Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wine with Bill

Less often than I’d like, I find the opportunity to get together with friends to cook some good food. Recently, I did just that with one of my stalwart food and wine pals, Bill. Inspiration for this occasion was entirely seasonal: a ramp romp. Bill’s friends who live out in the Chester County countryside have a tremendous perennial crop of wild ramps growing right on their property. Having harvested far more than they could consume on their own, a generous “donation” was made to Bill’s larder, giving us the perfect opportunity to explore one of the most fleeting flavors of spring. Of course, it also gave us a great excuse to open a few interesting bottles of wine.

Of late, Bill’s been a much more accomplished wine shopper than I. Frequenting one of his perennial favorites, State Line Liquors, and one of his new troves, Chambers Street Wines, he’s been coming up with some pretty interesting stuff. A couple of the more esoteric bottles from Chambers Street seemed like the perfect place to get started….

Vin Mousseux Aromatique de Qualité Medium Dry “FRV 100,” Jean-Paul Brun NV
Brun produces some of the most natural, idiosyncratic wines of Beaujolais. A recent bottle of his 2005 Morgon is among the best wines I’ve tried this year. He apparently has a lighter side, captured in this oddball of a sparkler. Varietal Gamay vinified in the Méthode Ancestrale results in a pink, semi-sweet, low-alcohol, strawberry scented spritzer. Even odder than the wine was its label, black with reflective lettering reminiscent of circa 1970’s “One Day at a Time” bumper stickers and covered with whimsical, multi-lingual words all beginning with F, R or V – code for effervescent. The label would normally have been enough to scare me away but the contents, simple as they were, were hard not to enjoy. At a mere 7.5% ABV, it would make a perfect cold fried chicken picnic wine.

Beaujolais Blanc “Terres Dorées,” Jean-Paul Brun 2005
Not odd in the vein of the previous bubbly, it’s still fairly rare to find a Beaujolais Blanc on the American market. Brun’s varietal Chardonnay bears much more in common with the wines of Saint-Pourçain, neighbor to the west in the upper Loire district of the Auvergne, than with the Bourgogne Blancs of the Macon just to the north. Lemony, lean, minerally and relatively low-alcohol (12%), this would pair well, in lieu of other more obvious options, with a mixed shellfish platter. It was a bit too high in acid and lacking in fruit to pair well with our first course of braised turkey meatballs over gorgonzola dolce with sautéed ramps, where something equally lively but a bit juicier may have better served.

Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie “Le L d’Or” Domaine Pierre de la Grange, Pierre Luneau-Papin 1995
Though also a mismatch with the ramps and meatballs, this was the most enlightening wine of the night. Common wisdom would have it that Muscadet is wine only for quaffing in its youth. It’s beautiful to see, then, “vin de garde” examples like this that are still fresh and vibrant after ten or more years of ageing. Showing a pale golden-green glow in the glass, developed mineral flavors but still primary fruit and lively acidity, this could last another five or ten years with little problem. My interest in this bottling was further piqued by the fact that I sell Muscadet from Luneau-Papin’s daughter's property, Chateau Les Fromenteaux, where Pierre looks after all of the vineyards and viticultural practices. I’ll have to sock away a few bottles of the 2005 Fromenteaux “Clos du Poyet” for a rainy day with expectations that a knack for quality and structure runs in the family.

As we cleared the plates and started on the final touches for our main course of roast chicken with olives and sautéed ramps, it seemed as good a time as any to narrow down our red options. Bill was chomping at the bit for some good Burgundy. And so it was….

Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru “Les Sentiers,” Domaine Truchot-Martin (Jacky Truchot) 2003
I first came across Jacky Truchot’s fantastically expressive red Burgundies in the late ‘90s. I remember being shocked at how pale his wines appeared in bottle, almost rosé-like to the uninitiated eye. I’ve managed to stay in touch with the estate through occasional tastings and chance encounters. His 2003s, like most Burgundies, are atypically dark and rich. Yet the finesse stemming from Jacky’s old-school approach in the winery and natural touch in the vineyards still resulted in wines of real class. The 2003 “Les Sentiers” is drinking beautifully, with silky red fruit, delicate, supple tannins, floral aromatics and Truchot’s trademark sprightly acidity. It’s a pity that the estate is no more. Jacky retired after the 2005 vintage with no heirs to carry on his legacy.

Up to this point, we had yet to touch any of the bottles I’d brought along for the evening. With a bit of effort, I finally convinced Bill to save his ’95 Baudry Chinon for another day. Instead, we pulled the cork on a bottle that I’d almost forgotten in my cellar.

Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Vano 2001
Modernist, traditionalist and centrist quibbles aside, Langhe Nebbiolo tend to fall into two camps: those that are produced from the younger vines and declassified fruit in Barolo or Barbaresco vineyards and those that are grown outside of the delimited zones for the big B’s. The former examples tend to be early drinking, gentle and aromatic expressions of Nebbiolo, giving glimpses of the lovely fruit and aroma of Piedmont’s great vine without the intensity of tannin it often delivers. Vano’s wine falls into the latter camp – wines built, because they stand alone, like “baby Barbarescos.” They can carry power and structure combined with fruit and aroma and can provide a wallet-friendly glimpse into the full realm of the Nebbiolo tasting spectrum. They just happen to come from the wrong side of the street.

I knew there must have been a reason that I socked away some of Bruno Rivetti's 2001 Langhe Nebbiolo. There was. Six years on, it was still rock solid. Expansive fruit, merging primary tones with the early beginnings of tertiary characteristics, combined with firm structure and lovely balance to make this wine almost as eye-opening a surprise as the Muscadet had been. Additionally, as much as I liked the Truchot Chambolle, the Nebbiolo matched more adeptly with the zesty flavors of Bill’s chicken and ramps.

By typical standards, we’d properly sated our appetites. However, there were molten chocolate cakes in the pipeline so, since Bill had returned from an earlier trip to the cellar with some “leftovers” from a few days back, we thought we’d finish off with one last taste.

Maury “Cuvée Spéciale 10 Ans d’Age,” Mas Amiel NV
A close relative to the sweet reds of Banyuls and Collioure, Maury paired with chocolate cake is kind of a no-brainer. This ten-year old from Mas Amiel is a great value wine, built in a lot of ways like a 10 year Tawny Port but with slightly lower alcohol and darker, more persistent fruit. In the classic method for sweet red Roussillon wines, the 10 Ans d’Age spends the first year of its life, following fermentation and fortification, in glass demi-johns which are left outside of the winery, exposed to the full forces of sunlight and temperature variation. A further nine years in huge old casks provide a slow, somehow preserving oxidative environment in which the wine develops its final characteristics. Rich yet mellow toffee, raisin, black cherry and raspberry tones ally with low acidity and firm tannic structure to give balance to a measurable level of residual sweetness.

Why shouldn’t all Tuesday nights be so rewarding?


David McDuff said...

Joe Dressner, the importer responsible for the Brun and Luneau-Papin wines included in this post, wrote in today to clarify a couple of errors in my original post:

- Re: Brun FRV [original text]
"Varietal Gamay vinified, most likely, in the Charmat method...."
This wine is actually produced according to the Méthode Ancestral.

- Re: Luneau-Papin Mucadet [original text] "I sell Muscadet from one of Luneau-Papin’s other properties, Chateau Les Fromenteaux." Family trees in French wine making circles can be very hard to follow. Fromenteaux is a new estate to the shop where I work and I mistakenly assumed the property was one of Pierre's. Actually, it belongs to Pierre's brother. That doesn't change my comments on the excellent quality of the Fromenteaux wines.

The text of the posting has been edited to reflect these corrections.

David McDuff said...

Well, Joe Dressner's chimed in again, this time to self-correct for his original feedback relative to the Muscadet from Chateau Les Fromenteaux. Turns out I was closer to correct to begin with. Again, the post content has been duly revised. Fact checking can be tricky business....

Here's Joe's note:

"Mr. McDuff:

I would like to apologize about Chateau les Fromenteaux.

The property belongs to Pierre Luneau's daughter, not his brother.

Luneau has no proprietary interest. But since his daughter is a museum curator in Angers, she is not able to take care of the domaine. Luneau helps out and looks over everything.


Joe Dressner"

Albina said...

Dear Mr.McDuff,
I found your post about Beaujolais Blanc, which happens to be my personal favourite, informative. I tasted 2004 Maison Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Blanc and fell in love with it at once. Alas ... I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to find this wine in stores in the area I live. The state laws prohibit buying wine and other alcoholic beverages from on-line stores. Although it is affordable, this wine is known for being rare. Are there any specific reasons for such small production?
Thanks in advance.
Best regards,

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