Here is a fun game I like to play when I go to wine country or when I hang out with other sommeliers/wine professionals. I like to ask each– their top 5 favorites of a wine category–whether it is Pinot Noir, regional Ligurian, unclassified Bordeaux, great values, or whatever they may insights into. Then from there, those that I don’t know, I start doing research on them.
It’s quick, fun & certainly a learning opportunity.
Here is a note from our dear wine friend, Bruce Neyers that really moved me. I thought you might want to read it too.
“Dixon reports on word just in from Thierry Allemand that Noël Verset died over this past weekend. Dixon called him, “A kind and gentle soul with a genie’s touch with the Syrah”.
Those of you who accompanied me on the early KLWM France trips will no doubt remember the tastings with Noël, on the packed earth floor of his ancient cellars in Cornas. His eyes twinkled like a fairy tale elf as he bounded up and down the ladder to draw samples out of the casks, some of them used for winemaking by his grandfather. I have one bottle of Noël’s Cornas left in my cellar. I plan to drink it next Saturday night, and think about this remarkable man who so changed my life. All of us who had a chance to meet him should take a moment and reflect on our good fortune. For those of you who might not have seen it, a few years ago I wrote a remembrance of my first meeting with Noël, on my 1993 Kermit Lynch trip to France with Ehren Jordan. I wanted to read it again while thinking of Noël, and I thought you might enjoy one last look at this remarkable man.
The World’s Greatest Syrah, and a Teardrop
I met Noël Verset in 1993, on my first trip to France for Kermit Lynch. Although he was then in his late seventies, he was still actively working the vines and making wine. Kermit had arranged a two-week trip for me to meet his growers; the itinerary that he laid out started in Alsace and ended 12 days later in Marseilles. My friend and former colleague, Ehren Jordan, had moved to France a few months earlier and was working for Jean Luc Columbo in Cornas. I was pleasantly surprised when Ehren offered to take some vacation time and join me for the trip. He said it would give him a chance to visit some other regions and taste a wide range of wines. I welcomed the prospect of another driver and especially an interpreter. After meeting at the airport in Strasbourg in early January, we traveled through France together — visiting many of Kermit’s suppliers and tasting their wines. I was learning as much as I could about the wines, their history, their production techniques, and any other details that would help me sell them.
After a short drive through Alsace, we continued on to Burgundy, then to Chalonnaise, Mâcon and Beaujolais. We entered the northern Rhône in Vienne. From Côte-Rôtie we drove to Condrieu. After stopping to visit a producer in St. Joseph, we drove on to Hermitage. All along this part of the route we tasted Syrah. In many places, we tasted Syrah like I had never tasted before, for we were in the home of that seductive wine. After a tasting with Gérard Chave, in Mauves, we drove on to Cornas for another visit, followed by dinner at a local hotel. Ehren was excited to return to Cornas; this was his new home. As the only American living in the region, he was a celebrity, well known by many of the locals. Everywhere we went, people would see his large white American car with its Pennsylvania license plates, and begin to wave at us enthusiastically. Since he didn’t want to be late for our appointment with Noël Verset, we sped through the tiny back streets of this ancient town. At the end of what seemed like a deserted alley, we parked the car and walked towards a sign noting the cellars of Noël Verset, Vigneron. We rang the bell and were immediately greeted by the short and cherubic Noël.
He was delighted to see Ehren. As I learned during our tasting, Noël’s wife of over 50 years had died four years before and, since his two daughters had long ago married and moved out of the area, he was living alone. Over the previous few months, he and Ehren had formed a close bond. Weekly, they prepared a dinner together and shared it, along with a bottle of wine, at Noel’s kitchen table. At one point, Noël confided in me that the meeting with Ehren had been important for him, coming as it did during a time when he was still trying to come to grips with the enormous grief he felt over the loss of his wife. We tasted several wines in his rustic cellars, then adjourned to the kitchen, where Ehren and Noël assumed their customary spots at the table. Before Noel sat down, however, he walked across the room and opened the door leading down to his frigid basement. Behind it stood a recently opened bottle of Verset 1988 Cornas.
The 1988 vintage in Cornas, as I was to soon learn, had been an especially good one. Knowing how much Ehren enjoyed this wine, Noël had set aside a bottle for us to drink while we sat and talked. In a few moments, he reached behind him and withdrew from the bookcase a large, plastic-covered photo album. Drawing a satisfying gulp of wine, he opened the book to the first page, careful to tilt it so that I could see the photo, a black and white of a strikingly attractive, slender woman in a bathing suit of the 1930’s, standing on a beach on a bright summer day. Her hair was wet, presumably from a dip in the Mediterranean, which could be seen behind her in the photo. Noël said that it was his wife, during a summer vacation they took in Cannes. She died, he said, in 1988, and whenever he drank a bottle from that vintage he liked to look at the old pictures of them, enjoying the early days of their life together.
With this, he slowly turned each page, and made a comment regarding when and where it was taken. Ehren translated for me. In a few minutes, I was transfixed, both by the magnificent wine and by this beautiful woman who was, sadly, no longer part of Noël’s life. He seemed cheerful, though, especially when talking about the photos. And then I noticed a drop of moisture as it fell from his eyes and splattered on the vinyl covering the photograph. I looked at him and saw his eyes full of tears. My eyes welled up, too.
Noël ran through the rest of the album quickly now, as his teardrops were coming a bit faster and the end of the bottle was in sight. With a final sigh, he closed the book, turned his back on us for a bit longer than he needed to, then turned back to face the table. He was entirely composed by then. I can’t remember if I was.
Noël looked at me, as he was taking a final sip of wine. “So what do you think of my 1988 Cornas?” he asked. I paused for a moment, composed myself, and replied, “I think it’s the greatest Syrah I’ve ever tasted.”
Bruce Neyers Kermit Lynch National Sales Office
I was greatly saddened to hear of Noël Verset’s passing this past weekend. He certainly was one of the world’s true, iconic winemaking masters.
Sometime in the 1980’s I became so intrigued, bordering obsessed, with a group of Syrah Masters from France’s northern Rhone Valley–Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz in Cote Rotie & Clape & Verset in Cornas. Each were imported at that time by Kermit Lynch. (To that, I later would add Trollat in St Joseph & Allemand in Cornas to the list). I am most thankful to Kermit for introducing me these wines.
In hindsight, I was very fortunate to be exposed to these masterful Syrahs before the meteoric rise to superstardom by Guigal & the sheer power of high Robert Parker ratings. I therefore understood what true, authentic, pure, artisan Syrah could be.
While I genuinely loved each of these producer’s wines, the Verset Cornas truly had a special place in my heart. Above all its attributes, they had soul. People would always point out ‘flaws” in the Verset wines to me, but I REALLY didn’t care, as the Verset wines went straight from my taste buds to somewhere deep inside of me. I therefore enjoyed them on SO many levels.
I remember reading somewhere Noël’s career in wine began in 1931, working alongside his father at the tender age of 12. I believe his first vintage under his own label was sometime in the 40’s. During his 70 plus year tenure, he was able to acquire great holdings on the Cornas hillside, including Champelrose, Chaillots & Sabarotte (the soul of his wines). Interestingly, though, from those iconic lieu dits, he still produced only one Cornas.
I started hearing rumors, of an impending retirement by Noël with the 1999 vintage. I was therefore thrilled to still get some 2000……then some 2003….& finally a smidgeon of 2006. During that time, I later discovered, he had been slowly selling off his parcels to people he chose to sell to, which included Allemand & Clape, yet still made some quantities of wine for “home use”.
One of the crazy side notes to this story, is that his wines were so reasonably priced, considering how hard the vineyards were to work because of their remarkable rockiness/steepness. Furthermore, how crazy is it that Guigal & Chapoutier were getting at least 10 times the price further north for their “fruit bombs”? My mind set was always I’ll gladly take 1 bottle of Verset for 1 bottle of Guigal, much less the going rate of 10 to 1!
Yes, I am sorry to say….the end of an era.
When one is looking for top echelon Cabernet, for most wine lovers Bordeaux, France or California’s Napa Valley would probably pop up first.
Makes sense. After all, Bordeaux has quite a long history of producing world-class Cabernet based red wines. The much “younger” Napa Valley, on the other hand, vaulted onto the world wine stage, when a bottling from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars finished first in the 1976 Paris Wine Exhibition blind, comparative tasting of Californian & Bordelaise Cabernet based red wines.
What most people do not know or remember is that the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon “SLV” was followed (in order) by 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, 1970 Chateau Montrose & then the 1971 Ridge “Monte Bello” in fifth place.
Back then, in the late 70’s, I didn’t even stop to think that the Monte Bello vineyard was not located in the Napa Valley. This iconic vineyard is actually located at somewhere between 2000 & 2600 feet elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation, near Cupertino, overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. I remember reading somewhere, that the vineyard is roughly 83.5 acres in size, spread out on 33 parcels on the hillside, (but not sure if this information is current today).
Makes you wonder why anyone would plant vines way up there on that remote, high elevation site? AND, it makes you wonder how could they have known the quality would be akin to Californian Grand Cru?
I’ve been fortunate to have tasted the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello a few times over the years & would wholeheartedly agree it is a standout wine.
Furthermore, just so you know, the 1971 Monte Bello was NOT a one vintage wonder for the winery either. Several other vintages–1968, 1970, 1971, 1977 (one of the very best Californians I have ever had), & later the 1981 & 1985 have also really stood out.
Another non-Napa Valley Californian Cabernet Sauvignon site which has stood out to me over the years is the Laurel Glen vineyard. Located at somewhere between 800 to 1000 feet in elevation atop Sonoma Mountain, it was originally 3 acres in size (today, listed at 16 acres in size), planted in 1968 to an unknown Cabernet vine selection, (which is today considered proprietary). Grapes from the earlier vintages were sold to Chateau St Jean & Kenwood. Patrick Campbell purchased the property in 1977 & produced his first commercial vintage with the 1981. Over the years since, Laurel Glen produced some very provocative, earth driven, more elegant, balanced Cabernets……some of my favorites over the years……AND, which got better with age (unlike many of its Californian peers). I was amazed, when the 1997 was released, as it was the very first Cabernet, Patrick (& co-winemaker Ray Kaufman) produced that was over the 14 degree alcohol mark. Patrick sadly sold the estate a few years back. Thankfully, I still have some older vintages stashed away somewhere.
When speaking of Sonoma born Cabernet Sauvignon, I also really have to mention those from Scherrer Winery & owner/winemaker Fred Scherrer. The grapes actually come from his father’s vineyard located on a bench above the Silver Oak planting in Alexander Valley. I am continually amazed at how elegant, classy, refined & wonderfully layered his Cabernets are. One could say, they are Cabs, crafted by a Pinot master. I am also amazed at how much better & more harmonious each get with some bottle age. Just know, Napa Valley Cab lovers, the Scherrer renditions display red fruit, not black fruit & deftly display a stony minerality rather than decadence & opulence.
A growing hotbed today for Cabernet Sauvignon in California is Paso Robles, which is located roughly halfway between San Francisco & Los Angeles. It seems the real sweet spot for this grape variety in the region is on the westside of Highway 101, amongst the rolling hills (& therefore hillsides) born of marine influenced, calcareous soils such as limestone & siliceous clay. People are now comparing these growing conditions more & more to Bordeaux’s St Emilion sub-region. The resulting wines therefore typically feature red fruit, rather than black fruit. In addition, what really initially caught my attention was the innate minerality underlying throughout the wine from beginning to end, which not only creates interestingness, but a fascinating buoyancy too. Where Justin Winery was the ground breaking pioneers back in the 80’s, it is becoming more apparent that today the Daou brothers star is really starting to shine brightly in the category of Paso Robles Cabernet based reds. There is sure much more to follow in the future, pending dealing with the area’s extreme water shortages the past several years.
I almost excluded mentioning the vast potential I believe there is in the Happy Canyon sub-appellation of Santa Barbara. Because it much further east, it is therefore much warmer than the other Santa Barbaran subregions. Coupled with more shale & gravel soils, this has the making for some very interesting potential. Keep an eye out. Happy Canyon’s time will come!
It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge. Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.
In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day. The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.
Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.
I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s. The Food & Beverage Director I was working with at that time was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955. I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it. (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then). I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages. But the experience was worth it nonetheless.
Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s. I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first. How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?
With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models. Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.
I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other. Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.
I can still say the same today.
I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family. In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe. I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.
Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened. On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.
As expected, I was amazed at the wine list. It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.
Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some wine. After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list! Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001. They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell. His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special. During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue. In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well. It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew. The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines. It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit. In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released. That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.
I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills. That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink. Why? Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple. 11 years old, $75….even more so. Thanks Gary!!!!
So, that bottle didn’t last very long! The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively. Ok, let’s order bottle #2. 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”. This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night. Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation. This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots. Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up. It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that. Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured. I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time. Be patient. It will be worth the wait, believe me.
That bottle was also emptied far too quickly. Ok, one last bottle. We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, also $62.50!!!! Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots. Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character. As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.
I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming. Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way. There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.
If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!
Here are some interesting wines we recently tasted.
Vinho Verde Branco–no frills packaging & finished with a screw cap. VERY value driven wine from Portugal, which is certainly apropos for hot weather sipping. PLUS, the price point is crazy good! (I wonder how, considering the cost of the screw cap, label, bottle, box, shipping, tax, etc???? The wine is fresh, FIZZY, lower in alcohol (& therefore has residual sugar/sweetness), tasty & VERY refreshing. There is a star fruit pungency (later as it warmed up–an almost cactus/almost stagnant flower vase water smell) with a lime zest edge. Still, it over delivers for the dollar on the palate. 85% loureiro, 7.5 trajadura, 7.5% arinto.
Fulget Albarino—I really thought the Albarino category was supposed to explode in popularity years ago. I am still waiting. I think at least part of the problem is the scarcity of really tasty, interesting options. Over the years, there are in fact only 2 from Spain, which I buy. I almost dread when someone today, asks me to taste an albarino. Such was the case for this tasting. Interestingly, I initially preferred a Portuguese alvarinho & another alvarinho blend, which preceeded this wine. It has some of the perfume & minerality I typically hope for, but I initially found it hard & not too delicious with some bitterness in the finish. After, however, tasting some red wines & coming back to this wine, I appreciated it more. This is the one of 3 albarino’s from the house of Major I preferred.
Rol de Coisas Antigas Bairrada Tinto–quite masculine, dusty, earthy, rustic with juicy, ripe fruit, good weight…..certainly much more intriguing & interesting than so many of the correct, rather soul-less wines we often run across. 35% baga, 25% castelao, 10% alfronchera, 10% tricadeira, 5% bastardo, 5% souzao, 10% tinta prinheira.
Conceito Bastardo–surprisingly light in color, with wonderful perfume–floral, red fruit, earth, exotic spice, rustic edges, masculine & musky….yet surprisingly delicious & seamless on the palate. 100% Bastardo.
Casa da Passarella Dao Tinto–such a pretty, intriguing nose & perfume. Lots of red fruit with spice, earth, rusticity & musky. Masculine yet suave, seamless with surprising refinement. Quite a value! 20% tinto roriz, 40% touriga nacionale, 20% alfrocheira, 20% jaen (aged 8 months ijn French oak)
This was yet another opportunity to get together with some of the Islands’ top, young sommeliers, for all to share insights, wines & experiences. It is always a fabulous time, to say the least.
2009 & 1999 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”—we started this blind tasting with a pair of Scherrer Zinfandels. Why? First of all, I was looking to reiterate right out of the gates, the concept of what a “good” wine is. I think the Scherrer Zins are some of the VERY best out of California. Furthermore, stylistically, they are very unique–much more elegant & suave (a style REALLY catching on right now…..tagging along the “In Pursuit of Balance” theme seen with Pinot Noir) without taking away from the vinosity & spice associated with this grape variety. In addition, we chose to pour an old & a younger one….actually 10 years apart. Quite a fascinating comparison. As one taster pointed out, the 1999 had much more intricacy & I felt it also showed more vinosity. In both cases the wines were stellar.
Birichino Malvasia Bianca–with this wine, I just wanted to again reiterate to younger wine professionals the growing importance “aromatic” grape varieties can play on the “pairing with fusion foods” front. This wine can work with an amazingly wide array of fusion foods.
2008 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard”—here was another opportunity to take tasters out of their “comfort zone” & reiterate what a “good wine” could be. It had mesmerizing minerality, wonderful intensity & concentration, flowed very evenly, seamlessly & completely on the palate & was not over oaked, bitter or alcoholic. Furthermore, since many less experienced tasters are more familiar with New World wines (& their profiles), I thought it would be fun to show them a New World wine which was more Old World in profile & style. Furthermore, this wine is only 13.5 degrees in alcohol, naturally, AND the generous amounts of new oak used in its winemaking, to me, is necessary to really frame it. I think tasters were really shocked to see this was Californian. Hopefully, this will be a spring board for tasters to imagine the possibilities.
2012 Dupeuble Beaujolais–This family has been at this for over 500 years! And, while the “trophy” wines get the acclaim & accolades, I think it is at least equally important that we celebrate & appreciate authentic, typical, incredibly food friendly “country” styled wines like this. I therefore believe we need to develop a separate rating scale for these kinds of wines with the criteria being–deliciousness, typicity, lightness, food friendliness & gulpability. if that were the case this wine would be a 100 pointer! Furthermore, I am hoping others will learn to relish the authencity, artisanal, more sustainable approach this family passionately delivers year after year. I would hate to see these kinds wines on some “endangered” category of wines.
2012 Maxime Magnon “La Demarrante”–I poured this wine to remind all of the huge puka that exists between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon. It is wines like this that could deftly create a step ladder between the 2. Maxime was born & raised in Burgundy. Given how pricey the land is in his neck of the woods, however, he settled down in Corbieres of southern France & has chosen to work with patches of old vine Carignane instead. Furthermore, this is a winery & winemaker/owner who truly champions sustainability both in the vineyard as well as the winery….to the point of being regarded as radical in his early days. Having worked stints with Didier Barral in Faugeres & Jean Foillard in Morgon, one can readily see both influences in Magnon & his winemaking, which captures the rusticity of the remote, wild countryside where the vines grown, done with purity, deliciousness, food friendliness & gulpability.
2001 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau“–over the years, I have had both hits & misses with the Grenache grape variety. Having said that, there are 2 wineries which perennially produce “tour de force” red wines, predominately Grenache. Vieux Telegraphe is, for me, at the top of the list…..& therefore, this 2001 will provide yet another benchmark for other Grenache based red wines to be measured by. Furthermore, here was an opportunity to remind tasters of that thought AND, at the same time, show yet another example of a wine which can help fill the void between Pinot & Cabernet.
2008 Follin-Arbelet Aloxe Corton—it really is getting harder & harder to keep up with all of the new hot shots popping up in Burgundy. Furthermore with the ever increasing price tag of top caliber red Burgundy, professional wine buyers also need to consider the quality versus price deliverance of each wine. Here was, therefore, an opportunity to show tasters a more traditionally styled red Burgundy, which over delivers for the price tag. Plus, while the 2008 vintage was only lukewarmly received, I love the purity, elegance & refinement of wines like this.
1996 Francois Jobard Blagny “La piece sous la bois”–Here was an opportunity to remind tasters how pure, more much feminine, ethereal & refined the Pinots from the Cote de Beaune can be……especially with some bottle age. Francois Jobard produces very traditional styled Burgundies. His son Antoine took over the domaine, I believe with the 2007 vintage. Sadly, this Pinot parcel has been replanted with Chardonnay. Yes, the end of an era.
2004 Cherisey Meursault Premier Cru “La Genellotte”–I wanted to again remind tasters of old style white Burgundy. Cherisey in located in the hamlet of Blagny, up at a higher elevation between the villages of Meursault & Puligny Montrachet. The grapes are therefore usually harvested 1 to 2 weeks later than the other, lower elevation vineyards of Meursault & Puligny Montrachet. Furthermore, because of the higher percentage of marl to the limestone & the more traditional winemaking, the resulting wines are much more stony in character & more masculine in style. Being 11 years in age, I was surprised how youthful this wine showed, but it certainly is quite a stand out! I am so glad some things don’t change.
2006 Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru “Ruchottes”–This was certainly done in a more flamboyant, en vogue style than the Cherisey & therefore attracted much more attention from the tasters. Classy, seamless, refined, suave, sophisticated, it was really eye catching (despite all of the fanfare of 2006 & its challenges in this area). Thank you to Sean for sharing this wine!
Dal Forno Romano & Quintarelli are the 2 iconic winemaking legends of Italy’s Veneto region, up in the northeast. As I once read somewhere, they produce “monster” Amarone red wines, which are not only very hard to get, but they are also quite pricey.
Interestingly, both producers also produce small amounts of insanely unctuous dessert styled passito wines when the conditions are right, which are even harder to get!
While Dal Forno produces a RED passito wine, named Vigna Seré (produced from mainly Corvina with some Rondinella, Coatina & Oseleta blended in & then aged for 36 months in new barrique), which he refers to as his crowning jewel…every now & then he also produces a white passito from mainly Gargenega with smaller amounts of Turbiana & Trebbiano Toscano blended in & then aged in barrique for 30 to 40 months. The 1997 is a decadently unctuous, thick elixir with all kinds of crazy, idiosyncratic nuances from white chocolate, vanilla bean creme brulee to marzipan, honey & beeswax. It really is as decadent as can be, & still so amazingly youthful. I cannot even begin to think what this wine will be like when it has a chance to resolve itself, not only in the residual sugar/sweetness front, but also what is preserved & hidden underneath, just waiting to emerge once the sweetness resolves.
“The rarest of all the Quintarelli wines—the current vintage is 2003 and the previous vintage was the 1990. It is named after a lost barrel that was hidden under food stores and undiscovered during a Nazi raid of the property during WWII. The barrel was discovered years later and the wine had aged beautifully“.
Just as Dal Forno & Quintarelli go head to head with their Amarone & Valpolicella wines, the battle continues with their passito wines. Amabile del Cerè is also mainly Gargenega with some Trebbiano Toscano & a smidgeon of Sauvignon Bianco, Chardonnay & Saorin. Typically, there is 30 to 40% noble rot & the wine spends 5 to 6 years in French oak. Yes, this is another amazing, completely decadent, rich, unctuous white wine.
When I am at the beach, I can smell the sand baking in the sun…….& the wet shrub behind me…..& the seaweed which has washed up on the shore. Interestingly, when I visit vineyards, I can smell the sun baked rocks, the wild shrub & herbs which surround the vineyard. That was the inspiration of this tasting. Here, then, are 4 wines which for me, smell of the countryside which surround the vineyard. It really is more than a romantic notion. Plus, I think each is a VERY unique & interesting wine in its own right. Just another really good opportunity to learn!
Collioure is a seaport village right on the Mediterranean, where the Pyranees Mountains dive into the multi blue hued sea. The finest sites are very steep, in fact too steep to use any type of machinery. The soil is sun baked rocky schist, which one can readily smell in the wine, much more predominantly than the vinous fruit of 35 to 70 year old vine Grenache.
2010 Domaine Vinci “Rafalot”
Vinci is a relatively new wine prodigy from the very remote, isolated, high altitude Agly Valley. They organically farm their 6 hectares & produce some very interesting wine. For me, their crown jewel is Rafalot, which is produced from 1 hectare of 100 year old vine Carignane. This is definitely a wine of the vineyard, as the roots have had time to dig down deep into the limestone base which lies underneath, & as wild as the desolate, remote countryside it calls home. Still, Rafalot has a deliciousness from the Carignane, which in combination with its wild streak makes it quite unforgettable. It took us a while to get this wine to the Islands, but we are thrilled it is finally here.
2009 Leon Barral “Jadis”
I first bought this wine with the 1993 vintage, mainly because I heard that Didier Barral took over at the helm. He had some real radical ideas of how he wanted to grow & craft his wines. The first few vintages were okay, but more importantly, one could see this project as headed in the right direction. There were, after that, a few vintages where the wines were too extreme & too radical. In the early 2000’s, the Jadis bottling was predominately Syrah based. While I am a huge fan of Syrah, in this case, I just wanted more. Well, we got more with the wines like the 2009, where old vine Carignane became the centerpiece for Didier to build from. The 2009 is in fact 50% Carignane & we love the results. Yes, the wine is still wildly rustic & certainly smells of the countryside, but now there is a deliciousness & a soulfulness to complete the picture. Bravo!!!
2013 Maestracci Calvi “E Prove”
We end this tasting with a wild & rustic Vermentino which is VERY much about the coutryside surrounding the vineyard on the Isle of Corsica. The estate vineyards are located on the granite plateau of Reginu in the foothills of Mounte Grossu. This is a pure, masculine styled white, which is much more about granite & countryside character than grape variety. Still, this wine is thankfully NOT overdone & is therefore a fascinating drink.