Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Elizabeth Spencer Petite Sirah for WBW #40

Like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah is a big juicy grape that thrives in a hot climate. But whereas Zin is well-known in its own right, Petite Sirah — which is synonymous with the Durif grape and is not a "small" version of Syrah — is a bit more obscure. In fact, PS is typically a blending grape that frequently augments Cabernet and Zinfandel-labeled bottles, thanks to its dark color and serious dark fruit. But it shouldn't be overlooked as a varietal wine; not when 100 year old vines are found in Mendocino County.

So all y'all who do a bit of California dreaming should probably check out Petite Sirah. Myself, I do little California dreaming, since I'm no fan of the inky fruit bombs that state too frequently produces. But since Sonandora of Wannabe Wino is hosting the Petite Sirah tasting for Wine Blogging Wednesday #40, I have to spread my wings. Which is, of course, a good thing.

I sought out a more balanced, lower-alcohol PS to suit my preferences. I found one! The wine I drank for your reading pleasure is the Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvée North Coast Petite Sirah 2005 (at a slightly frightening $32 — although I could have bought more expensive examples). Spencer sources the grapes from the Suisun Valley just east of Napa, which is reputedly cooled by nearby San Pablo Bay; and indeed, this only has 14.2% abv. It's fermented with 20% whole clusters — a good sign for me, since I like a spicy red wine — and aged for 20 months in French oak.

Here are my notes, spanning three days.

Day 1: Inky, concentrated purple. Smells strongly of blackberries and spices, tastes strongly of blackberries and spices. Rich yet balanced, with good supporting acidity and modest tannins. It's not too sweet and the length is decent, and it's fine paired with vegetable soup and a buttery onion tart. But it has no complexity.

Day 2: Everything's fading — the fruit, the spice, the inky concentration — and nothing subtle has emerged. It's simply a shrunken version of its previous self.

Day 3: It's recovered its concentration somewhat, and it strikes me as more tannic today. The spice is elevated slightly compared to the fruit, which is now more like blackberry and blueberry compote. But it's no more interesting for it.

Honestly, I approached this wine with an open mind, but even this well-made, balanced example of Petite Sirah did not touch me in my special places — unlike a couple of $12 European reds I've recently put in my mouth (more about these in my next post). Objectively speaking, though, this is a good selection for people who like inky but reasonably food-friendly wines. My advice for those who like this style is to buy the Elizabeth Spencer with confidence and to drink it young.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Buddha In the Loire

Writers often describe wines as beautiful or deep. The following two wines may be that, but to me, they more specifically embody wisdom and enlightenment. It's no surprise to me, anyway, that both come from the Loire and are imported by Louis/Dressner.

François Pinon Cuvée Tradition Vouvray 2006
Can François Pinon do any wrong? 2006 was a difficult vintage in the Loire — warm rain plagued the region beginning in mid-August and abundant grey rot tested nerves — but Pinon's organically-grown, naturally-vinified, lees-aged Cuvée Tradition is practically the equal of his 2005 and 2004 releases. It may not be quite as full and creamy as those vintages, not so reubenesque yet sleek, but it's equally fresh and clean. And while I don't get figs from this vintage, this vin tendre (tender wine — between off-dry and bone-dry) has the telltale Chenin Blanc note of honeydew and a zippy, clean spice on the finish. Pinon proves as much as anyone that a good producer, an intelligent and wise and opportunistic producer, can usher excellence through less-than-excellent conditions.

Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon 2003
Loire reds usually hit me on an intellectual rather than atavistic level. They may say interesting things, but soon enough I'm thinking about picking up cat food.

Baudry's Les Grezeaux says the right things. It's hand-harvested at 40 hl/ha, fermented in cement, and aged in used rather than new barriques. On the first day, the complimentary aromas of black olive, black currant jelly and asparagus were well-integrated and the flavors were simultaneously concentrated and light and pure (the 12.5% abv is remarkably low for such a hot vintage). The acidity was robust and the tannins were gripping but very smooth, and the clean, minerally finish brought to mind well-filtered glacier water. All these compliments said, I admired it rather than loved it.

On day three, though, I was felled by a love bomb. In the first place, all those distinct aromas had stitched together more completely and a soft sandalwood note emerged. Second, the flavors, minerality, and acidity were likewise better integrated. Most impressive to my pleasure center, the mouthfeel became smoother, richer, almost velvety, without compromising the structure or the fresh, clean finish. The net effect is that this wine is completely itself. It rubs my third eye; and if I haven't quite seen Nirvana, Baudry's Cabernet Franc amply demonstrates its good karma.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scoring The Hermit Crab

Last night I went to Wine Library TV for the first time. I'd heard this online show was entertaining but, as with all things, I was skeptical. Somehow my first hit was on a show about points, and there Gary was, decrying mindless point-chasing with charm, verve, and passion.

"I'm here to say that wine ratings are straight garbage," he says. "To make your decision based [solely] on that is a monumental mistake." To further that, uh, point, I'll add that Robert Parker didn't grab power in some shirt-staining coup. He was handed that power. If you're just dipping your toe into the wine lake, points can help you learn what you do and don't like and gauge your taste. And personally, I enjoy scoring wines in the privacy of my home because, as Gary says, it's fun. But point-chasing is just lazy.

Anyhooters, Gary's review of the 2005 d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab McLaren Vale caught my attention, not least because he praised this Viognier-Marsanne blend's balance and lack of heat. I rarely buy South Australian wines, having been burned one too many times by hot, sugary, confected monstrosities, and the McLaren Vale is one of the hottest regions of them all. But what the hell, I thought, and so I picked up the 2006 release.

I gotta give it to him, The Hermit Crab ($16) is fresh, refreshing, and balanced. Full aromas of warm pears, ripe apricots, and petrol infuse the nose without obsequiousness or undue pungency. It's both creamy and refreshing in the mouth, and the slight zing of ginger and light minerals carries through on a long finish. It conveys presence rather than heaviness, and at 13.5% abv, you could pair this with anything this side of a bivalve.

I give this wine two thumbs up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Varietal Counoise

Now here's something different — varietal Counoise. If used at all, Counoise is apt to play a walk-on role in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but here it stars in the one-grape revue Domaine Monpertuis Vignoble de la Ramiere Cuvée Counoise Vin de Pays du Gard 2004.

Um, that's a mouthful, but then, so is this light bodied wine. I really like it — it has a pronounced pepper-and-herb nose, bright red fruits of pomegranate and cherry and cranberry, stones, and an acidity that grabs the tongue in a bony bear hug. Shy and retiring it's not, but this is a food wine with lift: it goes really well with modestly spiced lamb shawarma, and I'd also pair this with rosemary chicken, steamed broccoli dressed in salt and pepper and olive oil, or any number of lighter Mediterranean dishes.

At $13, it's a good choice not just for Monday night but for most any night, such as Thanksgiving. With its food-friendly lift and bright, peppery character, I'm a bit mystified why Counoise is not more broadly grown in the Rhône and the Languedoc, if nothing else but to add a kick to some of the bigger, richer wines. Its scarcity is odder to me than drinking varietal Counoise!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Wine Plan

I'm a geek, so I get quietly if palpably excited by considering wine options for get-togethers — and Thanksgiving is a Big Daddy of the wine year.

Now, I'm still not sure where or with whom I'll be, which complicates matters, but the debut of the J. K. Carriere Willamette Valley Chardonnay, vintage 2005, is assured a place at my table in any case.

J. K. Carriere has always pushed the line that they're a Pinot-only producer — and fantastic Pinots they are — but it seems that winemaker Jim Prosser plotted the release of this Chardonnay some time ago. The grapes are sourced from the cool, organically- and dry-farmed Temperance Hill vineyard in the Eola Hills. What makes the release particularly exciting is that it is "built in an old-world style... [it's] made for food and exhibits a dominance of savory and mineral over fruit.... [with] high acid and no obvious oak."

Could a white wine, and an American white at that, be more perfectly modeled for Thanksgiving dinner? I will find out in four days.

Binge and Purge

I'm 100% fifty-fifty that I'm going to eat until I have a fat attack this Thanksgiving. That's why I welcome the Brenda Dickson calorie purge plan. Welcome to her home!

(Warning: not appropriate for the office or for tender sensibilities.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Move Over, Bacon!

Serre de Catin
Now this wine is just silly. I'm talking about the 2005 Clos du Mont-Olivet Serre de Catin Côtes du Rhône, which is 100% tank-aged Grenache from 35 year old vines. My friendly local retailer, who has excellent taste (i.e. his agrees with mine), wrote a blurb saying it put many a Châteauneuf to shame (!), and it seemed a great opportunity to taste the unblended, unadulterated essence of Rhône Grenache from a terrific producer.

The nose does exhibit pretty black pepper, bacon fat, and thyme aromas, but over two days of tasting all I get in the mouth is bacon fat and, to a lesser degree, raspberry ganache. There's lots of glycerin here. The acidity is modest and there are no tannins to speak of. More disappointingly, it's a bit flat at the midpalate and the finish is both short and a bit hot, although a faint saltiness sticks around and adds interest. All of this would be fine at $12 — it's a perfectly fine drink — but I shelled out $23.

God bless the Sabons, but I'm not taking this little piggy to town again.

Photo by Flickr user el_monstritro used under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WBW #39 Silver Burg

The Côte Chalonnaise! The Mâconnais! I admit that I rarely venture into these regions. Or the Côte d'Or, for that matter. I frankly typecast better Burgundy as outside my budget and pay (too much?) heed to the warnings of variability from that region at all price points.

"Hmmm," I think, "should I spend this $25 on a terrific Savennières or an OK white Burgundy?" As a Loire partisan, I admit that wasn't a fair question (not to mention a question of apples and oranges), but it's also a misleading question. I'm a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, and good examples in a more Burgundian style often run in the $40 range. Red Burgundy of equal quality can be less.

So Brooklynguy is right: there are excellent wines to be had from these regions at good prices, red and white both. Here are three.

Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2004
I have little experience with Mâcon wines, but ah, isn't that what WBW is all about? And I am happy to report that this was a happy experience — happier, indeed, than my recent experience with a rather dull white Santenay from the Côte de Beaune from the same year. This Lafon was a really nice Chardonnay. It had body without overt weight and acidity without tartness. It smelled most specifically of golden toast, along with pineapple and just a hint of coconut, but while that's obviously the voice of the oak barrel, that voice didn't shout in my ear. For example, it had a nice, clean, minerally finish. Good stuff! $23

François Raquillet Mercurey Vieilles Vignes 2005
Yes, it's silly to open this so soon, but it's WBW 39, whattaya gonna do? Left undisturbed fresh out of the bottle, this red plum-colored wine throws aromas of wet hay, cinnamon, and cherry cough drop; with swirling, related smells of fresh-turned pasture, seaweed, and cold steel take over. Fresh black cherry shows with some air. In the mouth the acidity is high-toned and ramrod straight — hard, even — and the wine finishes with a smooth minerality and a lip-smacking tang. This is a definite rebuy, for given a few years, this should become more velvety and deepen to where it needs to be. $27

François Raquillet Mercurey 1er Cru Les Vasées 2004
And here's the best of the three, circa November 2007. This light-colored wine was just so young when I opened it and served it with oven-roasted halibut and sauteed leeks but it deepened as the night went on. The perfume (and it IS perfume, not just aroma) is gorgeous — in the main it conveys fresh strawberries, but a deep, savory note of autumn pie spices is also prominent. It's a bit simple in the mouth right now but it's graceful, fills the mouth (lightly), the finish is long and slightly spicy, and the tannins, the acid, and the fruit are in balance. Very sexy! As much as I liked the above Vieilles Vignes from the great vintage, the premier cru from the lesser vintage shows its mettle, and it should also improve over the next few years. $27

OK, are these wines cheap? No. But they're not outrageously priced, either, and considering the quality, well worth it.

(Oh, and while I have your attention, I wanted to let you know that the Cristom Pinot Noir Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Willamette Valley 2005 is well worth your time. It shows promise simply by having been harvested in a classic (cooler) Oregon vintage, fermented with native yeasts, and aged using only 18% new French oak. That promise is fulfilled. With its strong acid core, this has a way to go before reaching its apex, but it's already showing well. It's pale and rosy like a Burgundy and shows like one, too, with its subtle notes of baking spices and ripe but delicate cranberry, strawberry, and currant flavors. Fine, with excellent length, and it's great with a mushroom-based sauce. As with Raquillet's Mercurey, this should become deeper and more velvety in the coming years. Actually, I should taste it alongside the Raquillet 1er Cru in 2010, provided I can find these wines again!)

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Renaissance for California Syrah

After last weekend's late harvest of summer, fall returned today with the bite of wind, chill, and rain. Why not open a Syrah, then?

Then again, why a Syrah at all? Few wines piss me off more than Australian Shiraz and Californian Syrah. The grape's one of the greats, but it's far too easy to pay far too much for overly extracted, overly alcoholic, sugar-ridden fruit bombs that reek of heat. The Cola-Cola simplicity of these monsters is particularly infuriating, which is why I usually turn to the Rhône and sometimes the Languedoc for my Syrah.

But I took a risk on the 2002 Renaissance Syrah from their organically cultured, own-rooted, very low yield, high-elevation (1700'-2300') loam-and-granite vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. Matt Kramer claimed that their 2003 "Vin de Terroir" Syrah is "intense yet balanced... a very great syrah, the sort better associated with the likes of Hermitage and Côte-Rotie than California." Kramer's palate is reasonably in line with mine, so I decided to order that wine, which is made for extended aging, along with a 2000 Cabernet and this 2002 Syrah. A bit of a risk at $30 a bottle, but it's less than many gross Californian Syrahs.

Let me tell you, I'm going to be ordering more soon. The "basic" 2002 blows away every California Syrah I've ever had. Warm blackberry scents and chalky aromas promise beauty, and that beauty plays in spades in the mouth: for all its power and concentration, it's delicate. The tannins are smooth but they grip the far reaches of the tongue, while the acidity keeps the mouth watering. There's not much to say about fruit here — there's plenty of it, black and blue both, but fruit is not the point. Balance and delicacy is the point. At the same time, it's meaty, minerally, and just a bit peppery.

For all this beauty, the acid core is MIGHTY, and it could use another year, or three, or ten — who knows? — to deepen further. More evidence: on the second day it actually began shutting down. I love that! I love it when a wine, like a person, shows it has a mind of its own. I'm looking forward to checking in with the Renaissance Syrah again in a few years, to see what's on its mind then.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dal Fari Schioppettino at Bluebird

It's been oddly warm this weekend — the National Weather Service says it's been Chicago's warmest October since 1963 — and I rode to the grocery store and back this evening in shorts. And though I had a decent sized bag of groceries on my back, I decided to stop by Bluebird, a new wine bar / gastropub here in Wicker Park (I decided the tofu wouldn't go bad in the bike bag... We'll see).

The space is cool, with exposed brick walls behind the bar, rough wood planks reclaimed from a barn on the opposite wall, and Douglas fir from Wisconsin pickle tanks surfacing the bar and the tables. Small plates are the order of the day, many of them featuring bacon, and they have a good selection of fancy-pants beer. The wine list emphasizes biodynamic wines, befitting the theme, but the spell woven was broken when I saw the prices. Too many South American wines were going for $8-$12 a glass, and there were almost no French selections, which stupefies me.

I ended up going for the Dal Fari Schioppettino Colli Orientali del Friuli 2004. Even at $11 (!) for one glass, I have to say that this one was worth it this one time. It's an excellent, peppery, high-acid red that seems like it was dosed with bay leaf, tarragon, licorice, wild strawberry, and the aforementioned pepper. It reminded me of a Trousseau from the Jura, or maybe a light-bodied Counoise from the Languedoc, and it would go well with a huge array of foods — it certainly performed nicely with a Spanish sheep's milk cheese.

Now I face a quandary. Do I go back to Bluebird and pay $11 for just one glass, or do I head over to the local evil retail wine warehouse and grab a whole bottle for $19, as their web site advertises? The trick answer is neither. Instead, I will seek a third way, and trawl the small good-guy shops for a bottle at $25 or less. But I liked the Dal Fari Schioppettino way too much to settle for just one glass.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Waiting for Lafage

So I opened a 2004 Domaine Lafage Côte Sud Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes last night and man, was I disappointed. Simple and sadly sour — quite bad, really, even for a $10 wine.

Tonight, it's actually a decent glugger. This Roussillon-grown wine may be 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, but the sharply fruity nose features tobacco and olive, like a Loire Franc, and juicy black fruits amble over the palate, followed by a touch of spice and some tannic grip. Sediment! It ain't filtered. Now I'm happy, if also happy I dropped no more than a Hamilton.

This happens to me again and again. Just last week, a 2004 Domaine Gauby Les Calcinaires Côtes du Roussillon Villages — no, the phenomenon is not limited to Roussillon 2004s — started bland. It took 48 hours to show its stuff, eventually piping savory talc and marzipan notes (Les Calcinaires, mais oui!) onto my palate. The blackberry flavors turned jucier, while spice notes emerged where none had been before. As it's roughly equal proportions of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, that is more in line with what I was expecting. This cost barely north of a Jackson, but was worth it in the end.

Good things come to those who wait, or at least to those who wait before pouring a wine down the drain on its first day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vouvray vs. Mosel: 2005 Demi-Sec Faceoff

I am assuming we all have a story of the day everything changed, when wine went from being an enjoyable commodity to being something more important. In my case, it was when I walked into a wine shop two years ago and asked the merchant what would go best with a wheel of Humboldt Fog cheese. His answer: "You should try a Vouvray. It will change your life."

Little did he know.

When I matched that cheese with a fairly humble 2002 Yves Breussin Réserve, my eyes rolled back in my head at least twice. It was the shock of the new; my whole body buzzed. My atoms never realigned as they were.

My obsession with Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley continues to metastasize. Sec, vin tendre, demi-sec, moelleux — bring 'em on! If you ask me if I want a Chenin from the Vouvray, Savennières, Montlouis, or Layon regions, my answer will be, "Yes, please." I used to be content to buy one bottle at a time of a Huet, a Chidaine, a Baumard. Now I buy two at a time. And yet, I think, wouldn't a third bottle really help me track the wine as it evolves? We all know where this is heading.

Strange, then, that my admiration for the nerve, versatility, honesty, and transparency of Loire Chenin Blanc did not sooner translate to an admiration for the (quite different) nerve, versatility, honesty, and transparency of German Riesling. Chalk it up to my prejudice, ignorance, and carelessness. "Riesling — isn't that the wine of rich old Englishmen and young Americans raised on Coke?" Ah, but I know better now, with a special nod to the passionate Terry Theise and his insightful, grab-you-by-the-lapels catalogs.

With the leaves turning and temperatures falling, my thoughts turn to more serious whites. Let's have a few, shall we? For better comparison, these are both food-friendly, lightly sweet table wines from the brilliant 2005 vintage. Both will improve with age; these are snapshots destined to take on sepia.

Dr. H. Thanish Brauneberger Müller-Burggraef Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Mosel 2005
A draught of this is like a breath of mountain air, light and clean; and as the lychee and baked apple flavors resolve into lime on the finish, the wine starts pressing down on the tongue, the way a masseuse leans into your back with the heel of his hand. Not that you'd mistake that weight for anything heavy, or big, but it's persistent. White spice emerges against pasta with pinjur, while the sweetness, the acidity, and the food-friendly alcohol levels (9.5%) are that eggplant-and-tomato sauce's perfect dance partners.

François Chidaine Vouvray Le Bouchet 2005
Now this, by contrast, has weight. Yet it's a baby. It's so young. It's NASCENT. There's not much obvious about this organically grown demi-sec Vouvray, but pay attention to this quiet child and you might think he (Lorie Chenins are never macho but always male, in my mind) is a prodigy. Time will tell. Meanwhile, this happy baby is well-tempered and curious and not fussy. Telltale Loire beeswax hits the nose. Rich but nascently lifting notes of fig, pear tart, tangerine, and cinnamon-dusted baked apples consume every sense and resolve into an unmistakable note of ruby red grapefruit, whether or not it's confronted with spicy stir fry flavors — which which, of course, it pairs very well. Interestingly, the sweetness quickly spreads beyond the front of the tongue and resolves into an impression of flaky pastry. Give it a few years and this fucker is going to FLY.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Pride of Muscadet

I hate oysters. I'm not big on clams, crabs, or shrimp. I enjoy mussels and a lightly cooked scallop, but I very rarely eat them. So why the heck do I embrace Muscadet?

Ah, Muscadet, that bilgey briny little number, a dry white wine to be drunk but not thought about — to be seen and not heard, as it were, as you devour a plate of shellfish. Cheap and inexpensive. Fresh but not deep. Praised (lightly) by Hugh Johnson as an "appropriately watery" drink of "neutral limpidity."

Well, nuts to that! Hazelnuts, specifically, with a dollop of honey (shades of its Loire compatriots made from Chenin Blanc) and hints of lemon pulp. Citrus flowers scattered on a bed of rocks. Yes — complexity! And as with whites from other Atlantic-abutting regions such as Getariako Txakolina and Rías Baixas, a prickle of CO2 and a distinct oceanic salinity transmit vivid coastal images — I tip this fresh pale wine into my mouth and I see myself walking on the Oregon coast at sunset, the wind chapping my face as saltwater races up the beach, only to gently recede into the next wave. (I'm usually not cheezy and sentimental; forgive this honest trespass.)

So, yes, I pay attention to Muscadet, because winemakers like Marc Ollivier and importers like Louis/Dressner do. Ollivier, for example, hand-harvests old vine produce and ferments with natural yeast, yielding wine of great purity. Louis/Dressner then bring in Ollivier's wines and many other fine Muscadets as well, allowing we Americans to easily purchase them from local merchants.

Every white-fleshed fish turns this young man's fancy to Muscadet. But it will almost always be one from the subregion of Sèvre et Maine, the best zone in Muscadet, and it will always be sur lie — aged on its lees, its dead yeast, which deepens the wine. But no matter how deep, it will be subtle, so I avoid pairing it with strong-flavored food. The liberal use of garlic, for example, repels Muscadet as if it were a certain count from Transylvania.

A few facts before I launch into the tasting notes. First, Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which Burgundy rudely outlawed in the 16th century as other societies have outlawed nude beaches — as an eyesore and an embarrassment. After its sad trek westward to the Loire Valley, 17th century Dutch traders encouraged growers to cultivate this exile as a base wine for fortified concoctions whipped up in Rotterdam or wherever. Only now, it seems, is Melon de Bourgogne getting its due, sort of, even if it doesn't have "gobs of fruit," high alcohol, or attendantly high scores in wine rags. Lift that chin up, little guy, you have everything to be proud of!

These three wines are from 2005, a great year in Muscadet, and all can be found for around $12.

Chateau La Bidière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
This is clean but round, with orange blossom aromas, good acidity, and a nice finish. This typifies Muscadet in my mind — not profound, maybe, but very fresh and very satisfying.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
Here's a Marc Ollivier production, and it's a step up from the La Bidière. Honey, minerals, a hint of lemon curd and salinity, and perfect mouthwatering acidity. The shape in the mouth is a zen stone, the finish is long and gorgeous, but above all, the purity is unbelievable.

Clos des Briord Cuvée Vielles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
This is a subtle and truly elegant wine. The beeswax/honey/clover chord is a soft, pulsing drone atop a wash of saline breeze. It's well balanced and my mouth kept watering long after a swallow, even though there's nothing remotely tart about this wine. Honey, hazlenut, and lemon play in a rock garden on the finish. Terrific with tender tilapia draped in a dry rub. This was also raised by Marc Ollivier to be an upstanding member of society. Welcome it into your home soonest.

By the by, Louis/Dressner say that good Muscadet can age for 10 or even 30 years! This, too, goes against Muscadet's reputation. But as L/D have been right where others have been wrong, I'm inclined to believe them. I surely won't wait 'til 2035 to drink my remaining bottle of Clos des Briord, but I will wait a little while to test the assertion.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ruchè: Late Entry for WBW 37

I didn't start this blog in time to "go native" for Wine Blogging Wednesday #37. If I had, I could have told you about a fantastic wine made from an Italian grape called Ruchè.

I seek out indigenous varietals of all stripes. The winemaker that spurns more marketable varietals to grow a Romorantin in Cour-Cheverny, or a Godello in Valdeorras, or a Ruchè in the Piedmont, is apt to be doing this out of passion, an important ingredient of quality. Second, the flavors are apt to be both unique and specific, to have something to say. I want to hear that voice, spoken in its native tongue.

The Luca Ferraris Bric d'Bianc Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2006 I had back in April is a wine with something to say.

But wait, it this really an indigenous wine? According to Gleave (by way of the Oxford Companion to Wine), the locals believe that Ruchè originated in Burgundy. Is only out of ignorance that we could believe it to be indigenous? Depends on what the meaning of is is, I suppose.

Whatever the case, this is a spicy and beautifully aromatic medium-bodied wine. The first draught shoves crushed blackberries, baking spices and a hint of bramble up the nose, while Bing cherry and dried herbs show up in the long, velvety, filling mouth. It's equally velvety on day two, but the blackberry aromas stitch into something deeper, subtler, more savory, but equally intoxicating. The tannins and fresh acidity are modest, substantive, and balanced; it's an excellent food wine.

Luca Ferraris aged this wine for 9 months in large, 25 hl oak casks.

I bought this on Cellar Rat's opening day, and the proprietor told me that in 15 years of buying wine, he had only sold three Ruchès. Well, I sure as hell had never heard of the grape or the Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOC, but after tasting this, I hope to hear still more of it soon.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Finger My Lakes

I'd love to try Riesling and Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, but goddamn it, they are very hard to come by in Chicago. Zug recommends the wines from Damiani; I shall keep my eyes open for them. Funny, but just after Zug e-mailed me about Damiani, I saw that Jancis just posted about Finger Lakes wines, fingering (heh) Fox Run, Heron Hill, King Ferry, Red Newt, Treleaven, and Hermann J Wiemer as the best.

Speaking of Riesling, I opened the 2005 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett the other night. Deceptive, this one. Sweetness is its first trick: it smells like a cinnamon-dusted pie made from strawberries, kiwi and apple, and a wall of sugar hits the front of the mouth. Yet the finish feels dry and quenching, a twist of a salted lime. Upon entry it also conned me into thinking it's a lighthearted, monolithic simpleton. Turns out this is a viscous, extracted little beast, and it sits on the tongue, and sits, and sits. Third, the acidity is cloaked. Sure, there's some, but you don't really experience it until you pucker the inside of your mouth after you swallow; suddenly, the acidity blooms, and the mouth starts watering. Finally, subtle Würzgarten spice notes emerge only at warmer temps.

This all portends the wine it will be; I should buy another bottle and cellar 'til 2015. At $17 per bottle, I can afford to!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I Am a Grenache Lover

With Lyle Fass proclaiming himself a Grenache hater, what better way to kick off this blog than with a defense of Grenache?

Granted, Lyle says that "there are certain wines I am thinking about as a Grenache hater," specifically overcooked Robert Parkerized tete de cuvees from Chateauneuf, but I love the Rhône Grenache blends in part because the majority of them are not like this.

The basic 2005 CDR from Domaine Chaume-Arnaud that I brought to Shawn and Kyle's last night will serve as Exhibit A. This vibrant, fresh, medium bodied red jogs easily past the finish line, with pepper and wild herbs rooster-tailing in its wake (Cinsault (10%) and Syrah (30%) join Grenache in the blend). The raspberry fruit had just the right touch, neither sweet nor fat.

It was, in short, a vigorous wine, an alive wine, a balanced wine, but one modest enough to be simply enjoyable.

The Chaume-Arnaud family raised this wine in organic soils, harvested the grapes by hand, and let the juice spend 8 months in stainless steel and cement — no oak. And bad dollar and all, we got to experience this love for a mere $15 retail.

An organically grown, lovingly raised, very affordable wine of character... What's not to love?