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.

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