This past Sunday was to have been a night out with friends for dinner in Philly. When crossed signals decreased our group by one, the rest forged ahead. We ran into a road block, though, when we realized that Sunday was the opening night of Philadelphia Restaurant Week (which ends today, by the way). Fixed price specials at spots all over town, along with a promotional media blitz, seemed to have brought the hungry out of the woodwork. Spur of the moment reservations were simply not to be had.
Rather than resulting in frustration and frowns, our thwarted plans simply made for a lovely alternative: dinner at home with friends and a few bottles of wine to try. While my hosts seasoned a rack of pork, cleaned and sliced potatoes for the roasting pan, and prepped some broccoli rabe to be sautéed, I uncorked a couple of whites.
Savennières “Clos du Papillon,” Domaine du Closel 2001
I’m a Savennières lover. There’s a bunch in my cellar and I wish there were room and budget for more. After trying the 2000 “Clos des Perrieres” from Château Soucherie earlier in the week, I was keen for more. The “Perrieres” was intriguing but left some questions in its wake; it was showing depth and layered flavors but also a significant level of oxidation. Maybe it was just a less than pristine bottle. Or perhaps it was just the wine, as I’ve seen other Loire Chenins suggest oxidation at mid-life and then somehow recover with more time in the bottle.
In any event, Closel’s 2001 “Clos du Papillon” was showing beautifully. We drank it as an aperitif – I’d love to have tried it with some oysters or scallops – and it showed loads of feminine grace. At first, it was extremely subtle, almost completely shut down on the nose. Very soft, round textures greeted the mouth, like letting a perfectly polished river rock roll about on your tongue. No oxidative tones here. It was still showing structural youth. Peach butter, lime minerality, toasted marshmallows and a little mango all came to mind. Soft but balanced acidity carried through to a persistent finish. A touch of heat emerged as the wine warmed in the glass but hardly enough to diminish its pleasures.
$23. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Louis-Dressner, New York, NY.
Mâcon Solutré Pouilly, Domaine de la Chapelle 2006
The least elevated of the whites of Pascal and Catherine Rollet, the rest of which hail from Pouilly-Fuissé, this is a strong value in unoaked white Burg. With loads of clean pear fruit right up front, it smells like classic Mâconnais Chardonnay. Fresh, lively acidity gives a crunchy, toothsome mouthfeel that marries well with the wine’s interplay between sweet and tart apple fruit. Mint, tarragon and a touch of chalkiness emerge with aeration. At just over $15, I’d be happy to give this a spot in my regular rotation.
$16. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.
Marsannay “Les Longeroies,” Domaine Bruno Clair 2004
As this had been opened the day before, it was more of a taste for the purpose of satisfying curiosity than it was a drinker for dinner. Pale and bright in the glass. Sour wild cherry fruit, lean and green on the palate. Skin-driven astringency, high acidity and a vegetal mid-to-rear palate all suggested unripe fruit. Interesting from an academic perspective but not something I’ll go looking to buy, particularly at the $40ish price point.
$40. 13% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.
With the pork roast and potatoes about to come out of the oven, we moved on to extracting corks from a couple of suitable reds.
Bourgogne, Bernard Dugat-Py 1999
As the condition of the label in the photo suggests, this bottle had come in and out of my cellar on more than one occasion. For whatever reason, I’d always been talked out of opening it. At around $25 on release, it wasn’t the price barrier but rather the hard to find nature of Dugat-Py’s Burgundies that had always made dining companions uncomfortable with its presence. On this night, I was committed to shrugging off any such objections.
As it turned out, the bottle’s previous return visits to the cellar had been propitious as this was showing very well at eight years of age. Deep garnet red in color, going just limpid around the edge of the glass. Plenty of chewy tannins suggest further aging potential but the medium-bodied, clove inflected, brambly black cherry fruit was hard to resist now. Beautifully aromatic, with spice, earth and black fruits galore. A solid pairing with the roast pork and taters.
$25 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.
Lessona, Aziende Agricole Sella 2001
Little known Lessona is nestled in the northeastern corner of Piedmont alongside Ghemme and Gattinara. The Nebbiolo-based wines grown here bear more in common with the wines of Valtellina, to the east in Lombardy, than with Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmont’s more famous Nebbiolo zones. Sella’s Lessona makes for a worthy introduction to the typicity of wines from this high altitude, semi-mountainous growing region. Brisk acidity and sinewy structure combine with aromas and flavors of tar, raspberries, red licorice and stony minerality. Also a solid pairing with the evening’s meal. I’d like to see this come in closer to the $20 price point but it’s certainly compelling enough to make me want to try the estate’s other cuvées.
$27. 13% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Selected Estates of Europe, Mamaroneck, NY.
“Aurore d’Automne,” Domaine de Bellivière 2005
The wacky wine of the night for sure, “Aurore d’Automne” is also an intriguingly delicious sticky rosé from Le Loir, made from a blend of partially botrytized and partially dried Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau. This was pulled out of the cellar primarily for something to check out and sip after dinner although it did acquit itself admirably with our simple dessert of chocolate/hazelnut gelato. The color of a new penny, with a nose that hit me right off with a whiff of curing tobacco. There was a barn used for exactly that purpose not far from where I grew up, so it’s one of those strong aroma memories left over from my childhood. Not far behind the tobacco came aromas of Douglass fir and red fruit confit. Sweetness is obvious but well balanced by firm acidity. Resin, sherry-like characteristics and rosemary all emerge as the wine develops, along with more delicate flavors of orange oil and rosewater. Even the napkin I used to wipe up a few drops lost to the table top smelled awfully good.
$48 (500ml). 11% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Louis-Dressner, New York, NY.