New Arrivals from Breton
Thursday evening marked the first staff tasting since Kermit’s departure to France. The tasting covered whites, reds, and rosés from the Loire, the southern Rhône, Provence, and Corsica. As good students of the Lynchianesque tasting philosophy, we started in the north with the Loire and finished in the south with Corsica. Today I’ll focus on the highlights from one of our great Loire producers, Catherine and Pierre Breton.
We recently received a variety of the Breton releases, more than I’m going to list and describe here. We started with their sparkling Vouvray, the NV Vouvray Petillant Brut “La Dilettante” ($19.95). The extremes of sparkling wine we carry range from the ultra-refined, fully sparkling wines of Champagne, to Elvio Tintero’s frizzante Moscato d’Asti. In terms of sparkle, the Breton’s Vouvray is about half way between the two—what the French call pétillant. The appeal of this wine is in the character of that sparkle. There is a frothiness to it that is ethereal, enabling the wine to float weightlessly on your palate. The bubbles are rustic, as if each bottle might have a different amount of sparkle. Underlying the sparkle is the classic dark mineral character the Breton’s so carefully coax out of their Vouvray.
The “still” counterpart to the pétillant, the 2009 Vouvray Sec “La Dilettante” ($22.00), followed naturally. Jumping out of the glass was the aroma of fresh oyster shells and just a touch of sea salt. The 2009 is luscious, with a prominent floral aroma, and supported by nervy acidity.
The Breton’s refer to the next two wines as “Vins Nature”, described on their website as “Young, crisp wines with fruit, for a spontaneous moment of relaxation.” Catherine and Pierre either use vineyard names or cuvée names based on the style or character of the wine. The 2009 Bourgueil “Avis de Vin Fort” ($22.00) fits into the latter category and Catherine recounted the story behind the name the last time she visited our shop. “Avis de vin fort” is a sailing expression, playing off the phrase “avis de vent fort.” When an “avis de vent fort” (high winds warning) was issued, the sailors would issue their own warning—“avis de vin fort” or “drink strong wine,” so as to be best prepared for the rigors of sailing on a stormy sea. The “Avis de Vin Fort” itself is not a “strong” wine—it comes in at a mere 12% alcohol. It’s a fun phrase with cultural significance that is very similar to “three sheets to the wind” in English. Thankfully, to drink this wine, you do not need to be preparing to do anything heroic; you simply should be relaxed and ready to have a meal. The “Avis de Vin Fort” is meant to be drunk now and has enough tannin to make it a great food wine.
The top Breton “Vin Nature” is the 2008 Bourgueil “Nuits d’Ivresse” ($32.00). This wine is one of our few wines that sees no sulfur at anytime during vinification or bottling. Just a tad of sulfur at bottling helps stabilize wine before the arduous trip across the Atlantic, but every once in a while, a winemaker will have a zero-sulfur vision and we accommodate that. The “Nuits d’Ivresse,” or “Drunken Nights,” deserves its status as one of the Breton’s top cuvées as it possesses an elegance and complexity their more “frivolous” wines don’t. This wine bursts with fresh fruit character and has just a brush of tannin. Our man in France, Dixon Brooke, recommends drinking this now, and if you desire, aging it in an ice-cold cellar. The sentiment of aging the “Nuits d’Ivresse” was confirmed by another colleague who recently had a stunning 2002—it was worth the wait.