Then and Now – Clos Sainte Magdeleine

One of Kermit’s favorite themes to explore when writing for the newsletter is to remind his clientele (and employees) that his job as a wine importer is not one big vacation. Yes, he lives in Provence part of the year but what happens when he has to visit a producer? It’s a long commute to Châteauneuf, Bourgueil, or Chablis.

“Yesterday, for example, I had to spend practically the entire day at Cassis. It is not like I can just taste the wine, agree on a price, and go home. No, I had to drive down to the harbor with the winemaker, jump from the pier onto his bobbing boat, and motor out onto the Mediterranean, scene of countless shipwrecks. The sun’s heat was blazing. I tried not to think of ozone depletion, sunburn, skin cancer… We had no choice but to jump into the cooling sea. Luckily I happened to be wearing a bathing suit. Just as I was about to dive in, I noticed a school of inch-long jellyfish floating by. Their sting can momentarily paralyze you and leave you in pain for days. I wondered, is this really worth it? We motored out to safer waters and, finally, almost faint from heat prostration, I plunged into the cool blue water, a blue so beautiful I could barely stand it.”(pp 319, 320, Inspiring Thirst)

The man who puts Kermit through this torture happens to be the proprietor of Clos Sainte Magdeleine—François Sack. François has been a good pal of Kermit’s since the beginning. When Kermit is in France, they travel, dine, and hang out together, and if the timing works out, they do a little business. Though François has delegated a number of duties at the domaine to his son Jonathan, what sets him apart from other long-standing producers is his consistent presence through the last thirty-plus years. Like Kermit and Aubert de Villaine, you could say that Kermit and François grew up together in the wine business.

No one here at work actually believes Kermit’s forty years of business has been one long vacation. Some of us have traveled to France, done tasting trips, and gotten a glimpse at what it is like to drive, taste, talk, and eat twelve or more hours a day. Most believe that it is hard work. But we have also been to Cassis and met François, seen the Cap Canaille, looked out across the painfully blue water and thought, “la vie est belle!

Kermit and four-fifths of the staff from our French office at work at Domaine du Gros ‘Noré.
The other fifth, Chris Santini, was stuck in Beaune becoming a father for the first time.
(Front to back: Emily, Jane, Julia, Delia, and Kermit)
© Gail Skoff

Then and Now – Château d’Epiré

Our early history with the Savennières producer Château d’Epiré (our longest standing relationship from the Loire) is one that became all too familiar to Kermit over the years—in 1985, the patriarch of the family, Monsieur Bizard passed away:

“The family was crushed. I was emotional. Tears flowed. And there were problems, they said, because Monsieur Bizard’s regular customers stopped buying once he was gone. Meanwhile, I noticed three new stainless-steel tanks standing on skinny, angular legs in a part of the winery where some of the old oak casks once resided.” (pp 52, Adventures on the Wine Route)

Bizard had supported his winery with a more profitable charcuterie business and his son and daughter could no longer continue to craft the wine by hand—it was too labor intensive and they could not keep their price competitive with their neighbors. The family would now start making their wine in a modern style—stainless steel tanks, laboratory yeasts, filtering etc…

The appearance of stainless-steel tanks in a cellar became the symbol that foreshadowed more than just a change in winemaking style at a winery. Most often, this storyline ends with no conversation, no compromise, and no wine. Kermit would ask that they vinify a small amount in the traditional way for him, but he would hear that that was impossible, more work than before, and the price would be unreasonable. Thankfully, in the case of Château d’Epiré, after a comparative tasting of the modern and traditional wines, the family agreed that they preferred the traditional style and would continue to make wine for Kermit in the way that he and our clients had grown attached—vinified in casks, bottled unfiltered, and labeled as the “Cuvée Spéciale.”

For nearly three decades we Americans have had the good fortune to enjoy some of the finest Savennières made and the wine is still produced in the style of Monsieur Bizard. I say “we Americans” because in fact, the wine we import is not sold in France; it is made exclusively for the refined palates and traditional sensibilities of the American public.

A visit to Château d’Epiré is always a stunning experience. The Château was built in the 16th century and the wine is made in a lovely 12th century chapel.


 

My Dad’s CD

Today’s guest blogger is Marley Lynch, Kermit’s daughter. Marley lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is the music editor for Foam magazine and a music writer at Time Out NY, where she also contributes regularly to the food & drink section. Follow Marley on twitter: @marleyasinbob

I doubt that my dad’s dedication to terroir is a secret to anyone who reads this brochure. It leads him to select bottles that proudly display where and how they were made. If you can taste the minerality or the climate from where the grape came from, if the natural wine leaves sediment in your glass—well, bring it on.

His predilection for products that embody their origin has led to a practically patented eccentricity. Picture him savoring the cheese course during a recent outdoor summer dinner: “Wow,” he commented after a particularly pungent bite. “You can taste exactly what the goat ate in this one.”

These rootsy sensibilities extend beyond wine, or cheese for that matter, into my dad’s musical catalog. The Lynch albums, from the down-home country on Man’s Temptation and the R&B leanings in the vein of Robert Cray on Quicksand to the covers-and-originals blend on the forthcoming Donuts & Coffee, are as flavorful as they are complete, offering rootsy Americana as seen through the lens of a well-rounded music lover who grew up on gospel, ‘50s pop and country-soul—before losing himself in the Bay Area ‘60s rock scene.

My dad frequently remarks on the difficulty a music shop would meet in slotting his discs in the appropriate bin; indeed, on Donuts, blues, reggae and blue-eyed soul all find a home. Fortunately, with the iTunes age upon us, it’s unlikely he’ll ever have to riddle this release to a record store clerk (even the term sounds archaic, doesn’t it?). I’m pretty sure my pop’s shuffle tendencies hark back quite some time; I remember him diligently making me mix tapes—yep, actual cassettes—when I was but a child, where Elvis Presley segued into Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which then played into Bob Marley.

Eclectic yet unusually versatile, Donuts is a similar exercise in what I’ll call cohesive diversity. With the help of Nashville session players as honed in their craft as any longtime winemaker, original tracks and covers reference musical greats across the genres, from Burt Bacharach to Muddy Waters; the latter is represented in the rollicking ballad “Honey Bee,” which smoothly opens the album. Standards get infused with the welcome sparkle of an enterprising viewpoint: Check out the dubbed-out take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which is sure to incense a country classicist for every listener it intrigues. The LP closes with a Lynch original, “Sunset Avenue,” a rousing rock & roll cut sprinkled with Delta blues and Stonesy swagger.

Like selling a bottle containing a telltale smudge of deposit or producing a wine with a pétille of CO2, taking a new look at these old-school styles tells a story, too. And it doesn’t end here: Just wait until you hear the hellacious New Orleans funeral-march–meets–gospel track on the album he just recorded… But now, I’ve said too much.

 

Then and Now – Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

During this anniversary month, we’ll look back in KLWM history, focusing on domaines we have imported for more than three decades. A lot can change during that time, but the one thing that keeps us coming back each year remains—the wine.

It is difficult to discuss who our most important producer is, though when this conversation comes up among the staff, we usually consider lists of domaines. Unequivocally, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe makes the top-five of any of our rankings.

Kermit began working with Henri Brunier and his Vieux Télégraphe in the late 1970s. In Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit discussed the now famous La Crau vineyard that comprises the Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf bottling:

The source of his [Henri Brunier’s] wine’s quality…is his stony terrain, situated upon the slope of the highest ridge in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. … In Brunier’s vineyard it is hard to walk because the stones slip and slide underfoot. An unreal landscape, it sticks in the mind like the volcanic Kona coast of Hawaii or the surface of the moon (pp 133, 134).

The 1972 Vieux Télégraphe was one of the first wines we imported from the Bruniers. At the time, Kermit described the wine as “splendidly full-bodied, reflecting the sunny climate and stony terrain of Châteauneuf.”

After a recent tasting of the 2010, Kermit wrote, “By the time your voyage ends… you are in a completely different place—deep in the heart of Vieux Télégraphe territory—which is to say big gorgeous tannins and a glorious stoniness.”

Is it a coincidence that the descriptions of wines made thirty-eight years apart are nearly interchangeable? Clearly they do not taste exactly same, but perhaps what these two excerpts (we could find a few more from our archives as well) speak to is the most consistent thing that connects the bottlings—La Crau.

Much has changed at Vieux Télégraphe since the 1970s that could influence the wine—Henri Brunier’s sons, Daniel and Frédéric have run the domaine for years, the business has grown, the cellar is more sophisticated, the earth is indisputably warmer, but the vineyard stays the same. Thirty-eight years might seem like a long time to human beings, but to the stones of Châteauneuf it is but a footnote in geological history. Is wine La Crau’s raison d’être? Unlikely. What is certain is the wine that is produced from this vineyard is not only exceptional, but distinct from any other.

 Henri Brunier

October Newsletter: Here’s to You! – KLWM Celebrates Its 40th

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

THE WILD LANGUEDOC

by Michael Butler

2010 Collioure “La Pinède”
Domaine La Tour Vieille

What a beauty of a wine this is. It comes from the Catalan region of France, very close to the Spanish border. The blend is predominately Grenache with a bit of Carignan. The grapes derive depth and complexity from very steep terraced vineyards in a rocky schist soil.

This full-bodied red is delicious now, but you can also age it for another two or three years. Though rich and dark, it is still light on its feet, owing to its bright acidity and perfect balance.

$24.00 per bottle $259.20 per case

2010 Pic SAINT Loup • ChÂteau La Roque

The Pic Saint Loup region is one of the most picturesque and lovely areas in all of France. At the cooler, northernmost part of the Languedoc appellation, the vineyards are grown at a fairly high elevation (around 1200 feet) in a clay and limestone soil—all the components to make a deep, elegant, and complex red. Our clients and the critics loved the 2009 for its plump richness; the 2010 adds refreshing buoyancy to the mix.

This wine drinks beautifully now, to heck with waiting . . . but if you choose, you can age it for eight to ten more years. (Kermit claims that the 1990 and 1991 are at their peak.) Pair it with roast pork sprinkled with Provençal herbs, or any other hearty Mediterranean dish.

$16.95 per bottle $183.06 per case

2010 Bronzinelle
ChÂteau SAINT Martin de la Garrigue

Here is a wine you could age for ten more years . . . if you could keep your hands off it. What an aroma! The Bronzinelle has it all: perfectly ripe black cherry fruit, black olives, and Provençal herbs. They all combine to create a wine not unlike a classic Gigondas, and at this price you can have it both ways—buy a case to drink now and a case to lay down. Enjoy this delicious red with a beef daube or your favorite burger, for example.

$18.95 per bottle $204.66 per case

2010 ANTOINE JOBARD

by Dixon Brooke

The only problem here is the severe lack of wine, thanks to a poor flowering in Burgundy that drastically reduced the potential harvest. With its high quality and very limited supply, vintage 2010 will become a reference vintage for serious white Burgundy buyers, and you do not want to miss the boat with one of the hottest wines in all of Burgundy today. Yes, Jobard is making some of Burgundy’s best wines, and yes, they are that good. They possess every quality that makes Meursault exciting, the qualities that set this village apart from all others in white Burgundy country. Rich, powerful, stony, earthy, and deep, these wines are forceful proof of what Chardonnay is capable of in these limestone soils. The Jobards are also guardians of the old tradition in Meursault, making wines that aren’t usually confused with Puligny or Chassagne, wines that are inimitably Meursault. The Jobards are winegrowers first and foremost, and this is exactly why they achieve greatness.

 per bottle

2010 Meursault “Les Tillets”

  $62.00

2010 Meursault Poruzots 1er Cru

  91.00

2010 Meursault Genevrières 1er Cru

  96.00

2010 Meursault Charmes 1er Cru

  96.00

Pre-arrival terms: Half-payment due with order;
balance due upon arrival.

Harvest 2012 – Château de Bellevue

Over the next few months, we’ll update you on how harvest 2012 is going in France with our producers. It is a busy time of the year so we know we are asking a lot for them to keep us in the loop on how things are going.

Sauvignon Gris ready for harvest

We’ll start off this series with one of our Bordeaux producers—Château de Bellevue. Vigneron André Chatenoud first wrote us in early September, letting us know that he would start harvesting his white wines in between September 15 and 20 and his reds in early October. On September 17, he sent us this update with photos:

Last Tuesday we picked 400kg of Sauvignon Gris to make a pied de cuve. The Sauvignon Gris grapes are looking very good and we will harvest them this week. The weather conditions are superb so I think that, despite the rainy spring, we will be able to make a very good wine.

A pied de cuve is a “starter tank”—it helps prime the wild yeasts so when the rest of the fruit is harvested, fermentation can quickly get started. In the photos you’ll see the Sauvignon Gris in a basket press, then the grapes being pressed, and the juice being pumped to a tank. Note the color of the Sauvignon Gris—it has a grayish-pink tint (similar to Pinot Gris) even though the final color is white. For small batches of grapes it is quite common to still use these seemingly antiquated basket presses (even in the U.S.).



Sauvignon Gris used to be widely planted in Bordeaux but was slowly replaced by the more popular Sauvignon Blanc. André planted his parcel in 2006 and the results have been exciting.

A few days later, André sent us photos of the native yeasts under a microscope and how they are multiplying on the fermenting wine.

André said, “The Sauvignon Gris has been harvested and the quality is superb. Fermentation is off to a good start and the aromas are very pleasant.

The KLWM Crew Goes to Dinner

Talking about wine all day is an enjoyable and some might even say envious occupation. We here in the retail shop certainly have a good time, but every so often we need to get out, visit restaurants with exciting menus, and experience the reality of our everyday musings. Last Saturday, we headed up to Napa and visited Oenotri, a southern Italian restaurant. We experienced what will likely be referred to as the “epic dinner at Oenotri” from here on out. Knowing we would be tapping into our personal cellars for the night, Chef Curtis Di Fede suggested we give him a list of wines we were bringing in order to flip the usual wine to food pairing upside-down. Curtis, with the suggestions of Oenotri sommelier, Sur Lucero, wanted to pair the food to our wine.

Here is what happened:
Wines
2011 Ajaccio “Faustine” Rosé • Domaine Abbatucci
2011 Rosé de Sciacarellu • Domaine Marquiliani
2004 Meursault-Genevrières • Domaine Coche-Dury
1990 Hermitage Blanc • J.L Chave
2009 Carcajoulu Neru • Domaine Abbatucci
2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Phenomena” • Sesti
1988 Cornas • Auguste Clape
1985 Mazis-Chambertin • Domaine Maume
2009 Ben-Rye, Passito di Pantelleria • Donnafugata

Menu
Starters
16 different house-made Salumi
Spelt pizzetta frola with Pecorino and honey (from Oenotri bees!)

        

Duo of Crudo Platters
Albacore Belly with Charantais and Watermelon, pansies, borage blossoms and fenugreek
Carne Cruda with Chanterelle mushrooms, circulated egg, ice lettuce, Mexican marigolds and nasturtiums

Pasta
Garganelli with broccoli rabe pesto, flagolet beans, and cicciolata
Tricolore Tagliatelle of nettles, egg, and tomato conserva with lobster mushrooms and fried caper leaves

Mains
Wood oven roasted whole rock cod stuffed with nettles and lemon
Myrtle berry studded porchetta with tomatoes and arugula

Dessert
Fig tart
Cookies

Upon arrival of each course, we were informed of each dishes’ ingredients which included nearly all produce coming from the Oenotri gardens just a half mile from the restaurant. It truly was a knockout, start to finish.  Great wines, amazing food, genial company; what more could one ask for?  Perhaps another reservation sometime in the future…

Green Curry, Red Wine?

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer Oakes, our new salesperson in the retail shop.

While the Bay Area is known for its fabulous cutting edge farm-to-table cuisine, after having recently moved back here from a metaphorical food desert, I’m finding myself a bit overwhelmed by the vast number of options when it comes to eating out. As a result, I’ve reverted to my safety zone—the sometimes-shady underworld of “ethnic” restaurants.

I don’t feel there’s a legitimate reason only to drink light, uncomplicated bubbly beer when you go to a hole-in-the-wall (or better) Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, or Ethiopian restaurant. If you want to drink wine, and if you’re lucky, most Chinese places will have an inexpensive Gewurztraminer, some kind of Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc. But why settle? Most places won’t object if you bring your own wine and if they do charge a corkage fee, it’s likely not going to be anywhere near the $20-40 most “fancy” restaurants charge.

I recently went with a friend to a tiny spot in Oakland’s Chinatown, known for it’s wide menu of congees, or rice porridge, which can contain anything from pork and seafood to offal and a “thousand-year-old egg”.  What does one drink with “thousand-year-old egg”?  In my case, I brought a bottle of the 2011 Coteaux du Loir “Cuvée du Rosier” from Pascal Janvier, thinking that if I could enjoy a cup of jasmine or Pu-Erh tea with the congee, I would certainly be content with a wine redolent of earth and faded roses.

I asked the solicitous waiter if it would be okay if we drank the wine we brought. He looked a bit concerned and said he’d be right back—I assumed to ask a higher-up about corkage fees or some other outside-alcohol rule. He returned a few minutes later, still with a questioning look on his face, offering us two plastic teacups, as that’s all they had to serve it in! Happily, we accepted and enjoyed a great meal with just the right wine.

There are so many great possibilities for what to serve with occasionally spicy ethnic dishes—Alsatian or Loire whites with Asian food, Fié Gris or a light Beaujolais with Mexican or Salvadoran food, or my recent favorite—the Abbatucci Rouge Frais with Indian goat curry. Just remember: You don’t have to settle for the beer du jour at your favorite local joint, but you might want to bring your own glasses along with the wine.

Donuts & Coffee, New From Quincy, B-Sides from the Bruniers, Wondrous Giamello, Stunning Nebbiolo

The September Newsletter is now available.
Click here to download the PDF.

DRINK LIKE A TRUE CORSICAN

by Chris Santini

2009 CORSE CALVI ROUGE “e prove”
DOMAINE MAESTRACCI

While I am always a fan of easy-quaffing reds, there are times, especially around a meal, when you want some meat on them bones. Well, here’s one for the robust, full-of-fruit-and-Mediterranean-sun category. A manly man’s wine. Put on some James Brown (you know which song I’m talking about), pull up a chair, light a cigar, put on some dark shades, and while your mamma cooks you up tagliatini in the kitchen, you simply pour yourself a tall glass of this vivid red and sit back like you own the place, Corsican style.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

2011 ÎLE DE BEAUTÉ
BIANCU GENTILE BLANC • YVES LECCIA

Biancu Gentile is a survivor. A native Corsican, banished from the land by various colonial invaders who decreed the use of higher-yielding foreign grapes, then cultivated in secret by a handful of rebellious peasants, Biancu Gentile was left for dead by the authorities for centuries. Praise be to those rebel souls who saved the grape. It doesn’t get much more Corsican than this, a grape that truly soaks in the pungent maquis, with wisps of the sea and hints of the Corsican earth. Yves Leccia and Antoine Arena lead the Biancu Gentile renaissance.

$34.00 per bottle $367.20 per case

2011 ÎLE DE BEAUTÉ ROUGE • YVES LECCIA

A client recently wrote to me after tasting this wine in Corsica that if she had to choose one wine to show friends what Corsica smells and tastes like, she would uncork this stunning red. She listed the scents and flavors of “eucalyptus, sage, mint, lavender, thyme, saline, geranium, dark woodsy berries and a flinty finish,” as well as my favorite: “fatty sheep woodsmoke.” That must be lamb fat dripping on hot coals. Sounds good to me. She ended her email with “Can you tell I loved it?” I’ll second that emotion.

$26.00 per bottle $280.80 per case

For the Jaded Palate

by Graeme Blackmore

2010 FiÉ Gris • Éric Chevalier

The palest straw color. Effusive gooseberry and nettle aromas. Even a wet grassy note. Telltale signs that make guessing the varietal seem almost too easy. But right before your first sip, a hint of honeycomb wafts up from the glass and you hesitate momentarily. Just then, as the first drops hit your tongue, the bright acidity races your mind straight back to Sauvignon Blanc and any doubts are dispelled. It was that simple after all—thirty seconds, job done, next wine please.

Not until the unctuous ripe fruit coats your palate does the confusion properly set in. The only saving grace is that your mouth is now full of wine and you haven’t had a chance to blurt out the varietal to the rest of the table. The striking contrast between bright citrus lemon and baked apple flavors melding with heady exotic fruits is marvelous and delicious. But you have a good excuse, because how many have ever tasted a Fié Gris?

$24.95 per bottle $269.46 per case

2011 Rosé de Loire
“La Ritournelle” • c. ET p. Breton

We’ve all had the experience at a concert or show where the headliner is outdone by the opening act. Often it’s a revelation and we find something new that we weren’t expecting. No surprise that it’s a Breton wine I have in mind when thinking of this. Their rosé really is, well, something else. The bubble is a mere accent rather than an emphasis, and sweeter cherry flavors finish with a fine lemon cut. Versatile is not an adequate way to describe this wine that carries itself from apéritif through dessert. Try irresistible.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

2011 Vin de Savoie “Les Abymes”
A. & M. Quenard

The sheerest pale gold hue of the Jacquère varietal is matched in beauty by an aroma redolent of lemon and green apples. Citrus fruits are wrapped in a lithe structure and balanced by a harmonious texture. The crystalline pure minerality is a trademark and a pleasure.

$16.50 per bottle $178.20 per case

New Website From Ostertag

Very few of our producers speak English, let alone write it, so we often find ourselves translating updates on vintage conditions and descriptions of new wines that our producers send us.

One great exception is André Ostertag, the enigmatic Alsatian vigneron known for his classic, chiseled, dry wines. He not only speaks but writes in English and is one of those rare talents who is at once informative and eloquent in a language that is not his first. Equal parts philosopher and vigneron, André’s writing was once featured in our monthly newsletter. Here’s an excerpt from 1996:

Before, a winemaker had to maintain an intimate, direct rapport with the elements. He had to link himself to things, allow them to become a living part of himself, to penetrate his soul, his gut, in order to feel and understand them.
      Had he any other choice? There was no protection against disease or pest in the vineyard. No oenology lab, no research centers. Only the winemaker himself held the key to “Le Grand Vin.” When scientific knowledge and technology are limited, our senses of observation, intuition, and sensitivity, all of which make up our subjective thought processes, are heightened.

Fronholz vineyard as seen from the village of Nothalten

André wrote us recently with an update on vintage 2012 and some exciting news—he launched his first website, www.domaine-ostertag.fr/en/. Here you’ll find beautiful photos of the vineyards and extensive information on each of his wines, designed with the Ostertag eye for esthetics.

Here’s what André had to say about the 2012 growing season:

In 2012 we need nerves of steel, but we still hope to have a vintage of great quality in spite of quantity. In fact the cycle is rather normal, not too early nor too late, and there is still good hope for a mild second half of the season, which in the end can only be better than the last 6 weeks!
      Being a vintner is also that: depending on a less and less kind sky, more and more unpredictable, but staying focused on making great wines!

Ostertag labels

Interested in André’s wines? Check out this recent newsletter piece for his new arrivals.