Archive for March, 2010

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. 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 Poulsard “M” takes its name from the town of Montagny-les-Arsures. Bright ruby in color, but totally transparent. Aromatics of red fruit with some rose petal as well as some funky gaminess and oxidized notes. Cherry, rhubarb, red currant and a little blood orange and herbaceous — with solid minerality. Lean and firm with almost perfect balance as well as lots of grip and acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. I thought this was unique, thought provoking and just plain delicious. For my taste, I thought this showed best when served at about 48 degrees. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Recommended.

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Jacques Puffeney Arbois Pinot Noir 2006

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André Perret is one of the leading producers of Northern Rhône whites. In particular, his Condrieus are considered to be among the very best of the appellation. André Perret took control of the family domaine (half a hectare) in 1982. Like many small vignerons of the northern Rhône, the Perret family were small-scale farmers, growing fruit and keeping livestock as well as tending their small plot of vines. Soon after taking control, Perret purchased a number of plots of Condrieu, together with some in St Joseph, increasing the size of their holdings to over 8 hectares.

This wine originates from south-facing slopes in Chéry, a vineyard near Vérin, just to the west of the town of Condrieu itself. Perret owns 3 hectares of the 4.8 hectare site. About a third of the wine is vinified in steel and the rest in old oak (varying from new to four years old).

Beautiful golden yellow in color. Aromatics of stone fruit, baked pear, honey, orange blossom and marzipan. Broad, rich and viscous on the palate with apricot, white peach, orchard fruit with some nutty characteristics as well as bay leaf, white pepper and Meyer lemon. Opulent, but not fat– precise and focused with lots of acidity and a prolonged finish. Listed at 15% alcohol, but not a touch of heat. A truly exceptional bottle of wine. Imported by Rovert Chadderdon Selections.

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André Perret Saint Jospeh 2007

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The other night I had reason to celebrate so I headed downstairs to find something a little special.  I was making Pan-Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo, a recipe from Mark Bittman that I have quickly come to love. Bittman says the recipe is from somewhere in Spain (though he dosn’t know precisely where). Given the menu, I thought I would pick something from Spain. When I think Spanish wine and one of the first things that comes to my mind is Lopez de Heredia —  and a bottle of their “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja seemed like the perfect choice.

For a hundred and thirty one years, three generations of the López de Heredia family have devoted themselves to producing unique and exceptional wines. The founder, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student in the art of wine making. He fell in love with the region and especially the area around Haro, the capital of the Rioja Alta region. There he observed a magical combination of soil and climate that would offer the perfect environment for producing wine. Around 1877, he began the design and construction of the complex that is today known as the López de Heredia, the oldest in Haro and one of the first three bodegas in the Rioja region.

I would consider Lopez de Heredia as not only one of the most iconic wineries in Rioja, but in all of Spain. Lopez de Heredia would probably be my first and last recommended stop on any exploration of Spanish wines. Their wines are unique, pure and virtually capture the definition of integrity.

When we were planning our time in San Sebastian last year, I really wanted to go to Asador Etxebarri which was really only possible if we rented a car. It seemed silly to just rent a car for lunch so I thought it might be a good idea to visit Lopez de Heredia as well. It was well worth the trip. Everyone there was extremely friendly and felt like I left with a real sense of the place (history, traditions, people, convictions, etc) — and an understanding of the attitude, focus and pride in everything they do.

Their tasting room was designed by Zaha Hadid, the notable British/Iraqi deconstructivist architect. It’s a beautiful space — and I loved how some of the old pavilion is enclosed in her design. It really captures how they have protected and celebrated tradition while at the same time embracing the modern. Many people might classify Lopez de Heredia as being very traditional, and while that is true — they do also continue to reflect, grow and evolve. They seem sincere in speaking of other bodegas in Rioja that fall into the modern camp, saying that variety is good for the consumer — and others should have the right to do things the way they see fit, just as they have their way of doing things.

The Lopez de Heredia way includes gentle handling in the vineyard, natural yeasts, artisanal methods, old barrels (including enormous wooden fermentation vessels that have been around for about as long as the winery) — all steeped in family tradition, love and huge dose of patience. As is often the case, many of those searching for the new have come full circle, back to where a select group (like Lopez de Heredia) have been all along. As Eric Asimov wrote in his column:

The strange thing about López de Heredia is that because its wines have never changed, people tend to think of the company as a dour, humorless, rigid sort of place, haunted by the imperative of adhering to tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a case of what goes around comes around, as forward-thinking winemakers have in many ways come around to López de Heredia’s ways of doing things.

The cellars are just as impressive as the design of the tasting room. The walls are covered with layers of mold and cobwebs, which they contend are part of the terroir as well as beneficial to the wine and possibly even their good health (the mold is said to have some of the same antibacterial properties found in penicillin).

Empty bottles from historical vintages (including the first) are reminders of just how much history it has witnessed. Time and patience are consistent themes here. Rioja requires gran reserva wines to receive a minimum of six years of aging before they can be released. The current vintage for many gran reserva producers is 2001 — and López de Heredia has just released gran reservas from 1991 and 1987.

In addition to their reds, Lopez de Herdia also makes an amazing rosé (Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia Rosé 1998) and the “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja 1999 is also outstanding. The wine is 100 percent Viura from the estate. It is spends 4 years in barrel. It is racked twice a year and fined with fresh egg whites. Aromatics of orange blossom, caramel, sherry and some lemon peel. Rich and smoky on the palate, with poached pear, some orange and tropical fruit as well as sherry, hazelnut and mineral flavors. 12 percent alcohol. 28,900 bottle produced. Imported by Polaner Selections.

I love their wines and am not alone in thinking they are some of the most treasured in the wine world — and I appreciate them even more after having visited the winery. We eventually found our way to Asador Etxebarri, which was extremely difficult to find — but was worth every bit of effort. The drive from San Sebastian to Haro is certainly beautiful and including Lopez de Herdia and Etxebarri in the route made for a very memorable day.

Related post:
Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia Rosé 1998

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