Monday, September 17, 2012

A man's home is his chateau, unless the Bordelais have something to say about it.

 According to La Revue du Vin de France, the good folks in Bordeaux take a certain amount of umbrage to the use of the word ‘chateau’ on American wine labels - I’m looking at you Chateau Montelena!

In France if the wine you make is labeled Chateau du Manchot Royal, the fruit must come from land owned by said chateau and vinified at exactly the same chateau in question. In these United States no such requirement exists. I could grow my own fruit, buy fruit, contract someone else entirely to do all the work and put my name on the label.

The Federation des grands vins de Bordeaux (FGVB) believes that the consumer will be misled by the word chateau and be under the assumption that my contract bottled Chateau Joe is all estate grown and bottled - clearly, my cunning knows no end. What the FGVB aims to do is prohibit wine exported from the U.S. into the EU from having the word chateau appear on their label at all.

This slightly reminiscent of Fox News’ attempt to trademark the phrase “Fair and Balanced,” except it might be slightly sillier. If I were to poll our customers, I imagine very few would be aware of those ‘chateau’ label laws within France. A misled consumer does not strike me as a very serious problem.  

Legal labeling distinctions about age, like reserve in Italy or Spain, or location, like Port from Portugal or Champagne from... Champagne, make complete sense. There is a delineation, and theoretically, and indication of quality or typicity in a wine. Wine labeled Champagne must be produced in the ol’ methode champenoise (another issue for another time), come from Champagne, and by golly, it better taste like Champagne.

The word ‘chateau’ alone doesn’t promise any sort of typicity. The Cru rating system in Bordeaux is disparate from that of Burgundy due to the fact that the Bordelais rate based on the Chateau, not the land. This means if a Chateau is granted its status in 1855 and it has 15ha of land, it can maintain this status even if the land increases to 30ha. In Burgundy the cru is the delineated plot of land, not the house making it.

If the Bordelais are really concerned about misleading the consumer, one would think that they might consider the existing rating system that exists on Bordeaux’s left bank.   

The issue will be settled on September 25th with the Comite de gestion de l'Organisation commune des marches agricoles (OCM.) La Revue also quotes Bernard Farges, president of la Confederation nationale des AOC, who is responsible for the AOC rules in France, in saying that there is some precedence with other labeling terms. Bernard is also vice president of la Federation des grands vins de Bordeaux (FGVB.)

I wonder where his opinion will fall...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dashe Zinfandel - renewing my hope in Zinfandel since... today.

Shortly after my arrival to ye olde shoppe today a kindly salesman with a pleasant accent presented some of his fine wares. Sadly those fine wares happened to be, amongst other things, a number of wines from Rosenblum Cellars. I don’t know what their pedigree or history is exactly, but what I tasted today was an egregious mess of juice.

The cheapest bottle smelled like grapes macerated in a bucket with some sea water and oysters, while the higher end bottlings attained a respectable, and restrained, alcohol level pushing about 16% by volume. It was like a good port, except not from Portugal... and it tasted bad.

Those flavors still in mind and wreaking havoc on what little respect I had left for zinfandel, respect only being kept afloat by a few producers (Ridge & Proulx come to mind) one could imagine my concerns when we decided to open two new bottles we had just brought in to the store; 1. Dashe Les Enfants Terribles 2010 Heart Arrow Ranch zin from Mendocino and 2. same schtick as before but their 2011 McFadden Farm Potter Valley zin.

Their were hints though that I would soon be tasting something far different from the Rosenblums. One, the alcohol on the two wines are 13.8% and 13.6% respectively. Two, 100% Zinfandel with native yeast fermentation. Their website is full of info, my favorite bit is about their using, get this, old oak! Big old oak barrels! Not heavy toast, not 24 months in new American oak, there was a chance these wines were going to taste like actual fruit, not wood!

Without any more rambling proclamations I’ll just say the wines were great. The 2010 Heart Arrow Ranch at times while tasting it reminded me of good Beaujolais; specifically, but not identically, it reminded me of a California take on Moulin-a-vent from Domaine Diochan. There was fruit, tannin, and acidity. Going back to the glass later I pulled something a little more akin to older sangiovese. There’s a theme though, zinfandel that actually has acidity, some might say balance perhaps.

The Mcfadden Farm zin from 2011 was also very good, but a little softer and more fruit driven. What I did especially appreciate about it though was under that primary, and slightly soft, fruit. There was a notion of something slightly green a-la cabernet franc from the Saumur or Chinon, just a notion mind you.

All I can say is, thank you Dashe Cellars for renewing my hope in zinfandel.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let the wine breathe for four days before you serve it.

Domaine de la Pinte, I take my hat off to you. Partially because this wine was so fantastic and, more importantly, I look bad in hats.

Domaine de la Pinte can be found in the village of Arbois in the region of Jura in eastern France, and though I'm not sure exactly how long they've been operating, I think they have a good bit of tradition going on at the winery. It tastes, and sounds, like traditional techniques with some organic (as of '99) and biodynamic certification (as of '09) going on.

The wine in the photo above is the current release of their savagnin, and yes, the current release is from 2005. Savagnin is a grape unique to Jura, and as far as I know, is really only grown and vinified there (excluding any clones or mutations, I'm looking at you gewurtztraminer!) It is used in a local wine called Vin Jaune that is reminiscent of some sherries because of the layer of 'flor' yeast that appears in production.

Often in Jura, wines are oxidative by design. It's important to differentiate oxidized wine by design and oxidized wine as a fault. Domaine de la Pinte puts their savagnin in barrels for four years and only fills said barrels 80% of the way. One might ask, what, why, who, why, what? But this production method fosters that flor yeast, and if you've ever tasted Manzanilla sherry you will have an idea of some of the aromas and flavors that appear. There is also a nuttiness, something almost saline, more apple than citrus flavors amongst other things.

This is wine oxidized by design, a layer of flor on the wine in barrel protects the wine from being destroyed and lends a host of flavors and aromas that add to the complexity. The result is a wine with great structure, longevity, focused acidity, and just a whole heaping pile of interesting flavors and aromas that would only be lost if I tried to explain them. Sometimes I don't even think it's worth it to try and convey some of these sensory experiences when all I want to say is, "holy crap this wine is good!"

This is another one of those extra-traditional wines that really show that ol' genius of place. It takes a skillful hand to make a wine like this, and I say this because we've had it open in the kegerator at the store where we've been going back and revisiting it every day to see how it develops; this is day 4 and it's still fantastic. I think day three may have been the best, but even that's up for debate.

Their chardonnay is very good too, classic Jura style chardonnay, but it's a 2010 release. I don't want to diminish the chard, but next to the savagnin, few wines stand up. The chardonnay too was in barrel, mind you very old barrels, for 2 years before release, but it didn't see as much (if any) of the flor that the savagnin did. The flavors are more apple with hints of spice and a super focused vein of acidity that would be awesome with anything in a mushroom cream sauce.

Considering they're $35 for the savagnin and $25 for the chard, these are some fantastic wines that could be cellared for years and I think are a downright steal compared to some other wines on the market. Just one man's opinion... on how freakin' cool Jura (Jurassian, Jurassic, Juranese?) wines are.