Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some Sips from Southwest France

To allay any fears that I somehow made it through an eight course tasting menu without a drop of wine, here are a few tasting notes from a recent dinner at Talula’s Table. When picking out bottles to cart along for the evening, I quickly saw a mini pattern developing with the whites, both of which were from the greater southwest of France. So I decided to continue that theme straight through the evening.

Blanquette de Limoux “Le Berceau,” Maison Vergnes (Domaine de Martinolles) NV
Although technically located in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Limoux’s situation in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenées often leads its wines to be considered in the context of the greater southwest of France. Maison Vergnes produces some of the best quality and best value wines of the AOC, with this, their flagship non-vintage Méthode Traditionnelle bottling, slotting into the always sweet under-$15 price range. It’s a typical blend to the area, constituted mostly of the local specialty Mauzac, salted and peppered with small quantities of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

I was particularly keen to see how this bottle would show, as it had been hiding in my cellar for a good three or four years since purchase. The verdict was good. Hay-toned colors suggested continuing youth. The characteristic yellow apple fruit of Mauzac, along with brioche and lanolin, were still in plentiful evidence right up front. Medium mousse, generous texture and medium-bodied impact. With a bit of air, elements of bottle development began to appear, with a touch of oiliness in the rear palate and a finish redolent of roasted brazil nuts and hazelnuts. $12 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Jurançon Sec, Domaine Castera 2006
Moving deeper in to the Pyrenées, Jurançon is an appellation noted first and foremost for its sweet, passérillage influenced wines; thus, the dry whites from the region always carry the “sec” designation for clarification. A blend of Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu, this is seriously big wine, not from oak – there is none – or rich, fat textures but rather from a combination of high acidity, intensely vinous texture and naturally high alcohol. It wears that alcohol well. Grippy texture. Loads of lime oil, wildflowers and white stone minerality. Not for casual sipping but great with food where something with cut and power is demanded. It was a brilliant match with the falafel-crusted halibut served at Talula’s and would pair extremely well with Basque sheep’s milk cheeses such as Ossau Iraty or Pyrenées Brebis. $16. 14% alcohol. Synthetic cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Côtes de Bergerac, Château Haut-Bernasse 1999
Like the Blanquette de Limoux, this had been resting in my cellar for quite a few years. Unlike the Blanquette, I hadn’t planned to keep it for so long, it had just gotten away from me. I was curious to check in on its development, wondering if it would still be holding up. The color was good, a deep garnet red, semi-opaque and showing only moderate hints of maturity. Alas, a quick sniff was all it took to end the show, as the bottle was profoundly corked. Regardless of price, it’s a much bigger drag to run into a cork tainted wine when it’s been cared for so well and for so long as opposed to when it’s just come home from the wine shop. This bottle was stoppered with one of those hideously cheap composite corks that seem to be even more prone to TCA infection than “whole” corks. $14 on release. 12% alcohol. Natural cork composite. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Cahors, Clos la Coutale (V. Bernede & Fils) 2004
A more than adequate stand-in for the spoiled Bergerac. When first opened, this showed classic Cahors rusticity, with wooly, stewed black fruits and earthy, iron-like aromas. Tannins were not as intense as in some of the more powerful wines of Cahors but were still typically dusty and chunky. As it opened, purer blackberry and plum emerged. Texture became more refined. Then, as the night wore on, country wine character returned, with aromas of tar and sun-baked rocks leading to a finish laced with hints of clay, leather and sour black cherries. An excellent value, this would be great to keep around for summer grilling. $17. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.


Joe said...

I like your comments on the Jurancon sec, wines that some purists may ignore due to the alcohol levels, but I have had a few that fit your "wears that alcohol well". The Clos la Coutale is widely available here and I have walked past it a hundred times - the '06 goes for $14.95 (tax incl.).

David McDuff said...

Thanks for the feedback, Joe. There should be no reason for purists to spurn a wine like this as 14% is a natural alcohol level for the dry whites of Jurancon, not an aberration caused by ultra-ripe harvesting or manipulation in the winery.

For $15, the Coutale is definitely worth checking out the next time you're strolling by.

Brooklynguy said...

hey David - i tasted the Martinolles Le Berceau at a tasting recently and was surprised at how much I liked it. I don't have any notes, but i put a little mark next to it in the tasting book, a mark that I only put next to wines that i would buy at that price. I also tasted the same producer's Methode Ancestrale, a wine you recommended a while back when I did a Blanquette de Limoux for Friday Night Bubbles. You were right - delicious! a bit sweet at only 8% alc, but in a nice way, very silky. i like the cahors you wrote about too. have you tried clos siguier cahors yet?

David McDuff said...

Glad you liked the Le Berceau wines, Neil. Have you found them at retail anywhere in New York?

The Siguier is still on my shopping list. It's not available, at least not readily, in this area so it will probably have to wait until my next order from Chambers (assuming they still have some).

Brooklynguy said...

i haven't seen them in nyc, no. i haven't really looked either, though. i need to broaden my wine store horizons.

David McDuff said...

Aside from the obvious (Chambers), I'd be interested to know which shops you favor.

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