Monday, January 28, 2008

By the Glass - Restaurant and Wine Bar Edition

I went back to Black Mountain Wine House, this time with an old buddy, and we grabbed prime seats at the bar for the evening. Among the various goodies we sampled that evening was a confit of duck leg. I threw myself at the mercy of Shane, the manager and wine buyer, and he recommended an Italian wine from Alto Adige made from the Schiava grape. Turned out to be a real winner. I read in my Third Edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine that wines made from this grape are "out of fashion," and that they have "no real character or concentration."

Okay, but I loved this wine, the 2006 Cantina Santa Maddalena St. Magdalener Classico ($8/glass). It felt like the Beaujolais of Italian wine. Nicely perfumed, light bodied, with good acidity and pretty red fruit. Utterly drinkable and delicious. It was a good counterpoint to the richness of the duck. So I'm going to be one of those unfashionable people who will order a Santa Maddalena (the name of the DOC), and you're going to have to just deal with it. I bet a bottle would cost $15 or less, too.

BrooklynLady and I escaped for a rare night out recently, didn't much care for the wine bar where we began the evening, so we went to a newish bistro nearby called Canaille (no website). We enjoyed two delicious wines there, both recommended by the gregarious French guy who owns the place. The first was a Corbieres, an appellation in the western part of the Languedoc made by a producer called 2 Anes, or Two Donkeys. It was excellent with the rich onion soup au gratin that I ordered. Mostly Carignan, with some Grenache and Syrah thrown in, the 2005 Domaine des 2 Anes Corbieres Fontanilles was smooth and supple, ripe and complex. And it drank so easily, my glass was drained before I knew it.

We then enjoyed the 2004 Le Raisin et L'Ange Fable with BrooklynLady's hangar steak and my cassoulet. This is honestly just beautiful wine. 100% Syrah, it is a Vins de Pays de L'Ardeche, a country wine from the hilly region in the middle of the Rhone Valley, sort of bisecting it into Northern and Southern Rhone. Oh, how I love discovering a humble country wine that blows away so many wines of "higher" nomenclature. Honestly, if you were to slip this bottle into a blind tasting of young Syrah it would surprise everyone.

Then a week or so later, the memory of these wines still fresh, I'm looking through the sidebar items on Alice Feiring's (pronounced Firing, as in clay in a kiln, for goodness sake - I always thought it was "fairing") site and I see her notes on the Jenny & Francois tasting. And there it is - the Corbieres we had. So what is this Jenny & Francois? Turns out they're a small company working in Paris and New York that imports natural wines. Quite a lovely thing that they're doing, definitely worth poking around their site. They don't list their other wines, so all I know are the those mentioned by Alice Feiring in her review.

Then last week I'm browsing the Williamsburg wine shop called Uva and lo and behold, right there on the shelf is a glistening bottle of 2004 Le Raisin et L'Ange, for $16 (and that qualifies as a $15 Beauty right now cause the dollar is so weak). Well, not glistening, the bottle is pretty grubby. But it's country wine - shouldn't it be sort of dusty? And the cork is protruding a little too - okay, maybe I'll buy a different bottle. They're all like that. Okay fine, I'm sure it's good wine. So I turn the bottle around to see the importer and there they are again, Jenny & Francois.

I emailed Jenny & Francois to ask them to ask a few questions and Jenny alerted me to the 2 Anes website, which really is a great site so check it out. The story of the domaine is very sweet and the commitment of the husband and wife team to their philosophy of natural wine making is explained without any sort of preachiness. Jenny also said this about the Raisin et L'Ange Syrah:

The "Raisin et L'Ange" that you tasted is the cuvée called "Fable." It is 100% Syrah, and 100% pure (nothing added at all -- no sulfitues, nothing..). It is all tank. Le Raisin et L'Ange is isolated in the beautiful Ardeche mountains. Gilles Azzoni's philosophy is to accompany the grapes and the wine, not to impose a specific transformation on them. He works totally, 100% naturally from the vines to the bottle (no added SO2). 9.35 ha, southern exposure, cool temperatures at night because of the altitude develop delicate floral aromas. Clay & limestone soil, with little depth, part of the vineyard on slopes. Gilles grew up in Paris, went back to school for wine making, and took over his vineyard in 1983. He planted some more vines with a large density per hectare (5500 vines/ha). In the cellar, Gilles treats the grapes and then the fermenting juice, as delicately as possible. Certified ORGANIC, NATURAL, NO SULFITES.
Sounds good, eh? And I can tell you that grubby or no, protruding cork or no, that was the freshest and most floral, most utterly delicious and satisfying bottle of Syrah I've had in a really long time. It is impossible not to enjoy this wine. I'd like to take a bath in it.

So do Jenny & Francois belong with Dressner and the other stars of the natural wine movement? Are the other wines any good? I don't know, but I'm intrigued enough at this point to try any wine they import at $20 or under. Anyone else have experience with Jenny & Francois selections?


Anonymous said...

Jenny & Francois imports sort of hit my radar screen in the past few months and I, too, have corresponded with Jenny via their website. Astor Wines seems to carry many of their selections in NYC, and here in SF the new shop called Terroir loves them. Two of their vignerons whose wines I've enjoyed so far are Herve Souhaut (another Ardeche selection, I believe) and Olivier Cousin. I will definitely try to find the 'Fable.'

The Cheap Lush said...

I've tried only a few of their wines, and all have been interesting and well-made; I think Jenny & Francois belong right alongside Dressner and Rosenthal. My favorite was a cabernet sauvignon from the Loire (!) — the Agnès et René Mosse 2004 Anjou Rouge, $18 at Astor. It was bracingly tart, juicy, and amazingly aromatic. I haven't tried the '05 vintage, but I plan to.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh! Those are two of my favorite wines! I love Schiava based wines. I have no idea how they hit my radar, but they did, last summer. They're delicious lightly chilled with grilled meat imho. And! I love the 2 Asses wines. A friend of mine married a restauranteur who shall remain unnamed and the 2 Asses wines were what he chose to serve at the reception. I've been a huge fan ever since.
thanks for turning me onto Jenny & Francois. They sound like my kind of peeps!

Lyle Fass said...

Cheap Lush,

Mosse is Dressner now I believe and used to be J & F. I find the wines are super hit or miss. Natural for the sake of being natural and sometimes overboard on the no sulfur and you get bubbling and exploding bottles and very unstable wines. Cousin is very good as is Sablonettes in Anjou when they are on. Alot of their winemakers are making wines with flaws and as natural as possible because it is hip and the thing to do now. The Paris wine bar scene eats them up. Joe Dressner's producers and Neal Rosenthal's on the other hand are excellent wines that also happen to be natural but not at the expense of the quality of the wines. Sometimes too natural is not a good thing.

RougeAndBlanc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RougeAndBlanc said...

I have to give this Raisin et L'Ange a try. I have not been drinking a lot of wines lately because I may be allergic to the sulphur in wine.

Brooklynguy said...

hey steve - i hope you find it and give it a try. and i will definitely do the same with the olivier cousin i i may have seen it, can't remember.

hey cheap lush - i saw the 04 for $18 or 19, and got confused cause it said dressner on the back. i heard that Jenyy & Francois lost a few producers to other importers - this must be one of them. by the way, i also saw a magnum of the 04 for merely $39. I came THIS close, but couldn't pull the trigger.

bayridge Ann!!! good to see you. cool choice for a reception. i bet a few folks got a little whacked out on the almost 14% alcohol combined with the gulpability. and yes, J & F are your kind of peeps. if you're near astor wines, and i know that you are, they sell 3 different cuvees of the 2 asses, most expensive is $18. many other selections too from J & F. not the raison et L'ange though, which sucks.

hey lyle - this is a really good point, that natural without quality is bad wine (and perhaps dangerous wine). i would love to go to a J & F tasting and see how many of the wines are on and how many are off, and get a sense of their portfolio. did you go to the last one? thanks for these insights.

hey andrew - can you eat hot dogs and other foods with sulfur? i hope so because to be allergic to wine for you would be like depriving a dog of its bone. cruel. that said, there are plenty of unsulfured wines out there. seems like the trick is to learn about a few good producers.

Anonymous said...

Here's another one to try (I opened a bottle a short while ago): 2006 L'Anglore Tavel. Darker than most roses I'm used to (and stronger at 14.5% alc.) this is positively dripping with juicy, succulent raspberry and strawberry fruit with a complement of spice. A wintertime rose perhaps?

Brooklynguy said...

wow, what region is this from? i'm guessing provence or lang-rouss?