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Archive for February, 2010

Randall Grahm posted a speech he gave at UC Davis. It’s a very interesting and compelling speech delivered with all the charm, wit and insight you would expect from Randall.

Why Should Terroir Matter…
…in The Golden State Where All is Sweetness and Light Anyway?
Excerpts from Speech delivered by Randall Grahm at University of California at Davis on 2/5/2010

I would argue that the current contretemps that we are experiencing in the wine business is not merely the result of the perfect storm of the melting down of the world economies, combined with the phenomenon of every plastic surgeon, reconstructive dentist, rock star, sports star and dot com refugee deciding to enter the wine business at precisely the same time. At a minimum, I believe that there is also something akin to a spiritual malaise, a sort of “brand sickness” developing in our industry – just far too many wineries, brands, brand extensions they’re called, and suddenly one has the rather vertiginous feeling that it is rather difficult to find the real value of anything any more…

…For me, drip irrigation, followed closely by new oak and obscene levels of overripeness, are the most dangerous enemies of the potential expression of terroir. But control is what we have been particularly skilled at in the New World, and it has given us stylistic consistency – the smoothing over of great vintage variations, which tend to vex many wine consumers, and in some respect has made New World wines particularly accessible to New World palates. But, I would argue that having eaten from the tree of wine knowledge and seeking to control all unpredictable elements of the winemaking process, our wines have lost something precious, maybe a certain kind of quirky originality that makes them memorable. In becoming essentially flawless, I’m not convinced at all that they have become more interesting, maybe far less so.

In California, I imagine a true vin de terroir to be the ultimate low-tech product…

Read the entire speech at Been Doon So Long…

I worked at Bonny Doon Vineyard when I was in college — it was my dream job — I loved working there and I loved and admired Randall. I had never witnessed anyone throw caution to the wind such ease — and be so consumed with their passion — it was infectious and I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to have that job. It wasn’t much of a paycheck (but the work was so much fun) — and was an experience that couldn’t be had at any price, plus I got 50 percent off as much of the wine as I could buy.

Randall has always stayed true to his own vision, his own mad view of the wine world. He didn’t create wines for Parker. Randall actually poked fun at Parker and perhaps paid a price, as Parker has since been less than enthusiastic about Randall’s wines.

During my time at Bonny Doon I witnessed some great achievements and a few misses that bordered on minor comic tragedy. There were days when he hit the mark and days when his frizzante turned out being as likely to be detonated as consumed (long story) — but he always seemed true to himself and at the end of the day that is exactly where your internal compass should point you. He is one of a kind and certainly has that quirky originality that makes him so very memorable. Perhaps more important than being just memorable, Randall has shown an amazing ability to stay relevant — and his ideas are going to be the ones that make people rethink or reconsider their take on the wine world…and everything else for that matter.

Related post:
The Pour | Randall Grahm

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The Jura is a narrow valley in the remote hills between Burgundy to the west and Switzerland to the east. Most Americans have never been exposed to the wines from the Jura (though they have probably had their cheese). For centuries, the Jura existed in isolation, developing its unusual grapes and styles of wine, which the rest of the world essentially ignored, until recently. Today, wine geeks and lovers are discovering the wines and it now borders on obsession for those that have been bitten by the Jura bug — and Jacques Puffeney is on many people’s short list of best producers.

Puffeney’s father was a vineyard worker who owned a mere speck of land in the village of Montigny Les Arsures (around the corner from Arbois). Jacques made his first wine at the age of 17 but, to earn a living, worked simultaneously as a “saleur de Comte” helping to make the fabled cheese of his region. Over time he acquired vineyards and now his estate consists of 7 1/2 hectares, all in the appellation of Arbois. His prowess in both the vineyards and the cave has earned him the nickname among his colleagues of “the Pope of Arbois.” Eric Asimov described Puffeney as a creator of “jagged wines in a silky-smooth world.”

He normally begins harvest in late September, everything is done manually. It commences with the Chardonnay, then the Poulsard, followed by Pinot Noir and Trousseau and finally, the Savagnin is picked. The Poulsard experiences a 15 to 20 day cuvaison. The wine is then racked into foudres (not new) where the malolactic fermentation takes place. The reds are aged at least two years and sometimes 30 months in barrel depending upon the structure of the vintage.

The ’06 is ruby in color, with a wee bit of orange and copper and a little cloudy. Sour cherry, strawberry, rose petal and earth with some spice, mineral, nutty and oxidative notes. On the palate, taut and tart with raspberry, sour cherry, red currant, rhubarb and a hint of sherry. Austere, acidic and tannic — but oddly enough there is also something very soothing about the wine. This is not a quaffer, but rewards (and virtually demands) going slow and savoring every bit. Medium bodied at best, yet this will stand up to foods twice its size. 13% alcohol. Imported by Neal Rosenthal.

This wine along with the wines from Jean Follaird just might top my list of favorite reds from the last 6 months.

Related posts:
Jacques Puffeney Arbois Poulsard “M” 2006
Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2007
Jean & Agnes Foillard — Morgon Cuvée Corcelette Vieille Vigne 2007

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Domaine Pierre de la Grange is considered one of the best of the Nantais, a region that marks the most northwestern point of all France’s vineyards. Pierre and his wife Monique are the seventh generation of to run Domaine Pierre de la Grange, though their wines are more likely to be found listed under Luneau-Papin or even Pierre Luneau, than under the estate’s true name.

They have approximately 40 hectares of vines, with 38 hectares planted to Melon de Bourgogne and the remaining 2 hectares committed to red varieties. The vineyards are situated in Le Landreau, Vallet and La Chapelle Heulin, about 20 kilometres from Nantes itself. The vines average forty-five years although some are well into their seventh decade.

There is a broad and varied range of cuvées produced at Luneau-Papin, which in many cases reflect vineyard or terroir of origin. The leading cuvées are the L d’Or and the Semper Excelsior Clos des Noëlles. I wrote about the Excelsior a couple of weeks back. Not a very expressive nose, but thought what it brought in flavor more than made up for whatever it lacked in aromatics.

The L d’Or is more aromatic with citrus and mineral notes. It is also a little more ripe on the palate. Citrus, orchard fruit with mineral flavors and a some herbs. Good weight and acidity.  This was very good as well, but for me the Excelsior had an ethereal quality that really captured my attention. Still, the L d’Or certainly delivers and I would certainly recommend it — and would not be surprised if many preferred it over the Excelsior. These wines are still young and have a lot of life, so it will be very interesting to see how they show in another 3-4 years. Given the quality of the wine, this is also a very good value at $18 a bottle. 12% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner.

Related post:
Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Excelsior 2005
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Granite de Clisson 2007
Domaine de la Pépière “Vieilles Vignes” Clos des Briords Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2007

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A few weeks ago there was a Sancerre tasting at Weygandt Wines in Washington, DC. They poured 6 different wines, I think my favorite was the Domaine Edmond Vatan Sancerre Clos la Neore 2007. But it retails for about $65 a bottle and the only Sauvignon Blancs I have ever really splurged on were made by Didier Dagueneau — and I am doing what I can to be more value-minded these days. It was very generous of them to pour it — and every time I visit the store I am impressed by the generosity, be it the wines they pour or the time and attention they give their visitors. My initial excitement around the store opening hasn’t subsided and Weygandt is still one of my three or four favorite wine stores in the United States.

They were also pouring the ’08 Pascal and Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Cuvée Les Coûtes, which I also like a bunch and have written about previously. But my second favorite wine of the tasting after the Clos la Neore was the Gerard et Pierre Morin Sancerre Chêne Marchand 2007.

Pierre Morin’s approach is based on his belief that great wine can only be made from low yields and grapes that are harvested by hand. In every vintage (with his severe pruning and selection at harvest); on average, Morin has a meager 40 hl/ha. For his American importer he sets aside the wine from his oldest vines from various parcels, including the Chêne Marchand which makes the richest most intense wine he offers.

Beautiful aromatics of orchard fruit with some citrus and white peach. On the palate, lots of citrus with tart green apple and a little salt and almond. Chalky minerality, crisp acidity and prolonged finish. Also a memorable wine in terms of richness and intensity — as well as purity and focus. 13% alcohol. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. Recommended.

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This is probably the purest expression of Gamay you’ll ever encounter, tipping the Richter scale in terms of its balance between complexity and pleasure. ~Kermit Lynch

Granted, he imports and sells the wine so you might be inclined to think his opinion is biased — and I expect it is but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty close to the actual truth. Grown in what is considered one of the top granite soils in the region, all hand-harvested and vinified Burgundian style in barrel (no industrial yeasts) with little to no sulfur and bottled unfiltered. It certainly falls into the natural wine category — and naturally delicious by just about any standard.  Jean and Agnès Foillard are superstars in France, and their Morgon seems to always be well received and in short supply in the United States.

This wine is from the Côte du Py, a  small parcel of the cru of Morgon, one of 10 Beaujolais villages in the north of that region designated by AOC rules as special and allowed to label their wares by the village, not region, name. As a result, this wine is labeled with the name of it’s hillside of origin (Côte du Py) and the village from whence it came (Morgon), but no mention of the larger region of Beaujolais is made. While it would be correct to call this a Beaujolais, it is more closely aligned with a light & fragrant Burgundy. That all being said, descriptions don’t do it justice and it is just one of those wines that has to be experienced.

A little murky, but beautiful garnet color. Aromatics of cherry, strawberry, violets, earth and spice. On palate, raspberry, cherry, currant and plum — some spice, a homeopathic dose of funk and a whole lot of character. Great purity of fruit and minerality. Lush and silky smooth, but vibrant acidity. 13% alcohol. I also loved the 07 Jean Foillard Morgon Corcelette, but the Côte du Py might be its equal. The Corcelette is a bit more feminine and seductive, while the Côte du Py has a bit more structure and meat to it. Both are stunning wines and strongly recommended. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

Related post:
Jean & Agnes Foillard — Morgon Cuvée Corcelette Vieille Vigne 2007

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It’s still early February, but I am confident that my resolution to drink more Muscadet was one of my best New Year’s resolutions to date — and also one of the easiest to fulfill. As I wrote in a previous post, no survey of Muscadet would be complete without experiencing the wines from Domaine de la Pépière, home to Marc Ollivier.

In 2005, Ollivier produced his first “Granite de Clisson” — a periodic bottling of 60-90 year old vines.  It is aged on the lees for 24 months and so it cannot be labeled “Sur Lie” as it violates the current regulations which permit only nine months of aging. Ollivier takes his time in the vineyard and the cellar. Ripening is slower, and the longer hang-time before harvest allows for optimal maturity. He hand harvests (a rarity in the region), uses natural yeasts, waits for the wine to finish and bottles with a very light filtration.

The 07 Granite de Clisson is young (it is expected to benefit from 10-15 years of aging), but already showing very well. Golden yellow color with aromas of citrus and wet stones with some floral, saline and leesy notes. On the palate, great richness, depth and intensity — pure and ripe citrus and pear with honey, tarragon and a little spice. Round with bright acidity and minerality.

I thought this was more muscular than the Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Excelsior 2005, which isn’t to say I wasn’t extremely fond of this as well, it’s just stylistically different. I’m not sure I could say which one I liked better and don’t think I prefer one to the other. Both wines are magnificent. Choosing between the two would just depend on my mood. As good as this is showing right now, it will be extremely interesting to watch this develop over the coming years. I hope I can find the patience and restraint to keep my hands off of it.  This is worth seeking out and a great value at about $20 a bottle. 12% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

Related posts:
Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Excelsior 2005
Domaine de la Pépière “Vieilles Vignes” Clos des Briords Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2007

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Domaine Pierre de la Grange is considered one of the best of the Nantais, a region that marks the most northwestern point of all France’s vineyards. Pierre and his wife Monique are the seventh generation of to run Domaine Pierre de la Grange, though their wines are more likely to be found listed under Luneau-Papin or even Pierre Luneau, than under the estate’s true name.

They have approximately 40 hectares of vines, with 38 hectares planted to Melon de Bourgogne and the remaining 2 hectares committed to red varieties. The vineyards are situated in Le Landreau, Vallet and La Chapelle Heulin, about 20 kilometres from Nantes itself. The vines average forty-five years although some are well into their seventh decade.

There is a broad and varied range of cuvées produced at Luneau-Papin, which in many cases reflect vineyard or terroir of origin. The leading cuvées are the L d’Or and the Semper Excelsior Clos des Noëlles. The Clos des Noëlles (often simply refered to as Excelsior) is a little different, rather than the traditional nine months sur lie, this wine sees 36 months in tank, with regular bâtonnage before it sees the inside of a bottle.

Pale gold in color. Rather subdued and perhaps even a little flat on the nose, some orchard fruit and citrus with crushed rock and brine. Admittedly, I was a little underwhelmed by first impressions, but in the mouth this is really a beautiful wine. Delicate, precise and elegant but showing ripe fruit, chalky minerality and sharp, stony acidity. Beautiful pear and green apple with citrus and saline. Nice weight, creamy (but not extremly rich) with tremendous purity and freshness. I thought this was a stellar bottle of wine, and would even consider it a great value play in the $20 a bottle range, though the nose was a little flat. Some might also contend it lacks a little bit of richness and is a bit too elegant, but I thought it was outstanding. 12.5% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections. Another gem I found at Chambers Street Wines in New York City. Strongly recommended.

I can’t wait to try the ’05 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Le L d’Or the Given how much I liked the ’05 Excelsior.

Related post:
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Granite de Clisson 2007
Domaine de la Pépière “Vieilles Vignes” Clos des Briords Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2007

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