some oxygen. But when a Foillard Morgon opens up, it can be a very beautiful thing. The fruit is joyous and lovely - this is true of most good Beaujolais wines. These are complex and well balanced wines too. But the things that defines Foillard's wines for me is the way they combine such incredible clarity with such rich intensity.

Morgon is considered by many to offer the greatest potential of the 10 Beaujolais Crus. The Côte de Py is the most renown site in Morgon. It is a large hill with soils of schist and granite, an extinct volcano actually, as I learned from Bert's post on Wine Terroirs. Foillard has plots on the Côte de Py, and also in another Morgon vineyard called Corcelette, a plot with sandy soil, as I learned from Peter Liem's post (the comments explain this). I don't know the age of Foillard's vines in Côte de Py, but his vines in Corcelette are about 80 years old. The Côte de Py is pretty easy to find in NYC each year, Corcelette is more difficult. Both wines are delicious young, but they have a reputation for aging particularly well.

A friend came for brunch last weekend and one of the wines we drank was the 2007 Corcelette. And if you have a problem with the fact that we opened several bottles with brunch, I really just don't know what to tell you. We didn't finish what we opened, but when you have the chance to drink wine with a fellow wine lover, why not explore a few bottles together? We both loved the Corcelette, and he wasn't around later that evening when the wine hit a crescendo. It was so good that I felt compelled to open the 2007 Côte de Py later in the week, just to see how it would compare. It was also fantastic, but in a different way. The wines are quite obviously sisters, but they offer a different expression of Morgon Gamay.

The fruit is vibrant in the 2007 Foillard Morgon Corcelette, $29, imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. The acidity is vibrant too, and the wine feels tactile in the mouth - crunchy almost. This is cooling and floral raspberry fruit, smooth and velvety, and there is a gorgeous fragrance on the finish. After several hours open, this wine was remarkable in its old vines intensity - the nose just builds and builds and builds, and the pure fragrance of slightly herbal ripe fruit fills every crevice in the mouth after swallowing. Such a beautiful wine! I'd rather spend my money on this than Bourgogne rouge.

The 2007 Foillard Morgon Côte de Py, also $29, wears its structure more overtly, its deep cherry fruit corralled by iron and rock. The fruit is spicier and more mineral infused than the Corcelette, meatier. The texture here is also velvety smooth, but even after a few hours the structure is still as prominent as is the fruit. This wine is more steak and potatoes, and the Corcelette is more warm raspberry pie. I suspect that the Côte de Py, although delicious now, will be more harmonious in a few years.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Wine of the Week - Claux Delorme Valençay

Here is a bottle that represents a lot of what I love about wine from the Loire Valley. It is absolutely delicious and easy to drink, although there is some complexity here too, it is robust and flavorful, but it compliments instead of overwhelms your dinner, and it has a definite sense of place, or terroir. And it is inexpensive, too - under $20.

I'm not saying things are perfect in the Loire Valley when it comes to wine, far from it. For example. this wine used to be called Clos Delorme (as you'll see on the label in the photo), but importer JD Headrick said "the name recently changed from Clos Delorme to Claux Delorme because the French wine mafia determined that they didn't own a "real" clos and made them change the name." They clearly have their bureaucratic issues, too.

Claux Delorme proprietors Albane and Bertrand Michin run an eestate called La Tour Saint Martin in Menetou-Salon, a neighbor of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. They bought a small amount of hillside land in Valençay, an obscure AOC to all but the most ardent of Loire Valley wine geeks, and they grow a variety of grapes that all go into one red wine. As in Cheverny, red wines from Valençay contain several grapes, typically some blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Franc.

Each time I drink this wine, the thing that impresses me most is the skill in blending. The 2006 vintage is 40% Gamay, 30% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Pinot Noir. It is seamless wine - nothing sticks out, but the influence of each grape is clear. Importer JD Headrick said, "I take great pleasure in trying to identify the component parts. On a good day I can find it….the dark density that the Côt brings….the spiciness of the Pinot…the juicy "drink me" quality of the Gamay….and the earthy structure that the Cabernet Franc brings to the table."

2006 Albane & Bertrand Minchin Le Clos Delorme Valençay, $18, JD Headrick Selections. Dark purple to the core - looks like it's going to be one of those overly extracted, too intense wines, but it's nowhere close. A nose full of musky, meaty, dark black fruit, with a rich loamy soil character. Very energetic on the nose, and with some exposure to air there is a lovely core of fragrant violets. Completely smooth on the palate, finely grained tannins, fantastic acidity, very meaty and ample in the mouth, and perfectly balanced - the alcohol is a mere 12.5%. Again, with some air, the finish is quite long and takes on a nice smokey character.

I would love to drink this with duck breast and confit, with any kind of pâte or charcuterie, alongside pasta with Brussels sprouts and bacon, or with a juicy hamburger. It would be pretty hard to go wrong pairing this wine - it might even do well with the famous goat cheese of Valençay (Valençay is the only place in France to have AOC status for both wine and cheese). The wine is great on its own, too. If I owned a restaurant or wine bar this would be on the list so fast, it would make your head spin.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wine of the Week - Pierre Morey Bourgogne

There were some thought-provoking comments on my post from earlier this week about, among other things, whether or not it is possible to predict a producer's overall level of quality based on the quality of their Bourgogne. A few people raised the issue of whether or not Bourgogne as a category of wine is worthwhile, based on quality to price ratio. I don't have a definitive stance on the subject - I can make a case for both points of view.

Bourgogne from top producers such as Ghislaine Barthod or Sylvain Cathiard costs upwards of $35. Dugat-Py Bourgogne goes for over $50. If you're talking about Leroy or Coche-Dury, you're closer to $100. Are those wines "worth it?" Are there great Bourgognes? That question must be answered on an individual basis. I can tell you that I do not purchase those wines, and the reason is simply because there are wines for $35, $50, and $100 that I would much rather have. There are great Burgundy wines that cost $35, $50, and $100, but I don't believe that they are Bourgognes.

Still, I wouldn't say that Bourgogne is a worthless category. What if you want to spend $25 or less, and drink red wine from Burgundy? You're drinking regional wine - Bourgogne or Hautes-Côtes de Beaune/Nuits. There are producers making very good Burgundy wine at this price point, but most do not, and I would rather buy great wines from other places for $25 than merely pleasant Bourgogne. I'd rather buy Coudert Fleurie Cuvée Tardive, anything by François Chidaine, Luneau Papin's Excelsior Clos des Noelles, Terrebrune's Bandol Rosé, Puffeney's Poulsard, Bernard Baudry's Les Grezéaux, and many, many, many other wines that, in my opinion, are amongst the finest wines of their type. Even though there are some great regional Burgundy wines, none of them are among the finest red wines of Burgundy.

So what are the best regional Burgundy wines at about $25? Everyone has their own opinions on this. My list includes Simon Bize's Perrieres, Sylvie Esmonin's Cuvée Sylvie, Maréchal's Cuvée Gravel, Rene Leclerc's Bourgogne, Lignier-Michelot's Bourgogne, and Michel Lafarge's Bourgogne (although that one is probably more expensive now). For a while my list was growing. Now it's actually shrinking, as I become more knowledgeable about what I like.

Although I am more picky now, I still like to try regional wines from great producers when I can, and this week, thanks to a sale, I was able to buy a bottle of 2006 Pierre Morey Bourgogne Pinot Noir for $22, Imported by Wilson Daniels. Pierre Morey, for many years the wine maker at the venerable Domaine Leflaive, is famous for making thrillingly precise and terroir expressive white wines. I wish that I could have done this little experiment with his Bourgogne Blanc, but we've been talking about red wine so far. And as I learned when I visited him in Meursault in December, Morey's reds are also quite good. What about this, his most basic of red wines in 2006? Would it be a worthy regional wine, or a missed opportunity to buy a bottle of great Cru Beaujolais?

Pierre Morey is a great master, and I say this will all due respect - this particular wine is not a good argument for spending money on Bourgogne. The nose has some nice floral aromas, some dried leaves, and some dark pinot fruit, but this wine is not easy on the palate. The tannins are drying and there is a prominent stems and underbrush sensation. The overall feeling is rustic, a rug of dried leaves. Four hours in the wine is a bit more tame, but it is what it is - decent Bourgogne from a great producer in a pretty good year. I'd rather have a bottle of Baudry Les Grezéaux.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wine of the Week - Selosse Champagne

I'm sorry to do this, to ask you to read about a wine that it so awfully difficult to find, and if you can find it, so terribly expensive. But this is a special wine, one that I may well never have the chance to drink again, one that has inspired much debate, a rare wine from an iconic producer. The other night Peter Liem came over for dinner, and so I had my first Selosse experience. It was pretty amazing, and I want to share a bit about it.

NV Jacques Selosse Champagne Substance, about $250, Imported by the Rare Wine Company. This is a Blanc de Blancs from the Grand Cru village of Avize. Substance is a solera wine, meaning that it is composed of wines from all vintages since the creation of the solera, which in this case was 1986. Wine is removed and new wine is added each year. Because they contain so much old wine, solera wines tend to offer a mature richness of aroma and flavor. And as Peter explained, Selosse's idea when he created the solera (and Selosse was the one to begin this practice in Champagne) was to eliminate the effect of vintage and to amplify the effect of the terroir. When the barrel contains wines dating back to 1986, the impact of the individual year is lost. Peter discusses Selosse and terroir a bit more in this post.

The bottle we drank was disgorged in October of 2008, and I think the most recent vintage in this bottle should therefore be 2004. The wine is a strikingly deep amber color. The nose is expressive and intense, full of ginger and exotic fruit. Broad and rich but finely focused, and with incredible detail on the palate, this is a complete wine. And after about 90 minutes it was truly amazing - the things that stuck out previously, the intensity, the ginger, the richness - those things had blended so seamlessly with each other by this time that none of them on its own was evident. The wine had become a real thing of beauty, the kind of wine that can ruin you. Evocative of old libraries filled with leather-bound books and half-drunk glasses of sherry, and of attractive young couples riding motorcycles, rushing past you in a fleeting glimpse of what you wish you could be.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wine of the Week - Jurassic Pinot from Philippe Bornard

I made the simplest of summer vegetable soups, mostly with my 2.5 year old daughter in mind. Home made vegetable stock with shell beans, summer squash, scallions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots. Not a whole lot else. Some crusty bread with thin slices of Comte, under the broiler for a few minutes - dinner.

You ever have days where the best thing that happens at work is when you think about the various wines you might open with dinner? It wasn't even noon when I understood that I would be opening a Jura Chardonnay or Savagnin made in the under-the-veil style. And I was excited. So who knows how and why I changed gears as I prepped vegetables for the soup. I stayed in the Jura, but went with a red wine, and although I imagine that the synergy between our dinner and veiled Savagnin or Chardonnay would have been better than it was with the wine we drank, the wine we drank was superb.

The 2005 Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin Pinot Noir L'Aide Mémoire, $30, Savio Soares Selections, is an entirely different Pinot Noir, if you're used to the wines of Burgundy. There is little to no earth, no funkiness at all. This wine, to me, is defined by its incredible savoury character. When a wine is this savoury, I spell savoury with a "u." It's amazing, really, the umami quotient in this wine - I bet it is equal to a clam, dried seaweed, or a dried mushroom. In fact, this wine smells like a perfect blend of sweet dark cherry fruit, granite, and the water left over when you reconstitute dried mushrooms. It is a deeply complex and fascinating nose, and entirely lovely too, lest you think that mushroom water is not a positive thing. The fruit is more prominent on the palate, and it is intense and concentrated without being the least bit clunky - the alcohol is only 12.5%. But even after several hours open, the finish is long and very savoury, umami notes dancing on a sweet cherry floor. I think this wine is just fantastic.

The thing is, I don't really know anything about this wine, or about Annie et Philippe Bornard. There's just nothing out there on the interweb. I don't typically write about producers when I know this little about them, but this wine is just too good to drink and then keep to myself. I don't know the size of the estate, how they farm or harvest, what they do in the cellar, or anything about the specific site where the grapes are grown for this wine. If anyone reading this knows something, please share in the comments (that means you too Savio, Ariel, and Mike). I can tell you this, though - if you like Jura wines you should try this one, and if you like Pinot Noir and don't know Jura wine, you should try this one. I think it would work with a wide array of food, from Sushi to raw oysters or clams to veal cooked with mushrooms and herbs to Comte cheese.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wine of the Week - Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon

You already know about this producer and about this wine, the Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon #2, $14, Louis/Dressner Selections. I am not going to shed any new light on the situation. I will say this, however, and please don't start drafting your hate mail yet - I don't love Clos Roche Blanche as much as some of you do. I have much respect and I've had some great bottles, but overall, not one of my favorite producers. Nothing complicated - I just don't always love the wines. My favorite is the fantastic Touraine Sauvignon Blanc.

But I am still frustrated by this wine. I have had bottles that just blow me away, and then had bottles that are simply uninspiring. There is variation with any wine, but I find more so with Clos Roche Blanche than with most other wines. Or perhaps, it is just that when a $14 wine is as beautiful as this one, it is equally frustrating when the next bottle is nothing special.

I've had the 2008 several times now and at its best, it rivals wines from Sancerre that cost more than three times as much. Like the bottle I opened the other night when my parents, who don't care a lick about wine, were here - I wanted to open something good, but not terribly dear to me because they don't care one way or another. The wine was utterly gorgeous. Even my mother who was mesmerized by her granddaughters said "Wow, this is great wine, I don't think I've ever had anything like this before."But when I served it to some close friends a few weeks ago as part of a blind wine dinner, it was totally unremarkable. How frustrating!

When you get a good bottle, this is what you get: smokey earth and minerals, black licorice and herbs, incredibly pure citrus fruit, vibrancy and balance. As Sharon Bowman recently pointed out, this wine can be addictive. And at 13.5% alcohol, be careful. But it's not always this good, and when it's not, I find that the drop off is rather steep. I'll keep buying this wine because it's so great when it's good, and at about $14, the risk is manageable. Is it just me, or have you found there to be lots of variability here?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wine of the Week - López de Heredia Viña Cubillo

What do you think of when you think of López de Heredia, the great master of Rioja? I think of very old and very beautiful wines, Reservas and Gran Reservas that are first released to the retail market when they are 10-20 years old. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to try their entry-level red wine, Viña Cubillo. But try it I did about 6 months ago, and I feel like a dope. It's easy to focus only on a producer's best wines. But I shouldn't have overlooked Viña Cubillo. It is a great wine in its own right, at about $25. Think of Cubillo the way you might think of a Michel Lafarge or a Leroy Bourgogne.

Cubillo is technically a Crianza, meaning that it must age for at least 2 years, at least 6 months of that time must be in oak. López de Heredia, as they do with all of their wines, ages Cubillo longer than is required - about 3 years in oak and then another few years in the bottle. And Cubillo, like all López de Heredia wines, is released only when they think it is ready for drinking. The blend is always the same: 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacho (Grenache), and 5% each of Carignan and something called Mazuelo.

2002 López de Heredia Rioja Crianza Viña Cubillo, $25, Polaner Selections. BrooklynLady thought this was a Burgundy wine when she first smelled and tasted. I completely understand that assessment - the wine a lovely mingling of bright red fruit and earth. The nose really soars, fragrant and full of energy. Vibrant and juicy on the palate, very intense and fruit forward but with a compact and lean frame. The current vintage is the 2003, and I think that another year plus of bottle age has been great for the 2002. With just a little air time, the aromas are still fruity, but become very stately and mature, a woven basket of fruit on a fine mahogany dining table. We drank this wine with a simple but wholly satisfying meal - cauliflower cooked slowly with pimentón and garlic, and a scallion omelet. The pimentón and the wine recognized each other immediately from their childhood days, and wasted no time reconnecting.

The moral of this story is simple: you do not have to shell out the $75 plus to experience the joys of López de Heredia. Not that you shouldn't - many people say that a López de Heredia Gran Reserva represents one of the very best values in red wine. But you can spend about $25 on Viña Cubillo and still bask in Rioja glory. By the way, the steady-handed David McDuff's wrote about this same wine only a few weeks ago. Check out his take on it here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wine of the Week - Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges

The other night BrooklynLady went to her book club and my pal Adam came over for dinner, so I made a batch of Chinese-style braised oxtails. It may not sound like an appropriate dish for summer, but I think it works. Keep the portions reasonable and it's rather nice, actually, the scents of orange and star anise wafting through the house on a warm night.

I enjoy pairing this and other dishes like it, with red Burgundy wines. The spicy and savory notes in the food bring out the same in the wine, and vice-versa. I particularly like the way the hoisin character of Chambolle-Musigny works with this kind of food, but I didn't have any in the house. A Gevrey-Chambertin perhaps, with its spicy earth notes would have been nice. But in the end I decided on a bottle from Nuits St. George, hoping that the sauvage nature of the wine might compliment the innate rusticity of oxtails.

I chose the 2002 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chênes Carteaux, about $50 on release, Becky Wasserman Selections. I knew that it might not be ready to drink. Gouges wines, in general, require a lot of time in the cellar before revealing their charms. But I read a few tasting notes that implied that the wine might be approachable now.

And if not, is that so terrible? There is this idea that there is an absolutely correct time to drink a wine, and if it is consumed before that time, a crime has been committed. What if the authority who decreed the prime drinking window enjoys wine differently from the way I do? What's wrong with drinking a wine early in its life - isn't a great wine great at all phases of its evolution? How else can we learn about prime drinking windows unless we risk opening bottles before they are ready, and learn for ourselves what makes them not ready?

Adam and I both thought that the wine was excellent, although we both thought it would continue to improve with a few more years of cellaring. But really, that's picking nits, because the wine was expressive and welcoming. The fruit is dark and smoky, and is infused with a subtle but definite animale character. There are some underbrush aromas too, and just a touch of alcohol heat (13%). The palate was more expressive than the nose, with rich and gamy dark fruit that combines concentration with lightness of texture. As the wine moves back on the palate it tingles with good acidity, it shows a secondary earthy side, and there are delicate red cherry flavors that hang on ripe but somewhat rugged tannins. A lovely gamy perfume lingers after swallowing, inviting another messy bite of braised oxtail.

Domaine Henri Gouges is thought of, alongside Domaine Robert Chevillon, as the top producer in Nuits St. Georges. I would add Domaine de L'Arlot to that list, but that's just my opinion. Domaine Henri Gouges, now run by cousins Pierre and Christian Gouges, owns parcels in all of the most important vineyards in the southern part of Nuits St. Georges. The 1er Cru vineyard Les Chênes Carteaux has rather illustrious neighbors. This map courtesy of Becky Wasserman's site, shows that Les Chênes Carteaux sits immediately to the west of Les Saint Georges, the vineyard that is considered to be the finest terroir in Nuits St. Georges, currently under consideration by INAO to be elevated to Grand Cru status. To the north is Les Vaucrains, another great terroir. Les Chênes Carteaux does not have the reputation of a top terroir, even though it is quite literally a stone's throw from Les Saint Georges and Les Vaucrains. Ah, the mysteries of Burgundy. But there is a silver lining - whereas a bottle of Henri Gouges Les Saint Georges now costs at least $125, Les Chênes Carteaux can be had for more like $65. Hardly inexpensive, but this is one of the top producers in the area, and that is what it now costs to explore 1er Cru wines from the Côte de Nuits.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wine of the Week - Damien Laureau Savennières

The Savennières AOC is a small appellation, and a small group of producers makes most of the wine that hits US retail shelves. That list includes Château d'Epiré, Domaine du Closel, Domaine des Baumard, Roche aux Moines, and the famous and controversial Nicholas Joly. Damien Laureau is not one of these well known and often seen producers, although he should be, and I think inevitably will be.

The village of Savennières is a very small place. BrooklynLady and I traveled there in 2006 to visit Domaine du Closel. We had no appointment and no idea where we were going, really. We got lost, went into a tabac (kind of like an Optimo meets a café, but with a liquor license) and in my broken French I asked if he knew the way to Domaine du Closel. A voice from near the magazine racks called out "I am Madame de Jessey of Domaine du Closel." This is a village with one tabac, a church, a bakery, a café, and a butcher/meat shop - the bare essentials for a French village, from what I can tell.

Laureau is somewhat of a black sheep in Savennières, not entirely accepted by the old guard of growers. Why the outsider status? Damien Laureau is trying new things in Savennières, making wines that are fundamentally different. Savennières wines are world-class whites from Chenin Blanc, wines with enormous cellaring potential, but they are wines that can be austere in their youth, like a barren moonscape - nothing but rocks and sand. Most producers make several cuvées, and usually at least one of them is more approachable in its youth. But the producers who work with what are thought to be the best vineyards in Savennières - Clos du Papillon, Roche aux Moines, or Coulée de Serrant, for example, are making wines that are not very rewarding when young.

Damien Laureau's wines are approachable when young. They are intensely mineral wines, but the fruit is beautiful from the beginning. He harvests a bit later than most people, allowing the grapes to turn yellow. But Laureau's wines are not sweet - they are bone dry, and at the alcohol level that is typical of the appellation, about 14%. Laureau experiments with a witches brew of plant-based sprays to ward off molds and rot. He keeps yields low, at 35 hl/ha whereas 50 hl/ha is common. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts, and the wines spend over a year maturing on their lees.

There are two cuvées. Les Genêts comes from a plot on top of a hill - you can see the vineyard in Bert's photos at Wine Terroirs. Le Bel Ouvrage is the top cuvée, the grapes grown on soils of sand and clay over schiste, and typically spends at least a year in barrel. I've had these wines a couple of times now, beginning with the 2002 vintage, and I think they're great, as good as anything I've had from Savennières. The one we drank this week was the finest yet, with a simple meal of pan-fried pork chops and bitter escarole. I have never had an aged example, and I look forward to it. Both the 2002 and the 2004 Bel Ouvrage seem like they will develop beautifully with cellar time.

2004 Damien Laureau Savennières Le Bel Ouvrage, $27, Jon David Headrick Selections. Definitely wound up, not revealing all of itself, and not at all settled, but gorgeous. The nose is a wall of wet rock, but with a little airtime shows classic beeswax and orchard fruit, fruit that leans towards pear and apple, very rich and subtly infused with spices. The palate is far more graceful than the nose at this point, although also less revealing. The fruit is ripe and mostly pear and apple, but there is an exotic pineapple note also. The acidity is vibrant and carries through to the finish, which really lingers with mineral and spice tones. This is a full bodied, rich, and concentrated wine, but also a graceful wine, one whose pieces are individually beautiful. With time in the cellar, when they harmonize better, this will be a majestic wine. If you are lucky enough to see this or any other Damien Laureau Savennières, you should just buy it. If you don't like it, you can put it on my tab.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wine of the Week - 2007 Thierry et Pascale Matrot Bourgogne

You may have trouble believing what you're about to read here, but I assure you that it is the truth: there is a Bourgogne Blanc on the market now that will cost you between $15-$18, depending on where you live, that in my opinion offers the highest quality that I've encountered at that price point. This is a wine worth buying many bottles of, if you have the space. Yes, it is a great white Burgundy, and yes, I got mine for $15 a bottle.

2007 Thierry et Pascale Matrot Bourgogne Blanc, $15, Vineyard Brands Imports. You would know instantly that this is a Burgundy Chardonnay if it were served to you blind - it is that clean and true. The nose has great freshness, the citrus and Chardonnay fruit ripe and detailed, and saturated with stony minerals. Great purity on the palate, a blend of ripe fruit and bitter herbs and minerals. There is no midpalate fat, no fat anywhere really (except for on the just-opened nose). Not an overly extracted wine, not very broad. This is focused, ultra-pure and clean Burgundy Chardonnay, lean, but balanced and delicious. And at this price you can pour it rather liberally.

The estate is located in Meursault, and there are over 5 hectares of Meursault villages classified vines, the estates largest holding. There are parcels in Saint Romain, Auxey-Duresses, and in several red wine spots, but the most important Thierry et Pascale Matrot wines come from small parcels in some big-shot Meursault and Puligny 1er Cru vineyards, including Meursault Perrières, Charmes, and Chevalières, and Puligny Les Garennes.

Thierry Matrot took over for his father Pierre (who took over for his father Joseph) in 1983. He took the estate in a new direction, eventually going entirely organic as of 2000. Yields are carefully controlled via debudding and by using green harvests when necessary. All of the wines are fermented in oak using indiginous yeasts. Matrot is not inflexible, though, when it comes to work in the cellar. There have been vintages in which certain wines have been treated to reduce alcohol by up to half a percent, for example. That said, these are essentially naturally made wines in the focused and mineral driven style, that offer great purity and transparency.

The Bourgogne Blanc comes from vines that average 30 years old right outside of Meursault. It has a Stelvin closure - a screwcap, which I think is great for a wine that is not meant for the cellar. It is always a good wine and a good value, but the 2007 is particularly exellent. This wine is not blanketing the shelves, but it's pretty easy to find in and around New York. Diageo Château and Estate Wines also imports the wines, so I imagine the wines should be elsewhere too.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wine of the Week - Wilfrid Rousse Chinon

I drink quite a bit of red wine from Chinon, but mostly the wines of one producer, Bernard Baudry. This wasn't always the case. I used to buy and drink wines by many different Chinon producers, but I learned after a while that I like Baudry's wines much more than the others, and now I rarely stray. I just checked my cellar notes and 19 out the last 23 bottles of Chinon that I drank at home were Baudry wines.

I don't want to be one of those people who always go to the same restaurant, and then always order the same dish. Is that what I've become, with Chinon? There's nothing wrong with drinking what you like, but it's important to try new things, to stay informed, to step away from what is well known from time to time. Even if the results are not so satisfying, the fun is in the experimentation.

Well, I am happy to report that I've found a Chinon producer who's wine I like enough to purchase - Wilfrid Rousse. Rousse is a new producer who established the estate in 1987 in the village of Savigny-en-Véron, not far from Chinon itself. Farming is organic, although the estate is not yet certified. Rousse allows natural ground cover on some plots, and plows others. Yields are kept at 45 hl/ha maximum, and wines are fermented in tank. This is a vigneron who is still establishing himself, and who seems to be doing the right things in the vineyards and in the cellar.

I've had two different cuvées with meals, and I've also tasted through the whole lineup, and I really like the wines. They are in the concentrated style, modern in their total lack of rusticity and greeness, but old school in their mineral-driven and transparent expression of terroir. There are five red cuvées and a rosé, each based on different soils. perhaps the best value in the portfolio is the youngest wine, fresh and fruity Les Galuches.

2008 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon Les Galuches, $16, Savio Soares Selections. The vines are planted in sandy gravelly soils, and are not older than 15 years. This wine is bottled in the spring after the harvest, and although it is a fruity and delicious wine, it is not a simple wine. The sense of soil is prominent on the nose and on the palate. Gravel and graphite on the nose, some dark fruit, the tiniest amount of burnt earth too. Really lovely on the palate, well balanced, redolent of iron and blood, ripe fruit, and bright acidity. A great example of modern Chinon - nicely ripe and extracted, and still definitely of its place. This doesn't have the depth of Baudry's Les Granges, but it is a delicious wine with lovely fruit, and it has a great gravelly character.

I'm not trading in all of my Baudry and replacing it with Rousse's wines, but I will very happily drink this wine or the other Rousse cuvées when I see them. They are delicious, serious wines, and worth trying.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wine of the Week - Terrebrune Rosé and Tapenade

I've lived in New York essentially for my whole life (there were four years of college in the mid-west and a year in Southeast Asia and India). I've never seen a June like the one we just had, with rain almost every day, skies overcast. We had 18 days straight of rain at one stretch.

But you know what - it's still summer, and I'm taking every chance I get to treat it as such. For example, the other day while my daughters were both down for their mid-day nap, even though the sky was white, and the air thick and humid, I found myself thinking of rosé and tapenade. Probably because Bert of Wine Terroirs and I had been emailing recently about the glory of Bandol wine, and I recently re-read his post about this classic Provence pairing.

Bert says that it is easy to make tapenade - all you need is some olives, garlic, anchovies, capers, and lemon juice. A food processor helps, although a mortar and pestle is fine too. My kids nap for about two hours in the middle of the day. Could I make tapenade, enjoy it under gray skies on our deck, and still get some work done while they sleep? The answer, I'm happy to tell you, is yes.

Not a bad lunch on a humid and gray day. A food processor would help.

I used just over 6 ounces of pitted kalamata olives, one large garlic clove, two anchovy filets, about two tablespoons of capers, and the juice from half a lemon. I don't have a food processor, although we've been meaning to buy one for months. The mortar and pestle was fine though. Start by pounding the garlic with the anchovies and capers. I buy capers packed in salt usually, but for this dish it seemed better to buy a jar of large capers packed in water. Put the creamy garlic/caper mash in a bowl, then pound the olives - I had to do this in two batches. Add the olives to the caper/garlic/anchovy mash, and add the lemon juice. Stir well, and spread on slices of a baguette. My tapenade was not as creamy as Bert's, but there's only so much you can do with olives in a mortar and pestle. And coarse tapenade tastes great too.

The sun poked through the clouds as I was choosing a rosé, and I realized that celestial forces were telling me to open the very best Provençal rosé that we have. There are many fine rosés from Bandol, and every Bandol lover has his or her own favorite. Right now, mine is Terrebrune, and so I opened a bottle of the 2007 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol Rosé, $25, Kermit Lynch Imports. Bert wrote a truly great profile of Terrebrune, and I won't waste space paraphrasing him.
Just look at that gorgeous orange color.

Terrebrune's rosé is made from the same low-yield, top quality Mourvèdre as is the estate's famous red wine. It offers rich and delicious fruit, and also a strong sense of the mineral soils that make up Terrbrune's vineyards near the sea. It is a rosé that typically benefits from cellaring. In fact, in its youth it can be quite wound up and intense, even difficult to drink. It has the classic and beautiful color that many Bandol Mourvèdre based rosés have, a deep coppery orange.The 2007 Terrebrune rosé is 50% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, and 20% Cinsault. The nose is tense with minerals at first, and opens up to to reveal herb-infused fruit, 7 hours later the lavender is quite clear. The oxidative nature of this wine gives the fruit an orangey character that contrasts nicely with the tension of the minerals and herbs. I saved two-thirds of this bottle to enjoy with BrooklynLady that evening, and I don't think the nose ever finished opening, although it certainly was lovely. This wine really glides across the palate with great textural richness. It is not heavy or sweet, but it is an intense and big rosé, with sunny seaside fruit flavors, a metallic mineral frame, and a nostril-filling fragrance. It demands food, and it worked perfectly with the assertive flavors of the tapenade. I hope I have the self control to cellar one or both of my remaining bottles of this wine. I would love to see how it evolves with say, 10 years. But it's just so good now, this will not be an easy task.

By the way, one thing that I particularly love about Terrebrune's wines is that they defy the trend towards higher alcohol in Provence. Not just the rosé, the red Bandol too. The 2005, the current vintage on NYC shelves, is a completely reasonable 13% alcohol. Perhaps wine maker Reynald Delille is using modern equipment to de-alcohol-ize the wine? Unlikely. But I would love to attend a presentation in which he and other Bandol producers discuss vineyard work, cellar work, and alcohol levels in Bandol over the past 15 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wine of the Week - Bernard Baudry's Rosé

Bay Area wine blogger Cory Cartwright is celebrating the 1st anniversary of his blog Saignée by hosting an event that he calls "31 Days of Natural Wine." Cory writes passionately about the wines he loves, and about his life in the Bay Area and beyond. His blog is always interesting to read and his writing style is off-beat and truly hilarious. I am honored and happy that Cory asked me to participate, and this post also appears on Saignée as the Day 8 post in "31 Days of Natural Wine."

I'll never forget our visit to Domaine Bernard Baudry in Cravant les Coteaux, right outside of the town of Chinon. It was November of 2005, BrooklynLady and I went to France together for the first time. A day or two in Paris, but most of our time was spent exploring Vouvray, Montlouis, Tours, Saumur, Savennières, and Chinon. Our visit to Baudry began with a bit of an adventure. I drove our tiny jittery rental car from the hotel in Chinon to the estate, but via the bumpiest of unpaved back roads surrounded by forest, passing no one and nothing, unsure of the proper route. We eventually arrived a half hour later, but only after some treacherous driving and several stops to ask directions. Upon arriving we were warmly welcomed by Bernard's son Matthieu who told us that Baudry's house and estate can easily be reached via one of the main roads out of Chinon, perhaps a 10 minute drive. My wife looked at me with what has become a familiar facial expression, a crooked smile that says "You sometimes amuse me in your ineptitude and dorkiness, dear husband."

Matthieu showed us cement vats full of fermenting juice - we saw and smelled the glorious 2005's as they bubbled away, turning sugar into alcohol. I climbed a tall wooden ladder and stuck my head in one of the vats. Pungent, and also not easy to breathe - not a lot of oxygen. Everything was immaculate, even the antique tools hanging from the wall. We saw the vineyards surrounding the house, and then joined Matthieu in the house's tasting room where we sampled everything from the most recent Croix Boisée Blanc to the new lineup of reds to a 1996 Les Grezeaux, a gorgeous wine.

Matthieu Baudry is in his mid thirties, married with two kids, properly schooled and internationally experienced in wine making, and now working with his father at the family estate. He is an absolutely lovely person, so warm and friendly, and genuinely interested in sharing his wines. I've had the pleasure of meeting him several times since that visit, at tastings in New York, and he continues to embody the good things about being a wine maker.

The Baudry wines are in my opinion, the very finest in Chinon. They are transparent in the truest sense of the word - the fruit is exceptionally pure and clean, the sense of soil is prominent, and changes in character with each cuvée, reflecting the specific terroir. You can smell and taste the gravelly soil in Les Granges, the richness of the clay in Les Grezeaux. But the Baudry wines also offer beautiful concentration and richness - these are not light wines. The marriage of transparency and concentration is what makes these such special wines, for me.

Baudry's wines feature a striking absence of anything that might impede the delivery of soil via fruit. Herbicides are never used, and all chemical treatments are widely avoided. Everything is done by hand, from yield-control debudding to harvest, and all wines ferment via naturally occurring yeasts.

As much as I adore the Baudry red wines, the rose has a special place in my heart too. The 2008 Bernard Baudry Chinon Rosé, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections, is 100% Cabernet Franc from two different parcels, one with flinty clay soils, and the other sandy gravel. The grapes are macerated in the press for a short time, technically making this a Rose de Pressurage (Pressed Rosé or Pressed-out Rosé). The wine then ferments in vat for as long as it takes to fully digest the sugars, a few weeks, sometimes months. "The vinification is quite similar to that of a white wine, as we want the wine to be dry (less than 3 grams of sugar/liter). That way, we can bottle the wine with just a very light filtration and very small doses of sulfites," Matthieu Baudry wrote in an email. This wine was bottled in mid-April 2009, and is more widely available this year then I remember in years past. Which is a good thing.

This is a very special rosé with an entirely different aroma and flavor profile from what you're used to if you drink Provence and similarly styled rosés. Drinking it blind I defy you to guess it a rosé - it smells kind of rosé, but drinks like a white wine. The nose offers vibrant and pure strawberry fruit and summer melon, spicy white peppercorns, and with a little bit of air, roses. It is a gorgeous nose, robust and delicate at the same time. The wine is superbly balanced on the palate with fresh orchard fruit, a primary white grapiness, perky but gentle acidity, and a fragrant finish that really lingers. This is a rosé of great presence and distinction. It compliments anything that you would normally eat with a crisp white wine, and also typical rosé summer BBQ and picnic foods. I haven't tried this pairing yet, but something tells me that this wine will be beautiful with fresh goat cheese.

Thanks again Cory for including me in your celebration of natural wine.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wine of the Week - Syrah from Pierre Gonon

2007 Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Les Iles Feray, $17, Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc. Jean and Pierre Gonon are among the remaining handful of truly old-school producers in the northern Rhône Valley. Gonon's red wines bear little resemblance to those massive Syrah's that ooze with concentrated gobs of fruit. It's not that the wines are light - they are not. They are concentrated and intense, but they are also balanced and fresh, and I have yet to drink one that feels heavy. Gonon's St. Joseph is really is a wonderful wine, showcasing the nobility of the Syrah grape and the St. Joseph terroir in their meaty and mineral glory. The whites can be utterly incredible too, by the way, but this is a red wine post.

Although Gonon's St. Joseph is quite reasonable in price at about $30, for me it is too expensive to be an everyday wine. Gonon's Vin de Pays, or country wine retails for about $17, which becomes about $15 with a mixed case discount - that's a pretty mellow everyday wine price, and especially if the wine is distinctive. And it is truly excellent wine. This is a Syrah from the hills of Ardèche right near St. Joseph, but it also includes grapes from young vines within St. Joseph.

I had low expectations for this wine. The first bottle I opened was tremendously corked, and a friend whose palate I trust drank the wine and gave it a poor review. And I will say this - upon opening this wine is pretty tough - off putting really, with resin and highway tar dominating the nose, totally unappealing. Bad enough to consider pouring down the sink. Perhaps another flawed bottle?

We left it sitting there open for an hour while cooking and when we returned it became really lovely. It is about meat and blood, pepper and tar, and wild animals, much more so than it is about fruit. A savage nose, quite pungent, but also exceptionally pure and pretty in its wildness. With another hour open floral aromas emerges, some bergamot even. Vibrant acids keep the wine juicy and fresh. The finish is deeply mineral and here the dark blue fruit emerges. Such a disjointed start, but this is excellent wine, and a fantastic value in old world old-school Syrah.
It paired perfectly with a blood-rich cut of beef, a skirt steak. But it was not so intense as to overpower our early summer salad of candy-striped beets, young carrots, and ricotta salata. It is not a casual sipping wine, food is a must, and preferably something meaty. I could see this wine turning into pork broth after 10 years in a cold cellar. While it's young, I suggest opening it at least an hour in advance of drinking.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wine of the Week - 1994 Tempier Bandol

1994 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge, Kermit Lynch Imports, current vintage is 2006 and price is about $50. Sometimes you just have to open a special bottle of wine. We had one of those nights this week. BrooklynLady has been dealing with all kinds of stressful changes at work, the same for me, and our 5 month old has decided to wake up each night between 2 -3 AM, and start screaming. We're tired and we're stressed, and we need a vacation that we're not going to be able to take. And to top it off, the Yankees seem to turn into little league players every time they face the Boston Red Sox.

So, we opened a phenomenal bottle of wine on a humid and rainy night, and wow, did we feel better. Actually, I've been looking for a reason to open this wine for a while now, and our collective mood along with a beautifully marinated set of beef kabobs turned out to be just the thing.

I don't want to overdo it with the lavish praise, but this wine is a beautiful thing, and a great example of why aging wine is so rewarding. It was stunning on its own, a wonderful partner to our dinner, and totally and completely delicious. And it's only the Domaine's basic red, and from what is considered to be one of the more forgettable vintages in recent Provence history.

Domaine Tempier
is widely considered to be among the finest producers in Bandol, and therefore in all of Provence. The Peyraud family, the family that is credited with defining the modern Bandol AOC in the 1940's, continues to run the estate and make the wines. For more on this, check out Bert Celce's profile on the estate on Wine Terroirs - full of excellent photographs and information.

Tempier, as with most of the top estates in Bandol, farms with the most minimal of chemical interventions, and uses natural yeasts to ferment the red wines - these are natural wines through and through. The Bandol Rouge is made of grapes from all of the Tempier parcels and reflects a blend of all of the terroirs. The blend is typically 75% Mourvèdre (appellation rules require that a Bandol rouge contain a minimum of 50% Mourvèdre), the rest Grenache and Cinsault.

This wine was fantastic right upon opening, with a vivid perfume of tobacco and earth, fruit liquor, and something very animal, like horses. A beautifully mature and rewarding nose, the primary fruit long gone, and it got deeper and deeper over the course of the three hours it was open. The palate is sweet and ripe, and there is great balance. The acidity is still vibrant, and here there is the memory of sweet strawberries. The finish is an encapsulation of everything that happens in the wine, the soil, the echo of ripe fruit, the tobacco, the acidic snap. But the most impressive and memorable thing about this wine is that thing that is so prized in mature Bandol - the texture. It is absolute velvet, the tannins present and providing structure but so smooth and sweet. Truly memorable, what a wine! makes me feel so good about the other Bandol sleeping in the cellar.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wine of the Week - Tissot Arbois Poulsard

2006 Domaine Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieille Vignes, $18, Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. Poulsard grapes are large in size - think of those rubber super-balls that you can buy from quarter machines in front of the supermarket. And because they have such thin skin, the juice to solid matter ratio is the opposite of what wine makers look for in, say, Burgundy. The resulting wines can be light in color, although they typically have the fruit character, texture, and tannic structure of red wine.

The Jura, in eastern France right near Switzerland, is only place I know of where Poulsard is grown. Although the region is better known for its unique white wines, there are some great Jura reds too, and retail prices are still reasonable. Red wine grapes cultivated in the region include Pinot Noir, Trousseau, and Poulsard, and although I've had lovely examples of Jura Pinot and Trousseau, my favorite Jura reds are Poulsards. They combine the fruit forward spicy charm of a good cru Beaujolais with the complex woodsy perfume of red Burgundy, and the tannic structure of Nebbiolo. Okay, maybe not quite Nebbiolo, but the wines are tannic. My personal favorite thing about Poulsard is the certain something about the nose, something fruity and savory at the same time, something like a ripe blood orange.

I am just beginning to scratch the surface of Poulsard. I've never had an aged example, and I have been assured that the wines can age beautifully - the tannins and the high acidity allow for that. And although I'm making my way through most of the wines available in NYC, there are plenty of quality Poulsards that don't make it here because they are not imported. Crazy as it might seem, the American wine market has not yet found its Poulsard voice.

Anyway, I want to talk about Tissot's Poulsard because it is an excellent wine that in a hypothetical blind tasting of Poulsards would show in the same class as wines by Overnoy/Houillon, Puffeney, and the other big shots, but Tissot's wine is half the price of Overnoy/Houillon's, and much less than Puffeney's too. In other words, it's serious and delicious wine and it is inexpensive.

Bénédicte and Stéphane Tissot run an estate of about 35 hectares with vineyards in Arbois and the Côtes du Jura, and they recently acquired land in Château-Chalon. The entire estate is biodynamically farmed with Demeter certification. Yields are kept at rigorously low levels, grapes are harvested by hand in small baskets, indigenous yeasts do the work of fermentation, and very little sulfur is used. There are over 25 different wines produced, as the Tissots believe in expressing as best they can the diverse terroir of the Jura.

The 2006 Poulsard Vieille Vignes is made without sulfur, and the wine smells and tastes incredible clean, and all of the smells and flavors have great clarity. This makes for an interesting contrast in this case, because the nose is full of underbrush and dried leaves, almost mushroomy. So this is a crystal clear dried leaf and underbrush wine we're talking about. There is lovely fruit also, bright red currant and dark plum fruit, and there is a touch of brown sugar. The wine is deeply colored and the fruit is ripe and rich, with that blood orange nuance that I love in these wines. The tannins are smooth but quite prominent right now, and there is a definite sense of gravelly rock on the finish. Not as delicate as Houillon, not as focused as Puffeney, but this is a beautiful and complete wine. It is open and joyous and it is elegant too. And it is an incredible value at about $18.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wine of the Week - Mugneret-Gibourg Bourgogne

2006 Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Bourgogne, $32, Michael Skurnik Imports. Every year I try to buy a couple of high end bottles to put away in the cellar, but also a few "lesser" wines by great producers, wines to enjoy when young. File this in the lesser wines from great producers department. Not to say that is a lesser wine - it is a fantastic Bourgogne. But within the Mugneret-Gibourg portfolio it is low end, and therefore accessibly priced.

I think of Mugneret-Gibourg the way I think of Fourrier or Ghislaine Barthod - each well known among Burgundy lovers as rising stars, each making wines of stunning purity and grace that provide a clear window to terroir. In a region of expensive wine, Mugneret-Gibourg wines are not cheap - they command between $50-80 just for villages-level wines, 1er Crus now cost upwards of $85 per bottle. There are three Grand-Cru classified wines: Clos Vougeot, Échezeaux, and Ruchottes-Chambertin, and these wines cost what Grand Cru Burgundy costs, although some would argue that they offer great value even at the $165 plus per bottle, as they represent some of the finest examples of wine from those places.

What about the humble Bourgogne? At $32, does it offer good value? I can emphatically say yes. First of all, it is delicious wine, offering everything one could want in a young Bourgogne. And relative to other regional wines, I think this this is among the better ones. It shows a lovely perfume of pure ripe dark fruit, and with a little air there are interesting spice, smoke and herbal notes. Even with a few hours of air, though, the nose is not entirely open. This wine, even though it is a humble Bourgogne, has the structure to improve in the cellar for a few more years.

This wine comes from vines that were once classified as villages-level Vosne-Romanée, in a plot called Les Lutinières, just north of Nuits St Georges. The wine reflects some of the character of both of those places, with sweet spicy dark fruit and a gamy undertone on the palate. It is impeccably pure and fresh and just a pleasure to drink, and it is balanced and transparent as seems to be the character of the 2006 vintage, a vintage that I imagine will never be given the credit it should in the shadow of the massive 2005.

Excellent from the moment I pulled the cork, what put this wine into "wow" territory for me was how incredibly detailed the palate became after about 90 minutes open. It was as if I could taste the jet-black skins, and their spicy juice, the seeds and stems, the soil, and the tiny bit of wood. Detail like that requires remarkably pure fruit and clean wine making. Maybe it was the beautiful sunlight seeping through the trees on our deck, my sleeping kids, and dinner with my lovely wife, but I think the wine was amazing too.

I'm excited to re-visit this wine in about three years. And even more excited to one day open the fancier Mugneret-Gibourg wines that are just beginning their long sleep in my cellar.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Champagne Raymond Boulard Mailly Grand Cru Brut Nature, $42, Imported by Selected Estates of Europe. This wine is an outstanding example of a Brut Nature, a Champagne with no sugar or other sweetener added to the dosage. If you aren't familiar with this sort of thing, it is extremely fashionable among the wine hipsters of the world to drink Brut Nature or Extra Brut Champagne right now. Perhaps because some of these wine hipsters claim that the expression of terroir in Champagne is possible only in non-dosé wines. Perhaps because the people with the coolest haircuts and iPhone apps drink non-dosé Champagne, and others simply follow along. Whatever the reason, non-dosé Champagne is very popular now, and many producers now offer a non-dosé Champagne amidst their portfolio of wines.

But it is not easy to make a good non-dosé Champagne. As Peter Liem of has said, "You cannot just take your regular Brut NV and decide that you will not add any sugar to it." Skilled and dedicated work in the vineyard is required in order to yield fruit that is ripe and flavorful enough to make good non-dosé wine. There are several in the group of young and hip Champagne vignerons who are making great non-dosé wines, and for more on that you should consult I will say this - Francis Boulard's Mailly Grand Cru is a very fine non-dosé Champagne. And this bottling is particularly exceptional. It was disgorged in February of 2008, which leads me to assume that it is based on grapes from 2005, and bottled in 2006. '05 was warm in Champagne, as in most of France, and so Boulard had a cooperative climate to work with for this style of wine.

I last drank this wine about a year ago
, and I decanted it, to everyone's horror. That one was a great version of the wine, more soil and mineral driven. The new version is overtly fruity and joyous on the nose, with an intensely vinous character. It is, as it will always be, a wine that is defined by minerals. According to the grapes for this wine are grown on a plot that has "only about five to ten centimeters of topsoil, under which the roots descend immediately into the chalk and limestone bedrock." But in this iteration, the ripe and lovely fruit competes for your attention. It is vivid red fruit, and it is juicy, and it is relaxing in a warm bath of chalk. The wine is perfectly balanced with excellent acidity, and it has a beautiful fragrant length that lingers long after swallowing. Perhaps the most impressive thing to me, though, is that this wine, which is about 90% Pinot Noir, is wonderfully elegant. It really has grace and delicacy to compliment its vibrant fruit and minerality. It is just outstanding wine, and although the price has risen since I last drank it, it continues to be a great value in the world of Champagne.

By the way, when I opened this bottle the other night, I again decanted it. But this time I decanted only half the bottle, so my friend and I could compare the decanted wine to the wine out of the bottle. My friend perfectly described the difference after about 15 minutes of air time: "The decanted wine is more powerful, and the wine from the bottle is more elegant."