Wine Fallacies: Champagne With Meal?

There are a number of misconceptions about wine that many members of the industry seem to be on a tireless crusade to end. At the top of this list of fallacies you’ll find tired adages like “All Rieslings are sweet” (no, they are not), and, worst of all—“Beaujolais sucks.” If you’re reading this, then you are likely to bring a Morgon or Côte de Brouilly to a friend’s house for dinner just to spite them into admitting they actually do like Beaujolais.

Another one of these misconceptions is that Champagne is only meant to be drunk for celebrations and never with food. The brilliant marketers from Champagne (whose predecessors are at fault for creating the idea that Champagne is only for celebrating) have been trying to change this idea by claiming that Champagne makes for a wonderful wine to pair with a meal. On the surface, this notion might seem like a thinly veiled attempt to boost sales during the non-holiday months of the year. That might be true, but behind it was most likely a stunning first-hand experience, similar to the one I had a few weeks ago when I paired a heritage pork chop with the J. Lassalle “Cachet Or” and had a food-pairing revelation. Instead of immediately taking to Facebook and screaming, “I get it!,” I took a step back to fully understand why people don’t pair Champagne with food more often. Then I realized that Champagne is the problem, not the fine wine drinking public.

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When people say, “pair Champagne with food,” they mean real Champagne—sparkling wines of great complexity, hailing from the Champagne region of France. Quality Champagne starts around $35 per bottle—a sum that for many customers is a little pricey, and falls in to the “special bottle” category. And isn’t that what Champagne is after all? A bottle for an extraordinary occasion?

The issue here is that there are few substitutes for Champagne. Consider a dinner of grilled halibut. What to pair? If you walked in to our retail shop, a salesperson might recommend the 2011 Bordeaux Blanc from Château Ducasse at $16 or the 2010 Pouilly Fuissé “La Croix” from Robert Denogent at $39. Two very different wines but both would make great pairings. For a toast on New Years Eve, Prosecco can substitute for Champagne, but when it comes to pairing with a nice meal, it just doesn’t work—when considering food, you need a sparkling wine with depth of character and some grip and length on the palate.

The myriad of other sparkling wines available are great for sipping by themselves, toasting an occasion, mixing with cocktails, and pairing with oysters and consequently I drink Prosecco, Vouvray Pétillant, and Clairette de Die more often Champagne. But give it a go. Trend towards white wine pairings but consider rosé Champagne as another option for a red wine pairing. Enjoy a bottle of Champagne at a nice restaurant or have it at home with a special dinner—you’ll be pleased and surprised at the possibilities.

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April Newsletter: Quintarelli

The April newsletter is now available.
Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

 BORDEAUX FOR ALL

by Anthony Lynch

2010 SAINT-ÉMILION GRAND CRU
CHÂTEAU TERTRE DE LA MOULEYRE

To understand the meaning of the term grand cru, have a taste of this Saint-Émilion. It is indeed grand, with a deep and impressive feel on the palate. Right now the velvety texture and luscious fruit aromas draw the glass to my lips. However, its hefty structure suggests that several years in a cool cellar will give a majestic wine, a true mark of its grand cru status.

$65.00 per bottle $702.00 per case

2009 MONTAGNE-SAINT-ÉMILION
CHÂTEAU TOUR BAYARD

Serve your Saint-Émilion grand cru to impress a distinguished guest at your table after you have toiled all day to fix the perfect dinner. Save the Montagne-Saint-Émilion for when it’s just you and your buddies making burgers. Château Tour Bayard’s Montagne is bold and juicy, and thanks to its reasonable price you won’t feel obliged to lick up any drop you might spill. Although, with its ample fruit flavors and smooth finish, nobody could blame you if you did . . .

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

2008 POMEROL “CLOS PLINCE”
CHÂTEAU GOMBAUDE-GUILLOT

If my grandparents drank Pomerol, then this would be the Pomerol of my grandparents. It is the perfect example of a fine, elegant version of Merlot—the exact opposite of the wines that give the grape a bad reputation. Claire Laval bottles this single-vineyard cuvée from her oldest vines, and after a few hours in a decanter, it will reach its peak with silky tannins and a refined mouthfeel. I challenge you to hold back from drinking a few bottles and let them evolve slowly in your cellar!

$58.00 per bottle $626.40 per case 

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LOIRE

by Dixon Brooke

2011 MUSCADET CÔTES DE GRAND LIEU
ÉRIC CHEVALIER

A few examples of KLWM daily standards: our namesake Côtes du Rhône and Monferrato Rosso bottlings, Dupeuble Beaujolais, Coutale Cahors, Salvard Cheverny, Corte Gardoni Custoza, Fontsainte Gris de Gris. Here’s another one: Chevalier Muscadet. Dry, crisp, always pristine, always thirst-quenching, a fantastic and versatile value.

$14.95 per bottle $161.46 per case

2011 SAVENNIÈRES “CUVÉE SPÉCIALE”
CHÂTEAU D’EPIRÉ

When the resurgence of knowledge about Savennières (currently in motion) is complete, you will no longer be able to buy these incredibly complex dry whites, capable of aging thirty years or longer, for thirty dollars. These Chenin Blancs, or Pineaux de la Loire, rival the greats from Alsace and Burgundy in terms of complexity and aging potential—but not price. The French press recently called Luc Bizard, owner and head wine man at Epiré, the last remaining holdout making truly traditional Savennières, crafted with no compromise whatsoever. Amen to that.

$30.00 per bottle $324.00 per case

2010 CHINON “LES GRÉZEAUX”
BERNARD BAUDRY

Baudry’s name stands tall in the circles of those who appreciate the Loire’s best Cabernet Francs. Many years ago Charles Joguet gave Kermit Baudry’s name, and Kermit has returned to the Baudry cellars every year since his first visit. Both the man and his wines are bastions of tradition, humility, and old-fashioned good sense. These Chinons aren’t just brilliant in their own right, they are pillars of a very old and grand tradition in the central Loire, and there aren’t many of these left.

$27.00 per bottle $291.60 per case

2010 SANCERRE ROUGE “LE CHANT DE L’ARCHER”
DANIEL CHOTARD

It’s back already! The 2009 flew out of here, and we quickly got the new vintage on a boat to California. Here’s to delicious Pinot Noir at a price that makes you a little less hesitant to pull the cork whenever the mood strikes. The combination of this noble grape, the Kimmeridgean limestone marl in Sancerre, and barrels from Burgundy for refinement makes for some really interesting pairings at table. Smooth as silk, beautifully balanced.

35.00 per bottle $378.00 per case

 

Unlikely Agers: Expanding Your Mind and Cellar

When it comes to laying down wines for ageing, never say never.  In this post, let’s explore the possibility of cellaring wines that aren’t necessarily known for their ability to age. In an effort to change the way we think about the age-worthiness of wine, I will first examine the reasons why we choose to lay down some wines and not others. Then, I will cite specific examples from my own experience to prove that it’s not always black and white, and there are in fact many gray areas that we can exploit for our own pleasure and thirst-quenching purposes.

What do the majority of the wines we choose to cellar have in common? More often than not, they stand apart from the rest thanks to two factors: prestige and price. Big names like Châteauneuf, Chambertin, Montrachet, Pauillac, etc., are obvious choices, and for good reason. Such wines can be truly majestic, and while patience is required to get the most out of them, they rarely disappoint in the long run. But why should we limit ourselves to these tried-and-true classics when a whole new world of ageable wine lies in the shadows? Not to mention that very few of us bring home the grand cru paycheck that allows us to make large investments. Bringing some new faces into your wine storage area can delight you with unexpected pleasures, all while reducing your cellar’s financial footprint.

A wine’s reputation is often what prevents us from observing its maturation after a few years stowed away. One such example is Aligoté. Known to many as poor man’s white Burgundy, Aligoté satisfies in its youth with its refreshing acidity. The finest examples, including Aubert and Pamela de Villaine’s Bouzeron Aligoté, can also show impressive structure and complexity, placing it a step above its longtime status as a simple bistro wine. In his book Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit recalls his experience of opening an aged Bouzeron for none other than the de Villaines themselves!

In 1986 I served my last bottle of 1979 to de Villaine and his wife… Some creature in my cellar had devoured the label, so the de Villaines could not see what it was they were tasting. I asked what they thought it might be. At first sniff Mme de Villaine, an excellent taster, said that it showed some of the aromatic richness of a white Hermitage! Her husband said no, it was not from the south, it was more Burgundian. It might be a Meursault, but no, there was that firmness, that structure, that stony aftertaste. It might be a Chablis…?

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 Next on my list is Beaujolais, which shares Aligoté’s reputation of being simple and easy. Some Beaujolais is just that, perfectly at home in a little neighborhood joint next to a plate of paté and saucisson. But some Beaujolais, namely Cru Beaujolais, can pack a punch—full of wild aromas conveying fruit, earth, and spice, along with the tannic and acid structure of a very serious red. This is the Beaujolais to lay down.  One such Cru Beaujolais is Nicole Chanrion’s Côte-de-Brouilly. When young, the fresh berries on the nose make it hard to resist, but it’s evident that there is much more going on—a sleeping monster that needs years before it begins to stir, ultimately releasing a plethora of fascinating aromas. I recently had the privilege of tasting the last bottle of Nicole’s own stash of 1969s. “It was opened yesterday, so don’t expect too much,” she said, unnecessarily apologetically. We were all blown away by the wine’s silky texture and rich, complex flavors. It told a story, like a respected elder sharing wisdom with younger generations. Experiences like this one have taught me that ageing Beaujolais can be just as special as ageing Burgundy, only more affordable. The hard part is suppressing the urge to pull the cork today.Chanrion_cote_de_brouilly_400My third improbable ager is rosé. Why would anyone age rosé? It tastes so good now that it might seem silly to do so. However, the right rosé—fuller-bodied rather than your everyday quaffer—can be worth laying down. Bandol rosé, for example, has the crisp freshness and fruit that makes it delightful to sip on a summer evening. It also has the necessary structure to go the distance, allowing these bright flavors to evolve into something truly worthy of contemplation. Domaine de Terrebrune’s Bandol rosé is an obvious choice thanks to its food-friendly nature and overall deliciousness. Winemaker Reynald Delille shocked me by opening a 1993. Its color was no longer rosé, but some sort of golden amber. The nose was no longer saturated with fresh strawberries and grapefruit, but had moved on to candied citrus, anise, and I guess we’ll call it spice. Mind-blowing! A true rosé de gastronomie: not meant for sipping by the pool, but featuring the roundness and succulence that makes it great to drink at table with a roast chicken or some aged cheeses. Never dismiss an old rosé!

These are only three examples to show that the wines we lay down don’t need to be first-growths or premier crus. They can be white or red or rosé and can come from anywhere and at any price point. Practice open-mindedness and patience, and in five, ten, or twenty years from now, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Old terrebrune

© Laura Vidal
 

 

per bottle per case
2010 BOUZERON • A. & P. DE VILLAINE $29.00 $313.20
2010 CÔTE-DE-BROUILLY • NICOLE CHANRION 22.00 237.60
2011 BANDOL ROSÉ • DOMAINE DE TERREBRUNE 30.00 324.00

 

 

A Tour of Bugey with Patrick Bottex

Patrick Bottex makes one of the most delicious beverages in existence. He runs his tiny operation in the little hamlet of La Cueille, located near the town of Poncin in the Bugey region, somewhere between Lyon and Geneva. Despite the proximity to these major cities and the nearby autoroute, it might nonetheless be an understatement to call the area remote. In my short visit there I probably saw more cows than people—the humid, grassy mountainsides are perfect for the production of dairy products including butter, milk, and a variety of cheeses.

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However, these hills also have a long history of grape growing. Patrick offered to give me a tour of his vineyards on his ATV, but before starting the engine, he poured us each a glass of his Bugey-Cerdon. Sparkling Bugey is made not in the méthode traditionelle that we know from Champagne, but in the méthode ancestrale, where the wine is bottled part way through fermentation. “Back in the day, Bugey-Cerdon was a Christmas wine,” Patrick explained. “The heat of spring would cause the bottles to restart fermentation and explode from the pressure. As a result, the locals consumed all the wine over the holidays.” Fortunately, modern winemaking techniques and stronger bottles allow today’s Bugey to be available all year long.

We eventually hopped on Patrick’s ATV and sped off on a dirt road up the hill. He stopped at the base of a very steep vineyard and we dismounted. “This is my Gamay,” he began. “As you can see, I do not weed my vineyards—this is to maintain biodiversity in the soil and prevent erosion.” The vines stood tall, showing healthy foliage and pristine round purple berries. The space between each row was filled with all sorts of insects crawling around in the bright green grass.

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We continued the ride and zoomed off into the wind, stopping only for a herd of cows, who clearly had the right of way. Minutes later, Patrick motioned toward a nearby vineyard. “This is my neighbor’s plot. He weeds between each row and uses chemical products on the soil.” The contrast with his own plot proved astounding—here, the vines looked as though they were struggling to stay standing, and many of the bunches were nastily discolored by rot.

Upon returning to the winery, we shared one more glass of Cerdon before I had to leave. For a rosé, its color is atypically dark, mirroring its bright flavors of fresh raspberries, cherries, and red currants. Gamay and Poulsard are the grapes responsible for this charming sparkler that is sweet only to the point of prompting you to dig your nose into your glass and quaff down the contents effortlessly.

Bugey-Cerdon is traditionally consumed as an aperitif or with dessert, but the possibilities are limitless. According to my colleagues here at KLWM, a glass of Bugey is appropriate at brunch, on the beach, at a party, in the bath, or with a significant other. We encourage you to explore other fitting occasions!

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March Newsletter: Top Red Burgundy P-A, A Pomerol Collection, Corsican Force of Nature, Benchmark Chinon & Bourgueil

The March newsletter is now available.
Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

 RIOFAVARA

by Delia Dent

As our only Sicilian property, Riofavara holds a special place in the Kermit Lynch portfolio; it is a natural fit but also stands out in many ways. The philosophy that drives owner Massimo Padova and his family matches our usual profile: they champion eco-friendly methods and expression of the terroir above all else, and their passion and rigor are evident in everything they do. But sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean, over 320 miles farther south than any other winery we represent and closer to Africa than France, the Eloro appellation is very distinct. It’s no coincidence that the bedrock is limestone, just as in many other famous wine regions—but its presence is all the more important here because its high moisture retention is crucial to keep the vines hydrated and happy in the torrid summers. For most of its history, the local Nero d’Avola was considered fit only to blend into French and mainland Italian wines to give them extra color and body, but today we marvel at the nuances that Massimo draws out of his old vines.

In Riofavara’s Sciavè these disparate elements come together to create a delicate harmony. It has all the power you would expect in a Sicilian wine and that sun-drenched quality that in the wrong hands can become overwhelming. But here they are perfectly balanced by a soft, velvety cloak. Profound and fresh. Hefty and drinkable. New and exciting.

2009 ELORO “SCIAVÈ”

$29.00 per bottle $313.20 per case


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 BARGAINS OF THE MONTH

by Anthony Lynch

2011 CHARDONNAY • ÉRIC CHEVALIER

There are three things you should know about this wine from the northwesternmost area of the Loire. First, it is made without oak, allowing for a pure expression of the varietal with a focus on crispness and fresh fruit. Second, it is dry, shining a light on its citrusy aromatics and mouthwatering acidity. Third, a bottle will run you just $13.95, and buying a case will earn you a 10% discount!

$13.95 per bottle $150.66 per case

 

2011 CÔTES DU RHÔNE “CYPRESS CUVÉE”

BLENDED BY KERMIT LYNCH

The more masculine of Kermit’s two Côtes du Rhône blends, this is a cuvée for those of us who like a red with some flesh on the bones. When you pull the cork, be prepared to sink your teeth into some chewy tannins, and warn your white t-shirts that any spillage could be fatal. The fare you serve alongside the Cypress Cuvée should be of a similar dark red hue, with matching bold, meaty, bloody qualities. I’m thinking juicy steaks off the grill or pasta with a chunky, herby tomato sauce.

$14.95 per bottle $161.46 per case

Clairette de Die: A Day in the Drôme Valley

The Drôme département may be the best-kept secret in France. While the Drôme river is a tributary to the Rhône, the two regions share little in common. The Rhône Valley, despite its picturesque orchards and steep banks (think Côte-Rôtie), is largely a world of freeways, industry, and pollution. Just south of Valence, the two rivers meet. East of this point, one can follow the Drôme’s crystalline waters upstream to a land that is worlds apart, in one of the most gorgeous corners of the Earth that you never knew was there. A narrow route nationale follows the meandering valley, flanked on either side by hills and eventually small mountains—a precursor to the mighty Alpine peaks found not too far to the east. The region looks something like a French version of Yosemite Valley, sprinkled with quaint medieval villages and with neat rows of vines planted on all the South-facing slopes.

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I pulled up to Domaine Achard-Vincent in my rented yellow Fiat Panda just as the harvesters were returning from a long day of work. Jean-Pierre, whose family has been making wine in the Diois (Dee-oo-ah) for several generations, greeted me before returning to tend to the day’s pick: about a dozen large crates packed with clusters of Muscat grapes, straight off the vine. He proceeded to dump the crates into the de-stemmer, demonstrating the process by which the grapes are crushed and eventually pressed. The entire operation is gravity-fed, consistent with the Achard-Vincents’ enthusiasm for organic and biodynamic agriculture. As the pressing began, a steady trickle of liquid turned into a heavy torrent, slowly filling the empty tank under the press. Jean-Pierre handed me a glass and motioned toward the stream of fresh Muscat juice. Its delicious grapiness almost made me wonder why one would even make wine out of it.

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However, fermenting the Muscat has been a long-standing tradition in the Diois—the effervescent Clairette de Die, a somewhat sweet wine made mainly from the Muscat grape, is supposed to have outdated the production of all other sparkling wines. The méthode Dioise, as it is called, involves bottling the wine during fermentation, trapping the resulting carbon dioxide gas. The building pressure eventually reaches a point that causes fermentation to stop, leaving a playful sweetness in the wine that is balanced by crisp acidity and low alcohol. Nowadays, of course, the wine is subsequently racked and filtered to remove sediment and prevent any remaining yeast from finishing the job once the wine is in bottle. The Achard-Vincents also bottle a dry sparkler made exclusively from Clairette. Like the more traditional sweet wine, it is equally delicate and lively, showing incredible finesse.

The following morning, I woke early, eager to volunteer my hand in the harvest. The summer heat had yet to kick in and a pillow-like layer of fog still rested against the hillside. I joined the rest of the crew in the vines and began picking. The work was tiresome but snacking on the grapes provided adequate fuel. Finally, the time came for me to continue my trip.

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Still sweaty from the intense labor in the vineyard, I knew I couldn’t leave without taking a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Drôme. I climbed down from the road to the bank of the river before plunging in. I felt refreshed by the bracing cold and cleansed by the translucent purity of the water. My only regret was not bringing a bottle of Clairette to chill in the river and freshen up my palate.

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40 Vintages of Sauvignon Blanc

If it takes 10,000 hours of carrying out a task to be successful in a given field, then Régis Minet is not just an expert, but true master of Sauvignon Blanc. For nearly forty vintages now, Régis has worked with the grape of the appellation of Pouilly Fumé, which by my estimate means he’s put around 70,000 hours into understanding how to cultivate, nurture, pick, ferment, bottle, and market Sauvignon Blanc. Few people in this world may be able to match that level of focus on a single variety and they are probably Régis’ neighbors.

Régis recently launched his first website—regisminet.com—and I recommend you check it out. Like his approach to wine, Régis keeps it simple online.

In person, he’s affable and dynamic, loaded with energy—is it a coincidence you could use those adjectives to describe his wine, too? When he visited the Berkeley shop a few years ago he was in full form. He brought us two things—small fossils that he found in his vineyards, and little rounds of aged Loire goat cheese, covered in a nearly black rind. The cheese and the fossils were nearly indistinguishable. Régis was proud to show off how he brought the unpasteurized and distinctly scented cheese into the US. He had packed the cheese in air-tight bags, then with a permanent marker, wrote the word “pasteurized” on the plastic. “You see, no one asks if you just write pasteurized on the package.” Duly noted.

The fossils had their own aromatic qualities. If you strike two together, the bright smokiness of gunflint emanates. You didn’t have a choice with Régis in the room—everyone was essentially forced to eat the cheese and smell the fossils.

We washed down the pungent cheese as quickly as we could with a glass of Régis’ Pouilly Fumé, but I still have the fossil from his vineyards on my desk—a good reminder to take home a bottle of his wine from time to time.

Fossil

February Newsletter: Tasting at Bartavelle, Vieux Télégraphe 2011 P-A, Introducing Château Moulin Pey-Labrie

The February newsletter is now available.
Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

SURPRISING SOUTHERN REDS

by Anthony Lynch

2011 VIN DE PAYS DE LA VALLÉE DU PARADIS
“LA DÉMARRANTE” • MAXIME MAGNON

My father’s second book is titled Inspiring Thirst. I never fully understood this title until I had the chance to taste certain wines, and La Démarrante is one of those wines that truly inspires thirst vintage after vintage. It is what happens when the Languedoc meets the Beaujolais: old Carignan and Cinsault fermented by carbonic maceration to make something light, fresh, and delicious. I like it slightly chilled and my glass well filled.

$23.00 per bottle $248.40 per case

2011 CÔTES DU RHÔNE ROUGE “SIERRA DU SUD” DOMAINE GRAMENON

Opening a bottle of Gramenon is always a special experience for me. In addition to the delightful aromas wafting out of my glass, knowing that what I am drinking is the product of nature with minimal intervention makes every bottle a sensuous and emotional pleasure. Their Syrah is no exception, tasting wild yet impeccably refined. Sierra du Sud finishes with silky tannins and leaves the drinker with a sentiment of awe.

$32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case

2008 BANDOL ROUGE
DOMAINE DE TERREBRUNE

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Terrebrune the wine that it is. Some might argue that the nearby Mediterranean provides cool nights, favoring slow ripening and making an especially balanced wine. The vigneron, Reynald Delille, finds that his unique reddish soils are ideal for his vines to thrive in, giving depth and minerality. Reynald himself is quite a classy fellow, and I believe that he lends a certain elegance to his wines that few others are able to achieve. Perhaps all of these factors contribute to produce a Bandol that, unlike most others, is approachable in its youth with the potential to age beautifully for decades.

$35.00 per bottle $378.00 per case

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ALSACE

by Kermit Lynch

2010 PINOT BLANC • KUENTZ-BAS

Let’s start with two important traits: this is classic and bone dry, and I mean dry like a good Chablis or Muscadet. As for the classic part, it could serve as a role model for Pinot Blancs no matter what part of the world they come from. Leave here with a case at our 10% discount and you’ll be glad you did at least twelve times.

$16.95 per bottle $183.06 per case

2010 RIESLING • KUENTZ-BAS

Good and dry—that’s one reason I recommend this Riesling to sommeliers for their wine lists. Dry, balanced, flawless, nothing exaggerated or missing—just what one hopes for when ordering Riesling in a restaurant. The price ain’t bad, either. Let’s name it Old Reliable. It does it like it should be done.

$16.95 per bottle $183.06 per case

2009 Riesling “pfoeller” • MEYER-FONNÉ

Such a big year, 2009, and the Pfoeller vineyard makes a Riesling that Félix Meyer always holds onto for a couple of years before releasing because, he says, “it always takes its time to open up.” There is a ripe, mouth-filling texture. Shop for sausages and a couple of cuts of pork, a jar of sauerkraut, some mustard, and this Pfoeller 2009.

$37.00 per bottle $399.60 per case

2010 pinot gris “kaefferkopf”
grand cru • MEYER-FONNÉ

I could berry and cherry you to death with this wine. (Read pages 80–96 in Eric Asimov’s book How to Love Wine, please, to see what I mean by “berry and cherry you to death.” You’ll laugh out loud.)

While tasting this Pinot Gris, ask yourself why it is grand cru and the previous “Réserve” not. Consider the words depth, finesse, nobility, grandeur . . . I like those kinds of tasting subjects more than searching for berries and cherries. Not that I don’t love cherries and berries.

$37.00 per bottle $399.60 per case

Tasting in the Jura

My visit to Domaine Ganevat was eye-opening, mouth-watering, and, if you’ll pardon the expression, bladder-filling. I arrived in the morning following a discouraging restaurant meal the previous night featuring supermarket-brand Comté (the local cheese), melted-cheese-laden sausage, and hair-infused lukewarm crème brulée. In spite of the picturesque pastures on the hazy rolling hills surrounding me, I felt uneasy when Jean-François examined me with a look in his eye that asked, “Who the hell are you?” Finally he came around with an “Ah—I thought your visit was next week.”

Ganevat-in-the-CellarWhile he was busy helping his crew bottle the ’09 vintage, I tasted wine after wine—the whites each conveying purity, freshness, and minerality unlike anything my palate had ever encountered. I was astounded at the paradox inherent in each wine: full-bodied yet crisp, rich yet focused, fleshily fruity yet bone-dry and stony, complex yet eminently drinkable. I tasted only a portion of the many cuvées produced, each with its own distinctive personality. The differences lay in the variety (usually Chardonnay and/or Savagnin), the parcels (exposition, soils, age of vines…) and the level of oxidation (from a Burgundian style to a more traditionally Jura level of oxidation).

Each time Jean-François dipped the glass thief into a new barrel and eased the unfiltered liquid into my vacant glass, he said casually, “Once you finish this one, you can taste the next one.” Finish? ‘Taste?’ Nonetheless, it seemed completely appropriate to be drinking glass after glass of Ganevat’s wine at 11AM (although I admit to occasionally dumping my glass behind my back when nobody was looking as I had a 2-hour drive coming up and wanted to remember which side of the road to drive on). We moved on to his Poulsard rosé, a crisp juice bestowing pleasure like no other. The reds came next, also delightfully fresh to the point that ‘wine’ did not seem like the appropriate word. A Pinot Noir brought to table paired excellently with the rabbit Jean-François’ mother cooked for lunch. The cheese course, featuring a genuine Comté, married perfectly with the Jura’s famous Vin Jaune—each rich, creamy bite washed down by the wine’s nutty caramelized finish.

Ganevat-Vineyard

Old vines at Domaine Ganevat
Upon returning to the U.S., I witnessed the Jura beginning to experience a breakthrough on the wine scene. The bottles I have tasted since always offer something different, putting in evidence the wide range of styles available. The one thing they all share in common is that they are awakening, due not only to their refreshing acidity but also thanks to the way they stand out from the other wines produced in France and across the globe. The Jura wine scene is intriguing in the best sense of the word, and I am constantly thirsty for more.

Wine From Yesteryear

“Have you ever tasted anything like this?” said Kermit to the 23-year-old at our staff tasting the other night. She laughed while simultaneously saying “No, never.”

I laughed along with her, havingd'epire.cuveespeciale.2009.resized.novintage been asked the same question during my first years here, meanwhile relishing no longer being the youngest at these tastings. The wine in question was a 1994 Savennières “Cuvée Spéciale” from Château d’Epiré.

Kermit’s inquiry, though honest, was also rhetorical, and would have elicited the same response from most of us present. I’ve had older Savennières a hand-full of times and each bottle seems to have little to do with the previous. What resonated with me about the wine wasn’t my experience with it, but Kermit’s, and I chatted with him about this the next day. He said the wine took him back in time, when he encountered wines like this older Savennières more regularly in the cellars of many vignerons:

Aromatically it’s nearly impossible to find aromas that we found in that wine these days. It’s not berries and cherries. It’s very hard to describe what you’re smelling with an analogy as you’re in a world that is complete within itself and you can’t encounter anything like it outside of it. The age is what allows the wines to develop like this and it is becoming harder and harder to find white wines that can do that.

Actually, the analogy is the smell of an old, moist, underground cellar. Cellars are sterilized now, so cleaned up that the smell has no character or substance—other than chlorine, at worst. I’ve learned that wines are like sponges—they soak up what is in their environment. The old cellars seasoned their wine with earth smells, barrels smells, the new wine, the mold on the stone walls—that’s rare now. Tasting wines like this 1994 is like entering the inner-sanctum—a place this is totally private, that few experience.

This ‘94 is a wine of yesteryear. A rare find that still exists in a few cellars in France, and specifically it seems that the vignerons of the Loire have a fastidious ethic for reserving a quantity of each vintage to watch it develop. Château d’Epiré recently released the ’94 to us and our final three cases remain on the retail floor for a lucky few to have their own singular experiences.

Château-DEpire

Château d’Epiré