The Old and The Restless: White Burgundy

Have you ever wondered if ancient aliens, who some believe held the key to the mysteries of the universe, planted specific grapes in certain areas? No? Me neither but no doubt, Riesling marked its territory in the Mosel and if you ever forget this, its mesmerizing slate scented wines will remind you over and over again. Pomerol can convert the most virulent Merlot haters and, like so many of us who came from elsewhere, Zinfandel is pretty happy it had a one-way ticket to California.

12,000 Year Old UFO Drawings found in  French caves

12,000 year old UFO drawings found in French caves

Burgundy births arguably the most complex wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is not to say that there aren’t versions made in California, Oregon and New Zealand that can reach great heights but even the cuvées that reign from Burgundy’s lesser appellations often have that little ‘somethin’ somethin’ that sets them apart from their compatriots elsewhere.

From appellation to appellation, and vineyard to vineyard, there are differences in Burgundy’s terroir. That is part of what makes the region so mystical. Yet as a rule, limestone and clay dominate the soil, contouring the textures and flavors of the grapes. 

Last month, we tasted red wines from the Côtes de Beaune. That was spectacular and set a very high bar for this March’s “Old and The Restless” white Burgundy tasting. But, the blancs rose to the challenge.

In total, there were nine wines tasted blind in flights of three. Someone else numbered the bags so while I knew which wines were in the mix, I was not sure of the order. There were just eight of us this time, as three people had to cancel, and though nearly everyone was pretty knowledgeable, no one else at the tasting works in the wine industry.

Let’s get to it:

1) Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001 ($99)

Founded in the early 20th century by Etienne Sauzet, this domain is now run by his son-in-law, Gérard Boudot and increasingly, Boudot’s daughter Emilie and her husband, Benoit Riffault, who is from a Loire Valley wine family. Today, the domaine has 23 acres under vine and has been run according to organic (2006) and biodynamic (2010) principles for several years.

Les Combettes is typically aged in 33% new wood but Sauzet’s wines rarely seem over-oaked, even when they are newbies. Now, at nearly 14 years old, this 1er cru is completely integrated and seamless with honey-covered almonds and buttered brioche interwoven with searing minerality. Some of the other tasters noticed crème brulee, quince and pear-like flavors. The first wine of the tasting is often one of the best but in this case I don’t think it was just because our palates were primed and ready to go.

Estimated Age: Early 2000’s

Estimated Price: $75 – 80

 

2) Domaine Ponsot Morey-St. Denis, 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants, 2001 ($60)

80% Aligoté, 20% Chardonnay

Most famous for its Grand Cru “Clos de la Roche,” Ponsot also does a great job with the two white wines made at the domaine. Composed of 80% Aligoté and 20% Chardonnay, it is one of the few Côtes de Nuits whites that can go head to head with the best from the Côtes de Beaune. The vineyard was planted in 1911, after phylloxera wiped out much of the land, and the Ponsot family was among the few who stayed loyal to Aligoté, which was considered far less noble than Chardonnay.

Fermented with native yeast in tank at first, it was finished in barrel and bottled without fining, filtration or additional sulfur. Although showing signs of maturity, it’s a keeper. If I had it blind I’d probably peg it for a young Jura Chardonnay instead as it has signs of minor signs of oxidation with hazelnut and a spiced apple sauce character yet it was balanced and had a long finish. Most in the group were not as into as I was (although one person totally dug it) and found it to be a little simple and lacking terroir which, per my Jura comparison, is true. Still, I found it enjoyable and appreciated its uniqueness.

Estimated Age: About 15 years old

Estimated Price: $50

 

3) Gagnard Delagrange Grand Cru Batard Montrachet, 1996 ($130)

Gagnard-Delagrange was born with the marriage in 1959 of Jacques Gagnard and Josephe Delagrange, two known Burgundy families. Burgundy is famous for going through “dumb” phases but at this point I would expect a grand cru from such a revered vintage and producer to have more going on. I don’t like dissing wines when I write but the sulfur was very noticeable in the nose and the oak is still pretty prominent. There is nice acidity giving me reason to think it might bloom one day and there is always bottle variation so I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and have another go round in a few years.

Estimated Age: Young, ten years.

Estimated Price: $55

 

4) François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru “Genevrières,” 2002 ($100)

Although his son, Antoine, now runs the domaine, Françoise still garners immense respect. One of the most gracious and humble winemakers I’ve met, he has become an elder statesman in the region and his Meursaults, which are distinct yet classic, have both power and grace. Genevrières is a tiny, 1.3-acre parcel and at the time these grapes were picked the vines were about 20 years old. Jobard has always fermented and aged in oak barrels and worked with native yeast.

Rich but with a firm chord of acidity, the ’02 Genevrières is showing very well now but I think it still has a way to go. With marzipan, brioche, hazelnuts, honey tinged stone fruit and hints of anise and sassafras, it is especially generous in the nose. One person said, “If I could propel the nose though my house I would gladly do it.” Genevrières scented candles might be pricy but probably worth it. Some in the group noticed tropical underpinnings and one person said it reminded him of the soft cough drops we were given as children. Honestly, I was not at all surprised when this one was unveiled.

Estimated Age: Eight – 14 years

Estimated Price: $75

 

5) Domaine Leroy Meursault, 1er Cru “Poruzots,” 1999 ($130)

Before the tasting began, I recalled trying the ’69 Leroy Meursault “Charmes” in 1999 that was amazingly youthful. Knowing it was someone in the batting order, I had high hopes for a repeat performance from Leroy and while they were not born out, it was nonetheless, very good.

Right off the bat it smelled like French toast, with spicy agave-like notes. Rich on the palate with vanilla, toasted hazelnuts and stewed apples, it had Meursault character but lacked the length and depth of the previous wine. The group had a similar impression. A few people commented that it seemed like it has a lot of good stuff going on – honeysuckle, apricot and apple cider – and that there was a rounded character to the fruit. It may very well need another decade or so but given a choice between spending $130 here or $100 on Jobard’s Genevrières, I’d go for the latter

Estimated Age: An older, hot year

Estimated Price: $80

 

6) Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004 ($95)

For as far back as I can remember Chandon de Briailles has been one of the top estates in Corton and the Grand Cru Corton Blanc is one of the reasons why. It is sourced from three small Chardonnay plots with the bulk coming from Corton Bressandes, which is renowned for its grand cru reds.

The overall favorite wine of the tasting, nearly everyone guessed that this was one of the younger wines. It was a little tight at first but opened up after a few minutes and kept on giving. Someone said they found it to be linear, which I agreed with, but not as complex as the others. I think that is just a product of its relative youth. Floral and minerally with a flint like aroma, fresh pears and sizzling acidity, one person summed it up best, “It is a very nice wine with a ways to go.”

Estimated Age: Young, 2004

Estimated Price: $130

 

7) Bertagna Vougeot Blanc, 1er Cru “Les Cras,” 2003 ($45)

Vougeot is one of the last places where you would expect to find white wine but a handful of producers get down and dirty with Chardonnay in this Pinot Noir dominated appellation. It was founded by Claude Bertagna after WWII and sold to Günther Reh, a German winemaker, in 1982. His daughter, Eva Reh Siddle, is now at the helm.

“Les Cras” is a premier cru grown to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is now organically farmed and hand harvested but I can’t swear that was true in 2003.

This one lacked a little acidity and that could have a lot to do with the vintage. It was high on the butterscotch and caramel notes but had some mineral underpinnings with an array of fruit. We all agreed that it seemed a little tired but still came in third place, perhaps because of its exuberant charm.

Estimated Age: Turn of the century

Estimated Price: $75 – 130

 

8) Colin-Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Chenevottes,” 2002 ($75)

Michel Colin started this now legendary winery with holdings from both sides of his family, the Colins and the Delegers. Both clans have deep roots in Chassagne-Montrachet, which often translates into great holdings and that is most definitely the case here. Les Chenevottes is very close to the grand cru “Le Montrachet” and is often considered one of the top premier crus. On the positive, this 12.5 year old has the acidity to continue evolving. It has a dominant trio of apple, butterscotch and minerals that might morph into something pretty special one day. However, it also has a noticeable amount of sulfur. I’m not super militant about SO2 additions however in this case, I felt it really distracted from an otherwise very sound wine.

Estimated Age: Late 90’s

Estimated Price: $60 – $70

 

9) Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Caillerets,” 2003 ($75)

I never believed in love at first sight until I had a wine from Jean-Noel Gagnard. It was the 1990 Les Caillerets, consumed at the Flying Saucer, a trailblazing restaurant at the time and while it was not an obvious pairing, sometimes it really doesn’t matter.

Gagnard started the label in 1960 using land that had been in his family for three generations. In 1989, his daughter, Caroline Lestimé took over and she has been running it since. “Les Caillerets” is one of the original premier crus in Chassagne-Montrachet, anointed with the title in 1855. In spite of the challenges of 2003, the various wines I’ve had from Gagnard from the vintage have been at the top of the pack. One person got a big whiff of alcohol in the nose, plausible considering the heat yet it was not only balanced but also had noticeably good acidity. Mineral driven with citrus – as someone commented, grapefruit pith – and a little bit of caramel from the oak, it should be at its prime in another three – five years.

Estimated Age: Ten years

Estimated Price: $75 – $80

 

Group Wine Rankings

1st Place: Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004

2nd Place: Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001

3rd Place: Bertagna Vougeot Blanc, 1er Cru “Les Cras,” 2003

Honorable mention also goes to Gagnard’s “Les Caillerets,” which came in a close 4th.

My top three:

1st: Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001

2nd: François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru “Genevrières,” 2002

3rd: Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004

The  holy trinity of “The Old and the Restless: Burgundy” concludes in early May with Côtes de Nuits reds. Next up on The Vinguard – Friulian and Slovenian orange wines.

Cheers,

PSB

 

 

 

 

Green Acres We Are There: Long Island Wines are Growing Up

Let’s face it, Long Island is probably best known for its iced tea, which is not iced tea at all but a nauseating potion of five different liquors that is sure to get you hammered in ten seconds flat. However, if you hop on the LIE (Long Island Expressway) and get off at one of the last few exits, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a thriving wine region.

This may not be news to a lot of you but slowly, the North and South Forks are growing up. Instead of trying to make wines that fit a certain mold, several wineries have opted to champion the terroir and work in a more natural manner, eschewing synthetics in the vineyards and using indigenous yeast during fermentation. Channing Daughters in Southampton started dabbling in this direction after Christopher Tracy came on as the winemaker in 2001. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to visit them during my recent NY sojourns as I’ve stayed in the North Fork, but I was able to check out Shinn and Southold, two sustainable producers that are making some of the finest juice I’ve yet to try from New York state.

Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

Barbara Shinn and David Page are Midwesterners who met in the Bay Area in the 1980s. Shinn was pursuing an MFA at the California College of Arts and David was cooking at Masa’s and Postrio, a couple of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco at the time. In the early 90’s, they moved to New York and opened up their own place, “Home.” A couple of offshoots followed, “Home Away from Home” and “Drover’s Tap Room,” but Shinn and Page were getting tired of city living and high rents. And, that was when a $1500 studio apartment in the East Village seemed expensive! In 1998, they pulled a Green Acres, and bought an old farmhouse in Mattituck.

They knew they wanted to grow in an environmentally friendly way so Barbara read all she could find on the subject. Unbeknownst to her at first, a lot of they were doing in the vineyard were biodynamic practices. During the first five years, they did all the pruning with their own four hands. Everything was and is still done manually. The learning curve was huge, and Barbara admits, they had to get around the “problem of imposing yourself on the land instead of having the land guide you.”

Compost at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

Barbara Shinn, Compost at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

If you’ve spent any time in Montauk or the Hamptons you know that eastern Long Island is quite sandy. Technically, it is known as “haven soil.” Specifically, Shinn has a foot and a half of sandy topsoil over gravel. Unlike California, lack of rain is hardly ever a problem. Also, while the winters can be very cold – as anyone who has not been living under a rock over the last few months is aware of – the summers are hot and it stays very warm at night.

After two years of gaining a better appreciation for their terroir and creating a healthy ecosystem, Shinn and Page planted 20 acres of vines. Today, there are over 50 species of plants grown on the property. While they are not Demeter certified, a nearly impossible achievement on Long Island because of downy mildew, they largely follow biodynamic principles both in the vineyard and winery.

The original plan was to sell the fruit to other wineries but that business model didn’t make much sense so they took the plunge and turned a 125 year old barn into a wind and solar powered winery.

Since the beginning, Shinn has fermented with native yeast and sulfur additions have been minimized over time. “The longer you keep a wine away from sulfur,” Page says, “the healthier it is going to be.” We tasted a 2014 Merlot that spent 60 days on its skins which had yet to see any SO2 that was super clean and fresh, with a very pure expression that reminded me of right bank Bordeaux.

Late Fall Pruning at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

Late Fall Pruning at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

Since Shinn’s production is small, they do not sell outside of New York but the wines can be purchased through the website.

Shinn “Coalescence,” 2013 ($16)

A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling, this zesty wine is perfect for ‘hot fun in the summer time.’ Seriously, turn on a fire hydrant and dance barefoot with a glass in hand. No, don’t do that, at least not in a city. Fermented in stainless steel tank, it did not undergo malolactic fermentation so it is crisp and snappy, with grapefruit leading the way.

Shinn Chardonnay, 2013 ($20)

This unoaked, non-malolactic Chardonnay may not appeal to people who prefer the rich, oaky variation but plenty of others will dig it, for sure. It underwent a 30-day ferment and spent eight months on its lees so there is some texture but it is also crisp with tropical and mineral notes.

Shinn Pinot Blanc, 2013 ($35)

Left on its skins for three days before fermentation in old 500 liter puncheons and then aged on its lees for 15 months and bottled unfiltered, the Pinot Blanc has a lot of character. Admittedly, it is a personal favorite, with floral overtones, apples, almonds, a touch of honey, waxy notes and a decidedly long finish.

Shinn “Haven,” 2012 ($36)

Eighty five percent Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon, “Haven” takes its cue from the great wines of Graves and Pessac Léognan. It was aged on its skins before fermentation in new French oak. The wood is apparent in the nose but it does not overwhelm the minerality and almond honey notes. In a couple of years, when the oak integrates, it should be rocking.  

Shinn Red Blend, NV ($16)

Composed of the five Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot), this is a non-vintage blend because wine from the previous harvest is added to the cuvée. Light but not thin, with cinnamon and porcinis, it was more Cabernet Franc-like than anything in December – and that is always a good thing in my book.

Shinn “Wild Boar Doe,” 2011 ($32)

“Wild Boar Doe” is, as the name suggests, another Bordeaux blend, but it spent more time in wood than the Red Blend and I suspect, there is less Cabernet Franc though all five grapes were used. Spicy with violets, blueberries and cocoa, and a fair bit of tannin, you can drink it now but ideally, give it another year or three to fan out some more.

Shinn Cabernet Franc, 2012 ($38)

I’d really like to revisit this one in five years. It has great bones – lots of fruit, structure and good acidity – but it needs time. However, I have faith. Only 175 cases were made and at $38 I actually think it is a good investment in what might be one of the best Cab Francs to come from Long Island, thus far.

Shinn Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot, 2012 ($32)

Nine barrels translates to 225 cases. C’est tout, no mas made. It has a splash of Petit Verdot, adding acidity and aroma that might come out even more somewhere down the road. Aged in 50% new oak, I was expecting a lot more wood in the nose but instead it was exuding black fruits and humus (dirt). 

Shinn “Grace,” 2007 ($75)

Composed of 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot from the best parcels, “Grace” is one Shinn’s flagships. It was aged in new French oak but seven years later, the wood was just part of the supporting cast. The first thing I noticed was a hint of truffle (the fungi kind) in the nose, followed by black fruits, spice and bittersweet chocolate. Texturally, it is enjoyable too, with a moutful of velvety fruit tannin.

Shinn “Clarity,” 2007 ($100)

The complement to Grace, “Clarity” is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Also aged in new French oak, it may have been a beast in the not too distant past but is somewhat approachable now with herbal and licorice tinged mocha-covered blackberries. Some people will love its present state while those who can be patient are going really enjoy what it is likely to become later in this decade.

Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse

2000 Oregon Road, Mattituck, NY

http://shinnestatevineyards.com

Tasting Room Hours:

Sunday – Thursday: 10:30 am – 5 pm

Friday & Saturday: 10:30 am – 8 pm

 

Southold Farm & Cellar

Regan and Carey Meador were also city folk, sort of, when they moved to Southold, which is all the way east on the North Fork. They met in Manhattan where Regan was involved in the music world and Carey worked in advertising. She had actually grown up in this area and her family lives nearby so the move was not as drastic as it may sound. They cut their teeth with stints at Osprey’s Dominion and the Lenz Winery and bought an old 24-acre property with a farmhouse from the 1800’s in need of a little TLC. With assistance from Carey’s father, Steve, the renovation began.

In 2013 they planted nine acres to Teroldego, Lagrein, Syrah and Goldmuskateller believing these grapes are more suited to their site than the usual Long Island suspects of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In Southold, Regan explains, “Bordeaux varieties have reigned supreme,” but, “they lose their freshness by the time they’re in your glass.” This, he attributes to the time it takes to get phenolic ripeness on this part of Long Island. “Teroldego and Lagrein have more natural acidity so we can push them longer into the season. And they’re more versatile.”

A Winter Wonderland at Southold Farm and Cellar

A Winter Wonderland at Southold Farm and Cellar

While they’re waiting for the vineyard to mature, they’ve been relying primarily on fruit from the Farrm Vineyard in Calverton, which is the only certified organic vineyard on Long Island. Twenty miles west, it has a slightly warmer microclimate. In 2014, Southold made 900 cases of wine and Regan is hoping that they might use some fruit from the estate vines in 2015.

They are firmly against using chemicals and have laid the groundwork for biodiversity in the vineyard. Regan is also a staunch believer in using native yeast and minimal sulfur.

Currently, the wine is made at Raphael Winery in Peconic but plans are in the works to build their own facility next to the vineyard. Though  vested in what is to come in the next few years (and their two young children), this waiting period is giving Regan freedom to experiment and he seems to be enjoying himself with cuvées such as “The Devil’s Advocate.” We tasted a few wines in the tasting room, a small structure that came with the property. It is closed to the public during the winter but as spring is in the air, it should be open again in the next few weeks.

Southold Farm and Cellar Brut Nature, La Belle-Fille, 2009 ($36)

What happened here? Basically, Peconic Bay made 1200 bottles of sparkling wine from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2009 but kind of, sort of, forgot about it. When they closed in 2013 Regan and Carey went over to purchase some of their equipment and noticed “some dusty crates.” They grabbed a few bottles out of curiosity and were back soon thereafter for the rest. Bottled without a dosage, it is bone dry with searing acidity. Toasty and yeasty with toasted almond brioche and red apple fruit, I can understand why they did not want to see it go to waste.

Southold Farm and Cellar Damn the Torpedoes, 2013 ($28)

The Devil’s Advocate is an effervescent red wine that pays homage to Lambrusco. It is composed of Merlot, Petit Verdot and a little Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes and was aged for five months in 228 gallon oak casks. A little spicy and very juicy, with a charming array of berries, black cherries and plums, it is a job well done. Next year, Regan is making it entirely from Petite Verdot as he likes the acidity and nuance it gives to the wine.

Southold Farm and Cellar “The Devil’s Advocate,” 2013 ($26)

“The Devil’s Advocate” is from the Mudd Main vineyard, which is one of the oldest on Long Island. First planted in 1974, the Musque clone Chardonnay that went into this bottling is over 30 years old. It spent seven days on its skins, underwent a four-month ferment in barrel, was aged for six months in two-year-old 800-liter casks, minimally filtered and bottled with a touch of SO2. People who like crisp, mineral driven and zesty Chardonnay should find common cause with those who enjoy a richer style as it meets somewhere in the middle, perhaps erring more on the exuberant side but with good acidity. 

Southold Farm and Cellar “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” 2012

This whole cluster, foot stomped Cabernet Franc can hold its own against its compatriots from France. Sixty percent was fermented on its stems and the rest is whole berry. It sat on its skins for eight days before fermentation began and was aged for seven months in 228 liter oak casks. With a big spicy nose and juicy red fruit, it has Cab Franc character with minimal herbaceousness. I’ve noticed that it gives a lot more after it’s been open for an hour so decanting is a good idea.

Southold Farm and Cellar

860 Old North Road, Southold, NY 

www.southoldfarmandcellar.com

(631) 353-0343

Just eight days left until spring. Over and out. 

PSB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Conversation With: Southern Italy with Shelley Lindgren, proprietor A16, SPQR

Monday, March 16th, 2015, 6:30 – 8 pm

Ruby Wine, 1419 18th Street (Connecticut)

Shelley Lindgren lights up any room she enters, especially when she is about to open a bottle of wine. When she started A16 in 2004, it was modeled after the trattorias of Naples and the wine list complemented its food with a Campania focused, southern Italian selection that was unlike any other in the Bay Area. Since then, she has gone on to open two other restaurants, write two books, was nominated for a James Beard award and, not least, has stayed her incredibly charming, humble self. There is no one I can think of who I’d rather drink Southern Italy’s treasures with, and discuss the how these regions have changed over the last ten years.

Please join us! $22.50 in advance for conversation and tasting. $25 at the door. Click here to sign-up.

 

 

The Old and the Restless: Côtes de Beaune Reds

When I started diving into Burgundy 23 years ago, the one thing I kept hearing over and over was that so much was dependent on the producer. This is true of any region but, as I’ve come to see for myself, Burgundy more so than anywhere else. Two vignerons can make wine from rows six feet from one another but have very different results. Of course terroir is a huge factor. So is vintage and Mother Nature can have huge mood swings during the month of September in this corner of the world. Yet, great producers always make good wine and this could not be truer of another area.

When I decided that it was time to take the Old and the Restless to the Côte de Beaune, my biggest concern was being able to find wines from the producers that never let me down. I was spoiled early on with exposure to legendary winemakers such as Gérard Potel of Domaine de la Pousse D’Or, whose Volnay 1er Cru “60 Ouvrées,” made me wonder if indeed there was a god. Sadly, Potel passed away in 1997, and the wines have not been the same. He possessed a very rare gift.

No matter how divine the producer, sacred the terroir or perfect the vintage, older wines can be killed if they are not stored properly so I’m always very careful to buy wines from reputable sources. However, it’s pretty hard to avoid bottle variation so keep that in mind when reading the notes below. This said, it was pretty close to a monumental tasting. I’ve had opportunities to try older Burgundy throughout my career but many of the participants in this tasting, who with one exception are not in the wine industry, have not. Even those who had were floored. This may sound corny but watching people have that “ah-hah” moment with Burgundy makes my job as a wine educator most gratifying. All were blind tasted and while I knew the selection, did not know the order.

1) Domaine Philippe Bouchard Monthélie “Creux des Caves,” 1985 ($65)

I could not find any information on this producer, sorry to say. Monthélie is in between Volnay and Meursault and given that the former makes incredibly beautiful reds and the latter terrifically complex whites, it is easy to understand why this appellation is over shadowed.

Domaine Philippe Bouchard Monthélie

Domaine Philippe Bouchard Monthélie

Nineteen eighty-five was one of the rare years when just about everything went right, or to look at it in another way, nothing went wrong. Even in good vintages, 30 years can be a stretch for grand cru Burgundy, let alone a wine from a modest terroir. Initially I got a lot of mineral, cola and rhubarb in the nose and silky though dissipating fruit on the palate. This said, there was a decent finish, especially considering its elderly status. While the wine is on the downside it is far from dead. This was the general impression of the group as well. Its precision and balance was duly noted. Kudos to Philippe Bouchard.

Estimated Age: 15 – 20 years

Estimate Price: $75 – $300

2) Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Grand Cru “Clos du Roi,” 1998 ($95)

Chandon de Briailles has been in the same family since its founding in 1834. In 2005 they stopped using chemicals and have been Demeter and Ecocertified since 2011. Situated in Savigny-les-Beaune, Chandon de Briailles has holdings in Corton, Aloxe Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune. Less than an acre, Clos du Roi is perched 1000 feet above sea level. The vines were planted in 1961 and 1985 on steep limestone-clay marl with some sand.

The first wine I ever tried a wine from Chandon de Briailles was in 1994. It was the ’88 Corton Bressandes and that was all it took. During this time, Burgundy was if not as caught up as other regions, certainly paying attention to the traditional vs. modern, cleaner and fruit forward vs. funky and terroir driven debates and a number of producers shifted their winemaking to appeal to a perceived international palate. Chandon de Briailles always struck me as erring on the old fashion side but still made clean wines.

It rained on and off in September so there was a lot of variation this year but many of the wines are superb and I would put this bottling at the top of the class. Spicy with wild strawberries, cola, tea, forest floor and a moderate dose of “bretty” funk, it is fully expressive and does not seem to be heading south any time too soon. Everyone was pretty much on the same page, noting its funk yet appreciating the complexity it added to the wine.

Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years

Estimated Price: $100 – $150

3) Domaine Albert Morot Beaune 1er Cru “Bressandes,” 2004 ($50)

When Albert Morot started making wine in 1820, he was purely a negociant. Seventy years late his relatives began purchasing land in Beaune and today the domaine works exclusively with its own holdings. Still in the original family, Geoffroy Choppin de Janvry has been running the property since 2000. It was Ecocertified in 2014.

Morot’s Bressandes vines were about 20 years old in 2004. It has a southeast exposure on clay and limestone. Hailstorms in August made it a particularly challenging year in the Côtes de Beaune but it was not a disaster. Morot’s wines can be tough when they are young and this one is still a pup. It was a little green at first but not unpleasant, with cola, bacon fat and asphalt-like aromas coming to the fore. A couple of people smelled horseradish in the nose at first but ended up digging it in the end. All of the wines in this tasting changed as they sat in the glass but this might have more than any of the others.

Estimated Age: From the early 2000’s.

Estimated Price: $150 – $200 (based on its projected aging)

4) Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune 1er Cru “Clos de la Mousse,” 1998 ($75)

Bouchard was founded in 1731 and stayed in the family until 1995 when it was sold to Henriot. While it is largely a negociant at this point, they own some excellent plots including this monopole. A walled off eight acre vineyard grown on limestone and clay with a clay base,”Clos de la Mousse” is one of the Bouchard’s signature wines.

A number of people noticed the SO2 in this wine. The balance was a little out of whack with the alcohol sticking out like a burnt thumb. It had a good amount of spice with leafy, floral notes and the finish was long. I’m not sure if it is going to come around or not because the fruit seems like it is starting to go but I wouldn’t write it off either.

Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years

Estimated Price: $90 – $100

5) Domaine Parent Pommard 1er Cru “Les Argillières,” 2003 ($95)

Étienne Parent was among the earliest Burgundy producers to export wine to the United States, back in the days of Washington and Jefferson. Today, Anne Parent, a 12th generation winemaker, and her sister, Catherine, run the domaine. It has been Ecocertified since 2013.

Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield

Parent’s wines capture the power of Pommard, in a seductive wine. Two thousand and three was a very warm vintage and the fruit is not shy – one person called it the Jayne Mansfield of the tasting – yet it is matched with a healthy dose of tannin. I’d give this wine another five years, maybe more, before opening another bottle.

Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years

Estimated Price: $150 – $200

6) Domaine Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Les Marconnets,” 2007 ($88)

Simon Bize started out in 1880 with enough vines to make wine for his family but not much else. Four generations later, it has grown into a 54-acre domaine. The red wines are whole cluster fermented and see very little if any oak. “Les Marconnets” is a two-acre parcel planted in 1973 with deep sandy soil.

This was a last minute addition. Even though it does not meet the Old and the Restless ten-year criterion, I thought it would be fun to throw in and see if it could hold its own. No doubt, it rose to the occasion, offering a splendid bouquet of red fruits, spice, raw chopped meat and mushrooms with ample acidity and just enough tannin to keep it going a while longer. As a whole, the group thought it was older, putting it in the 15-year range yet also called it explosive and primary.

Estimated Age: 15 years

Estimated Price: $150 – $250 (one person was in the $75 camp)

7) Domaine Coste Caumartin Pommard 1er Cru “ Le Clos des Boucherottes,” 1995 ($75)

Coste Caumartin is one of the oldest estates in Pommard. Antoine Coste acquired it in 1793 and his descendent, Jerome Sordet took over in 1988, at some point along the way renaming it after himself (Domaine Jerome Sordet). Located close to Beaune, “Le Clos des Boucherottes” is a monopole on a hillside with clay and limestone soil hovering close to 1000 feet above sea level.

After four vintages that ranged from “gros catastrophe” to “not too bad,” 1995 gave the vignerons a lot of hope. One would think that after 20 years a Pommard would settle in but this one is still a little bit restless. It has a solid core of fruit, with cedar and licorice that gave it a Nebbiolo-like tinge. Some found it to be a little medicinal and harsh. Knowing how previous vintages of Coste Caumartin have aged, I’d take a leap of faith that in another three to five years the rough edges will smooth out and the wine will be in sweeter spot.

Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years

Estimated Price: $100

8) Domaine Tollot-Beaut Corton Grand Cru, 2002 ($90)

Tollot-Beaut made their first wines in 1921, at the urging of Frank Schoonmaker. Today, Nathalie Tollot, a fifth generation winemaker, is in charge. Located in Chorey-les-Beaune, the domaine has property in Beaune, Savigny-les-Beaune, Chorey-les-Beaune, Aloxe Corton and an acre and a half in Corton. These vines were planted in 1930 and 1985.

The producers were more than pleased with 2002 right after the harvest and it seems to have lived up to its expectations. Earthy but not funky with porcinis, minerals, chewy tannins and a solid mound of fruit, this wine has the longest to go of the nine tasted. One person said it seemed athletic with precise, rich flavors. Agreed yet in spite of its vigor and youthfulness, I’d be stoked to drink it now.

Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years

Estimated Price: $175 – $200

9) Domaine Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru “Clos du Chateau des Ducs,” 1995 ($175)

At this point, the Lafarge family might be the most entrenched in Volnay. They have been growers since the 1700’s and Michel bottled the first Lafarge wines in 1934. Today, Frédèric Lafarge, his grandson, is ruling the roost. “Clos du Chateau des Ducs” is situated on what was an 11th century chateau. It then came under the control of the Duchy of Burgundy until much of it was destroyed in a fire in 1749. Lafarge owns the original structures that were not damaged. A tiny 1.47 acre parcel 900 feet above sea level with 16 inches of brown clay and limestone on top of gravel and bedrock, this storied property births one of their flagship wines. The vines were planted between 1946 and 1985.

Compared to Coste-Causation’s Pommard from the same vintage, this wine seems more advanced. I got licorice, mushrooms, cinnamon and dried herbs and a few folks picked up cigar tobacco in the nose. While it has good grip, the fruit seems as if it is beginning to fade so I’d say the time to drink it is now.

Estimated Age: 20 – 25 years

Estimated Price: $150 – $200

Group Wine Rankings:

First Place: Tie between Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune, 1er Cru Les Marconnets, 2007 and Tollot Beauty Grand Cru Corton, 2002.

Second Place: Parent Pommard 1er Cru Les Artilleries, 2003

Third Place: Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos de Chateau des Ducs, 1995

Honorable mention to Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi, 1998 and Domaine Albert Morot Beaune 1er Cru Bressandes, 2004.

I would happily drink any of the nine wines tasted but the ones that stood out to me most were Chandon de Briailles’ Corton as it is not only in tip top shape now, but will thrive for years to come and Bouchard’s Monthélie because I cannot believe how well it has stood the test of time. However, I’d love to revisit Parent, Morot, Tollot-Beaut, Bize and even the 20 year old Coste Caumartin again and see how these wines evolve.

Until next time,

PSB

 

Semillon: The Quintessential Late Bloomer

After the Savennières fête a couple of weeks ago, I blind tasted my tasting group on the 2000 Kalin Semillon. Nearly everyone was perplexed but one person got the varietal correct. It was obviously older yet at the same time lively and expressive; not quite Betty White, maybe more Madonna as it still has a way to go (hopefully we can say the same for Betty, too).

This is the current release and it is extraordinary. That is as much a testament to Kalin as it is to Semillon and there will be another post on this iconic producer soon. While very different from the various Savennières, Semillon is also a late bloomer, so I thought it would be a good follow up bonus wine.

Very few people go out of their way to taste Semillon, let alone hunt down ones that have age. A geeky wine, some might say, there is not a huge demand but I take heart in noting that some of California’s newer producers such as Dirty & Rowdy and Forlorn Hope are doing a stand-up job with it`. For more on that check out this post.

JT

JT

Australia has made a claim on the grape in a much bigger way than California. It is most at home in the Hunter Valley, which has been growing Semillon since the 19th century. Here, Semillon is picked early so it has more acidity and less alcohol, and is vinified without using oak during fermentation or elevage. Lean and mean in its youth – think Justin Bieber – it snowballs into a luscious, rich labyrinth – Justin Timberlake -with beeswax, honey, hazelnuts, vanilla and toast.

I used to collect inexpensive Australian Semillon (as most are) just to see how they would age and even the’96 Rosemount ($10) didn’t come into its own until it was five years old. Others, such as Tyrells Vat 1, hold up beautifully much longer.

Tyrells Vat 1 Semillon

Tyrells Vat 1 Semillon

Semillon is originally from the southwest of France but it is rarely made into varietal, dry wine. It is used to make sweeter wines in Saussignac that can be delightful. In Bordeaux, it is a major player in Sauternes and Barsac but frequently blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Pessac-Leognan and Graves have a lot of Semillon planted but again, the dry whites from these appellations are nearly always blends. This said, Semillon lends richness and aromatics that contribute to the complexity of wines such as Haut Brion Blanc, and “Y,” a dry white wine from Chateau d’Yquem.

I highly suggest that anyone who wants to start a cellar, or is already in the process of doing so, tracks down Semillon or Semillon based wines. For $30 you can get a wine that will seem like a steal when you are ready to open it in ten years. Now, you might not think that you would enjoy it and perhaps you won’t but our palates change over time so you might hit upon a bottle that is in the same space you are in somewhere down the road.

If you want to find Australian Semillon specifically, talk to Chuck Hayward (Chuck.Hayward@jjbuckley.com) at JJ Buckley. He probably knows more about Australian wine than anyone not living down under. Kalin Semillon can be purchased directly from the winery (http://www.kalincellars.com/order.htm) but Vineyard Gate in Millbrae also carries it (that’s where I found the bottle I purchased).

Until the next post – let the good times roll.

Cheers,

PSB

Frat Boys and Eggheads

Last week I held two blind tastings that were thematically as different as wines can be: Zinfandel and Savennières. The former was part of a tasting series I hold regularly, The Old and the Restless while the other one was on Super Bowl Sunday, with eight other wine professionals who also could care less about football (modern day gladiators), especially when presented with the opportunity to drink arguably some of the world’s finest Chenin Blanc.

In a sense, Zinfandel epitomizes California wine in the sense that it is just about as fruit forward as any one grape gets and is often pretty brash, especially when it is young. I’ve heard more than one person refer to it as “frat boy wine,” which really can mean a number of things since there are different types of frats (and Zins) but let’s just stick with the stereotype for now: loud bordering on obnoxious and packed with alcohol.

While Savennières is not delicate, it can be slow coming out of the gate and though promising, can force you to dig deep. However, once it matures there is nothing like it. If Zinfandel is frat boy wine, Savennières is for “eggheads” but both comparison are marginally useful, at best.

Lytton Springs Vineyard

Lytton Springs Vineyard

The Old and the Restless: Zinfandel included nine wines (all Zinfandel) that were at least ten years old. More specifically, the oldest was from 1994, a vintage I remember well as it was the year of the baseball strike, Kurt Cobain died and Hayes & Vine, my first wine bar, opened. People underestimate Zinfandel’s ability to age and there was a time when I was not crazy about older Zin as I felt its fruit was essential to its character. Maybe because I’m older I’ve grown to appreciate the grape more as it mellows out. At any rate, I thought it would be fun to throw a bunch of classic Zins into a blind tasting and see how they were holding up. In general, I thought they were very good though I wouldn’t say any were spectacular. Here are the impressions, both mine and the other tasters, listed in the order poured.

Ridge Zinfandel, Lytton Springs, 1998 (Dry Creek Valley) 14.3% ($45)

Fashion Model Collection Principessa Wedding Gown Barbie

Principessa Wedding Gown Barbie

Lytton Springs is a 112-year vineyard. Ridge has been working with it since 1972 and now owns the whole thing but up until I think, the early 90’s, there was a separate “Lytton Springs” label that was often equally impressive. I thought this wine was pleasant and still has some grip but definitely the time to drink it is now as the fruit is starting to dry up. The group seemed to enjoy it well enough to give it a fourth place finish. Among the descriptors used to describe its nose were herbal, floral and one I have never heard before but is no less valid, “Barbie Doll head.” Most people thought it was from the late 90’s and were willing to pay around $30. In case you’re wondering what a Barbie Doll’s head smells like, you can buy one for as little as $5.99 for the Barbie Beach Summer Doll. Fashion Model Collection Principessa Wedding Gown Barbie cost $125 and for the life of me, I have no idea if it smells any better.

Ravenswood Zinfandel, Dickerson, 1994 (Napa Valley) 13.8% ($54)

The Dickerson vineyard was planted in the 20’s. Ravenswood is now the only winery that uses it but the Dickerson family made their own wine at one time, as did Louis Martini. It has a signature menthol, eucalyptus nose so knowing that it was in the mix I was able to pick it out and that might have made me pre-disposed to a little favoritism, as I’ve always thought it was one of Ravenswood’s best wines. Others also got this herbaceous note but were less kind, commenting that it was medicinal and smelled like Band-Aids. It was a little hot and the finish was on the short side but 20 years can be a stretch for Zin. Everyone seemed think it was one of the oldest wines of the tasting and, as a curiosity, were willing to pay $30. In spite of this, it was the second overall favorite of the evening.

McIlroy Zinfandel, Porter-Bass Vineyard, 1995 (Russian River Valley) 13.6% ($29)

McIlroy is located in the Russian River. It is a family run property that specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and I don’t think they still work Zinfandel though could be mistaken. This is an old vineyard, most of which has been replanted. The Bass family purchased it in 1980 and it underwent biodynamic conversion in the last decade. It’s cool microclimate, abetted by ocean fog, is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and most of the original Zinfandel has been replanted. However, it is also a good site to make high acid Zin so I was not surprised that it was by far the brightest wine of the tasting with explosive cherry and cranberry fruit. A few people thought it was the youngest and most Zin-like with spice and tar. As such, the consensus was that it was from the late 90’s and that $45-$50 was a fair price. No wonder it came in first.

Joseph Swan Vineyards Zinfandel, Ziegler Vineyard, 1997 (Russian River Valley) 14.9% ($40)

Joseph Swan’s wines are far from perfect but that is one of things I’ve always appreciated about them; they are anything but formulaic. I’ve always been a fan of the Ziegler Zin, too, as in spite of its alcohol never feels overbearing. And, the nose in this wine is really great with cedar, an array of spice and dried fruit. However we all seemed to feel it was lackluster on the palate. I wouldn’t say it is completely over the hill but its drinking window is rapidly closing. Most people thought it was from the early to mid 90’s and when pressed, might pay $30.

David Coffaro Zinfandel, 1997 (Dry Creek Valley) 14.9% ($40)

When I think of Zinfandel producers, David Coffaro never crosses my mind so I was happy to include this wine and it was a sleeper, at least for me. With black olives, thyme, bay leaf, Ricola cough drops and a whiff of Lidocaine in the nose it was promising and the palate, though not particularly vibrant, was generous. Again, it seemed a little bit older than it was with most of the tasters placing it in the mid 90’s. A couple of folks were willing to spend up to $35.

Greenwood Ridge Zinfandel, Scherrer Vineyards, 1998 (Sonoma County) 14.1% ($29)

Fred Scherrer owns this vineyard and often makes very good wine from it though I have never tried one of his that has this much age. As for this 17 year old Greenwood Ridge version, it posed a bit of a quandary. Someone aptly said it seemed like there was “some character under the mess.” I felt it had the most materized nose though this did not mask a pretty strong licorice aroma. Others got porcinis, brandy, bouillon and umami. Interestingly, the majority seemed to think it was one of the younger wines, maybe from the early 2000’s. No one wanted to pay more than $25 and preferably less.

Nalle Zinfandel, 1995 (Dry Creek Valley) 13.5% ($50)

When I think of the memorable Zinfandels from the early 90’s, Nalle always comes to mind. The property has been in Lee Nalle’s family since 1927 and she and her husband, Doug, have been making wine from it for 30 years. Of the nine wines tasted, it had the most divergent reactions with some finding it way too hot while others thought it was lighter and brighter than the rest. I’m somewhere in the middle. With kirsch, pepper and Red Hots, it seems more youthful in the nose than a 19-year-old wine. Yet, the alcohol stood out which is why I say kirsch, as opposed to cherries. At the low end, some wanted to pay no more than $20 but a few were willing to splurge at $35.

Dashe Zinfandel, Todd Brothers Ranch, 2004 (Alexander Valley) 14.8% ($35)

Located in Geyserville, Todd Brothers Ranch was planted more than 50 years ago. I usually find it to be the most structured Dashe wine but this one is a little slutty. There was a good backbone of tannin and enough acid but the fruit had a sweetness that put some people off. One person said it had a lot of leg up front but not much on the finish. I don’t think it was showing particularly well but having tried other vintages of Todd Brothers Ranch, both younger and older, would give it another shot as it still has a lot of fruit. I recall some comments to the effect that it was probably more expensive than what people would want to pay, somewhere in the $30 – $35 range.

Ridge Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 1995 (Paso Robles) 14.7% ($49)

By fate, Ridge bookended the tasting, with this wine, the only one that was not from northern California, getting the proverbial bronze. One of two wines that Ridge makes from the Benito Dusi Ranch, it is sometimes under appreciated when compared to Geyserville, Pagani Ranch and Lytton Springs. It seemed older but showed up with black currant jam, an herbal and humus nose and reasonably good acidity. As a group, we were in the mid to late 90’s camp and priced it at $35.

In the End

A few people were pretty surprised by how over the course of double digit years Zinfandel can so completely change. For years, Josh Green, the publisher of Wine & Spirits Magazine, has been saying that Zinfandel was generally under priced, “at least in relation to Pinot noir and Cabernet.” Without agreeing or disagreeing, I think it does not get as much credit as it deserves for its potential complexity and that is in part the winemakers’ fault. Many are huge, monolithic fruit bombs that lack nuance and fall apart after a few years. Yet Zinfandel can be more so much more as this tasting demonstrated. Some frat boys turn into subdued, complex and charming men.

 

Domaine du Closel

Domaine du Closel

Savennières

Since I volunteered to host this fête with my monthly tasting group I chose Savennières, with unanimous approval. Two of our comrades were in the Loire Valley, prancing around the wine various fairs, so Savennières seemed like the morally correct thing to do.

Learning from last’s month’s slightly confusing experience of having eight wines in two separate flights, we opted for one flight with six wines instead but tragically, number four, “Vieux Clos”from Coulée de Serrant, was corked. Very sad not only because this is such a storied estate but the wine rocks.

In any event, hunting down Savennières is not an easy feat in the Bay Area. For the third time in 23 years I actually had to go the town of Burlingame, which is about 25 minutes away from San Francisco.

Downtown Burlingame

Downtown Burlingame

No disrespect meant to Burlingame – it has a very good school system – but unless you live nearby, are going to the airport or, as I discovered, looking for Savennières…enough said. I wish I could say that I see a lot of Savennières on restaurant and wine bar lists in SF, if not in retail shops, but I don’t. There may have been more living in my house last week, including some wines I have stashed away for my nephews, than anywhere else in San Francisco.

Savennières is a magical appellation, driven by its schist soil but with some variation in its terroir and more dramatic differences between producers with some making bone dry wines and others preferring a little residual sugar. While the five wines we tasted were not as extreme as it gets, there was a good range. Here it goes, in order.

Domaine du Closel, Le Clos du Papillon, 2007 ($35)

Clos du Papillon is considered one of the best sites in Savennières. It has clay, sandstone and schist soil infused with quartz and volcanic stones. How does this translate? Generally, the wines are rich yet have brilliant acidity and intense minerality. They can also be among the most long lived. Closel’s vines are 35 – 75 years old. The grapes were hand harvested from early to mid October in four passings. It was aged in 400-liter French oak, on fine lees, for 24 months and lightly filtered on clay.

One person thought it had oak tannin. A couple found the alcohol to be too high. It was 14.5% so that is not an unfounded concern but elevated alcohol does not necessarily mean the wine is hot. Some, myself included, noticed what seemed like botrytis.

Personally, it was my second favorite wine of the tasting and seemed more youthful than some of the others. Minerally with spiced applesauce, a shocking current of acidity and burnt caramel and honey in the nose, I found it to be well balanced and not overly rich. In spite of being seven and a half years old, it still has a way to go. I’d put it down for at least another five years before revisiting.

Domaine du Closel, La Jalousie, 2012 ($30)

La Jalousie is grown on clay with sand and schist. The vines were planted a little more than 15 years ago. All of the grapes were hand harvested and sorted on the vine, with two pickings in the beginning of September. After a slow, light pressing, it underwent a two-month natural fermentation and was aged on its lees in vat for one year.

There were quite a few descriptors used here including Play-Doh being one (which we all agreed is not a bad thing), parmesan, pineapple and saline. Someone thought the oak was disjointed.

The issue for me is that this wine is still very young. It had a lot of tropical, mango leaning fruit that I don’t usually get in Savennières and there was a slight hint of B.O. (yes, as in body odor), too. Yet, there is an underlying racy minerality and spice. In a couple of years I bet this it is going to be much more integrated and really shine.

Clément Baraut Savennières Pitrouillet, 2012 ($30)

Baraut makes his Savennières from a 32-year-old vineyard of lime and sand over slate that he purchased from Nicolas Joly in 2009. He harvests by hand and looks for ripeness. The fruit was fermented in neutral Burgundy barrels and was aged on its lees for eight months.

A few people have said that this tasted like Chenin Blanc but not Savennières. One person felt the finish was bitter. On the other hand, there were those who found it to be focused and fresh, with river rocks and beautiful transparency.

Of the five wines we tasted, I thought it was the least generous. It opened up over time but never gave too much. Since the tasting was at my house I had the privilege to go back and try it again three days later and finally, it was putting out – but not much. I’ve never had an older Baraut Savennières but I’d bet a buck or two that in another five to ten years it will metamorphosize into a very different animal as there is great acidity and the fruit came from a terrific plot.

Domaine Richou Savennières, La Bigottiere, 2012 ($36)

Located outside of the appellation, Didier and Damien Richou purchased a three-acre parcel in Savennières in 2010 that was planted in 2008, behind Roche-Aux-Moines.

This vintage is their Savennières debut and it is true to form. The group got a plethora of aromas ranging from guava blossoms, Asian spices, pine needles, fennel and soap. Some found it to be complex and intriguing while others though it was less serious but approachable.

While it was not a personal favorite, I’d be happy to drink this wine all day long. I got honey and minerals, with floral nuances in the nose and fresh fruit on the palate. Pleasant though it is, it seemed to lack some depth though I’d definitely give in an “A” for a first effort and would love to try it again in five years.

Chateau d’Epire, 2012 ($30)

Chateau d’Epire works with several high elevation plots, one that is just above La Coulée de Serrant. The vines for this cuvee are 30 – 55 years old. Three passes were made, two earlier in the harvest with the last coming three weeks later when the fruit was riper. The grapes were lightly pressed and the juice was left to rest for 24 hours prior to fermentation. It underwent malolactic fermentation and was aged on its lees.

Interestingly enough, this wine seemed to be older than the rest and as such, was the overall favorite as the beauty of Savennières is in full force when it matures and picks up secondary and tertiary characteristics. It smelled like wet clay infused Bit-O-Honey, with distinct notes of almonds and honey. Richly textured and with a superb, long finish, it is a classic Savennières. While delicious now, I’m not sure it is going to improve, as it seems more advanced than its years. However, for $30 it is hard to find a wine that is this complex and ready to drink.

Finally

When comparing the three from 2012, which was a great year, we could really notice the variances among the producers with d’Epire being powerful and precocious, Baraut the most restrained and Closel’s Jalousie having outright fruit and spice. In spite of the variation and personal preferences, all five were thoroughly enjoyed.

Last summer Eric Asimov, of the New York Times, wrote that Savennières was more cerebral than Vouvray. I know what he meant but never underestimate the power of the palate to instinctively appreciate unfamiliar and challenging flavors. In the way you do not have to be a musician to be swooned by Beethoven, or for that matter, Johnny Cash, you do not have to be in the wine industry or an egghead to fall in love with Savennières.

Also, one caveat here is that there is always bottle variation, especially with older wines where storage is crucial. While I believe the wines were properly aged, there are never any guarantees, even in perfectly controlled cellars.

Until next time, rock on, roll out,

PSB

Babes and Beaujolais

Last weekend, I got together with several lovely ladies, and I don’t mean for this to sound condescending as they really are lovely, in the first of what I hope are many evenings of wine tasting and a little gabbing.

All seven of us are in the wine biz and have definite opinions and unique palates. This might sound like it has all the makings of a raging cat fight but no, rather boringly, we were just tasting and discussing Beaujolais, rather seriously as you can see in the photo, and then gorging on a lavish meal that included several birds and wild mushrooms.

Babes and Beaujolais

Seven wines were tasted, mostly from 2013. While our feelings and favorites were all over the board, there was general agreement that there was a bad one in the bunch. The word on this vintage is that while there were difficulties due to coulure and millerandage, which stunt uniform berry development, the effects were minimal. There was a lot of sunshine so ripeness was not an issue though some picked later than usual.

Here’s the quick and at times, a little dirty:

Flight One

A. Chanrion Côte-de-Brouilly, 2013 ($22)

There were a few people who really loved Chanrion’s Côte-de-Brouilly, feeling that it was the cleanest in the flight and had a terrific nose with crushed, ripe strawberries. Others found it to be a lactic or felt that the finish was a little weak. I think it has the stuffings of a very good wine that is just a little bit young and unformed. Having had a lot of Chanrion’s wines over the years, I’m confident it will come together and blossom, probably in 2016.

B. Château des Rontets Saint-Amour, Côte de Besset, 2013 ($33)

Most of us enjoyed the high-toned brightness, tension and spice here but some felt it had to have too much volatile acidity. One of its detractors said it smelled like celery salt and another person detected an herbal, umami-like nose but also gave it credit for having a “slightly candied quality,” in a good way. I enjoyed it. The granitic soil came through with pencil shavings shadowing savory hamhock, clove and pepper aromas. It was herbal but not in a vegetative way. Since I don’t know this producer it is hard to gauge its age ability but I’d give a year or so to hit its stride and a couple more for further development.

C. Guy Breton Beaujolais Villages, “Mary Lou,” 2013 ($24)

I think I might have been the only one who really dug the wine Breton named after his daughter. Yes, it had VA and a little bret too, but that didn’t take away from its vibrancy, multiplicity of spice and zesty berry fruit. A few others conceded that there were similarities between B and C but for some it was too natty funky. OK, fair enough but in a year or two, when it stabilizes, it is going to be pretty scrumptious and given that it’s Breton and made from 45 year old vines, might age shockingly well.

D. Yann Bertrand Fleurie, 2013 ($31)

“Maybe the best Malbec I’ve had all day.” I’m still not exactly sure what the person who said this meant but it was funny nonetheless. Someone noted that it was “succulent” and I think all, if not most of us agreed it was the most tannic of the lot. I wasn’t getting much in the nose but there was a lot of intensity on the palate. I actually thought it was Morgon (wrong) and did not go through 100% carbonic maceration (right). Either way, it needs some time and should turn a corner by the end of this year. I don’t know Bertrand’s wines but there was enough going on to capture my interest.

Flight Two

E. Chanrion Côte-de-Brouilly, 2005 ($40)

As the only wine with some age, this one stuck out a little bit. It was interesting to learn later on that we tasted the same wine from different vintages…always a good exercise. One person said it drank like Burgundy and could see that. It was not as vibrant as the others, a result of age (sadly, that happens to the best of us), but still had lots of fruit and a great finish. Others who appreciated it more than I did found it to be the most nuanced wine, with fine tannins, high-toned fruit and spice. As said earlier, Chanrion’s wine can age but I personally I’d drink this wine now, albeit with pleasure.

F. Chignard Chenas, “Les Moriers,” 2013 ($26)

“Classic Gamay,” and “grounded” were two of the descriptions that were used for Chignard’s Chenas. Without looking at the group rankings, I seem to recall that it may have had the most positive consensus. Floral it was, with a few of the tasters picking out peonies and carnations. Peppery and minerally, with bright red fruits and taut acidity it walks the line between being clean without sterility or simplicity.

G. Corked

H. Sugnier Regnie, 2013 ($29)

A couple of the folks felt that this wine lacked nuance and was just kind of, as one person said, “blocky.” Someone thought it was “pretty and quaint.” Aromatically it is quite charming with cinnamon, pepper, cedar and juniper with granitic notes. It was simple and straightforward on the palate and while I don’t think it is meant for the ages, it is perfectly pleasant right now.

Will the wines age? Who knows, really? And with Beaujolais that is not as much of an issue as it is with other regions as its youthful vibrancy is one of its charms. However, some Beaujolais, especially from Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent, just starts coming into its own after five years of aging and can live on for a couple of decades. I suspect, as mentioned, that a couple of these will.

 

PSB