Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Skin Contact High

CoenobiumI come to praise mildness and not to bury it. It's obvious that "gobs" of anything in wine can, like ultra-hot 5 alarm sauces that some people insist on dumping over their food, obscure subtler flavors, destroy balance, and/or mask that there's no there there. But while I am certainly tuned in to balance, it's still easy to latch onto relatively strong characteristics — great stoniness, zesty acidity, etc. — as a hallmark of distinctiveness and somewhereness.

I think that's perfectly legitimate, but there are other wines that are entirely mild, with no particularly strong characteristics, that are nevertheless unlike any other. The 2006 Coenobium from the Monastero Suore Cistercensi, a convent located 60 km north of Rome, is just such a wine.

This blend of verdicchio, grechetto, and trebbiano toscano is a really lovely skin contact wine that's light on the skin contact. It's yellow and barely greenish, not orange. I think that's pretty cool, because while some skin contact whites hit you over the head, this stainless-fermented wine is both delicate and full. In fact, it's not unlike the Bea Santa Chiara in that regard (although the Bea is deeper, fuller, and still more delicate, if nearly twice as expensive), and when I found out that Giampiero Bea both consults the sisters and designs the label, I wasn't too surprised. Somebody's a good Catholic, and I ain't complaining.

Have you ever had a wine that tastes like apple skin consommé? Until now, I haven't. And this is what I mean when I say the wine is both mild and distinctive. It's clean rather than oily, but there's a quiet and almost brothy undercurrent of richness here. Apple is the primary fruit, yet there's a mild and juicy vegetable (celery?) in here somewhere, too. It's long and well-defined on the finish, and the aromas linger in the glass long after the last sip. It's great with fish, but I'd definitely serve this with any food that could be described as mild, complex, and savory. Egg pasta with mushrooms sauteed in butter and herbs, yes indeed...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jacky Preys's 2007 Fié Gris Touraine

The internets are alive with the sound of people clicking onto Bernard's great post on how Jackie Preys essentially resurrected the fié gris grape from oblivion. Click over to it now if you haven't already.

I drank the very nice 2005 vintage a few years back and was fortunate to find the 2007 over the weekend.

Fié gris is a cousin of sauvignon blanc and while the grape skins are rose-colored, the must runs clear: this is a white wine. And as it happens, Preys's grapes are grown in flinty silex soils, and so yes, there is some resemblance to a Pouilly Fumé. But fié gris is a weighter grape and sheds all hint of gooseberry aromas as it warms.

In fact, beyond the flint, the aromas of fresh corn, lemon oil, and herb butter (lots of yellow here) aren't terribly sauvignon-like, and they make me think I should drink this with grilled corn! Lacking that, I dredged and pan-fried a cod filet last night, squeezed some lemon on top, and served it with both a green salad and an avocado-potato salad which was also seasoned with lemon juice. The medium-bodied and nicely layered fié gris paired well with everything, particularly the coriander-dusted fish, but it even coexisted with, rather than fought, the tomato in my green salad. The aromas translated nicely to the palate, and it finishes with a long, lemony tingle, a savory root vegetable note (celeriac? jicama?), and clean yet buttery minerals. Nice stuff. Hats off to Jacky Preys! And hats off to Bernard for all the great stories and pictures.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Pebbly White Bordeaux

Some people are acid hounds. Some people are fruit freaks. I'm a minerals guy (better term than "rocker"), which is why I liked the 2007 Château Moulin de Launay Entre-Deux-Mers, a snappy little white Bordeaux that's chock full of 'em.

The Greffier brothers produce at least two wines, this Moulin ("mill") de Launay and a Tertre ("mound") de Launay. They farm a sum total of 75 hectares, 45% of which are planted to semillon, 35% to sauvignon blanc, and 20% to muscadelle. Since I can't find any info on this wine's exact composition, let alone find out the general differences between the two wines and sites, let's just run with these proportions as a guide to what's inside the bottle. After all, no one grape seems to dominate, and this unoaked, completely dry wine shows clean pear fruit, a hint of dry grass and herbs, and good zip on the palate, with subtle notes of cinnamon and ginger. And then there are minerals on the finish, a clear quiet stream running over a bed of rounded pebbles.

I brought this over to a friend's last night and it actually worked well with a nicely herbed bison burger, and certainly it was a good match with the green salad and roasted corn. It also worked well on its own, as I finished a few sips as we watched "Waltz with Bashir," but now I'm afraid I'm leaving this blog post on a somber note...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Two American Rosés

I snapped the photo at right last September at J.K. Carriere's new, to-be-planted vineyard site in Oregon's Chehalem Mountain AVA. It's appropriate for two reasons. One, the weather in Chicago this 4th of July is not unlike the weather seen at right: cool and cloudy. Two, I'm celebrating America's birthday by writing about two dry American rosés from 2008.

"Oh, rosé," you say, contempt welling into your eyeballs, "that's soooo 2006." Kidding. You know that I know that you drink rosé whenever you damn well please. And I know that you know that I drink rosé all year long, except during the darkest winter. If you're reading this blog, you're down with rosé (probably).

American dry rosés often resemble their red counterparts by erring on the side of fruit. I like minerals. I like spice. I like taut acidity. I like fruit, too, but I don't want it to muddle or obscure the other things that I like. Fortunately, I can find what I like.

J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Glass 2008
Winemaker Jim Prosser sourced the grapes for this native-yeasted, barrel-fermented rosé from three organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards and says he "utiliz[es] lees addition and incorporat[es] Champagne methodologies from 100 years ago to strip color and broaden an earthy mid-palate, similar to a rosé Champagne from that era…without the bubbles."

I've never had a Champagne made prior to the mid-90s, so I can't directly confirm that, but I can tell you that this very pale and very, very dry rosé sings of sweet cherry, musk melon, grapefruit, and floral aromas in the mezzosoprano range. The acidity cuts a tin can like this and the palate shows soft minerals for days, while white pepper waltzes with demure cherry flavors on the long finish, which I totally dig. It's not particularly complex at this time, but it has the acid structure to go there. I have one bottle left, so we'll see...

Renaissance Rosé North Yuba 2008
Whereas J.K. Carriere produces 100% pinot noir rosé year after year from sourced grapes, Renaissance culls from their estate vineyard exclusively and is willing to radically change the composition from year to year. Whereas the 2007 rosé was based primarily on cabernet sauvignon, the 2008 (which, full disclosure, I received as a press sample) is 63% syrah and 37% cabernet sauvignon. But like the Carriere wine, this was vinified from organically-grown grapes, fermented with native yeasts (albeit in steel rather than barrel), and aged for a spell in oak — in this case, for 16 weeks in neutral German oak ovals.

This has the color of a watermelon Jolly Rancher but not its characteristics. Instead, it's a food-worthy rosé that's dry and spicy, with aromas and flavors of dry grassland, cherry, cantaloupe, and pepper. It's structured, its robust acidity is refreshing even after the wine warms to room temperature, and the finish balances fruit and minerals over 30-plus seconds. It's good partner with pasta tossed with leek, onion, and garlic, and damn, I wish I had more of this. Alas, with 2008 being a year of disastrous frost, Renaissance could only summon 57 cases.