Friday, July 18, 2008

Demi-Sec Faceoff #2: Chidaine vs. Keller

It's time for another demi-sec faceoff, following the one from last October. In one corner we have François Chidaine's 2005 Les Bournais from Montlouis sur Loire, and in the other corner, we have Klaus-Peter Keller's 2006 Riesling Spätlese from the Rheinhessen. Gentlemen, put your gloves on.

François Chidaine Les Bournais from Montlouis sur Loire 2005
The Les Bournais is a young vine cuvee from Chenin Blanc grapes planted in 1999. Chidaine apparently feels that this is perhaps his best terroir in Montlouis, and the clay and limestone soils found here are more akin to Vouvray than the clay and silex typically found in Montlouis (source: Peter Liem). In fact, the name of this type of limestone is bournais, so don't forget to tell your friends. Chidaine grows all his grapes organically and yet prefers to not label his wines with this information.

The Les Bournais is a BIG wine from a big ripe vintage, and at first its astonishing 47 grams of RS dominates the palate in a single-minded attack. I may call it a demi-sec, but most people will call it sweet. It needs time, so I sampled it over four days. By the end of this period, it had turned into a deep, smoky, honeyed wine with considerable heft; it was almost crunchy, as if I were biting into honeycomb. If it's not as precise or deep as a wine made from older vines, it's anything but flabby. The finish is most impressive, long and golden, the pear, almond, hazlenut, apple, and honeydew flavors lingering beautifully.

Weingut Keller Riesling Spätlese Rheinhessen 2006
Whereas Weingut Keller was previously known for its sweeter bottlings, young Klaus-Peter Keller took over from his father in 2001 and has hence made it his mission to craft exceptional dry riesling. He's been so successful, in fact, that his Grosse Gewachs (great growths) and his cult G-Max bottling command stratospheric prices and are in such demand that mere mortals like myself may never lay eyes on them, say nothing of nose and tongue.

Fortunately, Klaus-Peter still crafts off-dry and sweet wines that are more readily available. This one, his basic spätlese, is golden, pure, and precise, with lovely texture from entry to finish. The filigreed sweetness on the attack is completely integrated with the pure, appley acidity, with a mouthfeel that's full without being heavy or viscous. One of the interesting things is that it doesn't have the minerality that his dry wines apparently do, but I didn't notice at first, as the finish is nonetheless clean, long, and fully-present. What was readily apparent to me is that it didn't have the lime twist on the finish that I often find in slate-driven Mosels, and indeed, Keller's vineyards in the Rheinhessen are of clay and limestone.

So who's the winner? The answer, my friend, is that you are, should you choose either of these beautiful wines, and doggone it, people will like you. As with all things, the question is of utility and context.

The Les Bournais is a big, big wine and in the short term I'd decant well ahead of time, then pair this with a great chevre (Humboldt Fog, anyone?). In ten years the sweetness will surely be less overt, the sugars integrated, and thus ready for richer main courses that feature cream sauces, braised meats, or carmelized vegetables. Keller's spätlese is more ethereal, more filigreed, and less sweet than this Chidaine bottling, and in the short term it is more flexible at the table; you could pair this with summery dishes, Asian cuisine, or cold meats. Of course, it will be just as long-lived as the Les Bournais, and it will also gain plenty of complexity over time.


David McDuff said...

A smackdown after my own heart. Well done. You may want to hunt down some of the '04 Les Bournais, which is an excellent example of the wine's potential with far less richness (and RS) than the '05. As for Keller's GGs, you may want to drop a line to Damien at Candid Wines, Keller's distributor in Chicago-land.

Wicker Parker said...

Thanks much for the tips, David! I'd love to try the '04 Les Bournais if I can find some -- with Illinois now banning shipments from out-of-state retail shops, a more difficult proposition than it was just a month ago -- and hope to try Keller's dry wines, the Von der Fels at the very least, soon.