Thursday, August 14, 2008

Notes from a Sunday

Just a few notes today, from a casual get together with the usual suspects. In this edition, we started off with a couple of beauties from 2005 in the Loire before moving on to a Bourgogne Passetoutgarin, which I already wrote up under separate cover earlier this week. With dinner, an older Bordeaux seemed in order. Finally, my buddy Bill begrudgingly admitted to a Syrah epiphany.

Jasnières “Les Rosiers,” Domaine de Bellivière (Eric Nicolas) 2005
“Les Rosiers” is Eric Nicolas’ young vine cuvée of Jasnières, 100% Chenin Blanc fermented and aged primarily in barrels of 1-3 years with a small percentage of new oak. Though usually sec-tendre in style, this seems closer to demi-sec richness, no doubt due to the concentration provided by the 2005 vintage. It also happens to be showing as well if not better than any whites I’ve had from Bellivière in the past. Its richness is well bridled, thanks to the good acidity bound up in the wine’s creamy texture. There’s an unmistakable essence of pear nectar right up front, followed by classic notes of clover flowers and honey-glazed minerals. After aeration, some botrytis driven and vegetal funk sneaks through on the mid-palate but there’s still excellent upper and rear palate feel. Pears galore on the finish. $25. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.

Savennières “Cuvée Spéciale,” Château d’Epiré 2005
The “Cuvée Spéciale” from Château d’Epiré represents a selection of the best fruit from the property, mostly from a plot located adjacent to Nicolas Joly’s “Coullée de Serrant.” The version handled by d’Epiré’s US importer, Kermit Lynch, differs from that sold in France, as Kermit gives strict instruction that the wine be bottled without filtration. As opposed to the Jasnières above, this is a bone-dry expression of Chenin. Vintage derived concentration plays a role here as well, resulting in a slightly aggressive frontal attack, the result of intense physiological extract and slightly high alcohol. The wine bristles with mineral density. Flavors of gooseberry and white grapes are followed by dried floral and herbal elements, subtle on the nose, magnified on the palate. After a couple hours of airtime, a scent of spearmint emerges, something I think of as a signature element of dry Savennières. Very good wine that could definitely benefit from cellaring to allow integration and development. $23. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.

Haut-Médoc, Château Guittot-Fellonneau 1997
Guy Constantin produces real, old-fashioned Bordeaux from a whopping four hectares of property on the outskirts of the town of Macau. His estate is just a stone throw – on the wrong side of the road, essentially – from falling within the borders of Margaux. Lucky for us, as the wines could still be had for under $20 only a few years ago; unlucky for him as a more privileged address might have made him a slightly wealthier man by now. 1997 was universally panned by the big critics – proof “embottled” that points don’t mean a thing, as I’ve enjoyed several delicious ‘97s from a number of small-to-medium Châteaux over the last year or two. This has a long way to go but is starting to show some lovely bottle development. The nose is loaded with graphite/lead pencil aromas along with black and red currant fruit, a touch of bay leaf and really savory earthiness. Medium-bodied, taut and well delineated, it’s a damn good example of Bordeaux that’s not only inexpensive but can also be enjoyed with more than just steak and lamb. In this case, we paired it with braised chicken breasts and mushrooms, a dish Bill adapted from a recipe in Pierre Franey’s “Cuisine Rapide.” $17 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Saint-Joseph Rouge, Domaine Georges Vernay 2006
Bill is a self-avowed Syrah hater. He loves red wine, mind you, as long as it’s from Burgundy, the Loire, Beaujolais or Piedmont. He’s even been know to drink Grenache based wines from time to time. But Syrah? Nope. I’ve been out to prove him misguided for a while now and the opportunity finally presented itself a few weeks back when I hosted one of these Sunday gigs at my place; most are at his. I’d given strict instructions that he not bring anything. Translation: he was at my mercy. I poured a bottle half-blind, meaning I knew what it was but the rest of my guests had no idea. It was a bit unfair, I suppose, not just because of the trap but also because it was an older bottle. A damn good one, at that, the 1997 Cornas “Vieilles Vignes” from Alain Voge, a really top-notch if somewhat underappreciated producer.

Bill liked it. After I told him what it was, he still liked it. So much so that he went shopping a little while later and came home with an armful of another Northern Rhône Syrah, the Saint-Joseph Rouge from Domaine Georges Vernay. Bill liked this one as well. I did too. It’s a really fine example of young Saint-Joseph, redolent of dark red berries, cinnamon and black pepper, with a streak of black olive and bacon, a hint of beefiness and supple but really visceral texture. Medium-bodied, no discernible oak and a totally transparent winemaking style. Sandwiched between Christine Vernay’s basic VdP Syrah, which is only about $10 less, and her Côte-Rôtie, which run three-to-four times the price, this is a really solid value, suitable for drinking now or stashing away for the next ten years. $30. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.


bill l said...

i can't completely pinpoint why i didn't care for syrah. the closest i can come is that i didn't care for the mouthfeel of the varietal. (something tells me i just misused this word, but you know what i mean)

the vernay st joseph has completely changed my mind however. this is outstanding wine, and i have put my money where my mouth is. i've bought some for current consumption, but also a few to lay down.

Brooklynguy said...

sounds like a blast. you guys are lucky to have each other to share this kind of thing with - good fun.

the epire is such great wine, i think probably the value bottle (it's under $20, right?) of the vintage in savennieres. i swore i will cellar my two remaining bottles, as there is so much happening in the wine that needs resolution.

bill said...

the epire is interesting stuff. on release i was actually kinda stunned at how good it was and bought maybe 7 or 8 bottles. it has definetly closed up since then, but it is still an incredible wine, especially for the price. bone dry is an understatement!
after i bought my stash i was suprised to see apost elsewhere by someone i trust who wasn't wowed by it and found it atypical for the region.
the more i thought about it i realized, as much as i love chenin blanc, i'm not sure i completely know how to describe typical savenniers. just not enough around to drink it consistently i guess.
what do you think (mcduff too) best describes typical savennieres?

Tom Aarons said...

David, you write some really powerful and clear wine descriptions - they're a genuine pleasure to read. Thank you.

Marcus said...

On Thursday when you posted this I was downing Domaine de Bellivière, but the cuvée called "l’Effraie" from Coteaux du Loir, not yours. It was 06 but also 100% Chenin.

I was dining with Joe ( at BU ( and Bill's presence was being felt [insert Bill's URL here]. We had had our flights and finished dinner but in passing up dessert, still wanted to sample another glass from the impressive wine list. Joe and his brother-in-law went for a Swan Syrah - Russian River Valley. It seemed like a logical progression yet I refused to join them and went white. Might seem odd but I love Chenin like this at the end of a meal. Nourishing, fantastic balance and nice bittersweet edges to send you off into the night.

Your note was evocative though it wasn't the same bottle I had.

TWG said...

Where did you get the St Joseph's?

bill said...

the st joseph was purchased in maryland.

David McDuff said...

The Savennières from d'Epiré runs a tad over $20 in this market but is still a great value. I'm in complete agreement as to its capacity for further resolution, though it's drinking pretty well now.

As to Savennières typicity, Bill, that's a huge, tough question. Though there are demi-sec and moelleux versions, I tend to think of Savennières first and foremost as a bone dry example of Loire Chenin. Its minerality is more rocky, less limey than in Vouvray and Montlouis. Likewise, I think of it as less honeyed, whether dry or off-dry, and more herbal. Classic aromas and flavors, for me, include chamomile tea, hay, white asparagus and spearmint (which I mentioned in this posting). Steely, sometimes angular acidity... the list goes on.

Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you've been enjoying the blog.

Hey Marcus,
Great note. I'm with you. More often than not, I'd rather finish off the evening with a Loire Chenin or a German Riesling than with a red, though I'll definitely make an exception for Barolo or Burgundy.

State Line in Elkton, to be exact. Sorry Bill....

Anonymous said...

typicity, tough to say. but for young dry savennieres, i would say intense minerality with something like a quinine bitterness to it. some describe that as eucalyptus honey if the wine is not quite as dry. herbal too. later on you might find the same intensity, but a broader and richer set of aromas, more honeyed, some wax?

Brooklynguy (in San Diego)

David McDuff said...

Beeswax. Absolutely. Don't know how I forgot that. Thanks, Neil.

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