Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another Cannonau From Sardinia

Ambito 2007 Cannonau di SardegnaPinot noir is frequently described as a "difficult" grape. That makes sense — it's literally thin-skinned, fussy in the vineyard, and requires the right conditions (and guiding hand) to yield a wine that's simultaneously deep and graceful. Grenache is never described as difficult, but in its own way it strikes me as just that. Grenache may grow easily and be found at a variety of latitudes in warm climates around the world, but it too requires the right conditions (and guiding hand) to yield a wine that's simultaneously deep, graceful, and transparent. I mean, not everyone in the Rhône is Château Rayas, right?

Grenache — called garnacha in Spain and cannonau in Sardinia — is typically a juicy grape, and a lot of times this means the fruit will be very forward, plush, simple, and often blowsy. So it's often blended with other grapes to provide acidity, lift, depth, and additional interest. But as Rayas proves, grenache can have all these things on its own if all the conditions are right.

I'm not going to tell you that the $17 2007 Ambito Cannonau di Sardegna produced by the Cantina Sociale della Vernaccia has the depth or grace of a $100+ bottle of Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but I will tell you that this wine, as with the (only) other Sardinian cannonau I have tried, is plenty more transparent than your typical bottle of varietal grenache. Heck, I reckon that even noted grenache-hater Lyle Fass would appreciate this. Yep, it's juicy and imbued with dark, slightly-baked fruit, but it's neither plush nor blowsy. Instead, it's restrained by a strong undertow of juicy anise, bitter pith, wild herbs, and firm, dry earth. It'd be great if it was more structured, but it definitely features a nice slap of acidity.

My attempts to learn more about this wine have been frustrated. The producer's web site mentions nothing about the Ambito and US importer Selected Estates has zip on any of the producer's wines. So I've no idea how the grapes were raised or if this was aged in tank, concrete, and/or oak (although obviously not much of the latter, if any). What I can tell you is that it was terrific with a cashew and herb-laden pasta and I'm pretty sure it would be even better with lamb.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Difficult, But Surprising

2002 Bea Rosso de VeoI hit Avec with a few friends last Friday night and spotted a wine from Bea I'd never heard of before: the 2002 Rosso de Véo. I immediately made a few assumptions. First, I assumed that the 2002 vintage in Umbria was less than optimal, as I knew was the case in the Piedmont, the Southern Rhône, and in many other European regions south of the 47th parallel. Next, I assumed that as it was bottled as a rosso, it would be a sangiovese-driven wine. Third, I assumed that since this was a Bea, it would be well worth drinking no matter the vintage or the exact composition.

Well, two out of three ain't bad. As it turns out, the vintage was indeed terrible, plagued with rain and hail, which the Beas dealt with by salvaging the grapes they could salvage and bottling the entire output as a declassified vino da tavola rather than producing their typical range of DOCG and DOC wines. So sagrantino is in the driver's seat here, augmented by montepulciano and sangiovese. But I didn't guess that on Friday, as it lacked the muscular tannins and assertive black pepper character typical of sagrantino.

Which is not to say the wine itself was lacking. The Beas themselves describe the vintage as "difficile, ma sorprendente," and had I known beforehand all they had to go through to produce this wine, I would have said the same thing, because I thought this wine was glorious, with a depth you don't expect from rain-diluted grapes. The structure here comes more from acidity than tannins, but what lovely acidity to frame the cherry fruit and slightly meaty notes. With its generosity and its silky, lithe body, the wine was effortless with our food, from the house-made sausages to the pan-roasted salmon to the snail polenta. The entire experience seemed effortless and generous, thanks to the hard work in both the kitchen and in the winery.

The Beas' achievement here is all the more remarkable as they did not (and never do) add sulfur, yeast, stabilizers, or external enhancers of any kind. They work hard and do not believe in shortcuts. The results speak for themselves. I am normally loathe to purchase $50+ wine at retail, let alone stock up on several bottles for the long-term, but with the Beas making a deeper and deeper impression upon me, I now know what I need to do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Drinking Subzero

With the wind chill making it feel like -3 Fahrenheit, is there any better time to be drinking Muscadet? Well, it's what I've been drinking the last few nights — specifically, Henri Poiron's 2008 Domaine des Quatres Routes Sèvre-et-Maine. The only background info I've found on this wine comes from Jim's Loire, and then only that this domaine (of the two that are Poiron's) is sited on schist, a bit unusual for this granite-dominated appellation.

When I first opened it I thought it a dead ringer for a Chablis, but soon enough the seashell characteristics turned into the more quintessentially Muscadet characteristics of lemon and salty rocks. It shows good concentration and weight, and for all its clean, acidic snap it's a pleasantly warming wine, just the ticket for an absurd cold snap.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The First 2008 Pinots From Oregon

Last year I speculated that 2008 could be an interesting vintage in the Willamette Valley, as the long-range forecast called for a cool and dry summer. It turned out to be just that. In fact, winemakers were concerned that the delayed budbreak and the cool conditions combined would not allow the grapes to ripen properly, particularly if rain hit during harvest.

Not only was there no rain at harvest, but Indian Summer conditions allowed the grapes to ripen evenly and well. Winemakers were ecstatic about the potential quality.

I've now tasted two 2008 Willamette Valley pinots — both of them, coincidentally, made from certified biodynamically grown grapes — and things are indeed looking good, especially as the acids in both these wines are particularly nice. Montinore Estate aims for translucent purity, and if their 2007 was too light and tart, thanks to that challenging and wet vintage, their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir is just right. It's fresh and lively, with really nice acidity, nifty cherry fruit, and a light sprinkling of earth. I dig its vibe. It should deepen over the next year but it's fine to drink now. And at $19 a bottle, I like it even more! (Sidenote: these guys also make an excellent and quite dry gewurtztraminer.)

The 2008 Select Pinot Noir from Brick House Vineyards is really impressive, if painfully young — it's prickly, almost carbonic at first, and this will require some time to settle down. As with the Montinore, I'm really impressed by the quality of the acidity, as it's strong and robust but not brittle or thin. There's good depth to the fruit, and that red Ribbon Ridge earthiness is screamingly pure. I know that "elegant" is one of the most overused words in the wine world, but I can't think of a better one to sum things up. Give it some time so it can let it all hang out. (Sidenote: these guys also make a terrific gamay.)