Showing posts with label Clos Rougeard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clos Rougeard. Show all posts

Friday, May 04, 2012


Been so busy lately with work that I just haven't had time to write here. But I want to share some recent "Whoa," wine and food that really knocked me out.

1999 Clos Rougeard Saumur Bréze, Louis/Dressner Imports, price unknown. Whoa, this is just amazing wine. Clos Rougeard's rare (and pricey) Chenin Blanc is one of the most intriguing white wines of the Loire Valley. I've had three bottles in my life, including this one, and this was the best of them. Such wonderful freshness and purity on the nose, such well articulated aromas and flavors. Beautifully balanced, deep, complex, so very delicious. More, please.

 Have you ever been to City Island? I grew up here in New York, my parents both grew up in the Bronx, and I had never been until a few weeks ago. Among other things, we ate this plate of Little Neck clams. Briny. Cold. Refreshing. Whoa.

 2009 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I bought two bottles last spring and never got around to drinking one of them. Whoa! I need to remember to put some good rosé away and forget about it for a while. Well made Bandol rosé definitely improves with age. This Pradeaux rose is only a year old, but already offers a glimpse of what time in the cellar will do. Mellow, incredibly mineral, very complex, flashes of the savory. Truly lovely.

This is William Mattiello, one of the owners of Via Emilia, in the Gotham City section of Manhattan, pictured with a bottle of Vittorio Graziano's white Lambrusco. William's wife is the owner of Lambrusco Imports, a small company that brings some very special wines to NYC, among them the very fine wines of Vittorio Graziano. At Via Emilia you will spend $36 for Graziano's red Lambrusco, the best that I've ever had. Initially the wine smells like a barn but it does beautifully with air (and with age, says the wise Levi Dalton). Try the white wine too, called Ripa del Bucamente, made mostly of Trebbiano. Oxidative, herbal, fresh, delicious. And $34 on the wine list. Whoa!

Crabby Jack's in (just slightly out of, actually) New Orleans. Do you like a po'boy? I do. I had the half and half, with fried shrimp and oysters. Very good. My friend had roast beef. Whoa.

2006 Benoît Lahaye Champagne Millésime, $68, imported by Jeffery Alpert Selections. I haven't seen Lahaye's vintage wine in the states, ever. I drank the 2002 in Portland on the day that I met my good friend Peter Liem, back in August of 2008. Always wanted to be able to buy the wine here, and now Chambers Street has a few bottles. Whoa, the 2006 is drinking so well right now, such a silky texture, so well balanced, so graceful, and with such wonderful finesse, and such a skilled bit of blending. At this price, it is among the very best Champagnes available in NYC.

I used to make fish soup all the time. It's been two years now, I think, but I made fish stock from a black fish rack the other day, and then fish soup. Whoa, one of the best I've made, if I may say so. Made an aioli to go with it, with green garlic pounded to a paste with a mortar and pestle, and hot paprika. Tried a few different wines with it this week. Best was a Provence rosé, the 2011 Domane les Fouques Côtes de Provence La Londe, $18, Direct Import of Chambers Street Wines. On day two the wine has distinct licorice notes. Lovely.

I have a good friend who loves Bordeaux wines. He's younger than me, so it's not that he grew up in the glory days of Bordeaux. He just loves the wines, that's it. He likes to open one when I'm over for dinner, and he's gotten quite good at picking one that I might also enjoy. Recently it was the 1995 Calon Segur, whoa. Tobacco leaves, mellow, honestly a lovely wine. Very, very young, and also very enjoyable on this early spring evening.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Joe Dressner Honored

The other night, wine importer Joe Dressner was honored by a large group of his colleagues, clients, and friends. To be honored by the people who one actually works with - that is a very high honor. And it is well deserved in this case. Joe and his partners are creative and highly intelligent about the growers and producers they work with. Joe believes in wines that many people would dismiss as too hard to sell, too "weird," too esoteric. But they are fine and very fairly priced wines that in many cases inspire almost fanatical loyalty among their many fans, and they are here for us to enjoy because Joe and his partners staked everything on them.

As you already know if you follow Joe's blog or interact with him in the wine business, Joe is recovering from his second major brain surgery. As would be expected, he hasn't been gallivanting about town lately. It was great to see him the other night - everything is the same, I'm glad to report. Same sharp wit, same appreciation of good wine and food, same general attitude, same Joe. Mentally, anyway. I'm sure he feels like utter crap a lot of the time.

It was a great party. Lots of people turned up with interesting and fantastic bottles of Dressner wine. I'm talking about 1991 and 1992 (I think) Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet, several vintages of Clos Rougeard, including a phenomenal 1997 Saumur-Champigny Les Clos, 1997 and 2000 Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Cuvée Buster Les Monts Damnés, 2001 Houillon/Overnoy Savagnin, and more. Our gracious host made a vat of delicious mushroom and shrimp risotto. Some one recently back from Italy one brought a wonderful sausage. Some one else brought some lovely cheeses. Some one else smoked a wagyu brisket. Another guy wore a special shirt.

Thank you Joe, for the many years of work you've done to make it so that I can buy and share world class wines with my friends and family. I, and I'm sure all of my readers (except that woman at a tasting who you wouldn't allow to try the Ulysse Collin after she said the Larmandier-Bernier was too dry) wish you improved health and comfort in the coming years. We're glad that you're here with us!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

On Wine Glasses

I have a lot of wine glasses, but they are mismatched, as I have broken many over the years. I have three Ravenscroft glasses, for example, that I use for Cabernet Franc and Syrah. I had four but I broke one. I replaced it one day before hosting a dinner in which I knew that an old Bordeaux would be served, but I have since broken another one. I had two of those enormous Riedel Burgundy glasses - BrooklynLady and I were given them as a gift for our wedding. I broke one while cleaning it, as the stem simply decided that it needed separation from the bowl. Then a friend gave me his two to babysit while he lives out of the country, so now there are three. Things break, such is life. I find myself using basic Schott Zwiesel white wine glasses for all white wine and most Champagne, and for Beaujolais too. I don't often use the few great glasses that I have because they are large and very fragile and I don't have a good track record regarding their safety.

Do the aromas and flavors of wine show differently in different types of wine glasses? This is a question that in and of itself can annoy some people. I can understand the annoyance factor, as this is a topic is too often discussed in a snobby way. By snobby, I mean that the tone used in writing or talking is dismissive and condescending, or can make people feel as though the knowledge required to appreciate differences in glassware is unobtainable. This is a shame because unlike the art of pairing wine with food, which is also too often discussed snobbishly, and in which I would argue that there is no absolute correct answer and in which creativity and personal preferences are key, there is a science to making good wine glasses. Some wine glasses simply are better than others.

I'm not saying that wine cannot be enjoyed unless the proper glass is used - that's obviously rubbish. We all have our stories about a simple white in glass tumblers at a seaside restaurant, and rosé out of paper cups in the park on a sunny day with friends. That is soulful stuff and what I am saying does not preclude loving those experiences. I am saying, however, that certain glasses do bring out the best in a wine, and experiencing this firsthand can be compelling.

The other night three friends and I had dinner and drank several great wines. Clearly this was an occasion to break out the best glasses. One of the wines I served was the utterly excellent 2001 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Champeaux, $65, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Unfortunately I had only three Riedel Sommelier Series Burgundy bowls, so I drank from a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass - no problem. But one of my friends surprised me by bringing another great Burgundy, the 1998 Claude Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques, price unknown, Robert Kracher Selections. I wanted to serve these wines together with one of the dishes we ate, so I needed 8 Burgundy glasses and had to use my "daily" Burgundy glasses, the Schott Zwiesel Tritan Burgundy bowls that I bought a while ago, and that so far have resisted breaking regardless of the abuse I regularly subject them to. We had several types of glasses on the table, and an unintended opportunity to compare them with these two great Burgundies.

The Riedel Sommelier Series Burgundy glass (about $100 each) is the insanely large one on the left. The Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass (prince unknown) is in the middle and the Schott Zwiesel Tritan glass ($10) is on the right. We didn't take notes or anything, but I can tell you that I absolutely loved the Fourrier wine in my Schott Zwiesel glass, with its beautiful stone floor and graceful dark fruit, and its striking sense of harmony. And then I tried it using one of the Riedel Sommelier Series glasses and it honestly was a different wine, and it was even better. In the larger glass more complex gamy notes emerged, and the wine seemed to be even more layered and complete. I loved the wine, and I'm sure I would love it from any vessel, but it was better out of the Riedel Sommelier Series glass. From the Oregon Pinot Noir glass the wine for some reason showed more alcohol on the nose and on the palate.

Thanks to my mismatched wine glass collection, we were able to repeat this experiment with 2001 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeaux, $45, Louis/Dressner Selections and several different glasses meant for Cabernet-based wines, and again the large Riedel Sommelier Series glass (I have only one) brought out the very best in the wine (which is fantastic, in any glass).

So what does this all mean? For me, it means that I will start using my best glasses on a daily basis with any wine, including and especially my daily $15 wines. They help to bring out the best in a wine - why shouldn't I use them? If they break, they break. Drinking wine from another glass when I have these superior glasses just sitting there is akin to purposely forgoing part of a great experience. And I might even spring for two of those expensive but supposedly phenomenal Riedel Sommelier Series Champagne glasses, although I would bet the under on my keeping them intact for at least 6 months.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Domaine Filliatreau, Saumur-Champigny

In the way that the general wine drinking public under-values Loire red wines, I think that us Loire lovers under-value the wines of Domaine Filliatreau. In Saumur-Chamigny, it's easy to pay attention to the great wines of Clos Rougeard and to ignore everyone else. My favorite producer in Saumur-Champgny, outside of Clos Rougeard, is Domaine Filliatreau. The wines deliciously express terroir and are modestly priced.

Filliatreau's is a large estate and there are many wines produced. Not all of these wines make it to the US, and those that do make it here are not widely available. They are worth looking for, though, particularly the two top wines, Grand Vignolle and Saumur-Champigny Vieille Vignes. And it is these two that I very rarely see, at least in the retail shops that I frequent. I love the Vieille Vignes, but the last vintage that I've seen here is 2005 -that was two years ago. I drank a lot of 2005 Grand Vignolle, didn't love the 2006, never saw the 2007, and liked the 2008 a year ago at a Dressner tasting.

I haven't seen Grand Vignolle on retail shelves in almost 2 years, but I am happy to tell you that Chambers Street is selling the 2007 right now, and the wine is in New Jersey too - who knows where else. If you like Cabernet Franc from the Loire and you haven't tried this wine, you honestly should make a point of buying this. I promise you, you will not be disappointed. If you are, email me and I'll send you a check*.

La Grand Vignolle is a large set of vineyards that runs alongside the Loire River in Saumur-Champigny. The vineyards are on a large hill of Tuffeau and other rock, and there are caves, and even houses built right into the stone. The vines for this wine are about 40 years old and the wine is typically intense and expressive without being too weighty.

2007 Domaine Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grand Vignolle, $18, Louis/Dressner Imports. This is great wine! Right out of the wine fridge, it is all about cool dark fruit flavors and floral aromatics. As the wine warms, the iron and metal minerality takes over the bass line and the nose begins to show graphite and tobacco tones. Perfectly balanced and completely delicious, there is no shame in drinking this all up now. But the quiet old vine intensity, the substance that emerges in the mid-palate, the strong acidity...these things make me determined to put a couple bottles away for a few years.

*By "check," I mean a note of apology.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Handsell

Some wines sell themselves. Consumers know about and want these wines, and do not require any discussion with sales staff in order to buy. Not being in the business myself, I don't know for sure which wines these are, but I'm guessing things like high end Bordeaux, cheap Malbec or rosé, or most any California wine in the $20 and under price range.

Then there are wines that simply will not sell without some special urging. Think of the customer that walks in and says "I want a dry white wine and I don't want to spend more than $20." If left to their own devices, are they going to decide on Clos des Briords? I don't think so. The bottle is shaped funny, and what the heck is Muscadet anyway? Actually, Clos des Briords and particularly a wine like Granite de Clisson are probably not good examples here because they also sell themselves. To a far more limited audience than high end Bordeaux, let's say, but there are people (count me as one) who anticipate Granite de Clisson the same way others anticipate Bordeaux futures.

Think back to the days when you were in the early stages of learning about wine. If you wandered into a retail store, would you have picked out a bottle of $24 Granite de Clisson? If that's the bottle you got, it's more likely that you would have told one of the staff about some of the other things you enjoy drinking, and that person might have asked you "Well, have you ever tried Granite de Clisson?" Five minutes later, after they helped you to develop some context for the wine, you bought it.

It's easy to forget that there are many wines that I love, you too probably, that require conversations like the one above before they sell. Entire categories of great wine - Beaujolais and Jura to name two. If you don't already drink those wines, even if you drink wine several times a week, who wanders into a retail store and picks out a $20 Morgon or a $29 Trousseau without help from the staff?

I guess this is why the stores that carry those wines tend to be the stores that employ intelligent and well-trained sales staff. How else can you move the wine? And make no mistake, as much as we all respect Clos Rougeard, it doesn't make sense to have $45 Saumur-Champigny sitting on the shelf for over a year. The wine has to move.

The other day I was in Astor Wines and I noticed a few bottles on the shelves by Henri Milan, a producer that I really like in Provence. I said to the wine buyer "Wow - I love Henri Milan wines, that's so great that you carry them." She said "yeah, I think they're great wines, but Henri Milan was in town last week and I had to get him in here to train my staff on how to sell them before I agreed to carry them."

This is Astor Wines, one of NYC's mecca's for great wine, and Henri Milan is, as she put is, "completely a hand sell." Makes sense I guess - the wines start at $25 for a VdP and go up to over $50 for his top wine, a gorgeous Syrah blend called Clos Milan. But the wine isn't one of the spectacularly popular Provence wines, like a Bandol for example. You have to know what it is before dropping $50 on Clos Milan, or $25 on the VdP, never mind $35 on the VdP white blend.

Last week I was hanging out with my friend Clarke who represents Neal Rosenthal's wines, and he poured me something that I had never heard of, a white wine from the Languedoc by Mas Jullien, the 2006 Mas Jullien Vin de Pays de l'Hérault. (sorry for the rough photo, but it was taken with a blackberry) I was immediately captivated by this wine. It had been open for almost 2 days and it was showing great balance, an expressive and expansive nose of dark floral and wet stone aromatics, bright fresh fruit that was completely infused with flowers, and that elusive (among Languedoc whites, anyway) combination of richness and intensity with lean texture and energy on the palate. Truly delicious wine, something I would love to explore further at home with dinner.

You might have noticed that I didn't give the price of the wine, and that's because as far as I know, no one sells it. Clarke says that perhaps 25 cases come in each year, and so far, only restaurants buy it. When I asked why no retailers have bought it he said "This is the ultimate hand-sell - an over $30 white wine from the Languedoc."

I guess there are hand-sells on the importer/distributor side of the business too. There are hand-sells everywhere, come to think of it. I need to think about this more, but it occurs to me that most of the interesting and good things in life are hand-sells.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tales from the Dressner Portfolio Tasting

It was more like a festival - think Cannes, Burning Man, or Fashion Week, perhaps the G8 Summit. People came from all over the world to participate. Deals were struck, friends and enemies gained, and the powerful giant that is Louis/Dressner Selections showed the world that there is no such thing as a recession when it comes to the world of fine wine. At least two heads of state showed up - President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada enjoyed light conversation while tasting through the Clos Roche Blanche wines. P-Diddy made an appearance, as did Martha Stewart. Wine bloggers, writers, and wine bulletin-board junkies from as far away as San Francisco, North Carolina, and Wall Street made the pilgrimage to this, the Mecca of industry tastings.

Dressner did cut a few corners this year, for example by refusing to hire staff for the tables and thereby forcing wine makers from small villages scattered throughout the Loire Valley to travel all the way to NYC to pour the wines themselves. Speaking of the insatiable drive to maximize profits, I heard all sorts of juicy rumors, including this blockbuster, which I have not yet confirmed but is good enough to share anyway: Louis/Dressner, in what can only be described as a corporate attack, is attempting to buy controlling shares in Savio Soares Selections and Jenny & François Selections, thereby consolidating his control over the natural wine selecting industry. As a consumer, I hope this rumor proves false, as although I admire and respect Joe Dressner, even he cannot be trusted to wield such power generously.

I had a great time seeing everyone and being part of the spectacle. I tasted a load of wine, including new vintages from familiar producers and a few things that were brand new to me. I won't bore you with notes on everything I tasted, but here are some of the things that stood out for me:

I love the Saumur-Champignys from Domaine Filliatreau. The entry-level cuvée (I've seen it called Saumur-Champigny Cuvée Printemps, Chateau Fouquet, and simply, Fouquet) is an excellent wine that delivers the same quality as Bernard Baudry's entry level wine Les Granges, but in a different style. Filliatreau's is a lighter wine that emphasizes juicy freshness and fruit. The nose on the 2007 Fouquet, about $17, is very floral and the palate has an appetizing meatiness - it is delicious wine. If forced to choose, I would buy the 2008 Chateau Fouquet, with its bright nose of red fruit and a clean, energetic, and ripe palate. This is not complicated wine, nor does it seem to be a good candidate for the cellar, but it is perfect in its simplicity. And at about $17, it's money well spent. A few bucks more buys the 2008 La Grande Vignolle, price unknown but probably about $20, a wine made from old vines in the huge Grande Vignolle vineyard. This wine drinks well young but also does well with some bottle age. I loved the 2005, not as much the 2006, never saw the 2007, and now we have the 2008. I thought it was great, with a mineral imbued darkly fruited nose, very clean, and a deeply fruited palate with grainy texture and firm tannins that will support more than a few years in the cellar.

In other Saumur-Champigny news, the 2005 Clos Rougeard wines were very impressive. I was worried that they would be inky black and impenetrable, but they weren't. The 2005 Le Clos was wide open and ready to go, crystal clear and with beautiful fruit. I loved the dried roses I was getting on the back of the nose, and the wine had such good depth and length. I would have a hard time keeping my hands off of this, if I owned any. But that's the problem - these wines get tougher and tougher to own every year. This wine is now about $65 here on the east coast. I'm not saying that it isn't worth the money, but it has definitely crossed into a different zone, price-wise. The 2005 Les Poyeux was more dense, darker, very rich, much earthier, and clearly needs lots of time. But it was also very beautiful, and at about $85, is probably worth the extra $20 if you are forced to pick one. Le Bourg was not shown. How I wish I was buying these wines 8 years ago when they cost something like $30 a piece!

I've had the 2007's from Bernard Baudry before, and I still think they're fantastic. The 2007 Cuvée Domaine is maybe the finest red wine that I know of at $18. 2007 Clos Guillot at about $30 is so graceful and elegant, but with such deep fruit. The vines are young but the wine feels wise and centered, and it has the tannins and intensity to age well. This was my first time tasting the 2007 Croix Boissée, about $35, and I liked it very much. It is deeply perfumed, and the palate is rich and complex. It confused me, though, how much I noticed the oxidative style of the wine - it hasn't been so clear to me in the past. Perhaps the 2007 shows it more pronouncedly, or perhaps I am getting better at noticing it. But the wood influence shows itself here, not in an oaky aroma or flavor, but in the way the oxidization that happens in barrels makes the wine stands apart from the others in the lineup. It is excellent wine, but I think I need to open a bottle at home and see what's what. I might be some one who now prefers Les Grézeaux, we'll have to see.

Okay, this post is too long already, so more Tales from the Dressner Portfolio Tasting will come soon.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Loire Chenin Blanc Wine Dinner

I'm in a really great wine group now, and great ones are hard to find, trust me. This is a great one because the people are intelligent, easy going, and excellent company. And because our wine tastes are quite diverse. And also because we came up with a nice system for running the group. We rotate as hosts and the host provides everything. All the wine, all of the food, everything. The host picks a theme and decides how to explore that theme.

I like this system because it allows the host lots of freedom but also gives them lots of responsibility when it's their turn. It's also an egalitarian system - the host who feels flush can select 2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru wines as the theme. The host whose employer is requesting a 20 Billion dollar bailout from the Feds, and who is not feeling flush, can select Muscadets young and old as the theme. Although vastly different in necessary expenses, both themes are fantastic in the hands of our capable hosts.

We've had a great time so far but I haven't been writing about it because, frankly, who wants to invite someone for dinner knowing that the dinner and wine will be dissected in a forthcoming blog post? When I host, I'm allowed to write about it. Recently it was our turn to host wine group and I chose Loire Chenin Blancs as the theme. I looked through my "cellar" and decided to go with the following wines:

2004 François Pinon Vouvray Brut (Magnum)

2005 Huët Vouvray Sec Le Mont
2002 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon
2000 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé (by generous gift of Joe Dressner, just for this dinner)

2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert
2002 François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition
1996 François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance

1998 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume

I went with roast striped bass with oyster mushrooms for the dry wines and a pheasant pâté plate of sorts, including a dollop of home made quince paste, for the off-dry wines. Pear and honey cake for dessert. It pretty much turned out okay.
This night for me was further proof for me that the Loire Valley offers truly profound white wines at reasonable prices. Overall, the wines showed fantastically well. The exceptions for me were the Pinon wines - the Brut was fine but the 2002 Vouvray Tradition was just no good. Other people liked it, so it's just my opinion, but I found the seaweed/dried mushroom umami aromas to be extremely off-putting. And the 2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert, one of my favorite demi-secs of the vintage, was in an awkward and closed phase on this night.

Here are some quick notes on the wines:

The Pinon Vouvray Brut was fine and lots of fun out of magnum, but objectively it just wasn't special wine. Other than H
uët's, I have yet to be truly wowed by any Loire sparkling wine, I must say.

The dry wines were fantastic, each with its own distinct personality. The Huët ($26 in early 2007, decanted 3 hours ahead) was the most delicate of the three, and although it was lovely during the dinner, it was utterly gorgeous the next day. Makes sense - the dry wines need time to develop. The Closel wine ($24 a few years ago) was in my opinion at the peak of drinking. Perfectly mature at only 6 years old (odd for a Savennières, but whatever), it was full of waxy ripe fruit, herbal, honey, and mineral flavors. Beautiful stuff. And the Clos Rougeard (over $60), which I decanted almost 6 hours ahead of time, was incredibly deep, although even with the decant, painfully young and during the actual dinner, not all that approachable. It's funny because about a half hour after decanting it was pretty fantastic. It goes through phases I guess. I wish I had saved some for the next day.

The weakest flight was the off-dry wines, although the 1996 Cazin ($26) was, for me, the wine of the night. And this is an interloper, a wine made from the Romorantin grape, not a Chenin Blanc. So sue me. It was gorgeous and completely harmonious, really in a great place. Mature and regal nose of ripe fruit with some interesting petrol and earthy notes. The palate was perfectly balanced with great depth of fruit and a great vein of acidity, and there was real viscosity here - this is dense without being heavy, long without being ponderous, just elegant and deep wine. Although I am not a fan of the 2005, my commitment to cellaring my '02s and '04s is renewed.

The 1998 Baumard Quarts de Chaume ($39) showed very well too. Incredibly beautiful nose of ripe orchard fruit, dripping with mineral intensity, and so fresh and youthful. This wine has a long life ahead of it. On the palate it's a wash of apricot and herbal honey supported by crackling acidity, loads of minerals, and a finish that lingers and changes, becomes pleasingly bitter. This wine had a cleansing effect on the palate, so different from most of the dessert wines I come across.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dressner Portfolio Tasting Notes

So after the hard and wonderful work of the Terry Theise Portfolio tasting, we rushed over to the east side for Louis/Dressner tasting. There was simply no way to taste everything, even if this were the only tasting of the day. There were 250 wines, and I don't know about you, but I can't thoughtfully taste more than about 50 wines in one session.

I had to narrow the field, and so very sadly, I decided to taste mostly the new vintages of old and familiar wines. The Italian wines - I didn't taste 'em. Wines of the Savoie - didn't taste 'em. Burgundy, Jura, and Muscadet...nope.

Did I taste anything, you might be wondering, or did I just mingle with the wine stars? Oh, I tasted, buddy, and some great wine at that. I went for the Bubbles, the Beaujolais, the Cab Franc, and the Chenin Blanc. I had an hour - that's all I had time for.

First, I have to tell you about the 20 year table. In honor of their 20th anniversary, the Dressner folk dug into the cellar and set out a load of wines from their inaugural vintage. How thoughtful is that? And what a great opportunity for those of us (like me) who haven't tasted many of these wines with bottle age. I missed some of these wines, much to my dismay. Breton's Bourgueil Perrières, Chateau d'Oupia Cuvée les Barons, Pepière Clos des Briords...gone. And the Clos Rougeard Le Bourg - corked (but even so the fruit was young and lovely). The 1988 Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon was complex and beautiful, and the Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert and the Pinon Vouvray Moelleux were great too. And as far as I know, 1988 wasn't a particularly great vintage - just a normal working class year in the Loire Valley. I'm more determined than ever to let my bottles sleep in peace...

Bubbles first, and what bubbles! Larmandier-Bernier wines are so different from the wide open style of much of the Theise portfolio. These wines are not generous, they are cautious and they'll hold back on you. There is nothing similar in style in the Theise portfolio except maybe Gimonnet, and those wines, if I may say so, do not have comparable depth or focus. These are piercing wines of great definition, and they can seem like turtles, just their head visible underneath all of that shell.

The Blanc de Blancs was opened as I was standing there and needed time to come together. But this bottle of Terre de Vertus showed better than any other I've tasted - richly fragrant with broad mineral flavors and ripe fruit. A memorable wine, and well worth the price (about $75). The 2004 Vieille Vignes de Cramant was focused and lovely with floral notes, although quite closed. There was no Rosé de Saignée left, which is tragic, as I have never tasted this legend of a wine.

Right near the Bubbly table sat two unattended bottles of Dard et Ribo white wine, both from 2006, a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc and a Saint-Joseph Blanc. I've never tasted a Dard et Ribo wine but I'd heard very good things, and these were better than very good. Fresh and pure with beautiful fruit and floral aromas, and great texture - voluptuous without that viscosity that find distracting in white Rhone wines.

Next was Beaujolais. This is such an impressive aspect of the Dressner portfolio. We're talking about many of the finest producers - Desvignes, Descombes, Brun, Tête, and Roilette, all at the same table. The wines that I liked the most on this day were the 2007 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie for its grace and purity of fruit, and the 2006 Desvignes Morgon Côte du Py for its depth and brambly intensity. There were many other excellent wines, but these are the two that I wanted to take those home with me.

The 2006's from Chidaine are quite good, although if you're used to the 2005's they will seem light. The 2006's are probably typical and the 2005's are probably extra rich and intense. My favorite was the 2006 Clos Habert, a demi-sec wine that I also love in 2005. The 2007 Pinon Vouvray Cuvee Silex Noir is just a great wine too, and a very good value at about $25. It was the temperamental 2006 Anjou Blanc from Agnès et René Mosse that I liked best of the current Chenin Blancs, with rich fruit on top of a pool of minerals, and a great underlying streak of acidity. At about $23, this is another excellent value. Rich enough to drink with a hangar steak, relaxed enough to enjoy with a bowl of vegetable soup.

I took a brief Burgundy excursion at this point and tasted through the Philippe Pacalet wines. Pacalet has a cellar in Beaune proper and buys grapes from various growers, often tending the plots himself. His wines are made in the classic style, focusing on purity, grace, and expression of terroir (read - not overly extracted and dark). Although these are not among my favorite red Burgundies, tasting Pacalet's 2006's was as fine a lesson in terroir of the Côte de Nuits as I've ever had. The Nuits-St-Georges was earthy and had wild game on the nose. The Pommard was muscular and dense, almost a bit clunky. The Gevrey-Chambertin was also muscular but with higher toned fruit. The Chambolle-Musigny was silky and more elegant. The Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Perrieres (about $125) was in my opinion the finest of the lineup with great depth and intensity to compliment the ripe fruit and the firm structure. The Chambolle-Musigny was, as advertised, silky and more elegant.

And last for me were the great Loire reds, and what a way to end the day. I'm talking about Breton, Baudry, Raffault, Filliatreau, Clos Roches Blanches, and Clos Rougeard. I think the 2007 Baudry Les Granges is the best Les Granges since 2004. My first time tasting the 2006 Croix Boisée and I'm not sure where I stand. It had nice fruit, but it was so tannic and muddled that I couldn't decide whether or not I would buy it for myself. I need to taste this again. I was super impressed with how well the Raffault wines showed - all of them. The 2005 Chinon Les Picasses was ripe and expressive, but restrained and elegant too, and complex with herbal and earthy flavors. And under $25. The 2002 was a bit more awkward at this stage, but also shows elegance and balance to go along with the silky fruit. The 1990 was gone, but the 1989 was smooth and well balanced, and seemed quite youthful, nothing secondary about it.

All three Clos Rougeard wines were excellent - 2004 was an under appreciated year for red wine in the Loire, I think. Le Clos, the "entry level" wine, was ripe and delicious, and all elbows and knees right now. And by the way, this wine now costs about $60. Les Poyeux used to cost $50. These wines have become too expensive for most of us, sadly, as they represent some of the finest red Cabernet Franc wine from anywhere. Les Poyeux was delicious and oddly more accessible than Le Clos, and Le Bourg was your high school friend's huge but gentle older brother, more into math than football.

An amazing tasting that showcased the work that Louis/Dressner has done over the past 20 years to bring natural wines to the US. Next year if I am invited, I don't care if Barack Obama's white house tasting is the same day, I'm spending the day with Dressner.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Clos Rougeard...if I Ever Go Back

BrooklynLady and I went to France together for the first time in October of 2005. We went to the Loire Valley and our plan was to see the various villages, and Tours, of course, but also to feast on the wonderful food and wines of the region. And I am happy to report that we were successful on all fronts.

That said, if I could do it all over I would go about visiting wine estates differently. And since another trip doesn't seem so likely in the near future, as our daughter is too little and so is our currency, I make do with imagining places I would visit if I ever go back to the Loire Valley.

One such estate, without any question, no matter what mood I am in, whether I can choose three estates to visit or 20, is Clos Rougeard in Saumur-Champigny. Sadly, I learned about Clos Rougeard after our trip, while bored at work one day and surreptitiously reading Jack and Joanne's piece on Fork and Bottle. And I learned a bit more from reading the Dressner Selections tidbits.

Here are the basics: Clos Rougeard is two brothers, Nadi and Charles Foucault. The Saumur-Champigny estate has been in their family for a few generations. They farm organically (but not biodynamically), keep yields quite low, allow long and slow ferments in oak barrels, and do not fine (use an agent such as egg whites to attract and remove small particles from the wine, thereby clarifying it) or filter (further straining of wine to remove particles) the wines. I am totally guessing here, but I am willing to wager that naturally occurring yeasts on the grapes initiate fermentation. In other words, these guys tend their vineyards with great skill and love, and vinify their grapes using a minimal interventionist, natural wine making philosophy.

There are four Clos Rougeard wines, three reds and a white. The white is called Breze and is 100% Chenin Blanc. I have never tasted this wine - it retails at over $70 and I just haven't gone there yet on a Chenin. If I were ever to spend that kind of dough on a Chenin, it would be either this wine or a Joly Coulée de Serrant. The "entry level" red is called simply Saumur-Champigny, and is raised in neutral barrels. This retails for approximately $35. Then there is Les Poyeux which is raised in a small percentage of new barrels and the rest in once used barrels. This goes for about $55. The top wine is called Le Bourg, and sees all new barrels, and will run you at least $75. This is assuming you can find the wine - it is quite rare. From what I understand, though, it is actually easier to buy these wines here in America than in France, where they have achieved cult status and are virtually impossible to find. You can buy the 2003 Le Bourg right this second, if you wish, from Chambers Street Wines.

Here's another thing about Clos Rougeard wines - although they are enjoyable when young, the esteemed David Lillie, one of the owners of Chambers Street, says that they improve tremendously with age. As he put it, "they really get interesting after about 10 years." So this is an investment, not just in the Burgundy type of cash, but also in cellar space. Well worth it, in my book. Clos Rougeard represents an opportunity to own probably the finest example of a certain type of wine, in this case Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. If you spend $55 on a Burgundy, are you definitely getting the finest example? Bordeaux? Don't be ridiculous. Of course not.

Had I used this kind of thinking a few years ago I would have purchased and cellared some of the 2002 Le Bourg. 2003 is out now but I hear it might not be worth the $ - just too tough of a vintage with th intense heat and all. I'll wait for 04. But I do have a little vertical of Les Poyeux going, which I am really psyched about.

One thing I have noticed about the wines is that they all seem pretty reductive upon opening - they smell like sulfur or other such things as a result of being kept airtight and not exposed to oxygen at all, allowing bad smelling compounds like hydrogen sulfide to form. These smells blow off with exposure to oxygen, but it can be disconcerting when opening the bottle, if you're not expecting it. Weather the storm, folks, because the purity of the fruit, the clean, freshness of it, the voluptuousness...I've not found its equal in Cabernet Franc.

I know I'm supposed to wait, but in 2007 I sampled two of the wines and one of them was pretty mind blowing, the other just plain old excellent. Here are notes I've saved from each of the four Clos Rougeard wines I have had, all over dinner:

2000 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (tasted in August, 2007). Lots of smoke on the nose when first open, then some animal fur. After a little while open the aromas are beautiful and complex with animal fur, dried roses, and fresh berries. The palate is nowhere near as complex, but it is pure and clean with fresh red fruit. A delicious wine.

2001 Saumur-Champigny (tasted in September, 2007). Seriously funky barnyard upon opening. After 20 minutes this blew off to reveal pretty floral and berry aromas, and some smoky minerals too. Great purity of flavors, very fresh and clean. Sweet berry fruit mixed with fresh herbs and just a bit of meatiness. Light to medium body, but very powerful. Had this with braised short ribs and celeriac purée, and it stayed with me for days.

2001 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (tasted in September, 2006). A revelation! This wine is perfectly clear ruby right to the rims. 20-30 minutes after opening the pretty strong funky smell blew off to reveal light and pretty aromas of berries and herbs, with a little bit of vanilla. Well delineated and incredibly pure flavors, starting with fresh cherries and raspberries with great acidity, then a mid palate of earthy forest floor, and then a long finish bringing back the fruit, some spice, and some pleasant vegetal flavors. Just beautiful, and I can sense the beginnings of some cassis and tobacco Bordeaux-like aromas.

2001 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (enjoyed on new year's eve 2007). Decanted for 90 minutes, and still the wine evolved tremendously in the glass. Reductive when I first opened it. Lots of earthy animal stuff in the background, but the outstanding thing about this wine is the incredibly pure and perfumed fresh ripe fruit. It became a beautiful thing after 2 hours plus of air time. Absolutely mind blowing purity!

I have not had the cohones to open one of my two bottles of 2002 Les Poyeux, which is a good thing, as this should be an incredible wine. I will practice patience with them and my remaining bottle of 2001, I swear to you. And if I ever go back to the Loire Valley...