Sunday, November 08, 2009

Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel #2 - Poulsard

Jura wines are kind of obscure, outside of the wine-geek world. Finding them requires seeking them out, your local shoppe is unlikely to carry them. And because they are not wines of obvious and immediate pleasures, they take some time to get used to, a little patience even. This means they may never really catch on here in America, like foreign films or soccer, but that's fine with me. They tend to be small production wines, and they already have fans that show the same level of devotion you see at English football stadiums. Some of the wines are already very hard to find, and I don't need to be jousting elbows with every Tom, Dick, and Harry at the Overnoy/Houillon bin.

Obscure or not, lots of people seem to be talking about the Jura lately. Eric Asimov recently wrote about the wines in his column and on his blog, Guilhaume Gerard, a former partner at Terroir in San Francisco, and who blogs as The Wine Digger recently cleaned out the Houillon stock from French retailers, Alice Feiring just went to the Jura and wrote a bit about it on her blog, and even this Brooklynguy has written a few times about Jura wines. It seems as though Jura wines are the next hip thing.So it's good timing, then, that the Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel's theme in its second meeting is Poulsard (or Ploussard if you are from Arbois), one of the red grapes of the Jura. Poulsard grapes are somewhat large, and the wines are typically very light in color, but they are intense in aroma and flavor. In general, I find their fruit character to include cranberry, pomegranate, and sometimes blood orange flavors. They often show gamy and woodsy flavors as well, veering into rusticity when things don't go well. In aroma and flavor, they are completely unlike other red wines. They are surprisingly tannic, and apparently they age very well, although I've never confirmed this for myself.

There are only 7 producers whose Poulsards are available in New York, as far as I can tell. Two of them were not included in this tasting - Ganevat's utterly delicious Poulsard is simply sold out, and Domaine de L'Octavin's Poulsard was also unavailable. I included everything else I could find - Overnoy/Houillon, Jacques Puffeney, Philippe Bornard, Domaine de la Tournelle, and Stéphane et Mireille Tissot. Bornard actually makes two Poulsards, so does Tournelle, but I included only one of each.

I was joined for this tasting by Levi Dalton, the much respected sommelier at the restaurant Convivio, Sophie Barrett, the Jura wine-buyer at Chambers Street Wines, and Clarke Boehling, who was the French Portfolio Manager at Michael Skurnik when I invited him, but who chose to complicate matters by taking a job at Rosenthal, the importer of Puffeney's wines. Although Clarke is a professional who will call it as he sees it, in an attempt to avoid even the slightest appearance of bias, I figured that we needed additional support from BrooklynLady, who also loves wine, and who is my wife.

I decanted the wines two hours before the tasting and kept them in cool water. We selected our two favorite wines, in order, identified the wine that we'd pick for long term cellaring, and also identified one outlier wine - a wine that is different from the others, if there should be one. Unlike the last time the Panel met, there was no clear winner this time. The wines changed tremendously in the glass, opening, closing, revealing hidden nuances, picking up or shedding weight and intensity. I personally didn't think that any of them showed all that well - could this have been a leaf or a root day? Here are the details:

2004 Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Ploussard de Monteiller, $28, Jenny & François Selections, donated by Jenny & François for this tasting. During the tasting this wine received two 1st place votes and two 2nd place votes. Sophie loved the mature aromas and flavors of the wine, Clarke (and I hope he doesn't get fired for this) picked it 1st, calling it "subtle and elegant with a remarkable inner-mouth perfume." BrooklynLady liked it best during the tasting too. During dinner Levi proclaimed it to be "clearly the best of the wines." I was the one who didn't vote for it - during the tasting I found a weird quinine type minerality and something not entirely harmonious about the wine, but later as we ate, I thought that it was showing the best of all of the wines. Change, change, change.

2007 Philippe Bornard Ploussard Arbois Pupillin Point Barre, $30, Savio Soares Selections, donated by Savio Soares for this tasting. This wine received two 1st place votes and one 2nd place vote. Levi and I both had this as 1st choice during the tasting. I thought it clearly stood out above the rest - it was completely harmonious, subtly quite intense, and very beautiful. The nose was spicy with pomegranate fruit, very elegant, there was good acidity, and great length - the floral finish really lingered in my nostrils. The funny thing is, everyone agreed that this wine fell off over the course of the evening, and was perhaps overshadowed rather than enhanced by our dinner (biryani-style rice with beef, watermelon radishes, green salad).

2008 Overnoy/Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin, $36, Louis/Dressner Selections. This wine received one 1st place vote and one 2nd place vote. Even after two hours in a decanter, this wine still had an effervescent twang on the palate. I thought this might be because there is no sulfur used to protect the wine, and instead is bottled with plenty of carbon dioxide that can take a lot of time to work itself out. Clarke and Levi disagreed, suggesting that the delicacy of this wine requires the most careful of storage conditions, and that this bottle may not have been stored properly. Or that there may have been further fermentation in the bottle. Who knows? Sophie picked it 1st during the tasting, and I loved it too, picking it 2nd. It was more overtly fruity than the other wines, but I liked its depth and resonance. And this wine changed dramatically over the next few hours, picking up lots of intensity, and loosing all traces of carbon dioxide. By the end of the evening, everyone really liked it. This is one for the cellar, I would say.

2005 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Poulsard "M," $26, Neal Rosenthal Selections. This wine was a world apart from the others during the tasting, in a bad way. Oxidized, dried prunes, and lifeless. It received no votes. Levi thought it was simply undrinkable. When it was revealed to be this wine, I realized that it had to be a flawed bottle - what we had in the decanter was not representative of this wine. So I opened another bottle, which showed better, but still a shadow of what it was several months ago. Clarke (in an attempt to salvage his new job) blamed my decanter, the wine glass, the air in my apartment, the manner in which I held the bottle while pouring, and eventually, my karma for the wine's poor showing. In the end we guessed that it had entered a closed phase.

2006 Domaine Stéphane et Mireille Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes, $18, Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. This wine was corked, sadly, and I did not have another bottle.

So there you have it. Tournelle showed very well in a lineup including Houillon and Puffeney, and everyone agreed it was a wine worth buying. Bornard showed well too. Houillon was delicious, but provoked more disagreement than the other wines. Puffeney's Poulsard is great too, regardless of how the 2005 showed on this night. These wines don't stand still, they change a lot in the glass. I don't always decant two hours in advance of drinking them, and the changes are even more stark that way - they can start out pretty funky.


sadams62 said...

The Tournelle wines are some of my favorite Ploussard's. They have a basic cuvee that is very inexpensive yet the purity the transparency are mindblowing.

Alice said...

It could have been a root day. I find many of these show better on the next day. The Puff sure did, as well as the Bonnard (love that one).

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Good lineup of wines. The Houillon isn't showing as well as the 2007 right now and looks like it could use a few years to get right, and it generally benefits from a long decanting I(all their wines are like this). The M is a fussy wine for storage, but from what it sounds like the wine might just be dying. The tournelle is lovely and i'm not surprised it took top honors right off the bat. their trousseau tends to show really reductive just after opening, but i've never had the poulsard do the same. As for the's a wine that i don't much care for right now but i know i need more time with.

erwin said...

I had the 2008 Houillon this weekend and have to say that the CO2-presence did not diminish at all over the course of the weekend (2 glasses left going into Sunday). Especially compared to the 2007-version this wine actually was a disappointment to me.

Eric said...

Great tasting. Would have loved to have been there. As you say, the Ganevat is utterly delicious. I look forward to tasting the Tournelle.

Clarke B. said...


Your mischaracterization of my reaction to the Puffeney unveiling may make for humorous writing, but I feel obliged to clarify what actually went down...

I simply felt that the Puffeney (which I actually chose as my cellar candidate) was a bit shy and closed on that evening, and that it had entered a phase--much like many red Burgundies do, and especially like so many 2005s (the vintage of the Puffeney, it so happens) have done at this point in time--in which it was showing neither the exuberance of youth nor the nuance and harmony of maturity. I've had 10+ year old Puffeney Poulsard, and I know how beautifully it develops in bottle.

The fact that you had aerated the bottles two hours before the tasting (which I hadn't realized at the time) lends credibility to that line of thinking... As people who've decanted young red Burgundy have likely experienced, wines that are beginning to enter a dumb phase will often clamp down even more sternly with oxygen, and the aeration ends up doing exactly the opposite of what it's intended to do. It's no surprise that the second bottle was better, then, since we simply popped and poured it.

Another thing I brought up at the tasting... Yes, we were evaluating wines that were all made from the same relatively esoteric grape, but the fact remains that the samples were from very different vintages, and made in vastly different ways. You wouldn't evaluate, say, 2005 Desvignes alongside 2004 Lapierre and 2008 Metras, and fail to acknowledge the role that vintage and production methods played in the wines' performances.

That's not to disparage the wines that showed the best, but simply to point out what we all know already: that blind tastings (or any tastings, for that matter) offer a mere glimpse of a wine at one minuscule point in a long and complex arc of evolution and development.

Brooklynguy said...

sadams62 - i like the basic Tournelle too. carbonic fermentation there - isn't that interesting?

thanks Alice, and Cory for your comments.

erwin - i think the 07 is far superior also, but i do think that the 08 needs another 8 months or so just to let the dust settle. this wine is hard to read, and may surprise us all. It sure was awesome by the end of our tasting.

hi Eric - it would have been fun had you been there. another time. and if you get around to tasting the Tournelle, let us know what you think of it.

hi clarke - i thought it was clear from the way I wrote it that i was joking around - sorry if it didn't come off that way to you.

Unknown said...

The overwhelming two feelings I left this tasting with were of excitement at the great showing of the Tournelle, a wine that I hadn't loved previously, and of awe at the finicky and Burgundian nature of the Puffeney. Since the tasting, we've ordered '04 Tournelle for the shelf at Chambers to take it's rightful place alongside Puffeney, Ganevat, and Bornard. (I don't include "Tissot" here only because, personally, I straight up don't really like the wines.) Tournelle's great showing that night made me recall an incident that occurred while tasting in Puffeney's cellar this past summer. A French couple who visit the Jura every year and were, I believe, married there, remarked (while Jacques was out of earshot) that they had finally found another grower in Arbois whose wines they liked (almost) as much as Puffeney's; that grower was Tournelle! Go figure. Thanks for the great tasting, Neil.

Brooklynguy said...

thanks Sophie. i will most certainly be a Tournelle customer. Puffeney was finicky, they all were. Remember how good the Houillon was at the end? how much less interesting Bornard was after another 2 hours? Who knows what they would taste like the next day, or in a few years. Finicky is good, i think. What it indicates about the way a wine made is good, anyway.

Leif Erik Sundstrom said...

Sounds like another great tasting I wish I'd hosted at my place! Great, succinct notes on the matter too. One query I have regards your exposure to Chateau d'Arlay from Arbois. I've been surprised at their lack of exposure in NYC since moving here a year ago -- espcially considering they have such historical importance for the region, as well as such great wines...not to mention they are a Junguenet import. Have you had ANY run in with these wines at all?

Cliff said...

It sounds as though others have had good experiences with Puffeney in 2005? I love the house, a lot, but everything I've tried (at least the Trousseau and the field blend, dunno about the Poulsard) struck me as too ripe.

Mark Anisman said...

it may be fun also to keep the glasses still blinded with dinner. also you could have someone rearrange the glasses(changing the number that identifies them) and retaste blind 2 hours later, with or without food. this way you avoid knowing the identity of the wine when you taste again 1-2 hrs later.

David Flaherty said...

Hey Brooklynguy,
Nice post! The wines from Jura keep blowing my mind. I did a staff tasting at the restaurant a few weeks ago, and we were all amazed at just how unique and downright unusual these wines can be.

For me, I was so moved by the glory coming out of the bottle of Bornard Ploussard, that I did a write up on it on Grapes and Grains a few months back:

Keep spreading the Jura love,