Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poulsard - A Survey of the Current NYC Market

There are dark and brooding red wines, light and joyous red wines, and everything in between, and all can be delicious and satisfying - they all have their place. Poulsard, though, exists almost outside of the spectrum of red wine. As far as I know, Poulsard is vinified only in the Jura region of France. The grapes are relatively large and therefore have a low skin to juice ratio - the opposite of what is prized in say, Burgundy Pinot Noir. And the skins are not heavily pigmented. The resulting wine tends to be light in color, almost like a rosé.

But don't be fooled by the light color as these are, when well grown and well made,  powerful and structured wines with great depth of aroma and flavor. Unusual aromas and flavors, too. The fruit veers towards pomegranate, red currant, cranberry, and blood orange. That sounds precious because it's so specific - but I promise you that it is true. I often find dried roses on the nose, in addition to  those same bright fruits, and sometimes a salty, chalky bass note. Perhaps I haven't had enough experience with the wines, or maybe I'm just missing something, but I find that the wines are more about fruit and particularity of structure than they are about minerals and earth. The structure can be surprising, by the way, because it is firm, while the wine appears to be so light and delicate.

I love drinking Poulsard because it is such an aromatically expressive and spare red wine. It isn't a wilting lily - it's not delicate, exactly. A good Poulsard can stand up to mushrooms, steak, and other earthy hearty fare. But there is no extract, really, nothing other than the essence of the thing. This analogy is overused, but here I think it fits - Poulsard can be Burgundian in its melding of finesse, grace, and power. I misunderstood good Beaujolais for a few years because the wines are so brightly acidic and fresh. I thought of it as a light wine. Beaujolais can be joyous and light in body, but Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie (well, maybe Fleurie), these are not light wines. They are deeply and darkly fruited, and rich next to a Poulsard. I would drink Morgon with blood sausage, but not Poulsard.

The best Poulsards I've had are thrilling, but the problem is, the best Poulsards are quite hard to find and drink. I feel comfortable saying that Pierre Overnoy/Emmanuel Houillon make the finest Poulsard, and although Louis/Dressner imports the wine to the US, we're talking about a handful of cases for the US. I was able as recently as the 2007 vintage to walk into Chambers Street and buy this wine on the shelf for under $30. Those days are gone forever. Now the wine is just not seen on shelves, in NYC anyway. Another favorite for me is the Poulsard made by Domaine Ganevat, whose wines have also become rare and dear here in NYC.

Not long ago I found myself craving Poulsard and I realized that I haven't had a bottle since the end of 2012 at this amazing dinner in Stockholm. I knew that I would buy and drink Poulsard, but which one? What should I be drinking, if I'm not drinking Overnoy or Ganevat? I decided to gather a few friends who also appreciate the glory of this very light and strange grape, to buy every Poulsard we could find, and drink them together over dinner.

Three years ago I did a small Poulsard tasting and there were 5 wines I found to include. Last week I found 11 wines and chose to include 9 of them, and this excludes Overnoy and Ganevat. This probably reflects the rising popularity of Jura wines in general, and also the diligent work of several importers, and people like Sophie Barrett of Chambers Street Wines, who believe in the wines and want to offer them to curious customers. I'm sorry to say that on our recent Poulsard evening all of the tasters were a little bit underwhelmed by the wines as a group, but we agreed that a few of them were quite good.

I've always found that Poulsard is reductive and funky when first opened, and does much better when decanted. And so we decanted our bottles and drank them slowly with a feast of Middle Eastern food. Following are my impressions, but I want to mention that some of the wines that did not impress me on this night were better on other nights, in different vintages. All of the wines cost between $20 and $30, and are currently available on (some) NYC shelves.

My favorite wines:

2011 Tissot Poulsard Vieille Vignes, imported by Camille Rivière. I thought this was the most complete of all the wines. It showed true Poulsard character with expressive and bright red cranberry and blood orange fruit, slightly rose inflected, and it showed the depth, balance, and structure that old vines can bring. It held up beautifully on the second day. I haven't loved Tissot's wines in the past, but this was a really good wine and I would happily buy it again. I was more excited about this wine than some, but everyone liked it.
2006 Domaine de la Tournelle Ploussard de Montellier (Poulsard is sometimes called Ploussard), imported by Jenny & François. This is the current release of this wine in NYC - maybe they are released late everywhere? Overall I think the 2004 was a greater wine, but this is truly lovely, with good balance and resonance, and honest Poulsard character. Others were more excited about this wine than I was, but I also liked it very much and would happily buy it again.

2011 Michel Gahier Ploussard, imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Delicious wine, deeply flavored and balanced, well structured. Again there was no controversy here - everyone liked the wine. No one was super excited about it though, and for me, that is because it didn't show the typical Poulsard flavor package that I crave. But it was very good wine.

Wines that I liked, but might not buy again:

2011 Ratapoil Ploussard Par La, imported by Selection Massale. This wine was fresh and pretty and I enjoyed drinking it, but I found it to be lacking in complexity and it didn't hold my interest in the end, even when we revisited it later in the evening. Certainly a pleasing and lovely wine, but it didn't satisfy my craving. A very good value within the group, and one taster really liked the wine - so probably this is worth trying if you haven't already.

2010 Domaine de la Pinte Poulsard de L'Ami Karl, (bottle gone before I noted the importer - sorry). I've had this wine before and I liked it, but on this night I was the only one sticking up for it, and that's probably because I liked it in the past. The aromas were vastly different from the other wines, showing things like red grapefruit, and one person suggested that it might be yeasted. It did show aromas that are not typical of Poulsard, but it was bright and snappy wine. I'm reaching here - it wasn't so great on this night, and it was worse on the second day.

2011 Domaine de Montbourgeau Côtes du Jura Poulsard, imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I was surprised at how this wine showed because 1) Montbourgeau makes great wine; and 2) the Poulsard, while not the shining star of the Montbourgeau lineup, is still quite good. This wine was so forward and candied in its fruit and it didn't feel balanced, or all that interesting. But it was drinkable and pleasant for whatever that's worth.

Wines that showed poorly:

2010 Puffeney Arbois Poulsard, imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I don't know...Puffeney is "The Pope of the Jura," and I respect him immensely as a producer, and love his Trousseau, but I don't think I'm a fan of his Poulsard. This one was candied fruit and awkward, not rewarding.

2009 Le Chais de Vieux Bourg/Bindernagel Côtes du Jura Poulsard, imported by Langdon Shiverick. This was simple in its candied strawberry fruit, not well balanced, and not typical of the Poulsard flavor profile. It was worse on day two.
2008 Bornard Arbois Poulsard la Chamade, imported by Savio Soares. I was once quite excited about Bornard's wines, but after a series of weird and unhappy bottles, I stopped buying them. This one was undrinkable, I thought. It was vaguely fizzy, candied, without structure, and as one taster succinctly said, dirty.

Sadly, our bottle of 2011 Domaine des Marnes Blanches, imported by Selection Massale, was corked.


Anonymous said...

you'll never print this, and I don't care. You're simply the best wine critic in NY--probably anywhere. People get paid a lot of money to do what you do better for free. So there! (BTW, I agree with you about Puffeney: anytime anyone gets that kind of subriquet, you know that others are snickering.)

Ben said...

That's a shame about the Marnes Blanches - it was great when I had a bottle a few months ago. I have a bottle of Saint-Pierre 2011 Poulsard Petit Couroulet open at the moment that is very good. Outside poulsard, I also really enjoyed the 2009 Domaine de la Loue Savagnin a few nights ago.

Tom said...

I have had a bit of bottle variation with the 2011 Gahier Ploussard. The last bottle was a little underwhelming, another 3 months ago was a delight.

Peter Weygandt imports the Domaine de la Pinte.

I don't know if you are the best wine critic anywhere -- but you can do better dollar for dollar....frequent reader and appreciate your work!

jason Carey said...

When you say that the Houillon Overnoy is not seen on shelves.. does that mean that they go to Restaurants only, or that certain customers of places like Chambers buy it all up and hide it away before it gets to retail? I don't really understand..

jason carey, DWS

Tom said...

Sorry, I meant to say you can't do better dollar for dollar!

Brooklynguy said...

Okay, so I printed it, but I'm not a wine critic. Thanks for the kind thoughts though...

Jason - I mean that there is not a lot of the wine and there is a huge amount of demand, and it is allocated scarcely to some restaurants and some wine stores, and it gets sold before it hits the shelves. Like any rare and highly coveted wine. For example, this year there is some Lafarge 2010 in stores, but not the top wines. Those were sold before getting to the shelves.

Do Bianchi said...

another great one of the bookmarked reference section... thanks for this, Brooklynguy! :)

btw, I can't help but note how much Overnoy I saw in Italy on this recent trip... it's much easier to find in Europe... and perhaps less fetishized?

great post...

Sophieb. said...

Hello! I would really like to know where Ben got his Domaine de la Loue Savagnin... Is that available here? I have tasted it in the Jura and would be thrilled to find some in New York. Thanks for the great post, Brooklynguy! It's so telling to taste these wines next to each other...


Neyah Margolis said...

Sorry to hear about the Puffeney: I have to admit - Pope or no Pope - I really like his wines. I can't compare Puffeney to the Tournelle you tried, but I've had Tournelle's carbonically-produced Uva Arbosiana, and found it softer and more fruit-pure, while the Puffeney showed more funk and earth with a shot of acid-structured red berries - a good mix of intensity and detail with a refreshingly deft and light weight. And it was a surprising hit paired with a lean gamy peppered pastrami. A great wine to explore with different food combinations. A great wine to drink, a breath of fresh air!

Thanks for the great post: sounds like a stimulating evening. I'll be looking for some of these wines.

Unknown said...

Oh man,
I am drinking a 2011 Puffeney Poulsard at this very moment,and I find it to be outstanding, and on the whole, completely integrated and satisfying on every level. Love your writing!
Alan A