Tuesday, September 02, 2008

By the Glass - Purity Edition

This is not a post about wines that are chaste. This has nothing to do with the new Republican Vice Presidential nominee. This is a post about "purity," a common wine descriptor that I've been thinking about lately.

I often see "purity" in tasting notes as a way of describing wine. Certain wines are very pure, and appreciating this can be a big part of the pleasure that a wine gives. Appreciating purity in wine is interesting because it really means appreciating what is not present in a wine.

What does it mean to say that a wine has "great purity?" Purity refers to the lack of anything that might obscure a wine's natural aromas and flavors. New oak, added sugar, acids, or enzymes, industrial yeasts, pesticides and other sprays, excessively late hang times - these things, among others, can add their own layers of aroma, texture, and flavor to wine.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to make a wine of purity if new wood is used. And I'm not saying wines that are fermented using industrial yeasts are never pure. Purity is something that cannot be defined so absolutely, like oak or malolactic, for example. New oak is either used or it's not. Wine either goes through malolactic fermentation or it doesn't. Purity might be more akin to beauty - it's in the eye of the beholder.

To me, a wine doesn't taste pure, it feels pure. I get it when I can sense how clean the fruit is, when I can feel the clarity and definition of its aromas. When it breaks down on my tongue to reveal something more than just fruit, something essential about the grape variety, and about the soil and the place where it was cultivated. Hard to define, I guess, but for me, easier to feel.

Here are some wines I've had recently that I found to be of exceptional purity. These may or may not be available on retail shelves in your area. If not, no matter - these are producers who make wines of exceptional purity every year. It's part of their style. Is it a coincidence that these producers tend to farm biodynamically? You decide.

2005 Domaine Weinbach Sylvaner Clos des Capuchins Réserve, price unknown but about $20, Vineyard Brands Imports. As can be expected of an Alsace wine made using Sylvaner, this wine is very mineral. The nose offers clean metallic notes, and there are focused citrus and mineral flavors. It really blossoms on day two when melon and floral aromas emerge at the front of the nose, which is still dominated by clean and pure minerals. This is a very pretty wine, one that would work well with shellfish on day one or with a plate of ham, bread and good butter on day two.

2006 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, $23, Kermit Lynch Imports. A Beaujolais that drinks much better at home then it does at a tasting, this wine benefits from exposure to oxygen. It's lovely right upon opening, but with a little airtime there are incredibly well defined aromas of pure and clean Gamay fruit, iron, and very mild brett. And it's not a cop-out to describe an aroma as "Gamay fruit." That's the whole point! This wine smells like Gamay, and that's a beautiful thing, when done properly. Perfectly balanced with great underlying acidity, this is truly an incredible bottle of wine, one of the finest examples of its type.

2006 Gilles Azzoni Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Le Raisin et L'Ange Fable. $15, Jenny & Francois Selections. Not your typical Syrah, that's for sure. This is high elevation light bodied fresh and pure wine, almost shrill with acidity. But the aromas of young Syrah fruit - bacon fat, horses, purple flowers, herbs and earth - they are all readily apparent. Tough by itself, this wine shines with dinner. Late summer tomatoes, grilled pork, duck...this will stand up to and compliment these and other dishes.

2004 Domaine Pierre Amiot et Fils Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Les Millandes, $42. This is a wine that doesn't suffer at all from the under-ripe green flavors that plague many of the 2004 reds. It was absolutely delicious. Find-more-bottles-immediately delicious. Soft and gentle on the nose, a mix of clean red and black Pinot fruit with notes of red clay earth underneath. With air time there are pretty floral aromas too. In the mouth the perfume moves between floral and earth, and the wine really caresses the palate. A wine of purity and elegance rather than weight, this wine leaves potent and lingering aromas of flowers, dark fruit, and mineral earth. So graceful and pure, yet such an intense core of dark Pinot fruit, a core that should unravel over the next 7 years or so and offer much to the lucky drinker. This is the wine that gave me the idea for this post.


Christy said...

Love this topic! For some reason I've also been thinking about how to describe various wine terms: purity, linear. Even terms like 'floral' and 'mineral' and 'earthy' can be confusing to both wine newcomers and those looking to move beyond wines are 'fruity, oaky, buttery'. I face this every day in the store, trying to describe a wine in a way that's understandable without being either too dumbed down or too esoteric.

Please keep up this thread - it's great food for thought.



Jesse said...

I love that Lapierre. Biodynamic too I think, doesn't get much more pure than that!

Joe said...

Neil - too funny, I almost brought you the Lapierre instead of the Aligote. Maybe you'll get lucky another day. The Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Ste-Catherine was one of the best whites I have ever tasted, but Sylvaner? That I have to try.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments on the 2004 Amiot. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the 2004s red Burgundies that I have tasted recently too. I think those who were able to wait, harvest later and do enough triage to get only healthy fruit made some very good wines.