Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wines at the Bistro

Friends and I headed out to Bistro on the Brandywine for dinner a few nights ago. Taking advantage of their BYOB policy, which continues in spite of the recent approval of their liquor license, we carried along a few bottles with a view to ensuring enough versatility to suit the restaurant’s French bistro influenced menu.

Cheverny, Le Petit Chambord (François Cazin) 2006
François Cazin’s low-yield farming shows through in spades in the richly concentrated fruit and slightly unctuous texture of his 2006 Cheverny Blanc, a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. Given its high alcohol (14.5%) and marked residual sugar, I can’t help but consider this atypical for Cheverny. The herbaceous and mineral edge I expect from the AOC are missing and subdued respectively, replaced by round, ripe lemon and tangerine fruit and aromas of white tree blossoms. Cazin was obviously working with some pretty ripe raw materials in this vintage. The wine stops just short of being fully honeyed. On the up side, its alcohol is not at all apparent. There’s a chalky acidity that stands out on the mid-palate. In spite of all the concentration, its purity of fruit, along with that high-toned acidity, helped to make this pretty satisfying as an aperitif. It also worked well with the daily salad special of field greens, goat cheese and roasted golden beets. $16. 14.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.

Irouléguy Blanc “Ilori" ("Les Jonquilles"), Domaine Brana 2004
When I learned a few years back that the shop where I spend my days would be dropping the Wine Traditions portfolio, I was dismayed. Importer Ed Addiss brings in a book of characterful wines from a cadre of small estates, with particular strength in SW France. I made sure to snag a couple bottles each of a few of my favorites before they’d no longer be easily accessible. This is one, especially tasting it now, which I wish I’d gone long on.

“Ilori” is Basque, “Les Jonquilles” French, for Narcissus jonquilla, the yellow wildflowers native to southern Europe that grow widely on the terraced hillsides in Irouléguy. This is Domaine Brana’s “basic” white, a blend of Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu, vinified without wood influence. At first sniff, it gave off a cheesy pungency that I’ve noticed before in Jurançon Sec and other Pyrenéean whites. With air, that funk transformed into a much fresher expression of lime pith, kumquat and hay, with mountain meadow floral and herbaceous notes evocative of the wine’s name. Although it’s a tad lower alcohol than typical for Irouléguy Blanc, it still shows the area’s savage power and dryness via its combination of visceral acidity and intense persistence. Lip smackingly good even at first, it just kept getting better right up to the last drop. Spot on with the saffron cream sauce in which our mussels were cooked. $14 on release. 13.5% alcohol. Composite cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia,” Giacomo Conterno 2005
What can I say about this that hasn’t been said before? The wines of the Giacomo Conterno estate are a benchmark for the traditionalist style in Piedmont. They are widely considered to have few if any peers, particularly in the context of their famous Barolo Riserva, “Monfortino.” Though the winery is located in Monforte d’Alba, this Barbera is sourced from the estate’s 16-hectare vineyard, Cascina Francia, located high on the hillsides of Serralunga d’Alba. This is wine that somehow manages to capture the innately rustic personality of Barbera yet express it with elegance, structure and fine balance. The characteristic muscle of Serralunga fruit is all there. Plum and mulberry fruit and dense earthiness are followed by a hint of cocoa-driven opulence and restrained spiciness, the influence of a two-year aging regimen in old botti of Slovonian oak. Hardly every day Barbera, this is profound, a real vino di meditazione. There may not be a better pairing out there for the short ribs and gorgonzola gnocchi served at the Bistro. $30. 14% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, NY.


Joe said...

Wow, David, you love the oddities - a fantastic selection. Do you happen to know what the limit is for Chardonnay in Cheverny? I was surprised to see 30%. Makes sense that Irouleguy uses typical Gascon grapes - would LOVE to try one of those (had a Pacherenc once before, I wonder how similar?). I had a Conterno at a tasting of Barolo's best - funny that (blinded) I described it as "modern" (I know he is considered a traditionalist). Anyway, we have the '04 here, I may try and grab a bottle to compare with some of my other Barberas. Great post, cheers!

David McDuff said...

I just love good wine, Joe!

According to the INAO website, as of the 1997 harvest, Cheverny Blanc must consist of 60-85% Sauvignon Blanc. The other 15-40% can be any proportion of the permitted complementary varieties: Chardonnay, Menu Pineau and/or Chenin Blanc.

In theory, the Pacherenc could have been quite similar in blend to the Irouléguy, as both Courbu and Manseng are among the approved varieties for Pacherenc du Vic Bilh.

The winemaking practices at Giacomo Conterno may be devoutly traditional but that doesn't mean the wines can't have some pretty intense fruit. And even old wood makes itself known after two to seven years (ranging from two for the Barbera up to seven for Monfortino).

Thanks as always for the kind words.

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