Jacqueline Friedrich: The Wine Humanist WINE BY PEOPLE, FOR PEOPLE; WINE FROM THE HEART

Selected Works

Book
Wine Guide
An indispensable, user-friendly guide to France’s best and best-value wines. Don’t leave home without it!
Wine & Food Guide
The first and only in-depth guide to the wines and foods of the Loire.
My various reflections on Didier Dagueneau compiled and posted here.
For Those Who Want Yesterday's Papers
My Previously Published (and retrievable) Articles
Wine Tours
WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO PLAN YOUR TOUR OF A FRENCH WINE REGION?

Wine Tasting Notes

February 2014: Please note: unless otherwise specified, all future Tasting Notes will now appear on the Home Page.

Marc Darroze setting the stage
December 21, 2012

A Darroze is a Darroze is a Darroze


On a cloudy day in June I opted to attend a tasting in a rather louche wine bar, Les Vins Surnaturels, (“lounge” would be a more appropriate description for the crepuscular den with its cushy settees) and another on a peniche on the Seine. I chose the former. The riverboat event was presenting Loire wines I already knew and could easily catch up on; the wine lounge was the setting for an extraordinary tasting of Darroze Armagnacs, long one of my favorites.
Marc Darroze, the scion of this gastronomically gifted family, had organized the tasting by “ateliers” or workshops, focusing on key factors in the creation of a great Armagnac: the grapes, the blends, aging, and he ended the event with a presentation of Exceptional Vintages, a flight starting with 1945 and climaxing (no, it’s not too strong a word) with 1904.
Darroze, like most Armagnac producers – particularly those in Bas-Armagnac – works chiefly with three grapes: Baco (a French-American hybrid and therein lies a long juridical tale), Folle Blanche, and Ugni Blanc, more commonly known beyond France as Trebbiano. Baco is heavier than the other grapes and ages well; Folle Blanche brings elegance and finesse but rots easily -- as anyone in the Muscadet region knows: Folle Blanche, known in the Muscadet area as Gros Plant, is, arguably, at its most typical when its flavor profile includes a fair percentage of rot; and Ugni Blanc, commonly used in Cognac. Indeed, it’s too close to Cognac for Darroze’s taste. (The 1987 Domaine de Jouanchicot, pure Ugni Blanc, really did recall Cognac, a very, very good, extremely pure one.)
Atelier number 2 presented 8 Armagnacs composed of varying percentages of the above grapes. The domaine’s goal is to make a range of Armagnacs of different ages but all expressing a similar style: We tasted an 8 year-old, a 12, a 20, a 30, a 40, a 50, a 60 and “Larmes.” The age of the youngest eau de vie in the blend is written on the label and each Armagnac is reduced to 43° with water. I found that the age was at least as important as the blend in determining the flavor.
The eight year old reminded me of a Speyside malt. Darroze observed that it could be served on the rocks as an aperitif. The 12 year old was a step up, richer and more fragrant; the 20 year old, with a higher percentage of Baco, was warm, aromatic and rich; the 30 year old, 80% Baco, harsher and with a hint of menthol, showed its kinship to Cognac; the 40 year old, rich, penetrating and rather punchy, had a mousy note, whereas the 1950 was floral and fruity. The most complex so far, it was also strong, muscular and long. The 1960, a bit flatter, had attractive notes of caramel and less pervasive ones of shellac. On the palate there were flavors of coffee, preserved ginger, orange zest and oak. Then came “Larme” and, oh, what a beauty.


Food and Wine Pairing of the Year
No one has to tell me that Armagnac and chocolate is a marriage divine.
I have never understood the pairing of chocolate and red wine – fortified or not. All that comes to mind in such “marriages” is indiscriminate sludge – despite the fact that, consumed alone or with more felicitous partners, each is complex and nuanced. Speaking of felicitous, I’ll be overcome with joy if you give me Armagnac, old rum, or old bourbon to go with my (dark) chocolate.
Speaking of felicity again, I found my wine and food pairing of the year at this event. The above-mentioned “Larme” and a slice of excellent foie gras on toast. Here was culinary rhapsody that removes you from the world for the all-too-brief instant it takes to consume the combined delicacies. Aged Armagnac paired with foie gras on toast has been added to my Death Row Last Meal menu.

Workshop Number 3
On to Atelier #3, the theme of which was vintage combined with aging. All the Armagacs came from one domaine, the Chateau de Gaube, and were made from 100% Baco. All included varying degrees of similar flavors: coffee, toffee, candied orange zest, mellow oak and more. The 1972 had a suave attack but was strong and muscular and had a rather hot finish; the ’71 was similarly strong and vigorous but more complex and added grace notes of marmalade; the menthol-scented ’70 was fiery, penetrating and full of youthful power; the ’66 was fiery too and a bit harsh but I liked the burnt orange accents; ’64 was mellower and, though vigorous, was more balanced and exhibited delicious flavors of preserved orange rind. Very hard to spit. The ’63, both tender and potent, embodied that classic image of the iron fist in the velvet glove. The ‘62, fine and piercing, was the most “consensuelle” – the one most likely to unite a tasting jury. The only Armagnac I was less than enthusiastic about was a somewhat mousy ’59.

A Trip to Paradise
Behind the decadent den of Les Vins Surnaturels was a light-filled winter garden/ conservatory. At some point in the afternoon the weather turned violent, pelting the roof of the conservatory with rain. Ah! Here was the perfect ambiance in which to savor the final flight of Armagnacs: Exceptional Vintages.
Another taster wisely decided – self-interest rules afterall– that we were allowed to swallow any Armagnac that was older than we were. And so we did, over and over and over, while rain pounded down on the roof of the winter garden.
First came a beauteous 1945 Chateau de Lasserate (bottled in Oct. ’95) which all but whispered “let’s spend the night together.” It outshone the somewhat blunter 1940 Chateau la Bataille. Then came the penetrating, infinitely complex, menthol-accented 1936 Domaine de Peyrot (bottled 2000) which I preferred to its only slightly less captivating sibling, the 1932. The warm, inviting, beautifully integrated 1930, however, could unite any spirits’ loving jury in the world. A fiery 1926 Chateau Bataille (bottled 1982) wanted a bit of taming but a 1924 Domaine de Maubaret(bottled 1986), while equally sappy and vivid, was beguiling and well-integrated. Back to Domaine de Peyrot with a 1920 (bottled in 2000), fragrant, ginger, complex and intriguing; then a lipsmacking 1918 Domaine de Picpout (bottled 1979) and finishing with another glorious Domaine de Peyrot, this one a mellow 1904 (bottled 1990).
Hours had slipped by unnoticed. I had one more slice of foie gras-on-toast and another snifter of that last Peyrot and left the lounge, singing in the rain.
Which Armagnac was the best? I choose to answer that question with another question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?


All I Want for Christmas and How Much Will It Cost
Prices for Armagnac – particularly the top bottlings – differ from retailer to retailer.
I checked out a number of websites and decided to give samples prices from Wine-Searcher as it offers a range: Its average prices for the 1930 Domaine de Peyrot, for example, was 1544€; and 2,166€ for the 1904 from the same Domaine. In Paris sho
ps you can find the XO for under 50€.

There are, of course, very good, indeed excellent Armagnacs, that will do less damage to your bank account. Here are recommendations of two producers whose Armagnacs I have recently enjoyed.

LAUBADE (Pictured above)
Owned by the Lesgourges family, the property consists of 315 hectares and produces wines under several appellations (eg Chateau de Selve in Graves AOC) as well as Armagnac. It is devoted to sustainable agriculture and biodiversity, which I mention because I love the fact that it looses between 400 and 600 ewes in its Armaganc vineyards from October to May in order to provide fertilizer.
For their suave 1982, a blend of Baco, Ugni Blanc and Colombard, Wine-searcher lists prices from 68€ to 138€; slightly less for the very similar 1983. Laubade’s very good XO is listed at 55€.

New to me is Loyac, an Armagnac produced by the Cave de Condom and marketed by the Producteurs de Plaimont. Its suave Loyac Hors d’Age, pure Ugni Blanc, is matured for 18 years in 400 litre oak barrels. Bottled in June 2012, the recommended retail price of the version currently being marketed is a very reasonable 35€.


Stains on a label are signs of love.
November 29, 2012: Some favorites from a tasting with Les Gens du Metier

When I lived in NYC I got to taste wines from all over the world, the city being one of the planet’s greatest shop windows. Now that I live in France, my tasting vistas are more limited geography-wise. But what France lacks in breadth, its tasting possibilities make up for in depth. Improvised groups of six to ten to thirty vignerons, generally from small, young domaines and rather obscure appellations, often plan tasting events in wine bars and restaurants. And there is an ever increasing number of groups – winemakers sharing similar philosophies who form more or less formal associations in order to promote their wines with tours in different cities and at “Off” salons (wine fairs) feeding off mega-salons like Vinexpo or Vinisud. To name but a few: Renaissance des Appellations, Biodyvin, la Dive (Bouteille), Vins de Mes Amis, les Vins du Coin, and on and on.
One of the forerunners, Les Gens du Métier, was founded in the 1990s by Pascal Delbeck, Didier Dagueneau and a handful of other like-minded vignerons. Today there are roughly thirty members and the group comes to Paris every other year in late November/early December.
The most recent even occurred earlier this week, on Monday, November 26, 2012. I admit that I tasted at only about half the stands. I started with some Loire ‘musts’ for my upcoming book – Nady Foucault/Clos Rougeard and Philippe Alliet. (I had already tasted quite a few of François Chidaine’s gorgeous chenins the week before and, aside from noting that what was once Domaine Didier Dagueneau is now Domaine Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau, I decided that other regions had to come before a revisit to the eastern Loire.)

Herewith a couple of coups de coeur:

Pierre-Marie & Martine CHERMETTE/ Domaine du Vissoux: This house has always been one of my favorites in the Beaujolais region. Even their primeur is delicious. But as they brought a multitude of wines – the primeur, an effervescent, a white, a rose, several basic Beaujolais and a cluster of crus – I decided to stick with the 2011 reds. The entry level “Les Griottes” was a gulpable joy; a bit heftier but every bit as addictive was the Cuvée Tradition. Then came the wine that slayed me (and the stained-label photo of which is pictured here) – the barrel-aged “Coeur de Vendanges,” made from century-old vines. A velvet swath of luscious, cherry-and-spice-rich gamay spread across the tongue. The wine was simply irresistible. Superb.

PAOLO DI MARCHI
Way back in 1989 I went to Tuscany to write an article on Chianti. One of my favorite interviews (and tastings) was with Paolo di Marchi at Isole e Olena. (Les Gens du Metier now includes a handful of producers from beyond the hexagon.)
Paolo wasn’t at the tasting but his wife and kids were. And not only were they showing their Tuscan beauties, they were also presenting wines from Proprietà Sperino in Lessona, in northern Piemonte which, if I understood correctly, was land that had once been farmed by Paolo’s family and it had been his dream to bring it back to life.
The first of the two Piedmont wines presented was “Uvaggio,” a red blend dominated by nebbiolo (70%) and including some very local grapes, Vespolina and Croatina, each at 15%. Here was a welcoming, full, spicy red, dreaming of a meaty stew to partner. The second wine, “Lessona,” was 97% nebbiolo and 5% vespolina fino, a suave, seductive, lipsmacking red, just seasoned with oak. It’s made to age but it was mighty delicious on the day.

ANNE VATAN/CLOS DE LA NEORE
Sancerre/Clos de la Neore
IMHO one of the smartest things that Nady Foucault ever did was to marry the lovely Anne Vatan of the Clos de la Néore in Chavignon (Sancerre). Her wines weren’t officially on display but, when I asked if she’d brought any, she pulled a bottle of 2011 from behind the counter. Nady, of course, was showing his 2009 Champignys. (Mightly promising but overwhelmed by oak and begging for long aging.)
The Sancerre (blanc) was pellucid, strong and dominated by mineral flavors. A style I adore. And it had none of the mid-palate softness I associate with the 2011 whites. Vive Chavignol!

A VINTAGE NOTE FROM PHILIPPE ALLIET: This was one of the pleasant surprises of the day: Philippe told me that he considered the 2012 vintage the equal of the great 2010 -- at least for him. No frost damage, no maladies and only a slight reduction in volume. Can't wait to taste.



Nov. 19, 2012: A PERFECT WINE
A PERFECT WINE

Francois Chidaine Montlouis sec 2009 Les Choisilles

By way of a back label: pure chenin, vines 30 to 90 years old, yields 35 hl/ha grown on clay-silex soils on a bed of limestone. Farming is biodynamic. Hand harvested, by successive passes through the vineyard and transported in small cases. Put in pneumatic press immediately upon arrival at the cellar. Fermented with indigenous yeasts over a period of six months in demi-muids of which 10% consisted of new oak, the wine spent ten months on its fine lees in the same barrels. Price: 14€90.

“Perfect” is a fighting word. What does “perfect” mean when it applies to wine? I won’t pretend to have an answer – neither a definitive nor a half-baked one. But it’s not a word I commonly use and it wasn’t the first word that came to mind when tasting this wine. It took a little while -- and a little wine, as I went back for another sip and then another. (As this was a medium-sized Montlouis tasting, I was spitting between sips. Most of the time, anyway.)

So I started with the first sniff and found what to me was a mingled, nuanced, chenin nose, a mellow fruit compote of apples and quince, which followed through on the palate, interwoven with good, well integrated acidity. The finish was very long and echoed all the above flavors.
Another sip. Here’s an ambassador for the wines of Montlouis. It is everything a dry Montlouis should be. Well, dry-ish. There seemed to be some residual sugar, maybe around 2 grams. (Actually there were three.) So a very fine sec-tendre. Another sip and I’m nodding my head in admiration, it’s quite gourmand.

Another sip. It really is perfect. Just perfect.

A Bunch of Bourgueils to Drink Now
July 25, 2012: Bourgueil and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, Tasty Selections from "Off" vintages:"
YANNICK AMIRAULT
2007 Bourgueil “Les Quartiers:” The wine initially presented light tannins and leather as well as flavors of dried fruit and sweet spices. On day two, the wine had fleshed out, with deep plum flavors and real succulence. Quite nice indeed.
2007 Bourgueil “La Petite Cave”: Spices, cooked fruit, cassis, mint and mild oak were among the flavors in this savory, cool and lightly tannic wine. On night One, it was an excellent partner for porc à la moutarde. On night Two, cooked plum and dried cherry joined the mix. The wine can still age but is drinking beautifully. It outshone whatever I served for dinner.

DOMAINE DE LA CHEVALERIE
2006 Bourgueil “les Busardières”:
This wine was among those I served at Thanksgiving 2010. At the time, it was tasty but failed to charm: it was oaky (though the oak didn’t seem new), a bit dry, with essences of violet and truffles in the background. Cut to May 2012: during lunch at a big Touraine tasting, the filsCaslot brought this wine to the table. Focused, with chiseled black cherry fruit, it tasted as if it were fresh from the wine tree. I couldn’t stop drinking it.

FREDERIC MABILEAU
2006 Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil “Les Rouillères”:
A relatively early-drinking cuvée, the wine was simultaneously light but substantial. It had lost its youthful exuberance but had settled down nicely, with soft tannins and comforting flavors of baked cherry, melon and lightly infused black tea.
2006 St. Nic “Racines”: Made from forty year old vines grown on clay-silica soils, the wine was lightly tannic, with very mild oak notes (aging occurred in demi-muids), rich spice flavors combined with bacon, canteloupe, dried berries, and leather. A vein of succulence ran through it.
2006 St. Nic “Coutures”: Perhaps the most evolved of the Mabileau 2006s, the wine was nicely structured and its flavors of spice, leather and dried cherry proved a delectable accompaniment for chicken cooked with white wine, garlic and rosemary.

DOMAINE DU MORTIER
2006 Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil “Cuvée Dionysos”:
The Boisard brothers add no yeast and not sugar and do not filter their wines which are certified organic. (Ecocert.)
A healthy ruby, this wine offered red cherry, light spice and bacon flavors. It was solid, nicely structured and coherent from beginning to end. With aeration, baked plum and cherry as well as truffle flavors emerged. It was not marked by oak which, regrettably, was the case with the 2005 St. Nic “Des Pieds et des Mains,” a more ambitious bottling in which barrel age suffocates what appears to have been excellent raw material.

GERARD VALLEE
2006 Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil “le Vau Jaumier”:
A smooth, velvety, unfiltered red, the wine exuded flavors of black cherry, cassis, mild oak, ripe tannins and an appetizingly bitter edge. It had great freshness and was perfect with duck legs cooked with onions, carrots and celery. One glass led immediately to another.


July 11, 2012: For a report on my recent trip to Pic St. Loup -- with lots of tasting notes -- please go to FrenchFeast.

June 20, 2012
A very nice picture of a lovely bottle of wine was supposed to appear here but I couldn't upload it. So the text will have to stand alone.
2010 St. André de Figuière Côtes de Provence La Londe Confidentielle Rosé:
An organic rosé made from the first run juices of grapes grown in the Commune of La Londe des Maures, the wine is made from a direct press of 40% Mourvèdre and 30% each of Cinsault and Grenache.
I tasted the wine way back in October but decided to hold off writing about it until summer. And now it’s ready for its close-up.
The Combards, the owners of the vineyard, told me that La Londe, which lies between the Mediterranean and the Massif des Maures, had only recently received the right to be included in the name of the appellation. Its soils are composed of schist streaked with quartz. And, as evidenced by this particular wine, these soils can certainly produce a very mineral, distinctive wine, one with floral, spring-like perfumes. (Heirloom roses come to mind.) In my notes I wrote “lovely, simply lovely.” I went on to describe how the flavors echoed the bouquet and that the fruit was supported by a very strong mineral core. My verdict was “Excellent.”
This is a special, “pay attention” rosé and it ain’t cheap at 24 euros 20 the bottle.
Herewith some less expensive delights, less complex for the most part, but thoroughly delectable. Unlike the previous wine, all come from the Languedoc. Most are made by a direct press of the harvest.

2011 Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette Languedoc-Terrasses du Larzac Rosé (9 euros): A blend of Grenache and Cinsault with a bit of Carignan, this lively rosé was downright zippy. It was also full and dry and savory, a terrific meal rosé.

2011 Mas Jullien Languedoc-Terrasses du Larzac Rosé (oops, didn’t get the price): A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Carignan, two-thirds of which came from a bleeding of the fermenting must, this rosé was more deeply colored than the others in this round-up. A fragrant wine, with sweetly perfumed fruit, it was mouth-filling, flavorful and dry. Another great meal rosé.

2011 Chateau de la Liquière Faugères Rosé “Les Amandiers” (8 euros): A blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Grenache this wine is simultaneously strong and ethereal. Its texture knocked me out. I could drink it forever.

2011 Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rosé: A whopping 4 euros 50 at Monoprix, this wine, from a dynamic young team of negociants, is a steal and should lubricate all your barbecues. Fresh and structured, it’s nicely spicy, with accents of white pepper. You cannot go wrong here.

2011 Domaine Pech-Tort Languedoc-Pic Saint Loup Rosé (7 euros). This is what they call a “teaser.” I’ve tasted this wine twice in the past week – under very different circumstances – and loved it both times. I’ll have a lot more to say about it when I write about my recent trip to Pic Saint Loup – which is where I first met this wine and its young vigneronne.

April 26, 2012: Oh, the best laid plans. I had intended to finish all my CH9 notes in one fell swoop. Then I started going mano a mano against 'this blogger' (aka Jim Budd) on the subject of the Domaine des Baumard (see Jackiezine), then I moved down to the Loire, then I had a wonderful but time-consuming house guest and the Chinon fair and all the insurance-banking-shopping-tax form hassles that come with modern life. And, re revoila, with a short take on six white Chateauneuf-du-Papes.
Life permitting, reds will follow in the not-too-distant future.
2011 Domaine du Pere Caboche, JP Boisson, 13.5 alc: mineral (yes, that word again), slightly bitter note that I can’t identify more specifically. It’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It’s just there. I’m thinking it comes from the oak aging.
2011 Domaine des Peres de l’Eglise/​Gradassi: Served brut de cuve, the wine was tense, vinous, focused, with flavors of preserved lemon. Quite appealing.
2011 Domaine St. Prefert: A blend of Clairette rose and blanc with 15% Roussanne, the wine was floral, with light notes of peach and an intrusive whiff of so2.
2011 Bosquet des Papes: a tight wine with lots of punch as well as aromas of blossoms and peach.
2011 Domaine Jean Deydier/​Les Clefs D’Or (Terra Vitis label): A blend of Grenache, Bourboulenc and Clairete, the wine was soft, short and slightly hot.
2007 Chateau la Nerthe, Clos de Beauvenier: A rich, heady wine with light butterscotch flavors mixed with oak, menthol, and wax, it paired quite nicely with slightly aged goat cheese.

Through the decades with Tavel
April 10, 2012: Tantalizing Tavel

While packing for a brief trip to the Rhone Valley recently, I thought, “when you’re involved with wine, you’re a perpetual student.” The trip more than confirmed that opinion.
What was called “The Springtime of Chateauneuf-du-Pape” took place on March 31 and April 1st under blue skies and a hot sun that were more typical of July than springtime. (The mistral, however, made sweaters and jackets a necessity and blew half-filled wine glasses off tables.)
I joined a small group of journalists on the evening of the 30th. Most had spent a day in the Tavel appellation, under the guidance of brilliant enogeologue Georges Truc (more on him later).
Before, during and after dinner we tasted a range of Tavels along with white and red Chateauneufs.
More on the latter as well as on the restaurant in a later post. This one is devoted to the Tavels, the quality and ageability of which made me really regret having missed Truc’s explanation its specific geology.

Herewith, in the order presented, the Tavels:

2011 Prieure de Montezargues: the winery, we were told, belongs to the family that owns the Chateauneuf-du-Pape property Chateau La Nerthe and the vines grow on sandy soils.

Back to the concept of the “perpetual student.” Focusing, as I tend to do, on the Loire Valley, I tend to associate sandy soils with sandy alluvial soils; soils that heat up quickly and produce early ripening grapes that make early-drinking wines.

Though I missed Truc’s discourse on the sandy soils of Tavel (and Chateauneuf-du-Pape), I gathered that they were marine in origin and contained marine fossils. They made longer-lived, more serious wines than wines from alluvial sands. (Correct me, please, if I’m wrong.)

But I digress. The wine was fragrant, lightly perfumed. It even smelled like a rose – though I should have tried it in a black glass. Floral, strawberry-scented, it was full and mineral and absolutely charming.

Next came the 2010 Chateau d’Aqueria, perhaps the most iconic Tavel. Darker than the Montezargues, it was big and strong (14 degrees alcohol), but less original and less beguiling.

Sandra, the charming Tavel representative, presented the next wine as “our natural wine.”
It was the 2010 L’Anglore from Eric Pfifferling. A pretty strawberry color, the wine was grippy, very fresh, very mineral, with good acidity. Definitely a wine with character and a sense of place: there’s a there there. For me, a coup de Coeur.

And then came older Tavels. A brief detour is necessary here. When I taste wine with my neighbors in my little village in Touraine, the old-times refer to oxidized wines as being vermouthe. When tasting the next wine – the 1970 – the word “vermouthe” came to mind. But, to me, it meant something other than simply oxidative aromas. It included scents of macerated herbs and bark. And it was downright fascinating.

That 1970 Tavel from Chateau de Trinquedevel was evolving ever so seductively. The nose lured you in – gentle, with aromas of dried fruit that had be rehydrated, autumn leaf and the rind of bitter oranges. Vermouthe. After considerable aeration, typical oxidative notes emerged. By contrast, an '89 Trinquedevel, despite a punchy nose, was simply oxidative.

The last two Tavels were from the Chateau de Manissy, Auspice Clara Manassy Stella. Now owned by Florian Andre, the domaine used to belong to monks who aged the wines in barrel. The wines we tasted were their babies. The first, a 1997, was alcoholic and very definitely vermouthe. Some found it tasted like cider and they were not wrong. Fermenting cider, I’d add. The 1998 came across like Oloroso.

All of which led to an inevitable question, given that we live in a capitalist society: doesn’t reason – commercial reason – argue against aging Tavel? Regrettably, I’m convinced it does because these older bottlings demonstrated that Tavel, with age, could become a wine that was different but equally valid as the young ones as well as a wine that had something original, intriguing and tasty to say.



March 22, 2012

March 19, 2012: Two dry Vouvray’s from Huet’s “Le Mont” vineyard:

2006: I first tasted this wine at the Salon des Vins de Loire in early 2007. I found it thrillingly fresh, with notes of apple and quince, and simultaneously airborne but strong. A racy wine of stone and steel.
I tasted the wine again last week (March 2012) and found that it very much lived up to early promise. The initial nose was high, lightly floral with textbook ripe chenin fruit. There were also hints of citrus zests, herbal tea and a saline edge. Pure, clear and dignified, the wine seemed woven around its acidity. It’s a big-boned wine but, once again, I wrote that it seemed airborne, perhaps because of its length and acidity. Six hours later the herbal tea notes had deepened and there were flashes of pineapple, honey, citrus zests and Granny Smith apples. The wine was steely, textured and nuanced. Slow Tasting in this instance was not a test but a revelation.

2004: I first tasted this wine at the 2006 Salon des Vins de Loire. The wine seemed somewhat closed, revealing only a whiff of camphor in the nose. On the palate delicious flavors of quinine developed.
Tasted again, in March 2012, the wine had an In Your Face elegance. It flaunted its finesse. The nose came across as demi-sec, with mingled aromas of quince, ripe apple and more. On the palate, the wine was entirely dry, reprising flavors of apple, quince and quinine and adding citrus zest and ginger as well as steel and chalk. It was a perfectly composed, lovely wine with great freshness and it was drinking beautifully. The various flavors so tightly woven they were hard to separate. A wine of lipsmacking delicacy.

February 29, 2012: Four superb Montlouis from Francois Chidaine:

I’m limiting myself to just four of Francois Chidaine’s superb Montlouis bottlings tasted at the Bio event preceding the Salon des Vins de Loire. In the order in which they were tasted: 2010 Clos du Breuil, ever-so-lightly off-dry (3 gms rs), tense, ripe, mineral, with elegant fruit and citrus zest flavors, this wine is an ambassador for the appellation; 2009 Les Choisilles, rich, creamy, with hints of butterscotch interlaced with citrus zests and herbal tea, this is a wine to cellar and retaste regularly over the years; 2009 Les Bournais, a pellucid wine with a vibrant citrus kick in the finish, this will be a monumental, important Montlouis; 2010 Clos Habert, a lipsmacking demi-sec (17 grams rs), here’s a creamy, mineral Montlouis that really should inspire chefs and sommeliers to pair off-dry chenins with savory dishes.

February 21, 2012: From the various Loire Salons, Four Gorgeous Vouvrays from Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau and two from Domaine Daniel Allias plus a razor-sharp Chinon blanc from Domaine Olga Raffault, and two Jasnieres and a Pineau d'Aunis from Eric Nicolas:
Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau:
Four outstanding, organic Vouvrays, the first, a 2010 from young vines planted in 1995 on a hectare and a half of chalky soils of the Abbaye de Marmoutier, an iconic site in Touraine. The wine, though deep, was ineffably light, airborne, all chalk and minerals. A must taste. Next, a 2009 Cuvee Chateau Gaillard. Made from shriveled grapes, it weighed in at 11.5 degrees alcohol with 70 to 75 grams of residual sugar. Sapid, with a lipsmacking interweaving of sweet and acid, its lemon juice flavors made the wine seem chiseled from fruit and rock. Simply lovely.
The third wine was a 2003 from the first trie of 80 year old vines on the stony, clay and silex soils of the Clos Baglas. What a sense of place! What beauty! What came to mind were the words of Charles Baudelaire in Invitation au Voyage, “Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beaute, Luxe, calme et volupte.” (I'm sorry. I can't get my keyboard to put an acute accent over the e.)
And lastly, the 1997 Chateau Gaillard moelleux. So gorgeous, so succulent, a long, long, long, never-ending succession of fleeting aromas and flavors. A Vin de meditation.

Domaine Daniel Allias
The Allias family ferments its Vouvrays in stainless steel tanks and then aes the wines in barriques that they, themselves, renovate, more or less on a ten-year rotation. The 2010 sec, roughly 12 degrees alcohol, was clear as a mountain stream. It drew you in with aromas as fragrant as spring blossoms and then kept your attention with lipsmacking flavors of lemon juice, stone and minerals. The 2010 demi-sec, with about 30 grams of residual sugar, was a pellucid wine that seemed cut like a precious gem, with grace notes of pineapple and pear added to fresh lemon juice, all intertwining in a long finish.

Domaine Olga Raffault
On the Sunday night before the start of the Salon des Vins de Loire, we had dinner at Le Relais. Among the chenins we drank was Raffault's 1996 Chinon blanc “Champs Chenin”: Here’s an ultra-dry chenin that cuts like a rapier. Swift, definitive and steely, it mixes flavors of old wood, citrus zests, herbal tea, hay, minerals and stone.

Domaine de Belliviere
If you haven’t heard of the artist named Eric Nicolas by now, you’ve been living in a troglodyte cave. Viticulture is organic and is progressing apace toward biodynamics. Herewith two gems: 2010 Jasnieres Premices, a mineral, citrus zest and floral chenin with 12.5 degrees alcohol and 19 grams residual sugar. A pure delight and very serious, it’s simply excellent.
The crystalline, deeply mineral 2009 Jasnieres Caligramme, with 10 grams residual sugar, is simultaneously limpid, ethereal and plump.
And I can’t help but interject a note in favor of my beloved Pineau d’Aunis: the 2010 Rouge Gorge, straight as an arrow, was a heady mix of black and white pepper. I loved it.

Thursday: Montlouis.





February 3, 2012: The Happy Marriage of Vouvray with the Cuisine of Ile de Maurice

Full disclosure: I love demi-sec chenins from the Loire. At 11 AM of a Sunday morning, I can think of no better aperitif. So far, no feathers ruffled. Maybe just some, ‘Ah, there’s no accounting for taste.” Now comes the gantlet: I simply cannot understand why more people don’t pair off-dry chenin with food – all types of food, from aperitif, through appetizer, main course, cheese, and dessert. I think sommeliers who lack the imagination to suggest such pairings should have their sommelier credentials removed sur-le-champ. And wine-loving chefs should rise to the delicious challenge.
Happily, there is at least one chef in Paris who does just that. His name is Antoine Heerah; his restaurant, Le Chamarre Montmartre; and his cooking reflects the influences of his native Ile de Maurice.
Earlier this week I attended a Vouvray tasting chez Heerah. We started with a stand up tasting featuring a range of 2010 (terrific vintage, BTW) and then a range of all Vouvray’s styles in slightly older vintages.
The sole nibbly was an ever-so-slightly sweet Madeleine seasoned with some exotic spice along the lines of cardamom which suited these wines right down to the ground – or to the very last drop.
Then we sat down for a multi-course meal, each dish paired with two Vouvrays. I’ll describe each dish (briefly, as some of the ingredients are new to me), pick my favorite of the selected Vouvrays and then suggest another Vouvray from the stand-up tasting.
The first dish was a parsnip crème topped with a mousse of yuzu and the herb bred mafane. Accompanying it was slice of raw fish topped with a very tart, very crunchy dice of an unusual lemon. (I was hoping to be shown one of these lemons but, alas, no luck. I’m told it’s very long and thin.)
This dish was paired with two sparkling Vouvrays made by the Champagne method, or, as it’s now called Methode Traditionnel. My pick was the 2008 Brut from Domaine de la Poultiere. Its bubbles were rather aggressive but its citrus zest dryness made it pair very well with the fish.
I’d have put a Vouvray petillant – as I think all sparkling Vouvrays ought to be Petillant – but a still wine would have worked very well indeed. Among the wines available, I’d have chosen Domaine de la Fontainerie’s 2010 sec, Le “C.” All steel and lemon zests, it was a mouthwatering wine with real mineral depth.
Next came a cream of butternut squash covering chunks of octopus and topped with a foam of tangerine. The 2010 demi-sec from Domaine de la Fontainerie “Coteau des Brulees” was nothing less than brilliant with this dish: sucrosity met sucrosity seamlessly and the wine’s notes of herbal tea and quinine kept the palate fresh.
Another delectable choice for this dish would have been Laurent Kraft’s 2010 demi-sec. Forceful and lovely, the wine had a thread of co2 which Kraft had deliberately left to balance the wines 27 grams of residual sugar.
Capon studded with the leaves of caloupile (used in the making of curry) and accompanied by a Tatin of pineapple and sweet potato found its ideal partner in the 2010 demi-sec “Les Fondraux” from Domaine Champalou. The wine’s sweetness – I’m guessing around 20 grams residual sugar – along with its clear focus, its flavors of lemon zests and quince compote and its floral accents perfectly matched every element of the dish. While less sweet, Domaine de la Chataigneraie’s 2010 demi-sec, with its mélange of citrus zest and fruit compote flavors, would also have done the trick.
Fruit salad topped with a sorbet of some exotic fruit and garnished with a large button of Meyer Lemon jelly was simply dandy with Laurent Kraft’s 2010 moelleux, a sumptuous, nuanced Vouvray, that was clear as a bell and whose vibrant acidity and appetizing bitterness beautifully balanced the wine’s lushness. Another fine choice would have been Alexandre Monmousseau’s over-the-top Moelleux Reserve Personnel, a lush, hand-crafted beauty, both creamy and deep.





As of February 2008 all wine tasting notes will appear on this page. They will be organized by date. As time permits, I'll include an index -- by region -- in the margin. (Previous Loire notes can be found under "A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire" as well as in FrenchFeast -- which also has a lot of miscellaneous tasting notes.)

NO WINE IS AN ISLAND

One of a clutch of exciting new producers worth following in Cahors.

January 23, 24, 25, 2011: Notes from a Cahors Tasting:
Thirty-one producers from the Cahors appellation came to Paris last week. Now, if any wine cries out for Slow Tasting, it’s Cahors, but, alas, just about all of the producers brought wines from the 2009 vintage and just about all of them needed to breathe for hours or days or more. That said, the tasting offered the opportunity to meet some very promising new-or-newish-comers in the appellation.

I’ll start with Clos Troteligotte, a family domaine owned by Christian Rybinski and his son, Emmanuel, who joined his father in 2003 after having earned a diploma in Montpellier and worked in Australia and at Chateau Potelle in California.
The Rybinskis have 12 hectares of vines on a high (and, apparently highly regarded) plateau with clay-limestone soils that are also rich in iron. From this parcel, they make six cuvees of Cahors: Knom, Kor, Kprice, Klys, K and K2.
For the past six or more years they have been farming organically and, in 2011, were certified by ECOCERT. They have also built new cellars which operate on the gravity prnciple.
Emmanuel presented two wines: the 2009 Kor and the 2011 K2, neither of which had been bottled. Both are pure Malbec. Yields are between 25 and 30 hl/​ha. The grapes for the former are harvested by machine, for the latter, by hand. All cold soak for five days at between ten and twelve degrees before fermenting without the addition of yeasts or enzymes. Vatting lasts 35 days with manual punching down for ten days. Kor ages in concrete tanks on its fine lees for two years; K2 ages in barrique.
The 2009 Kor was supple, with ripe tannins, juicy cherry flavors and notes of licorice and bark; the K2, charming despite evident gassiness, exhibited more nuanced cherry flavors and light oak. The Kor sells for 8 euros in France while K2 is priced at a whopping 50euros. At this stage, it’s difficult to understand the steep price difference but the wines are definitely worth following.

MAS DEL PERIE

After earning a degree in enology from the University of Bordeaux, Fabien Jouves, 27, took over the family’s 14 hectares of vines and completely changed the direction of the domaine. His father had practiced conventional farming; Jouves is a convert to biodynamics. And while his father sold all his production in bulk, Jouves makes four cuvees of Cahors and two bottlings of IGP Lot.
All of Jouves’ Cahors are pure malbec, hand harvested and bottled without being fined or filtered. Les Escures, which sees no oak, seems to be the cuvee “to drink on the fruit,” while La Piece, which ferments in open 500 L barrels and ages in new oak, seems to demand the longest cellaring. This is speculation. Neither was presented at the tasting.
The two wines sampled were the 2010 La Roque and the 2008 Les Acacias, which represent the middle of the range. Yields for each are low – 17 hl/​ha and 25 hl/​ha respectively – and the vines range from 35 to 45 years old. La Roque comes from clay-limestone soils. Half ages in concrete tanks and half in barrels of two to five wines.
The 2010 was juicy and succulent, with flavors of dark red/​blue/​black fruit and licorice and a mini-whiff of game.
Les Acacias comes from iron-rich soils. The 2008 spent 22 months in barrel. Dark and dense, it was extracty – though Jouves says he doesn’t seek extraction – but also fresh and balanced. Deeply fruity, it offered flavors of black cherry, licorice and baking spices – with promises of more to come.
Another domaine to follow.

DOMAINE DE VINSSOU

Isabelle Rivier-Delfau, like me, well-upholstered woman of a certain age. In 2007 she took over the reins of her family’s 15 hectare domaine from her husband and fundamentally changed the winemaking philosophy. Briefly: she had adopted a somewhat Burgundian approach, vinifying – and bottling – by parcel and soil type.
“We always vinified each parcel separately,” she told me. “Each parcel was different, unique. But my husband insisted on assembling everything, “ she added with a wry smile, noting, “I’m an artist. I’m drawn to nuances.”
In 2008 Mme Rivier-Delfau bottled her first Cahors, called Falhial, after the name of the vineyard, a south-facing terrace with fine clay-gravel soils. Yields are quite moderate, at 35 hl/​ha, the vines – all Malbec -- average over 45 years old. The grapes are machine harvested and ferment in stainless steel tanks after a period of cold soaking. The fermenting mass is punched down and pumped over and vatting continues until the juice has cooled down. The wine ages for two years in concrete tanks.
The 2008 Falhial was succulent, lightly tannic, and fresh, with lively acidity. Here’s a Cahors that can be drunk – nay, slurped – on the fruit. Rivier-Delfau has just added a second cuvee, from a different parcel, with different soils. I can’t wait to taste it.



January 12, 2011: Wine of the Year: 2006 Barolo Teobaldo Cappellano Otin Fiorin Pie Franco
Yes, I’d have like to have posted this earlier but sometimes life gets in the way – like finding out that your car, nicely parked in a country train station, has been vandalized and towed by the local police, necessitating trips to the garage/​jail, the gendarmerie (to file a complaint to give to the insurance company), calling insurance company – Paris and local branches – and sending them copies of the papers, calling my own car mechanic and so on and so forth. And that’s just one story.
So forgive me for posting this so late but, after all, it is still January and, in France, one still wishes everyone Joyeuse Annee, plein de sante, plein de bonnes choses etc, until midnight January 31.
But I digress. Back to that dreamy Barolo.
It comes from three hectares of biodynamically farmed vines the Otin Fiorin vineyards on a hillside in Serralunga, a medieval walled commune.
Michet is the name of the Nebbiolo clone that Teobaldo Cappellano, an iconic, iconoclastic figure, planted in the 1980s without grafting it on to American-based hybrid rootstock, thus Pie Franco. (In France, vines planted directly into the ground are called franc de pied. The pied is the vine plant. Franc is translated as frank, pure, open, straightforward.)
Capellano also designed the stainless steel tanks used, along with glass-lined concrete. The wine ferments in these for two to three weeks, without the addition of yeasts, and is then transferred to barrels (not new) for a minimum of three years before being bottled without filtration.
My notes are scant (I’ll explain why later) but definitive: the wine reminds me of Prieure-Roch’s “les Clous,” organically farmed vines in Burgundy’s Vosne-Romanee. The tannins were gentle, there were rich flavors of morello cherries and, most notably and most reminiscent of “Les Clous,” a delicate scent of rose petals. Sorry to wax poetic but rose petals, deep red, wafting down endlessly. The wine was less delicate than Les Clous but equally enchanting. Exquisite.
Why, you may be wondering, if you have read this far, has she not mentioned the vintage of Les Clous? Because I can’t find my tasting notes. Otherwise there would have been two wines of the year. My guess, however, is that it is either 2006 or 2008.
But my after-image of the wine – particularly its tremulant fragility -- is clear and it brought to mind a passage from Djuna Barnes’ “Night Wood:” "as insupportable a joy as would be the vision of an eland coming down an aisle of trees, chapleted with orange blossoms and bridal veil, a hoof raised in the economy of fear, stepping in the trepidation of flesh that will become myth,,,”

Still with me?

Evidently, for me, each of these wines is a vin de meditation. I’d liked to have been alone with each wine, lingering over it, trying to catch and record each fugitive nuance, for hours on end. But the circumstances of each tasting precluded such self-absorption.
Call it an embarrassment of riches. I tasted the Barolo with my dear friend Maureen Fant at Achilli Enoteca al Parlamento, a posh wine shop/​restaurant in Rome; and the Vosne-Romanee, at Le Verre Vole, a pioneering organic wine-bar in Paris. This with my dear friend Odessa (nee Karen) Piper.
I’m lucky if I get to spend time with Maureen and KO once a year – as we all live in different countries. So we have a lot to talk about. Were we able to see each other on a regular basis, I could have gone into wine orbit on each occasion and both Maureen and KO would have joined me in vinous outer-spaciness.
I'd jump at the chance to taste/​drink either of these wines again. And so should you. And you might want to thank Maureen and KO for the relative brevity of the tasting notes in this post.

December 31,2011: 2005 Champagne "Clos des Bouveries" Brut, Duval-Leroy. Pure chardonnay, the wine comes from a single vineyard in Vertus (why isn't it classified, I wonder) which the company has owned for over a century. The neck label reads: "cuvee oenoclimatique serie limitee a 31,853 bouteilles."
I'd like to point out that this wine was made when Herve Gestin (I'm relying on my memory for the name) was the brilliant, inspired cellarmaster.
I selected this Champagne because I wanted a Blanc de Blanc for the shellfish. And this wine is exactly what I'd hoped to find. It's labeled "Brut" but the wine comes across dryer -- much to my liking. Refined and elegant, it's also substantial, with a steel and citric edge and intriguingly scents of ginger and preserved lemon.

December 20, 2011: Get to Know Champagne Drappier.
I have long been a fan of the Champagnes of the Drappier family whose domaine, created in 1808, counts 75 hectares of vines in numerous villages, including Ambonnay, Bouzy, Cramant and Mareuil-sur-Ay.
As I’m always delighted to sample their various cuvees, it was a real treat to taste (and swallow) the 1995 Carte d’Or earlier this fall.
90% Pinot Noir, 7% Chardonnay, and 3% Pinot Meunier, it aged for almost 15 years sur latte. Nuanced and deep, it was also fresh, and, like the Goerg, airborne.
A savory and deliciously satisfying meal Champagne, it is essentially unfiltered. Actually, it’s more complicated than that so I asked for details.
Michel Drappier explained, « Being allergic to sulphur, I decided to limit its use to the absolute minimum in my Champagnes since 1989. After several years of vinification, we realized that filtration, particularly filtration of the cuvees with low doses of SO2, oxidized the wines. So we began experimenting with eliminating filtration altogether. The results were convincing. The unfiltered wines were fresher, more ‘gourmand,’ and fruitier. In order to avoid the rustic aspects that can evolve in wines that are too « charge », we developed a system of straining the wine. Our wines aren’t filtered with cellulose or other absorbant materials but simply with crystals produced by the wines themselves as well as the fine lees that have formed deposits on the stainless steel. So it’s not a filtration as such but a sieving which has the advantage of preserving the wine intact. Additionally, given the clarification that takes place in the process of degorgement, we have always felt that severely filtering the wine was useless and destructive.»
In France, the 1995 Carte d’Or is available in magnum at a suggested retail price of 86 euros. (I’m trying to get info on availability in the US and the UK.)
In any event, their entry level cuvee, a Brut Nature, pure Pinot Noir with zero dosage, is easy to find, easy on the wallet (at a suggested retail price of under 30 euros a bottle), and always delicious. The version currently on the market is mouthwatering in its freshness, tangy and crisp, with bright, juicy flavors of Granny Smith apples.


December 19, 2011: Get to Know Paul Goerg Champagne.

At a time of year when thoughts turn naturally to Champagne, here’s a fresh-as-a-spring-breeze delight that was new to me. It’s the Paul Goerg Blanc de Blanc Absolu Extra Brut (Non-dose) the suggested retail price of which is 32 euros.
The wine is sprightly and buoyant, very mineral, very stony, very chardonnay and very, very pure, with a long stone and citrus finish. It seems so light as to be airborne and goes beautifully with anything shellfish or sushi. It is all about freshness and finesse.
Pure Chardonnay, the wine is made from the Premier Cru vineyards of Vertus, is based on the 2005 vintage, and spends four years sur latte before being offered for sale.
Paul Goerg in case, like me, you’re wondering, is a small cooperative of Vertus growers. Called La Goutte d’Or, the cooperative was founded in 1984 and named after a former mayor of the village. Today it controls 120 hectares of vines (sustainable viticulture here), and makes a range of Champagnes, all Premier Cru, though I’d say that the Absolu non-dose is Goerg’s signature wine. And it’s quite a regal ambassador.



November 20, 2011

The following is what I wrote -- in May 2010 -- for the updated version of my original Loire book. Now that I've decided to write three separate volumes on subregions of the Loire before condensing them into a pan-Loire edition, the Massif Central is poorly represented and my pertinent prose is growing stale. In an effort to address both those issues, herewith: The Cote Roannaise and the Cotes du Forez:


COTE ROANNAISE

Status: AOC 1994
Types of wine: red (90%) and rose (10%).
Production: 8 to 11,000 hls made on 200 hectares planted, legally within 14 communes, though, in actuality, 10 communes on the outskirts of Roanne, mostly on east and south-east facing hillsides. The heart of the zone is around Renaison and Ambierle. Additionally, another 10 to 15 hectares are denominated Vin de Pays d’Urfe.
Grapes: Gamay. (Locally called Gamay St. Romain, it is a variant of Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc.)
Yields: 55 hl/​ha
Soils: granitic.
Prices: $ ($)
Best Recent Vintages: ’09


Visually, the Cote Roannaise has more in common with Tuscany than
with Touraine. It presents a landscape of hilltop villages, of shady church squares and ochre stone houses with terra cotta tiled roofs and backyards edged with cypresses and bay laurel. Vineyards slope down mountain sides meeting pine forests and fields of grazing sheep and cattle.
Viticulturally, the Cote Roannaise has much in common with Beaujolais, which lies roughly due east, relies on the same grape variety and has similarly granitic, acidic soils.
The vineyards of the Cote Roannaise, however, which lie on east-facing slopes of the foothills of the Monts de Madelaine, are much higher than those of Beaujolais, consisting of a band running on a north-south axis for approximately 20 kilometers at altitudes of 370 to 550 meters. Though the hillsides create a milder, dryer microclimate here than exists on the plains, the height of the vineyards means that harvest tends to occur a week later here than in Beaujolais.
It is believed that the Cote Roannaise vineyards date from the 8th or 9th centuries and were further developed in the 10th century by Benedictine monks and local dignitaries. The wines gained in recognition from the 13th through the 17th centuries, when the wines were, for the first time, referred to as Cote Roannaise. Wine production increased dramatically when navigation on the Loire facilitated the transport of Roannaise wines to Paris. At the time of the French Revolution, it is estimated that the region sent approximately 60,000 hls of wine to Paris a year. Phylloxera, of course, ended all that.
While not expanding exponentially, the Cote Roannaise appellation does appear to be undergoing a soft regeneration – with new faces, a new generation and increasingly eco-friendly policies: sustainable farming is becoming the norm.
For the most part, grapes are hand harvested. The hills are too steep for machines, the
wineries too small and the method of vinification -- often semi-carbonic -- is best done with hand-picked grapes placed uncrushed into tanks or wood vats. Vatting usually lasts from four to ten days.
Most producers make at least two cuvees of red, one “to drink on the fruit” and another than can age a bit and may have aged for awhile in newish oak barrels. And if a grower is fortunate enough to have vines on one of the appellation’s best slopes – such as Le Boutheran or Les Bonichons, each of them cru-worthy – he or she is likely to bottle that wine separately.
Comparisons with Beaujolais are inevitable. At least they became inevitable once the INAO made the bone-headed decision to prohibit the use of grapes other than gamay. Before the Cote Roannaise received its appellation controllee status, some winemakers habitually blended substantial proportions of pinot noir with their gamay. It is
misguided, at best, that the INAO now requires that Cote Roannaise be made solely from gamay. One doubts the bona fides behind this constraint when, at the same time, the INAO mandates blends of two or three grape varieties for wines classically made from a single grape type -- as it has done in Touraine-Mesland, in the Giennois and in the Orleanais. Furthermore, when has Pinot Noir ever been known to diminish the quality of a wine?
The law forced some of the best producers to change their way of making wine or forgo the appellation. Like the man said, all politics is local, even wine politics. And now, Pinot Noir, no longer in the appellation blend, is bottled as Vin de Pays d’Urfe.
That said, most of the Cote Roannaise wines are more like Beaujolais than not. The question is: which Beaujolais?
It’s important to note that since Beaujolais is 100 times larger than the Cote Roannaise, with commensurate disparity in quality in the wines from one house to another,
This makes it easier to generalize about Cote Roannaise wines. Most are hand-crafted, not industrial or generic. The style is that of a lovely light red, lean but supple, with fine, precise fruit and an easy elegance. More ambitious Roannaise wines recall the Beaujolais – including the crus – made by top producers such as Domaine du Vissoux (Pierre-Marie Chermette) and Jean Foillard.
Additionally, many producers also make a sweet rose and one or more Vins de Pays d’Urfe – generally viognier or chardonnay, and, increasingly, a Cerdon-like sweet, sparkling rose that is usually low in alcohol (around 8.5) with anywhere from 20 to 60 grams residual sugar. When successful, they are extremely refreshing – particularly at the end of meal.

PRODUCERS
(Of the 50 growers within the appellation, thirty specialize in wine production, most of which is sold in France. Many also raise Charolais cattle.)

EXCELLENT
Domaine de Fontenay/​Simon Hawkins Domaine des Pothiers/​Georges & Romain Paire

TO FOLLOW

Vincent Giraudon Domaine de la Perriere/​ Philippe Peulet
Vincent Willenbucher

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Domaine Desormiere Domaine Lapandery

Domaine de la Paroisse/​Jean-Claude Chaucesse

RECOMMENDED

Vignoble de Champagny/​Frederic Villeneuve Jacques Plasse

Domaine de la Rochette/​Pascal & Olivier Neron Domaine Robert Serol

Domaine Vial

BY THE GLASS
Domaine Bonneton Jean-Francois Pras

OTHER

Maison JB Clair Domaine du Pavillon/​ Eric Villeneuve

Domaine Bonneton: By the Glass
42370 St.Andre d’Apchon; 04.77.6585.40; 06.77.84.92.92.05;
thierry.bonneton@​orange.fr

Thierry Bonneton created his domaine, now ten hectares, in 1988, after having worked for the region’s master cheese affineur, Hubert Mons. Regrettably, his wines don’t reveal the passion for his craft that was evident in every Fourme, St. Nectaire and Salers coming out of Mons’s aging facilities. Bonneton makes five wines. His 2009 rose, made by a maceration of the harvest, was relatively full, firm, not bad. His “fruity” cuvee of 2008 was bland and dilute. Maleme, a cuvee from sandy-clay soils, came across reduced and rather confected at a tasting in 2010. Ditto for the Cuvee Reserve Vieille Vignes, from vines around 50 years old, save for same agreeable fruitiness. By far Bonneton’s best wine at this tasting was the 2007 from the celebrated slope Boutheran. It had attractive plum and kirsch flavors but also seemed confected. I could, however, imagine enjoying it in a café or in Leo’s bookstore.

Domaine Desormiere: Highly Recommended
42370 Renaison; 04.77.64.48.55; domaine.desormier@​orange.fr; domaine-desormiere.com

Michel Desormiere sold his first bottles of Cote Roannaise in 1974. I recall having tasted his wines in 1990s and having loved the cuvee that came from the granitic slopes of the lieu-dit Montolivet. Michel has since been joined by sons Eric and Thierry.
Over the years they have built the domaine up to 13 hectares which they farm according to the eco-friendly principles of Terra Vitis. They produce five cuvees of Cote Roannais, including a rose and “Tradition,” their quaffing red.
“Perdriziere” comes from a lieu-dit with sandy soils and undergoes carbonic maceration which last 5 to 6 days. The 2009 had exuberantly sweet fruit and came across like a good Beaujolais. The Desormieres consider their 2.22 hectare parcel of Montolivet their “cuvee terroir.” The vines here have some age, averaging 45 years old. And the Desormieres feel that longer vatting – 8 to 10 days – bring out the best of its qualities. The intriguing 2008 was streamlined but by no means thin, with pretty fruit and mineral notes. They advise pairing it with a Charolais steak.
The most recent cuvee, “Les Tetes,” a selection of their best grapes from their best parcels, is not made every year. It vats for 10 to 11 days with punching down at the end of maceration in order to extract more tannins. The 2008, certainly not overextracted or aggressively tannic, was smooth, suave and urbane – albeit with a slightly hot note on the finish. (But a slab of Charolais would deal with that very nicely.)

Domaine de Fontenay/​ Simon Hawkins: Excellent
42155 Villemontais; 04.77.63.12.22; hawkins@​tele2.fr; domainedufontenay.com

“Moins d’alcool, autant de plaisir!”® (Less alcohol, just as much pleasure.) That is the motto (battle cry?) of Simon Hawkins “artisan-vigneron.” And it’s true that his wines – which are never chaptalized – tend to be lower in alcohol than most. Indeed, I’ve never tasted one that reached 12 degrees. As for the “artisan” bit, the wines are every bit that good to do honor to the word. And my guess is that he’s also adept at marketing them. After all, he did take out a copyright on his motto. Plus, he and wife Isabelle run B&Bs on the property.
You may already have sensed that Hawkins is sui generis. There aren’t many Anglophone winemakers in the Massif Central. Add to that, a peripatetic life – born in Kenya, raised in Botswana, schooled in England and then in Reims before settling in Roanne for a job in the textile industry. Dangerously close to a viticultural region, Hawkins fell in love with wine and, at the age of 30, enrolled in the Lycee Viticole in Macon. His first harvest was in 1990.
Hawkins maintains that he has returned to an ancient style of vinification, one that makes a truer, more authentic wine. He uses no additives, principally no industrial yeasts, no sulphur, and no added sugar. He traded his modern vertical press for an old fashioned basket press which holds less grapes and presses more gently. His wines are generally unfiltered.
Hawkins got some viognier vines from the Rhone’s Yves Cuilleron and planted them in the Roannaise on a granitic butte that benefits from a special climate due to its proximity to the Lac du Villarest. Vinified “naturally” and aged in oak on its fine lees, the wine is called Coteau de Saint Sulpice Les Cailloux. The 2008, the debut vintage, was an exuberant viognier, fresh, tight, with muscaty fragrance floating above a core of minerals. There are too many appellations in France and that’s a pity because this wine, a Vin de Table, certainly merits an AOC.
In addition to several versions of rose, Hawkins makes at least three versions of Cote Roannaise rouge, with “Expression” representing his early-drinking bottling.
My first reaction on tasting his 2009 “Expression” was “This is Gamay?” Said – written, rather – in admiration. Now I happen to love Gamay but this wine was in a wonderful world of its own. And with only 11.5 degrees alcohol. Oh, come all ye who vilify high alcohol wine! Deeply colored, profoundly saturated, the wine had rich, concentrated aromas and flavors of red and black fruit. It’s purity and freshness were amazing. The wine – a vrai vin de plaisir – was compulsively drinkable. Definitely PMG. On a par with the best of Chermette/​Vissoux. I was tasting the wine at the Salon des Vins de Loire in 2010 – not in front of the winemaker – and appreciated it so much, I brought it for my vigneron pals Francois Pinon and Abel Osorio to taste.
Hawkins has a monopoly on the St. Sulpice vineyard, a hill with a thin layer of soil over bedrock of granite which gives its name to his cuvee “Vigne de Saint Sulpice”. The 2008, 11 degrees alcohol, was another PMG that I insisted Francois and Abel taste. Sheer velvet with flavors of black cherries and morello cherries. Pleasure and character. I loved it.
The cuvee “L’Authentique” is subtitled “a la maniere de 12 mai 1855” which, for those of us who may be wondering, is the day on which the Archbishop of Lyon came to bless the private chapel on the domaine de Fontenay. The wine is intended to represent the full-bodied style made at the time and it is the only wine to receive barrel aging. Whatever. On first taste, the 2008, which was all of 11.5 degrees alcohol, was closed, much less expressive than the previous two cuvees in addition to being quite oaky. On Day Two it was mellower, more focused, with smooth, spicy fruit and the oak had calmed down. Delicious.
Hawkins also makes a sparkling, sweet gamay by the methode ancestrale. In other words, it’s a Pet’Nat. No yeast, no sugar, tank fermentation at low temperatures, the wine is bottled when it has reached 5 degrees alcohol and spends six months on its fine lees for the prise de mousse and to finish its alcoholic fermentation. The finished wine is 8 degrees alcohol and about 60 grams residual sugar and tastes very much like a top quality Cerdon. It’s sudsy, with the sweet-tart flavors of cranberry relish – delicious – and named RN7 in honor of the workers who took that highway en route to their yearly vacation. If I, for one, were staying in a Fontenay B&B, I could swallow a whole lot of this stuff.


Vincent Giraudon: To Follow
42370 Renaison;04.77.64.25.34.; 06.84.38.40.02;vincentgiraudon@​free.fr;Vincent-giraudon.com
Not yet 30, Vincent Giraudon started making his own wine on his own 1.7 (or 3.3) hectares (granitic soils) in 2004. Before that, he’d done a four-year stint with George Paire at Domaine des Pothiers, studied at Lycee Viticole of Macon and worked in his father’s restaurant, Jacques Coeur, in Renaison, which is now, unsurprisingly, an enthusiastic vendor of the wines.
Giraudon keeps yields low and harvests by hand. He has only Gamay but doesn’t let that stop him from extending his line of wines, starting with a white made from a direct press of the gamay grapes and fermented at very low temperatures. The wine spends 3 months in tank before bottling. The 2008 was dry, smooth, a bit bland but pleasing. The 2009, with some residual sugar, was tart and juicy. Both are Vin de Table – both because the Cote Roannaise laws don’t allow for white wines and because these are particularly low – 9% -- in alcohol.
Giraudon calls these wines – as well as a couple of other of his oddities – BCBC (Bon cru Bon Gout, a play on the expression BCBG (Bon Chic Bon Genre) for the French equivalent of Preppies.
There’s also a BCBG rouge. The 2009, with 10% alcohol, was a bit volatile. So best to move on to the Cote Roannaise line. This starts with the 2009 rose, made from bleeding the fermenting reds, was meaty and dry, a really good meal rose. The 2009 CR red was packed with red berry flavor and very appealing; the supple 2008 bordered on the serious. Pedigreed but not BCBG. And his 2007 Cote Roannaise was a real charmer, just begging to be lightly chilled and drunk immediately.
2008 was the first vintage of his minuscule cuvee Quercus (200 bottles) made from 30 to 80 year old vines. The grapes undergo carbonic maceration in open wood vats and ages in oak for nine months. That 2008, tasted in 2010, was smooth, silky and seductive. It caressed the tongue.

Francisque Lapandéry: Highly Recommended
Saint-Haon-le-Vieux :04 77 64 43 43
A born raconteur who singlehandedly wanted to preserve the ancient paysan (peasant) traditions of France, Paul Lapandery, over 70 at the time, greeted me in 1990 in his straw hat and wood sabots.
At the time the Cote Roannaise was VDQS. Lapandery took me into his dining room and pulled out thick dossiers he had submitted to the INAO, claiming not only AOC status for Roannaise wines but cru status for his own particular parcel, an 8 hectare vineyard on a hillside above St. Haon. Called la Rousseliere, the slope is pitched at a 72 degree angle, too steep for any machine to maneuver.
Lapandery’s plantings consisted of more than 30% pinot noir and up to 30% chardonnay – which he felt refined the wine. He called the new appellation – the appellation he had lobbied for so long to win – “a catastrophe” as it limited AOC Cote Roannaise to a single variety, gamay.
When I saw him and son Francisque at the Salon des Vignerons Independants in Paris at that time, they told me they’d obey the law but they didn’t know what they’d do with their other grapes. I said, bottle the Pinot Noir separately as a Vin de Pays. It’ll sell like hot cakes.
And I grab every chance I get to order the wine in restaurants, happily recalling the succulent 2003 I drunk at a popular fish shop-cum-restaurant in La Rochelle or at Chez Casimir in Paris.
Paul Lapandery died in 2006/​7. Francisque who studied at the Lycee Viticole de Beaune and who had essentially taken over the operation in 2000, has been running things on his own ever since.
Even when the Roannaise are pure gamay, their wines are like none other in the
appellation. Yields are as low as those of first growth Bordeaux, ie 25
to 30 hl/​ha. No carbonic maceration here: Lapandery destems, uses an ancient basket press, punches down the cap twice daily during the ten-day vatting. The wines age a year or more in old oak barrels. Lapandery fines with egg white and does not filter.
The 2008, all spice and fruit, was surely not your typical gamay. The 2007, very much in Paul’s style, was light but decisive, with flavors of old wood, spices and tea. The 2006, a suaver version of 2007, was lightly hot and finished on a sweet note of dried fruit. The 2005 was the best and fullest of all. Cherry juice with a slice of lemon, tannic and spicy. Sui Generis. It would shock people who think they know everything about gamay.
And the 2008 pinot noir Vin de Pays d’Urfe, 15 hl/​ha, was focused, tart, juicy and redolent of cherries and kirsch. Many find the Lapandery wines too dried out. I find they’re another wonderful expression of Cote Roannaise. And even when they miss the mark, they are specific and personal. Wines to think about, to chew over.


Maison JB Clair: Other
42370 Renaison; 04.77.64.40.01; claudineclair@​yahoo.com
A specialist in sparkling wines since the 19th century, this family-run firm is now run by Claudine Clair. I tasted only their two most popular cuvees, the 1999 Brut, pure chardonnay, and the 2002 Brut, a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Each is sold as a Vin de France. The first was dry and a bit salty, drinkable; the second was aggressively bubbly and a bit hard. The firm also makes two versions of Cote Roannaise: the 2008, though reduced, was lightly kirschy and a bit rustic; the 2006 Vieilles Vignes was too gamey for my tastes.

Domaine du Pavillon/​Eric Villeneuve: Other
42820 Ambierle; 06.25.73.01.79; domainedupavillon.encoteroannaise@​orange.fr
Ambierle was once known for its vin gris and this domaine, under former owner Maurice Lutz, who hailed from Alsace, the roses, made by a six to eight hour maceration, were serious, delectable, and very special. I drank them whenever possible, notably at the Paris wine bar Au Vins de Rues, when it was still run by the mythic Jean Chanrion, a formidable ambassador for the little wines of the Lyonnais. Eric Villeneuve, Frederic’s (Chateau de Champagny) cousin, joined Lutz in 1995. Lutz retired in 2005 and Eric took on a new partner, Jacques Heymans. They work 7 hectares – including some from Eric’s family. The wines I’ve tasted were passable, the rose, an off-dry, meaty 2009, the best of the lot but not nearly as good as in the past. The 2008 red was tart, rather thick, with a drying finish; the 2009 was too gamey for my taste.


Domaine de la Perriere/​ Philippe Peulet: To Follow
42820 Ambierle; 04.77.65.65.49; 06.86.56.52.35; philippe.peulet@​wanadoo.fr; domainedelaperriere.com
When I started working on the update of the Loire book one of the vignerons I wondered about was Alain Demon whose Cote Roannaise wines I’d loved. I hadn’t seen his name or a bottle with his label in what seemed like years. And when I asked people from the region, the response was “Ca n’existe plus.” (It no longer exists.)
At a tasting in Paris in early 2010 I approached the table of Philippe Peulet, whose wines I had already tasted, about a month earlier, and liked. As is the custom at these tastings, I was wearing a name tag. “I’ve been waiting so long to meet you!” Philippe cried. Me?? “Alain Demon talked about you so much.”
So that’s what happened. Peulet, a former veterinary chemist turned would-be winemaker, had linked up with Demon in 2003 – after having studied at the Lycee Viticole in Macon, and, after Demon retired in 2005, Peulet took over the 5 hectare Domaine de la Perriere.
On his labels Peulet has printed “artisan-vigneron” and there’s no doubt that he takes that as a pledge of honor. Farming is eco-friendly, winemaking is more or less non-interventionist – Peulet usually avoids adding yeast, for example – and the results do not always please the local bureaucrats: since 2007 he has labeled all of his wines Vin de Pays.
Although he has two easy-drinking “negociant” bottlings, he prefers to concentrate on his three most serious reds: “Granits,” “Les Bonichons,” and “Les Moines Noires.” (In my brief experience, all of these wines need to be carafed. But when they open up, many of them taste like ringers for pinot noir.)
A perfect example of the need for aeration – which is the case with many reds and quite a few whites – was the 2008 Granits, from south-facing, sandy, granitic soils on the Bonichon slope. I could perceive a smooth texture and attractive, ripe black cherry flavors as well as ample acidity but the wine was seriously reduced. I kept going back to it over three days and it was still reduced. The 2007, however, was simply lovely, pure, with delectable fruit.
Les Bonichons is one of the better known, and appreciated, lieux-dits of the Cote Roannaise. It is said that its name comes from the fact that nurses used to live there. This is Peulet’s old vines cuvee and some of those vines date back to 1904. The 2008 was pure fruited, tender and tart. Another bottle, though cool and smooth, had light bandaid notes which might bother some.
“Les Moines Noirs Vieilles Vignes,” made only in exceptional vintages, ages in used demi-muids. Peulet considered 2008 exceptional because he harvested so late. It needed aeration and came across chewy, tannic and hot but I’d have liked to have followed it. The 2008 “Les Moines”, after aeration, was fresh, focused and nicely structured, a lovely pick for a bistro lunch. And the 2009, a tank sample, promised to be excellent. Peulet also markets two, easy-drinking. negociant cuvees as well as a small quantity of rose and has planted some viognier, the first vintage of which should be 2012. I look forward to following Peulet’s evolution as an artisan-vigneron.


Domaine de la Paroisse/​ Jean-Claude Chaucesse: Highly Recommended
Renaison; 04.77.64.26.10; 06.19.21.50.01;la.paroisse@​laposte.net

This domaine has passed from father to son since 1640. Today Jean-Claude Chaucesse, who studied at the Lycee viticole de Macon and worked for awhile in Oregon’s vineyards, manages its seven granite-rich hectares of vines following the supple principles of sustainable farming.
Chaucesse makes a small amount of chardonnay. The 2006, tasted in 2008, was pleasant but its herbaceousness recalled sauvignon blanc more than chardonnay. The 2009, tasted in 2010, however, was cool and mineral.
The 2009 rose was good, solid, by-the-book. Chaucesse makes two cuvees of CR rouge. Tradition, the basic red, is destemmed to avoid unripe flavors. A tank sample of the 2009 was juicy and recalled a cherry lollipop. The 2008 was supple, strawberry scented and very tart. (It wasn’t Robert’s favorite vintage.) The 2006, tasted in 2008, was a charmer, with good fruit, good balance and a kind of sassy personality.
The best known wine from the domaine is the Cuvee a l’Ancienne, from low-yielding , 90-year-old vines. The grapes initially undergo semi-carbonic fermentation for about 12 days. After that they are punched down a l’ancienne by foot-stomping. A tank sample of the 2009 was plush and very promising; the 2008 was spicy and characterful; the 2006, tasted in 2008, was a nuanced blend of bark, truffle, tart strawberry and cherry. Very hard to place, it was an intriguing old world mountain red. The relatively ample 2005, more mainstream than the intriguing 2006, was a charming light red with lots of personality. I’d drink it with one of the region’s ham and potato recipes.

Jacques Plasse: Recommended
42370 St. Andre d’Apchon; 04.77. 65.84.31 or 8149; Jacques.plasse@​yahoo.fr
Plasse took over the family’s 6 hectares in 1998 and follows the eco-serious guidelines of Terra Vitis. Harvest is by hand and machine and ferment in cement tanks. Aside from a bit of viognier and a sweet rose, all of Plasse’s wines are Cote Roannaise. They include a rose and three reds.
The 2008 rose, made from bleeding the tanks of fermenting reds, was fleshy and pleasant. I tasted a nicely fruity tank sample of the future 2009 Cuvee Bel Air followed by the 2008 Vieilles Vignes, from 80 to 100 year old vines. Evidently it had more depth than the Bel Air but was rather inexpressive. A 2006, however, tasted in 2008, was a delight. Its nose recalled eau de vie. On the palate were flavors of berries and sour cherries. Tasting it again, after it had been open for a day, it was scrumptious, with additional notes of bark, bramble, strawberry, plum and licorice. The only Boutheran I sampled was the 2007, not the best year. Still, it was an intriguing, if puckery and slightly hot, wine. I’d like to try more vintages – and watch them evolve over a day or two – of this cuvee.

Domaine des Pothiers/​ Romain Paire: Excellent
42155 Villemontais, 04.77.63.15.84; 06.18.02.22.47; domainedespothiers@​yahoo.fr; domaine-des-pothiers.com
The Pothier family created this domaine on the granitic soils at the southern reaches of the appellation and tended its vines for centuries. When Blaise Pothier was killed during World War I, his brother-in-law, Claude Paire took over. In 1974 grandson Georges was at the helm and the domaine had grown from two to five hectares and Georges began the conversion to sustainable farming. Son Romain, after studying at Macon’s lycee viticole, joined his father in 2005. Planting continues – the domaine now has roughly ten hectares – and the conversion to organic viticulture is well on its way.
Ploughing, low yields, compost from the manure of the few Charolais cows they still raise, harvest by hand, often by successive passes through the vineyards summarize the farming practices. In the cellar, the Paires rely on indigenous yeasts; they don’t add so2 during fermentation and the fermenting musts are regularly pumped over. Depending on the cuvee, the wine may age in oak or not and may be filtered or not.
The Paires currently make at least ten wines, starting with two chardonnays, one oaked, the other not, both Vin de Pays d’Urfe. I tasted the 2006 oaked cuvee “Fou du Chene” (Crazy about oak) in 2008. The wine ferments and ages in 220 liter barrels of two to five wines. The wine displayed good fruit and good varietal flavors but it helped a lot to be “crazy about oak.” The also make a VdP Pinot Gris which ferments in 600 litre barrels. I attempted to taste a barrel sample of the 2009 but it was too gas-y to get much of an impression of anything.
Their 2009 CR rose, on the other hand, was good and solid and just what you (and/​or I ) want.
There are five – or maybe six -- cuvees of CR rouge. A sample of the unfinished 2009 basic red, called “Reference,” promised well. The “Domaine” bottling is made from a selection of old vines, destemmed and vinified traditionally. It never “sees” oak. The 2006 was a graceful charmer, silky, easy drinking, with mouthwatering flavors of plum and cherry. Much too easy to drink a lot of. The cuvee called “#6” gets a whole berry fermentation and is bottled without filtration. The 2009 was another wine I’d love to follow – plums again plus cherry pits and just the right kick of tartness. A 2008 Vieilles Vignes was focused, structured and getting damned serious.
The Clos du Puy cuvee comes from a 1.7 hectare parcel of the same name, a high slope with granitic soils and full south-eastern exposure. It may have been the first of the domaine’s parcels to be converted to organic farming. The fruit of 80 year old vines, three-quarters of the grapes are destemmed and vat for 16 days, with regular racking. The wine then spends 11 months in 220 litre barrels of two to five wines and is bottled unfiltered. The 2008 was cool, smooth, focused. It recalled Chermette’s cru Beaujolais. The 2006 was oaky but also refined with lovely, etched fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Frankly, though, I think I’d have preferred it without the oak influence.
The latest addition to the red portfolio is “L’Integrale,” which is made from young vines on the Clos du Puy and ferments in barrel. 2009 was the debut vintage and the sample I tasted was rich, focused and had lots of stuffing. To follow.
There is also a sweet sparkling red/​rose but perhaps the domaine’s most unusual wine, a Vin de Table, is a Vin de Paille called “Émoi.” A selection of their best Gamay grapes is harvested in small cases and the fruit is spread out on a rooftop to shrivel in the hot sun for a month or longer. The grapes are then pressed and the juice ferments slowly in barrel and ages in oak for a year. The most recent cuvee, which I tasted in early 2010, was 16 degrees alcohol with 110 grams residual sugar. It succulent, with rich flavors of apricot, peach and mango, balanced by a lot of vibrant acidity. I liked it a lot.


Jean-Francois Pras: By the Glass
42370 Saint Haon le Vieux; 06.27.60.40.22;jfpras@​la-cote-roannaise.com

Jean-Francois Pras created his 3.75 hectare domaine in 1988. Everything is hand harvested and the red wines undergo semi-carbonic fermentation in a various types of tanks. I recall having enjoyed his 1992s and 1993s without, however, heartily recommending them. If anything, I may be less enthused today. The 2009 rose, made from a direct press of the harvest, was tender, with pleasant fruit, the best of his line-up. The 2008 rouge cuvee Domaine was supple but rather wan, as if it had been stripped; the 2009 was fleshier and far better. The 2008 Vieilles Vignes, made from vines over 50 years old, was as wan as the Cuvee Domaine. Maybe it was just a bad vintage for Pras.

Domaine de la Rochette/​ Pascal & Olivier Neron: Recommended
42155 Villemontais; 04.77.63.10.62; Antoine.neron@​orange.fr; cote-roannaise-neron-rochette.fr

Pascal and Olivier Neron are the third generation to work the family’s 12 hectares of vines; brother Jean-Paul raises the Charolais beef cattle.
There are six different wines, the grapes for which are all harvested by hand. The 2008 Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Urfe was cool and uncomplicated but, to its credit, not generic. The 2009 rose, made by a direct press of the harvest, was fresh and taut. Good.
Of the four cuvees of CR rouge, two that I tasted (in early 2010) were tank or barrel samples of the 2009 vintage. The first, the Relais du Chateau bottling, was so reduced and gas-y, I couldn’t taste much of anything. The 2009 Vieille Vignes du Chateau, 80 year old vines, fermented without added sulphur and aging in 100 year old foudres, was fluid and pretty and very promising.
Beratard comes from a lieu-dit planted in 1985 on a cool, clayey slope. Part of the wine undergoes thermovinification. The 2008 was cool, spicy and smooth. Pleasant. La Rochette, Futs de Chene, which undergoes a more traditional fermentation, ages for several months in used Burgundy barrels. The 2008 was lightly gamy and spicy. The brothers, like many of their confreres, also do a big business in Bag in Box.


Domaine Robert Serol: Recommended
42370 Renaison; 04.77.64.44.04; 06.08.48.13.18; domaine-serol.com.

When I visited in 1990 I was greeted by Robert Serol, the busy, chatty president of CR’s growers’ syndicat. Son Robert, who did stints with Duboeuf and Australia, in the Barossa Valley. In 1990, the domaine consisted of 8 hectares – which included the two hectare Les Blondins, a joint partnerships with the Troisgros family. Today, the domaine is the largest in the appellation with 20 hectares (which are currently being converted to organic farming). New cellars were built in 1999.
The Serols now make seven cuvees of CR rouge, all but one of which is made by some variation on the theme of carbonic maceration. The first bottling, “Les Originelles,” is the product of younger vines and intended for early drinking. The 2009 was vibrantly fruity. Georges Dubouef would have been proud. A tank sample of the 2009 Vieilles Vignes cuvee was fresh and well-made, a pleasant quaffer. A 2006 was smooth and, curiously, displayed some depth despite coming across as watery. A 2006 “Les Millerands,” from small berries given a cold prefermentation and a more traditional (ie less carbonic) maceration, was seamless though a bit thick, and recalled a good Beaujolais Villages.
Incorruptible is a new cuvee. It’s made with no sulphur during fermentation, and no added yeasts, no added sugar. A tank sample of the 2009 was softer and purer than the other Serol wines. I liked it.
The Serols have enjoyed a long relationship with Restaurant Troisgros whose sommelier determines the selection for Cuvee Troisgros. A tank sample of the 2009, made from old vines, was the juiciest of the wines Serol presented, though it was somewhat hot. Following that cuvee was a tank sample of the 2009 “Les Blondins” from the vineyard owned jointly by the Serols and Troisgros. My sole comment was “Eh.” I haven’t tasted the oaked cuvee, “Les Duelles,” the three roses – one dry, one sweet, one sweet and sparkling.

Domaine Vial/​ Philippe and Jean-Marie Vial: Recommended
42370 St. Andre d’Apchon; 04.77.65.81.04;gaec.vial@​akeonet.com
When I visited in 1990, father Marcel Vial worked with son, Philippe on the domaine’s 9.5 hectares of vines. When Marcel retired in 1998, brother Jean-Marie joined Philippe, who is now president of the local growers syndicat.
At my most recent tasting, in early 2010, only the chardonnay – fleshy and fruity – came across in the 2009 vintage. The rose and the red “Decouverte” were blocked by off odors and flavors that would surely disappear when the wines were finished. Decouverte, from sandy soils, is the early drinking cuvee of red. More serious are two bottlings from Boutheran. The 2008 basic Boutheran, which fermented for about 12 days and aged for six months in tank, was a lightly tart, cherry accented quaffer that would pair nicely with charcuterie. The 2008 Boutheran Vieilles Vignes, from 80 year old vines, was more serious – a silky, smooth light but convincing light red with deliciously ripe but not over-ripe fruit. The Vials also make a barrel-aged CR, a viognier, and a sweet red sparkler “Pink Bulles” and they still raise some Charolais cattle.


Vignoble de Champagny/​Frederic Villeneuve: Recommended
42370 Saint Haon le Vkeux; 04.77.64.42.88; frederic.villeneuve300@​orange.fr

Created in 1968 by Andre Villeneuve, the domaine is now run by Andre’s son Frederic, who had been working with his father since 1997. When Frederic took over completely in 2008, he took on a partner, Jerome Forest. They work 11.5 hectares; harvest is mostly by hand and the wines ferment in stainless steel tanks. They make a bit of Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Urfe. The 2008 Grain de Chardonnay was a fresh, fruit house white to be drunk within the year. Their popular rose, made by a combination of direct press and juice bled from the tanks of fermenting reds, is dry, tart and lively. When I tasted the basic 2009 red in early 2010 it had just been bottled but was smooth and pleasant and promising. The Grande Reserve is made from vines that are 50 to 60 years old. The 2008 was clearly a more serious wine than the “Domaine” bottling and I’d be happy to drink it, say, during lunch at a good wine bar.

Vincent Willenbucher: To Follow
42820 Ambierele; 06.32.42.59.64; Vincent-willenbucher@​orange.fr
Thirty-something Vincent Willenbucher worked in a number of vineyard regions in France and Switzerland before creating this domaine in 2005. His 2008 rose, a direct press of the harvest, was a bit thin and acid. But the 2008s went down very easily. The Cuvee du Bois Charmeur offered bright fruit, a real quaffer; the Cuvee Vielle Vignes (50 to 80 years old), was unfined and unfiltered. Nicely balanced, it had juicy flavors of plums and cherry pits.

COTES DE FOREZ AOC

Status: AOC (2000)
Types of Wine: red, 90% of volume; rose, 10% of an average of 6500 hl yearly.
Zone: 200 hectares – out of a potential of 2000 -- within 17 communes on the left bank of the Loire about 40 kms northwest of St. Etienne, mostly on east or south-east facing slopes at altitudes between 400 and 600 meters.
Grapes: gamay
Soils: chiefly decomposed granite with varying amounts of clay; also volcanic, eg basalt, with varying amounts of clay, which make the most distinctive wines.
Prices: $
Vintages: 2009, 2005, but, in general, DYA


The southernmost of the Loire’s vineyards, the Cote du Forez can trace its history back to documents from 980 when the vines were worked by the monastic orders, notably those from the Abbaye de Savigny, an arm of the Abbaye de Cluny, and later, by the Comtes du Forez. At its height, in 1883, the vineyard area extended over 5043 hectares.
The wines from the Forez were apparently much admired. When I visited in 1990 it was hard to imagine why: some of the best vineyards had been eaten up by urbanization, the region was more involved with the raising of Charolais cattle than with wine production, and, when things vinous were concerned, there was really only one game in town: the Cooperative, whose wines were so lackluster they seemed hardly worth the bother of either making or drinking.
When it was promoted from VDQS status to AOC status in 2000 I shook my head in bewilderment. But things have changed for the better – rather dramatically, given the size of the appellation. Today, in addition to the Cave Cooperative, there are nine individual producers, some of whom are as ambitious and idealistic as any in France. I was pleasantly shocked by the tastings conducted for this edition of the book. There are some mighty tasty wines – both in the AOC and VdP categories – and many indications that the region can go further, captivating us with ever more delectable, site-specific, characterful country wines.
Nearly 15% of the vineyards is farmed organically and the appellation, as a whole, encourages some form of lutte raisonnée as well as cluster thinning, leaf removal and the practice of partial or total cover planting. While maximum yields are set at 55 hl/​ha, in reality, they usually fall within 40 to 50 hl/​ha.
For the most part, the gamay grapes are hand harvested, While a sole producer uses thermovinfication, and a number of producers fermented their reds traditionally – ie destemming, vatting followed, or not, by some barrel age, the majority are given a semi-carbonic maceration for five to fifteen days.
Most vignerons also produce white wine – Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris – as well as sweet rose labeled Vin de Pays d’Urfe. A growing number also make Cerdon-styled sweet, sparkling reds/​roses.
Most of the wine is sold within a 40 km radius of the vineyard area.


PRODUCERS

EXCELLENT


Le Clos de Chozieux/​Jean-Luc Gaumon

TO FOLLOW
Domaine de Couzan/​Frederic Murat Domaine de la Madone/​Gilles Bonnefoy

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Cave Verdier-Logel/​Odile & Jacky Logel

CULT/​EXTREME

Cave Mondon-Demeure/​Laurent Demeure

BY THE GLASS

Cave des Vignerons Foreziens Cave Real


Le Clos de Chozieux/​Jean-Luc Gaumon: Excellent
42130 Leigneux; 04.77.24.38.54;clos.chozieux@​wanadoo.fr


Jean-Luc, a former cook who studied viticulture and enology at the Lycee de Macon, and brother Yves, an ex-mechanic, took over the family’s three hectares in 2001. Since that time, they have grown the property to ten hectares which they farm under the supple, eco-friendly guidelines of lutte raisonne and, with the exception of Chardonnay, the grapes are harvested by hand.. The domaine takes its name from one of the oldest lieux-dits in the region, whose existence was documented in 1024. The Gaumons make my favorite wines within the Cote du Forez appellation; I sense they could go further but their wines are already well made and charming.
The Gaumons produce seven different wines, starting with a traditional sparkler (which I didn’t taste) and two cuvees of Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Urfe. The basic bottling, made from 7 to 8 year old vines and fermed and aged in tank, is, in 2009, fragrant, fresh and clean – a nice house white; part of the second bottling ages in barrel, 20% of which are new. The 2008 was pellucid and flavorful, with a bit of complexity. Served cold, the oak, rather masking the wine, served as a pleasant seasoning.
The Gaumon’s rose carries the Cote du Forez appellation when its dry; VdP d’Urfe when it has some residual sugar. It’s made by a direct press of the grapes with, in weak years, the addition of wine bled from the fermenting reds. The 2009, with a barely perceptible amount of residual sugar, was a fresh, taut, VdP. The brothers decided to leave the residual sugar to balance the wine’s substantial acidity.
The drink-me-up red Forez is the Cuvee de Chabert. Named for a former owner of the domaine, it is made from young vines and ferments in tank, in whole bunches, receiving a short 5 day vatting at low temperatures with regular racking. The 2009 was a pretty quaffer, indeed, with fresh strawberry flavors and light tannins.
The Vieilles Vignes cuvee comes from 60 year old vines on granitic soils and ages in demi-muids. The 2008 was steely and stony, as if the strawberry and cherry fruit had been squeezed out of the bedrock. A country red with character, it was very pure and mouthwatering. The 2009 was deeper, richer and riper. Between these two cuvees is “Terroir Basaltique,” from 35 year old vines on volcanic soils. The 2008, suppler than the Vieilles Vignes, was another spunky, cool mountain red.

Domaine de Couzan/​Frederic Mourat: To Follow
42890 Sail sous Couzan; 06.85.40.44.73;viti@​domaine-de-couzan.fr

Frederic Mourat, a former actor-comedian, created his domaine (now 3 hectares) in 2002, at the age of 48. Also a geology teacher, Mourat studied viticulture and enology at Blancfort in Bordeaux and did stints at chateaux Ducru-Beaucaillou and Haut Batailley. Viticulture is eco-friendly, harvest is by hand. Mourat uses no yeasts and, in general, is a non-interventionist winemaker. His good intentions have not yet resulted in good wines. Of four wines tasted, the only one without flaws was a 2008 rose “Cuvee Metallos,” a tart, dry wake-up-call.

Cave des Vignerons Foreziens: By the Glass
42130 Trelins; 04.77.24.00.12; vignerons.foreziens@​wanadoo.fr; vigneronsforeziens.fr
Founded in 1959, the Cave released its first wine in 1962. In the mid-90s, it accounted for 98% of the wines of the Cotes du Forez and had more than 200 members, most of whom delivered their entire harvest. Today the Cave has about 65 members and accounts for about 75% of the appellation’s production. Additionally, it markets the wines of some local growers, such as Domaine de la Madone (qv), Domaine Real (qv) and Cave Verdier Logel (qv).
While there has been some investment in the cellars – the addition of stainless steel tanks, for example – and a new and seemingly ambitious cellar master as of 2008, the wines are generally as lackluster today as they were in 1990.
A 2007 Chardonnay VdP d’Urfe was fresh, clean and innocuous; a 2007 rose had no flavor whatsoever; a 2008 rose demi-sec, VdP d’Urfe, tasted like sugar water and the 2009 version was only slightly more interesting.
The Cave produces five cuvees of Cotes du Forez rouge, mostly using carbonic fermentation. The 2008 basic red, chiefly from granitic soils, was smooth but nothing more; ditto for the bland 2008 “Les Loges,” from selected parcels.
The Domaine de Montaubourg red is made from the vines of a sole proprietor, Thierry Barre, whose grandfather was one of the Cave’s original members. The 2007 was a real step up from the more basic reds, with light mineral and strawberry notes, but the 2008 was tart and somewhat volatile.
The Pierre Dellenbach cuvee is named after the Cave’s founding president. Made from grapes grown on purely volcanic soils, the 2006 was supple and insinuating with a hint of tarriness. I could imagine drinking it in Leo’s bookstore. L’Astree, essentially the same as the Pierre Dellenbach bottling, spends some time in barrel which adds a bit of structure. Still, it would really only be of interest in a local café.


Domaine de la Madone: To Follow
Gilles Bonnefoy,42600 Champdieu; 04.77.97.07.33.vins-g-bonnefoy.com:
Gilles Bonnefoy comes from Champdieu but wandered the world (among other things, selling Gallo wine to his countrymen) before returning home to start his own winery from scratch in 1997. His domaine has grown to 8 hectares and over the years Bonnefoy has converted the vines to biodynamic farming. He harvests by hand, uses indigenous yeasts, and, as he does not chaptalize, his wines are usually under 12 degrees alcohol.
Bonnefoy’s marsanne VdP d’Urfe comes from young vines planted on volcanic soils, fermented in stainles steel tanks The wines age on their lees for five months and are lightly filtered before bottling. Tasted in 2010, I found the 2008 fragrant, with some lingering fermenation odors, tart and lively. It still needed time to come together. Perhaps the 2009 will improve, too. It came across watery with notes of hard candy (which I sometimes find in young whites fermented in tank at low temperatures.)
His 2009 Cote du Forez Rose, from volcanic soils, simply tasted stripped. Predomininantly young vines assembled with 30% of older vines grown on volcanic soils, Bonnefoy’s basic red undergoes a partial carbonic maceration for a bit over a week. The 2008 was cool and tart with pleasant cherry-like fruit. Cute. The 2009 was tart, too, but also lightly animal.
The cuvee “Memoire de Madone” is made from vines 60 years or older. It vats for ten days, ages for six months in twice-used barrels, and is fined with eggs before bottling without filtration. By far the best of his wines that I tasted, the 2007 was fragrant, as cute as the basic 2008 but also stony and site-specific. A characterful country red.


Domaine Real/​ Stephane Real:
42560 St Priest; 04.77.76.63.04; famillereal@​hotmail.fr

Before brothers Stephane and Laurence took over the family’s 5.5 hectares of vines in 1999, the Reals, who also raise dairy cattle, delivered their grapes to the cooperative. A rudimentary wine cellar – with a wooden press, fiberglass and stainless steel tanks and a couple of large wood vats – also serves as a home for the cows during the winter.
The Reals produce six wines, half in the Cote du Forez appellation, made from gamay, and half Vin de Pays.
The 2008 Cote du Forez “Les Perrieres,” a lieu-dit, was a cool mountain red; the 2008 Cuvee Acquarelle, though similar, was leaner and meaner. Real also makes a pure Syrah, a Vin de Pays. The 2008 had a slightly sour finish but was my favorite wine of the three.
The Reals also make both a dry (AOC) and a semi-sweet (VdP) rose as well as a Viognier (VdP). Their wines are distributed by the cooperative.

Cave Mondon-Demeure/​Laurent Demeure: Cult, Extreme
42560 Boisset Saint Priest; laurentdemeure@​fre.fr; cavemondon.fr
Seekers of vinous footnotes, look no further! What may be the southern most domaine in the Loire also makes some of its most eccentric – though often tasty – wines.
Until 2003 brothers Fernand and Daniel Mondon concentrated primarily on dairy farming though they did grow grapes – which they delivered to the cooperative. In 2002/​ 2003they withdrew from the cooperative to co and when Fernand retired in 2006, they took on Laurent Demeure to work their six hectares.
The no frills cellars, built in 2003, are equipped with fiberglass and stainless steel tanks. Harvest is by hand and the wines ferment with no added “enological products,” yeasts or otherwise. The wines are lightly filtered before being bottled by a firm located in Beaujolais.
The domaine makes, at least count, 16 different wines -- including two vins de paille and a red ice wine -- of which I’ve tasted only five. Sixty percent is sold at the property; the remaining forty percent to wine shops and restaurants, including such Michelin stars as Troisgros in Roanne and Pic in Valence who surely take the winery’s most extreme outliers.
Really, where else are you going to get a potentially illegal blend of Gamay, Noah, Baco, Plantet, Rayon d’Or, Chancellor that aged three years in oak? (For the wine adventurer, it’s called “Boutonniere.”)
Two of the wines I tasted were Cote du Forez. The first, the 2009 rose, was somewhat flat and bland with caramel-like overtones. The second, a red called Caractere, was smooth, cool, a nice local discovery.
“La Vigne d'Aldebertus,” named for a local 11th century monk who tended vineyards here, is a VdP d’Urfe made from viognier grown on a slope with volcanic soils. The 2009, with about 8 grams residual sugar, was perfumed, a bit hot and rough but tasty. The 2009 rose demi-sec ‘D’Autrefois,” another VdP d’Urfe, was quite nice, actually, a nicely balanced, fresh stream of sweet strawberry fruit.
“Le JaJa a GeGe”, a Vin de Table made from the hybrid Plantet (aka 5455) is a sweet, late harvest red. The 2008, harvested on December 3rd, would make an intriguingly pleasant aperitif – with its sweet-spicy flavors of quince paste.


Domaine du Poyet/​Jean-Francois Arnaud: Highly Recommended
42130 Marcilly le Chatel; 04.77.97.48.54; 06.71.41.36.46;domainedupoyet@​sfr.fr

When Jean-Francois Arnaud took over the family’s 8 hectares of vines in 1995, he began to bottle his own wine rather than deliver his harvest to the cooperative. Arnaud, who studied viticulture at the Lycee Agricole in Macon, makes a single Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Urfe – the 2009 was cool, fresh and satisfying – and four versions of Cote du Forez, all harvested by hand.
Arnaud’s rose is a mix of direct press and wine bled from the cuvees destined to make his reds. The 2008 was taut and dry, with a bit of co2 to give it lift. His basic red “Fruite”, is meant for early drinking and the 2009, smooth, lightly tart and pleasant, certainly fit the bill. The Cuvee du Poyet comes from a lieu-dit (single vineyard). The 2009, more refined than the normal red, was focused and charming; the 2008, lighter and leaner, could be enjoyed as a strong rose. The Cuvee des Vieux Ceps, from a 1.5 hectare parcel whose vines are over 50 years old, has the most depth and focus. The 2007, tart and spicy, was particularly admirable, given the vintage; and the 2008 was bright, streamlined and pure, with a light tannic punch.


Cave Verdier Logel/​Odile & Jacky Logel: Highly Recommended
42130 Marcilly le Chatel; 04.77.97.41.95; cave.verdierlogel@​wanadoo.fr;verdier-logel.com


Odile Verdier’s family, like many in the region, raised Charolais cattle and delivered the grapes from their tiny vineyard to the cooperative. When Verd

July 2, 2011: A Grape called Monica, a Wine called Chimbanta, More wines from Sardinia:

2007 Chimbanta IGT, from Dettori
Chimbanta means 50, so the vines were 50 or 50-ish years old. The grape is Monica -- I don't know why my autocomplete doesn't add "Lewinsky." Originally from Spain, or so the theory goes, Monica is now considered an indigenous grape in Sardinia.
With 17,5 % alcohol, the wine was hot. Open and generous, its flavor profile was dominated by baked cherries underscored by bark. For no apparent reason, it reminded me of "Racines," a big, potent red from from Claude Courtois, Touraine’s non-interventionist pioneer. Soft and wrm but potent. With a bit of aeration, it began to come across Port-y. Which leads to Chimanta #2.

Chimbanta #2
2006 Chimbanta + Battoro: Also made from Monica, this red weighed in at a modest 15,5% alcohol, with something like 50 to 70 g/l of residual sugar.
As Paolo Dettori explained, the grapes were picked twenty days after the rest of the harvest because everyone was so tired. By that time, the grapes had shriveled.
How many times have we accidentally stumbled on the truth? This was one of the best Sardinian wines I tasted and, based on very limited experience, it seemed to indicate the style of wine -- or one of the styles of wine -- that might be best suited for the unique growing conditions of this island.
Unlike many of the other wines I tasted, this one was beautifully balanced, fresh and coherent. A plush wine with black cherry flavors, it would have paired beautifully with blue cheese or, indeed, with many runny, stinky cheeses. Think sweet Rasteau, only much better.

June 27, 2011: Two Sardinian Cannonaus

The small concrete tanks in which Dettori's wines age before bottling. (A picture of the bottle described is below.)
2005 Dettore rosso, Romangia IGT,
Pure Cannonau – aka Grenache – from Paolo Dettore, Sardinia’s first producer to convert his vines to biodynamic farming. The grapes ferment in small, temperature-controlled concrete and stainless steel tanks, and age for an indeterminate period of time in even smaller concrete tanks.
The 2005 weighed in at 15.5 % alcohol – relatively demure for a Sardinian wine. Its color was evolving toward brick and its nose blended notes of spice and alcohol. On the palate, some of the innate sweetness of Grenache came out, a sweetness that was underscored by the alcohol. The wine was pure-fruited, slightly raisiny, and dulcet. There was more than a little VA but, in this instance, that wasn’t a problem. At least not for me. We were having a BBQ and I figured these flavors would marry perfectly with the charred meat. A different expression of Grenache.

Two Cannonaus for a BBQ
2005 Perda Rubia Cannonau, from prephylloxera vines, bottled unfiltered. The wine was darker, with richer saturation than the Dettori, and though it was less alcoholic (14.5%), it came across as more alcoholic – perhaps because the vines were on their own rootstock. (Vintners who work with prephylloxera vines frequently tell me that the wines, though lower in alcohol, seem richer than the wines from their grafted vines.) Plush aromas of kirsch and sweet spices in the nose and a sensation of sweetness that you sometimes find in the most extreme Grenaches of the Roussillon. Better with cheese, I though, than with BBQ.

April 21, 2001:

Francis Cotat, May 2009
Beginning to see the light at the end of the Sancerre tunnel, I've only one more producer to review (Francois Cotat). Here's what I've just written about Francis and Pascal Cotat:


In late fall of 1990 I made my first pilgrimage to the cellars of the Cotat brothers, Francis and Paul. My appointment was with Francis and my friend, the brilliant and hilarious caviste Jean-Francois Dubreuil, on his way back to his native Vendee from Beaujolais where he had been selecting his primeurs, accompanied me.
A grey day. We parked the car somewhere level and climbed a narrow dirt path to the barn that served as the winemaking facility. It was filled with aging demi-muids and a press circa 1880. We were met by Francis, a thin man of a certain age, with thinning reddish hair and a tentative smile. At first blush, he seemed self-effacing but, like an old diesel engine, once contact had been made, purred on cheerily for hours.
A born raconteur, he explained the unofficial motto of the domaine: "On n'a pas le droit mais on le prend" (we don't have the right but we take it). He explained: Sancerre sometimes gets distinctly smaller billing than Chavignol on the Cotat label because, INAO be damned, the Cotats believe that, as Chavignol had been more famous than Sancerre, they were cheated out of their rightful appellation.
Anyone who has spent any time drinking a wide sampling of Sancerres will be tempted to agree. The Cotats don’t have much land but what they do have is (pace, Spencer Tracey) cherce. The two branches of the family share four hectares of hillside vines, all on Kimmeridgian marl, on the regions most celebrated slopes. Francis and Pascal, Francis’s son, make, among other wines, a Les Monts Damnes bottling and a La Grande Cote bottling.
Cotat could extend the application of his aforementioned dictum much further. For example, by law, Sancerre is supposed to be dry but taste a Cotat wine: is it dry or is it sweet? Mostly they’re dry, albeit with a bit of residual sugar but you never really know until you taste. And then you don’t care because these are, for the most part, very special, cult Sancerres. Big, mouthwatering, Rhone-like Sancerres. The Cotat family has been making Sancerre that might or might not be "moelleux" for more than fifty years -- long before the trendy cuvees of '89 and ‘90. (And the Cotats have always made Sancerre to age. Restaurants lucky enough to carry their wines, often list a half-dozen or more vintages.)
His wines, Cotat told us, are made as they have always been made. Hand harvest, of course -- given the pitch of the Cotat's steep vineyards, they can't even use a tractor. Organic fertilizers. No destemming. The merest decanting to keep most of the "nourishing yeasts." Barrel fermentation. No temperature control. No fining. No filtering. The wines are racked at the end of January -- the week before the new moon -- and again, two months later, when the phase of the moon favorably affects atmospheric pressure and tides.
We taste the '89 la Grande Cote. It’s rich and textured, an opulent flow of licorice, peach, apricot, blossoms and almonds. Completely original. Jean-Francois and I were in wine orbit while Francis was telling us how they’d judge the ripeness of the harvest. Not ripe enough? No problem. He and his dozen or so harvesters, all friends, went fishing.
Onto the '89 Grand Cote moelleux, really more of a demi-sec, reprised the flavors of the sec, adding hints of oak, pineapple and orange zests. An '88 Monts Damnees was another stunner, simultaneously incisive and luxuriant.
Then the '93 la Grand Cote and the lightly off-dry '94 les Monts
Damnes. Surprisingly they each recalled Champagne (without the bubbles) as well as chenin. (Maybe not so surprising, given the soil similarities with Champagne and the linked DNA lineage with chenin.) Each wine was creamy, lime-tinged and minerally, with mellow fruit flavors and a hint of old wood. A bit rustic for some tastes, but I adored them.
In a state of euphoria we went for lunch in Sancerre. Jean-Francois, another born raconteur, explained the concept of the Screwpull to Francis, who’d never heard of the gadget. (Jean-Francois later sent him one.) And on to the Clos Neore to visit Francis’s good friend, Edmond Vatan, a fellow unreconstructed artiste-vigneron. More tasting, more stories, and back to the Cotat cellar where we sat on improvised benches and pulled corks, tasted wine and told stories late into the night.
In 1997, when Pascal, officially, at least, succeeded Francis, they built spanking clean new cellars in Sancerre. Pascal had a garage just beyond the town’s centre and they extended this to accommodate a pneumatic press that feeds the juice of the crushed grapes, by gravity, into tanks – and later into old demi-muids. To one side, there’s a small, rustically cute tasting room which is where I had my most recent tasting with Francis and Pascal in May 2009.
Between the two visits, I never missed an opportunity to drink Cotat. For example, in the fall of 2005 I tasted the 2004 rose and the 2004 La Grande Cote. Meaty and high strung, the first was a rose that drank like a white. Very mineral, vibrant with citrus zests, it was both a delight and a discover as well as a serious rose. In fact, it recalled Rose de Ricey, the drop-dead roses from the Champagne region. (Alas, they are phasing out the rose!) The Grande Cote was rich and lively, with a gram or two of residual sugar. With its deep mineral and quinine flavors, it was absolutely riveting, a vin d’exception.
Our May 2009 tasting opened with the lightly off-dry 2008 Monts Damnes that had been bottled barely a month earlier. Minerals, lime, stone, great freshness and a remarkable amount of personality, particularly for a wine so recently bottled. Then an unfined, unfiltered rose that was labeled Vin de Table. Why not Sancerre? I asked. Because the local politicians had declassified the land which they wanted to use for a parking lot. All politics is local. And often, as in this case, moronic. The wine was a pure jewel -- firm, mineral, simultaneously dry and tender, with scents of rose petals.
Far from lost in the midst of a four-vintage vertical of La Grande Cote was a dulcet but definitive tisane of a 2005 Monts Damnes but first, the 2008 Grande Cote that provoked my “eureka” moment.
Like the first Monts Damnes, this wine, too, had just been bottled. It seemed to contain the breeze itself, so expressive was it of the great ventilation of its site. It was tender, too, and had a resilient core of minerals, quinine, and herbal tea which mixed with salt in the long, long finish. And, Eureka!, it reminded me of Vouvray! I dare anyone to have guessed the grape variety. And I started thinking that maybe the reason we all love Cotat wines so much – or one of the reasons – is that they recall great Vouvrays – or at least meet them in wine paradise.
The 2007, very much in the family style, had beguiling notes of lime and lime zest but showed better later that year. (See below.) The 2006 had delicate peach notes and a creamy, mellow texture. The wine just flowed like a fast stream, spreading flavors of peach and herbal tea over the palate. The plump, slightly hot 2005, perhaps the richest of them all, seemed closed, coming across as less expressive than the others at that moment.
Next we tasted Pascal’s first vintage of La Grande Cote, the 1997. Lightly oxidized 1997 – the neck level was low –, it was nearly viscous, with light scents of pineapple, creamed corn, preserve lemon, lemon zest and a long, herbal tea finish. Then the off-dry ’96, which added notes of licorice to the above palette.
The Cotats make a Cuvee Speciale when, in a given year, a specific “lot” seems to merit its own bottling. And so Francis uncorked two.
The first was a ’90 La Grande Cote Cuvee Speciale. Francis explained that hail had removed all the leaves on the vines and the grapes had burned. On the nose, the wine seemed oxidized – which Francis thought came about when he changed the corks – but on the palate, the wine was fresh. Hot but fresh, potent and creamy, with flavors of butterscotch, stone, chamomile, tilleul and minerals.
The last wine tasted was the 2003 La Grande Cote Cuvee Speciale, harvested with a potential alcohol of 18%. The wine spent two years in oak and had about 25 grams residual sugar. A pure delight, a nuanced moelleux, a cream mixed with honey and herbal tea. Then on to lunch at Cheu l’Zib where we brought all the opened bottles and supplemented them with good reds from Menetou-Salon.
One last tasting note: I spent New Year’s Eve 2009 with Guy and Annie Bossard in the heart of the land of Muscadet. One of the bottles I brought was Cotat’s 2007 La Grande Cote, which I insisted he taste blind. While he applied himself to the challenge at hand, I wrote, the wine, 13% alcohol, has evolved beautifully since tasted in May. It is supple, off-dry and tangy, with flavors of verbena, lime, grapefruit, mineral and stone. It’s creamy, with grassy accents and mouthwatering minerality. Very real. Unique. A wine to savor, a presence. Guy’s first comments: “finesse, elegance and power; harmonious, good progression, powerful. He guesses it’s a chenin blanc and is stunned when I say it’s sauvignon blanc. Well, he says, it must be a grand terroir to so dominate the varietal and he asks if it’s from Benjamin Dagueneau, as it’s in the refined, harmonious style of Francois Chidaine with whom Benjamin had worked. So where do you put all that on a point scale? Pretty high up, I’d say.

March 1, 2011: Domaine Bailly-Reverdy truly embodies the evolution in quality that has taken place in Sancerre.

The Bailly-Reverdy Clan
Domaine Bailly-Reverdy incarnates, in the best sense, the evolution that has taken place in Sancerre over the past twenty years. When I first visited the property in 1990, the wines were hit-or-miss, with Chavignol the clear stand out. Now, every single wine is heartily recommended and, frankly, I’m tempted to classify the domaine as “Excellent.”
Before Bernard Bailly took over domaine in 50s, wines sold to negociants or to local cafes where they were delivered in barrel. Bernard began bottling all of his production. He had married Marie-Therese Bailly in 1952 and added her name to the label – an effective way of distinguishing their family the many other Baillys in the neighborhood. He also adapted his vineyards to produce quality wines – selecting the best rootstock for each soil type. Of the Baillys five sons, two joined Bernard on the domaine – Jean-Francois, who died in 2006, and Franck, the baby of the bunch, who studied viticulture and enology in Bordeaux. Bernard retired in 1996. The next generation is represented by Aurelien, Jean-Francois’ son, who studied viticulture and enology in Montpellier and worked at Fromm in New Zealand and Domaine Drouhin in Oregon before returning home and joining his uncle in 2010.
Franck currently works 22 hectares, mostly in the commune of Bue in addition to five hectares in Bue. He subscribes to the principles of sustained farming and has installed weather stations in key spots to monitor his vines as closely as possible.Grapes are hand harvested, sorted and pressed slowly. Most are then transferred to small, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for fermentation. Only natural yeasts are used.
The domaine’s generic Sancerre blanc is called La Mercy Dieu. A blend of grapes from different soils, it’s bottled by the spring following the harvest. The 2009, fresh, focused and tense, seemed ever so slightly off-dry, with definite flavors of pineapple mingled with minerals, citrus and steel. A satisfying and adaptable – though upscale -- meal wine.
The “Chavignol” bottling is made from grapes on four hectares within that commune. Soils are predominantly argilo-calcaire and about one-third caillottes. Harmonious and nicely balanced – with the acidity lightening the perception of 15% alcohol --, the 2009, full and even more tense than La Mercy Dieu, added distinct aromas of pear to floral, lime, peach and chalk notes. Very nice.
Grapes from the domaine’s single hectare of vines on Monts Damnes ferment in a mix of new barriques and barriques used for the previous year’s wine. With 13% alcohol, the 2009 was mouthfilling, with flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruit and mild notes of vanilla. Minerality and a chalky quality, however, upstaged the fruit flavors, making this a very fine, pedigreed and savory Sancerre.
Made by a direct press of the grapes, the 2010 rose was full and dry. It could have used a bit more backbone but I loved the fleeting aromas of fraises de bois (wild strawberries). f
The domaine’s red is made from old vines growing on argilo-calcaire soils. The extent of destemming depends on the ripeness of tannins in the stems. The grapes ferment in tank, with regular punching down and pumping over until the end of fermentation when the wine is transferred to barrels – some of which are new – for malolactic. It ages in barrel for a year before bottling. The 2008 was a cool stream of black cherry and black tea, with the lively acidity of the vintage.

Feb. 15, 2011 : Among the many humbling things that occur when you write an update of a previous guide, is that you find a wonderful producer who you managed to overlook in your first edition. Meet Pierre Ragon, Domaine Trotereau in the appellation of Quincy, a satellite of Sancerre.
Domaine Trotereau/​ Pierre Ragon:
I wrote my first impressions of this domaine’s wines in the pleasant haze of the memory of a meal I’d eaten the night before. The time was January 2010. The meal: boudin blanc made by one of my neighbors in Touraine who had been the village boucher-charcutier before his retirement. I served the boudin with potatoes mashed with sweet butter and crème fraiche and drank what remained of a bottle of 2007 Quincy from Domaine Trotereau.
What should be evident from the fact that I had polished off the entire bottle myself is that I really liked the wine. It easily fell into my PMG category.
When I opened the bottle, the day before, the wine greeted me with notes of menthol and pine and a light whiff that seemed to belong in the Muscat family. Full and creamy, it made me think of descriptions of historic Quincys – the kind of Quincys that might explain why this was the second of all regions to win Appellation Controllee status. Its slight oxidation came across as a nuance. It was beautifully ripe, mineral, pellucid, almost off dry, with full apple flavors and a cleansing citric finish. Chavignol came to mind and then, Eureka!, Cotat. This was the Cotat of Quincy. Which brings to mind my first successful food & wine pairing with this particular wine: a raw endive and well-aged Comte salad with a mayonnaise-based dressing. What a bridge of flavor!
Pierre Ragon, Trotereau’s owner, is the last in line of a domaine created in 1700. He took over in 1973 and could, arguably, make wine even better than he already does – in the sense that he could make more “sophisticated” or “technically” perfect wine. But, from me to you, I woulnd’t hesitate to order a Trotereau Quincy anytime, anywhere – even though I might not recommend it to those who prefer a more polished, worldly wine.
Ragon is somewhat old school and has no reason to change. He has 13 hectares of vines, three of them over 80 years old, the remainder planted since 1985. He prunes hard to keep yields low, is generally eco-friendly. The majority of the grapes are machine harvested and fermented in enamel-lined steel tanks. They spend a good four to six months on their lees before bottling.
The 2006, even more alcoholic (13.5) than the 2007, was slightly less phenolically ripe. Still it was full and tangy and quite mineral, with the same level of oxidation as the 2007. I finished the bottle as I did the 2006 Vieilles Vignes. With notes of honey, lime, verbena, tea and steel, this was a rich, full, gorgeously pellucid Quincy. I could not help but think “Cotat”.
The “normal” 2008 was highstrung and ample, a characterful wine with flavors of quinine and herbal tea and a lipsmackingly long finish. The 2009 opened with flavors of gooseberry, pipi de chat, grapefruit, minerals and stone. Its bright acidity lightened the weight of the wine’s 14% alcohol and masked any sense of sweetness. With aeration, the wine’s nuances, its herbal tea aspects emerged, as well as flavors of melon and peach and an appetizing bitterness. Not a simple wine. I’d love to open a bottle right now.


Feb. 8, 2011: Dealing with my notes from the Salon des Vins de Loire and had fun updating this entry on a singular Sancerre producer:

Domaine Vincent Gaudry :
Another domaine to watch. Forewarned: many of Gaudry’s wines are sui generis… and downright fascinating.
Vincent Gaudry, 36, took over his family’s 9 hectares of vines in Sury-en-Vaux in 1993 and began the conversion to organic farming, followed, in turn, by a conversion to biodynamic farming. He has received Demeter’s certification. And he has gone further. If there’s a name for his system, I don’t know it. Let’s call it spiritual viticulture. Gaudry says he works with his energy and his emotions. In this, he’s guided by an old vigneron who “speaks the language of energy.” He recently installed three menhirs on his land. Actually, “installed” is not the right word. He tried to place these multi-ton blocks of stone in a triangular formation on his silex soils where he thought they would most benefit his vines only to find that they had, on their own initiative, moved to where they thought they should be. No joke.
Now I know other idealistic, talented young vintners who’ve adopted a similar philosophy. They abandoned traditional viticulture and felt it sufficient to go into the vineyards and give off good vibes. Their land quickly reverted to a jungle-like state of nature. Still others rely on energy and emotions but rarely speak about it or take it as far as Gaudry has – and still make good wine.
As you might suspect, yields are kept low, between 35 to 40 hl/​ha. Harvest is by hand. Only wild yeasts are used.
Most of Gaudry’s production is Sancerre blanc, of which he seems to make a new cuvee year after year.
“Le Tournebride” is a bottling that comes from 30 year old vines on a mix of the three major soils – terres blanches, caillottes and silex. Tank fermented, it spends eight months on its fine lees before bottling. I tasted the 2010 a week after it had been bottled. It was very young and tight with good balance, a satisfying thread of sur lee marrow, and flavors of mineral and slate. The 2006, 12.5 alcohol, tasted in 2009, was a quick trip to Chablis-land. Perfectly ripe, the wine was structured and fresh with lovely minerality as well as flavors of lime and stone.
“Melodie de Vieilles Vignes” is the appropriately lyrical name for the cuvee made from 60 year old vines on Kimmeridgian marl soils. It spends eight months on its fine lees and is bottled without filtration. The 2010, with a truly vigorous thread of sur lie marrow, wa deep and racy, with ingratiating flavors of lemon, ginger and mint. Bright and fresh, it definitely qualified as PMG. The 2006, tasted in 2009, was a Sancerre for haute cuisine: big, fresh, textured, quite mineral with appetizing flavors of lemon zests.
Then there’s Mi-Chemin, another white which is not made every year. It comes from grapes grown on silex rich soils and consists of a single barrique – 300 bottles. The barrel is positioned at a specific point in the cellar that induces it to give off energy which, in turn, translates into a singular sappiness and minerality in the wine. (I asked Gaudry if he was applying principles of Feng Shui but he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.) Gaudry hopes the energy produced by this barrel will permeate his entire cellar. This bottling is neither fined nor filtered.
The 2009 was yet another example of Chablis GC in Sancerre – even though these wines grew on flinty soils. The grape variety disappeared. The wine was entirely terroir-driven, with flavors of minerals, lemon and lime and a very long citrus-mineral finish. Another PMG.
Gaudry has one hectare of pinot noir. Vincengetorix is the name of Gaudry’s red Sancerre which is destemmed, ferments in resin tanks. Gaudry adds a layer of co2 and covers the tanks. There’s no temperature control and Gaudry does nothing other than “regulate the energy” – for example, by opening a door. The wine ages for ten months or a year in old oak barrels. It is bottled without filtration. The 2009 was sui generis: light in color and saturation, it was dense, pure, cool, and lightly tannic, with flavors of spice and black tea. Characterful and mesmerizing. The 2005, tasted in 2009, needed a bit more time to digest its oak but the wine was still admirable – fresh, with lovely ripe strawberry and plum fruit and fine balance.
“Le Sang des Serfs” corresponds to another red. The grapes are not destemmed, ferment in barrel and the wine is not filtered at bottling. The pun in the name is deliberate. Gaudry is not talking about venison; he’s talking about “the people” and there is an old-fashioned aspect to the wine in the best sense of the word. The 2008, tasted in January 2011, was utterly seductive, like a enthralling woman who becomes more beautiful the more you know her. On a more prosaic level: muted cherry and cherry pit flavors mixed with black tea, dried fruit and sweet spices. Yes, PMG.


December 28, 2010: A Bow to the Baumards:

I find myself getting into wine arguments on the Blogosphere. A recent kerfuffle concerned the Quarts de Chaume of Domaine des Baumard, long a personal favorite. I won’t go into the particularities of the argument here: they involved accusations of over-cropping and use of high tech equipment like cryoxegenation, neither of which was proven by the accusers. I plunged in, with my own variation on “J’accuse!” And a short-lived, unfinished debate ensued.
I’m not reopening that argument at this time. I simply would like to share tasting notes on two recent vintages of Baumard’s Quart de Chaume – finished with an elegant screwcap, by the way.
The first is the 2005 which I drank with Guy and Annie Bossard on January 1, 2010. It was a superb wine, sublimely fresh, with a thread of co2, layer upon layer of quilted satin texture, a veritable nectar of honey and preserved fruit, of quinine and black tea, that, despite its richness, left the palate revitalized and clean. Such specificity, length and complexity. Downright thrilling. Guy shook his head in admiration and said, “C’est top!”
2005 was a great growing season; 2006, not so much. The dry whites from the Loire are just fine but it was not a great vintage for the stickies. Yet Baumard came through beautifully.
I drank the 2006 on Christmas day, this past week, with the Osorio-Nau family in Bourgueil. More moelleux than doux, the wine was honeyed and floral, with good acidity and beautiful balance. A lovely mélange of honey, quince, lemon zests which, like its predecessor, left the palate fresh and clean, with a lingering memory of lusciousness.


December 22, 2010: A gaggle of lesser-known Sancerres.

Hubert Brochard
Chavignol
(The AOC wines are signed “Hubert”; the VdP, “Henry”.
2008 Sancerre Blanc VdP du Val de Loire “Les Carisannes”: Appealing white peach, floral nose. 2008 acid but extremely well cushioned. Bright lemon zest flavors. Better than quite a few AOCs. Nice indeed.
2008 Sauvignon Blanc “Selection Henry Brochard”: Less phenolically ripe than Carisannes, dominated by flavors of gooseberry and green pea. Forceful 2008 acidity and good mineral undertones. Also AOC level.
2008 Sancerre blanc (seems entry level): ample, with floral scents and a tinge of honey. The 2008 acidity is extremely well cushioned. The wine is crystalline, rather elegant, with a long mineral and citrus zest finish. Very good indeed.
2007 Sancerre rouge: smooth and tender, flavors dominated by black tea with a backdrop of cherries. Discreet, light tannins. An omelet and a glass of wine. But drink up.


Domaine Francois Crochet (formerly Robert Crochet)
Bue
2006 Sancerre blanc Le Chene Marchand: nose evolving lightly toward Chenin blanc. Ample, textured, perhaps a gram of residual sugar, also saline. Real sense of terroir. Not majestic but in the peerage. A Sancerre with flavor and vigor.


Gerard & Pierre Morin
Bue
2005 Sancerre rouge: Cool, discreet and delicious. Understated and I can’t help but love it. Light tannins, pure and transparent. You’d never guess it was over 12% alcohol. (It’s 13.) Definitely PMG. I polished off the entire bottle.

Jean-Paul Picard
Bue
2005 Sancerre blanc Cuvee Prestige: the color of florentined gold (I suspect from partial oak aging for 10 to 20% of the wine). Smooth, creamy, ever so slightly vegetal, quite mineral, saliva-inducing tartness. Well made. High quality, with sense of place.

David Sautereau
Crezancy
2006 Sancerre blanc: Straightforward gooseberry-grapefruit nose. Coherent and well made with an appetizing scent of lime. Good middle of the road, solid bistro Sancerre.

Domaine Tinel-Blondelet/​La Croix Canat:
A solid producer of Pouilly-Fume since 1985, Tinel-Blondelet also makes an admirable Sancerre. The 2006 blanc, tasted in December 2010, was as fresh as a spring morning. A racy wine, with a thread of sur lie carbonation, it was extremely mineral and evolving gently toward Chenin-like flavors. Whites from 2006 can sometimes seem flatfooted. Not this one. It soared.

Michel Vattan
Maimbray
2008 Sancerre blanc: Creamed corn and hard candy in the nose. Vivid acidity but more refined than most 2008 acidity and flavors riper than many in that year. Ample and lightly saline. Sense of a good job on exalted terroir.

December 14, 2010: noteworthy biodynamic wines from Alphonse Mellot.

2008 Sancerre blanc “Satellite”: This is a new cuvee, from two hectares of vines in Chavignol on the Cul de Beaujeu and les Monts Damnes. Alphonse #19 told me that they had had these vines for 50 years, and own an additional two, but had either assembled the grapes with other lots or sold them. (The latter is hard to understand but ipse dixit.) To anyone, like me, who loves the Sancerres from Chavignol, this is cuvee to follow – though I wonder if the name will change to reflect its privileged origins. The 2008 acidity was there, particularly in mid-palate, but the wine was never shrill. Very good ripeness for the year, with flavors of lime and grapefruit zest.

2008 Sancerre blanc “Les Romains:” Some creamed corn, 2008 acidity but the wine is well upholstered. The acidity is more pungent in the citric finish. To follow.

2008 Sancerre rouge “La Moussiere”: a bit gamy with notes of caramel but, for now, dominated by oak.

2009 Sancerre blanc “Generation XIX”: 15.6 alcohol, over 6 acid. We (me and Alphonse #19 agree that the wine should be served colder.) It’s plumb but has adequate acidity. Oak is a major presence. The wine needs time – or at least aeration – but it’s not particularly tight. Perhaps evidence of the cautionary tale of the 2009 vintage.

2008 Sancerre blanc “Cuvee Edmond”: 14 alcohol, over 6 acid. This is usually my favorite of the Mellot bottlings and 2008 doesn’t disappoint. Fresh, full and tasty, the wine is both citric (grapefruit zests), chalky and racy. It’s austere. Kind of Greek Stoicism, with a long finish of every variation on the theme of grapefruit.

2008 Sancerre rouge “En Grand Champs”: Oaky, structured, more definition than La Moussiere. For now, oak dominates and the wine needs aeration. And time. But I have a particular affection for this cuvee.

2008 Sancerre rouge “Generation XIX”: unfined and unfilted. 13% alc. Plush and oaky. I prefer the discretion of En Grand Champs but this is a soigné red, very stylish, accomplished and eager to please.

Now I have written about Slow Tasting – that luxurious necessity or necessary luxury – before on these pages. I told Alphonse I’d like to spend more time with some of the wines tasted and he sent me a mixed carton. Thus far, I’ve submitted the 2008 Sancerre rouge Generation XIX to the Slow Tasting test.
Day One: 11 am: deeply colored. (Prefermentation a froid?) Fragrant. Oak, sweet spices, cinnamon, cherry. Right now the wine is dominated by oak but time will surely help. The wine is fresh, the acidity good (and not violent), a tad furry, but nicely balanced and urbane.
Day One: 7pm: The wine has smoothed out considerably and the oak is beginning to blend in with the other flavors but, for my palate, still dominates.
Day Two: 6 pm: Mellow, rich cherry and sweet spices. The oak continues to integrate into the whole, attractive acidity. The wine is beginning to define itself. It’s coming across graceful and gourmand. After some aeration, the 2008 acidity reveals itself.
Day Three: 6pm: The oak still dominates but it’s softer; the wine is more refined, more transparent, more of a whole.



December 8, 2010: Some very fine, biodynamic Sancerres from Domaine Vacheron:

2009 Sancerre blanc, an assemblage of grapes from calcareous and silex soils. A whopping 14.5 alcohol but you don’t feel it. At least I didn’t. What I wrote was “C-ductive!” And then some minor observations, ie that it seemed to have some residual sugar but that might have been the alcohol; it was fresh, despite the alcohol, and its grapefruit-dominated flavors mixed with an appetizing chalkiness.

2009 Sancerre blanc “Grands Champs”: this cuvee, with grapes from a plateau with clayey soils, was quite fresh, lightly “green” but not vegetal. Very promising. Given those clayey soils, it will need time to blossom.

2009 Sancerre blanc “Paradis”: a succulent white, it drank like citrus juice – a blend of grapefruit, lemon and passion fruit. It was a touch hot but lively and relatively intense without being vulgar.

2009 Sancerre blanc “Les Romains:” The wine was reduced and in serious need of aeration but flavors of minerals and citrus zests were nevertheless perceptible.

2008 Sancerre blanc “Les Romains:” true to its vintage, this wine’s vigorous acidity was well cushioned by ample fruit and alcohol. It was the most typically “varietal” of the Vacheron line-up and not quite phenolically ripe. Still, mighty tasty.

2008 Sancerre rose: A welcoming wine, balanced, with no jagged acidity, a bit oaky but quite appetizing.

2007 Sancerre rouge “Belle Dame”: The wine spent a year in barriques and another 25 hl oak casks. Light but perfectly formed, it was discreet, charming and gourmand. I loved it. Beautiful lady, indeed.



December 7,2010 Some very fine, biodynamic chenins from Chidaine, Huet and Belliviere:

FRANCOIS CHIDAINE
2008 Vourvray “les Argiles”: Fresh and focused and so dominated by mineral, chalk and lime flavors that you forget about the grape variety (which is ideal, IMHO). Francois managed 2008’s acidity with great dexterity.
2008 Vouvray le Bouchet demi-sec (17 grams rs), a parcel between the Clos du Bourg and the Clos Baudouin. Very young, not very expressive at the moment except for a whiff of creamed corn against a backdrop of minerals. Wait.

HUET
2005 Vouvray Brut Petillant
, disgorged 6 months ago: More dosage than I would like but riper and with clearer flavors, including apple and quince, than past versions. A bit hard but the balance is fine. Could use a bit more time.
2009 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu sec (9 gms rs and around 6 acid. Patently off dry, fresh, with vibrant lemon, lemon zest, apple, and, above all, mineral flavors. Long finish. A wonderful future awaits.
2007 Vouvray Le Mont demi-sec: almost moelleux. Fine-boned, discreet, lemon, mineral and honey flavors. (Note: no botrytis or passerillage in 2007). Very food/​recipe friendly.

2009 Vouvray Le Clos du Bourg Premiere trie moelleux (over 100 grams rs): quite honeyed, liquid taffeta, lemon and lemon zest and a backdrop of chalk. Quite creamy and alluring. Long finish.
2006 Vouvray Le Clos du Bourg Premiere trie moelleux (65 grams rs): This one’s a bit flat-footed. It definitely needs aeration but 2006s can come across flat-footed. Everything’s relative. Still scrumptious. (Me and my guests have swooned over this wine in the past.)


DOMAINE DE BELLIVIERE/​Eric Nicolas
Two passes through the vines for Nicolas’ 2008 Calligramme, a mineral Jasnieres with 4.5 grams residual sugar. I loved it but less fervently than usual. Rather it was the Coteaux du Loir Vieille Vignes Eparses that knocked me out this time.
Tasting the 2008 Jasnieres “Les Rosiers” in December 2010, my sense was that the wine was somewhat close, lightly hot, with aromas of creamed corn (always a mid-stage sign for me), quite mineral and very tightly furled.
“Snow” was the first word I wrote after tasting the 2008 Coteaux du Loir Vieilles Vignes Eparses. Tight, racy with a kiss of residual sugar and limitless minerality.
The 2008 Coteaux du Loir “l’Effraie” was creamy, floral and mineral but mostly resonated with flavors of herbal tea and quinine.





December 4, 2010 Notes on wines drunk at Thanksgiving,

(The whites as aperitifs, the reds with the turkey, the sparkling with dessert.)

POUILLY-FUME
Domaine Henri Bourgeois

2009 Pouilly-Fume “En Travertine: fresh and tart with light notes of gooseberry. Doesn’t show its 13 % alcohol. A good food wine.
2008 Pouilly Fume “La Demoiselle de Bourgeois”: a racy P-F with obvious pedigree, light notes of creamed corn and a range of lemon-related flavors – pulp, zests curd. Good acid management for 2008.

MENETOU-SALON
La Tour Saint Martin/​Bernard & Albane Minchin:

2009 Menetou-Salon blanc: ripe, floral, scents of white fleshed peaches and clementine. It might have a gram or two of residual sugar. Serve nicely chilled.
2008 Menetou-Salon blanc Cuvee “Honorine” ferments and ages in new and newish oak barrels (four year rotation. 13% alcohol, some co2. Aromas of creamed corn and oak, spirited acidity. Phenolically ripe. It’s somewhat disjointed right now. Perhaps it just needs age. (Served at Thanksgiving and Egmont, a wonderful wine journalist, loved it.

While we’re on the subject of the Minchins, they also have property in Valencay and in Touraine. Herewith recent notes:

VALENCAY
Le Claux Delorme/​Bernard & Albane Minchin:

2008 Valencay rouge: healthy cherry color, fragrant cherry fruit. Gourmandise. Cute as a button. Where’s that charcuterie and fresh goat cheese? G+

TOURAINE
Le Claux Delorme/​Bernard & Albane Minchin

Although labeled “Touraine AOC”, this wine, the 2008 Franc du Lie”, comes from a newly created appellation, Touraine-Chenonceaux. A hand harvested selection of the property’s oldest vines grown on flinty clay and gravel soils, it is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cot. Not surprisingly, it is darker, deeper and more structured than the Valencay and there appears to be some oak aging. The Cot gives it juiciness; the Cab, structure and backbone. There are light, unaggressive tannins and un aggressive acidity (impressive for 2008). While it is more substantial than the domaine’s Valencay, it lacks that wine’s charm.

BOURGUEIL
Domaine de la Chevalerie


The color of the 2006 Bourgueil “Busardieres” was still youthful. On the palate, however, tertiary flavors of truffle and dried spices were developing with fleeting notes of violets. There was also a sense of old oak and the finish was a bit drying, nothing that a little stuffing and cranberry sauce couldn’t help.

CHINON
Domaine de Noire


2004 Chinon rouge “Charactere”. This is the robust cuvee. Made from 60+ year old vines on chalky soils, hand harvested and aged for thirteen months in oak barrels. OY! From the cork I could smell the Brett, hard core gameyness and the rind of St. Nectaire. I decided to open another cuvee from Domaine de Noire but, as several other wine geeks would be present, I’d bring this out. I kept it in a cold pantry. That night, it seemed to have closed up. The Brett factor was less evident but it was there. It was a rugged wine. Now there are a lot of people who like a little Brett and Egmont was one of them. The wine reminded him of the wines of his youth in the Buzet area of France. He took the remainder of the bottle home.
2004 Chinon rouge “Elegance”: light green pea, light St. Nectare rind, some bitter tannins but they’re invigorating. The acidity of 2004 is there. The wine is chewy and closed, seems midway through its evolution. Put in pantry. That night, the wine is closed up tight and rather hard. I poured the wine into a pitcher. It didn’t change much during the meal. The next night there was about a quarter of a pitcher left. The wine was on the wane but the hardness had disappeared, leaving notes of spice and gentle fruit. A couple of hours earlier would have been a better time to drink: by now the wine was drying out.
Just out of interest/​curiosity,, here are the notes I took on the wine when tasted in 2005: yummy, dark cherry and cherry pits, mingled fruit and spice flavors, gourmand, too delicious.
(This is why it’s always a good idea to have back-up bottles. Martin didn’t like either of the Chinons so I pulled out a 2006 Fourcas-Hosten. Problem solved.)

Brut de Franc, Couly-Dutheil, A sparkling wine, clear white, made from Cabernet Franc, the wine was appley and nicely fruit in a red fruit sort of way. The bead was fine, the wine was fresh and everyone liked it. Actually, it’s not a Chinon. The label reads "Vin mousseux de qualite.”

November 30, 2010: Let Them Drink Yellowtail:

Philippe Alliet at Gens du Metier tasting 11/29/10
The Union des Gens du Metier, born in 1989 and the brainchild of Didier Dagueneau, is a grouping of like-minded vignerons from throughout France and beyond and include such well-known (and respected names) as Anselme Selosse, Alain Graillot, Jacques Puffney, the Chermettes, the Riouspeyrous, Pascal Delbeck, Marc Kreydenweiss, and Philippe Charlopin. It also includes a baker, a beer maker, and cider-artist Eric Bordelet.
The group holds a tasting in Paris every other year, usually at the beginning of December. This year, still recovering from Thanksgiving excesses, I decided to taste only wines from the Loire. This meant: Dagueneau, Francois Chidaine, Nady Foucault and Philippe Alliet.
I’ve written fairly extensively on this site about various wines from Dagueneau, Chidaine and the Foucault brothers, so I’d like to devote some space to Philippe and Claude Alliet, two of Chinon’s finest ambassadors.
They were pouring three of their 2008 reds: the Vieilles Vignes, Huisserie and Noire. Before getting to the specific wines, I should say something about the 2008 vintage. Briefly, it’s wines, at least in the Loire, are marked by very strident acidity. Many are not phenolically ripe but most envelop that acidity within a quilt of soothing extract. The wines have plenty of stuffing and alcohol.
The three Alliet Chinons were all marked by the 2008 acidity which, in all three cases, served to underscore the succulence of the bright cherry fruit (sometimes red, sometimes, morello, sometimes black, sometimes all three). Oak was evident but was well-integrated into the wines. As a result of the 2008 acidity, Alliet’s Vieilles Vignes was more a vin de soif than is usually the case, meaning you’ll drink it like there’s no tomorrow. The Huisserie, from youngish vines on an extremely well-placed parcel, was focused, smooth and downright gourmand. Alliet’s top cuvee, Coteau du Noire, from older vines on a superbly placed vineyard, was equally gourmand . Yes, it will taste too acid for some palates. If you’re like me, however, it’s exactly what you want with that confit de canard.
(Wine pairing with confit de canard had been on my mind since the day before -- Sunday -- when my friend, Joan, had it for lunch at a restaurant called Les Ronchons. I'll be writing about that place later this week.)
I am sure I swallowed every drop of the Alliet wines. I wasn't doing the marathon so I could allow myself that indulgence. Which I repeated when tasting Dagueneau's 2008 Monts Damnes, harvested and vinified just after Didier's death and a wine so majestic you ought to drink it on your knees, as well as when "tasting" Chidaine's Franc de Pied Montlouis.
The complexity, the elegance of this wine inspired me to turn to Mark Williamson and say, "Why don't people understand these wines?"
To which Mark, always both practical and philosophical, responded, "It's a good thing they don't or there wouldn't be any left for us. Let them drink Yellowtail."


September 25, 2010: Wines for Girls' Night In:
Good pal Sharon Sutcliffe is coming for dinner -- if the RER is running. I've tasted a bunch of wines in preparation for an evening of catching up, kvetching and laughing. All but the Champagne are from the Loire. (This is called mixing work with pleasure.)
I like an off-dry wine as an aperitif. (Also like Champagne but that's for later.) I really wanted to treat us well so I opened a 1996 Vouvray Moelleux 1ere Trie Clos du Bourg, Huet: let's say you could turn velvet into a liquid and it would have the flavor of pure honey and this liquidified velvet wrapped itself around your tongue, seductively, sensuously. That's just for starters. And while that honey is still singing -- just to mix overworked metaphors -- flavors of tisane, quinine and citrus zest harmonize. Gorgeous balance. You can't stop drinking it. And you really must pay attention to each sip. Superb.For those who need to know, you can drink this now or wait. It's built for the ages.
If we decide we want a cheese course -- and if there's any wine left -- I'll serve what remains of the Vouvray. (It's so rich, there are only two of us and lots of other wines, so I imagine there'll be some left for cheese.)
The first course will be seafood salad on a bed of avocado. I'm working on Pouilly-Fume right now and had two bottles from Francis Blanchet I hadn't yet tasted, both from 2006. (BTW, I find the 2006 Pouillys are drinking beautifully now.)
The first is Blanchet's Vieilles Vignes. A brawny wine, somewhat in the style of the Pouillys of Serge Dagueneau, it's textured and also tart with flavors of grapefruit zest, a whisper of gooseberry and a stony depth. A potent, well-balanced food wine with specificity (meaning that you know that it comes from somewhere specific).
The second is Blanchet's Cuvee Silice,from young vines on hillsides with flinty-clay soils, was more floral than the Vieilles Vignes cuvee, with flavors of white fleshed peaches and stone. It was also svelter and more elegant, a cool stream of flavor. Very different styles. I'd happily drink either but prefer the Silice.
Rotisserie chicken with cepe polenta for the main course. Since I'll be attacking Sancerre after I've finished writing Pouilly, I chose a 2008 Sancerre rouge from Eric Louis, a producer who is new to me. (He's based in Thauvenay, a commune in the Sancerre appellation, but also makes Menetou-Salon.) Relatively light, it's well-balanced, with tart cherry and black tea flavors. An easy-drinking red, perfect for a wine bar.
Heresy here. I like Champagne with dessert. I hate red wine -- dry or sweet -- with chocolate and there will be some chocolate involved in dessert. Aged whisky or Armagnac would also be a possibility and I'm not ruling that out. But we'll start with 2000 Champagne Drappier. Rather exuberant and fruity, it was nicely tart with some mineral depth and evolving flavors -- in the direction of apple and citrus zest. A saliva-inducing wine, it is truly satisfying, somewhat lusty with a ping of crispness, a roll in autumn leaves.

Jonathan Pabiot: Pouilly-Fume's Rising Star
September 23, 2010:
The new Didier Dagueneau? That’s easy: it’s his son, Benjamin (or Louis-Benjamin). But Benjamin has a soul brother, Jonathan Pabiot, 26, whose first vintage of Pouilly-Fume was 2005. Benjamin and Jonathan went to through public school together, defied death in motocross races together and, together – well, each at his own domaine – are making the best, most probing and most exciting Pouilly Fumes.
Pabiot, who had always worked alongside his father, attended the local viticultural school at Cosne-sur-Loire but dropped out for a number of cogent reasons that anyone who rebelled in the 1960s will understand (by extrapolation): essentially it was all theory and no practice but worse, still, was the routine of placing charts on the walls with everything that could go wrong in the vineyard and cellar, which industrial products you could buy to remedy the problem and who manufactured and sold the product.
Pabiot then started working with different vignerons around France. The most formative was the six months he spent working at Domaine Leon Barral in the Languedoc in 2004. Following that experience, he returned to Pouilly. Both his grandfather, Lucien, and his father gave him some vineyard land and Didier bought an additional parcel, giving him a total of 3.5 hectares, which he immediately started converting to organic farming.
In the process, Didier also converted his father, not only to the benefits of organic farming but to some of the theories of biodynamic farming – which Didier refers to as homeopathic. He’s also, as he puts it, “a little bit astral”. Today, the two men work together, with a total of 15 hectares, most in Les Loges, some in St. Laurent l’Abbaye, all farmed according to Didier’s philosophy – to the extent allowed by financial constraints.
Now Didier’s philosophy is, thankfully, is based on reflection, his own judgement, and not conformist. “I don’t debud and I don’t cluster thin. I prune and that’s it. Some of our vines are three years old, some are 25 to 30. Our goal is to work the oils, to bring out the qualities of our soils. We make our own compost. Acidity is my thing. I taste all the grapes. My palate is very sensitive to sugar. Less so to other things but very sensitive to sugar.” (And it shows in his wines!)
Harvest is both by hand and by machine. And Didier calls on sommelier and chef friends from Paris to help bring in the grapes. Harvesters include the sommeliers from Lasserre, Magnolia, La Truffiere, Versance and Le Miroir – whose chef-owner came to prepare the cassecroute.
Each plot ferments separately – using both wild yeasts and neutral organic yeasts – for 8 to 10 days at low temperatures. The wines are then assembled and age on their lees until bottling.
Pabiot currently makes at least three cuvees of Pouilly Fume as well as a very good, lightly floral Pouilly-sur-Loire. The first is an assemblage of grapes from all parcels. The 2009 plump, with perhaps a bit of residual sugar, was the kind of fresh, generous Pouilly that could unite a jury. So many 2009 whites were heavy and dull, I asked Pabiot how he managed to keep the lovely acidity. Answer: he was one of the first to harvest, around the 12th and 13th of September. The texture was silky, the flavors were lovely, chiseled, – a hint of gooseberry, ripe Mirabelle, mango and lime zest all of which persisted through the long, fairly regal finish. The 2008 was crystalline, ripe and focused, blending flavors of minerals, lime, verbena and citrus zest. It had good grip and impressively refined acidity for 2008.
The first of Pabiot’s special cuvees is “Aubaine” from Oxfordian and Portlandian marl soils. He makes between 1000 and 1200 bottles a year. The 2008 was beautifully ripe, with Alsace-like perfumes and flavors of white-fleshed peaches and Mirabelle. Incredibly racy, it could have used a bit more acid (for me). This is 2008!
The cuvee “Predilection” comes from a parcel with Kimmeridgian marl soils. Textured and gracious, it was pure and precise and revivifying as a cascade, virtually gleaming with freshness. A weave of minerals and quinine, lime and grapefruit, it was a beautiful food wine which would be at home at the grandest of tables.
Eurythmie debuted in 2008. It comes from the same parcel as Predilection but from a segment directly on the chalky bedrock. Its grapes are so popular with the local boar and deer population the Pabiot is installing electrified fencing. Eurythmie ferments in new oak. Pabiot wanted to buy a demi-muid but that was too expensive so he settled for a less costly barrel. The wine fermented for 8 to 10 days and stayed in barrel, on its lees, until bottling – unfiltered, by hand, by the phases of the moon. Economy was the mother of invention here: when the cellars got too cold, Pabiot covered the barrel with quilts. We all agreed the 2008 was too oaky but it was still delicious, quite Burgundian, with smooth flavors of caramel.

Tribute to the Dagueneaus
Tomorrow, the 17th of September, marks the second anniversary of the death of Didier Dagueneau.
When I saw Benjamin and Charlotte at his funeral I felt a regret in addition to the sorrow provoked by Didier’s passing. Now adults, I hadn’t seen either since they were small children. I’ve watched the kids of other vigneron friends grow up and followed their progress from primary school to adolescence to BAC, summer jobs, first loves, rock bands, motorcycles, full-time employment and marriage. But the adult Charlotte and Benjamin – aka Louis-Benjamin, aka Lou-Lou, aka Carcajou – were strangers to me.
Didier and I saw each other at tastings and dinners in Paris or elsewhere but, particularly since his divorce from Martine, I hadn’t been to the home base in St. Andelain.
I resolved to remedy that and have taken a great deal of pleasure doing so, primarily by visiting at least once a year. This gives me time to catch up with Charlotte – now a fierce defender of the domaine and setting up house in the property Didier bought for her – on our drives to and from the Bourges train station as well as during meals together, with Martine, or with the entire clan.
Beyond the meals, Benjamin and I spent time in the vineyards and cellars. He will soon be a father and the expectation of the birth of his first son had brought about a sea change. Benjamin has blossomed. More relaxed or mieux dans sa peau than in 2009, he seems to have grown into himself, filling out his tall, lanky body, becoming not only more handsome, but radiant and proud. Though he doesn’t seem to possess Didier’s antic sense of humor, in his winemaking – and in the way he speaks about his craft/art – Benjamin seems to have channeled his father. Benjamin Dagueneau is the new Didier Dagueneau. And the best tribute I can pay to either man is to transmit my tasting notes of the 2009s, which were all in barrel when I visited.

Tasting the 2009s from barrel in June 2010
We started with samples from two different barriques that will form part of the “domaine” blend, Blanc Fume de Pouilly. The first, from 15 to 20 year old vines on flinty-clay soils had fermented in barrels of three or four wines. You could barely perceive the oak. Instead, it brought to mind a fine viognier – lively acidity, ripe, exotic fruit flavors. Next came a sample from marl soils. Calmer and less exuberant than the wine from the first barrel, with flavors of peach and aspergum, Benjamin said that Pouillys from these soils were always more tender.
Crystalline, as pure and exhilarating as a waterfall, its flavors of white peach, Clementine and mango surrounded a solid mineral core. The finish was long and full. Here was a wine to inspire a chef. I immediately sent a Facebook message to Marie-Christine Clement (Hotel du Lion d’Or in Romorantin-Lanthenay) about it. Her husband Didier is a brilliant, sensitive chef and both had been close friends of Didier’s.
Buisson Renard had suffered hail damage in 2008. Its 2009 yields were 30 hl/ha and the wine was the richest of Dagueneau’s plots. Though plumper, more robust and less high-spirited than previous cuvees, it exuded flavors of white peach, melon and citrus zest. Despite its fleshiness, it was fresh, with fine acidity emerging at the finish.
The Monts Damnes was so elegant, so tense and textured and layered, its peach and mandarine fruit so chiseled, I couldn’t help but swallow. Talk about raciness! Superb. A diamond.
We tasted Silex from two different barrels. The first was a new, 300 litre barrel shaped like a cigar. It had been custom made for Didier, Marc Kreydenweiss and Pascal Delbeck. The wine was initially less expressive than the previous samples. Extremely mineral and stony it was an iron fist in a peach and mandarine glove. The second barrel, an older fut, opened with discreet aromas of peach and mandarine, then exploded with flavors of peach and minerals an citrus zests. Amazing freshness, pedigree and beautiful balance.


August 18,2010: I'm currently writing the Pouilly chapter of Loire 2 and wanted to share with you my notes on Domaine Serge Dagueneau & Filles as a tribute to the late Florence Daguenau.
Way back in August 1990 I stopped by Didier Dagueneau’s house in St. Andelain to leave off the better part of my belongings before heading south, to Saint Pourcain, the Auvergne and, ultimately, the source of the Loire.
As he often did, Didier had organized a tasting in his cellars that night. The theme of this tasting was Sauvignon blanc. Most of the bottles came from France but there were a couple Didier had brought back from California.
That was where I met Didier’s uncle, Serge, and where I first tasted his wine. I think it was my favorite in the tasting. Serge’s daughter, Valerie, was there too. Her sister Florence was in California, working at the Peter Michel winery, where Valeria had also worked.
Serge and Valerie were always around, helping, tasting, schmoozing, joining us for meals. Serge was a very large, superficially gruff man of not too many words and I was amused and delighted to see that this died-in-the-wool good ol’ boy was the first vigneron in the Loire with “& Filles” blazened across the winery. Valerie had studied at the Lycee de Macon; Florence, at the Lycee de Beaune.
Over the years I saw Valerie and Florence, generally at the Salon des Vins de Loire, and, of course, at Didier’s funeral. It was with something very close to horror that I learned that Florence had died of cancer in the winter of 2009/​2010. It seemed too much for the extended Dagueneau family to bear. When I visited in June 2010 there were picture-portraits of Florence hung in the cellar, in the tasting room, in Serge’s workshop and everyone was still very much in a state of mourning. Valerie, however, did have to carry on and so she did. The weight of the family domaine was on her shoulders and she shouldered it heroically and humbly.
The Dagueneaus, who live in the hamlet of Les Berthiers, have 17.5 hectares in Pouilly Fume, mostly on Kimmeridgian marl; .60 hectares in Pouilly sur loire and nearly two hectares in Cote de la Charite VdP. They practice sustainable farming.
Serge always made brawny, flavorful, characterful Pouillys. This is still the case. Not a style that appeals to everyone, they are always honest, true to the appellation and to the vintage and faultless. There’s definitely a “there” there. I like them a lot.
If ever you need convincing that chasselas has its rightful place in the vineyards of Pouilly, taste here. Dagueneau’s chasselas vines are over 100 years old. Vines are replaced by marcottage. (Thus far, phylloxera has not been a problem.) The 2008, tasted in the summer of 2010, was a delightfully fresh and textured weave of apricot, minerals, nougat with a light saline edge. Always less alcoholic than Pouilly Fume, it weighed in at 11.8 degrees but felt and tasted ample. Superb.
The traditional Pouilly Fume comes from young vines on Kimmeridgian marl soils. Both machine and hand harvested, it is pressed immediately, ferments in tank and ages on its lees for six months before being lightly fined and filtered, then bottled.
The 2009, just bottled when I tasted it, was a rich (above 13 degrees) blend of peach and fresh citrus flavors, textured and pure. The 2005, tasted in early 2006, was ample with full-blown flavors of grass, minerals and grapefruit. The 2004, tasted in early 2005, was solid, ripe and brawny; a rich presence.
The Clos de Chaudoux bottling comes from young vines on a 1.50 hectare parcel Pentes (Slopes) des Chaudoux, also on Kimmeridgian marl. The grapes are hand harvested, sorted and undergo skin contact for ten hours before being pressed. The wine ages on its lees for over a year and is bottled without being fined or filtered.
The 2007, tasted in June 2010, had spent two winters in tank and demi-muids before being bottled. It was nuanced and textured. Surprisingly crystalline – I generally don’t associate that quality with skin contact – it was silky, mineral, lightly vegetal with good acidity, juicy peach flavors and a long finish recalling herbal tea. The 2004, tasted two weeks after it had been bottled in early 2006, was ample, rather elegant and very mineral.
The 2003, tasted in early 2005, was highly perfumed, a strong presence with good freshness.
Les Filles is, obviously, the girls’ cuvee. A late harvest wine, made only in certain vintages and when botrytis has just begun to attack the grapes, it is harvested by hand, ferments (to dryness) in tank and one new barrel (for tannins) and is bottled without being fined or filtered. The 2007, tasted in June 2010, was a big, dry white with a note of botrytis. It virtually ate its acid. The 2003, tasted in early 2006, was plump and seemed as if it would be sweet but was utterly dry. It recalled the “M” of Marionnet and certain cuvees of Lucien Crochet.
La Leontine is a newcomer to the line-up. Named after Valerie’s (and Didier’s) great grandmother, the person who created the domaine. It’s a small cuvee, initially an experiment, in which the wine fermented and aged in barrels of three to five wines and is bottled without having been fined or filtered. The 2008, tasted in June 2010, was smooth, plush but crystalline and fresh. There was a hint of oxidation and of oak and grace notes of sweet spices. Very special.
If Valerie creates another new cuvee I would not be surprised if it were named after Florence.



July 30, 2010: I'm currently writing the Menetou-Salon section of Loire 2. I"ve been impressed by the evolution in this appellation. In Loire 1, only two producers stood out: Pelle and Domaine de Chatenoy/​Clement. They are now joined by a fair number of excellent and promising producers. Here is one:
Domaine Philippe Gilbert:
18510 Menetou-Salon; 02.48.66.65.90; www.domainephilippegilbert.fr.
Philippe Gilbert took over his family’s 27 hectare domaine in 1998. Working in close association with enologist Jean-Philippe Louis, he has turned this erstwhile ho-hum estate into one of the appellation’s leading lights. In 2006 the team converted the vineyards to biodynamic farming; the soils – essentially limestone on Kimmeridgian marl – are hoed mechanically; vines are cluster-thinned and deleafed. And it is evident from tasting that improvements in vinification have kept pace with work in the vineyards.
Gilbert produces two cuvees of white and red and occasionally one cuvee of rose. The cuvee “Domaine” is meant to be drunk on the fruit – a fresh, supple, accessible wine. Les Renardieres is the domaine’s top-of-the-line cuvee in red and white. It comes from the oldest vines, yields are low and the grapes are harvested by hand and then hand sorted. Both age in 225 or 400 litre barrels made of oak from the Troncais and Nevers forests. Currently this cuvee is bottled only in magnum. Both the white and the red should be carafed before drinking.
When first tasted, several months after the harvest, the generic Menetou white was as gas-y as a cremant but quite appealing, like a vinous ginger ale. The 2007, tasted at the same time, was pure, ripe and well made. A year later the 2007 had blossomed into a white with tangy flavors of citronelle, lemon zest and minerals. On day two, it came across more “varietal” with notes of gooseberry. It was surprisingly delicious with a sandwich of smoked salmon, fresh dill and sweet butter as well as with tzaziki mixed with red pepper, red onion, garlic and mint. A crisp, invigorating 2006 mixed flavors of apple, grapefruit and minerals, all expressed with admirable clarity. Good work here.
The 2007 Les Renardieres blanc, tasted in late 2008, was still in barrel. A wine of real freshness and depth, it was very promising. The Gilberts recommended carafing the 2005, a wise idea: the wine was textured but so oaky that I only got glimpses of the vibrant, juicy fruit underneath. Still, a very commendable wine.
The 2008 Menetou rouge, several months after the harvest, was light and tart but truly charming; the 2007 was slightly more tannic, very pure, an excellent wine bar red, all the more admirable given the conditions of the 2007 harvest. Tasted several months later, the wine came across dry but tender, honest and well-structured, with sweet strawberry grace notes. The 2006 had charming upfront fruit. Smooth, focused and slightly saline, it was an ingratiating medium-bodied pinot noir.
The 2006 Les Renardieres rouge, relatively light in both color and saturation, had a deep cherry nose with notes of eau de vie. Firm and fleshy, it was a mouth-filling wine that was simultaneously subtle but firm, and seductively gentle. The 2005, darker and more deeply saturated, was slightly saline, its oak well balanced by plush, ripe fruit.

May 19, 2010: Reviews of two top producers in the Cote Roannaise, AOC near Roanne, due west of Beaujolais but higher in altitude. Cepage: Gamay.

Domaine de Fontenay/​ Simon Hawkins:
42155 Villemontais; 04.77.63.12.22; hawkins@​tele2.fr; domainedufontenay.com
“Moins d’alcool, autant de plaisir!”® (Less alcohol, just as much pleasure.) That is the motto (battlecry?) of Simon Hawkins “artisan-vigneron.” And it’s true that his wines – which are never chaptalized – tend to be lower in alcohol than most. Indeed, I’ve never tasted one that reached 12 degrees. As for the “artisan” bit, the wines are every bit that good to do honor to the word. And my guess is that he’s also adept at marketing them. Afterall, he did take out a copyright on his motto. Plus, he and wife Isabelle run B&Bs on the property.
You may already have sensed that Hawkins is sui generis. There aren’t many Anglophone winemakers in the Massif Central. Add to that, a peripatetic life – born in Kenya, raised in Botswana, schooled in England and then in Reims before settling in Roanne for a job in the textile industry. Dangerously close to a viticultural region, Hawkins fell in love with wine and, at the age of 30, enrolled in the Lycee Viticole in Macon. His first harvest was in 1990.
Hawkins maintains that he has returned to an ancient style of vinification, one that makes a truer, more authentic wine. He uses no additives, principally no industrial yeasts, no sulphur, and no added sugar. He traded his modern vertical press for an old fashioned basket press which holds less grapes and presses more gently. His wines are generally unfiltered.
Hawkins got some viognier vines from the Rhone’s Yves Cuilleron and planted them in the Roannaise on a granitic butte that benefits from a special climate due to its proximity to the Lac du Villarest. Vinified “naturally” and aged in oak on its fine lees, the wine is called Coteau de Saint Sulpice Les Cailloux. The 2008, the debut vintage, was an exuberant viognier, fresh, tight, with muscaty fragrance floating above a core of minerals. There are too many appellations in France and that’s a pity because this wine, a Vin de Table, certainly merits an AOC.
In addition to several versions of rose, Hawkins makes at least three versions of Cote Roannaise rouge, with “Expression” representing his early-drinking bottling.
My first reaction on tasting his 2009 “Expression” was “This is Gamay?” Said – written, rather – in admiration. Now I happen to love Gamay but this wine was in a wonderful world of its own. And with only 11.5 degrees alcohol. Oh, come all ye who vilify high alcohol wine! Deeply colored, profoundly saturated, the wine had rich, concentrated aromas and flavors of red and black fruit. It’s purity and freshness were amazing. The wine – a vrai vin de plaisir – was compulsively drinkable. Definitely PMG. On a par with the best of Chermette/​Vissoux. I was tasting the wine at the Salon des Vins de Loire in 2010 – not in front of the winemaker – and appreciated it so much, I brought it for my vigneron pals Francois Pinon and Abel Osorio to taste.
Hawkins has a monopoly on the St. Sulpice vineyard, a hill with a thin layer of soil over bedrock of granite which gives its name to his cuvee “Vigne de Saint Sulpice”. The 2008, 11 degrees alcohol, was another PMG that I insisted Francois and Abel taste. Sheer velvet with flavors of black cherries and morello cherries. Pleasure and character. I loved it.
The cuvee “L’Authentique” is subtitled “a la maniere de 12 mai 1855” which, for those of us who may be wondering, is the day on which the Archbishop of Lyon came to bless the private chapel on the domaine de Fontenay. The wine is intended to represent the full-bodied style made at the time and it is the only wine to receive barrel aging. Whatever. On first taste, the 2008, which was all of 11.5 degrees alcohol, was closed, much less expressive than the previous two cuvees in addition to being quite oaky. On Day Two it was mellower, more focused, with smooth, spicy fruit and the oak had calmed down. Delicious.
Hawkins also makes a sparkling, sweet gamay by the methode ancestrale. In other words, it’s a Pet’Nat. No yeast, no sugar, tank fermentation at low temperatures, the wine is bottled when it has reached 5 degrees alcohol and spends six months on its fine lees for the prise de mousse and to finish its alcoholic fermentation. The finished wine is 8 degrees alcohol and about 60 grams residual sugar and tastes very much like a top quality Cerdon. It’s sudsy, with the sweet-tart flavors of cranberry relish – delicious – and named RN7 in honor of the workers who took that highway en route to their yearly vacation. If I, for one, were staying in a Fontenay B&B, I could swallow a whole lot of this stuff.


Domaine des Pothiers/​ Romain Paire:
42155 Villemontais, 04.77.63.15.84; 06.18.02.22.47; domainedespothiers@​yahoo.fr; domaine-des-pothiers.com
The Pothier family created this domaine on the granitic soils at the southern reaches of the appellation and tended its vines for centuries. When Blaise Pothier was killed during World War I, his brother-in-law, Claude Paire took over. In 1974 grandson Georges was at the helm and the domaine had grown from two to five hectares and Georges began the conversion to sustainable farming. Son Romain, after studying at Macon’s lycee viticole, joined his father in 2005. Planting continues – the domaine now has roughly ten hectares – and the conversion to organic viticulture is well on its way.
Ploughing, low yields, compost from the manure of the few Charolais cows they still raise, harvest by hand, often by successive passes through the vineyards summarize the farming practices. In the cellar, the Paires rely on indigenous yeasts; they don’t add so2 during fermentation and the fermenting musts are regularly pumped over. Depending on the cuvee, the wine may age in oak or not and may be filtered or not.
The Paires currently make at least ten wines, starting with two chardonnays, one oaked, the other not, both Vin de Pays d’Urfe. I tasted the 2006 oaked cuvee “Fou du Chene” (Crazy about oak) in 2008. The wine ferments and ages in 220 liter barrels of two to five wines. The wine displayed good fruit and good varietal flavors but it helped a lot to be “crazy about oak.” The also make a VdP Pinot Gris which ferments in 600 litre barrels. I attempted to taste a barrel sample of the 2009 but it was too gas-y to get much of an impression of anything.
Their 2009 CR rose, on the other hand, was good and solid and just what you (and/​or I ) want.
There are five – or maybe six -- cuvees of CR rouge. A sample of the unfinished 2009 basic red, called “Reference,” promised well. The “Domaine” bottling is made from a selection of old vines, destemmed and vinified traditionally. It never “sees” oak. The 2006 was a graceful charmer, silky, easy drinking, with mouthwatering flavors of plum and cherry. Much too easy to drink a lot of. The cuvee called “#6” gets a whole berry fermentation and is bottled without filtration. The 2009 was another wine I’d love to follow – plums again plus cherry pits and just the right kick of tartness. A 2008 Vieilles Vignes was focused, structured and getting damned serious.
The Clos du Puy cuvee comes from a 1.7 hectare parcel of the same name, a high slope with granitic soils and full south-eastern exposure. It may have been the first of the domaine’s parcels to be converted to organic farming. The fruit of 80 year old vines, three-quarters of the grapes are destemmed and vat for 16 days, with regular racking. The wine then spends 11 months in 220 litre barrels of two to five wines and is bottled unfiltered. The 2008 was cool, smooth, focused. It recalled Chermette’s cru Beaujolais. The 2006 was oaky but also refined with lovely, etched fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Frankly, though, I think I’d have preferred it without the oak influence.
The latest addition to the red portfolio is “L’Integrale,” which is made from young vines on the Clos du Puy and ferments in barrel. 2009 was the debut vintage and the sample I tasted was rich, focused and had lots of stuffing. To follow.
There is also a sweet sparkling red/​rose but perhaps the domaine’s most unusual wine, a Vin de Table, is a Vin de Paille called “Émoi.” A selection of their best Gamay grapes is harvested in small cases and the fruit is spread out on a rooftop to shrivel in the hot sun for a month or longer. The grapes are then pressed and the juice ferments slowly in barrel and ages in oak for a year. The most recent cuvee, which I tasted in early 2010, was 16 degrees alcohol with 110 grams residual sugar. It succulent, with rich flavors of apricot, peach and mango, balanced by a lot of vibrant acidity. I liked it a lot.

May 4,2010: I just came across my tasting notes from a blind tasting of dry Loire chenins from the 2002 vintage. The tasting was held in August 2005 in a restaurant in Sazilly, outside of Chinon. I was the only non-vigneron present. The wines were tasted blind. I'm posting my raw notes with the name of the producer and the cuvee following my impressions. NB: Wines #21 through 24 were not tasted blind. I've included the two 2003 Epire Savennieres simply because they were on the next page of my notebook and I thought "why not?".

1) rather gold, oaky, light sweetness in nose, oaky, sme freshness but rather short. The freshness is the only thing I like about it. Recalls Mosse. Rene Mosse Anjou Blanc “les Bonnes Blanches”
2) gold, sw honeyed nose, rich, textured, hot, there’s a lot going on here, a lot more than in #1, but it almost seems like a super cuvee of that wine. It’s at odds with itself and I don’t know whether or not it’s going to come together. Rich, mineral, oaky, some freshness. Hot. I’d say about 2 grams of residual sugar. Rene Mosse Anjou Blanc “Le Rouchefer”
3) Deep straw, light oxidation, gras and fresh, quite natural, Schweppes, long finish. I think Anjou. Maybe Pithon or Leroy. Lots of lime. My favorite so far. Richard Leroy Anjou blanc “Le Clos des Rouliers.”
(I should note for consumers that all, so far, have a kind of rusticity which they wear as a badge of honor.)
4) Clearer saturation, pale- evolving straw; apple, quince, this, to me, has Touraine structure. Tender. Winemaking needs work. There’s acidity but the finish is somewhat cloying.Touraine blanc. Domaine de la Garreliere
5) Clear, lighter, floral, chenin fruit, quince, steely, classic in good sense. Could unite a jury. Has pedigree. More traditional in style. Think it’s Bernard Baudry. Not great complexity but good complexity. Well-knit. Bernard Baudry Chinon Blanc “Croix Boissee” (malo fait).
6) Pale gold, some sense of hydrocarbure-reduction, fresh, lime, oak, real terroir presenc. Young, mouthfilling, waterfall freshness. Very terroir driven. Schweppes and lime. Richard Leroy Anjou Blanc “Le Noels de Montbenault.”
7) Pale gold, steel, acid, some interesting stuff but it’s austere, even for me. Tart finish but not without interest. Though most consumers would be turned off by the acidity. Damien Delecheneau, Montlouis Clef de Sol.
8) Gold, light creamed corn aromas, light oxidation, relatively gras, relatively fresh, well balanced. Medium length, no great depth but it says what it has to say. Chateau de Coulaine, Chinon Blanc.
9) Gold, a bit bizarre. There’s terroir here, some sweetness, seems a lot of little flavors. Is is Angeli? Powerful. Velvety texture. Not entirely clean. There’s pedigree here but… Marc Angeli, Anjou Blanc, “Les Vieilles Vignes des Blanderies.”
10) Straw, balsamic- licorice note, hard, waterfall freshness, austere. For me, it’s Touraine. Not perfect but fresh and characterful. Somewhat of a work in progress. Iron fist. Lemon. Pierre Chevalier, Saumur blanc “Les Cormiers”.
11) Gold, evolving, light honey note, sense of honey but it’s dry. Fresh, complex, tart. Lots going on but question if it will all come together. Long finish. Elegant and racy. Ripe. Quite interesting. Hot, relatively long finish. Could be Saumur. Thierry Germain, Saumur Blanc “L’Insolite.”
12) Yellow gold, green reflects, somewhat yeasty, oxidized apples, cider, beery. A bit too beer-cider for me. Mark Angeli, Anjou Blanc, “Les Vignes Francaises.”
13) Gold, ripe, lightly honeyed nose; sec tendre, acidulated, all of a piece. I’d say a good Montlouis. Domaine Joguet, Touraine, “La Plante Martin.”
14) Angeli’s cuvee with the geosmin/​rot taste? Mark Angeli, Anjou blanc, “La Lune.” (note: the flavor of rot came from an insufficiently cleaned straw matting used for pressing.)
15) pale gold, chenasses a bit, some so2, steel, razor sharp, ripe, needs carafing but quite forceful and characterful. Patrick Baudouin, Anjou blanc, Cuvee Effusion.
16) Gold, nose recalls Pithon, rich, ripe, powerful, with freshness, some oak. Big. Could convert some skeptics. Patrick Baudouin, Anjou blanc, La Cormiare (note: I’m not sure of spelling of cuvee.)
17) fresh, floral, ripe. Not a lot of terroir. A tasty, very nice chenin. Jo Pithon, Anjou Blanc, “Les Bergeres.”
18) Straw, so2, chenasse. Not yet ready for prime time. Alex-Mathur, Montlouis, Lumens.
19) Pale gold, reduced, full, ripe, pineapple. Wine of some stature and terroir but the so2 and chenasse asects bother me. Long finish. Alex-Mathur, Montlouis, Les Perruches.
20) Off dry, fresh, calcaire? Floral. Not my favorite expression but very good. Some nice Schweppes character. Vincent Careme, Vouvray Domaine de la Haute Borne.
21) Fresh, clear, structured, gras but light on its feet. Jo Pithon, Anjou Blanc Les Bonnes Blanches.
22) Full, gras, no flaws. Mark Angeli, Anjou Blanc, “Les Fouchardes.” Still his best white.
23) 2003 savennieres chateau d’epire: cuvee normale – pale gold, quince, apple, strong sense of mineral, slate. Texture is a bit nubbly. Very real. Drinking well. Fresh.
24) 2003 savennieres Chateau d’Epire, cuvee speciale, deeper gold than normal cuvee. Seems to have ore or newer oak. Textured, complex. Both can age. Some stylistic differences but same family.



March 10, 2010: Better Know a Producer: Geoffrenet-Morval, vigneron in Chateaumeillant:
But first some words on the appellation.
In the heart of Georges Sand country -- a panorama of narrow rivers, fields given over to cereal crops, pasture lands for prized Charolais cattle, a landscape of small, grey villages, of stone cottages and of bourgeois villas once inhabited by this or that solicitor who somehow figured into Sand's life --are the low vine-covered plateaus chiefly of Gamay, then of Pinot Noir, and, finally, Pinot Gris (allowed only in the production of vin gris which make up the VDQS Chateaumeillant.
Rose, or vin gris, is Chateaumeillant’s signature wine. Made by a direct press of the harvest, it is fresh, utterly dry and food-friendly. Reds, medium-bodied (rarely more than 12.5 alcohol) and easy-drinking, usually ferment in tank, vatting for a week. Like the roses, they benefit from chilling; most are made to be drunk immediately, though reds can age for up to five years.
There are six vignerons -- most of whom also raise Charolais beef -- and one Cave Cooperative which accounts for more than half the production of Chateaumeillant. Eight-five percent of Chateaumeillant is sold in France.

A former dentist, Fabien Geoffrenet followed his bliss and, in the mid-‘90s, made a mid-life career change to become a winemaker. In preparation, he studied for a year at the Lycee Viticole de Beaune and then worked in Menetou-Salon with Bernard Minchin at Domaine de La Tour St. Martin. In 2000 he bought a small, 46 are parcel of vines in the lieu-dit Les Combes in Chateaumeillant. His first vintage a success, he gradually added to his holdings. Today Geoffrenet has 10 hectares of vines.
Planted 70% to gamay and 30% to pinot noir – with a bit of pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay – the vines grow on two types of soil – a mixture of sand and silt with a gradual degradation of silt creating wines with greater finesse, and a small section with outcroppings of bedrock composed of gneiss, schist and micaschist.
Viticulture, if not entirely organic, is seriously eco-friendly. Geoffrenet keeps yields moderate to low by pruning hard in winter and, in summer, cluster thinning the exuberantly productive young vines. Harvest is by hand.
“Comte de Barcelone” is the name of the domaine’s rose/​gris. Made from a direct press of 95% gamay and 5% pinot noir, Geoffrenet considers this the wine that has given Chateaumeillant its reputation. The 2006, pale, taut and focused, drank like a brisk, feisty white with a stony, mineral finish. Very good indeed.
V.O. or Version Originale is the domaine’s basic red. Pure gamay, it is made chiefly from vines under 30 years old with 30% older vines, it is destemmed, put in stainless steel tanks where it undergoes and short cold pre-fermentation before Geoffrenet raises the temperature to set off fermentation. The 2006 was a total charmer – smooth, nicely balanced, nicely fleshy, with ripe cherry flavors and an appetizing note of bitterness.
“Jeanne” is made from the domaine’s oldest vines – over 50 years – and is a blend of 90% gamay and 10% pinot noir grown on a complex mix of sand and silt on bedrock of gneiss, schist and micaschist. The grapes undergo a short cold prefermentation and, while fermenting in stainless steel tanks, are punched down and pumped over. Most of the wine ages in oak, mostly in large barrels. Smooth, spicy and fresh, the 2006 was somewhat more worldly than the VO, with light tannins, a faint sense of barrel age, and toothsome sapidity. In all, a light red with real character.
The cuvee Extra-Version is something of a caprice. It is made from young vines, 80% pinot noir, 20% gamay, fermented in a wood vat and aged in stainless steel. It represents only 10% of the domaine’s production since, as Geoffrenet says, it does not fit into the scheme of his idea the direction the wines from Chateaumeillant ought to take, to wit: pure gamay with the possibility of adding up to 40% pinot noir.
The 2006 offered pleasant pinot fruit as well as aromas and flavors of rose petals, melon, griotte cherries. It was deliciously fresh, ripe and balanced and, as it opened up after a day or two, the griotte flavors became richer and blended with additional note of raspberries and figs. It went very, very well with chicken in a white wine cream sauce. The domaine also produces a Vin du Pays du Cher, a sauvignon-dominated white called “Little Big Wine.” The 2007 was a gleaming, fresh, fine overachiever, with vivid flavors of grapefruit and gooseberry.


February 26, 2010 : Another producer of riveting Jasnieres: Pascal Janvier:

Pascal Janvier created his domaine in 1991 after having studied enology at the Lycee Viticole d’Amboise. Today he works six hectares in Jasnieres and three in Coteaux du Loir, following the eco-friendly principles of lutte raisonnee.
Janvier usually makes two dry cuvees of Jasnieres. The first, simply labeled “Jasnieres” is machine harvested; the second, Cuvee du Silex, is hand-harvested and comes from two specific parcels. Both ferment in fibre glass tanks and do not – generally, at least – go through malolactic fermentation.
In February 2010 I tasted the 2004 Jasnieres. Terroirists, look for this wine. Strict and racy, it was stark as winter, a rectilinear, intensely steely wine with flavors of lime, apple, verbena, and chamomile. With aeration, the residual sugar became more apparent, as did very slight oxidation, both cushioning the edges of the steel.
Alongside, I tasted the 2006 Cuvee du Silex. It opened with aromas of apple crumble which, after some aerations, gave way to lime, verbena, stone and a light saline note. It was a forceful, decisive, proud and racy wine. A tinge of residual sugar buffered the iron fist. Completely uncompromising.
A 2006 Coteaux du Loir blanc, tasted at the same time, was beginning to mellow. There were undercurrents of caramel, butterscotch and preserved lemon but they were upstaged by pure, limpid flavors of steel, lime, verbena and just a trace of honey.
When the vintage permits, Janvier makes a sweet Jasnieres, the Cuvee Ste Narcisse, based on a trie of his vines whose potential alcohol is above 12.5. The 2005, tasted in 2010, opened with aromas of fresh roasted corn. Smoothly textured and racy, it presented a lovely, complex interweaving of tisane and quinine with honeyed/​confit notes.

February 18, 2010
Several months ago -- July 28, to be exact -- I posted a tasting note on a PMG, a 2006 Coteaux du Loir blanc from artist-vigneron Eric Nicolas. The Coteaux du Loir appellation lies about 35 kilometres north of the provincial city of Tours and, with its sister appellation Jasnieres, is the northernmost appellation in the Loire. Its principal grapes are chenin blanc for whites and pineau d’Aunis for reds.
I’m working on the Jasnieres/​Coteaux du Loire chapter right now and, writing about Nicolas today, I simply wanted to pull corks. (Actually, I’m about to taste a Jasnieres from him in about an hour.) I figured I’d share what I’ve written.
Nicolas makes a number of different cuvees of Coteaux du Loir blanc, the two most important being “L’Effraie” and “Vieilles Vignes Eparses.” They are usually “essentially” dry – often with 4 to 7 grams residual sugar.

In 2005 Nicolas made a moelleux version of “L’Effraie” with 54 grams of residual sugar.Tasted in 2009, the wine was a burnished gold with aromas of creamed corn, wax and quince. Dulcet rather than syrupy, it was delicate yet definitive, racy, subtle and extremely nuanced, with a long mineral-tisane finish. As I find with the cuisine of Michel Bras, you had to “listen closely” in order for the wine to reveal itself. The truth of the earth is here.
The Vieilles Vignes Eparses bottling is a Coteaux du Loir from 50 to 80 year old vines on flinty clay soils. Yields are kept low, to wit: 20 hl/​ha. I’ve tasted the rich and soaring 2006 on a number of occasions, mostly recently in the spring of 2009. With 13.5 degrees alcohol and 7 grams residual sugar, it was extremely mineral with undertones of quince and honey. An elegant, subtle wine, both forceful and fine-boned. The 2005, a demi-seec with 20 grams residual sugar and 14 degrees alcohol came across like terroir-driven cider when tasted in early 2007. By the spring of 2009 it had settled down, found its voice, with a texture as plush as a velvet cushion and flavors of citronelle and herbal tea surrounding a core of minerals. Listen closely here too. This is a wine of discovery. One sip leads to another and you know that with each sip you’ll discover another nuance.
Other cuvees of Coteaux du Loir blanc are “Haut Rasne,” a moelleux from botrytized grapes of young vines from a single parcel of the same name; and Philosophale, a liquoreux made only in exceptional years.
Nicolas makes two cuvees of ‘must-taste’ Coteaux du Loir rouge. The first, “Rouge Gorge” is named after and is an homage to that harbinger of spring, the robin red breast. Entirely or almost entirely pineau d’Aunis, -- it’s spiced with a bit of gamay – its vines grow on flinty clay soils over limestone. Yields are kept under 25 hl/​ha. The grapes ferment in open tanks and are punched down. Malolactic fermentation occurs in barrels where the wine will age from a year to 18 months before being bottled unfiltered.
The 2006, tasted in spring 2009, came on with a burst of freshly ground white pepper which gave way to flavors of sweet spices and plum. The Ur Quiet Red, it was seductive and exotic, with fleeting notes of black tea, light tannins, piment d’espelette (from the Basque country), celery seeds and celery salt. I had initially been bothered by some high acetone notes which disappeared with aeration. And not only did I not feel the 13.5 degrees alcohol, it didn’t even occur to me to think about alcohol. The wine was that fascinating.

February 12, 2010: An eye (and palate) opening visit to Ackerman.
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. And, given my weight gain, that’s no minor thing.
The shocking event that so destabilized me was a visit to Ackerman – formerly Ackerman-Laurence, formerly Ackerman-Remy Pannier --, the largest sparkling wine house in Saumur, the Loire’s center of sparkling wine production.
I have always felt that I let the Saumur sparklers off easy in the first edition of the Loire book. There were precious few that I would have crossed a small street to drink.
What’s more, I believe the Loire can produce magnificent sparkling wine, wine that has nothing to do with Champagne (except, maybe but not always, the method of its production) but sparkling wine that is 100% Loire and need make no reference to any other area. I based this belief on old petillants from Vouvray. By “old” I mean petillants ranging from 10 years sur latte to those going back to the late 1940s. The bubbles in the latter may have been reduced to a thread of a whisper but the wines were astonishing.
My reasoning for letting the Loire sparklers off easy was that so few people knew anything about Loire wine and I wanted to invite people in, not turn them off.
In Loire2, I have been determined to call it as I see it – or taste it. And, where Saumur is concerned, that wasn’t going to be pretty.
So, imagine my surprise on Wednesday when I actually liked some of Ackerman’s “fine bulles" (fine bubbles). I mean really liked. As in, I would drink. More than one glass. Plus, on the retail shelf at 6 to 10 euros, they offered fine value.
Ackerman was founded by Jean-Baptiste Ackerman, a displaced Bruxelois, in 1811. He married Emelie, a young lady from Saumur, and the name of the firm became Ackerman-Laurence.
It was the first sparkling wine house in the Loire and is still the largest, producing 10 million bottles of sparkling wine a year, 4 million by the Champagne method (now called methode traditionel) and 6 million by the quicker, cheaper Charmat method. Most is sold within France, and 70% of that is sold in supermarkets.
And, so, I admit that I went to Ackerman fully expecting to sneer at the wines. Well, here are some notes and then the beginning of some analysis. (I'm going to be mulling this one over for awhile.)
-- Saumur Grande Reserve. Based on the 2006 harvest, this cuvee is a blend of 60% chenin, 20% cabernet franc and 20% chardonnay. It spent two-and-a-half years sur latte and the dosage was 9 g/​l at degorgement. The bubbles were downright elegant, very fine; the flavors, a weave of apple, stone, citrus and chalk. Not a huge amount of depth but the wine was tangy and pleasant and it grew on me. Most impressive, from my point of view, was the nice expression of chenin. No chenasse. The grapes were obviously ripe at harvest, and even though harvested by machine, treated delicately. Really good value at 6 to 7 euros.
Now compare those tasting notes with my reactions to a Grande Reserve based on the 1998 vintage, tasted in 2007. I thought it sudsy, fruity, with some of the depth of chenin but also an imminent threat of chenasse-ing. It, too, was dosed at 9 g/​l but came across too sweet. On second taste, the bubbles had calmed down but there were oxidized flavors and notes of butterscotch. You can see why I was so pleasantly surprised. And I’m thinking that the grapes were less ripe (phenolically, at least) in the lackluster ’98 vintage than they were in 2006.
The Cremant Grande Reserve, made with exactly the same blend of grapes and the same dosage, had more depth but seemed duller than the Saumur. I found it reduced and would like to have gone back to it but time marches on. Next we tasted a Cremant Blanc de Noir. Based on the 2007 harvest, this was a blend of 70% cabernet franc, 20% grolleau noir and 10 % pinot noir. It was dosed at 10 g/​l and spent two years sur latte. Good but ordinary, was my reaction. Not bad but less fine than previous cuvees. There was a light herbaceous note from the cabernet and, contrary to my usual reactions to veggies in cab, I might have liked to have tasted more of this: I find that these flavors go well with chocolate desserts.
The star of the day was the Cremant de Loire Blanc. It was organic, from a grower near Neuil-sur-Layon. Everyone’s getting into the organic act these days and, judging by these results, that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Again, based on the 2006 harvest, the blend, the aging and the dosage were exactly the same as the Grande Reserve blanc. Only 10,000 bottles were made and the wine is slightly more expensive, at about 9 euros a bottle.
Clean and fresh, it, too, was tangy, with gingery accents and some depth. It had real substance, texture and character. I asked for refills.
The wine had been disgorged last week and Jean-Paul Malinge, Ackerman’s cellar-master, told me they were going to experiment with dosage, with 9 g/​l being the highest. I’ve asked him to send me samples with no dosage, dosage at 5 g/​l and at 9 g/​l. when I get them, I’ll report back.
I confess to having been baffled by the improvement in the wines and kept asking Malinge what had changed. He kept saying “nothing.” It turns out, however, that the longer we talked, the more I saw that things had, indeed, changed.
For one, in 1996, Ackerman opened three modern facilities in the Saumur area, enabling them to expand production and improve quality. They are picking grapes later and riper. The Cremants, by law, must be harvested by hand. But the quality of the Saumur Grande Reserve was such that they must surely have invested in the latest, best harvesters. In general, there seems to be less oxidation of the harvest, preserving fresh, clean flavors of the fruit. And nowhere is this more evident than in the chenin-based wines. The chenasse-aspect of many Loire sparklers has been one of the main turn-offs for me. If this can be mastered – and Ackerman seems on the right path – there’s a whole new future for Loire bubbly. And that’s got to be a good thing for the Loire.

December 30, 2009: Francois Chidaine: 2007 Montlouis Le Bournais sec Franc de Pied

By any yardstick you use – quality, talent, history, justice – Francois Chidaine, the president of appellation’s syndicat, is the main man in Montlouis. After studying viticulture and enology at the Lycee d’Amboise, Francois began working on a salaried-basis with his parents in 1985. In 1989, he created his own small, 4.5 hectare domaine.
Over the years, Chidaine built his domaine up to 30 hectares, 10 of them in Vouvray. He converted his vineyards to organic viticulture in 1990 and to biodynamic in 1999. Since 1999, he has been seconded by his cousin, Nicolas Martin. Chidaine’s wife, Manuela, runs an excellent wine shop, Cave Insolite.
Discreet, reserved, circumspect, Francois weighs his words. And he is the kind of reflective, quiet speaker who inspires you to lean in closely to hear what he has to say. If I had to pick one word to define his wines it would be: impeccable.
Chidaine’s Montlouis vineyards lie in all three of the appellation’s communes, on flinty-clay soils over bedrock of tuffeau. The vines for most of his cuvees are between 30 and 90 years old, with yields roughly 35 hl/​ha. Harvest is by hand, by successive passes through the vineyard. No added yeast, no chaptalization. The wines ferment in wood demi-muids (600 litres) and age in barrel, on their fine lees, until bottling, six to ten months later.
There are numerous cuvees. The vines that produce Les Bournais are young, a mere ten years old in 2007. They grow on tuffeau soils on a slope overlooking the Loire in the commune of Lussault. The fragrant 2007 has 4.8 grams of residual sugar and 4.88 g/​l of acidity. A lively wine with juicy acidity, flavors of pineapple, soft oak and hard stone, it recalled rock crystal in its cut and rock candy in its icy sweetness.
That was the “normal” les Bournais.” My Wine of the Year 2009 is a very special, rare bottling from that vineyard: the 2007 Le Bournais sec Franc de Pied.
As its name indicates, the wine was made from ungrafted vines. Chidaine planted a small – 17 are plot – ten years ago. The 2007 vintage was the first time he bottled the wine on its own. It is sheer magic. The kind of wine that makes your jaw drop. So captivating, so elusive. Layer upon layer of nuance, of fleeting flavors of vetiver, lime, stone and verbena.
And the wine seems vast. Its volume makes me think of Gothic churches wedged into crowded ancient squares. From the outside, the structure seems small; walk through the doors and you gape at the vastness of the space that seems to balloon out to infinity.
I guess what I’m getting at is that the wine overwhelms you in a very specific way: it creates the sensation that your palate has its own architecture and that this wine has transformed the space that is your palate into a vaulted ceiling. And you are dumbfounded. The wine is also a revelation.
We know we have lost something, some essence, of the miracle we call wine when the grapes are grown on vines grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. And, in an effort to recapture the purity that once was, many brave vintners plant experimental plots of ungrafted vines, knowing that it is only a matter of time before these plants, too, are attacked by the dreaded, life-sucking aphid.
I’ve tasted a lot of those wines and never failed to admire their transparency, their weight – despite having lower levels of alcohol than wines made from grafted vines. In tasting after tasting, these wines from ungrafted vines were always the first bottles to be emptied.
But my experience with Chidaine’s Montlouis was something else again. It brought home to me, in a way that I will never forget, the immensity of what we have lost.

Francois Chidaine,37270 Montlouis sur Loire, 02.47.45.19.14.

December 8, 2009: Tangled Up In Blois:

In my ongoing effort to be as encyclopedic as possible in Loire2 I went to a mini-wine fair – called ‘salon’ over here – in Blois, Les Vins du Coin. There were about 25 vignerons, all of whom practice organic viticulture.
As I type my notes onto/​into my MacBook, I’ll see if any – aside from the one below – merit posting here. (But I would like to enter some of my Chateauneuf notes as well as…) In any event, here are some of the things I learned in Blois.
1) Don’t count on finding a taxi at the train station. If you walk over to the taxi stand and there are a) no cabs; or b) two empty cabs, consider finding another means of transport.
2) Ambient aromas: Les Vins du Coin was held in the National Stables of Blois. Each vigneron had a stand in front of an individual stable. The stable was empty but marked with the name of the horse and the animal’s owner. I found that, for me anyway, lingering equine odors hardly interfere with my tasting abilities while cigarettes, perfume and after-shave really do.
3) I’ve become an old fart. I had been invited to the dinner following the first night of the tasting. At 6pm, after having accomplished what I’d set out to do that day, I slumped myself down on a bench in the large entry hall to wait. As the schedule said the tasting would last until 7, I figured dinner would, with any luck, start before 8. Streams of college kids bearing musical instruments marched through the hall; deposited their instrument cases somewhere and returned to taste. This set off an alarm in my head, prompting me to ask one of the winemakers what time dinner would begin. 9 PM. I knew that dinner would be a blast. I would have loved every second of it – the food, the wine, the music. But Old Fartedness – complete with bad back and aching feet – kicked in hard. I returned my dinner ticket to Thierry Puzelat so that he could pass it on to someone else and I went to my little hotel, ate a quick dinner, took a shower and so to bed. Needless to say, I arrived at the tasting the following morning before most of the winemakers – and in better shape than any of them. Still…
4) OK, back to wine issues: Oxidation in white wine has a range of different expressions. Many, if not all, of the winemakers at the tasting avoid using sulphur. For this and other reasons, many of their white wines – particularly those aged for long periods of time in oak barrels – take on oxidative characteristics. Often they smell like sherry. Or, when the oxidatitive quality is light and the wine is still, well, vinous, like a number of wines I like from the Jura. I found myself describing these wines as Jurassic.
5) While we’re on the subject of oxidation, a revelation:I was tasting at the stand of Emile Heredia of Domaine de Montrieux in the Coteaux du Vendomois.
We were tasting Heredia’s 2007 Vendomois blanc, pure chenin. I found the wine creamy, somewhat oxidized, with a finish as vibrantly tart as freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Another taster asked how much residual sugar the wine had. None, Heredia said. But with 14.2 alcohol, the wine might taste sweet. Still another asked why the wine tasted oxidized. Heredia said that, even on the vine, the grapes, where were shriveled, had had that flavor. Interesting.
Shriveled grapes – particularly those that get made into nectar-like liquoureux -- frequently have VA-like aromas (which you also find in the finished wine) but this was the first time I’d heard that they might also smell oxidized while still on the hoof, so to speak. Well, you learn something new everyday.
Heredia’s was to be my last “visit” of the fair. And I was going to finish on a high note, with a red wine made solely from Pineau d’Aunis, Heredia’s 2006 “Verre de Poetes”.
It is my desert island Vendomois – or it would be except that it’s a Vin de Table and not entitled to the Vendomois appellation because the grapes come from a small parcel beyond the delimited zone. Yet another confirmation that the law is, indeed, a ass.
The vines, planted in 1872, were never attacked by phylloxera, perhaps because of their relative isolation. Heredia replants by marcottage (a method of propagation by a layering of the mother plant in the vineyard).
The parcel of vines belonged to Heredia’s neighbor, a Monsieur Pequet. First name? “I don’t really know,” Heredia told me. “We all called him Pequet. (pause) Maybe it was Maurice.” In any event, Pequet told Heredia that, until World War I, many Loire reds were fermented like this: a barrelmaker brought his lid-less barrels into the vineyard; the grapes were put in the barrels, lightly crushed; the barrelmaker then added the lids, sealing the barrels, which were then placed in the deep recesses of the wine cellar and left until Easter. When the barrels were unsealed, the wines were ready. “At least that’s the story” Heredia summed up, “but you can’t find barrelmakers like that anymore so I had to adapt my vinification accordingly.”
Heredia fills 30 hl stainless steel tanks with whole clusters of grapes, filling the tanks completely. As wood allows a slight exchange of air and stainless steel does not, Heredia pumps the wine over daily at the beginning of fermentation, gradually reducing the frequency.
Here is a sensational quiet red. Actually, it’s almost too rich to be a quiet red. It weighs in at 14 degrees alcohol but is so light on the palate that I’d have said 12. Please pay attention while drinking. Don’t miss the delicate weave of plum, rose petal, bacon, and black and white pepper. Exotic as incense. Yes, I do love this grape.

November 20, 2009: Finally Getting Back to the PMGs of August!
2007 Côte du Rhone rouge, Domaine Rouge-Bleu “Mistral”:

The wine won a gold medal at the Paris fair. Normally I wouldn’t mention that because, having served on many wine juries, I don’t have a lot of faith in their results. First of all, not all winemakers participate. If you don’t know how comprehensive the pool was, you don’t know what the prize really represents. Secondly, the jurors, themselves, are a real grab-bag of tasters, some quite experienced, others, no more than neophytes, and still others, the Rush Limbaughs of wine with wingnut prejudices so entrenched there’s no reasoning with them. Often, the wine that wins is a wine that can unite this motley crew. That said, this particular wine definitely deserves the Gold.
But I digress.
Wine facts: 71% Grenache from 75 year old vines; 19% syrah from 10 year old vines, 8% mourvedre from 75 year old vines, 2% Roussane from 75 year old vines. Low yields @​ 1.5 tons an acre/​ 29 hl/​ha. Hand harvest, in small crates.
The wine comes from a recent 8 hectare start-up, Domaine Rouge-Bleu, located on the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Farmed according to the principles of biodynamics, the vines grow on soils as rocky as those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Yields are low, around 29 hl/​ha; the grapes are hand-harvested, in small crates; and ferment in small cement tanks.

Suave and dulcet, the wine displays the sweet creaminess of Grenache. So unaggressively seductive, it rolls over the tongue spreading flavors of ripe black cherries, purple plums and mirabelles, spices and chocolate. It’s rich and ripe, yet fresh and balanced. The bottle empties quickly.
Jean-Marc Espinasse, the owner of Rouge-Bleu and the winemaker, sent me the bottle. We had met during the 2007 Découvertes de Rhone at an amazing dinner at La Mère Germaine, a small hotel/​restaurant in Chateauneuf. Called “Les Incontournables,” this feast is a regular highlight of the Découvertes, a bacchanal during which the region’s best wine makers bring their best bottles and spend the evening doing precisely what you would imagine when you’ve got a crowd of like-minded winelovers (including winemakers), good food, some of the best bottles of the Southern Rhone, a cacophonous local rock trio, and still more superb bottles.
I’d spent the evening at a table with Jean-Marc and his uncle, Jean-Claude Vidal, the owner of Domaine du Banneret in Chateauneuf. And it was the 1997 of that wine to which I gave my Gold medal as the best wine of the evening, beating out some pretty heavy competition. And, when December rolled around, I named it the Best Wine of the Year in FrenchFeast (see post for December 22, 2007).

Jean-Marc and I have remained in touch, thanks to email and Facebook. And from time to time I’d get reports on his evolution as a winemaker – one in the J-C Vidal mode. When his first wine was ready, he sent me a sample. This was it and it was a beauty.
My advice: Don't miss it!

October 30, 2009: The Wine Nazi:

I can’t help but proselytize, particularly when it comes to wine. I had hand-picked the bottles for Joan. I knew she loved Sancerre and I knew she didn’t find enough Chinon in Hoboken, where she lives. You can read those tasting notes below. Suffice it to say, however, that we ate and drank and yammered away without ever discussing the wines but enjoying every sip of them.
Then come the Layon. I always want to dazzle good friends with the magnificence of a truly fine Layon and, for this purpose, I had chosen the 2007 Chaume from Pierre-Bise. You can read the tasting notes right after the following text.
We had gotten to the cheese course – I prefer whites with cheese and, depending on the cheeses, sweet whites. And I had made a simple, not too sweet tart with peaches from the garden. I usually don’t like sweet whites with dessert but this particular combination did not offend my sense of order in the world.
So I poured the gorgeous, gleaming, burnished gold liquid. We, of course, were mid-conversation. Joan drank and kept on talking.
“Stop, stop!” cried the Wine Nazi. “You have to really taste the wine.”
“I did taste it,” said Joan. “It’s lovely.”
“No,” I protested, “when I open a wine of this quality you have to pay attention to it. Sniff it, savor it.” (I would have gone on and directed her to swirl and sniff and consider, repeat, repeat, repeat; and to taste and think about the texture, the freshness, the balance, the interplay of sweetness and fruit and acidity, the herbal tea qualities, the lingering finish and the quality thereof, and to ‘let the wine talk to you’ and the 'why is this wine different from (or similar to) other wines' and so on but I didn’t want to display the full extent of my geekiness. And so, taking an Arthur Miller line way out of context, all I added was, “Attention must be paid.”
2007 Chaume Chateau Pierre-Bise:
I had tasted the wine twice previously with Claude and Joelle Papin at the Salon des Vins de Loire and said, in summary: luminescent gold with tinges of green (the sign of a great Layon), enormously succulent yet extremely pure. Wraps itself around the tongue like a blanket of honey, long, longer, racy and pedigreed. That was the beginning of February 2009. Now, in October 2009, the wine had evolved, the color deepened. Burnished gold, as I said earlier. Honey was the immediate impression, and bee’s wax, then every expression of apricot – the ripe fruit, the fruit dried, marmalade – woven in with quinine, menthol, lime and black tea. Every sip a discovery. For a Wine Nazi/​Proselytizer. Attention must be paid.

Some Recent Snaps to Accompany Tasting Notes

Joan with the sweet, recently deceased Bleecker, a fine dog, dearly remembered by me for having surreptitously eaten all the raw sausage that was to have made the stuffing for the holiday turkey
Joan is a law school pal who I intended to write about last year when she was in Paris with her son Ben. She came to Paris last week literally at the last minute. I got an email late one night saying she would arrive in Paris the next day (actually the day after). She was the representative for the American Bar Association (I think I've got it right) to an international meeting to "do something" about Iranian refugees who are being threatened with repatriation. The meeting was called by Iranians who live in the Paris suburb of Cergy, usually hyphenated as Cergy-Pontoise.
Then she came to visit in Touraine where we spent most of our time by the fire, eating, drinking, and yakking until 3am. I was happy she was around for the village aperitif. And now you know for whom I opened those "Wines Drunk at Home" bottles,

I still have to post some tasting notes, as well as to tell you how I turned into a Wine Nazi (or Stalinist). In the meantime, here's what we had for dinner on Joan's second night. (She arrived too late for a dinner her first night. We just had some charcuterie, cheese, salad and wine.)
Charcuterie: rillettes de sanglier made from a boar hunted by Pierre Teillet and converted into rillettes by Odile Teillet. To die. From Charcuterie Beugnet in neighboring Huismes, saucisson a l'ail and saucisse de morteau; main course: sauteed duck breast with apples from my tree sautéed in duck fat; salad (delicate mesclun, roquette and radichetta from the garden, all organic) dressed with artisanal olive oil from the Languedoc given to me by Isabel and Matthieu Champart and old balsamic vinegar from Lungarotti; cheeses (real, raw milk Camembert de Normandie AOC, roquefort (from Crouzat, not Societe), vieux Comte; easy summer tart with peaches from the garden. These were among the last of my peaches. This year I was inundated and had already made two types of peach jam as well as peach ratafia, during which procedure I nearly burned down the house.
If you think that this post belongs in FrenchFeast, you are a very good reader. I've posted it here, however, because it goes with some of the wine notes below and some wine notes still to come.

Lunch after a 2-hour, 10-wine aperitif. All will be explained.
Aperitif Group Pictures
First, the people in the foreground: in sunglasses, Jackie (not me); Jean-Louis; Jacqueline, Jean-Louis' significant other.

You can glimpse me in the background, talking to Guy Foucault.

The restaurant in question -- I don't think it has a name yet -- belongs to the two women who own and run the epicerie. They also rent out basic rooms. For the moment, it's only open for lunch, in season. And, as yet, has no wine or liquor license. The guys had promised les filles, as they are known, to eat there before the season ended. This was the day.

The Lunch, Part the Second:
First, the folks: Jackie again, standing; Pierre; Jacques. (I can't tell whose back we're seeing.)

More about the meal: Yes, no wine or liquor license. This made me nervous. Jean, whose picture you'll see below, said we couldn't bring wine because of the lack of the license and in case there was a "control." I said, what if we had rented the space for a party? He agreed that we could bring wine in such a case but not in this instance because there would be clients.
We arrived so late that there were only two tables left and they were well into their meals. Without expressly dawdling, we took so long to order that the other tables had left before we'd gotten any food. (We'd already had a lot of hors d'oeuvres while aperitifing.) I looked at Jean, we both looked at les filles. Green light given, doors locked, Jean and I sped to our respective cellars and returned with a dozen or so bottles.

Jean (in green cap) and M. Delaunay (I forget his first name)
Jean and his wife Francoise are my neighbors. We're in front of their garage. They have a beautiful garden but, when we have our aperitifs, we like to sit up here, right out on the rue Principale.

October 13, 16, 25 2009: Wines Drunk During Weekend of Excess
Commentary &/​or tasting notes follow. (See bolded wines). I need to point out that I taste all the wines beforehand, alone.

Wines Drunk at Home:
-- 2008 Quincy Domaine Lecomte: Lightly grassy, with flavors of creamed corn, the wine was mineral and faintly but pleasantly vegetal. Fresh as a mountain stream, it had a wonderfully full and marrowy sur lie texture.
-- 2006 Sancerre Blanc Natter "Cuvee de la Grange de Montigny":n Sancerre Natter 2006 Cuvee de la Grange de Montigny: Refined and lissome, the wine offered flavors of lemon and preserved lemon backed by light grassiness. Pure and elegant.
-- 2008 Sancerre Blanc P & N Reverdy "Cuvee les Coutes"The wine, unfiltered, was so buoyant it practically vibrated. Full of character. Great bistro white.
-- 2006 Chinon Pierre Sourdais "Reserve Stanislas" This was a wine I had tasted two months earlier and had recorked and kept in the fridge. So here are the original tasting notes (somewhat edited):
Day One: Dense but not overextracted, ripe fruit, smooth, 3 dimensional; as it opens, brawnier, oaky. Day Two: somewhat truffley, tannic, fruit is masked. Ambitious but needs more delicacy, a finer hand. Day Three: cassis, black cherry, cinnamon coming out. Still too oaky but interesting work in progress and a serious Chinon. A Chinon to drink at table, a dinner wine. (We drank it with seared duck breast.) Day Four: brambly, truffley, black cherries, tannins. Day Five: Finally coming into its own; still tannic but fruit and velvet-taffeta texture have taken over. Flavors of prune, black cherry, mint, bark and oak. Solid and a presence.

-- 1997 Montouis moelleux Ch de Cray Hand harvested from tuffeau soils, low yields (30 hl/​ha), its profile was textbook top vintage Montlouis: 12,5 alcohol, 90 grams residual sugar and 4.5 g/​l acid. The flavors were equally classic and thoroughly appetizing: a lovely blend of honey, quince, quinine, flint, apricots, sultanas in rum, with a long finish. To drink now or keep.

-- 2003 Touraine-Amboise doux "Quintessence" Lycee Viticole d'Amboise :The 2003 Quintessence fully lives up to its name. It’s a real nectar, pure honey, with bright Loire acidity and lipsmacking flavors of rum and honey soaked sultanas, herbal tea and quinine. The students who made it have every right to be proud. And once again, I’m newly impressed by the excellence of chenin east of Montlouis.
-- 2007 Chaume Ch Pierre-Bise This wine needs a separate post because here is where I became a Wine Nazi.

Wines Drunk with Village Aperitif Group
-- 2004 ZoZo VdTdeFrance Julien Courtois Made from the obscure, resolutely local,Menu-Pineau grape, 20 hl/​ha, 36 months barrel age, 13.4 alc. somewhat oxidized, waxy with flavor of butterscotch (but not sweet), very, very mineral, very pure, some co2, oak. Definitely a wine bar find with resonant back notes of toffee and minerals. A cross between "wine" and fino; the Jura comes to mind. The folks at the aperitif group pronounced it vermouthe which I presumed was their way of saying it was oxidized. They didn't like the wine, or they found it disconcerting. I explained that it was a) the product of hypernatural-non-interventionist winemaking; and b) had quite a following in Paris wine bars. When he learned the name of the wine, Pascal said, "ZoZo for the Bobos. I get it." (BoBo =s bourgeois bohemian.) Not exactly but not too far off. In any event, I was more than happy to take the remains of the bottle home and finish it with espelette peppers stuffed with cod.
-- 2008 Sancere blanc Domaine des Vieux Pruniers:Vigorous, tart and pungent, with lots of upfront flavor, the wine was an example of the foxy side of sauvignon.
-- 2008 Coteaux du Loir blanc Domaine Minier: Chenin with 20% chardonnay, this is a lively country white, a tad rustic but a fine casual, old-world white to enjoy with friends in settings like our village aperitif.
-- 2006 Jasnieres Joel Gigou Cuvee du Paradis: Opens with a blast of so2. Underneath, glimpses of stoniness and a light whiff of nail polish (not nail polish remover). I left about a third of a glass of the wine on the table for four or five hours. With so2 mostly blown off, flavors of lime and stone appeared. Repeated the next day with similar results. The wine was a bit thick and not as pure as I would have liked. Luckily, most of the so2 had blown off by aperitif day.

-- 2006 Montlouis sec Domaine Deletang Cuvee les Batisses:The 2006 sec (13 alcohol, 5 grams residual sugar, 5.6 g/​l acid) was the perfect example of a wine that benefited from Slow Tasting(see April 15, 2009 post). An initial whiff of sulfur, that closed closet –waxy-mothball-wet-wool chenasse, hid the essence of the wine. You could sense pedigree there but how much of that was based on faith? Day two: ye old chenasse is still there, as is so2, but a crystalline, ethereal aspect begins to emerge, as well as flavors of apple and quince and enticing bitterness. Verdict? Carafe well before serving.

-- 2005 Montlouis demi-sec Domaine Deletang Cuvee les Batisses: (13.2 alcohol, 18 grams residual sugar, 5.4 g/​l acid). So much sulfur in the nose that I couldn’t taste anything. After leaving wine in my glass for four or five hours, I retasted and found flavors of lime, Granny Smith apples, lemon, and a food-friendly off-dryness that called out for pairing with food. On Day 2: better still: silkier, with flavors of verbena, quinine and quince compote.

-- 2003 Montlouis moelleux Deletang Cuvee les Batisses: 13,4 alcohol, 52.2 grams residual sugar, 3.5 g/​l acid. There was a whisper of so2 and a wee tingle of co2 (not unpleasant), with a strong, boots on the ground presence of quinine – which I think should get at least partial credit for the wine’s lovely balance – which gave way to flavors of herbal tea, apple and quince jelly.

-- 1997 Montlouis moelleux Ch de Cray: see above. We finished off the bottle that Joan and I had started. The crowd was gobsmacked.

-- 2008 Touraine-Amboise rouge Domaine de la Grange Tiphaine, Clef de Sol: a blend of Cot and Cabernet franc, the wine was ripe, juicy, tart, pure and made for immediate pleasure. As simple and joyous as that.
-- 2008 Touraine-Amboise rouge Domaine de la Grange Tiphaine, Becarre: The Cuvee Becarre is pure cabernet. The 2008 was tart, edgy and a bit herbaceous. Yet more confirmation for my conviction that, barring increased global warming, cabernet ought not be planted east of Tours. Cot, on the other hand, is another story. And Delecheneau’s 2005 Vieilles Vignes cuvee of pure Cot is yet more confirmation for my conviction that the grape ought to be much more widely planted in the vast Touraine appellation.

October 1, 2009: Future Loire Star: Xavier Weisskopf :
I’d like to introduce you to one of the future stars of French viticulture: Xavier Weisskopf, whose first vintage was 2005.
Born in Picardy, in northern France in 1979, Weisskopf studied viticulture and enology in Chablis and Beaune, then worked for Louis Barroul (Chateau St. Cosme) in Gigondas from 2001 to 2004 before creating his own winery in 2005. He wanted to make great white wine, felt the southern Rhone was too warm for the style of wines he wanted to make, realized vineyard land in Burgundy too expensive, and settled for the Loire the freshness of whose wines he admired and he found vines on slopes overlooking the Cher as well as splendid 15th century tuffeau cellars not far from Amboise.
They consisted of 7 hectares of chenin , 2 of red, including 1.5 hectares of cot (some of which were planted in 1891) and 50 ares of sauvignon blanc. Basically abandoned by two elderly vignerons, the vineyards were a jungle of ankle-spraining weeds and needed almost complete restructuring.Weisskopf chose to put his vines back into shape organically.
Harvest is by hand, by successive passes through the vineyards; Weisskopf uses indigenous yeasts and ferments 90% of his wines in new or newish barrels, the rest in tank. (At first, he used Burgundy barrels purchased from Marc Colin but, after deciding they made the wines too ‘oaky,’ he has switched to 500 litre barrels.) Counting his Touraine AOCs and his Vin de Pays, he makes 11 cuvees, depending on the vintage.
Weisskopf’s cuvee La Touchemitaine accounts for two-thirds of his production. It comes from vines roughly 30 years old grown on flinty-clay soils in St. Martin. The 2006 sec was the embodiment of raciness: bone-dry, mineral, stunningly fresh, with deep, mingled fruit flavors of quince and preserved lemon. Sheer excellence. When tasted in the fall of 2009, the wine seemed closed, revealing only waxiness on the nose. Then it startled the palate with burst of citrus zest, quinine, white pepper, mouth-watering juiciness.With aeration, the initial waxiness disappeared. A fascinating, searing presence, the wine was stunningly pure and elegant. An ice princess.
His 2005 La Negrette sec, tasted in the fall of 2009, seemed somewhat closed but still revealed aromas of honey, blossoms and wax. On the palate it was tangy and appetizing, with juicy citrus zest and verbena flavors and a long, cleansing, mineral-lemon finish.
Weisskopf doesn’t want his Montlouis to go through malolactic fermentation but the 2007 “La Negrette” did so all by itself. So the vintner doesn’t like it. I humbly beg to differ. Aged in oak, 40% of which consisted of new 500 litre barrels, the 2007 was, indeed, oaky but it was also fresh as a waterfall. It was still in barrel but I could have drunk the entire cask then and there.
Oak was more prominent in the 2006 La Negrette sec. It had aged for 16 months in 228 litre Burgundy barrels, 20% of which were new. But the wine simply needs time. It was tight and highstrung – 13.8 alcohol and 6.2 acid. Yes, that’s high but, trust me, that acidity was regal, first class. Juicy. I will follow this cuvee avidly.
Weisskopf thought his 2006 Petillant, made from grapes picked at 13.6 potential alcohol, was too ripe. Disgorged in 2008, the final wine had 14 grams of residual sugar. Again, I hate to disagree with such a good winemaker but I loved this petillant, writing, “This is it!” It was rich and appetizing, lightly salty, with subtle, intriguing flavors of apple and stone. Downright gourmand.
From his 1.5 hectares of Cot Weisskopf makes a delightful Touraine rouge. The 2006 was rich, fresh and mineral, with satisfying depth. It went down all too easily and would be a great choice for a bistro lunch.

Sept. 23, 2009: The 3rd PMG Goes to Didier:

I said there were four PMGs from that dinner party (see below) with a bunch of favorite Loire winemakers and, thus far, I’ve only written about two. Well, I was deliberately waiting to write about this, the third, Didier Dagueneau’s 2005 Jurancon “Les Jardins de Bablylon.
It was about this time last year that Didier Dagueneau was buried. And here is yet another example of the sheer greatness of his artistry.
Now, if anyone has any doubt that shriveled grapes can’t make as great a sweet wine as those that have been attacked by botrytis, they should immediately buy and drink this wine. Barrel fermented, with 11 degrees alcohol, it is pitch perfect, all of a piece. The oak is entirely consumed by the wine. And, aside from being liquid gold, the wine has lush flavors of pineapple, grapefruit, lemon zests, sultanas steeped in honey and herbal tea. Every sip a discovery. Brilliant.
Of course, aside from delecting in the wine, we reminisced about Didier. And agreeing that this is how he would want us to think of him, we all toasted his memory.

Sept. 2, 2009: The Next PMG
Actually, this was the fourth of the PMGs of the meal I’m taking such a long time writing about (and not even respecting rules of basic grammar with regard to prepositions).
I’m writing about it now because PMG #2 involves some fancy HTML maneuvers (fancy for me, anyway) and I need to experiment with that. (Teaser: it’s a red, red Rhone.) PMG #3 is a Jurancon and I’m waiting for a symbolic date to post that.

So, with that interminable intro, PMG #4 is the 2006 Barsac Cypres de Climens, the second wine from Chateau Climens.

A meal in itself, it opened with high menthol notes, luscious flavors of honey supported by oak with accents of mint, black tea and herbal tea. Gorgeous. Everyone at the dinner – most of them sweet wine specialists – voiced their preference for Climens over Yquem.
Now, a note to the PR person: I received this bottle as a sample meant to show off not only the wine but the new packaging: a small wood box with a slip-off plastic lid, holding the 50 cl bottle and a wine glass. The single glass perplexed me. Was this a shout out of sorts to women's liberation? I mean I could do in that entire 50cl by myself. But Climens is worth sharing with that very special someone – even if you need to promote someone to “that very special” status for the occasion. So I would propose the following: instead of one rather ho-hum wine glass, how about two nifty snifters? The better to share and the better to “nose’ the splendid aromas emanating from the glass?

August 25, 2009: The First of Four PMGs
I’m finally getting back to that dinner party with the Ogereaus, the Papins and the Alliets (cf post for Aug.12) Four of the wines I served at that dinner turned out to be rock solid PMGs. Here’s the first.
2003 Muscadet Sevre & Maine “Le Clos de Chateau l’Oiseliniere.” An old vines bottling, the wine was tense and focused with flavors of minerals and lemon zests. It was too plump (vintage oblige) to be called ‘chiseled’ but it was pure as a rushing mountain stream. Its texture was thrilling, real sur lie marrow. Now, you might have noticed that I, when setting forth its appellation, I didn’t mention ‘sur lie.’ That’s because the wine spent a longer time on its lees – in this case 20 months – than the law permits. So because it spent so much time on its lees, it can’t be legally considered ‘sur lie.’ But that gripping thread of bubbles was there, underscoring the wine’s freshness and purity while contributing that unique marrowy mouth feel. And what came to mind was Champagne from the Cotes des Blancs.
My reason for serving this wine after the Pouilly-Fume (cf Aug.12 post) was because I thought the Pouilly ought to follow the Cour-Cheverny which I’d served as the last of a series of aperitifs.
Everyone was knocked out by the Muscadet. Claude, the terroir maven, was convinced its elegance had to do with calcaire somewhere in its soil make up. But the Nantais is on the Massif Amoricain, as Claude well knows – though they were all tasting this blind – and its subsoils were composed of schist, mostly orthogneiss.
The Clos, despite its lack of calcaire, is very privileged. It’s located on a dome overlooking the Sevre with a full southern exposition. In fact, the Clos du Chateau l’Oiseliniere had already been documented in the time of Napoleon.
I said to Claude that the wine made me think of a Champagne from Le Mesnil. "You see," he answered, "calcaire."
Whatever: An exquisite wine. Not cheap, either. I need to check but, if memory serves, it sells for more than $40.

August 11, 12, 2009: TWO WINES GUARANTEED TO GENERATE DISCUSSION AMONG VIGNERONS IN GENERAL AND LOIRE VIGNERONS IN PARTICULAR:

The first is the 1996 Cour-Cheverny from Le P’tit Chambord/​Francois Cazin.

I selected this bottle for the aforementioned dinner party because it’s an unusual wine, made from the Romorantin grape – and a grape that none of the vignerons present cultivate. It also had some age on it. Francois Cazin is one of the leading growers and his Cheverny blanc, a blend of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, is an incredibly delicious, useful, all-purpose white.
The latter, the plain Cheverny, should be drunk in the near term. Cour-Cheverny, by law pure Romorantin, can age. Nor is it – ever—an easygoing, all-purpose white. One of the numerous descendents resulting from a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot fin Teinturier, it is related to Chardonnay but is nothing like the Good Prince of White Varietals. It’s often edgy, sometimes shrill, almost always acid and you know when you’re drinking it.
Winemakers who cultivate chenin blanc often find that Romorantin ages like that noble grape. I wanted to see how the Ogereaus and the Papins, recognized chenin artists, would react.
I also thought this wine, as it was so unusual, would make a perfect second aperitif – before passing on to the meal and the meal-selected wines.
I found the wine pungent, rather oxidized but still fresh and bracingly acid. It was grassy, with flavors of green asparagus, verbena, citrus and honey. Mid-palate, there was a slight sensation of sweetness, as if there were 2 to 3 grams residual sugar. But the finish was utterly dry – or at least the high acidity persuaded me to think so. It was definitely not a wine I would serve to beginners but I was definitely right in serving it to the vignerons in question.
They all found the wine riveting; tasting, considering, tasting again. As I’d served the wine blind, they guessed at its origins and unanimously took it for chenin whereas I thought that the vegetal flavors in this particular wine made it more like sauvignon blanc. Full of character and very specific, it was a wine that we all loved drinking – and drinking with one another – but all agreed that it was a wine for les gens inities.

The second wine (as far as this post is concerned;in fact, it was the third we'd tasted that night), also served blind, was the 2004 Pouilly Fume "HD" (Haute Densite), Chateau de Tracy.
I served this wine blind, too.
High Density, in this case, means what it says: 17,000 vine plants per hectare, only two clusters, for overall yields of 30 hl/​ha.
Tasting before the dinner, I found the wine somewhat evolved and oxidized. It was creamy and pungently varietal with notes of gooseberry and cat’s pee. Densely textured but, to my mind, not phenolically ripe.
Claude Papin attacked the subject with questions characteristic of his highly personalized, much meditated philosophy of terroir, starting with, “Is the vineyard well ventilated?”
To this and to his subsequent questions, I said, ‘You’ll understand when you know what it is, Claude.”
Although others noted the oxidation, everyone admired the structure of the wine. Of course, this led to discussion of vine density chez mes invites which usually came out to something in the neighborhood of 5000 vine plants a hectare. And there were open-ended questions and some theorizing about how much vine density is desirable. What effect does planting this dense have on ripening. Few seemed as I by bothered by the loud green sauvignon flavors though I could feel Claude cogitating at the end of the table. The theory he came out with was that the vine density had prevented the grapes from reaching phenolic maturity but that the vines, forced to compete with each other, dug deeper into the earth, thus accentuating the expression of terroir. It was this that accounted for the wine’s rather regal structure and imposing presence. Worth exploring.
And it also made me go back to notes I had taken on the 2005 Haute Densite which I’d served in June 2008 for my birthday. Interesting. I had found the 2005 fully phenolically ripe. I wrote: Extremely mineral and elegant, with notes of lime and grapefruit, the wine was dense and tight, nearly unctuous and very racy. Henry Marionnet, one of the guests, was trying to put the name on a floral note he detected. I took this to be a whiff of foxiness – something I often find in Pouilly-Fumes and had remarked in the normal Chateau de Tracy bottling.
Of course, 2005 was a much riper vintage than 2004. So Claude’s theory might hold. As I said, worth exploring.
If you have any ideas on the subject, please leave a comment on Jackiezine.




August 10, 2009:A Straightforward Tasting Note that Veers off into Stream-of-Conscious Silliness:

The Wine: 2008 Cote du Rhone Blanc “Les Clavelles” Domaine Brusset.


I have been following this very good family domaine for over twenty years. I recall having lunch with Daniel Brusset and his wife in 1987 when I was still living in New York. We ate at Rakel, a ground breaking restaurant, partly owned by Thomas Keller, who was the chef.
The Brusset’s young son, a tow-headed tyke named Laurent, was also there. I recall how he walked up to the half-wall separating the open kitchen from the dining room and, neck craned, carried on a conversation with a very amused Keller. Normal Rockwell could have sketched the scene.
Laurent is now a tall and strapping thirty-something and works with his father, making wines from their vineyards in Cairanne and Gigondas.
Made from low-yielding Viognier vines, grown on the sandy clay soils of a south-facing slope, the grapes are hand harvested and ferment (no yeasts added) partially in oak casks and part in tanks at 18 degrees.

The wine was delicately perfumed, not at all blowsy or vulgar. On the palate, it was concentrated, with vivid flavors of ripe apricot accented by lemon zests. Supple and structured, it came across much lighter than its 14 degrees alcohol would have led me to expect. Its finish was dry, citric and clean, with an echo of those lovely apricot flavors.

Brusset suggests serving it as an aperitif – which was exactly what I had planned to do. I had devised a rigorous wine list for this particular dinner as my guests included rigorous winemaking couples (Vincent & Catherine Ogereau, Claude & Joelle Papin/​Pierre-Bise and Philippe & Claude Alliet. I thought this would wine would be a perfect mise en bouche, preparing our palates with something lovely for more demanding wines to come.

And, in my tasting notes, after the words “aperitif,” I wrote “perfect for a summertime ladies’ lunch.” To which I added “Lucky ladies.”

Here’s where I swerve into stream of consciousness. I love musicals from Broadway’s Golden Era. If you are not of the same mind, you may want to stop reading here. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the trip.


Neither of these songs reflects anything about the wine in question, just my use of the words "lady", "lunch" and "luck" in combination. So what song might go with the wine it? Many come to mind. But as I was in a Broadway frame of mind, the first song that entered my head was ...

counter for myspace

July 28, 2009: Pour Ma Gueule:
PMG or “pour ma gueule” replaces “Wine of the Week.” I was never consistent with the latter anyway (in terms of keeping to a weekly schedule) and PMG much more accurately reflects my feelings about the wine thus presented.
Pour ma gueule literally translates as “for my own mouth/​trap/​kisser.’ It refers, in this context, to a wine I like so much I want to keep it and drink it myself – either alone or with a small circle of friends.
One of the rewards I’ve had – and health hazards encountered – while tasting for this edition of the Loire book is how very many wines qualified as PMGs.
Today’s PMG is the 2006 Coteaux du Loir blanc “l’Effraie” from the artist-vigneron, Eric Nicolas who, at his Domaine de Bellivière, put the appellations Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières well and truly on the wine lovers map.
The two appellations are located about an hour north of Tours in the Sarthe department. The l’Effraie bottling represents low-yielding young vines (in Nicolas’ lexicon that means vines under 50 years old) grown on flinty clay on limestone soils. The wine ferments in newish barrels and ages on its lees, in barrel, for at least a year.
Simultaneously delicate and resilient as steel wire, the wine is nuanced and racy with a lipsmacking sur lie tingle and lovely lemon zest accents as well as flavors of wax and honey. From mid-palate to the long finish, the wine sounds depths of slate and stone while the fruit floats above, light and lyrical.
On the label, Nicolas comments that the wine “tastes dry in character.” Yes and no. I would guess there’s about 4 grams residual sugar. Beautifully balanced, it makes a superb aperitif and absolutely inspires culinary creativity.
It would enhance so many recipes. My first thought: salad of avocado and grapefruit. Frankly, I love both of those foods but I don’t much like the salad. It is, however, popular among a considerable number of my French friends. I suspect the recipe must have appeared in a magazine.
Better yet but along the same lines was a dish I made with leftovers of the shrimp with dill mayonnaise I had prepared for my birthday. I had thought that recipe a bit salty and so, with the leftovers, I added a chopped avocado. Sublime. At the time I paired it with the leftovers of a bottle of Larmandier-Bernier “Terre de Vertus” Champagne – which was pretty damned terrific. But this dish would have gone superbly with the 2006 l’Effraie.I had just tasted two other bottlings from Nicolas – decidedly sweet Coteaux du Loir blanc from the 2005 vintage. Equally magnificent, they are also PMGs. I’ve been drinking them very slowly as aperitifs. And I’m tasting the rest of his samples at a snail’s pace – interspersing them with wines from other producers – because I know all of them will be PMGs.
So I knew I wanted this particular bottle with dinner. But I had absolutely nothing in the house – in the way that a pack rat with overstocked cabinets has absolutely nothing in the house. (I was going to the market on the following day.) Sure, I could make some sort of pasta dish that would more or less complement the wine but I had just eaten pasta for the two previous dinners.
Then I happened to look in the freezer. Ah! The epicurean gods were smiling on me. From Picard, frozen scallops seasoned with citronelle, galanga and red pepper. (Picard is a chain of frozen food stores. High end. So you’re skeptical? Have a look at the info on the package and the ingredient list:
Noix de Saint-Jacques infusion à la citronnelle.Des noix de Saint-Jacques (Zygochlamys patagonica) sans corail, déjà assaisonnées et délicatement relevées par une infusion de feuille de citronnier, citronnelle et galangal (plante aromatique à la saveur légèrement citronnée, poivrée et fraîche) et réhaussée de gingembre.Origine : Argentine ou Uruguay. Cette espèce est pêchée en Atlantique Sud-Ouest, au large de l'Argentine et de l'Uruguay.
Ingrédients: Noix de st-jacques 90% (Zygochlamys patagonica, origine Argentine et/​ou Uruguay, pêchée en Atlantique Sud-Ouest), infusion à la citronnelle et au galangal 5,3% (eau, feuille de citronnier, citronnelle 9,8%, galangal 5,8%), huile d'olive vierge extra, beurre, échalote, jus de citron jaune, amidon transformé de riz, ail, sel, basilic, paprika, cumin en poudre, gingembre 0,04%, citronnelle en poudre, piment.

And I sat in my garden, sipping the Coteaux du Loir and marveling at how its faint sweetness wound itself around and into the sweetness of the scallops and the subtle tang of the citronelle, while the very restrained note of red pepper simply seemed to underscore the brilliance of the combination.


July 7, 2009 : I've been meaning to write about wines drunk on my birthday as well as those that I brought for the Sunday aperitif with my neighbors in Touraine but I've been distracted by my experiments with ridding wine of Brettanomyces.
2005 was a great vintage in the Loire but many of the reds display signs of Brett, mostly gameyness. As I've been conducting my "Slow" tastings, I've noticed that when I put a slightly gamey red in the fridge so that I could follow it for a couple of days (or more) during the heat wave, the gamey notes were gone when I took the wine out of the fridge and let it warm up to 'drinking' temperature.
The question then became: will chilling eliminate light symptoms of Brett? My most recent experiment started last week and concluded today.
I was tasting the 2005 Chinon Reserve de Satis from Domaine des Beguineries, a somewhat chewy red with ruby fruit and a smooth attack as well as a whiff (or more) of gameyness. I tasted the wine again the next day. The gameyness was still there. So I put the wine in the fridge and went on to other samples.
I tasted the wine today at noon. Still at fridge temperature, it had an invitingly concentrated, richly berried nose. No gameyness.
Well, it is very cold, I thought, so I'll put it aside and let it warm up. Ten minutes ago I tasted it again. Not the merest scent of gaminess. Just delectably berried fruit -- blackberries and cassis. The wine as appetizing and delightful.
Could there be a solution here?

Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau

THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ON EVERY WINE LOVER'S MIND: YES HE CAN!
Read for yourself, below.

June 9, 2009 : Tasting the 2008s of Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau:

Following the sudden and tragic death of Didier Dagueneau last September, many in the wine world wondered if the domaine could continue, if Didier’s son, Louis-Benjamin, was ready to take over.
I knew Benjamin had worked with Didier. I knew he had done stages with vignerons in Jurançon and Montlouis where he worked with François Chidaine (who remains something of a mentor) but I hadn’t seen Benjamin since 1990 when he was a sweet and mischievous boy of about 8.
At the funeral (held a day before the onset of the 2008 harvest) and at tastings in Paris I saw Benjamin. He seemed as gentle as he had been as a boy.
Then I went to visit about two weeks ago and he was so resolute in his ideas on every aspect of grape growing and winemaking it made me wonder whether he had channeled Didier.
As you’ll see from my tasting notes, Benjamin is every bit ready to fill Didier’s heavy shoes. The 2008s are stellar. At one point, in the car, Benjamin said, “I used to blame Didier for having robbed me of my youth. But now I’m grateful.” And, tasting the results, we can be both grateful and reassured that the future of this seminal Loire winery is in very capable hands.

After a passionately commentated tour of all the Dagueneau’s Pouilly vineyards – an expedition much like those Didier conducted – followed by a tasting of all the domaine’s 2007s, Benjamin and I attacked the 2008s from barrel:

2008 Blanc Fume de Pouilly (this cuvee replaces the En Chailloux bottling): A cascade of freshness and gleaming, chiseled flavors of mint, ginger and apricot with a tart and lipsmacking lemon curd finish.

2008 Pur Sang: Voluptuous yet crystalline, this wine is the apotheosis of the Loire. It wraps its crystallized flavors of grapefruit and lemon zests around the tongue. Grandiose. A vin de meditation.

2008 Buisson Renard (80% of production was lost to hail. The harvested grapes, 15 hl/​ha, had potential alcohol of 14.5º): There was none of the foxiness I often find in this cuvee, though there were flavors of apple and beer which suggested an unfinished wine.

2008 Sancerre Monts Damnés (13.1º alcohol and 5.6 acid): Simply magnificent. The oak is there but is merely a light support. The wine flows over the palate like satin over bare skin. Chiseled, racy, fresh. A joy.

2008 Silex ( 60 to 70% of the harvest was lost to hail, resulting in a harvest of 16 to 19 hl/​ha): Barrel #1, the most austere in the blend: very structured, very pure, very rectilinear, a weave of steel and lace with flavors of minerals, stone, and grapefruit and lemon zests; Barrel #2: the largest percentage of the cuvee, 14.2º with 6.2 acid: Stunning in its purity, full yet astonishingly fresh, deep and racy. The light flavors of oak are just seasoning. Great tension. Superb.

2008 Clos du Calvaire:(The final vintage of an experimental vineyard, with a vine density of 20,000 plants per hectare, 40% of which were sauvignon rose. The vines have been ripped up because Benjamin felt the vines could not ripen successfully at this density.) 11.5º alcohol. Scents of cassis buds and a light, sugary quality. Tight finish.

2008 Asteroid: (sauvignon blanc franc de pied and, sadly, there is phylloxera): The wine is as tense as a high wire, chiseled. It’s like taking a bit out of a glacier, with flavors of steel and herbal tea. Majestic, achingly regal.

OTHER GRAPES, OTHER WINES:

As with the experimentation with vine density, Didier experimented with grapes not commonly found – indeed, mostly prohibited – in the appellation’s vineyards. Benjamin continues this practice and I hope the law isn’t such a ass that it will stop him. Here are some 2008 notes on wines from unauthorized grapes (again, all tasted from barrel).

2008 Sauvignon rose (from the vineyard that produces Silex): fresh, ample and yet tart with light oak flavors. What’s most intriguing are the rich, exotic fruit flavors which don’t recall any one specific fruit but just a wave of lush yet subtle fruitiness.

2008 Petit Meslier (from 5 or 6 rows of vines, ie one barrique, even after cluster-thinning and hail damage, the vines yields 55 hl/​ha): Naturally high in acid (7 in this case), the wine tasted like lemonade without sugar. Benjamin said that it ages and oxidizes quickly. It was once commonly planted in the region and used for the making of sparkling wine.

2008 Riesling (from 20 year old vines): Simply magnificent. Like bone dry ice wine. Majestic too.

2005 Jurancon (11º alcohol, 7º acid, 115 grams residual sugar): Succulent and mouth-watering, the wine’s honeyed lusciousness seemed the product of passerillage, not botrytis. With accents of lemon zest and preserved lemon, it was beautifully structured, fresh and mouth-watering.
2002 Pinot Noir: According to Benjamin, Didier made this only once. Too bad. It was cool and fresh and lightly truffley.

Anne Vatan

June 10, 2009: Tasting of Clos la Néore Sancerre with Anne Vatan and Nady Foucault:
You never know who you’re going to bump into in a good wine village. When walking to a winery in Chavignol two weeks ago, who did I spy but Nady Foucault from Saumur-Champigny. Natural. As he was married to Anne Vatan, a gracious, lovely young woman, who was out working on the one hectare of vines she had just taken over from her father, Edmond. One hectare of Sancerre, on the treasured slopes of Monts Damnés.
Nady, never out of character, corralled us and brought us to their home – in front of which he had installed handsome (and historic) gates retrieved from Fontevraud Abbey near Saumur.
Soon Anne, in pink overalls and flipflops, joined us and brought out the 2008 which had been bottled the week before. With a potential of 14º, the finished wine was 13.8º. It was dense and creamy. The oak was evident but seemed to have melted into the whole. There was a sense of chalkiness, vibrant mint accents and an overall sense of a fast flowing stream.
I had tasted the 2007 about 8 months earlier when my notes read, “crystalline, mineral, light oak, tart but racy.” Now the wine, with 13.5º alcohol, was full and textured, dry but tender, and scented with anise. It had lots of character but demanded attention. Not a wine to savor in a noisy brasserie. It also, as so many fine Chavignols do, made me think of Chablis. And we talked about the similarity of the two different appellations – separated only, when you come right down to it, by a grape variety.
Ample and pungent was the lightly hot 2005, a toothsome weave of menthol, grapefruit and gooseberry. And although this wine did have a whiff of the varietal characteristics of sauvignon blanc, it still recalled Chablis.
Then, a ’96, one of Nady’s favorite years. It was a delectably appetizing blend of creamed corn, cream of asparagus, verbena and honey.
Next, an’83. With its bouquet of hay and wax and herbal tea, it could have been an aged chenin. On the palate, however, it once again made us say “Chablis.” A beautifully aged Chablis.
Anne disappeared and came back with a grimy bottle. “This is very anecdotal,” she said, pouring the burnished gold wine into our glasses. There was the scent of honeyed hay again, and verbena and the furniture wax of a fine antique shop. Very much in the style of the ’83 and the ’96 except that they had a tiny bit more vigor and bounce. So what was it?
“It’s called ChaChaCha,” said Anne, pronouncing the words ShaShaSha (as they should be pronounced). It was a wine made from chardonnay vines, from Chablis, planted on Monts Damnés. Edmond Vatan long ago realized the kinship uniting good grapes grown on steep slopes fashioned by Kimmeridgian soils.

Nady Foucault

Pascal Cotat

Francis Cotat

May 19, 2009: QUIET REDS and the 2008 Cabernet Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France, Domaine de l'Ecu:

QUIET REDS


There’s a category of red wine that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Actually, I’m making it a category: Quiet Reds. These are red wines that tend to be light in color and saturation, relatively low in alcohol, with little to no oak age. The polar opposite of “trophy wines,” these Quiet Reds are not flashy, eye-catching, nostril-permeating, or tooth-staining. They will impress no one but other lovers of Quiet Reds. You need to pay attention to them or they’ll slip by unobserved. And that would be a real pity for they are gems with tons of character packed into a light, lean, gentle, unassuming package.
Some grapes, by their very nature, typify, for me, Quiet Reds: Pineau d’Aunis, for example, or Trousseau and Poulsard. Pinot Noir can slip into the Quiet Red category, particularly when grown in areas like Irancy. But I’ve never come across a Cabernet that I’d put in this category.
Until I tasted a tank sample of Guy Bossard’s 2008 Vin de Pays made from Cabernet Franc (3/​4) and Cabernet Sauvignon (1/​4) on a granitic slope in Muscadet country.
I thought Guy had tricked me: the wine came across like a Pinot Noir, with its pale color, fine, delicate fruit, scents of plum and cherry pit, light fruit tannins. I’ve often tasted Syrah and Gamay that pinot-ed but never Cabernet. I was thoroughly enchanted and recorked the bottle to taste it again the following day.
In the interim I called Guy. Surprisingly, he wasn’t surprised. He has planted Pinot Noir but this wasn’t it. He credited the “pinot” character to the superiority of the vineyard site, the granitic soils which bring out cherry flavors particular to Burgundy, light pressing and short vatting – as well as to his deep down love of Burgundy.
The wine didn’t last longer than Day 2 chez moi but by that time some Cabernet characteristics began to assert themselves – still in the plum and cherry range but more typical of the way Cabernet expresses plum and cherry (Loire cherry flavors) – and there was still more than a slight gustatory resemblance to Pinot Noir. So seductive!

May 12, 2009: Gardening Day Wines:
(Gardening Day foods are discussed in FrenchFeast.)
With the cod and the smoked salmon we drank Guy’s tank samples of Guy’s Muscadets. My notes were taken four or five days after the event yet all the wines tasted fresh and sprightly. None was identified save by “vigneron’s markings.” The first bottle – “O” – which I’m guessing refers to his cuvee Orthogneiss – had a delicate, textbook Muscadet nose; it was richer on the palate than the nose had led me to believe, quite stony, mineral and salty with a good sur lie core. “BA” I assumed must have come from his vineyard “Bien Aimee.” Minerals and sur lie-ness seemed to leap from the glass. Art and focused, with notes of pear drop and grapefruit, the wine was rousing, with clear flavors of preserved lemon and bitter almond. Last was “BZ”, which I assume refers to Guy’s Baziliere vineyard. Sleek, aerodynamic and lime-driven, the wine was deeply mineral, with an edge of saltiness and a note of bitter almond in the finish.

Abel had brought tank and barrel samples of his 2008 Bourgueils. As with the Muscadets, I got around to taking notes on them several days after the event, three and five in this case. Herewith: 2008 Bourgueil “Varennes” Domaine Nau (open 5 days), deeply colored (see next wine), with flavors of cherry vanilla (another childhood reference) and plum and a tiny whiff of bell pepper, the wine was rich yet sleek and well balanced. 2008 Bourgueil “Vieilles Vignes”, Domaine Nau: (open 3 days) deeply colored and richly saturated – like many of the 2008s – the wine had a primeur nose -- of black cherries and plums – and seemed like a cross of Cot and Syrah. It was full yet cool and smooth, with hints of prune and licorice.

2005 Chateau de Coulaine Chinon “Les Picasses” (already posted those notes, see April 15, 2009: A Necessary Luxury.

Some stuck with reds for the cheese course and some went back to the dry whites – until I all but twisted their arms to switch to a sweet chenin, the 2004 Quarts de Chaume, Domaine des Baumard. Now, although there are exceptions, 2004 was not really a vintage for liquoreux in Anjou so the 2004 came across more like a moelleux, less syrupy and concentrated but beautifully fresh and lissome. An initial whiff of creamed corn – a reference I never even try to explain to the French as creamed corn is not part of their childhood and might come across as a vegetal insult – the wine’s aromas and flavors were a weave of apricot, white fleshed peaches, honey, all strung together with an herbal-quinine thread. It was a lyrical wine, with a lingering finish, and its weight and flavors and sweetness went perfectly with the cheeses.

A completely out-of-focus picture of Guy Bossard at Charles Joguet's opening. (Joguet can be dimly perceived in the background.)

Heh, heh, Mystery Bottle.
It's a delicious Chinon. I've been tasting some really nice ones over the past couple of days.

April 27, 2009 Tasting Notes on the wines consumed on the Eve of Easter.

2004 Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie “Gorgeois” from Christophe and Brigitte Boucher: An extremely good Muscadet and a fine example of the immense improvement in quality in Muscadets in general. The wine is very mineral and stony and expressive of Gorge’s special terroir; it’s very fresh and refreshing, with fine sur lie texture, good tension, light flavors of grapefruit zests and a hint of old wood. Very appetizing.

2006 Pouilly Fumé ‘les Cris,’ Domaine Alain Cailbourdin: a slight whiff of creamed corn followed by aromas of citrus zests and herbal tea. The wine is extremely stony and mineral, fresh, zesty and urbane. A lovely Pouilly.

2005 Savennières Clos du Papillon, Domaine des Baumard: (Note that the wine was finished with a very handsome screw cap.) What immediately came to mind was force, the wine was powerful --not because of its 13° of alcohol – but because of the compact and distinct way it communicated its crystalline mouthfeel and its stoniness. Initially there was almost no sensation of fruit. Then flavors of citrus zests, slate and verbena emerged and there was a whisper of sweetness, of honey, like a drop of vermouth in a very dry martini. A racy wine that made Pascal sit up and take notice, saying that although he was perfectly comfortable slouching around with the Muscadet and the Pouilly, he felt he needed to sit up straight and put on a suit and tie to drink the Clos du Papillon.

2006 Sancerre rouge “En Grands Champs,” Alphonse Mellot: The wine was neither fined nor filtered. I’d been tasting quite a few red Burgundies -- eg at the tasting of the Domaines Familiaux de Bourgogne – and this Sancerre could have held its own in that very prestigious crowd. Neither fined nor filtered, it had more stuffing – nb: I don’t mean overextraction – than most of those Burgundies. When first uncorked, the oak was a bit too dominant. Several hours later it had blended in nicely. There was nothing rustic about this wine. The balance was beautiful, the flavors lovely , sinuous and pure. Sheer, lipsmacking pleasure.

MYSTERY WINE: Here are some clues: 2003 Layon. The grapes were harvested in six different passes through the vineyard. The wine fermented in barrel. 11° alcohol. OK. The wine was a burnished gold, voluptuous and honeyed, it s flavors masked the oak entirely. Yet the acidity was there, too, making your mouth water. Toasty and creamy, rather viscous yet fresh, it had succulent flavors of pear juice. You could get lost in this wine. It was a meal in itself. Simultaneously opulent and discreet. When Pascal sniffed it, he said “Quince! My mother cooked quince all the time.” Both Pascal and Annette, who come from and live and work in the Bordeaux wine zone, said they much preferred Layon to Sauternes.

April 25, 2009 I meant to post my Easter meal(s) tasting notes here but I've been waylaid by another wine and yet another confirmation of my principle SLOW TASTING: A NECESSARY LUXURY.

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron. This producer sent me a single sample of his production -- a 2004 Vouvray sec "Cuvee du Pere Lucien". The label was corny and old-fashioned, its top a scalloped rim. Inside the top scallop was a photo of a red-cheeked farmer in a beret and work shirt. I took this to be the Pere Lucien.
The label also told me that the wine, which was 13.5% alcohol, had been harvested by hand from old vines and had been patiently aged in barriques in the domaine's cellars which dated from the 13th century.
What the label didn’t say, explicitly, but what I felt, was that the wine was made with love.
I uncorked and poured and was nearly felled by an exhalation of so2. I couldn't taste anything. But something told me that something was there so I left the bottle, uncorked, on the table for four or five hours and tasted again: the so2 was largely gone, the wine was very honest – something of a throw back to 70s-80s style of Vouvray. It had appetizing flavors of quince, lemon zests and quinine. Yes, it was lightly rustic and had a bit of heat in the finish but it was a real Vouvray, one that I wouldn't have minded drinking in any wine bar anywhere. In fact, I liked it so much I decided to follow it a bit longer. This time I put it in the fridge and tasted it again on Day 2 when flavors of herbal tea, lemon zests, quinine, minerals and quince, supported by a thread of bubbles -- elevage sur lie? -- made for a really nice glass of Vouvray. A residual whiff of so2 appeared on Day 3 but was overwhelmed by the fresh mineral/​tisane/​quince flavors as well as by the sur lie tingle. The wine was fresh, the acidity bountiful, it was very Vouvray. I nearly forgot: I didn't taste any oak at all. Those barrels must have been old demi-muids. Verdict: a really nice, very authentic Vouvray – representative of a certain period, of wines that were made well in an era not known for quality Vouvrays, and here it was, a true and tasty Vouvray.

April 15, 2009
SLOW TASTING: A NECESSARY LUXURY: I’m pretty sure I’ve alluded to my “new” way of tasting before but I’m going to begin being more explicit about it. What I mean by “Slow Tasting” is a) tasting alone, just me and the wine; and b) taking whatever time the wine seems to need for me take with it in order to assess it as accurately as possible.
This can mean a single “hi/​goodbye” tasting or it can mean retastes that last over several days or even recorking bottles, leaving a little empty space in the neck, and coming back to the wine weeks or months later. (I’ll later talk about my special corks.)
First case in point: a 2005 Chinon “Les Picasses” from Chateau de Coulaine.
The Chateau de Coulaine, situated at the limits of the commune of Beaumont-en-Veron, sits high on a hill overlooking the main road from Chinon to Bourgueil. For nearly the past 20 years it has been run with great care by Etienne Bonnaventure, the owner of Coulaine, and his wife Pascale. They have converted to domaine to organic viticulture and practice a soft variation on “non-interventionist” winemaking.
Les Picasses is one of Chinon’s best known vineyard plots. A southfacing slope east of Beaumont – and not far from the nuclear power station in Avoine – Les Picasses is blessed with tuffeau soils, the limestone producing the finest cabernet francs.
Some wine specifics: 13,8 degrees alcohol, 3. 2 acidity, 35 hl/​ha, hand harvested in small cases, vinified in cement tanks and then transferred to 400 litre barrels of one, two and three wines for a period of 18 months. No filtration.
Day 1: I tasted the wine the day before I planned to serve it. A deep crimson with deep saturation, the wine displayed raw flavors of wild berries, brambles and licorice. There was a slight taste of sweetness from the alcohol, a whiff of gameyness and a revivifying dash of Loire acidity. Such charm as it had came from its purity and the sense that it was handcrafted.
Day 2: What a difference a day makes! The wine had fleshed out and was lusciously zaftig, bursting with flavors of cooked cherries, prunes, of blackberry jam made with a stick of cinnamon. The gameyness and rawness were distant memories. True, it wasn’t an elegant wine but it was a generous, richly flavored Chinon that all my guests – including two vignerons – loved. A great choice for a good wine bistrot.

April 3, 2009 Some Beauties from Chateau de Villeneuve:
In a desperate effort to make order out of chaos, I have been spending days going through cartons packed with old tasting notes, press dossiers, articles clipped from various magazines and newspapers, throwing out piles of outdated material and duplicates and filing the rest in rough categories.
In the process I came across a clip from la Nouvelle Republique, 1999, I think, featuring an interview with Michel Bettane, France’s leading wine critic. Among his dicta, a broad reprimand aimed at the winemakers of Saumur for having given over 90% of vineyard land to cabernet franc rather than chenin blanc.
While I agree that Saumur’s soils are perfect for chenin blanc, I also think they make pretty damned good reds from cabernet franc. And this conviction was brought home to me that very night when I tasted a 2002 Saumur-Champigny from Chateau de Villeneuve.
The owner, Jean-Pierre Chevallier -- a Bordeaux-trained enologist and one of the most talented and dedicated winemakers in the Loire – is one of those rare humans who thinks before he acts. I assume he chose this particular bottle to include among his samples an age-worthy red he thought ready to drink. What a novel idea!
Fragrant, with mingled aromas of cassis, crème de cassis, crème de framboise and cedar, the wine had evolved beautifully, with flavors of spice, leather and oak mixed with dried fruit on the palate. It was very urbane, balanced and dry though it had a slight note of sweetness from its 13.5 degrees of alcohol.
As is my wont, I kept half the bottle for the following night. On day two, the wine had rounded out and was softer – more caressant, as my friend, the sommelier Michel Desroches, would say – and more discreet. It will undoubtedly hold though I think it’s ready to start drinking now – especially if you give it a good hour in a carafe before serving.
As a comparison, I looked at the notes I had taken a couple of months earlier on the 2005 “le Grand Clos” which weighed in at 14 degrees. Big and extracty (but not over-extracted), the wine was dominated by oak flavors and textures. On the second day it was creamier – until the tannins kicked in – and exuded flavors of wild blackberry, black cherry and oak with notes of tar. It was cool and pedigreed but much too young to drink.
Now, getting back to Bettane’s argument, I’ve always believed that Saumur’s tuffeau soils are terrific for chenin and that the Chateau de Villeneuve was stellar proof of that: the domaine consistently turned out racy, mineral-rich chenins even before Jean-Pierre took over from his father.
Chevalier generally makes two cuvees of white under the Saumur AOC, one oaked, one not. The unoaked 2006, 13.5 degrees alcohol, was a crystalline chenin, pure, very stony and mineral with a light thread of citrus zests; with aeration, apple notes came into play so that the wine came across as a fine granité of Granny Smith.
The grapes for “Les Cormiers” ferment in oak. The 2005, with 14 degrees alcohol, was truly gourmand. The oak had melted into the whole, bringing to mind Didier Dagueneau’s masterly use of barrel age. Precise, with citrus accents, the wine seemed florentined – in the sense that if lusters had flavor, this wine would be fine burnished gold.
And it married beautifully with my dinner – a tagine of chicken with green olives, preserved lemon, and carrots. A much worthier partner than the hamburger I ate with my 2002 Champigny!

February 8, 2009 : A Golden Lining: 2007 exquisite sweet chenins from Anjou:
My rule of thumb regarding the 2006, 2007 and 2008 is that they are “vigneron vintages.” While 2005 wasn’t perfect, it is a top vintage. You can pretty much buy blind. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, you should know your vigneron or taste before buying.
In recent tastings, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality of sweet chenins from Anjou. Of course, I’m talking about some of my favorite growers but their results reveal a surprising silver (or golden?) lining.
I must stress, however, that success here really does depend upon the grower – those who waited to pick – the Loire enjoyed a magnificent Indian summer – and who were severe in their cluster-thinning and sorting. (Vincent Ogereau, for example, made three or four passes through his vineyards, averaging 20 hl/​ha.)

Here are examples from two producers:

Vincent Ogereau: In “great” years, like 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007, he makes 3 cuvees of moelleux/​liquoreux; in off-years, like 2006 and 2008, he makes only one. I tasted the first two of Vincent’s 2007 Layons and was mightily impressed by both:
2007 Coteaux du Layon Villages – St. Lambert: Fresh, floral, with notes of honey, banana, and, with aeration, a strong and appetizing core of quinine, this is an easy-to-drink Layon, one that could unite a jury. While creamy in texture, the wine has fine acidity and a long finish, reprising the above flavors.
2007 Coteaux du Layon Cuvee Prestige: a big step up in unctuosity here. The wine is a sumptuous and layered blend of honey, citrus zests, apple sauce flavors with a whiff of petrol. Because I was tasting this wine at home, I was able to follow its evolution over several days. On Day Three it had developed flavors of pineapple, sultanas steeped in rum, quince leather, apricot leather and honey. The acidity was gorgeous, the wine irresistible. Excellent.

Chateau de Pierre-Bise: Claude & Joelle Papin:
With a cuvee for each terroir, and an ever-expanding number of plots, it’s hard to keep track of the multiplicity of Layons the Papins make every year. Here are tasting notes on four 2007s.
(So that I don’t commit the sin of repeating myself, let me just say that the word “crystalline” applies – in force – to every single one of these wines.)
2007 Coteaux du Layon-Villages “Roannieres”: Made from 100% shriveled grapes, including those attacked by botrytis, this is an extremely rich but beautifully fresh and balanced Layon, with flavors of menthol, medicinal herbs, honey and applesauce.
2007 Coteaux du Layon-Villages “L’Anclaie”: The Papins finished harvesting the grapes for this beauty on the 7th and 8th of December. Deeper than the Roannieres, it has a particularly breezy freshness and vigorous acidity as well as vivid flavors of pineapple, citrus zests, honey and herbal tea. The finish is long and lipsmacking.
2007 Chaume: Luminescent gold, tinged with green, this dangerously succulent wine wraps a blanket of honey around the tongue. Extremely pure, it’s long, racy and pedigreed. Fabulous.
2007 Quarts de Chaume: A patina of green floating on burnished gold, this is a tapestry of velvet, so rich – 220 grams residual sugar – you savor it in little sips, marveling at the succulent weave of honey, herbal tea, lemon zests, and pineapple. Gorgeously balanced, it is grandiose.

January 27, 2009: 2006 St. Nicolas de Bourgueil “Les Malgagnes” Yannick Amirault (A slightly shorter version of this text appeared in The Art of Eating's summer 2008 issue.)

The cabernet franc-based reds from St. Nicolas de Bourgueil have a firmly entrenched image as the quintessential quaffers, light-hearted cousins of reds from neighboring Bourgueil. Don’t you believe it. St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, aside from having an independent appellation controlee, is also part of the Bourgueil appellation. In fact, there’s no reason for the distinction. Both make drink-me-up charmers from sandy and gravelly soils; and both make more serious reds from clayey slopes streaked with limestone or silica.
Yannick Amirault’s wines provide proof, if proof is needed. Currently the best vintner in both appellations , Amirault makes seven delectable, single vineyard reds from his numerous plots which cover 19 hectares in Bourgueil, 6 in St. Nicolas.
In the gulpable, vin de plaisir category are La Coudraye (Bourgueil) and La Source (St. Nicolas); more majestic in weight and style are La Petite Cave (Bourgueil) and les Malgagnes (St. Nicolas).
The latter comes from a well-exposed slope whose soils are clay and silex with an outcropping of limestone. Viticulture is essentially organic, although Amirault does not label his wines as such. Cluster thinning, hand harvesting and sorting of the grapes are systematic .Les Malgagnes ferments in 80 hectolitre oak vats. Vatting lasts for four weeks, complete with old-fashioned foot-stomping, and the wine ages for a year in450 litre barrels, half of which are new, half once-used. Amirault fined Malgagnes (with the whites of organic eggs) in 2006 in order to avoid Brett problems in a wine with naturally low acidity and high pH. That’s intelligent winemaking.
While 2006 was a great year for dry Loire whites, it was a dodgy one for reds. Harvesting had to be done quickly, within the small window of opportunity between underripeness and deterioration. Amirault was one of the vintners who got it exactly right, making gracious, toothsome reds, more delicate than the potent 2005s, but rich and flavorful all the same.
With the saturated color of a coulis of raspberries and blackberries, the 2006 Malgagnes displays ripe but not overripe fruit – predominantly berries when the bottle has just been opened. After aeration, scents of black cherry and cherry pits become part of the weave, along with oak, balsamic notes, hints of licorice, an appetizing bitterness and a definite chalkiness which can’t help but bring to mind the vineyard’s soils. The wine bespeaks a sense of place. Despite its 13.5 % alcohol, it is light on its feet. Fresh, structured, with a cozy, inviting elegance, its balance is spot on.
Amirault likes the wine with coq au vin. Why not? This food-friendly red would compliment any number of dishes. But it shows to its best advantage when partnered by some succulent cut of meat that has been roasted or braised. My favorites are oxtail and spring lamb. Both share a chewy tenderness that seems ideal for the wine. And their subtle meatiness underscores the discreet, etched quality of the fruit. There’s complete collaboration here.
Various recipes offer their own particular pleasures. The deeply infused flavors of oxtail simmered with good Loire cabernet franc, for example, seem to meld with the wine; the silky veneer of oxtail alla vaccinara, made with pork rind, matches the suave attack of Les Malgagnes; and spring lamb, perhaps the gentlest of all meats, is culinary comfort. Even the diced carrots, the unpeeled garlic cloves, and the quartered onions strewn on the bottom of the roasting pan enhance the wine with their soothing caramelized flavors.
Although Amirault says the wine will age gracefully for several decades, its youthful charms are such that it would be a pity not to enjoy some right away – while waiting for the sumptuous 2005, which really ought to be aged for at least five years, to mature. That said, the wine should be carafed a good two hours before serving and served cool. (I pour the wine into a carafe and place the carafe in an unheated room or in a basin of water and then bring it to table about a half hour before pouring.)

Vincent and Catherine Ogereau in their tasting room. My tasting notes below.

December 16, 2008: Vincent Ogereau's Savennieres, Part II: ( Part I starts immediately below this post. It should be read first.)
In the continuing saga of Vincent Ogereau’s chenin blancs, tasting notes on four other vintages of his Savennieres Clos le Grand Beaupreau. (Note that 2002 was Vincent’s first vintage of Savennieres and my comments on that remarkable wine can be seen below.)
2006: The grapes were harvested in three tries. Partial malolactic.
The nose is so seductive it’s hard to get beyond it: peaches, minerals, whiffs of honey, cinnamon. All of these notes are reprised on the palate along with forceful flavors of quinine against a mellow oak backdrop. Day 2: that nubbly texture typical of Loire chenin along with a sensation of crystallized sugar, evolving notes of wax, vivid blasts of citrus zest, stonestonestone, quinine and herbal tea. Very long finish of stone, citrus zests and subtle oak.
2005 (Vincent didn’t want to harvest too late in order to avoid high alcohols. He’s wondering if he didn’t harvest too early.) Though the 2006 is richer, this is a big wine, with flavors of wax and wet wool (when Vincent’s concern. He says the wine is more cepage than terroir). Day two: Clearly the wine was in a dumb phase on Day 1. On Day 2, aromas of citrus zests, verveine and citronella burst forth. On the palate, they combine with mallow and stone and the wine’s texture has become satiny. It is elegant, racy and potent. We're directly on the bedrock.

2004 (A dicey vintage re ripening) : The wine seems a bit rough hewn in texture with notes of wet wool. The raciness is evident and there are appetizing flavors of herbal tea and quinine. The wine is very dry, very energizing. Day 2: a creamy attack with notes of wax, stone and citrus zests. The wine impresses with its power, presence and pedigree. Saliva-inducing.
2003 (Vincent worried that he didn’t add enough so2 to compensate for the high pH and low acid. He may be right but the wine is fascinating. And did we ever think we’d see the day when we’d say, how about a little more sulphur?) Flavors of wax, apple sauce, autumn leaves and petrol. The wine is a bit oxidized. It comes across as Loire meets Chateau Chalon. Day 2: More youthful, curiously, than Day 1. Fresher, too, though it’s still on the road to Jura. Creamy, salty and slightly oxidized, with flavors of wax and fruit compote. Impressive power here. Bedrock again.

December 10, 2008: Wine of the Week: 2002 Savennieres Clos le Grand Beaupreau, Vincent Ogereau:

The first time I met Vincent Ogereau was in August 1989 at Le Fief de Vignes, the leading wine shop of Nantes. I was talking with Jean-Francois Dubreuil, one of the owners of the shop who I had just met but who would become a good friend. When Vincent and his wife Catherine came in, Jean-Francois introduced them, saying “Vincent is one of the current generation of winemakers revolutionizing Anjou.”
I had just started researching the first edition of my Loire book, beginning in the Muscadet region. In early September I moved to Anjou and, when I made my appointment to visit Vincent, I called Jean-Francois to see if he’d like to come along. He did. After we all talked and tasted, Vincent pulled out a bottle of Cauhape Jurancon, my introduction to that appellation and that winemaker.
Over the past 19 1/​2 years I’ve followed Vincent’s progress, tasting his wines at the annual Salon des Vins de Loire – and whenever the occasion presented itself.
As Jean-Francois said, Vincent was one of Anjou’s revolutionaries. That band of winemakers – Vincent, Didier Richou, the LeBretons, Claude Papin and others – made Anjou one of the most exciting wine regions in France. And he has become a master of chenin blanc.
In late November I saw Vincent at a tasting of Anjou-Villages (reds based on cabernet franc &/​or sauvignon) held in the private townhouse of Gonzague St. Bris (he’s another story) in Paris. We agreed to make a date for him to come visit me in Touraine so we could taste through all his wines and talk about how both he and his region had evolved in the intervening years.
Vincent had one more trie of his chenin vineyards to go and figured he’d finish harvesting by the first week of December. This coincided with a week I’d set aside for, of all things, a series of dentist appointments – in Touraine. So we set a date.
Vincent arrived with roughly 30 bottles of wine – from his roses to mini-verticals of Savennieres, Anjou-Villages and Layon. I’ll write more about his visit later but I want to single out one of the wines as Wine of the Week. A really tough choice because there are a couple of Layons that slayed me but I’m going with: 2002 Savennieres Clos le Grand Beaupreau.
Most of Vincent’s 24 hectares of vines are in St. Lambert du Lattay, on the left (or south) side of the Loire. In the mid-90s winemakers from the Layon began crossing the river, buying or renting vineyards in the Savennieres appellation -- which they are in the process of revolutionizing.
He rents two hectares on a forty-hectare parcel above the Coulee de Serrant and La Roche aux Moines. Called the Clos du Grand Beaupreau, this gentle slope faces full south and, because of its altitude, is extremely well ventilated. The soils are a complex mix of three different types of schist and phtanite with sandy topsoils. Viticulture is essentially organic; yields average 40 hl/​ha – with cluster thinning in the summer and deleafing on the part of the plant that faces the rising sun. Harvest is done by hand, in three passes, as Vincent seeks grapes that with fine-textured, gold skins. Vincent ferments his Savennieres in 400 litre oak (not new) barrels. The wines may or may not go through malolactic fermentation. (The 2002 did not.) They spend 14 months on their fine lees before being bottled.
My overall impression of Vincent’s Savennieres is that they resemble the land on which the vines grow: high, fragrant notes of fruit, citrus zests and sometimes sweet spices, which make me think of the thin layer of sandy topsoil, skim above a core of deeper flavors – stone, quinine, verbena – which represent the bedrock of ancient schist. The power is undeniable. And tasting them I’m baffled by people who question the importance of terroir.
A forceful, revivifying wine, it was extremely fresh and full of character. Notes of lemon, wax, lime zest and herbal tea wafted above a core of stone and quinine. I imagined drinking it with grilled Loire eel.
Day Two: As has become my practice, I taste wines over a course of several days. The 2002 Savennieres greeted me with a mellower nose than on Day One and aromas of citrus zests that were more subdued than they had been 24 hours earlier. Then, WOW! On the palate the wine was absolutely stunning. The dulcet citrus zests burst into life, there were flavors of Darjeeling tea and chamomile. Undeniably racy, the wine had immense power. Not for the faint of heart. It was downright grandiose. Impossible to get to the bottom of it. Never mind the grilled eel. Here is a wine for meditation.

November 18, 2008: Loire Primeur
Once upon a time I found the Uncorking of Nouveau Beaujolais at midnight on the third Wednesday/​Thursday of November a harmless occasion for tying one on. And until very recently I made an effort (not a strenuous one, mind you) to be in some jolly wine bar when the hour struck. And I actually attended "serious" horizontal tastings of the newly hatched wine. Ah, youth!
Now I attend one event: the annual fete thrown by Henry Marionnet in some sympathetic restaurant in Paris, often La Petite Riche, and always on the Monday before the Thursday.
Of course, this is not Beaujolais. It's Touraine Gamay . And this year, Henry invited two other vintners: Bernard Chereau from Muscadet and Didier Richou from Anjou.
The three wines shown were utter charmers: each of them was light (12 degrees alcohol counts as light these days), perfectly balanced and fresh as a spring breeze. Each was what the French so nicely and so accurately call gourmand and as my friend Jean-Francois Dubreuil likes to say, "On peut en boire des sceaux." (One could drink buckets of it.)
More on each wine later. Now, a couple of words on the 2008 vintage in the Loire. For starters, it's a small harvest -- in every subregion of the Loire. In Muscadet, frost killed off at least 50% of the crop. In other regions, there was some frost but other factors -- bad flowering, bad fruit set, shot berries, removal of malady-affected clusters, etc -- accounted for the small crop.Then, July and August, while somewhat more clement than in 2007, were far from ideal. And, unlike 2007 when a July-like month of April gave the vines an unexpected head-start, spring 2008 was, well, spring, April showers and all that. Once again, beautiful weather in September came to the rescue. Like 2007, 2008 shows all the signs of being very much a vintage of the vigneron . It may also be a year for primeur -style wines: aromatic, low alcohol, high acid, fresh, easy-drinking wines, wines for chilling -- the reds as cold as the whites-- and drinking in the near term. And, where the self-described primeur wines are concerned, in the very, very near term.

2008 Muscadet de Sevre & Maine Domaine du Bois Bruley Primeur, Chereau-Carre: Frisky and high strung, with a thread of sur lie fizz and breezy flavors of lemon zests and minerals, it washes over the palate like Mother Nature's spritzer.

2008 Anjou Gamay “Primeur” (Unfiltered) Domaine Richou: fragrant and inviting with seductive aromas of red cherries. On the palate, equally alluring, the fruit flavors seem to wrap themselves around a delicate superstructure of stone and steel.

2008 Touraine Gamay “Tirage Primeur,” Domaine de la Charmoise (Henry Marionnet): As fragrant as the Anjou gamay but the fruit is darker-fleshed here -- black cherry, wild berry, cassis. Tart and succulent, the wine seems to call out for young Loire Valley chevre.

November 12, 2008: Rhone en Seine:
Dateline: Paris: Rhone en Seine is a yearly ‘must attend’ tasting. Held in early November, it’s tasting-cum-mosh pit as everyone remotely connected to wine descends to sample the wares of forty (or more) top vintners from the Rhone Valley.
As luck would have it, this year’s tasting was held on November 3rd – while I was in high election-obsession mode. Not only was I tracking polls, I was calling around town to see if there was anywhere I could volunteer and if there were any events open to those Obama supporters who, like me, could not afford to pay 100 euros a person to participate.
The day was slipping away from me and I still wanted to get to Hotel Georges V where the tasting was being held. Lo and behold, I found out about a rally that was to be held at Trocadero at 6:30. That’s just a ten minute walk from Georges V. I quickly changed from what Sarah Palin would (rightly, alas) refer to as my blogging pajamas and put on my ‘midtown’ tasting attire and made it to Georges V, promising to limit myself to, say, Northern Rhones, reds only.
The best laid plans…
As I arrived I bumped (literally) into fellow wine writer Egmont Labadie who said his discovery that day had been a Chateauneuf-du-Pape (hereinafter Ch9) from Domaine Marcoux. (He later emailed me to say that he’d meant to say Domaine Font de Michele.) I’ve always liked both the Marcoux wines and the Marcoux women who run the domaine. So I started there.

Domaine de Marcoux: The 2007 Ch9 blanc was ample, almost fat, mineral, vinous, strong and coherent, with a slightly hot finish. The 2006 Ch9 rouge ‘cuvee classique’ was a sunkissed weave of crushed raspberries, strawberries, red cherries, sweet spices and leather. Its attack was smooth and lipsmacking though the finish was somewhat roughened by dry wood sensations. The real star was the 2006 Ch9 VV, a royal velvet carpet, almost a crème of red fruit, with an appetizingly bitter core and a hint of provencal herbs.

Herewith 5 other favorites:

Vieux Telegraphe: The table was mobbed; Daniel Brunier was making heroic efforts to greet everyone and talk business when necessary; his assistant was overwhelmed; so, seeing that the wines had been nicely carafed, I helped myself to whatever and whichever I could reach, making sure not to miss the 2006 Ch9 Vieux Telegraphe. (The La Roquette wasn’t showing all that well.) Though the VT had a classic CH9 flavor profile (eg warm, ripe fruit, provencal herbs, and so forth) the structure and texture were both surprising and alluring: the wine was very pure, very fine, svelte and fluid. It was almost airborn. (Cf comments on 2006 from Yves Cuilleron below.)


Chateau de Beaucastel: 2006 Ch9 blanc: light oxidation was the first impression – on the first whiff – but not anything to take seriously. This is a bigboned, creamy wine with lots of stuffing and alcohol. It will be around for awhile. The red was a smooth, well structured, 3-dimensional wine with a wealth of alluring, fugitive aromas in the fruit, spice, herb, oak families.

Domaine Clape: Situated just across the aisle from Beaucastel and a perennial favorite. Both M. Clape and I agreed that the 2006 La Renaissance was coming across rather strange. But the 2006 Cornas was in fine fettle: a powerful, velvety wine full of black cherry and provencal herb flavors, it flaunted its pedigree. Substantial tannins here so time &/​or aeration are needed.

Chateau de Saint Cosme: a clutch of toothsome Gigondas here – particularly Valbelle, the old vines cuvee, in both 2006 and 2007 – but the wine that thoroughly entranced me was the 2007 Gigondas “La Poste,” a pure grenache cuvee made from century-old vines. 2007 is the second vintage for this cuvee and it’s bound to become a cult wine. The dulcet texture of Grenache, seductive flavors of mint and soft fruit, lovely balance, flavors that hold through a long finish, the wine is what the French rightly call gourmand.. And when it’s this gourmand, it often fits into another French category, PMG, pour ma gueule. Literally, this means ‘for my mug’ but you can translate it as “I’ll save this one and drink it all by myself.”

Caves Yves Cuilleron: I just love Cuilleron’s wines. They’ve become a point of reference for me. He makes wine in at least five different Northern Rhone appellations and several cuvees of within most of them. He was showing three wines at this tasting. The 2006 Condrieu ‘Vertige,’ from a hillside parcel, was Ur-Condrieu – a rich weave of lovely viognier flavors, stone and mineral notes. It was fresh and well structured with a pure core of flavor from its attack to its very long finish. His 2006 St. Joseph “Les Serines,” a pure, old vines syrah, was cool and lipsmacking, with focused fruit and fine minerality, a delight. Of his three cuvees of Cote Rotie, he was pouring the “Terres Sombres” cuvee, from old syrah vines in the northern part of the appellation. I asked him to describe the qualities of the 2006 vintage and he said, “Elegant and fresh, the wines are silky, with a lot of finesse…” and I had to laugh because, in addition to ‘jewel-like fruit’ and ‘focused’ and ‘oaky,’ those were the very words I had written to describe the Terres Sombres. Oh, I also deemed it a grand vin.



October 27, 2008: A Clutch of Scrumptious Chinons from Jean-Max Manceau:
DOMAINE DE NOIRE/​ JEAN-MAX MANCEAU:
The name Jean-Max Manceau is well-known to lovers of Chinon. The winemaker at Chateau de la Grille, he’s also the president of the Chinon Growers’ Syndicat. (And famously stormed out of an InterLoire meeting when the wines of Chinon were overlooked in a Loire-wide advertising campaign, despite Manceau’s timely objections and call for a vote.)
It was welcome news – however expected – when Jean-Max started making his own wine at the Domaine de Noire several years ago. He is in the process of converting his 11 hectares of vines to organic viticulture and produces 3 to 4 cuvees of red and one rose. (He wisely indicates the style of each cuvee on the back label, with a simple, one word description, eg “fruity.”)
There’s a clear family style here: Manceau’s wines are masterly, all of a piece and compulsively drinkable. Even when the alcohol reaches 14 degrees, the wine comes across as light (ish), fresh and fluid. I tasted three wines this morning – and I’ll retaste tonight, and, at least with the cuvee “Caractere” tomorrow and maybe the next day. Herewith:
2006 Chinon “Soif de Tendresse.” 13 degrees alc. This appears to be Manceau’s drink-me-up bottling. The vines grow on a plateau with southern exposure and clayey-siliceous soils. Yields average 40 hl/​ha. The grapes undergo a two-day cold prefermentation and ferment in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for 8 days at 22 to 25 degrees C. The wine is bottled the March following the harvest. (No oak here.)
Tasting notes: the nose is vibrant, with firm, focused aromas of crushed red fruit and blueberries. The attack is smooth. On the palate ints of violets and licorice join the pure, fresh fruit flavors. The balance is lovely; the wine is elegant and absolutely charming. I expect I’ll drink this with dinner!
2005 Chinon “Elegance” (“Fruity). This mid-range cuvee is bottled a year after the harvest. The grapes grow either on a gravelly, well-drained terrace or on clayey-siliceous soils. The vines are between 35 and 50 years old. Yields average 39 hl/​ha. Fermentation is similar to that of “Soif de Tendresse” except that vatting lasts for 16 days. (No oak here either.)
Tasting notes: Deep, rich aromas of black berry, licorice and crème de cassis. The wine spreads across the palate like a weave of silk and velvet, with completely tamed fruit tannins. Despite its 14 degrees alcohol, the wine is graceful, harmonious, as authoritatively supple as a dancer. It is, as the French would say, gourmand. Well, maybe I’ll have this with dinner.
I’ll give my tasting notes on the third cuvee, Caractere, tomorrow or the next day. I want to follow it as it opens and evolves. Manceau’s most age-worthy bottling, this wine comes from his oldest vines, grown on tuffeau terraces, and it ages in newish oak for 13 months.

October 24, 2008: 1999 Coulee-de-Serrant:

Last February I got an email from my pal Terry Theise entitled “limp, flaccid and impotent…”
The body of the message went on to say, “ ....would not be unreasonable words to describe the 99 Coulee de Serrant we drank tonight. Did we have a dud bottle, is this a dud vintage? The wine was 'clean" but limp-wristed. Are things better in recent vintages? One nearly weeps to see this potentially supernal wine reduced to something so....pusillanimous. But at least the alc was within reason.”

I answered, “I did a test with a bottle of the '99. Since his Nibs (NJ)says to decant two days before, I decided to open a bottle and observe it over three days, putting half in a carafe and keeping half in the fridge. I have the notes in Paris -- I'm now in the country -- and will share them with you when I find them. But, while you may have gotten a dud bottle, and while the wine certainly isn't what it could have been if, say, Guy Bossard or Olivier Humbrecht had vinified it, such is the magnificence of that terroir that the wines are never insignificant, ergo never limp, flaccid and impotent. (That is, unless you decant them 2 days ahead, in which case they are oxidized: which led to a disagreement I had with Olivier Poussier who
has never spoken to me since!)

To which Terry responded, “ The "magnificence" of the terroir, with which I am entirely in sympathy,
was seen through a translucent veil in this case, as if the wine were diminished in some way, as if it were convalescing, its energy diluted.
Really Jackie, you could have used it in a class to demonstrate how even a great terroir could produce a mediocre wine in untalented hands. There was
little vitality, the structure, such as it was, was amorphous; the wine was basically a squandering of potential. It tasted as if it had been made by a
freshman in some lycee viticole terrified to make a mistake.”

Ok. Now I’m in Paris and I can share those notes with you. Also, a couple of clarifications are in order:
1) 1999 was far from a great vintage in the Loire. Nevertheless, there were successes, among them the ’99 Coulee-de-Serrant.
2) (NJ) =s Nicolas Joly.
3) I have often found NJ’s wines oxidized – sometimes when poured straight from the bottle. At other times I’ve tasted the wines when NJ has carafed them – perhaps for as long as his recommended two days. These wines have always been hopelessly oxidized in my experience. Two occasions come to mind: the first, at one of the “off” tastings at Vinexpo 2003; once at a tasting in Paris for which Olivier Poussier had selected the wines. (cf my comment re Poussier in the email to Terry.) The wine in question was the 2002. When I observed that I thought it was fatally oxidized Poussier vehemently disagreed, talking about the fraicheur of the 2002 vintage. His entourage nodded in agreement. I responded that, while 2002 was a Loire vintage marked by great freshness, the 2002 coulee-de-serrant I had just tasted was anything but fresh and was well on its way to becoming vinegar.
4) I want to underscore something I said to Terry: I truly believe that no matter how indifferent the winemaking, the Clos de Coulee-de-Serrant is incapable of making an insignificant wine. Viticulture, of course, plays a roll here and no one can doubt that Joly loves his vines even if he doesn’t much care for wine. Credit where it’s due. I'm wondering if we can draw some kind of conclusion or Wine-Truth from this: when you have a truly great terroir and when the raw material (the harvest) is of fine quality, you are bound to make a noteworthy wine. (It may not be "delicious" but it will be remarkable.)

Herewith, those notes on the 1999, tasted over the course of three days:
Day One: The wine is a deep cold with a near-transparent rim. Aromas of wax and lime are echoed on the palate along with the flavor of (not new) oak. There is a sense of greatness and power here, a real presence. For now, it falls off short but, at the point where the flavor is extinguished, it’s quite lovely – lime, herbs, honey, wax, great minerality. There is surely some residual sugar. The finish lengthens as the wine opens although the heat is much more noticeable. Despite the heat, the wine is getting so good that I may not be able to conduct my 3-day test. I could drink it all now. Though there is a lingering taste of so2 and that heat.
(After the first taste, I poured half the wine into a decanter, which I put on a sideboard, and put the half-full bottle in the fridge.)
Evening of Day One: the so2 has disappeared from the carafed wine but is still present in the wine kept in the fridge. Nevertheless, the latter is far superior – fresher, more focused, more gourmand, more textured, more complex and hugely mineral. On the downside, there’s that whiff of wet wool that I so dislike in Chenin.

Day Two: the carafe wine has deepened in color and developed butterscotch notes with undertones of dried apricot. The wine’s heat is problematic. Refrigeration probably would have masked this. The color of the refrigerated wine has evolved only slightly. There are still wet wool notes and the so2 is still evident but the wine has gained in power, presence, depth and texture. It has also gained in viscosity and manifests a rich core of herbal tea flavors. To me, it borders on greatness.
Day Three: there are some unidentifiable floating objects in the carafed wine which has turned the color of manzanilla. Clearly on the decline, with acidity and heat dominating all. The so2 has completely disappeared from the refrigerated wine which is now expressing flavors of minerals, herbs and stone. It is very powerful but I think it was at its best on Day Two.

A postscript here: I’ll be subjecting more recent vintages to the same test in December and will post those notes here. (I have tasted Joly’s range in 2005 and 2006 but quickly. I do sense an improvement but want to taste them when I can fully concentrate on them. I hope they’re among the samples waiting for me in Touraine.)

October 21, 2008: Pugliese Primitivo: Before being introduced to Susumaniello, Primitivo was the Pugliese grape that most interested me. During a week-long trip to the Salento region of Puglia I got to taste a broad sampling of wines made from the grape which is generally bottled (pure) under one of two local appellations, Primitivo di Manduria, a DOC, and Primitivo Salento IGT. Here are my two clear favorites.

Azienda Attanasio is a small family winery with compact, spotless cellars in the town of Manduria. The Attanasios produce 12 to 15,000 bottles yearly of dry Primitivo di Manduria and, vintage permitting, 1000 bottles of Primitivo di Manduria dolce.
Viticulture is “traditional” which, in this part of the world, means that each vine is a freestanding, gnarled alberello. The grapes – from 50 to 60 year-old vines -- are harvested by hand, in small boxes, and undergo cold prefermentation for several days before being pressed and fermented in small, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks at about 25 degrees C. The wine ages in new and nearly new French barriques and is lightly filtered before bottling.

The 2006, at 15% alcohol (normal, they say), exuded aromas of ripe, wild berries, violets and licorice. On the palate flavors of black cherry, oak, prune, plum and sweet spices joined the mix, along with a hint of raisined grapes. The finish was somewhat sweet – which I attributed to both the alcohol and the fruit quality – and the tannins were soft, almost imperceptible. The wine wore its alcohol lightly; it was more of a caress than a bludgeon. I would have liked a touch more freshness and acidity but that’s just a quibble. The wine was scrumptious.
Attanasio’s Primitivo di Manduria Dolce, from 90 year old vines, is made only when the growing season permits harvesting late, at the very end of September or the beginning of October. The harvested grapes are left to shrivel and dry on straw mats before being fermented in stainless steel tanks. No oak here. Just a smooth, soft blanket of very ripe, pure fruit, a weave of flavors including kirsch, prune, orange peel and dried fig.

Everywhere we went in Puglia we were greeted with fresh mozzarella or homemade cake, sometimes both. At Attanasio, Mama had baked an almond and an apricot cake. The apricot jam used in the latter corresponded to one of the many flavors in the Primitivo Dolce, a wonderful marriage. As midmorning snacks go, this was pretty hard to beat.

I also admired the Primitivo di Manduria from Antiche Terre del Salento, another small, eco-friendly winery, producing roughly 15,000 bottles a year. (Our group didn’t visit this winery but the owner was pouring his Primitivos at a large tasting of the region’s wines and olive oils.) There are two cuvees: an entry level, unoaked version and the Feudo di Conti, which ages in 100% new oak. It is delicious but I found the oak overwhelming. I much preferred the delectable ‘cheaper’ bottling, Cerva Regia, a spicy, warm, very appealing and characterful red.


October 14, 2008: A Discovery in Puglia
I just met a grape called Susumaniello and I have fallen in love. It’s a red vinifera grape, grown only in Puglia, in the Brindisi area. The wines it makes, at least those I’ve tasted, are structured, fresh, nuanced, succulent and unique. Here, I think, is a potentially noble grape variety.
“Susumaniello” means something like ‘black donkey’; it prefers sandy soils; is late-ripening; makes deeply colored, rich wines, high in tannins, healthy in acidity, and best when harvested between 13 and 13.5 potential alcohol.
On a more poetic level, it is described as being both aristocratic and wild. You either love it or hate it.
You already know into which camp I fall.
In the Salento region of Puglia the grape was traditionally blended with other red varieties like Negroamaro and Primitivo. The grape nearly disappeared until it was saved from extinction by the owners of Tenuto Rubino who found 1.5 hectares of 75 year old vines on land they bought in the mid-80s when buying up land for their family domaine, now a state-of-the-art, 200 hectare winery. And they had the great good sense to vinify and bottle it on its own, where it heads a large portfolio of wines made from local grapes (Primitivo, Negroamaro etc) and international ones (Chardonnay).
The 100% Susumaniello bottling is called Torre Testa. It is a Salento IGT. The harvested grapes vat for 16 days with regular punching down and then age for 14 months in new French barriques.
When I visited Tenuta Rubino in September we tasted four vintages, starting with their first, 2001.
--2001—Waves of aromas and flavors – now crushed wild berries and spices, now prunes and then plums, black cherries, mint and licorice. There’s oak, too, lots of it but, as the wine breathes, the woody notes begin to integrate. Seductive and memorable.

2002 – Lightly reduced when first poured, the wine’s oak was prominent, along with balsamic and menthol notes. Unlike 2001, our host pointed out, 2002 was not a great vintage in Italy. I found, however, that I liked the wine’s freshness, its stiff yet stately presence and its licorice scents.
Curiously I may be beginning to have a new appreciation for under-ripeness these days, particularly if the phenolic ripeness is there – which it did seem to be with this 2002. (Can that happen? Having less than fully ripe grapes sugar-wise yet fully ripe grapes in the phenol department?)

2004 – A fragrant wine with a suave, velvety attack (before the oak and accompanying astringency kicked in), the wine was an utter charmer with a beautifully savory finish. Our host, who described 2004 as an interesting vintage – a cool year, made difficult by vine maladies – said that this was his favorite in the line-up. I agreed, though choosing was a bit like counting angels on the head of a pin.

2006- fairly closed and reduced with suggestions of succulent plumy fruit underneath, it struck me as potentially monumental. The vintage, we were told, was very balanced, the winter mild.

I believe in following wines like this as they breathe so I took two unfinished glasses – the 2004 and 2006 – and brought them with me to the dinner table. (I probably also topped them up.) Both wines benefited from aeration, increasing in loveliness over the course of the meal.
I checked the 2008 Gambero Rosso when I got back to Paris and, for those who care, they awarded 3 bicchieri – the guide’s highest rating -- to the 2001 and the 2002 Torre Testa, and 2 bicchieri to 2003 and 2004. We didn’t taste the 2003 but I’m betting that the 2004 wins 3 bicchieri in the 2009 Gambero Rosso.
I’m also predicting a very bright and prolific future for Susumaniello. And I look forward to drinking wines made from it on a very regular basis.



September 9, 2008:
WINE OF THE WEEK:2005 Sancerre Cuvee Edmond, Alphonse Mellot

First, I must admit that my feelings about Sauvignon Blanc as a grape variety have evolved – largely due to the Sancerres I’ve been tasting for the update of my Loire book. I basically wrote off Sauvignon as a very useful grape, one making an an easy wine to like and an easy one to understand but not a varietal that would really express pedigree, raciness, majesty. Added to that, I was underwhelmed by the overall quality of wines in the Sancerrois as well as the lack of dynamism and vitality as compared to the wines and the vignerons of Muscadet and Anjou.
After tasting hundreds of Sancerres –with more to come – for Loire 2, I have new respect for both the grape and the region. The quality of Sancerre wines has improved exponentially – and I know I’ll spend a great deal of time talking about it in the book. And my mind has been blown by the elegance, the beauty, the gravitas of more than a few of the Sancerres I’ve tasted. (The fact that a number of them become Wines of the Week testifies to that.)
As great as PC and GC Chablis, the wines they most remind me of. Look at a map and consider the soils and that’s no surprise. The two are practically kissing cousins.
The big difference is cepage. And what I find breathtaking about fine Chablis and fine Sancerre is that the grape fades to the background. Those simple, pungent varietal flavors that make Sauvignon blanc the first grape debutant tasters can recognize blind is replaced by a ripe, mellow yet fresh vinosity, a resilient support for achingly exquisite minerality, of stone, of tisane and citrus zests. These are wines that have their place alongside the best Chablis.
Now to the particular wine and winery in question. Alphonse Mellot has long been one of the appellations leading domains but, until the mid ‘90s, it was mostly known as a negociant. Alphonse pere (generation 18) began to put the emphasis on domaine wines and to cut back on negociant bottlings. After he was joined by Alphonse fils (generation 19), the negociant line was eliminated entirely and the focus was on ever finer wines from the Mellot’s own vineyards. (As part of this process, the vineyards are now farmed organically or biodynamically; new cuvees have been added, including some luscious red Sancerres.)
When push comes to shove, however, I think my favorite of all the Mellot wines is the Cuvee Edmond, named after Alphonse pere’s father (how an Edmond got mixed in with all the Alphonses is a mystery).
Cuvee Edmond comes from the oldest vines – between 40 and 87 years old – on the south-southeast facing slope of Mellot’s main vineyard, La Moussiere. The soils are composed of compact chalk and Kimmeridgean marl. Yields are low – roughly 40 hl/​ha – and the grapes are hand harvested in small baskets. The wine ferments in small oak barrels, 60% of which are new, 40% the barrels of one or two wines, and ages on its lees for up to 14 months. (Increasingly opposed to the use of new and newish oak, I admire the mastery of the barrel aging here: the oak doesn’t mask the fruit or the terroir.)
The 2005 Cuvee Edmond is elegant, crystalline and emphatically racy, its texture a sleek, satin-like sheen. The wine is both mouthwateringly fresh yet lusciously layered, with light toast flavors mingled with notes of verbena and lime. Quite simply, a very fine wine.

August 13, 2008: First installment of the wines drunk with visiting friends over the weekend of August 10-12th. Bubbly.

My friends Ahmed and Lena love to drink sparkling wine so I prepared three different cuvees of Domaine Baumard’s Cremant de Loire.

Masterly is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Baumard’s Cremants, who has long been one of a handful of top producers of Loire sparkling wine. Given the substantial number of sparkling wine houses due south in Saumur – Bouvet-Ladubay, Gratien & Meyer, and Langlois Chateau among the best – this is no small achievement. Yet every last one of these houses, and I weigh my words, would do well to take some lessons from Baumard.

All Baumard’s sparkling wines are Cremant de Loire and thus subject to stricter regulations than your run-of-the-mill mousseux. Among other requirements, the grapes must be hand harvested and transported in small cagettes – to avoid crushing and oxidation. Crushing by pneumatic press, must be gentle, and Baumard uses only the juice of the first press. Cremants must age for a minimum of a year – though Baumard regularly ages his longer.

Carte Turquoise, a blend of chenin blanc and cabernet franc (blanc de noirs) is the ‘simplest’ cuvee. Brightly fruity, with invigorating flavors of lemon and lemon zests, it is well-mannered, fresh and substantial.

The Brut Rose, a non-vintage blend of cabernet franc, may age sur latte for up to three years. In its frosted white bottle it is alluring indeed – a shimmering watered-silk pink. Breezy and dry, with perfectly ripe cabernet fruit – not a whisper of veggies here – it has a lovely, ingratiating vinosity. Extremely appetizing.

Cuvee Tirage 2004, chiefly chardonnay with a percentage of chenin, ages two years sur latte. Sprightly and saliva-inducing with its flavors of minerals and lemon zests, it is layered yet airy and elegant, downright patrician.

Ahmed and Lena adored the wines and seemed particularly enamored of the rose, which Ahmed, after his second or third glass, deemed superb. He plans to buy great quantities of it and kept pestering to find out how he could get it. So I went on line to find shops in Paris that carry Baumard’s wines and, as is not the case in many other wine websites, found out the prices as well. Good website. www.baumard.fr. Check it out.

July 30, 2008:

Over two week ends in July I shared a number of meals with the same people – Abel and Dominique, both of whom you’ve met in prior FrenchFeast posts, and Paul and Helene, who will be introduced when I get to the FF part of this story. Francois Pinon joined us for the last meal, which was at my house. I’ll describe most of the wine s here and the food, setting, etc again, in FF.

As I’m busy tasting for Loire #2, I supply many of the wines, all from the Loire. So if you’re looking for notes on Le Pin or Laurence Feraud’s “Capo,” you’ve come to the wrong site. (But you probably knew that already.)

Herewith:

Dry Whites:

* 2007 Muscadet de Sevre & Maine “Amphibolite Nature, Domaine Jo Landron: This is the first cuvee Landron bottles. Named after its soils – metamorphic rock – it’s never chaptalized and usually “light” – the 2007 has 11.2 degrees alcohol – and it’s never filtered but is bottled off its lees by gravity.

A light wine, yes, but this has character to spare. Extremely mineral with lemon zest accents, it’s as fresh and refreshing as a wine can be. It led Abel, who is Portuguese, to reminisce about old-style vinho verdes. Today, he said, they’re more alcoholic and have lost their former charm.

* 2006 Muscadet de Sevre & Maine Sur Lie “Hermine d’Or” Domaine Jo Landron. Simply a splendid Muscadet, with great focus, flavors of minerals and lime zests and a long finish. Stellar.

Now, you may be asking, what means “Hermine d’Or”? It’s a designation given to selected Muscadets from a small group of excellent and largely like-minded winemakers. The group schedules ‘must attend’ tastings several times a year to select its Hermines d’Or. The wines are tasted blind and must receive scores of no less than 15 out of 20 to be Hermine. Wines that are Hermines receive neck labels with the designation, the vintage and the number of the bottle. It's as near a guarantee of quality as I've found.

* 2004 Muscadet de Sevre & Maine Cuvee Haute Tradition Domaine Jo Landron. (Confusingly, the label does not indicate Cuvee Haute Tradition but Jo told me that’s what it was and I believe him.) As its name suggests, this bottling is deliberately ‘old style.’ It ages on its lees in old demi-muids for roughly two years. It’s very textured and very fresh, though there’s a hint (not unpleasant) of oxidation. Tangy, mineral with flavors of lemon and lemon zests, it comes across meatier and more potent than the Hermine d’Or.

The 3 Landron Muscadets were all outstanding. My favorite, however, was the Hermine d’Or, which was close to ethereal. Helene and Paul seemed to favor the Haute Tradition which, I will say, was the best match with the main course at a Sunday lunch: mussels that Helene had delicately seasoned with saffron and curry.

(By the way, you can read my notes on Landron's 2006 Fief de Breil in an upcoming issue of Ed Behr's The Art of Eating.)

2006 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc “Les Trois Chenes” Domaine Ricard: Here’s a jolly young vintner whose various bottlings are favorites in Paris wine bars. Deservedly so. Vivid and pungent, the wine exuded aromas of grapefruit, cassis buds and pipi de chat. We drank it as an aperitif but it would have been terrific with goat cheese.

Vert de l’Or Vin de Table Domaine Baumard. Because of the wines VdT status, the label may not indicate the vintage (in this case 2004), the geographic origin (Anjou), or the grape variety which, in this case is Verdelho, a grape prized in Madeira. According to the Baumards, Verdleho was brought to Anjou in the first half of the 19th century – the back label says 1810 – probably by the enophilic count Odard. Since the mid-20th century it has almost disappeared from the vineyards of France. It was discovered by accident among Baumards vines and, French law being what it is, the Baumards were obliged to vinify it separately. In 2004 the wine was vinified dry, weighing in at 13.5 degrees alcohol. It’s light on its feet, however, sinewy and fresh, despite a lightly oxidized note, and pleases with flavors of lime, lime zests, ivy and steel. It’s a delightful discovery and a fine aperitif. (Another distinguishing feature: It’s closed with a very attractive screw cap.)

2006 Pouilly-Fume “Triptych”, Alain Cailbourdin: A good Pouilly, somewhat light despite its 13 degrees alcohol. Less than perfect phenolic ripeness, with flavors of grass and pipi de chat, but rather elegant and certainly a pleasure to drink.

2006 Sancerre “L’Authentique”, Thomas-Labaille: A tight, focused wine with lots of grip and heady aromas and flavors of white-fleshed peaches, blossoms, grapefruit zests and minerals, the wine is racy and delicious. (See Wine of the Week below for another cuvee from Thomas –Labaille.)

2005 Savennieres Clos le Grand Beaupreau, Yves Guegniard, Domaine dela Bergerie: Light waxy notes, suggesting an antique shop, and flavors of mallow, herbal tea, and broth, on a framework of steel. Powerful and racy and probably not for beginners. (The back label notes that three vignerons who work this land – Guegniard, Claude Papin and Vincent Ogereau – adhere to rules of viticulture which they, themselves, have established.)

Red Wines (Please note, all of these wines benefit from light chilling.)

2004 Chinon “Pierre de Tuff” Domaine de la Noblaie:
Well, 2004 wasn’t 2005. You’ve read (or can read) the raves about the 2005 served at my birthday meal (see below). A very good job here but the bell pepper aspect speaks to a lack of total phenolic ripeness and the wine is quite tart.

2005 Chinon “Les Blancs Manteaux” Domaine de la Noblaie:
A select old vines cuvee, this Chinon is a beauty, with jewel-like fruit and velvety texture. With a bit of aeration the oak stops hogging the stage and becomes part of the lovely weave. If I'm allowed to have two Wines of the Week, this is it.

2006 Saumur-Champigny, Domaine Antoine Sanzay: warm cherry and cherry jam flavors with a hint of sandalwood. Ingratiating.

2006 Saumur-Champigny ‘L’Expression’Domaine Antoine Sanzay: (from barrel, to be bottled without filtration): The L’Expression cuvee is made from old vines on the lieu-dit “les Poyeux” – made famous by the Foucault brothers. It vats for 30 to 35 days and ages in oak for a year or more.)A fine Champigny whose evident oak is balanced by rich cherry fruit. It will flower in a couple of years.

2005 Saumur-Champigny “L’Expression” Domaine Antoine Sanzay: Velvet texture and inviting flavors of black cherry, sweet spices and oak, it will only improve over the next couple of years but is lovely now if carafed a good hour (or more) before serving.

Sweet Whites

2006 Touraine Cuvee Armand Domaine Ricard: a grapey, somewhat foxy demi-sec of sauvignon blanc. This has never been my favorite style so I’ll just say that it was well made and that my other guests – most of them winemakers – enjoyed it. (It introduced the sweet –wine flight which I paired with the cheese course.)

2006 Touraine “L’Effrontee,” Domaine Ricard: The winemaker’s fact sheet says this is sauvignon blanc. I must call him. It smelled like chenin and tasted like chenin. 13 degrees alcohol, barrel fermented, it was fresh and ambitious and very tasty. I think it was about as fine as sweet chenin is going to get east of Vouvray and Montlouis, ie without their very special terroir. But it’s very much worth trying.

Vin de Table Vert de l’Or, Domaine Baumard: The sweet brother of the dry Verdelho above, this unusual and appealing wine comes from the 2003 vintage. Rich and fresh, with flavors of creamed corn and key lime pie, it’s a delightful discovery – but lacks the structure and complexity of chenin. Still, lovers of footnotes will want to taste it.

2005 Coteaux-du-Layon-Rablay, “le Clos de la Girardiere,” Domaine de la Bergerie: a sumptuous Layon, classic in the best sense of the word, with flavors of honey, verbena, and herbal tea. Although it comes across as being more voluptuous than the 2006 Quarts (below), the wines have similar profiles: around 12,5 alcohol , 134 grams residual sugar and total acidity of 3.5. Go know. One thing’s for sure, as lipsmackingly yummy as the Rablay is, it doesn’t have the majesty of the Quarts. (I always find Rablays blander than Layons from the Rochefort-St.Aubin-Beaulieu zone.)

2006 Quarts de Chaume, Domaine de la Bergerie: There wasn’t much sweet wine made in Anjou in 2006 and, in the realm of Quarts de Chaume, this comes across rather light and delicate. Also beautiful – with fine focus, balance and a velvety texture as well as succulent flavors of honey, quinine and herbal tea.

The Sparkler

1996 Vouvray petillant Domaine Francois Pinon: I had asked Francois to bring this bottle to go with dessert -- Dominiques pasteis de nata (Portuguese cream tartlets) and an apple tart made by Helene. To me, this is one of the most felicitous wines to pair with non-chocolate desserts. The creamy bubbles cleanse the palate and lift the spirits. The wine is mellow yet fresh, with flavors of apple, lemon zest and steel. This is what the Loire should be doing with its sparkling wines, IMHO.

July 23, 2008: Wine of the Week: 2006 Sancerre "Les Monts Damnes" Claude & Florence Thomas-Labaille. When tasting 300+ Chablis for The Wines of France, I was struck by how well made wines from top terroirs resembled their counterparts from Sancerre. The minerality was such that the grape variety seemed to disappear from the picture, or, at any rate, play a decidedly secondary role.

When tasting this majestic Sancerre (unfiltered), from one of the best sites in one of the best communes (Chavignol) in the appellation, I thought 'Chablis in the Loire.' An achingly regal wine, it is fresh, focused, and tight yet layered; its flavors, all minerals, stone and citrus zests -- grapefruit, lemon and lime.

It goes beautifully with food and yet it's so racy that it's almost a vin de meditation. It certainly put me in a reflective mood!

And one of the subjects that came to mind was sauvignon blanc, itself. Am I contradicting myself? Didn't I say that the grape played a distinctly minor role in wines of this caliber? Yes, I did. But I'm not contradicting myself.

Rather, I'm revising an opinion. Given the qualitative advances made by some vignerons in the Sancerre appellation, my estimation of sauvignon blanc has changed. Or evolved.

It's such an easy and easy-going grape; the first grape beginning tasters can identify blind. And it so blithely lends itself to making tangy quaffers that we don't expect it to produce profound wines.

I now believe this is a mistake. Dagueneau's Silex is not the exception that proves the rule. The change is that now Dagueneau has competition. And the wine above is evidence of the beautiful, elegant wines we can expect from sauvignon blanc if it's planted on the right land and treated with respect.

July 1, 8, 9, 2008: Wines served at my birthday lunch: (As I'm trying to put all wine tasting notes in this section I'm limiting myself to the liquid part of the meal here. I'll post the "solid" part and other comments in FrenchFeast later.) The guests: Henry and Marie-Jose Marionnet, Guy Bossard, Jean-Francois and Martine Dubreuil. (J-FD starred in the 'Wines of Memory and Sentiment' section of my Loire book.)

Wines tasted/​drunk (almost exclusively Loire):

Dry Whites: 2005 Cour-Cheverny, Domaine de la Desoucherie; 2006 Cour-Cheverny Domaine de la Desoucherie Cuvee Solea; (2005) Romorantin VdT Les Cailloux du Paradis; 2005 Plume d'Ange VdT blanc, Les Cailloux du Paradis; 2005 Pouilly-Fume Chateau de Tracy; 2005 Pouilly-Fume HD- Haute Densite du Chateau de Tracy; 2005 Chinon blanc Domaine de la Noblaie; 2006 Muscadet Sevre & Maine Domaine de l'Ecu "Expression Granite."

Red Wines: 2005 Chinon Domaine de la Noblaie "Pierre de Tuff;" 2005 Racines VdT Les Cailloux du Paradis; 2005 Gascon/​Rouge Les Cailloux du Paradis; 2005 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Estate; 1988 Chinon Domaine Charles Joguet "Clos de la Dioterie;"2007 Premiere Vendange, 2007 le Batard de Marionnet, 1981 Touraine Gamay (Marionnet).

Sweet Whites: 2006 Quarts de Chaume Domaine de la Bergerie; 2005 Bonnezeaux "Malabe" Domaine les Grandes Vignes.

Eau de Vie maison.

Henry makes an astonishingly good white, Provignage, from the Romorantin grape, so I decided to serve a couple of wines from the same grape as an aperitif.

The first two wines came from Domaine de la Desoucherie, each from the appellation Cour-Cheverny in central Loire, an AOC devoted to the Romorantin grape. The first was the 2005 domaine bottling. Its chenin-like nose of apple and quince was classic Romorantin to me; like many Chenins, it had waxy notes, and like many Romorantins it was somewhat oxidized, rather like traditionalwhites from the Jura. The wine was slightly, and agreeably, metallic, very dry, with a fine thread of lemon zests and minerals. At close to 14 degrees alcohol, it was substantial without being heavy. A unique wine, it might not be for everyone. The second was the 2006 Cuvee Solea. Apart from the difference in vintage, this was was hand-harvested from slightly lower yielding vines. It was less alcoholic than the previous wine and had 18 grams residual sugar which were all but imperceptible. Fresh and nervy, the Solea had the crisp juiciness of Winesap apples. Singular and characterful, it was unanimously preferred over the first Cour-Cheverny.

Next came a Romorantin from Les Cailloux du Paradis/​Claude Courtois, who sells his wines as Vins de Table or with no marking at all. There’s no vintage date on the label but the cork was dated 2005. Chez Courtois, we’re talking non-interventionist winemaking. Courtois, who has always reminded me of an R. Crumb drawing, has been practicing his brand of organic winemaking for many years and has quite a following. No added yeasts, no so2 etc. No surprise, then, that the wine was amber colored and quite oxidized. Quite fresh, however, with abundant flavors in the nut and toffee range. Rather nice if you were looking for a manzanilla-like white. So I served it with the special olives from California. Everyone drank with interest and Henry enjoyed it more than anyone.

To prepare our palates for different flavors I served another wine from Courtois, his 2005 Plume d’Ange, a white vdt that, we guessed, might have been a blend of chenin and sauvignon. It was lightly oxidized, very mineral and decidedly rugged. Not for the faint of heart. But it might just be the white that could convert red wine-diehards who shudder at the thought of “wimpy” whites. Again Henry was more vocal in his praise than anyone else.

I had served the first two wines, those from Desoucherie, ‘unblind’. But, starting with the Courtois wines, I served everything else blind. Not to stump the stars but because I wanted people to react without preconceived notions. This was particularly true with the Courtois wines – as the winemaker is such a controversial figure. Also, he’s Henry’s neighbor in Soings-en-Sologne though they never speak as their winemaking philosophies are seen as being so divergent as to be antagonistic. It’s daggers drawn. (Actually, they should be comrades: each marches to the beat of a different drum and occasionally having the forward movement of that march blocked by the strict letter of the law – as when Courtois planted Syrah and Marionnet planted Merlot.

In any event, I was particularly pleased to find Henry so pleased with the Courtois wines. “He’s obviously learned a couple of things,” he laughed, proffering his empty glass for a refill.

The Pouillys: 2005 Pouilly-Fume Chateau de Tracy: a fresh, tangy and relatively rich white with juicy, grapey flavors and that hint of Concord-esque foxiness I often get in Pouillys, my vigneron guests had no trouble placing this in Pouilly.

2005 Pouilly Fume HD Haute Densite du Chateau de Tracy: this exciting and relatively new cuvee from Tracy comes from a vineyard with 17,000 vine plants per hectare with only two bunches left per plant. (30 hl/​ha.) Extremely mineral, with notes of lime and grapefruit, the wine was dense and tight, nearly unctuous and very racy. Marionnet was trying to put the name on a floral note he detected which I took to be foxiness similar to – though much less marked than – the 2005 Domaine. Everyone found the wines elegant though I was surprised to hear some of them describe them as “light.” Everything’s relative and these, particularly the HD, are fairly powerful Pouillys.

Chinon Blanc: 2006 Chinon Blanc Domaine de la Noblaie: The very fine, mineral nose scented with apple and quince , is echoed on the palate. The wine is extremely fresh, pellucid and mouthwatering. It fairly bursts with character. (I had thought a dry-ish chenin would be an ideal match for the langoustines but we all preferred Guy's Muscadet Expression de Granite.)


Red Wines:

The first red, served blind, was a 2005 Chinon “Pierre de Tuff” from Domaine de la Noblaie. A selection of the best grapes from the best parcels, the wine is made in a tuffeau cave dug in the 15th century. It’s a warm and inviting wine, suave and velvety, with rich cherry and strawberry flavors and cinnamon accents. Everyone adored this though Henry managed the ‘bogey’ the bottle.

Next in line, the 2005 Racines VdT from Courtois. This is a flavorsome red, very spicy, a bit raw, with balsamic notes. With aeration, a delicious core of small red and black fruit as well as cherry pits emerges. We’re guessing a Gamay/​Cot blend.

2005 Gascon, another VdT from Courtois.According to Galet, the grape is either Mondeuse or the Franc noir de l’Yonne. In any event, it used to be popular locally – in la region centre, that is – and has all but disappeared. As handled by Courtois, it produces a supple, spicy, uncomplicated red that would be fun to discover in a wine bar.

My last “blind” bottle was the 2005 Pinot Noir from Clos Pepe Estate in the Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara). I’d spent a good bit of time talking to Wes Hagen, the owner and winemaker, while we were both judging for the LA Country Wine & Spirits Competition. (He doth protest too much when he dismisses the concept of terroir – which he obviously enjoys doing, if our conversations are typical of his discourse. Evidence to prove my point: when he visits France he tends to visit winemakers like Olivier Humbrecht; the name of his domaine “Clos” is terroir-related; and if you look at his website, www.clospepe.com, you’ll see that he spends a lot of time talking about soils. And he also claims that the Santa Rita Hills have the world’s mildest microclimate.) In any event, the wine was delicious. Good balance and texture, a little bit of heat (hard to escape with 14% alcohol), and luscious flavors of cherries and blueberries. Jean-Francois and I pretty much polished off this bottle, which was received enthusiastically and which was not flagrantly “New World.”

Henry was the only one who had reservations and then he pulled out a bottle called “Le Batard de Marionnet.”

Yet another Marionnet innovation, the wine, a 2007, was made from pinot noir grapes grown in the commune of Meursault (though in AOC Bourgogne) and hand-harvested in small baskets. Henry bought the grapes from Marc Rougeot and brought them back to Sologne where he vinified them “in a manner completely original and never before used with this grape variety.” The last bit is my translation of the wine’s back label. I take it to mean that Henry treated the grapes to his very own person style of carbonic maceration. In any event, it was juicy and tasty, very primeur. Marie-Jose thought the wine was too young but I’m wondering whether pinot noir is really suited to this type of vinification. Time, and future vintages, will tell.

Now Jean-Francois had a bottle to serve blind. We’re still not sure exactly what it was. Jean-Francois had intended to bring a bottle of Henry’s 1981 Gamay, a wine they’d drunk together on Henry’s 40th birthday. But the cork said Acacias which lead us all to believe that the wine, indeed a Gamay from Touraine AOC, came from Charles Guerbois, a very talented and creative vigneron who has, alas, given up winemaking. In any event, it pinot-ed – as gamays often do when they age.

A 1988 Chinon Clos de la Dioterie (from the Charles Joguet era) was the last red. Tasting of dried fruit, prunes, spices and leather, it still had plenty of sap and power left – more than we had at this point.

Sweet Whites:

2006 Quarts de Chaume Domaine de la Bergerie:
2006, a great year for dry Loire whites, did not produce epic sweet whites. This Quarts beautifully reflects its vintage: it comes off demi-sec (in Quarts terms), and seems more a product of passerillage than
of botrytis. It’s gracious and focused, with lovely a velvety texture and flavors of pineapple, honey, herbal teas and quinine. It’s all too easy to polish off a bottle.

2005 Bonnezeaux “Malabe” Domaine des Grandes Vignes:
the color of a deep, brushed gold, the wine comes on like a 6 puttonyos from Tokaj. A lipsmacking wine, fresh, with fine balance and rich, interweaving flavors of honey, caramel, tilleul, verveine, stone, apple and quince compote, and sweet spices. A meal in itself.

Then with dessert, Guy’s sparkling wine (one of the best in the Loire Valley) and my eau de vie.

The “solid” part of the meal will be the next installment and, when I post it, it will appear in FrenchFeast.

May 19, 2008:

2005 Chinon Clos du Chene Vert, Charles Joguet:

After having recounted Charles Joguet’s tale of how he came to buy the Chene Vert vineyard in FrenchFeast, I thought it appropriate to post my tasting notes of the 2005 vintage, along with some ruminations and recipe ideas.

I opened the wine on a Friday night, planning to serve it at a dinner party on Saturday night.

My very first impression was that this was a wine of considerable stature, its imposing presence a product of its soils. It was also massive – massively massive, massive beyond its 13.5% alcohol, a muscular, spicy, savory wine, with a hint of gameyness and strong, ripe tannins.

It recalled the tannat-based reds from France’s Southwest -- Irouleguy more than Madiran – which tempted me to pair it with a recipe that would not be out of place in Basque country.

One of my dinner guests was a vegetarian. So I had decided on pasta with a vegetable-based sauce. The recipe I settled on came from Marcella Cucina and she got the recipe from the very good restaurant Ivo in Venice. It called for eggplant, yellow bell pepper, capers, chopped green olives, onions and garlic (and I added more of the latter two ingredients than called for in the recipe).

The Chene Vert, decanted several hours before dinner, was among many wines served that night. It was fine with the pasta and some even thought it overwhelmed the cheese. (It’s usually the other way around and I rarely serve red wine with cheese.)

As I was the only big drinker at the table there was a substantial amount left over. I poured this back into the bottle, shoved a cork in, and put the wine in the fridge. Then I got to follow it over the next several days, finally finishing the bottle on Tuesday.

In the interim the wine had lost its gamey notes, it had begun to shed its baby fat and to reveal its distinction. Flavors of dark black cherry, violets, cassis, prune, cinnamon and licorice, underscored by chalkiness, developed. As rich as the wine was, it also had a welcome breath of freshness. It was still powerfully extracty but seemed all of a piece.

A very good Chinon, but one I wouldn’t approach before its 10th birthday.

And it didn’t have the delicacy of the Chene Verts of yesteryear. Why? I wondered.

Yes, 2005 was an incredibly ripe, rich year. But I’ve tasted 2005 Chinons, Bourgueils, Champignys etc that were epic but also elegant. Winemaking? Maybe. The team making wines at Charles Joguet has recently changed – for the better but, it seems, still not for the best. When I checked out the website (a very good one, by the way), I learned that the wine fermented at 35 to 37 degrees, a hot, probably fast fermentation, resulting (IMHO) in lots of extract at the expense of finesse. When Joguet, himself, made the wines, he fermented at low temperatures – in the 27/​28 range—because he believed that by taking his cues from white wine fermentation techniques, he’d obtain more beautiful, more subtly perfumed and more refined reds. Maybe I’m wrong but I’d love to convince the current team to test the old methods that worked so well for Charles.

April 24, 2008: Wine of the Week: 2005 Cahors Clos de Gamot: Jean Jouffreau’s domaine not only could be but has been the poster child for French Family Farms: in 1968 the domaine won first prize in the Ministry of Agriculture’s French Farm competition. The dog-and-pony show that followed brought the Jouffreaus to the lawn of the White House. The prize was well deserved. The eco-serious Jouffreaus have 12 hectares of vines in the Cahors appellation. The grapes for this wine, from 45 to 123 years old, grow on a terrace whose soils are composed of clay and silex. The grapes are hand harvested, at 38 hl/​ha, vat for roughly 25 days (depending on the vintage) and the wine ages for 18 months in large old barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. They say that the wine is austere in its youth and gains complexity and suppleness after 8 to ten years of age. I tasted this wine in the beginning of the month at Hostellerie Le Vert (see Out & About) and the word ‘austere’ did not figure in my tasting notes. Charm, however, was oft repeated. The wine was deeply colored, with heady aromas of black cherries and violets. Juicy black cherry flavors enveloped a core of solid stone. I imagine that, with age, the wine will develop spicy notes that would have married beautifully with the chef’s cumin-scented lamb but why wait? I couldn’t stop drinking it and believe that I harvested every bottle on every table in the room.

Cahors from Le Cedre was my Wine of the Week for October 4, 2007 (see below). And the Cahors from this property continue to to WoW me: the 2001 Le Cedre, from magnum, was fragrant, structured and complex, with seductive flavors of black cherry, blackberry and licorice; the 2001 GC, from bottle, was rich and spicy with notes of pleurotte mushrooms.

April 13, 2008

TASTING NOTES FROM PRESS TRIP TO MINERVOIS AND ST. CHINIAN IN JANUARY 2008 – among which you’ll find great vinous partners for the cassoulet at Comte Roger in Carcassonne as well as for good cassoulets anywhere. (See Out & About).

I’d like to point out several things about these notes: first, in press trips you don’t get to taste every wine from every winery. There are simply too many. The organizers divvy up the producers among the various press trips so that everyone gets a chance to shine. In the notes below I’ve selected my favorites. At the end of the post I’ve also added some personal favorites whose wines weren’t included in the press trip tastings.

MINERVOIS & MINERVOIS LA LIVINIERE:

Domaine de Barroubio: 2006 Minervois rouge: the simplest cuvee from this domaine is forthright and chewy, with lusty red fruit flavors. A food friendly red. 2004 Minervois rouge “Jean Miquel”: more serious, more ‘wine’, that the previous cuvee, this bottling has more dimension and serious flavor. Chiefly carignan with some grenache and syrah,it’s perfect with the cassoulet. 2005 Minervois rouge “Marie-Therese”: juicy flavors of

February 24, 2008

Here are my reflections on the wines served at the truffle meals. I chose them for several reasons. For one, I’m tasting wines from the Centre right now; and 2) where young Loire reds are concerned, I thought pinot noir (or pinot mixed with gamay) would be the best bets. All of the reds benefit from aeration and from light chilling.

2003 Sancerre blanc “Etienne Henri” from Henri Bourgeois: This cuvee is made from old vines on silex soils. It ferments and ages in barriques. Big, creamy and oaky, it approached late harvest in richness and ripeness. A stylish wine,it was less marked by terroir than I would have liked – which I take to be a function both of the extreme 2003 vintage and the use of oak. (The whites I die for from Bourgeois are, almost invariably, Jadis and d’Antan.) As it was so lush and nearly sweet, I decided it might make a good aperitif. And that’s when I served it. (The meal would start with the Tuscan white bean salad and I wanted something bracing and sprightly with that, ie the Quincys that follow.)

2006 Quincy Domaine Mardon: a fine, limpid sauvignon blanc with flavors of lime, stone and minerals., the wine had good grip, a lipsmackingly marrowy texture, and an appetizing bitter almond, lime and stone finish. It was so fresh that, when comparing it to the Sancerre , I called it fringant. (In French, fringant means frisky, high-spirited. Neither Bernard nor Nicole had heard the word applied to wine before and loved this particular application. It did, however, lead to a discussion of wine words – which ones are mere pretentiousness and hot-air and which, though hifalutin’ sounding, actually do mean something.

2006 Quincy Jean Tatin (Domaine de Tremblay): As fringant as the previous wine, this lively sauvignon blanc won a Gold Medal at the big Paris wine competition held at the time of the Salon d’Agriculture.won a gold medal at paris wine fair. Well-made and self-assured, it was full and fresh, with flavors of grapefruit zest and cassis buds and would be a perfect bistro sauvignon blanc. (The Domaine de Tremblay makes three additional cuvees of Quincy, my favorite being the racy Vieilles Vignes bottling with its etched, crystalline fruit.)

2006 Chateaumeillant rose from Domaine Lanoix: Annette doesn’t drink white wine (unless it’s Montrachet or something else worth the inevitable headache) so I opened this rose to go with the fish soup appetizer. Firm, dry, of some substance, with flavors of ash and light strawberry, it was a fine match.

2006 Coteaux du Giennois rose “Frenesie” Domaine de Villegeai (Quintin Freres): I chose this not only because it was yummy but because I knew Ilona would love the name. We drank it with cepe chips (small, round melba toasts) that Ilona had brought back from Latvia. Smooth, taut and focused, the wine had a lovely fluidity and went down all too easily. It had grace notes of strawberry but was dominated by flavors of stone and minerals. It wasn’t surprising that the wine won a Gold medal in the Salon des Vins de Loire wine competiton – as did the domaine’s red, Terre des Violettes, another charmer.

2006 Chateaumeillant rouge Cuvee du Chene Combeau, Domaine Lanoix: a firm, easy-drinking pinot noir with flavors of minerals and strawberries. Lots of charm here, too, and much too easy to drink. Perfect for a cozy late night supper bythe chimney but not bad at any time.

2006 Coteaux du Giennois rouge “Premices” from Emmanuel Charrier: the label says “hand harvest “ which is often a good sign. And the wine captivated with cool, lean fruit, light tannins and a lively acidity. Like all these reds, this one should be served lightly chilled. And it should be drunk with pals, some charcuterie and a nice, week-old goat cheese just beginning to develop blue splotches on its rind.

2006 Menetou-Salon rouge from Domaine de Chatenoy (White Label): This is the domaine’s light red. Abundant upfront fruit, suave and smooth, with nice, light tannins and an appetizing note of bitterness, it was delicious. Not a single false step. ( I tasted the 2005 Black label, the more serious red, on another day and watched it evolve over the course of three days. Thanks to the vintage, it was bigger and riper and had more gravitas. As it opened, its fruit, somewhat skeletal (in the nicest sense) to start, fleshed out and revealed juicy flavors of dark cherry and blueberry. The wine had aged in barrel but the oak here was a support, not a crutch, an accent, not a mask. And the wine went very well with spinach-and-ricotta-stuffed tortellini.)

2006 Menetou-Salon rouge “Celestin” from La Tour St. Martin: Uh huh, a heavy bottle. A sure sign of oak age and higher price. Also higher ambitions. And it was an ambitious wine, suave, with attractive fruit, but it was too oaky for me. I prefer the domaine’s simpler, unoaked bottling, a firm, stony, light pinot noir. It might be too light a style for some, but I love it.

2005 Sancerre rouge “le Connetable” Joseph Mellot: An old vines cuvee in another heavy bottle, this wine was dominated by flavors of oak and vanilla. Food helped, however, and we had no problem finishing the bottle.

2005 Sancerre rouge “La Grange Dimiere” Jean-Max Roger: Both Roger and Joseph Mellot are large grower-negociant houses and make wines in Sancerre and Menetou-Salon. The latter, from both, are on my “taste next” table. The Sancerres will wait. I opened these two specifically for the truffles. This wine greeted me with a whiff reminiscent of the rind of a St. Nectaire, something I often find and which I don’t find disagreeable. ( I imagine some tasters would call it cellar smells.) It came across rather hard, withcool, lean fruit. Food helped immensely. No trouble polishing off this bottle either.

2006 Sancerre rouge “Antique” Claude Riffault: I watched this beauty evolve over two days. Delicious and admirable, it was a fresh, structured pinot noir with succulent flavors of griotte and black cherries. A perfect example of why I go ballistic when people claim Sancerre can’t make good pinot noir.

2006 Sancerre rouge Vincent Pinard: Another good argument for pinot noir in Sancerre, this wine was pure, focused and accurate, with light caramel notes and juicy cherry fruit.

December 22, 2007 My Wine of the Year for 2007 is the 1997 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Banneret.

Owned by Marie-Francoise and Jean-Claude Vidal, the estate – which comprises roughly four hectares spread out over five different parcels – is an ancient one: existing documents date as far back as 1405.

Jean-Claude, an architect, decided to become a vigneron when he retired from his day job in 1989.
Tradition – in the best sense of the word – is the operating principle here. The vineyards, with a high percentage of old vines, are planted to all thirteen varieties. The low-yielding vines are, of course, harvested by hand, mostly by the extended Vidal (and Espinasse) family.

A blend of 60% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% mouvedre, with the balance a mix of the other nine varieties, the grapes are not destemmed.They ferment together in concrete tanks and then age in old Burgundy barrels for 18 months. The wines are not filtered, they are bottled (with the help of a pipette)and labeled by hand. 80% is exported to the USA. (Vidal’s nephew, Jean-Marc Espinasse, is married to an American. Each has a website: his is www.rouge-bleu.com; Kristin’s (his wife’s) is www. French-word-a-day).

The texture of velvet, the wine – tasted in March 2007 – was a tapestry of flavors – black cherry, cherry pits, eau de vie, sweet spices and minerals. Its coherence and purity took my breath away. You could spend an entire evening observing (and delecting in) its evolution in the glass, now the dulcet syrup of grenache gently dominates, now provencal herbs. The words ‘truth’ and ‘soul’ came readily to mind. Here was a wine of discovery, a wine to bring tears to a winelover’s eyes, a wine that makes you shake your head in awe -- to think that a cluster of grapes could do this.

And it raises various issues: can a wine have soul? By me, no question. I had been moved by this wine before I learned that the grapes had been harvested a mere month before Vidal’s son died of cancer. Before I learned that this was a barrel sample that Vidal, because of the wine’s place in family history, was unlikely ever to bottle.

Another issue is the thorny one of tradition -- in its good, bad and indifferent manifestations. Well, tradition and wine fads. Take the issue of fermenting a red wine with the stems. This is not currently the mode -- though it once was common practice. I hope to explore this issue more thoroughly – though I’ll beg off for the moment; I've had several shots of gin, I hear the village clock chime 7 and have dinner to cook.

One more note before I log off: when and where I tasted this unforgettable wine was also remarkable. That will be Part II of this story.

November 27, 2007: Harvest report from Philippe Blanck of Paul Blanck in Alsace:

Chère Jacqueline,

De retour des Usa , je vous envoie quelques premiéres impressions sur le millésime 2007:

Millésime de référence: aprés un printemps prometteur, floraison précoce et généreuse, un orage de grèle s'est abbatu sur la vallée le 20 juin en faisant beaucoup de dégats (60% du vignoble touché de 20à 100 %)

Un été froid a paradoxalement aidé à la cicatrisation des plaies liées à la grèle. L'été indien a donné l'un des meilleurs millésime des quinze dernières années . une belle maturité avec des acidités mûres.Des journées lumineuses et des nuits froides aident à la construction du millésime.

Le botrytis s'est bien installé début octobre. Il a été très propre comme en témoignent les raisins mais aussi les moûts en sortie de pressoir. Certaines baies se sont concentrées parallèlement par passerillage, ce qui est très intéressant dans la mesure où ce phénomène concentre aussi les acidités, ce qui aide à équilibrer les sucres résiduels de ces vins. Il a été récoltés sans trop tarder car attendre plus aurait risqué de faire chuter les acidités mais aussi la pureté aromatique (en raison du développement possible de la pourriture grise).

Il faudra attendre les mises de l'automne prochain pour valider cette affirmation. Les grands Crus et VT SGN seront commercialisés dans quatre ans au plus tôt,

Donc, pas de précipitations pour une annonce en fanfare.

cordialement,

Philippe Blanck

Phillipe Blanck

November 5, 2007: Wine of the Week: Champagne Drappier "Quattor": They call this cuvee ‘blanc de quatre blancs” as it’s made from equal parts of the first gentle press of Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. Aged two to three years sur latte, the Champagne is, above all, elegant and fine, with a delicate stream of bubbles. Simultaneously fruity – with flavors of preserved lemon and Granny Smith apples -- and very dry and starchy, its dosage is rather high for my taste – at 8 g/​l – but very successfully done here, adding to the wine rather than masking it. (The liqueur used aged for 25 years in oak.) On this side of the pond, it’s priced at an extremely reasonable 36,40 euros.

A note, in passing, on the 2000 Moet. This was served to me by Olivier Roellinger, whose Maison Bricourt in Cancale has 3 stars in Michelin. Usually Roellinger is a man who sticks with artisanal ingredients – wine included – and he claimed this was the first Moet he’d ever had on his list. I wasn’t impressed, finding the Champagne structureless and unfocused.




October 2007

Oct.10, 2007: Meet Bob de Bourg:
Once upon a time there was an adorable beagle named Bob. Except that this beagle didn’t really exist. He was dreamed up by the wine producers of the Cotes du Bourg in the Bordeaux region of France who wanted a new advertising campaign, one with an irresistible animal as mascot (as we are now all aware that animals on labels sell wines). Et Voila! Bob, as in Best of Bourg, and, henceforth a growing anthology of beagle-related labels and ad logos.

Now I am as susceptible to cute pictures of cute animals as any dog-deprived, always-on-the-road-professional. And I also happen to be quite fond of the wines of the Cotes du Bourg, the unfortunate producers of which were recently forced to hijack a beagle named Angela when I visited the region, just to give a semblance of truth to their ad campaign and to give me something to chase after, feed fancy hors d’oeuvres to and pet while tasting a range of rather serious, lipsmacking reds in a summer garden.
All of this by way of telling you about the Bob’s latest venture: a 5 litre- bag in box with Bob de Bourg, natch, prominently on the carton, sitting as if ready to bound after any bone or ball you might like to throw.

The wine inside the bag inside the box is a 2006 Cotes du Bourg, 85% merlot, 15% malbec, selected by a jury, from an individual property. The five-litre box costs 24 euros.

So how is it? Well, it’s the quintessential quaffer – supple, light and fresh, with good acidity, light tannins and dark cherry fruit. It’s a well-made beverage wine and it goes down very, very easily. The kind of wine you’d want on hand for a loud house warming party, Halloween party, office party. And the kind of wine that every café in France would do well to pour whenever anyone called for a glass of red.

Wine(s) of the Week: Oct. 4, 2007: Chateau de Cedre Cahors:

In The Wines of France (p 331) I said that I had never tasted the Verhaeghe’s deluxe cuvee – GC – of Cahors. The 2000 was presented at a tasting last spring but, alas, it was corked. So a bottle was sent to me and, last night, with autumn well and truly in the air and a nice pork chop in the fridge, I decided to taste it.
Chiefly malbec – average age of vines, 48 years – grown on chalky terraces, the wine ferments in open 500 litre barrels and ages gently in those barrels for another 24 months.

Now, as grape varieties go, malbec’s star was destined to rise and its ascent finally seems to be happening. But most of the attention goes to New World malbecs. This has not gone unnoticed in Cahors – which is now promoting its “black wine” by the name of its grape rather than its appellation – though the 2000 GC is a fine ambassador for both.

It’s a sleek panther of a red, mouthwatering, silky, suave and polished yet with a warm country soul. Initially it invites you in with aromas and flavors of sweet spices – primarily cinnamon and mace – and light balsamic notes as well as the accents of oak in the vanilla range. It’s surprisingly fresh for a red this rich, with appetizing bitter undertones and bass notes of eau de vie de quetsch. As the wine aerates, flavors of prune, black olive and black cherry emerge.
Now here’s the rub (actually two rubs): 7500 bottles were produced and none are left for sale. And the vintage now on sale – 2005 – is not cheap at around 61 euros.

The regular cuvee, at half the price, is better value and always delicious. I recall the wonderfully structured, richly berried 2000 that I drank with immense pleasure at Pimpernel’s, a restaurant in Bath. (You’ll find a review of that excellent restaurant in Article Archives/​Bath.)

But is value the only consideration? (That’s rhetorical, of course not.) The regular cuvee is a yummy meal partner and a super delicious wine. Cuvee GC takes center stage. And if it shares that stage with perfectly roasted duck (crisp skin, succulent meat) and potatoes mashed with the best butter you can find, then, my friends, you’ve got a little taste of heaven.

September 29, 2007: Harvest report from the Larmandiers (Larmandier-Bernier, p.152 in The Wines of France) in Champagne. Also, a postscript to Alain Hasard's Burgundy report, following his September 28th entry.

Bonjour,
We have finished harvesting (we were very lonely in the vineyards, most people ended several days before).
2007 was again a "different" year :
April was in summer, so bud burst was unusually early and at the beginning of june, it was expected that picking would begin earlier than ever before in mid August.
But the weather in june, july and august was wet, and cold for the season. We were pessimist for the vintage. The official date of opening harvest was decided early in august, not taking the bad weather in august into account. Since most people run when as soon as it is open...We decided to postpone our beginning, calling every pickers back several times. It was not very risky (we were in august !), but it is always difficult when you are alone...
Then the weather changed : since august the 24th, we only had nice weather : no rain (except 1 hour of small rain on september 3rd), a
north wind, it was good conditions because the grapes needed to concentrate. It was not too hot, so nearly botrytis was not a problem.
Finally we harvested nearly 100 days after flowering, (the last years, it was around 95 days).
We started picking in our own vineyards on september 3rd (except for 2 small pinot noir vineyards to make the Rosé and the Vertus Rouge that were ripe a few days before). Most winegrowers of the village began on august the 27.
Chardonnay are nice, but we had to sort the pinots noirs after picking (we've just bought a sorting table).
Ripeness is difficult this year for all Champagne areas especially when the volume of grapes is not controlled. And one more time people (in the Cote des Blancs above all) harvested too soon.
For us, thanks to our reasonnable yields and because we waited (and were lucky with the weather), we are happy with the results : our chardonnay are around 11, ph around 3, figures are not enough but the juices smell and taste very nice.
So we'll wait, taste and see, but this year may be worth making some vintages cuvees.
Best
Pierre and sophie

September 28, 2007: Harvest reports from Burgundy and Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Burgundy report comes from Alain Hasard/​Domaine des Champs de l'Abbaye (p. 93 in The Wines of France); the Chateauneuf report, from Michel Blanc at the Growers' Federation. If you'd like me to translate, send me an email.

Salut Jacqueline,

qq nouvelles des vendanges:

- De grosses disparités de maturité: un décalage de 3 semaines entre les plus précoces et les tardives.
- Des degrés alcooliques faibles: en moyenne 10-11% vol pour les rouges, avec une amplitude de 8 pour le pire et 12.5 pour les meilleurs. Au dessus, ce sont de gros menteurs-tricheurs...
- Pour les blancs, j'ai entendu parlé de 6 (pour des aligotés) et 14 (pour des Montagnys). En fait, les blancs ont mieux profité des beaux jours de Sept, pour ceux qui auront su attendre.
- Etat sanitaire: excellent pour les blancs, détérioré ( pourriture et flétrissure) pour les rouges précoces (Volnay, Pommard, Savigny), à excellent pour les tardifs pas trop chargés (Couchois, Hte Côtes) et une certaine hétérogénéité entre les deux. Tout dépend de la charge.
Inutile de dire que dans des millésimes-limite comme 2006 et 2007, la charge est une condition sine qua non de maturité/​réussite.

En ce qui nous concerne:
- Une parcelle de Mercurey et dans une (bien) moindre mesure le secteur d'Aluze, nous ont donné bcp de travail: on a passé 2 jours à 10 coupeurs pour vendanger le 1/​2 ha de notre vigne de Mercurey Les Marcoeurs!!! Et je ne suis pas sûr que nous ayons échappé au goût de raisin figué.
- Une réussite exceptionnelle dans les Côtes du Couchois: degré entre 11.5 et 12 mais surtout une maturité phénolique de grand millésime. Arômes riches, couleur noire intense, texture veloutée, et une bonne acidité... Juste un bémol: rendement de 10 hl/​ha en moyenne.
- Des Blancs abondants et mûrs: 50 hl/​ha pour les Mercurey etBge Blanc (13 % vol) et 40hl/​ha (et13.5%) pour le Rully: du jamais vu pour nous!

Tu l'auras compris: on a vendangé à la carte (en 3 fois). Beaucoup d'ailleurs ont fait la même chose.
Et au final, je pense que nous avons bien joué le coup. Ce qui n'était pas gagné au départ.

Amitiés,
Alain

The 2007 vintage has occasioned a lot of vehement denunciations of organic viticulture amongst the chattering wine classes. I asked Alain, who adheres to biodynamics, what he thought. Here's his response.

Salut Jacqueline,

Tu fais bien de parler comparaison entre Bio et "autres"!

Pendant la campagne, toute le monde a souffert et surtout les vignes. Et je n'insisterai pas sur les ravages infligés aux terroirs par les énormes enjambeurs contraints d'intervenir en catastrophe dans des sols détrempés, provoquant souvent des ornières monstrueuses, ou obligés encore à ne prendre les rangs de vigne que dans le sens de la descente car incapables de les monter sous peine de glissade..!

Les BIO ont subi plus d'attaques et plus intenses que les chimiques. Mais en fait, tout s'est joué en fin de campagne!
J'ai vu partout en Côte d'Or et Saône & Loire, des vignes complètement ou partiellement défeuillées à la fin du mois d'août, alors que tout paraissait sain et bien vert le 15.
Les chimiques ont apparemment subi de plein fouet les attaques de mildiou mosaïque qui se sont produites durant la fin de campagne (suite notamment à l'orage du 15 août). Ce qui n'est apparemment pas le cas des vignes en BIO.
Les Bio ont surtout souffert en milieu de campagne lors de l'apparition de la maladie, avec des pertes sur grappes pouvant être significatives ( par ex chez Yannick). Mais ensuite, les vignes ont réagi et les viti BIO ont mieux géré la fin de campagne pour finir avec des vignes souvent en meilleurs états que celles de leurs collègues.

Pour mon cas:
Certaines de mes vignes sensibles au mildiou (terres légères) et très peu protégées (comme tous les ans) ont subi une grosse attaque fin Juin- début Juillet (jusqu'à 10 impacts de mildiou par feuille!). Mais j'ai réussi à contenir la maladie en resserrant la protection, en augmentant légérement les doses de cuivre et en rognant soigneusement à la main. Toutes les repousses (jeunes feuilles sur le sommet du palissage) ont été systématiquement détruites, qq "vieilles" feuilles ont été aussi affectées, et enfin qq grappes touchées par le Rot Brun. Par contre, pas de mildiou mosaïque!
Ainsi au final, toutes mes vignes ont gardé un feuillage efficient jusqu'au vendange, ce qui nous a permis d'atteindre systématiquement la maturité phénolique et une maturité alcoolique dans le haut de la fourchette du millésime. Il était même facile de constater que nos vignes étaient parmi les plus belles du coteau: feuillage vert clair, légérement jaunissant à la récolte (signe de maturité physiologique), grains noirs et fermes sans aucune pourriture.

Durant la campagne 2007, j'ai utilisé 2,3 kg de cuivre-métal par ha (alors que le maximum est de 3 kg en Biodynamie), ce qui est une performance dans le millésime. Néanmoins, je préciserai qu'Isa et moi n'avons pas cessé de travailler dans les vignes durant tout l'été!

Sur ces 5 dernières années, j'ai utilisé en moyenne 1.8 kg de Cu métal/​ha/​an. Pour te donner une idée de ce que ça représente, il faut savoir que:
Un viti en chimique qui fait un dernier traitement à la pleine dose de Bouillie Bordelaise, soit 15 kg/​ha, utilise 3 kg de Cu métal/​ha... Ceci est très fréquemment recommandé et pratiqué dans le cadre de la lutte raisonnée. En clair, en un seul traitement, il utilise en un passage, plus de Cuivre que moi en 1 an.




LE MILLESIME 2007 A CHATEAUNEUF DU

Des vendanges très saines suite à un été exceptionnellement sec et venté…



Avec seulement 35 mm de précipitations cumulées entre le 16 juin et le 15 septembre, on peut affirmer qu’à Châteauneuf-du-Pape l’été 2007 a été exceptionnellement sec. Selon les agro météorologues du Cirame de Carpentras, il s’agit même du plus sec de ces vingt dernières années, la normale s’établissant à 161 mm (station météo d’Orange).

Les pluies de ces derniers jours (environ 20 mm entre le 16 et le 18 septembre) ont donc été les bienvenues, leur faiblesse n’ayant eu aucune conséquence sur le bon déroulement des vendanges qui dans certains domaines commencent à tirer sur leur fin, précocité du millésime oblige (le ban a été proclamé le 4 septembre).

L’été 2007 a aussi été sensiblement plus venté que la normale (20 jours de fort Mistral entre le 1er juillet et le 15 septembre) et légèrement excédentaire au niveau de l’ensoleillement saisonnier (1.157 h contre 1.145 h en moyenne).

Malgré la forte variabilité des températures, avec 30 jours où les minimales ont été comprises entre 10 et 15°C, et seulement 7 jours où les maximales ont été supérieures à 35°C, les moyennes saisonnières demeurent conformes à la normale (léger excédent en juin et septembre et léger déficit en juillet et août).

Le bilan climatique de ces derniers mois permet donc de confirmer ce qui est visible dans les vignes : l’été 2007 a été particulièrement favorable à l’obtention d’une vendange de qualité, saine, dotée de bons équilibres aromatiques et de belles couleurs.

Dans les vignes, le tri étant ramené au strict minimum, les chantiers de vendanges avancent rapidement et en toute sérénité. Une sérénité qui autorise les vignerons à s’arrêter un jour ou deux dans la semaine pour attendre, si besoin est, la parfaite maturité de leurs parcelles et optimiser ainsi le potentiel du millésime.

Quantitativement, la récolte 2007 s’annonce légèrement supérieure à la moyenne décennale avec des rendements qui devraient se situer entre 32 et 34 hl/​ha, pour un maximum autorisé de 35 hl/​ha.

Un millésime qui se situe donc dans la lignée des 2003, 2004, 2005 et 2006.



Fédération des syndicats de producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape



WINE OF THE WEEK: August 31, 2007: Herve Bizeul, the producer of Clos des Fees (see p.184 in The Wines of France), has formed a sort of cooperative. Working with several other vignerons – some of whom formerly sold their harvest to the local coop – he produces a wine called Walden. (That he takes his inspiration from Thoreau is evident from Bizeul’s pamphlet which includes lengthy quotes from Walden as well as atmospheric black and white photos of woodlands.)
Standards are (predictably) high: the blend is standard for the Cotes de Roussillon Villages appellation: 40% Syrah (youngish vines) and 30% each of Grenache and Carignan (50 to 90 year old vines). Yields are low; harvest is by hand and does not begin until the grapes fully ripened and they are transported to the cellars in small ‘cagettes’ and then a refrigerated truck. After a short maceration a froid, the grapes ferment in specially designed, thermoregulated stainless steel tanks and vat for three weeks. The wine is bottled the following spring after a light filtration. With a suggested price: 6e40, this wine is an excellent value for near to mid-term drinking.
2006 Cotes de Roussillon Villages: (13.5 alcohol): A fresh, exuberant nose of black fruit is followed on the palate by flavors of blueberry, blackberry, black cherry and licorice. The wine is fresh and it’s not heavy, even though there are some Port-y notes. It’s smooth, supple and soigne, with attractive stoniness and depth. It will probably improve with a bit of bottle age (no more than five years) and/​or aeration.


June 2007

Domaine de la Madone Recent tasting.
Here’s a perfect example of why wine lovers should come back to Beaujolais. Actually, three perfect examples. The first, the 2005 Beaujolais “Le Perreon” is both a serious and a scrumptious red. It’s rich and delectable, with bright, ripe cherry flavors, an appetizing bitter-mineral streak and lovely freshness. Downright gourmand.
Its big brother, an oak-aged cuvee, adds notes of toast, plum and vanilla. For current drinking, I prefer the non-oaked – for its gaiety and freshness. But this wine is beautifully built and will evolve well.
Then there’s the 2004 Beaujolais Villages Cuvee Jean-Baptiste. Named for the vintner’s grandfather, it’s made from low-yielding (18 hl/​ha) vines 50 years old and older, aged in oak (half of the barrels are new) and is bottled unfiltered. About as far as you can get from the caricature of Beaujolais – watery and smelling of bananas – this packs deep black and red cherry, and cherry vanilla and plum flavors, accented by herbs and dark notes of tar. The oak is perfectly integrated. It’s structured and serious and if you serve it blind to a wine snob, he (or she) just might take it for a pinot noir.
Domaine de la Madone also produces a fruity, full and mineral Bourgogne blanc.



May 2007

(I hope to get back to Rhone Decouvertes soon but, in the meantime:)

May 22, 2007 : Bandol Update

The following are notes from a Bandol tasting held in April 2007. The featured wines were the 2004 reds and the 2006 roses. The tasting – and the following lunch – were held in Drouant, an historic Paris restaurant. (I plan to write something very positive about it in FrenchFeast.) I’ve included a handful of additional notes where appropriate. (I think it’s worth noting that rose production continues to rise – at the expense of reds – and now accounts for 70% of Bandol production.)

DOMAINE DES BAGUIERS:
2004 Rouge: healthy, rich garnet, vibrant fruit mixed with plenty of what seems like new or newish oak. Stylish, though the finish is somewhat drying (food would help). Fine for an upscale bistro.

LA BASTIDE BLANCHE ‘CUVEE ESTAGNOLE’:
2004 Rouge: deep, black cherry color; a whiff of gameyness on the nose; some freshness but rather raw, rustic and tannic, with a slightly bitter, licorice-tinged finish. 2006 rose: a bit flat but, if served colder, might be pretty nice.

CHATEAU DES BAUMELLES:
2004 rouge: dark color and saturation, very closed and slightly reduced; on the palate, smooth, rich, with black olive notes. Some depth and gravitas, Worth following. Seems to be same property as La Bastide Blanche though this wine is much superior.

DOMAINE DE LA BEGUDE:
2004 rouge: deep, dark color and saturation. On the palate, rather Rolland-esque with lots of flashy, juicy fruit and new oak flavors. Quite stylish. 2006 Rose: Full and structured, less terroirte than, say Sorin, but good and savory.

DOMAINE DE CAGUELOUP:
2004 rouge: deep, dark color and saturation. Curiously contradictory wine – with hints of strawberry and cotton candy in nose and on palate as well as abundance of dry tannins and sour finish. Not without issues but not without interest. Try by the glass.

DOMAINE LE GALANTIN:
2004 rouge: relatively lean, smaller scale and slimmer than most of its counterparts but fresh, restrained, savory and food friendly. It even has a hint of elegance. Also, notes of black olive and Provencal herbs. 2006 rose: hard candy aromas and flavors – which will probably pass – light, fresh, with pleasant citrus notes.

DOMAINE DU GROS NORE:
2004 rouge: Deep, dark garnet. A serious red with a core of fleshy, ripe fruit and spices. Well-structured and fresh. Very promising, real substance, style and sense of place. Mourvedre likes the sea. 2001 Rouge: (Note: this wine was presented at the Bandol lunch. I also served it wine at home, with pesto. Not what you might imagine would be the perfect marriage but this wine is very adaptable. I tasted it with ‘crostini’ spread I’d made from rabbit livers, red wine and capers and it was delicious.) Pungent, potent and masculine; more youthful than the 2002 Domaine du Tempier (qv) which I served at the same time. Strong flavors of licorice and Provencal herbs, It’s just great with highly flavored foods. Real sense of place. What one seeks in Bandol.

DOMAINE DU PEY NEUF:
2004 rouge: Reduced and somewhat prickly but interesting, with flavors of both green and black olives, a nice sense of place, suppleness and fluidity. Seems very much a work in progress.

CHATEAU DE PIBARNON:
2004 rouge: rich garnet; slightly reduced but supple, velvety attack. Oak enters the picture, as do tannins and flavors of dark, ripe fruit and Provencal herbs. Well-structured, fresh, with some depth. VG. 2001 rouge: concentrated, extracted and slightly hot. Not bad but not my favorite.

CHATEAU SAINTE ANNE:
(Biodynamic winemaking; low so2, indigenous yeasts. They are currently selling 2000.)
2004 rouge (bottled three weeks ago.) Matte black cherry color; flavors of black cherry and cherry pits; very dry, a bit raw, seems atypical – though I hate to see myself using that word. To follow. 1995 rouge (father’s last vintage): fluid and savory with intruiging licorice notes. VG. (Additional notes from tasting in Angers in February 2007: 2005 blanc: vinous but that’s about it; 2006 rose: ditto; 2003 rouge: gamey and tannic; 2001 rouge “Collection” Mourvedre VV – quite bitter but also very interesting. Bacony finish.

CHATEAU SALETTES:
2004 rouge: supple, savory, smooth and fluid. Both spicy and fresh, almost thirstquenching. Extremely food friendly, with no jagged edges and a touch of elegance.

DOMAINE SORIN:
2004 rouge: dark black cherry-black olive color; good focus, all of a piece, seems somewhat Old World in the best sense. Also, fine sense of place. Quite appealing, good freshness, bacony finish. Delicious. 2006 rose: excellent – savory, terroirte, and fresh. 2001 rouge: spicy, coherent, a real sense of place and a total pleasure.

DOMAINE DE SOUVIOU:
2004 rouge: healthy, evolving color; spicy, a bit raw and rustic even though there’s good freshness and balance. Some heat in finish. A hearty bistro Bandol.

DOMAINE TEMPIER:
2004 rouge: matte black cherry color; fair focus, somewhat tart finish. Seems somewhat closed at this stage. Tasty and three dimensional but a bit disappointing, given the house. 2006 rose: VG, nuanced, focused and structured, a thread of co2. (2002 rouge – served at my house, with pesto): sweet spices, leather, licorice, hot red pepper and sandalwood. Nicely balanced and fresh, a good, savory Provencal red.

DOMAINE DE TERREBRUNE:
2004 rouge: spicy, lightly animal and somewhat raw. Surprisingly disappointing. Which is why judgements must be based on more than a single tasting.

DOMAINE DE LA TOUR DU BON:
2004 rouge Cuvee St. Ferreol: black olive-garnet color; spicy, tannic, some depth and nuance and good freshness. A Real presence, a definite sense of place – and of Mourvedre. VG.

CHATEAU VANNIERES:
2004 Rouge: oaky (too), supple. Despite the oakiness and the touch of heat in finish, I like its fluidity and depth. It’s an admirable and tasty wine. More Derenoncourt than Rolland.

DOMAINE DE LA VIVONNE:
2004 rouge: Frank, spicy nose, tannic, seems a bit thin for the amount of oak but I like the savory quality. Food would help a whole lot. 2006 rose: somewhat hard candy – bonbons anglaises – but, if served very cold, would be nice with food on a patio.

Tasted and Considered: La Cadierenne; Ch Jean-Pierre Gaussen (the wine seemed unfinished and may not have been bottled yet); Dom de l’Hermitage (wine too reduced to taste accurately); Dom de la Laidiere; Dom de l’Olivette; La Roque “Grande Reserve”; Dom du Val d’Arenc.

May 11, 2007 : See FrenchFeast for Entre-Deux-Mer tasting notes.

April 2007

April 24, 2007

DECOUVERTES IN RHONE: PART FOUR: CORNAS AND ST.PERAY

DOMAINE BALTHAZAR: 07130 CORNAS; 04.75.80.01.72; balthazar.franck@​akeonet.com
2005 Cornas ‘Chaillot’: (BS: No destemming, neither fined nor filtered, aged in demi-muids.) Tannic, hard, black olive and blackberry, tons of character. Start approaching in 2010.

DOMAINE CLAPE:
2005 Cornas: (BS) Fragrant, mingled nose of deep red fruit and oak. On the palate, silky, rich, ripe tannins, dark, profound fruit. Very racy and very promisng.

MATHIEU BARRET/​ DOMAINE DU COULET:43 rue du ruisseau, 07130 Cornas, 04.75.80.08.25: domaineducoulet@​tele2.fr (NB: See also write-up in February 2007):
2006 Cotes du Rhone “No Wines Land” (From a parcel between two ACs): Pure, charming syrah fruit, minerals, tart but, curiously, lacks freshness. Still, it’s good and tasty.
2006 Cornas “Brise Cailloux”: Rich, plummy, syrah fruit; succulent, mineral, chalky. Very promising.
2005 Cornas “Les Terrasses du Serre”: Rich, velvety, oaky and extracty. Needs time but very promising.
2005 Cornas “Billes Noires”: deep nose, intense, tannic, oaky and concentrated. Massive.

DOMAINE COURBIS:
2005 Cornas “Champelrose”: (Just bottled.) Fresh, juicy, quaffing Cornas (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).
2005 Cornas “Les Eygats” (BS, grapes from high hillside parcels.) Fresh, powerful, tannic with deep black cherry flavors and the sense of airiness, of having come from a well ventilated slope. Very good.
2005 Cornas “La Sabarotte”: (BS. lieu-dit): Rich, concentrated, extracty and oaky. Promising but needs time.
2004 Cornas “Champelrose”: slightly gamey, lacks the charm of 2005 but worth following.
2004 Cornas “Sabarotte”: Very rich, very tannic, lots of licorice flavors. Very much worth following but a bit opaque right now.

YVES CUILLERON: FIRST YEAR IN CORNAS AND ST. PERAY.
2006 St. Peray “Les Potiers” (BS. Pure marsanne.): Still fermenting – still fermenting, but a real core of minerals underneath. To follow.
2006 St. Peray “Les Cerfs”: (BS: old marsanne vines on a hillside.) Focused, mineral, terroir-driven. Should be very exciting.
2006 Cornas : (BS): Pitch-purple, focused, plummy, succulent fruit, rich core of minerals and stone. Terroir-driven. Another exciting wine.

DOMAINE DE FAUTERIE, 07130 SAINT PERAY, 04.75.80.04.25; www.domainedefauterie.fr
2005 St. Peray: (Label with white background): Rich, vinous, a bit heavy.
2005 St. Peray : (label with peach colored background.) More serious, more structured and layered. Quite mineral. Finish is hot but wine is worth following.
2004 Cornas : Smooth and fluid though seems rather closed. To follow.
2005 Cornas : Richer, a touch hot, also smooth. Not perfect but, again, to follow.

GUILLAUME GILLES:
2004 Cornas : Slightly gamey, fluid, seems less ripe and more dilute than my favorites, also somewhat sour. But it’s not uninteresting. Try by the glass.

DOMAINE BERNARD GRIPA:
2005 St. Peray : hot, vinous, and heavy but has lots of characters and minerals.
2005 St. Peray “Les Figuiers”: (Barrel fermented, raised on lees, oldest vines.) Vinous, fresher, oaky but layered and savory with ample mineral flavors. Very good.

PAUL JABOULET AINE
2005 CORNAS “les Grandes Terrasses”: Big, tannic, oaky, lots of flavor but drying finish. Less convincing than Hermitage La Chapelle but worth following.
2005 Cornas ‘Domaine de St. Pierre’: Rich, tight and racy, smooth though lightly hot, chalky. Impressive and promising.

DOMAINE MICHELAS SAINT JEMMS
2004 Cornas ‘les Murettes”: Dark, dark fruit, black olive, truffle and provencal herb flavors. Very tasty. Would be perfect for a wine-serious bistro like Paul Bert. Or a good daube anywhere.
Cornas “les Murettes”: Meaty, oaky, rich fruit with plum and black olive flavors. Good freshness. Needs time but promising.
2005 Cornas “Terres d’Arce”: (Old vines, newer oak.) Pitch-purple, tight and concentrated, with good acid balance. Needs serious time. They say two to three years. I think longer.

DOMAINE DU TUNNEL/​ STEPHANE ROBERT:
2005 Cornas : Sumptuous syrah fruit, smooth, tight, chalky and seductive. Very promising.
2005 St. Peray: Fragrant and mineral. Very real and very good.

VINS DE VIENNE
2005 Cornas “les Barcillants” Juicy, accent on minerals rather than on extraction, very good.
2006 St. Peray : Tight, fragrant and vinous.
2006 St. Peray “Les Bialeres”: (BS). Fermentation flavors, lightly hot but textured and mineral. Worth following.
St. Peray “Les Bialeres”: Oaky, vinous, rather hot. Not my favorite wine from this group.

DOMAINE VOGE:
2005 St. Joseph rouge: (Voge’s first vintage in the St. Jo AC.) Structured, meaty, truffley, somewhat hot, tannic and tight. Very promising though finish is raw and dry.
2005 St. Peray “Harmonie”: Vinous, floral, tight, rich, should be very good.
2004 St. Peray Cuvee Boisee: Textured, oak nicely integrated, a bit hot but impressive.
2004 St. Peray “Fleur de Crussol” (70 year old marsanne from south-facing slope, barrel fermented.) Textured, layered, potent, blankets the tongue. Racy, with licorice accents. Impressive.
2005 Cotes du Rhone rouge “Les Peyrouses”: (syrah from lieu-dit.) Fresh, lean and juicy. Very agreeable.
2004 Cornas “les Chailles”: chewy, nice acidity, promising save for a whiff of gameyness.
2004 Cornas “les Vieilles Vignes”: Meaty and lightly gamey, provencal herb notes, tannic and tight. Definitely not bland. To follow.
2004 Cornas “Les Vieilles Fontaines”: Rich, extracty, plenty of ripe fruit with attractive sweet spice notes but comes across somewhat chunky and blunt.


April 12, 2007

DECOUVERTES EN RHONE: PART THREE: CROZES-HERMITAGE

DOMAINE BELLE: 26600 LARNAGE, 04.75.08.24.58; domaine.belle@​wanadoo.fr. (I did not include the domaine’s Hermitage though I did admire the whites, particularly the 2003.)
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge Cuvee Louis Belle: (Partially destemmed, barrel aged.) Oaky, tannic and extracty. Needs a good three to five years. To follow.
2004 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Les Pierrelles”: Rich, fat fruit, oaky, simultaneously smooth and beefy. An oomphy red for a noisy bistro.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Les Pierrelles”: Quite thick and tannic, some freshness but needs time.
2004 Crozes-Hermitage rouge Cuvee Louis Belle : Tannic, hot, extracty. Needs time.

DOMAINE LES CHENETS: CROZES-HERMITAGE: 26600 MERCUROL; 04.75.07.48.28; etienne.berthoin@​wanadoo.fr.
2005 crozes red Cuvee Mont Rousset: (35 year old vines aged in newish barrels.) Pitch purple, oaky, tannic, fresh and extracty. To follow.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage blanc: (unoaked, pure marsanne.) Supple, fragrant, vinous and easy, with a bitter almond finish. It is a bit hot and a tad cloying. Food would round off the rough edges and fill in the blanks.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage blanc Mont Rousset : (Vines planted in 1964, barrel fermented, three year barrel rotation). Lots of oak but it’s largely integrated, textured, stony, rich, with a good, bitter almond finish. Good +.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge: (Younger vines, newish barrels.) Vibrant, juicy and plummy. A delicous and serious vin de plaisir.

DOMAINE DES ENTREFAUX: CROZES:
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Les Pends”: (Young vines, aged on its lees in barrels, neither fined nor filtered.) Pure but not perfect, somewhat raw and horsey but it’s got a lot of assets and tons of stuffing. Give it time.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage blanc “Les Pends”: On the cusp of over-ripeness, textured and fragrant. The finish is hot but chilling and food – preferably something slightly exotic – would finesse that nicely.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge : Vibrant, mineral, very pure, very appealing, very syrah and very seductive.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Les Machonnieres”: (Vines 20 to 50 years old.) Velvety, focused with refreshing acidity, mineral and rich with well-upholstered tannins. Very good.

FERRATON PERE ET FILS: Crozes:
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge la Matiniere : (partially oak aged.) Fresh, plummy, rich, tight and nicely tannic. A yummy Rhone red.
2004 Crozes-Hermitage rouge le Grand Courtil: (Selected parcels). Terroir-driven, chalky, elegant and racy. A fresh, racy red with lovely fruit and spice flavors. Very good.
2006 Crozes-Hermitage blanc La Matiniere : (TS). Perfumed, mineral, promises to be very good indeed.

DOMAINE MICHELAS SAINT JEMMS:
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Terres d’Arce”: tight, fresh, plummy and chewy. A tasty, characterful red to drink on the fruit.

DOMAINE POCHON: CHATEAU DE CURSON, 26600 CHANOS-CURSON, 04.75.07.34.60.domainespochon@​wanadoo.fr
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge : smooth, relatively lean, somewhat dilute but not bad.
2004 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Chateau Courson “: ( A selection of the best lots.) Tannic, concentrated, spicy, a solid bistro red.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage blanc: Vinous, pleasant.
2004 Crozes_Hermitage blanc “Chateau Curson”: relatively rich, vinous, mouthfilling, good meal white.

DOMAINE DES REMIZIERES: CROZES:
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Cuvee Christophe”: rich fruit and oak flavors, thick, extracty, with medicinal, balsamic notes. Needs time.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge Cuvee Particuliere: rich fruit and oak. It needs a bit of time but it’s got plenty of character and smacks of authenticity.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge ‘Autrement’: (Old vines, vinified in barrel): rich and oaky but sapid, with lots of stuffing. Very promising.
2005 Crozes-hermitage blanc Cuvee Particuliere: Vinous, textured and quite appealing.
2005 Crozes-Hermitage blanc Cuvee Christophe : Richer than previous and more textured, with ample oak and mineral flavors. Some heat in finish but otherwise very tasty. Promising.

GILLES ROBIN: 2005 Crozes-Hermitage rouge “Cuvee Alberic Bouvet”: a vibrant syrah, juicy, lightly tannic and fresh. Bistro ready.

April 3, 2007

DECOUVERTES IN RHONE: PART TWO: HERMITAGE:
Sixteen producers showed their wines at the Hermitage. I tasted at every stand (except as specified below) but I’m only including the ones I recommend.

CAVE DE TAIN L’HERMITAGE: (As I know the wines from the Cave fairly well, I saved their stand for the last. As luck would have it, the line was three-deep when I approached. And I had to leave for Cornas. So, because the Cave controls 25% of the Hermitage AC, I’m including my notes from a December 2006 dinner here.
2004 HERMITAGE BLANC “Au coeur des Siecles : (Pure, old vines (106 years) marsanne fermented in 400 litre oak (Vosges) barrels: Big-boned, deep, sense of the roots from those old vines digging deeper and deeper, slightly floral, also slightly salty, with notes of caramel and pineapple. Young but extremely promising and pure pleasure right now.
2003 Hermitage Blanc : (Fermented in oak (Allier) barrels.) Limpid, crystalline, pineapple on a base of stone, racy but doesn’t have quite the profundity of those very old vines. Still, very, very good and very well made.
2004 Hermitage rouge “Ultra Premium”: (Actually, this cuvee, which is considered a higher level than Gambert de Loche, doesn’t yet have a name. 2004 was the first vintage in which it was made and it will be made in every good vintage, harvested by tri on parcels owned by the cave on Le Meal and L’Hermite. It is lightly filtered and amounts to about 1500 bottles.) Statuesque, pedigreed and sapid. Full of ripe, elegantly expressed fruit and lots of oak – which needs to be digested. Extremely promising and hard to stop drinking, even now.
Hermitage rouge : richly fruity, somewhat jammy but very fresh and quite oaky. Truly nice Hermitage for a bistro gourmand.
2001 Hermitage rouge “Gambert de Loche”: (Old vines, from the best parcels, aged in new oak.) Surprisingly acid but elegant and streamlined with prune, mineral and spice flavors.
’99 Hermitage rouge “Gambert de Loche” : Nuanced bouquet, inextricably mingled aromas and flavors with hints of bacon and leather. I’d start drinking.
’99 Vin de Paille: (Made from Hermitage blanc, late harvested old vines, air dried for 2 months and aged in barrel for 30 months. Fermentation stops at about 16 degrees alcohol, leaving about 100 grams residual sugar per liter.) Nectar-like but still fresh, layered and sinuous. A real treat.


MICHEL CHAPOUTIER::
2004 Hermitage rouge “La Sizeranne”: Smooth and supple with focused berry fruit. Seems as if will be ready to drink in near-term.
2006 Hermitage rouge “La Sizeranne”: It’s hard to get more than oak and cranberry juice at this stage, though the wine is admirably fresh.
Hermitage rouge “Le Meal”: : Relatively deep, fruity and meaty aroma, fresh, tannic and racy. Very promising.
2004 Hermitage rouge “Le Pavillon”: Sense of freshness, layers, pedigree but flavors are blocked by reduction.
2004 Hermitage Blanc “Chante Alouette”: Oaky, layered, mineral, a bit heavy. To follow.
2006 Hermitage Blanc “Chante Alouette”:: Rich, appley, hot, dominated by fermentation odors.
2004 Hermitage Blanc “De l’Oree”: Rich, oaky, mineral but a bit hot, heavy and overstated.
2004 Hermitage “Le Meal”: Fresh as a cleansing breeze, very mineral, layered and racy, very promising though lightly hot and the abundant oak needs to be digested.
On Sunday the 18th, Chapoutier through a party in his officers. They were pouring Hermitage from Methuselah. First came a ’97 Hermitage blanc Chante Alouette – rather fat, obvious, with a kind of New World “in your face” bluntness; then the very fine, though fat and still youthful 2004 white from De L’Oree; and best of all, the ’94 white from De l”Oree, a crystalline wine, both racy and elegant. I left before the big bottles of red came out as Monday was a school day – Cote Rotie and Condrieu, no less – for me.

DOMAINE JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE:
2004 Hermitage Blanc: Creamy, oaky, unctuous yet fresh, tight, with a long bitter almond and mineral finish. A future great.
2004 Hermitage rouge : Rubies and spices, smooth, racy and fresh, with focused, jewel-like fruit, plenty of oak to digest but expect another future great.

YANN CHAVE:
2004 Hermitage rouge: Relatively light and fluid, with strong truffle aromas and flavors. Site specific although less regal that I’d have expected. Still, nice drinking.
2005 Hermitage rouge : Fragrant, velvety and relatively racy. A bit extracty and tannic but still very good.

DOMAINE COLOMBIER: HERMITAGE AND CROZES HERMITAGE: 26600 MERCUROL; 04.75.07.44.07; FAX: 04.75.07.41.43; (A new domaine to me. Most of their vineyards are in Crozes-Hermitage – whose tasting I missed – but the small amount of Hermitage made by this domaine was sufficiently interesting to make me want to know more about it (and them).
2005 Hermitage blanc: (ts) Though quite reduced, the wine is very mineral, steely, tight and riveting. Worth following.
2004 Hermitage rouge: Also reduced, but the wine is fresh, lean and focused. Also worth following.

DELAS FRERES:
2004 Hermitage blanc “Marquise de la Tourette”: smaller scale than producers like Chave and Sorrel but fresh, mineral and vinous with an attractive bitter almond and cream finish.
2004 Hermitage rouge “Marquise de la Tourette”: relatively lean but pleasingly fresh, supple, and smooth with good fruit and subdued oak flavors. Again, smaller scale but fluid and pedigreed.

FERRATON PERE & FILS: HERMITAGE: 26600 TAIN L’HERMITAGE; 04.75.08.28.65; eagranier@​chapoutier.com:
2006 Hermitage blanc “les Meaux”: (BS) dominated by fermentation aromas and flavors.
2006 Hermitage blanc “Le Reverdy”: (BS, essentially from Le Meal, fermented and aged in demi-muids and barriques, 30% new) Racy, mineral, layered and rich enough to eat its oak. Impressive.
2004 Hermitage blanc “Le Reverdy”: Crystalline, racy and fresh. Layered and tight but approachable – though it will certainly flesh out with age. Impressive (again).
2004 Hermitage rouge “Les Meaux” : warm, supple and giving. Three dimensional. A fine choice for a bistro gourmand.
2004 Hermitage rouge “Les Dionnieres”: Deeply fragrant, intense aromas of crushed berries, velvety texture, absolutely delicious.
2004 Hermitage rouge “Le Meal”: Deep and deeply fragrant, velvety texture, ripe tannins, plenty of oak and lots of baby fat. Another impressive wine that should age beautifully.

PAUL JABOULET AINE: Hermitage: (A spokesman for Jaboulet said that the real changes here were made with the 2006 vintage. The 2005s had already been made by the time Jaboulet was sold. Only the maturing of the wines was affected.
2004 Hermitage blanc “Chevalier de Sterimberg”: rather reduced and a bit heavy but layered, mineral and racy. Promising.
2005 Hermitage blanc “Chevalier de Sterimberg”: Unctuous, fresh as a waterfall, real race here, all about pedigree, with flavors of minerals and accents of pineapple. Great promise.
2005 Hermitage rouge “La Petite Chapelle”: (CS) Fresh, focused and site specific. Very good.
2005 Hermitage rouge “La Chapelle”: (CS) Pitch purple and luminous; racy, complex, pellucid and grand. The most exciting La Chapelle I’ve tasted in a long time and a future monument.

DOMAINE DES REMIZIERES/​CAVE DESMEURE: HERMITAGE:
2005 Hermitage blanc : Vinous, oaky, rich and mineral. Rather heavy but good.
2005 Hermitage rouge “Emilie”: Pitch purple, very concentrated/​extracty and oaky but admirably fresh. I’m not getting the pedigree but it’s a very tasty wine.
2005 Hermitage rouge “Autrement”: (A tri vinified in open demi-muids and barriques.) Even darker shade of purple, profoundly saturated, tons of extract, same (essential) evaluation though even more of a toothstainer.

DOMAINE MARC SORREL: HERMITAGE: 26600 TAIN L’HERMITAGE; 04.75.07.10.07; www.marcsorrel.com.
2005 Hermitage blanc: (CS) Nose inexpressive, on palate, the wine is perfumed and mineral. Despite heat in the finish, the wine is very promising.
2005 Hermitage blanc “Les Roucoules”: (CS)Deep nose with evident freshness, rich, edging towards over-ripe, flavors of pineapple, minerals, slate and bitter almond continue through long, albeit somewhat hot, finish.
2005 Hermitage rouge : (CS): fresh, tart, bright fruit, lightly hot.
2005 Hermitage rouge “Le Greal”: (CS) Rich, focused, jewel-cut fruit with vibrant flavors of crushed raspberry and eau de vie. Chalky, racy. Oak is completely hidden. Greatly promising.

LES VINS DE VIENNE: HERMITAGE
2004 Hermitage rouge “Les Chirats de St. Christophe”: supple, chalky, lean, mineral and very interesting.
2005 Hermitage rouge: (CS) Focused, fresh, ripe tannins and flavors of licorice and crushed berries. I’m troubled by the heat in the finish and light gamey notes but the wine so many assets, it’s worth following.


April 2, 2007: A Peek at 2006 Bordeaux: Notes from Stephane Derenoncourt’s Tasting : Kiefer Sutherland look-alike Stephane Derenoncourt, currently perhaps the most sought after wine consultant in Bordeaux, accompanied by a large percentage of his clients, held a tasting of 2006s at the George V Hotel in Paris on March 30th. It was the first opportunity I had had to get enough of a glimpse of the latest vintage to form some sort of opinion. Caveat: as few of the wines came from the Medoc, my view – though intense – was far from complete. But it’s not my purpose here to determine whether 2006 is a Right Bank or a Left Bank vintage, nor whether Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon fared best in this very bizarre growing season. (Besides, you’ll be battered by torrents of words on these subjects over the next month, once the en primeur tastings now taking place in Bordeaux terminate at the end of this week.)
One generalization that I think can be made about the 2006 vintage throughout France is that it was a “winemaker’s” year. Don’t buy without knowing your producer: with record heat in July and record chilliness in August – to name just two factors --2006 was simply too dicey a year for schleppers. That said, there are some lovely wines in every region, as evidenced by some truly delicious examples presented at George V.
My overall impression was that of a much lighter year than 2005, producing fresh wines with a strong, lively streak of acidity. I suspect there will be a good amount of delicious wines to drink in the near term, wines that should be perfect for restaurants. Caveat #2: The good news only holds true for producers who didn’t “exaggerate”or push the wines too far, eg who didn’t over –oak or over-extract. When the vigneron worked with the vintage, the wines I tasted were charming, refreshing, not for the ages but for pleasure. I plan to describe many of the wines in this space. To give one example, why not use Derenoncourt’s own wine, from the Domaine de l’A in the Cotes de Castillon? The wine was a rich, healthy garnet, very juicy, with lots of wild berry and groseille flavors. It was oaky but had the structure and depth to support the oak.Far from a blockbuster, it was discreet and admirably restrained, specific and delightful. To be continued.

March 2007

DECOUVERTES EN VALLEE DU RHONE:
The Decouvertes en Vallee du Rhone takes place every two years in mid-March. The event lasts about 8 days, starting either in the northern Rhone appellations, eg Cote Rotie and working their way down to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or vice versa. Heavy-hitters like these always start and end the Decouvertes -- undoubtedly to keep all of us around throughout the week to taste wines from less prestigious appellations like the Coteaux du Tricastin, Costieres de Nimes and generic Cotes du Rhone.
On any given day there will be three, four or five tastings, held in different -- and sometimes quite distant -- spaces. For example, the scheduled tastings for Saturday March 17th were Vacqueyras, Cotes du Luberon, Cotes du Ventoux, Beaumes de Venise VDN and Cotes du Rhone Villages, and Rasteau VDN and Cotes du Rhone Villages, held in four locations.
There is a lot to taste. In Vacqueyras, for example, there were 42 "exposants" -- each one offering samples from several different vintages and cuvees. It's not surprising, then, that few people make it to every single one of the tastings. (A pity, because it's a great opportunity.)
Generally there's a buffet lunch at each tasting location. This means that you are on your feet and battling crowds for tastes of both liquid and solid from 9AM to 7PM. Then there are usually several "soirees" from which to choose. These, too, are often buffets where, once again, you are on your feet and battling crowds for tastes of both liquid and solid. So much for glamor!)
(In the entries below, I’ve added contact information only when that is not available in my book. I have not included 2006s that still tasted (and smelled) more of fermentation than anything else. I’ve also left out producers whose wines I didn’t like.)

DECOUVERTES IN RHONE: PART ONE

CONDRIEU AND COTE ROTIE (Seems I’m following the LIFO principle: Last In/​First Out: The Condrieu and Cote Rotie show was the very last tasting in a long week + of tastings. We were all pretty weary. And I had a train to catch in Lyon.)

Domaine Barge: 69420 Ampuis, 04.74.56.13.90; www.domainebarge.com.
2005 Condrieu “la Solarie”: Leaner than some of the other Condrieus tasted but fresh, perfumed, mineral and all of a piece. Very good.
2006 Condrieu (BS): (Barge thinks 2006 will be fresher and more elegant than richer vintages like 2005.) The wine, even at this stage, is a pleasure, quite perfumed, smooth, rich and, yes, fresh, and very promising.
2004 Cote Rotie “Cuvee du Plessy” : 5% viognier. Reduced but quite pure, with lovely fruit lurking in background, some bacon notes on finish.
2004 Cote Rotie “Cote Brune” : seductively fragrant, rich, textured, focused, lovely weave of fruit and minerals. Very good indeed.
2005 Cote Rotie “Cuvee du Plessy” (BS):`, jewel-like (ruby) fruit, gentle oak, great freshness, should be ravishing.

Domaine Bernard Burgaud, 69420 Ampuis; 04.74.56.11.86; bernard.burgaud@​wanadoo.fr; http:/​/​coterotieburgaud.monsite.wanadoo.fr.
2006 Cote Rotie : smooth attack, lovely freshness and focus, nice acid presence. Very promising.
2005 Cote Rotie : I’m put off by the gameyness though there’s plenty to admire in this wine.

Domaine Clusel-Roch:
2006 Condrieu (BS): rich, textured, focused and mineral. Extremely good.
2004 Cote Rotie : silky attack, mineral, stony, limpid and pure. Downright regal.
2004 Cote Rotie “Les Grands Places” : If possible, more vibrant, more focused, more mineral than previous wine, also needs more time.
2005 Cote Rotie (BS): Rich and fatter than the 2004 but remains cool and svelte, with attractive blend of oak and minerals. Very good.
2005 Cote Rotie “Les Grands Places” (BS): Ample oak but this is a majestic wine with power and elegance. A future monument.

Yves Cuilleron:
2005 Cote Rotie “Bassenon: (granitic soils, some viognier in mix): rich and velvety but also tight and mineral and a nice “point” of acid. To follow.
2005 Cote Rotie “Madiniere”: schisty soils: pure, mineral and terroir-driven. Very promising.
2005 Cote Rotie “Terre Sombre”: (vines planted in 1963, no viognier, partial destemming, punching down, three week vatting, wild yeasts). I give some of those specifics because I think this might well become a wine of reference. Terroir-driven, extremely mineral, deeply impressive. Finish, for now, somewhat hot.
2005 Condrieu “La Petite Cote” : forward fruit but lots of minerals too, creamy, lightly hot finish.
2005 Condrieu “Les Chaillets (VV)” : heavy cream, mineral, perfumed, layered. A bit hot but excellent and riveting.
2005 Condrieu “Vertige”: (small cuvee from Coteaux du Vernon, 3000 bottles, fermented and aged in new and newish oak.) Fresh, oaky, mineral, some of viognier’s characteristic perfumes but very understated. Statuesque. Superb.

Domaine Pierre Gaillard:
2005 Condrieu : Thrilling freshness, great mineral depths, perfumed, with fruit blossom top notes and citrus zest finish. Stunning. Excellent.
2005 Cote Rotie : racy and classic in the best sense, a blanket of fine syrah fruit and minerals.
2005 Cote Rotie “Rose Pourpre”: airborn, fresh and deep; rich, mineral, well expressed oak. Very Good to Excellent.

Domaine Gangloff:
2005 Cote Rotie “la Barbarine “(BS): very pure, very mineral, very, very promising though needs time to flesh out and integrate oak.
2005 Cote Rotie “La Sereine Noire”: (BS): Focused, tannic and qutie oaky. Needs more time to evolve but extremely promising.
2006 Condrieu : although it is still fermenting, already manifesting purity, richness, texture and a ton of minerals. Also quite a bit of alcohol.

Jean-Michel Gerin:
2005 Cote Rotie “Champin le Seigneur” (BS): Oaky but gentle with seductive, plushy fruit and firm tannins. Very good.
2005 Cote Rotie “La Landonnne” (BS): ample oak, very rich, very mineral, needs time but very, very promising.
2005 Cote Rotie “Les Grandes Places (VV)”: rich, dense, focused with jewel-like fruit. Drying oaky finish for now but the wine is extremely promising.
2005 Condrieu “La Loye”: Rich, nicely textured, perfumed and mineral. A bit heavy, however. I’d like more freshness but it’s very good.

Guigal:
2005 Condrieu: rich, textured, Black letter law, though the finish is rather hot.
2005 Condrieu ‘la Doriane’: quite ample, headily perfumed, somewhat heavy.
2005 Cote Rotie “Brune et Blonde”: rich, supple, oaky and quite classic though there’s a surprising, if not unwelcome, streak of acidity in the finish.
2003 Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis : oaky, smooth, flawless, with a long, licorice-scented finish.
(The above wines were all that were on the tasting table. I asked if any of the single vineyard Cote Roties were available for tasting and was told I could choose one. I was also told that “La Turque” was the most expressive at the moment.)
2003 Cote Rotie “La Turque”: deep, mingled nose, quite oaky, very rich, very tannic, very concentrated and very, very promising. Should be excellent and is head and shoulders above the domaine’s generic cuvees. (At this point I was tempted to beg to taste “La Mouline” and “La Landonne” – in the name of research, you understand. But, at least in my case, research has a way of crossing the line into gluttony. So I retreated with my dignity intact.)

Domaine Jamet:
2004 Cote Rotie : Rich, simultaneously meaty and fluid, and despite a curious hint of green bell peppers, rather classic. Good +.

DOMAINE JASMIN:
2004 Cote Rotie : gentle, silky attack with a touch of oak; fine, tight tannins, a bit hot but should evolve beautifully.
2005 Cote Rotie “Grande Annee”(BS): limpid, deep and rich, with hints of licorice. Excellent.

Yves et Jocelyne Lafoy, 69420 Ampuis, 04.74.56.19.26; j.lafoy@​chello.fr;
2004 Cote Rotie “Cuvee JYL” (JV): smooth, lightly reduced, firm tannins. Good.
2004 Cote Rotie “Cuvee RG “(VV ): (not destemmed ): pungent and potent, deep black fruit and black olive flavors mixed with licorice and newish oak. Needs plenty of time.
2005 Cote Rotie “JYL”: generous wine with some chalkiness and fine tannins. Nice.
2005 Cote Rotie “RG”: pitch black, pungent, tannic, epic, with light animal note. I’d love to retaste in ten years.

DOMAINE NIERO:
2005 CONDRIEU “LES RAVINES” : textured, perfumed, very nice indeed.
2005 Condrieu “Cuvee de Chery : Ampler, broader than previous cuvee, more fragrant, too, and mineral; very good thought the finish is slightly hot.
2005 Cote Rotie : oaky, tannic, a bit more earthbound than others.

Maison Alain Paret, 42520 Saint Pierre de Boeuf; 04.74.87.12.09; maison.paret@​wanadoo.fr. All samples below from tank.
2006 Condrieu “les Ceps du Nebadon”: (from granitic soils, malo just finished): fresh, focused and mineral. Very promising.
2006 Condrieu “Lys de Volcan” (a lieu-dit with schisty soils): rich, textured, mineral, schist-born opulence. Very good.
2006 Condrieu “Sortileges” : (late harvest, grapes left to dry on the vine and then harvested grape by grape, 16 degrees alcohol, 84 grams residual sugar): nectar and marzipan. A delight. A “must try.”


Andre Perret:
2005 Condrieu “Clos Chanson (VV)”: very rich, very textured, plush. Very good.
2005 Condrieu “Chery”: similarly textured and rich, extremely mineral, with viognier’s perfumes floating above it all. Very good.


CHRISTOPHE PICHON: 42410 CHAVANAY, 04.74.87.06.78; CHRPICHON@​WANADOO.FR.
2005 Cote Rotie: fresh, tannic and concentrated. Not the most majestic but tasty and quite good.
2005 Cote Rotie “La Comtesse en Cote Blonde” (BS) : Fresh, oaky, though quite fine of grain. A real step up in raciness.
2005 Condrieu : surprisingly, a bit thin, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.

Domaine Jean-Michel Stephan:
2004 Cote Rotie : non-interventionist style; pure, fluid but there’s a worrisome scent of bouillon.
2004 Cote Rotie “Coteaux du Tupin”: a gamey whiff here as well as strong balsamic/​menthol and licorice notes. Hot finish. For a specific clientele.
Cote Rotie VV : unfiltered. Rather gamey though there’s a lot to admire as well.

Georges Vernay:
2006 Condrieu “Chailles d’Enfer”” very fresh and textured. Very promising.
2005 Condrieu “Coteau de Vernon” (BS): Terroir-driven with great freshness and minerality. Riveting.
2005 Cote Rotie “La Blonde du Seigneur”: complex nose, smooth, cool, elegant with long mineral-fruit finish.
2005 Cote Rotie “Maison Rouge”: nose as nuanced as the best of Guerlain, wild plum, black cherry. A lipsmacking wine, fresh, fine and totally gourmand.

Francois Villard:
2005 Condrieu “les Terrasses du Palat”: fresh, mineral and fragrant. Very good.
2005 Condrieu “Le Grand Vallon”: even fresher, richer, more mineral, with appetizing citrus zest finish.
2005 Condrieu ‘De Poncins’: airborn, fresh, stony, complex, gracious. Exciting. A beauty.
2004 Cote Rotie “Le Gallet Blanc”: light earthiness, nice structure, simultaneously friendly and pedigreed.
2005 Cote Rotie “Le Gallet Blanc (BS) : pitch purple, focused, very fresh, very concentrated, with flavors of black fruit, licorice and minerals. Could be epic.
2005 Cote Rotie “la Brocarde”:very fresh, lovely, well-defined fruit blended with oak. Another potential epic.

Les Vins de Vienne:
2006 Condrieu : perfumed, with flavors of citrus and minerals; promising though I’d like more freshness.
2006 Condrieu “La Chambee”: (Barrel fermented with 10% new oak.) Rich and textured, fresher than previous. Very promising.
2005 Condrieu : Citric, mineral, stony, fragrant and appealingly fresh.
2005 Condrieu “La Chambee”: Ample, quite mineral and creamy though the oak dominates at this point.
2006 Cote Rotie (BS) : reduced, tight, a fresh, mineral, svelte CR with seductive fruit.
2005 Cote Rotie (BS): Oaky, with vibrant fruit, rather statuesque. Very promising.


CHATEAU LA VERNEDE: 34440 NISSAN LEZ ENSERUNE, 04.67.37.00.30;www.chateaulavernede.com . This large (50 hectare) winery lies on the Terrasses de Beziers, halfway between Beziers and Narbonne. Eco-friendly, it’s managed with great professionalism by winemaker Jean-Luc Maurer (formerly of Chateau Fourcas-Dupre in Listrac-Medoc) and makes an encyclopedic range of wines – from Bag-in-Box, to fighting varietals, to Coteaux du Languedoc, to over-the-top eccentricities like a pure Syrah that weighs in at 17.82 alcohol and could take on all comers. (It would go quite nicely with blue cheese. ) For more on La Vernede, see Wine of the Week in FrenchFeast.

February 2007
Domaine du Coulet: Cornas: Mathieu Barret joined his grandfather on this family property in 2001. He converted the domaine – 10 hectares in Cornas as well as some land at the limits of that AC, in Cotes du Rhone AC – to biodynamics and started bottling his own wine rather than sell to the cooperative. I recently tasted four wines, all from barrel, and was mighty impressed. My favorite was the 2005 Cornas Les Terrasses du Serre which he, accurately I thought, considers the most powerful, elegant and age-worthy of his wines. It was all of those things and more. Velvety, desperately seductive and much too delicious. Like many biodynamic practitioners, Barret maintains low yields (an average of 20 hl/​ha), uses indigenous yeasts, and very little sulphur. Wisely (I think) he ages his wines in used but newish barrels so syrah on this special terroir speaks, not oak. His other wines were delectable too though I found his most expensive wine, Cornas Billes Noires, a bit too concentrated and “sweet” for my liking. The Cornas Brise Cailloux, from 2006, was extremely juicy, vigourous and vibrant and the 2006 Cotes du Rhone, the simplest wine Barret presented, was almost as delightful, a delightful gourmandise.

January 2007
LAWS: THE NEW NOUVEAU BEAUJOLAIS:
The very first bottles of a new appellation – Vin de Pays des Gaules – are about to hit the market. Technically, they are not Beaujolais, which is an appellation controlee, not a mere vin de pays. But the legislation creating the category covers the entire Beaujolais zone, from Leynes, in the northern reaches of the AC (above Julienas and St. Amour) to the southern limits of the zone around Arbresle. Gamay (including two previously disregarded subvarieties, Gamay de Bouze and Gamay de Chaudenay) is the principal grape but eighteen others are allowed, including chardonnay, pinot noir, aligote, syrah, and viognier . You might think that the possibility of using typical Rhone varietals would complicate the picture and it does. Producers using syrah, for example, can opt to be Vin de Pays des Comtes Rhodaniens. So what does this change? Well, the name of one or two grape varieties can be specified on the labels and permitted yields are roughly double those allowed for AC Beaujolais, to wit: 85 hl/​ha for reds and roses and 90 hl/​ha for whites, compared to 53 hl/​ha for Beaujolais. (Optimists hope that the creation of this category will encourage producers of AC Beaujolais to concentrate on quality.) So expect light, reasonably priced quaffers, that are not, for all their immediate drinkability legally “nouveau.” Bottom line rules here. Vin de Pays des Gaules cannot be sold until the 15th of December – several weeks after the customary release of Beaujolais nouveau on the third Thursday of November.

Correction:Provence: there's some inconsistency in the text concerning the appellation Coteaux Varois en Provence. (There's no "du" between Coteaux and Varois.)

Correction: Bordeaux: Ch Leoville-Poyferre: it is owned by Didier Cuvelier, not AXA. (Thanks, Eric.) The rest of the entry, notably the improvement in quality -- with the help of Michel Rolland -- stands as is.

Me: The book has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2006 for best English language wine guide.

Rhone: Domaine Saladin, 07700 Saint Marchel d'Ardeche, tel: 04.75.04.63.20; domaine.saladin@​wanadoo.fr : An organically farmed domaine run by two talented, beautiful young sisters, Elisabeth and Marie-Laurence. I was first impressed by Elisabeth in 2005 when she worked for InterRhone. I was part of a group of journalists who were being squired around the various tasting stops of the week of “Decouvertes” when Elisabeth replaced our official guide, a laconic, laid-back young man who perfectly embodied the French “no can do” spirit. Elisabeth, on the other hand, was bright, active and eager to please. She made everything – even the least promising dinner arrangements – turn out perfectly. Ok, she couldn’t prevent our valises from having been stolen from the trunk of the van but she dealt with the aftermath with compassion and efficacy. (My last tasting of that day – and the entire Decouvertes trip—was to have been Gigondas. With my concentration shot, I wanted to return to Paris and asked Elisabeth if samples could be gathered and sent to me. They were.) Long story less long: when I heard that Elisabeth and her sister were taking over the family’s 12 hectares of vines in the Ardeche , I was very interested to follow their progress. (Each sister has a long CV. Both did stints at Bonny Doon Vineyards; other highligts: Marie-Laurence worked with Guigal, with a biodynamic producer (Domaine Apollinaire) also in the Rhone, and at Michel Rolland’s lab in Argentina; Elisabeth, who studied at a prestigious business school in Lyon (and then in Edinburgh) worked in Chile for enologist Philippe Debru (Vina Batalcura), Ogier Cave des Papes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and with Inter-Rhone.) My chance to taste the wines came right before Christmas when an email informed me that the Domaine Saladin’s 2005s would be poured at Lafayette Gourmet. It was Marie-Laurence who was representing the domaine that day. (She’s almost the spitting image of her sister, though she has dark brown hair while Elisabeth is blonde.) All of the wines are hand-harvested, fermented using indigenous yeasts and bottling without being fined or filtered. All are Cotes du Rhone or CdR-Villages. But this being the Ardeche, they are cool, mountain wines, and extremely attractive. The first tasted was an unoaked blend of grenache, carignan and cinsault which sells (in France) for under 8 Euros. Partial carbonic maceration certainly accounts for the vibrant, upfront fruit in the nose. On the palate, this little country red comes across as mighty characterful, a terroir-driven wine with a backbone of stone and minerals. This is my style to a “T”. Haut Brisson, pure oak-aged grenache, was a cool charmer but a bit raw. To follow. At roughly 10 Euros, Fan de Lune, was a very good, bistro-ready red, a fresh yet meaty blend of grenache, mourvedre and syrah. Chaveyron 1422 is almost pure syrah from a rocky parcel which has been owned by the Saladin family since 1422 (according to printed documents). At around 15 euros, it’s the most expensive wine in their line up but it’s well worth the price: long and elegant, it is all about finesse and discretion, not about extraction. It is rather in the image of the girls themselves. I can’t help thinking of one of the photos Marie-Laurence showed me. This was of her “stomping” the grapes. Used to seeing snaps of big, hairy calves, I was amused to see Marie-Laurence’s ballerina-like feet covered with red wine juice. Suzanne Farrell couldn’t have trod those grapes more gracefully. In the works: chambre d’hotes and a small restaurant on the domaine’s property. Worth a detour in my book.

December 2006

Loire Updates: One new producer; two favorites extend their lines :

Philippe Alliet: Chinon: This consistently excellent producer has added a new arrow to his quiver, an exciting cuvee called l’Huisserie which takes its name from the vineyard situated across from Chene Vert (made famous by Charles Joguet). Alliet’s two hectares consist of young vines, merely five years old. But the first vintage, 2005,was so elegant you’d think the vines were much older, deeper, wiser. Velvety and cool, the wine is every bit the equal of Alliet’s stellar Coteau de Noire.

Didier Dagueneau: Sancerre: Poully Fume’s favorite vinous troublemaker has gotten 60 ares on the steep slopes of Chavignol’s Monts Damnes. His first vintage there was 2005. The wine is superb. The oak disappears completely in this grandiose expression of terroir. This is Chablis in Sancerre. (I’m waiting for someone to put on a tasting of great wines from kimmeridgean marl soils. Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, they’re both upstaged by the terroir.)

Antoine Sanzay: 49400 Varrains; 02.4§.52.90.08; antoine-sanzay@​wanadoo.fr.
Wines: Saumur-Champigny and Saumur Blanc.
Nady Foucault (whose 2003 Le Bourg is serious and excellent) told me to visit this promising, eco-friendly young producer who took over the family’s eleven hectares (in Le Poyeux) in 2002 after his father’s sudden death. A wine geek, Sanzay takes his inspiration from the likes of Coche-Dury and Clape. Not bad. For the moment he sells 70% of his wine to the coop but that will decrease as his name becomes known. He makes three wines: a Saumur blanc, an oak-aged Saumur-Champigny – neither of which I’ve tasted – and a ‘drink me up’ Champigny which I tasted this week at an Association de la Presse du Vin event held in a grand hall in the French Senate. It was an unoaked, lightly filtered 2005. Cool and rich, with nice balance and focus, it just demanded to be drunk on its succulent fruit.





November 2006:

Two Discoveries in Bordeaux

CHATEAU MARTET
33220 EYNESSE; 05.57.41.00.49 pdc@​deconinckwine.com; www.chateaumartet com

Maybe it’s unfair to write about wines that aren’t yet available in the United States but there’s a method to my madness. First, you may find the wine on a trip to France; second, I’m firmly of the belief that if you want it, they will import it. Which is why I feel justified in enthusing about Chateau Marteau – a rising Bordelais star in the very minor appellation of St. Foy de Bordeaux. The 25 hectare domaine (on a mostly chalky plateau above the Dordogne) is owned by Patrick de Coninck who lives in Brussels and leaves winemaking and viticulture (eco-friendly) in the able hands of Louis Mitjaville (the son of St. Emilion’s Le Tertre Roteboeuf Mitjaviles). De Coninck bought the property in 1991, at which time it was heavily planted to cabernet. He’s been replanting and has lots of young vines. Volume today is 35,000 – insufficient to supply to the USA, De Coninck says – and will ultimately grow to 90,000 bottles. The chateau produces four wines of which two (the clairet and the 2nd wine “Hauts de Martet” were not ‘on show’ at the tasting I attended. The white, however, was being poured. A blend of semillon, sauvignons blanc and gris and muscadelle, it is fresh, pefumed, nicely structured and pleasant, though not what I’d call “site specific.”It could have been made by a concientious producer in any one of a handful of regions in France. (The Loire and Gascony come to mind.) What excites me is the red. Hand-harvested, lightly filtered, pure merlot, it spends 18 months in new oak. The 2000 was ever so slightly vegetal but impressive and ambitious. It made me want to know – and taste – more. The 2003 confirmed my enthusiasm. It was plush, beautifully ripe, nicely balanced and very succulent. On this side of the pond, it sells for about 22 Euros.

CHATEAU PETIT-BOCQ
33180 ST. ESTEPHE; 05.56.59.35.69; FAX: 05.56.59.32.11;
petitbocq@​hotmail.com

Another Belgian implant, this one in St. Estephe, at this Cru Bourgeois Superieur near Chateau Marbuzet. Gaetan Lagnaux is a recovering Belgian doctor. He bought this property in ’93 as a family vacation home. At the time it was only five hectares and was planted in merlot. Lagnaux now has 15.5 hectares and he no longer practices medicine as he spends all his time in St. Estephe. Viticulture on the domaine’s 80 parcels is eco-friendly. Merlot still dominates the grape mix (at about 55%), followed by cabernet sauvignon (43%) and a whisper of cabernet franc. Grapes are hand harvested by successive passes through the vineyards – with yields at about 52 hl/​ha – and given a short period of cold prefermentation. After aging in barrel (40% new), the wine (there is no second wine) is bottled unfiltered. The 2000, 70% merlot, was beautifully mingled and fragrant, with notes of dried fruit, camphor and cedar. It was supple, had lovely balance and a mouthwatering savoriness. It was what the French would call “gourmand” and it sold at a very reasonable 15 euros. The 2003, though only 60% merlot, seemed a younger version of 2000. In other words, very promising indeed.



This just in from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (I'll translate it later, maybe not before Xmas. I get many 'harvest reports' from various chateaux and committees but treat most of them with a grain of salt. This one comes from Michel Blanc who directs the largest Chateauneuf-du-Pape committee. I've got infinite faith in Blanc which is why I feel his report is worth passing on.)

LE MILLESIME 2006 A CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE


Des conditions de maturation idéales malgré une nouvelle année déficitaire en terme de précipitations. Avec la récolte 2006, les vignerons de Châteauneuf-du-Pape signent une 8ème très belle année sur les 9 derniers millésimes !


DONNEES METEO

Du point de vue météorologique, les neuf premiers mois de l’année 2006 auront été marqués par une pluviométrie inférieure aux normales saisonnières et par un excellent ensoleillement.

De manière plus précise, le millésime 2006 se caractérise par de forts écarts thermiques entre les mois de juillet et août, par une pluviométrie plutôt faible mais bien ciblée (368 mm contre 450 en année normale, avec notamment des pluies mi-juillet et mi-août) et enfin par un excellent ensoleillement (2.378 heures contre 2.293 en moyenne). On sait que les écarts de température et les nuits fraîches à la fin de l’été sont un facteur favorable à la synthèse des précurseurs aromatiques et des composés polyphénoliques essentiels à l’élaboration de vins riches et équilibrés. Les très faibles précipitations de la période estivale (58 mm contre 99 en année normale) ont quant à elles permis aux raisins de mûrir dans d’excellentes conditions sanitaires.

Hormis quelques passages orageux suivis d’un fort Mistral courant septembre, on peut dire que les conditions météorologiques étaient cette année encore au rendez-vous pour permettre aux vignerons de l’appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape de vinifier un excellent millésime.

CARACTERISTIQUES DU MILLESIME 2006

Si quelques parcelles de cépages blancs et de syrah ont été vendangées dès le début du mois de septembre, il aura quelquefois fallu attendre début octobre pour que les parcelles de mourvèdre et de grenache les plus tardives atteignent leur pleine maturité phénolique.

Il s’agit là d’un facteur particulièrement important pour la qualité finale des vins que les vignerons de Châteauneuf-du-Pape entendent maîtriser au mieux afin d’optimiser le potentiel de chaque millésime. Les derniers décuvages ont eu lieu fin octobre, les vins sont désormais quasiment terminés, y compris au niveau des fermentations malolactiques qui ont bénéficié d’une arrière saison particulièrement propice à leur démarrage. Les vins finis laissent apparaître une belle générosité, des couleurs profondes, des notes de fruits rouges et noirs, de bons équilibres et des tanins fondus et élégants. Les bonnes acidités naturelles des raisins leur confèrent une certaine fraîcheur. Il s’agit à n’en pas douter d’un millésime doté d’un très beau potentiel qualitatif que d’aucuns comparent à 1999 et qui, dans tous les cas, s’inscrit pleinement dans la lignée de ses prédécesseurs : 2003, 2004 et 2005.

Côté production, on s’oriente vers un rendement moyen de 30 /​ 32 hl par hectare, soit moins que le maximum autorisé par le décret de l’appellation (35 hl /​ ha).

See FrenchFeast for: Condrieu tasting notes;

September 2006

• Deception at Duval-Leroy??? Herve Gestin, the cellar master who brought the principles of Feng Shui and organic winemaking to this large Champagne house, has left--of his own volition or not. His assistant has succeeded him. Given Duval-Leroy’s lackluster past and the redoubtable character of Carol Duval-Leroy, the owner, Champagne lovers have reason for concern. All’s well for the moment, however, as both the thrilling 1996 and the mellower 1995 Cuvee Femme de Champagne are excellent. And Didier Bureau, an extremely exigent wine professional, is on board as the commercial director.

• Discovery in Alsace. No matter how many wines you taste, it’s difficult to taste them all. So it was with real pleasure that I sampled Emile Beyer’s 2004 Riesling from the Grand Cru of Eichberg in Eguisheim. Simply excellent, it was simultaneously steely and floral, with layers of complexity and majesty to spare. The domaine is eco-friendly, all its vineyards are in Eguisheim and the emphasis is on riesling.

• The much awaited reclassification of St. Emilion’s crus--which takes place every ten years--came to pass in early September 2006. There were a number of changes but few surprises. Overall, there are 61 crus classes in St. Emilion. Two are Premiers Grands Crus Classes A. They are Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone. There are 13 Premiers Grands Crus Classes B. Promoted into this elite group in the new reclassification are the Chateaux Pavie-Macquin (a personal favorite) and Troplong Mondot. Eleven chateaux were axed from the Grand Cru Classe category (among them Yon Figeac, Villemaurine, Bellevue, Cadet Bon, Faurie de Souchard, Tertre Daugay and La Tour du Pin Figeac) and six were awarded entry. The lucky half-dozen are: Chateaux Bellefont-Belcier, Destieux, Fleure-Cardinale, Grand Corbin, Grand Corbin-Despagne and Monbousquet.

• Three Loire wine regions--or subregions--were promoted to Appellation Controlee status-- one deserving, two very questionable. The first is Chaume. Formerly a Coteaux du Layon Village, its upgrade, though long overdue, involved Dickensian local politicking. (Not rare in France.) In any event, Chaume is capable of making astonishingly long-lived, succulent, regal sweet wines from chenin blanc. The last two are Orleans and Orleans-Clery. Both were VDQS (Vin de Qualite Superieur), a step below AOC, and both are minuscule wine regions making minor--though often charming--country wines. French wine is currently in crisis mode. The doldrums are in part due to the superfluity of appellations, creating a structure so topheavy it leaves consumers totally bewildered. In such an atmosphere it seems ridiculous to create additional AOCs, particularly for wines are as marginal as these last two are.

• In the Languedoc, Pezenas has been given official subregion status which means that it can attach its name to that of the appellation, to wit: Coteaux du Languedoc-Pezenas. (Previously recognized subregions of the Coteaux du Languedoc include Pic-St.-Loup.) (The upgrading of Pezenas is part of a controversial revamping of the Languedoc's appellation structure.)




PERSONAL WINE VOCABULARY

Chenasse : word describing the evil side of Chenin blanc. Aromas recall those of a closed closet stinking of wax, old mothballs and wet, moldy wool.

PMG:or Pour ma gueule literally translates as “for my own mouth/​trap/​kisser.’ It refers, in this context, to a wine I like so much I want to keep it and drink it myself – either alone or with a small circle of friends.

Slow Tasting : See April 15, 2009 post on this page.