Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vinsobres: Home to fine wine and fewer inhabitants than some high schools have students.

 Many people have heard of, and tasted most likely, wine from the Cotes du Rhone Villages. For those looking for more geekdom and specificity, you can delve into any one of the 15 villages that may amend their name to a label in lieu of the lesser "Cotes du Rhone Villages." And this is where we come upon Vinsobres.

Vinsobres was only granted this legal right of slapping their name on a label in 2006, so as an appellation it is a relatively young wine. The highlights, as far as blending requirements go, say that wine from Vinsobres must contain 50% grenache, 25% of syrah and/or mourvedre, and the rest is up in the air.

The town is small, stunningly small, fewer than 1100 people and it is located in the Drome department of France. The landscape is picturesque, in that it is very reminiscent of scenes from Provence and the cuisine is about as reminiscent. Anisette and walnuts, olives and charcuterie, vegetables, honey, and truffles all play a role under the umbrella 'cuisine dauphinois' stretching from Provence to Savoie in some form or another... but look, now I'm rambling.

The wine from Domaine Chaume-Arnaud is a very good partner to just that cuisine. The grape blend is 60% grenache, 15% each of syrah and morvedre, with 5% each of carignan and cinsault. Grenache is the most prominent component as it reveals itself with dark ripe fruit flavors and a thought of wild herbs, but perhaps due to the cement tank fermentation the wine is not gobbed up clumsy like so many treated with heavy handed oak. There are tannins present, but they're delicate and fine grained, mostly on the finish.

Fairly priced in my opinion at $20, definitely for those who like a wine with a little more finesse that's not going to completely kill their palate with simple fruit and harsh oak.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This ain't your grandma's Beaujolais!

 Wine from Beaujolais has a bad rap and I’m certainly not the first one to notice it. As a region its wines have been simultaneously promoted ardently, and screwed inadvertently, by one Mr. Georges Duboeuf and the Beaujolais Nouveau campaign.

The third Thursday of every November is the official release, and celebration, of the fresh harvested and fermented gamay grape. Airplanes loaded with the juice are rushed around the world to make the date, restaurants and hotels in France are stuffed to the seams with cases of this funnel worthy wine, and hangover remedies are prepared a day in advance for the coming pain.

What once started as a quick fermented juice for the pickers to celebrate the end of the harvest has become the symbol for a region; and as a symbol, it has locked the region into role of “Lesser Burgundy.” The result is that many of the customers I talk with believe that gamay could never compete with pinot noir as a noble Burgundian grape and that Beaujolais is a sweet headache inducing drink that should be approached with great caution.

A number of the customers I speak with about Beaujolais don’t have a lot of experience with the region (and I can’t blame them) and have yet to really experience something of memorable quality. Why does this come to mind late summer as opposed to the end of November? On a regular mid-August delivery day we received Domaine Diochon’s Moulin-a-Vent and Domaine Desvignes Morgon Cote du Py, two new Cru Beaujolais ( or, any of the wine from villages of noteworthy vineyard sites within the larger Beaujolais appellation.)

2 years ago we had fewer than 12 beaujolais on the shelf, and probably fewer than 9 worth drinking. Now we have almost 20 and they’re encroaching heavily into the Burgundy racks. We do well with the Beaujolais, but we could do better. The crossover from pinot noir, Burgundian or otherwise, to gamay from Beaujolais is not huge. In fact I would say since the best Beaujolais barely break $30, it’s a steal compared to what you get in Bourgogne Rouge or pinot noir from the U.S.

Especially since the number of pinot noir I’ve had from the states that I would actually like to drink I could count on one hand and they often cost $10 - $15 dollars or more than a good Beaujolais!

The good folks at La Revue du Vin de France point out the ageability and quality of these wines when they did a tasting of wines from Moulin-a-Vent anywhere from 10 - 15+ years old.

For a few options one could go with:

  • Dominique Piron (Morgon, Chenas, Moulin -a-Vent, and Beaujolais Village) Accessible in youth, but worth aging if you have the space and patience.

  • Daniel Bouland makes wines that are surprisingly powerful and tight in youth, so much so that an aging might be more ideal.
  • Avoiding producers, but focusing on regions, Cote de Brouilly encompasses vineyards on the hillsides of a dormant volcano - loads of minerality and medium to full weight wines. Julienas and Fleurie tend to be very floral and approachable in youth. No matter what you try, these are some seriously interesting wines... hell, put a chill on them while it’s still hot out and they’re delicious!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bruno Giacosa strikes again.

 Once again, Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa (the negociant end of the Giacosa wines) is topping my lists of Roero Arneis that I've had this year with their 2011 bottling. So that basically means it has beaten two other arneis that I've had this year.

If any one is familiar with either the words Roero or Arneis, more often than not it's for the red grape of Roero - nebbiolo. Roero is due north of the Barolo d.o.c.g., and is considered a lesser source for serious nebbiolo, but it is home to many a great value nebbiolo (for example, Matteo Correggia's.)

The other grape local to Roero is arneis. This white grape was more widely cultivated in the Langhe before the 20th century, to the extent that is was referred to as "White Barolo." Which, I'm assuming, was nothing like white zinfandel. As Barolo transitioned into focusing on Nebbiolo, arneis grew to be forgotten and almost reached extinction.

Thankfully, interest in arneis was reinvigorated and currently there are over 600ha planted in the Piedmont. The flavors tend to be of almonds and/or riper fruits like apricots, peaches, sometimes straight apple (distinctly more red than green,) and the aromatics usually cover the same range.

The advantage I've found to arneis is that unlike many other Italian whites, the acidity is slightly lower and the fruit flavors are slightly riper. There's an impression of sweetness without the wine being sweet. So even though I had just finished eating spicy fried lamb from Yi Palace in Newark, DE just before the bottle was opened to taste, the wine did not clash with the lingering chili and garlic spiciness.

So this is an arneis that I would certainly recommend trying, but if the price (about $30) or availability become an issue Valdinera and Matteo Corregia again would be worth seeking out.