Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Balance, A Very Good Montepulciano

Balance, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, is achieved when a wine's "alcoholic strength, acidity, residual sugar, tannins, and fruit, complement each other so that no single one of them is obtrusive on the palate." If I lustily second this notion, I think that the term "balance" can extend beyond those characteristics, and when you find a wine that exhibits a more unusual notion of balance, while fulfilling its classic definition, well, that's when you've found something distinctive and perhaps even exciting.

Take the 2006 Moroder Aión Rosso Conero — and at $16 a bottle, I'd happily share some with each of you. The montepulciano grapes that make up the entirety of this bottling are grown organically in a national park sited in the Marche within sight of the Adriatic, and you wouldn't be wrong if you assumed that it has much in common with other such wines in this region that are unmolested by oak. For example, it's refreshing and lively, with fresh berry flavors, delicious hints of zesty citrus and spices, and a subtle element of tart cherry on the finish. And yes, it's balanced in the classic sense.

But there's something about the body and the texture that sets this wine apart. The body is plush with dark fruit and the texture is velvety, yet these characteristics are somehow svelte. It's a substantive wine that should pair well with meats, but thanks to the orangey acidity and subtle black minerality it shows an insouciance that helps it show well with lighter fare such as casual fish dishes and vegetarian pastas. In fact, I'm scratching my head wondering what this wouldn't pair well with, short of bivalves on the one side and dessert on the other. That's the balance I'm talking about.

Importer WorldWide Cellars says that "Aión" is the Italian word for "boredom" spelled backwards. Seems appropriate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two Northern Rhone Syrah

I know I'm repeating myself, but I get slightly irritated when people criticize blowsy new world pinot noir-based wines as syrah-like. As in, "If I wanted a syrah..." The thing is, a self-respecting syrah can often be an elegant wine in its own right, no matter that it's darker (in all senses of the term) than a self-respecting pinot noir. It can simultaneously posess brawn and delicacy in equal measure. And when it's grown in granite-based soils, the wine can take on cool, stony, spicy tones that resonate.

That, at least, is what I hope for. I don't always get it.

Domaine Vincent Paris St. Joseph 2006
St. Joseph, the Chile-shaped appellation that lines the western side of the Rhône for 40 miles, has the steep granite terrain that can produce terrific syrah, but it also contains slightly less favorable terroir as well, which figures given how enormous this region is. I don't know where Vincent Paris sourced these grapes, exactly, but Polaner says the vineyards are "predominantly granite based."

Unfortunately, this wine is overly rough and rustic. Its aromas of cooked stone (which foreshadow a bit of heat on the palate), blackberry, and meat become more pronounced on the palate. The acidity is a bit rasp-making and the finish is focused on the middle front of the palate — it's distinctly absent toward the back. I call that wildly out of balance. I'd also say it's overly tart. Over four days I confirmed that this was simply not good, particularly at $30. Vincent Paris is a highly regarded producer, so I'm not sure what the deal is here.

Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles 2004
Let's hop over to the east bank of the Rhône to the plateau of Crozes-Hermitage. According to the Kacher Selections propaganda, "The Les Pierrelles vineyards are located below Hermitage and are covered with small calcareous/limestone granite pebbles." The grapes are 50% destemmed and 25% of the oak casks are new. I'd never had this producer's wines before, and I wasn't sure what to expect, particularly as 2004 doesn't have the best rep, and also because the wines that come from this appellation can, in my experience, be slightly dull.

But Belle pulls a nice one out of the hat: this Les Pierrelles is an elegant syrah with an unusually light footprint. The aromas are classic Northern Rhône: coffee, blueberry, cold stone, and cold grilled meat. It's smooth in the mouth, with peppery blue fruit and a subtly long minerally finish. This becomes more intensely spicy on the second night, and the tannins become a bit more burly. I could quibble at the price, which like the Paris is also $30, but I'm frankly not in the mood to quibble.

Monday, May 4, 2009

When Does 100 Equal 2000?

Redortier 2000 GigondasI'm nerdy to the point that I will plan social events around political happenings, so when my friend Shawn invited me for pork roast, steamed edamame, smashed taters, and Obama "100 days" news conference, how could I refuse? The only question is what I'd bring to drink. I went with lots of zeros that added up to much more than zero.

Chateau Redortier Gigondas 2000
Redortier is a somewhat unusual in the pantheon of southern Rhône producers. For one thing, they avoid all oak, even old neutral foudres, in favor of cement tank, as Etienne de Methon feels oak is "detrimental to grenache," according to this Chadderdon propaganda. For another thing, syrah is a very high 40% of the blend — and the rest is grenache, no mourvedre.

This wine shows medium body, good acidity, a good measure of raspberry fruit, dried leaves, a hint of pepper, and a fine-grained tannic structure. All these characteristics are well-integrated and they deliver complexity to the palate. I was actually a bit surprised that this wine tasted so fresh, and if it lacks the rustic, marrow-laden power of a Cayron, I'm OK with that. This relatively high-elevation Gigondas shows its own unique character.

I actually prefer Redortier's 2003 Beaume de Venise, as it has just a touch more sap and presence and weight than this Gigondas, but I have no room to complain. This went very well with all the food — yep, even the edamame — and I could easily see drinking this with everything from pasta to fish to steak, and be more than satisfied.