A spur of the moment invite a few nights ago triggered this latest installment of “Notes from a Sunday" (aka "Wine with Bill"). While my always gracious host cooked up a salubrious repast of pan-seared loin of pork, rigatoni Bolognese and, yes, even some vegetables, I got to work on opening a few bottles for the evening’s tasting. The focus, once again, was on the Loire but I’d brought along an interesting tie-in, an interloper from Italy. Before we get to that though, a little bubbly as an aperitif….
Saumur Brut Rosé, Domaine du Vieux Pressoir NV
This was pure, simple pleasure in a glass. Boisterously pink at the core and paler at the edges. Coarse mousse and a nose like red berry zinger tea. Juicy strawberry and raspberry fruit led off, followed by a nuance of fresh herbs and a fuzzy raspberry finish. Refreshingly dry yet round and generous in feel. 100% Cabernet Franc, produced from a single year’s fruit (though not vintage dated) using the Méthode Traditionnelle. Malolactic fermentation is inhibited in the base wine to retain crispness and freshness. $18. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: VOS Selections, New York, NY.
Cheverny Rouge, Clos du Tue-Boeuf 2007
Clos du Tue-Boeuf is the family estate of Thierry Puzelat and his older brother Jean-Marie. Their Cheverny rouge, as the young AOC rules of Cheverny dictate, is a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. Beautiful color: bright, translucent and ever so slightly cloudy. Chalky on the palate, there’s an immediate impression of raspberry bubble gum, but then there’s texture and surprising length given the wine’s initial appearances of simplicity.
The Gamay seems to assert its personality much more strongly than does the Pinot Noir. This lacks the wildness that many of Puzelat’s wines are known for but it’s no less tasty. Raspberry parfait gives way to a savory, porky nuance and a noticeably saline quality. Crisp and fresh. A lean acid profile provides a ridge right down the middle of the palate and then that texture kicks in with a scrubbing, rugged vitality. If anyone knows the story behind the psychedelic flying cow that adorns the label, I’d love to hear it. $17. 11% alcohol. Synthetic stopper (Nomacorc). Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Vino da Tavola “’L Franc Bandit,” Proprietà Sperino 2004
This was the oddball of the evening in more ways than one. Like the bubbly with which we started, this is varietal Cabernet Franc. It’s also not vintage dated. Yet in this case that’s a requirement of the governing bodies of the Italian wine world in this part of Piedmont, not a decision made by the producer. The wine comes from Paolo de Marchi’s new property in Lessona, a small viticultural zone in the northeastern corner of Piedmont known for its Nebbiolo based wines. Cabernet Franc is allowed in small percentages in the broader neighboring Coste della Sesia DOC but the local regulations do not allow for wines made purely from Cabernet Franc. So de Marchi’s labeling includes a clever workaround, “Lotto CF04,” which is shorthand for Lot Cabernet Franc 2004.
The rest of the cleverness on the label, I can only assume, would seem to be de Marchi’s tongue in cheek expression of frustration with the authorities who essentially have forced him to declassify the wine to the lowly Vino da Tavola category. The graffiti on the label translates something like this:
“…cross the Alps, elegant white steed, to and fro, etc. ... noble roots, silently, solitary thief, and a bunch of other things, if only they came to mind. All right then, maybe even enough, nay rather, no: he took a liking he did to these ancient sands, what noble nature, and them, him, bla bla bla ... only to arrive at a label. Vigorous, intense, sanguine, o free bandit! There you have it."
We have at least a double entendre: franco means both free (in the sense of speaking freely or frankly) and Franc/k in Italian but is clearly a reference to the vine involved and its country of origin. That reference is brought more clearly into the wine world with the image of a white steed (Cheval Blanc…) crossing the Alps, of Cabernet Franc, an unwanted bandit, leaving its home in France and infiltrating the Piedmont vineyards. Also wrapped up in there somewhere appears to be a clear statement from de Marchi that he saw the potential for Cabernet Franc to thrive in the terroir of Lessona and chose to explore it, wine bureaucrats be damned.
But what about the wine? True to just about all of Paolo’s wines, both at his Tuscan estate Isole e Olena and here at Proprietà Sperino in Lessona, this has a transparent richness and truly elegant feel and balance. Chocolate, cool earth, cassis, tobacco and stewed plums interlace on the palate. It’s medium-bodied and soft, with extremely supple tannins. There’s also a forward yet perfectly integrated oak influence, sweet and clean, that elevates the wine’s fruit without burying it in costume dress and pancake makeup. There’s just barely a touch of alcoholic heat; otherwise, this is seamless. I can’t say it screams of Lessona typicity. But then, what is the local typicity for Cabernet Franc? ‘L Franc Bandit would seem to be de Marchi’s first answer – 2004 is the first vintage – to that question. The downside? It’s an expensive answer. $60. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Coteaux du Layon, Château Soucherie (Pierre-Yves Tijou & Fils) 2005
This, the basic Coteaux du Layon from Pierre-Yves Tijou, is consistently one of the best values in sweet Angevin Chenin Blanc, year in and year out. Still under $20, it’s a bottle that can be enjoyed today or socked away in a cool wine cellar for another 20 years. Medium-sweet, it veers only modestly into Layon’s sometime tropical fruit character. Instead, there’s lemon oil, orange creamsicle, persimmon, peach blossom and peach butter. Underneath it all is a core of stoniness that, along with medium acidity, lends balance. In spite of only medium sweetness, there’s an intense confectionery element to the wine’s palate attack. A great pairing with local Loire goat’s cheese, this would also be lovely with just about any type of pâté or rillette. $19. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchants, New York, NY.