Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Good Producers in Bad Vintages

It was dinner out with the family and I was expected to play sommelier. Murmurings in certain quarters of Washington State syrah, but I was having fish. Could I find something big enough for big-loving sis and everyone's meats, but delicate enough for my fish? Ah, here's Fèlsina's Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia, whose 2005 I thought terrific and 1995 phenomenal. But this one was from 2003, a torrid vintage. "What the heck," I thought, "a bad vintage, but a good producer." I figured the fruit would be plusher than usual, more forward, but nothing my dish couldn't handle.

The wine was a disaster. Fruit baked dead, no complexity, zero finish. We muddled through it rather than enjoyed it.

I choose carefully and I have been rewarded, e.g. Bernard Baudry's great successes with his 2003 Chinons. And of course I've had Fèlsina's Rancias previously. But this was a cautionary tale served at a restaurant's mark-up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is Xinomavro a Blue Cheer Cover Band?

For its name, which translates to "acid black," you'd be forgiven for thinking that xinomavro is a Blue Cheer cover band. It is, rather, a red Greek grape that is said to resemble both pinot noir and nebbiolo. As I drink the one xinomavro I have ever had, the 2005 Xinomavro Naoussa from Katogi & Strofilia, I get the comparison. The sweet tannins, nutmeg-suggestive aromas, and soft earthiness of this pale colored wine remind me of cool-climate Valle d'Aosta from the upper left corner of Italy, but with more stuffing. Its firm, acid-driven structure also made me think of a gentler take on young Langhe nebbiolo.

I'm not your xinomavro go-to guy; I simply lack the background. I can tell you, however, that I want to learn more. I can tell you that this wine comes from the Naoussa region in northwestern Macedonia (Google terrain map here), a Continental climate region that allows xinomavro exclusively. I can tell you that Palate Press published a good Markus Stoltz article last year and that John Szabo's article in All About Greek Wine is particularly fascinating, as Szabo compares xinomavro's anthocyanin and polyphenol counts relative to nebbiolo.

If xinomavro is always (?) put in oak, these articles and my palate both tell me that Katogi might sand down the grape's rougher edges more than they might have to, and that I should find a more complex, terroir-expressive wine in the better bottles. But it's a good introduction to xinomavro and I like the wine's energy.

Fushitsusha is not a Blue Cheer cover band, either, but I suspect that if some godless god threw Blue Cheer into a black hole, they'd be the result. For those who can stand them, this Japanese band produced a fistful of masterpieces in the 80s and 90s; this is but a taste, and their dense, crushing energy is nearly the opposite of what you'll find in the xinomavros of Greece.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Forbid the God of Cliché

Pinon NV Brut Vouvray
On this, the Day of the Duck, I could be posting about an Oregon wine. Quack to that! I'm sticking to the Loire. And this time, for what seems the Nth time, although it's probably only the third, the non-vintage brut Vouvray from François Pinon.

I'm drinking a white in the winter and a sparkling wine on a Monday that's not a holiday and a French wine with nominally Italian food (pasta with pesto). I don't have a flute because I don't want one, so into the wide-bowled Burgundy glass it goes. Little about this scenario is "correct."

Still, everything feels right. Pinon (nice Wine Doctor profile here) provides an unmasked, acid-driven expression of Vouvray. There are no autolytic aromas to hype, no poached pear on toast flavors to profile. "This is me," it says — the crunchy honeycomb flavors, the telltale chenin bitterness, the fine minerality — and the acidity cuts nicely through the rich green herby pasta. It's slightly oxidized, in a good way. Have I had drier white wine? Yes. But not that much drier.

Today feels to me like a good day not for the simple, but for the unadorned.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Olivier Cousin's Anjou Grolleau

When I think of Anjou, one word instantly springs to my mind: schist; and in turn this makes me think of formidable, intellectual, occasionally stern wines. But I'm really in error to think that. Anjou is a geologically complex area, and even the tiny Savennières appellation is a complex melange of volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary-based soils. There's a rich seam of carboniferous soils in the Coteaux du Layon, and then head further east and apparently you hit limestone.

I say "apparently" because I didn't know that limestone soils were found in Anjou until I looked up Olivier Cousin, whose lively, peppery, berry-in-a-barn 2009 "Le Cousin" Grolleau I drank recently, and Jenny & Francois tell us that all of Cousin's grapes come from limestone and clay soils. Olivier plows his vineyards solely by horse and vinifies both biodynamically and naturally, without additions of any kind (it's truly sans soufre), and these grapes come from 30+ year old vines near Martigné-Briand.

I should back up a second: grolleau is a red grape variety indigenous to the Loire that in many ways reminds me of pineau d'aunis. Both are refreshing, peppery, high-acid grapes that are favored by many a natural winemaker in the Loire. But whereas the few pineau d'aunis I've tried struck me as overly peppery and a tad harsh, the grolleau I've tried (including Jerome Saurigny's) seemed to me earthier, gentler, and deeper. This one from Cousin shows some sharp acidity, yet its texture is quite soft if also nicely structured, possibly thanks to its limestone soils. The herb notes start edging toward tobacco, although they don't quite get there, thankfully, and there are savory soy notes here, too.

While the "Le Cousin" is hardly stern, it irritates me to see that this well-structured if light-bodied wine is described by certain parties as a quaffer, a wine you don't have to think much about. I couldn't disagree more. Even if this wine's flavors and aromas weren't so unique, which alone should pique a wine lover's interest, its delicacy and depth are readily apparent and invite contemplation, even as its joyfulness is equally apparent. Serve it at cellar temperature and everything about this wine becomes even more apparent.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Not a Rosé, At First Blush

I have decided that 2011 is going to be a great year. And to get the year kicked off, I'm going to fete this exuberant little number that I admittedly drank a few months ago but which would have been great over the last weekend. It's a wine that seemingly shouldn't be what it is, and is definitely what it says it is not.

"Ceci n'est pas un rosé," says the Anjou producer Domaine des Sablonnettes, who are really a couple named Christine and Joël Ménard. And you'd believe them at first blush, so to speak. Look at it: this cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon blend couldn't possibly be rosé? Ah, but it is, and not surprisingly it's a Vin de Table, not one approved by the appellation authorities.

If "vibrant" is a Loire hallmark, this wine was so vibrant that it seemed to possess a life and an imagination of its own. It had a snoot of earth and rhubarb and garden herbs and crazy dry rocks. The firm, tart, joyful palate made me think of a raspberry-strewn rock garden; and then it turned so long and airy on the finish. I was really taken with this.

I cannot find much information about this wine, save that the Ménards grow the grapes biodynamically, never inoculate or chaptalize, that sort of thing. Had I known of the Ménards last June I would have dropped by when I passed through Rablay sur Layon, the better to understand them and their not-rosé. An opportunity lost.

No, stop! This is not a wine for brooding upon regrets! It is for celebrating, and I in turn will simply celebrate it. Cheers to us all!