Before I kick off this post, I’d like to mention that a few nights ago I was sifting through the comments (mostly spam) that I receive on my various postings on Sophie’s Glass. A gentleman had taken the time to go onto my site not once but twice to tell me how self-absorbed, long-winded, and generally unreadable he found my writing. I didn’t approve his comments because they didn’t have much content save for his dislike of my penmanship, but it got me thinking. Long-winded, I am! Blogging, however, is inherently self-absorbed. What is blogging if not an individual’s experiences and opinions out there in the world for other humans to read… or not? Without further ado, I cordially invite anyone who doesn’t enjoy my writing not to read my blog. Click the little x in the corner of the window, sir, and find something you like reading more. I promise I will not be offended.
If you’re still reading, I warn you in advance that this post is self-absorbed, and is likely not my finest effort. I recently broke the 5th metatarsal bone in my left foot whilst running in North Carolina. My foot is ensconced in a large, ugly, black orthopedic boot, and I’m using crutches to get around, which is no picnic in New York City. (It’s difficult to imagine the frustration of crutches until you’ve used them. They’re quick to slide off any slick surface; they make you much wider than you’d normally be, and don’t be surprised to note the development of pectoral muscles you never knew you had.) They tell me the bone will heal… in about four months. It’s no fun; however I’m tired of complaining about it… and I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. The truth is – and I know it sounds cheesy – that since it happened I’ve felt lucky for what I have. (I’ve also noted that New Yorkers are much nicer now that I’m on crutches. I haven’t wanted for a seat on the train; folks stop to open heavy doors… Faith is rekindled in this hard, fast, inclement city.)
This metatarsal fracture has prevented me from indulging in one of my loves, namely running, but thankfully I can still drink wine. I drank some delicious things in North Carolina, chosen and sent by friends who rallied around during… if not a time of need… certainly a time of want.
2008 base Tarlant Brut Rosé Zero cut through the muggy haze that hangs over North Carolina in the summer.The more Tarlant I drink, the more I love the estate. Benoît is the current winemaker as of 1999, but it’s an old Marne Valley Domaine dating back to the 17th Century. As with other favorites in the eastern Marne such as Laherte, Tarlant farms many different parcels of vines, each unique in terroir, etc… The wines are dominated by Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and to me they show a green, almost vegetal character that I associate with Meunier as well as low dosage. I find Tarlant’s wines to be marked by cellar work. The majority of the base wines are made in wood; malolactic fermentation is avoided, and dosages are low to nonexistent. The “house” style is rich and broad, yet rigorously dry. Tarlant’s work in the vines is also excellent. Pesticides and fertilizers are not used, and Tarlant works with cover crops depending on the plot. If anything, Tarlant listens to each plot in each vintage, letting circumstance dictate vineyard work. There is incredible attention to detail at Tarlant and the wines have a finely wrought lustre.
Perusing Peter Liem’s review of Tarlant yields lots of detail regarding Tarlant’s higher end bottlings, which are superb, yet I remain blown away by the quality of the “basic” Brut Zero and Brut Rosé Zero, which deliver lots complexity for the price. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than once, it’s the ultimate testimony to the skill of a Champagne grower that he or she make complex wine at the introductory level.
I learned from Peter Liem’s site that the 2008 base Tarlant Rosé Zero is the first rendition of this wine to be made with Pinot Noir in the blend (vinified white that is…), which comprises about 20%; the rest is Chardonnay, with 13% still red wine made from Pinot Noir and Meunier completing the assemblage. (I’m sure I’ve also mentioned this before, but Peter Liem’s website: www.champagneguide.net is quite possibly the most informative and scholarly wine website to date. It costs about $90/year to subscribe, which, if you’re shelling out for bottles of Champagne, is a drop in the bucket.) As is the case with many Champagnes based on the 2008 vintage, the wine’s 2008-ness screams out loud and clear in the form of a laser-like explosion of acid, concentration, and minerality on the finish. It’s clear that Peter found it to be a bit austere at his last tasting of it late in 2012; I think it’s mellowed, almost a year later. Still its pronounced notes of cranberry and pink grapefruit remain, along with the earthy, vegetal hint I frequently discern in Tarlant’s wines. The bubbles are creamy, tight, and maintained their structure and verve as we depleted the bottle. With its total lack of dosage, it may not be for everyone, but it was great for a sultry night in North Carolina.
Later that evening, an unusual pairing surprised and delighted the humble blogger. The hosts prepared pizzas, which were allegedly to be cooked in the outdoor pizza oven they’d constructed earlier in the day. (I have a soft spot for homemade pizza ovens, as I’m fairly certain my mother yearned for one until her dying day.) As it turned out, the exterior oven needed a few test runs before it could surpass the kitchen oven’s ability to produce pizza. We moved indoors, where the host assembled a pizza topped with olive oil, marinated jalapenos, really ripe figs from their own tree, and feta cheese. One can only imagine what kind of sweet, spicy, salty combination met the palate. What wine could possibly rise to the occasion? What wine could step up to the pairing plate with such loud, almost garish flavors at work? Three cheers for 2011 Cros Marcillac Lo Sang del Pais.Marcillac is an off-the-grid appellation in the western part of the Auvergne, in the massif central. The grape used is a peppery little number know locally as “Fer Servadou,” though it also masquerades as “Mansois” in other parts of the southwest. Though Marcillac is a very old winemaking region, many growers left after the phylloxera and now Marcillac is virtually unknown. Domaine du Cros, at 22 hectares, is one of the only available Marcillacs this side of the Atlantic. Lo Sang del Pais, made from the Domaine’s younger vines grown on red, iron-rich soil and in matured chestnut barrels (some of which are several centuries old) is always redolent of Jalapeno peppers on the nose, which, I’m convinced contributed to its harmony with the pizza. After I returned to New York, I tasted 2012 Le Sang; 2011 must have been a ripe vintage for the wine because the wine was fruitier than I’d known it to be in previous years. This fruitiness contributed to its ability to match the sweetness of the figs. The 2012 was more austere, higher in acid, firmer in structure, and likely more suitable for sausages, which I normally would have preferred, but alongside this wonderful thin crust pizza, 2011 was definitely the preferable vintage. (Did I mention that this wine retails for about $15? It’s a steal.)
As a dedicated Champagne drinker, I am amazed by the few sparkling wines from the Canary Islands. How does a good sparkling wine come to be in a place where high acidity isn’t possible? Yet Bermejos sparkling Malvasia alongside ever-so-slightly under-ripe, creamy figs (yes figs are a recurring theme in North Carolina in August with fresh chèvre was absolutely outstanding.It turns out to be not so easy to learn about Bermejos. Their website seems to rely most on pictures of the incredibly striking, black, mountainous desert of Lanzarote, where the grape vines rest, coiled like little buns in a snood to protect them from wind (as on Santorini). I have heard that Bermejos is one of the more “mainstream” Canary Islands producers, and extreme Canaries wine fans tend to write them off as a bit glossy. Certainly it’s the first Canaries producer I ever encountered, and it continues to be a favorite. The more obscure Canaries producers seem to make wines that are a trifle extreme for me. Also, while I’ve always been attracted to the smoky, brooding minerality of Canaries wines, the lack of acidity often bothers me.
This Espumoso Brut Nature is made using Méthode Champenoise, and is aged on the lees for nine months. Brut Nature sparkling wines from warm terroirs are quite a bit more accessible than their brethren from further north. With this wine, there’s a voluptuous, honeyed, almost dried fruit character to the midpalate and finish that creates an interesting impression as it marries with the bubbles, which are fine and buoyant. The aromas are totally unlike the sharp, green, tangy, chalky ones I’m used to finding in Champagne. Bermejos Brut Nature smells like garrigue, wild thyme, and brushy desert. It’s very restrained for the Malvasia variety, yet very aromatic nonetheless. There’s an earthiness that I often find in Cava, but more refined and less sharp and rustic. This wine was fascinating; I purchased and drank it again upon my return to New York and liked it just as much as the first time…
Regardless of injury, I spent a fulfilling few days in North Carolina. My chief complaint about my hometown is that there is no good coffee for those who can’t make their own. I do not understand how an area so rich in food and wine can be totally devoid of high quality specialty coffee, especially considering that Durham is home to Counter Culture, a major player in the specialty coffee game. A friend who now imports wine, making regular trips to far flung North Carolina towns such as Asheville and Charlotte, keeps this combination on hand to fuel the journey (you should be ashamed, Counter Culture, that local coffee geeks have to rely on Stumptown for their juice:Thanks for taking care of me friends. You made it possible for me to drink well in spite of everything.