It is very hard to find time to write during the month of December. Easily the busiest time of the year for a wine retailer, we work long hours, six days a week; we subjugate our needs to the holiday needs of our customers. Everybody’s stressed out, burnt out, and often sick as well. After all, there are only so many germ-encrusted bills and credit cards one can (literally) handle, before a cold comes on. This is not actually a complaint; it’s a statement of fact, and an excuse for why my already spotty attendance at my own wine blog, is even spottier than usual. I’ll be back next year… in full form.
On a positive note, this month I’ve drunk a handful of amazing red wines and I want to tell you about them. I’ll skip the usual long-winded attempt at creating some sort of theme to connect these wines, also the discourse on how I drink so much more white wine than red, and just give you the bottle label and tell you why I liked the wine.A few weeks ago, my co-worker, JFR, and I cracked a 2010 Lafarge Passetoutgrains “L’Exception” at the end of an evening at the shop. It was an absolute stunner and I immediately went back for a bottle to drink at home. Now, my experiences with Lafarge’s wines have been almost universally bad, save for the Passetoutgrains. I understand that Michel Lafarge is a masterful vigneron, but virtually every bottle of Burgundy I’ve had from this Domaine has been clunky and charmless, or else potentially cooked from poor storage (not that this is the Domaine’s fault, of course.) Lafarge’s Passetoutgrains, on the other hand, resonates in my brain as being the ultimate paradigm for this style of Burgundy, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay.
(Incidentally, there’s a story floating around in my mind in connection with the Bourgogne Passetoutgrains appellation, namely that a king or a duke or some such Burgundian nobleman annexed the lowly Gamay grape from the hallowed slopes of the Côte d’Or in the 14th Century. I’d love to know if this is correct, and all wikipedia tells me about the history of Passetoutgrains is that it gained appellation status in 1937.)
At any rate, 2010 Lafarge Passetoutgrains “L’Exception” is a memorable, beautiful wine, the kind of wine that elicits swearing and absolute silence in alternation. The nose is marked by notes of raspberries and earth, the palate by raspberry seeds happily mingling with the wine’s crunchy acidity. There’s a certain desirable austerity at first that gives way to a more forward profile after half an hour open. For me the most compelling aspect of this wine is the way the palate unfolds to reveal crushed herbs and lightly bitter notes of fruit pit. There were a host of flavors on the palate that were not announced by the wine’s aromas. Over the course of a few hours, the wine proved to be so utterly gorgeous that I had to call on my downstairs neighbors to come up and keep me from single-handedly polishing off the bottle.
JR (not to be confused with JFR) had been waxing on about Georges Descombes 2011 Brouilly for some time. With such a beautiful label and such a resounding endorsement, how could I resist trying one?LDM’s website tells me that Georges Descombes is the unofficial 5th member of the Gang of Four (not the post punk band, but rather the group of four Morgon vignerons responsible for the most succulent, carbonic-ly macerated, low-sulfur Beaujolais.) Interestingly, I had thought that the Gang’s fifth member was either Jean-Claude Chanudet of Domaine Chamonard, or the notoriously bad-tempered Yvon Métras in nearby Fleurie. Oh well, I will bow before the far more extensive knowledge of the folks at LDM. When I asked my boss, DL, about Georges, he replied “Georges is a real farmer; he’s got huge hands from working in the vines.” It might take knowing DL to realize what a compliment this is. Certainly, Descombes is not spoken about as reverentially as Lapierre (the father of it all) and Foillard (perhaps most praised at this point.) Yet Beaujolais geeks recognize the quality of Descombes wines, which are certainly a steel at $23 and $24 when Foillard’s are hitting the shelves at $38-$40 these days…
Descombes (who, if the pictures on Bert Celce’s website, wineterroirs, are to be believed, looks like an early Martin Amis character, or an East Enders hero) farms around 15 hectares, majority in Morgon, some in Brouilly, Régnie, Chiroubles, and generic Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. In fact I associate this man most with his young vines Régnie, Morgon, and Chirouble: vibrant, juicy, red-fruited Beaujolais. Brouilly is a Beaujolais Cru I often steer clear of because the vines frequently have more structure and a darker, grapier, brooding character that bodes well for the cellar but isn’t what I’m looking for. In this case, the wine was both purple-fruited, with tangy, wild blueberry and juniper notes on the nose, and incredibly lithe and slurp-able. What really got me about the wine was its texture. I can only describe it as “sleek,” yet “sleek” seems to have connotations of chocolate-y new wood, reverse osmosis, smooth tannins, etc… This wine was velvety soft in the mouth, but with bright acid, and a streak of earthiness running horizontally through from nose to finish. It’s difficult to describe, but once one has acquired a taste for this soft, flower petal texture in red wine, bolstered and balanced by lively acidity, it’s very hard to go back.
Domaine Louis Magnin was, at one point, imported by Louis Dressner. Then the Domaine went missing for awhile. Within the past year, Magnin was picked up again, this time by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. In fact, I asked Kevin McKenna of LDM about Magnin recently, and he told me that they stopped working with the Domaine several years ago on the grounds that Magnin adds neutral yeast for fermentation rather than relying on native yeasts to complete the process. How much do we care about this? Well… I suppose the answer is that if the wine is good, not much! Of course, RWM boasts that all of their producers use wild yeast, which raises a whispered doubt as to their own integrity, but what do I know? There’s ample backbiting and sniping between importers; perhaps Kevin was not the best person to ask about Domaine Louis Magnin. On the RWM website, I came across this statement: “In Arbin, the Domaine Louis Magnin surfaces to the top as does the richest cream.” I found this metaphor apt because the white wine I recently tasted from Magnin: Roussette de Savoie, tastes a bit like the richest cream. It’s a dense, honeyed, layered, incredibly delicious wine, a lot of wine, a wine to share and savor, and drink on special occasions. But this entry is about their red, Arbin Mondeuse.Mondeuse can present itself in a variety of ways; my favorite Mondeuses taste as though Syrah and Gamay took a walk through the Alps together and returned home melded into an herby, tangy, fruity, smoky unit. This one amply delivered, offering blackberry and blackberry seed notes, licorice, the faintest hint of what I suspected was wood, also delicious Alpine smokiness culminating in a very mineral finish. The fruit came out with some air and by the time the wine had been open for an hour, any tightness had loosened and the wine was joyous in the extreme. (Again, I had to call on the neighbors to save me from myself.) The grapes that go into this wine are from various parcels in Arbin; they are de-stemmed and macerate for twelve days before moving to a combination of stainless steel and old wood. Buy some and cellar it… I bet it’ll be great in a few years, but drink one now, too. It’s costly at $33, but it offers more than its less expensive brethren, at least according to my palate.
I didn’t actually know how CSW came to import the wines of Domaine Pierre Gonon in Saint-Joseph until very recently, when writing this blog caused me to ask DL how such a thing came about. And, of course, the answer was quite simple: “I called him up and said I wanted to buy some wine. “ If only all ventures into the world of direct importing were so simple. This was an extremely fortunate event for Chambers Street Wines because Gonon’s wines are superb, and by circumventing the importer, we can offer them at superb prices. Les Ils Feray comes from vines within Saint-Joseph that are not included in the Domaine’s Saint-Joseph. About 120 cases are produced a year, and our lot is sought after by our customers to the extent that we have to allocate it.A couple of days before Christmas, EL opened a bottle of 2011 Les Ils Feray at work (Sometimes we do taste and even swallow wine at work. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.), and forgot the open bottle on top of stack of boxes waiting to be delivered the following day. I was the lucky beneficiary. After a few hours open, the wine showed beautifully. The nose was all high-toned earth and almost vegetal, peppery Syrah fruit. It was like having a pencil and a prune under my nose at once. The palate was sleek and perfectly balanced with the faintest layer of mouth-coating tannins, an almost porous minerality, and a fresh draft of acidity. I love Syrah, and sometimes when I drink northern Rhône Syrah, I think about that evanescent quality of fruit fusing perfectly with place. It’s worth paying attention when a wine tells you where it’s from loudly and clearly, because even in the specialized, highly geeky wine world I inhabit, it’s not every wine that does this.
Here you have it: my experiments with red wine drinking. If you can, seek out these bottles. All afford an enormous amount of pleasure. Happy New Year to all… more in 2013!