Wednesday, November 10, 2010

French Wines on a Rainy Afternoon

The cold, gray rainy day gave rather certain credence to the fact that the baseball season was finally over. In the space of a few hours the fact that just yesterday the Rangers were playing in the sunshine of the World Series seemed a distant illusion.

After spending the morning napping in the hospital receiving an antiviral infusion, I decided to head to Grailey's new location in the design district to taste through the wine portfolio of Kermit Lynch, the legendary importer of artisinal French wines. The warm, cozy room lined with great bottles of wine seemed like the perfect place to be.

Kermit Lynch's Sales Director Bruce Neyers was pouring at the first table. I know Bruce because Sigel's carries his wines and I've poured Neyers wines with Bruce at several tastings, so encountering him here was slightly out of context. I listened and tasted as he poured and commented on the wines. A few of the my favorites:

Chateau Ducasse Blanc 2009 Bordeaux Blanc; Chateau Graville Lacoste 2009 Graves Blanc - These wines are made by the same winemaker from the same blend of grapes (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a dash of Muscadelle) but are separated by about 5 miles. The Ducasse is actually in Sauternes (but is finished bone dry, hence the Bordeaux Blanc appellation) and the clay soil gives the wine a soft, richer setting for the the dry citrus infused flavors. The gravelly soil of the Graves gives the same flavors a steely mineral character. Both are delicious, it's a matter of style!

The 2008 Morgon from Domaine Lapierre was something of a revelation. The wine comes from 45 year old vines farmed "bio-dynamic" and is made naturally without additional yeasts, enzymes or SO2. Violet perfumes and gentle fruits lead to flavors that start subtly and delicate and grow in authority as the wine is enjoyed and swallowed. Gentle tannins and vibrant acids keep the perfumes alive on the finish. Great Beaujolais is so hard to find and so misunderstood.

Next up were the Burgundy's from Domaine de Villaine. Yes, the same de Villaine family as DRC. But these wines are from Bouzeron, Rully and Mercurey in the Cote de Chalonnaise just to the south of the famous slope of the Cote d'Or. The fruit does not offer the potential of the famous slopes, so the work in the vineyards and the cellar must be impeccable and that describes these wines: clean, crisp, focused and delineated. The Bouzeron, made from Aligote was Chablis-like in its lean attack. The 'Les Clous" Bourgogne Blanc opened up in breadth and the Rully gave hints of vanilla and spice to the lean and focused wine. Lightning quick with hints of richness, these wines could only come from Burgundy. Two reds were offered, "La Fortune" and "La Digoine," both from Mercurey. "What is the difference?" we were asked. The two wines tasted the same, pinot perfume with lean red fruit and a mineral finish, yet one was clearly richer. The wines were from the same vineyard. The difference was about the age of the vines: about twenty years.

The wine was weaving its spell. I was rediscovering the magic of the French wines in the warmth of the room on a cold dreary afternoon.
 French wines captured my imagination in the early seventies as I discovered wine and read and reread Hugh Johnson's World Atlas and Frank Schoonmaker's Encylopedia of Wine. My battered copy still has old labels that I steamed off bottles thirty five years ago. By the  nineties, good California wines had outgrown what I was willing to spend and Cotes du Rhone became my standard alternative to dreary bottles of domestic Cabernet and Chardonnay. When I started working as a wine consultant ten years ago, Rhone wines became a passion which was culminated when I went to for Sigel's and was able to go to France one of Bobby Kacher's legendary 'death marches.' We tasted and drank wine from 10 in the morning to 10 at night as we visited properties from the Languedoc up the Rhone River to Burgundy. (It's a young man's trip!

And so I was reconnected to that magic as I left de Villaine and headed for the last table to taste with Daniel Brunier, the proprietor of Vieux Telegraph in Chateauneuf du Pape. The 2009 Le Pigeoulet Rouge, a vin de pays de Vaucluse stole my heart. Offering warm fruits, focused with a slight grip on the finish, it brought me back to the soul of wine.  Simple, but with subtle complexity, not so showy that it demands to be the star of the evening, but certainly capable of spreading its magic over a table with food and friends. And priced so you can enjoy a bottle or two and not worry about the cost.

Of course the 2009 Vieux Telegraph was its big rich self, dark and brooding and not too structured so as to offer immediate pleasure. The Bruniers also produce the wines of Domaine la Roquete, a Chateauneuf du Pape and the 2007 L'Accent de Roquete, a cuvee that is 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. I find that Rhone wines that are 100% Grenache generally have an empty spot on the backside of the finish. The Mourvedre filled that spot with authority! L'Accent is not made every year. There was no 2008, the 09 will be released next September.

What a way to finish a great tasting! Yikes, I spent a lot more time at the tasting than I had intended and there was something else I had to do that afternoon. I remembered, VOTE. So as I said my farewells and headed for the door, Bill asked me if I'd had any of this wine as he pulled a bottle out from under the table: Le Montrachet 2006 from Domaine Amiot. No, I hadn't, but that was soon remedied. Rich, golden chardonnay; redolent of baked pears and apples, mouth-filling and luscious, it was great wine. But I expected fireworks and excitement, I expected to be dazzled and blown away, and I wasn't. Not like I had been earlier by the impeccable wines from much less prestigious vines. 

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