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Archive for April, 2008

The vineyards of Clos Roche Blanche were planted at the end of the 19th century and have been a part of the Roussel family from day one.

Catherine Roussel took over this 28-hectare estate in 1975 from her father. She was later joined by Didier Barrouillet, who tends the vineyards and makes the wine. Neither Catherine or Didier has studied oenology or viticulture. They both learned their trade in the vineyards and the cellar. Their objective has been to to make wines of exceptional character in an appellation of modest reputation, with non-interventionist and organic principles.

The winery has been farming organically since the 1970s, and beginning with the 1995 vintage, the winery received the official “organic agricultural” accreditation. They hand-harvest all their grapes and the must is handled by gravity at all stages. The wines then age on their lees, and are bottled by gravity by hand without filtration to avoid mechanical manipulation that would unsettle it.

They keep yields low by maintaining old vines, using organic fertilizers in moderation and growing grass between and plowing under the rows.

The wine is a soft, golden yellow in color. A bit closed on the nose, soft notes of grass, citrus/tangerine (?) and wet stone. On the palate, some pineapple and tropical fruit — and loaded with pronounced citrus, flint and mineral components. Good acidity and viscosity — subtle, nuanced and complex. I was actually a bit perplexed by the wine and came back to it on day 2 thinking it might be a bit more forthcoming, but to no avail. Not a word of this indicates a lack of appreciation for the wine. I ordered more before I poured my second glass. It’s not very easy to find, but worth seeking out at under $15 a bottle.

Another great wine and a tremendous value from Louis/Dressner Selections. Recommended.

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Chenin Blanc is arguably the most versatile of all wine grape varieties. Crisp, dry table wines, light sparkling wines, nectar-like dessert wines, and even brandy are all produced in various areas of the wine world, all of Chenin Blanc. While versatile, a general tendency to over-irrigate and overcrop reduce most Chenin Blanc to the forgettable. But careful viticultural practices easily overcome the varietal’s potential weaknesses and can result in excellent wine.

Chenin Blanc often gets labeled as a great food wine. When done right, it is characterized by a really good balance of acidity with just a hint of sweetness.

Prior to the 1970s, Chenin Blanc used to occupy more land under vine in California than Chardonnay. It was used to make the overly sweet jug wines that dominated the era — and as tastes changed, Chenin Blanc was replaced with other white varietals (make way for Chardonnay).

In France, Chenin Blanc, or Pineau de la Loire, is grown in the Loire Valley — more specifically, the regions of Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou and Samur. Many would argue that almost all of the truly memorable Chenin Blancs are French, from Saumur and Savennières (dry), Anjou and Vouvray (off-dry), Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume (dessert), and Crémant de Loire (sparkling).

But South Africa produces some great Chenin Blancs as well. Nearly a third of grapes grown in South Africa are Chenin Blanc (where it is known as Steen).

Cederberg is one of the top South African producers of Chenin Blanc. Very light straw in color. A beautiful nose with exotic floral and passion fruit and citrus aromatics. The Cederberg is light to medium bodied with mouth-tingling crispness, acidity and viscosity. It is very fruit-driven with notes of white peaches, nectarine, pear and jicama — and some citrus, grass and mineral/flint components as well.

A great paring with fresh fish, spicy Asian or Indian dishes, sushi, salads and pasta dishes with fresh herbs and garlic.

Recommended and a great value at $12-14 a bottle.

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This week, Design*Sponge features recipes for avocado goat cheese spread and spicy penne pasta from Amenity Home.

About Amenity Home: After becoming friends at art school in San Francisco, Californian Nicole Chiala went on to work in publishing in London and Minnesota-native Kristina de Corpo to the advertising world of New York. Only when they both ended up in Los Angeles–a place where the wild and refined collide–did they see the way to combine their passions. Working from real cuttings taken from their gardens and walks in LA,

they craft elegant, untamed designs to be silk screened onto luxuriously pure organic fabrics. The two founded Amenity Home in 2004 to ‘bring the solace of nature home’.

View the article and recipes at Design*Sponge.

The suggested wine pairing is the Ridge Santa Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay 2005.

These dishes could be served with a full body white wine or a light-medium body red. Given the arrival of summer, I have opted for a full-bodied white. A white wine was probably a much better option for the avocado spread and work with the pasta dish.

I also wanted to feature the Ridge Chardonnay as the 2006 was recently released — and a reminder to order it now before it is no longer available. The 2005 was the #2 wine of the year on last year’s top 100 list from Wine Spectator. You can order online at the Ridge online store.

The Ridge Chardonnay is fermented in-barrel, resulting in great richness with honey and butter flavors. These components will stand up to the tomatoes, cheese and herbs in the pasta. The wine also has very nice acidity and minerality which will compliment the avocado and goat cheese.

You could also select a light to medium body red, like a Pinot Noir — with lots of bright fruit and acidity. Of course, these are just some ideas — always trust your own palate.

Read my original review of the 2005 Ridge Chardonnay.

About the weekly wine pairings with Design*Sponge
I will be providing the weekly wine pairing for the recipes edited by Kristina on Design*Sponge. The In-the-Kitchen-With column appears every Friday at noon, and features the recipes of design*sponge readers’ favorite designers. Design*Sponge is a daily website dedicated to home and product design run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. Launched in August of 2004, Design*Sponge features store and product reviews, sale and contest announcements, new designer profiles, trend forecasting and store/studio tours.

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The Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) ran a great piece on Alice Feiring and her soon to be released book — The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

Read Saving the World from Frankenwines.

More details on her book from the publisher:

“I want my wines to tell a good story. I want them natural and most of all, like my dear friends, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue,” says Alice Feiring. Join her as she sets off on her one-woman crusade against the tyranny of homogenization, wine consultants, and, of course, the 100-point scoring system of a certain all-powerful wine writer. Traveling through the ancient vineyards of the Loire and Champagne, to Piedmont and Spain, she goes in search of authentic barolo, the last old-style rioja, and the tastiest new terroir-driven champagnes. She reveals just what goes into the average bottle—the reverse osmosis, the yeasts and enzymes, the sawdust and oak chips—and why she doesn’t find much to drink in California. And she introduces rebel winemakers who are embracing old-fashioned techniques and making wines with individuality and soul.

No matter what your palate, travel the wine world with Feiring and you’ll have to ask yourself: What do i really want in my glass?

The reviews have started coming in and it is clearly a must read. You can pre-order it at Amazon.

Alice is a James Beard Foundation Award–winning journalist whose blog, In Vino Veritas, was named one of the seven best by Food & Wine. Formerly the wine/travel columnist for Time, she writes for the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Condé Nast Traveler, and Gourmet, among many others. She lives in New York City. Read her blog.

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Mas des Bressades is considered by many as one of the top estates in Costières de Nîmes, located 35 miles southwest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, on the western side of the Rhône. Cyril Marès has been the winemaker since 1996. He previously worked for Chalone in California and Bruno Prats in Chile. His wife, Natalie Blanc, owns the adjacent estate, Mas Carlot.

For the last 10 vintages, I have bought their Roussanne/Viognier. They make two red cuvées. The Cuvée Excellence is a Syrah-dominated blend, and Cuvée Tradition, is an unoaked southern blend of Syrah and Grenache. They also make an outstanding Rosé.

Their wines are imported by Robert Kacher. He founded Robert Kacher Selections more than 20 years ago. Robert Parker named him “one of the 20 most influential wine personalities of the past 20 years” and in 2004 Bobby became Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, one of only a handful of U.S. importers to ever receive the honor. Some have been a bit critical of Kacher for his very hands on approach with the winemakers he represents. But he is more often praised for the quality and value of the wines he represents.

Roussanne/Viognier 2006
This wine is made from roughly 55% Viognier and 45% Roussanne which is aged completely in barrel; 80% new oak and 20% 1 year old. The wine only stays in barrel for 5 months in order to introduce a nuance of oak but allow the fruit to be the focus of the wine. Solid aromatics with some tropical fruit. Note of pear and apple on the palate with nice minerality, acidity and a crisp, lingering finish.

Rosé 2007
This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Cinsault and is vinified completely in tank. The Grenache vines here are between 25 and 60+ years old and the Syrah and Cinsault are over 30 years old. The yields for this wine are between 35 and 40 hectoliter per hectare. Raspberry and strawberries come through on the nose. On the palate I get loads of lychee and raspberry (but noting this a dry rosé), rose water, wet stone and a hint of white pepper.

Both wines are in the $12-14 a bottle range, great values and strongly recommended. I look forward to tasting the entire Robert Kacher portfolio on May 7th and his annual trade tasting in DC.

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This week’s edition of In the Kitchen features Abigail Percy and her recipe for Panna Cotta.

Abigail is a jewelry designer from Glasgow, Scotland. Had I known she was from the great city of Glasgow before I submitted the wine pairing, I might have suggested an appropriate spirit instead. Perhaps a wee dram of Auchentoshan Three Wood, produced just outside of Glasgow.

The Scotch notes of caramel, orange and spice would be a nice accent to the flavors of the Panna Cotta (especially if you added a little ground cardamon in it). Sounds like something they might serve to end a great meal at Stravaigin or the Ubiquitous Chip.

Instead, I paired Bonny Doon’s Framboise and suggested perhaps serving the panna cotta with fresh berries to make the connection between the dessert and fortified wine.

It is worth noting, that on my first trip to the UChip, one of their featured wines was from Bonny Doon — and I immediately knew it was a special place.

As I mentioned last week, I will be providing the weekly wine pairing for the recipes edited by Kristina on Design*Sponge. The In-the-Kitchen-With column appears every Friday at noon, and features the recipes of design*sponge readers’ favorite designers. Design*Sponge is a daily website dedicated to home and product design run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. Launched in August of 2004, Design*Sponge features store and product reviews, sale and contest announcements, new designer profiles, trend forecasting and store/studio tours.

View the article and recipe at Design*Sponge.

View Abigail’s Blog. Her jewelry is available on her online store.

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Didier Dagueneau has been called a nonconformist, independent, eccentric, and maverick. He is also dedicated to producing some of the greatest white wines of the Loire — and all of France for that matter. He is considered by many to be a master of the sauvignon blanc grape.

He is on a crusade to redeem the reputation of authentic Pouilly-Fumé. Domaine Didier Dagueneau is located in Saint Andelain, a village in the Pouilly Fumé Appellation. He owns about 28 acres of land consisting of mainly clay and flint based soils (or ‘Silex’ in French). Dagueneau is a perfectionist and he attends to every detail — from vineyard management (biodynamic since 1993) to the cellar, which is said to look like a cathedral. He goes way beyond the regulations of the appellation — pruning severely, de-budding, de-leafing, thinning clusters, and keeping low yields — and each harvest is done manually over several tries (he has the labor receipts to prove it).

Others have written more eloquently about Dagueneau. The following passage was translated from Vallee de la Loire – Grandeur Nature by James Turnball.

A young rebel with convictions. Dagueneau owes his success to the strength of his convictions. A local winemaker’s son, he set out on his own in 1982. He began using oak barrels for his vinifications a couple years later and wines of great quality were not far behind. Certain traditionalists, however, said that his wines were not “real” Pouilly Fume.

Dagueneau’s non-conformity has helped him more than hurt him: his long tousled hair, his bushy beard, his intense gaze, not to mention his passion for sled dogs have all earned him the nickname “the madman of Saint-Andelain” and made him very popular with the press.

What does Dagueneau have that the other don’t? He is extremely meticulous and possesses a special intuition where winemaking is concerned. His goals are always authenticity and perfection. To obtain grapes of the highest quality, his vineyard workers spend at least three months carefully de-budding even after a severe pruning earlier in the year. And when the grapes are perfectly ripe, the harvest is done by hand, so that only grapes of impeccable condition are picked, the others are either thrown out or left on the vine to be picked later.

His new winemaking facilities, specifically adapted to Dagueneau’s techniques, use gravity for moving liquids and allow him to apply his ideas without the slightest compromise. After fermentation, the wines are aged in a beautiful cellar containing big barrels and “cigares” (small, long oval barrels which he designed and are made especially for him). The cellar is kept quite cool to limit interaction between the wine and the oak, thus avoiding an overly oaky aroma in the wine.

Dagueneau makes four different dry white wines, all Pouilly Fumés. His basic wine is the En Chailloux, a blend from several vineyards. Next step up is the Buisson Menard, more flinty in style, but still round, and more ageworthy. The remaining two wines are both superstars from single vineyards, and are barrel fermented. Both come from slate soils with one being called Silex, and the other known as Pur Sang.

Pur Sang means “Thoroughbred” in English. The flavors tend to fall somewhere in between the En Chailloux (which accounts for half his production and is his softest, friendliest wine) and Cuvée Silex (his most structured cuvée). The Pur Sang is said to be a more hedonistic Sauvignon (often on par with the Silex), but less mineral driven.

That being said the minerality comes through loud and clear on the nose as well as lemon, citrus, white flowers and some fresh hay. On the palate, very structured, rich and creamy with pronounced mineral components, chalky and loads of lemon zest with a hint of tangerine and nectarine. Great acidity with a very clean, pure and an extremely long finish.

The acidity and strong mineral components make this a great pairing for mussels, raw clams or oysters as well as other seafood dishes. Also, seems as though this wine might benefit from 2-3 years of cellaring….

They say that in the United States, scores sell wine. In Europe, a good story sells wine. Dagueneau is a great story — and his wines are also scored well and often included in TWS Top 100 Wines in any given vintage.

View releated post Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly, 2006.

This wine may not be a great value (ok, it isn’t a good value) or very easy to find, but it is worth seeking out — and it might be a good time to do so given that 2006 was such a good year in Loire. Not to mention that his lore will only continue to increase and the dollar shows no signs of getting up off its knees.

A stunning wine. Imported by Polaner Selections.

Didier Dagueneau was tragically killed on September 17, 2008 when the ultralight plane he was piloting experienced problems during take off and crashed. He was only 52 years young. He had accomplished so much and his wines established a benchmark for sauvignon blanc, yet it seemed as though he was just getting started. He will be missed.

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