Monday, October 27, 2008

The Louis/Dressner 20th Anniversary Portfolio Tasting

It’s been a week now since I made the trek up to New York for the grand tasting events of both Terry Theise and Louis/Dressner (LDM) Imports. There was a moment en route, trying to remain positive while stuck in a New Jersey Transit NE Corridor commuter train that was stopped dead on the tracks just south of Secaucus, that I thought I was going to end up missing one if not both of the events. Even though I’d hardly say that luck was with me that day, after a few hesitant lurches forward the train finally did make its way into Manhattan. Once I’d made the jump from Penn Station to Tribeca for my first stop, the challenge quickly switched from simply making it to the events to how to manage time and energy in such a way as to do either of them justice.

In contrast to the dressed for success crowd and well organized flow at the Theise portfolio show, the vibe at Louis/Dressner’s tasting was more one of casual chaos. The event space was a refreshing change – a sunny, airy, whitewashed room in LDM’s offices perched on the sixth floor of an office building near Astor Place. With 21 tables (few of them manned by this point in the afternoon), a less obvious traffic flow and an even less obvious rationale to the arrangement of wines, it was really up to the attendee to form a plan or make sense of it all. And with over 270 wines in the room, I can’t imagine there were more than a handful of endurance tasters that actually ran the gamut. Maybe Alice Feiring, who I had the pleasure of meeting as I was arriving and she was leaving, bicycle helmet tucked under her arm. If so, she was hiding the effects awfully well. Me? Looking back on Dressner’s tasting guide and my notes, I managed to spend some time with about one-third of the wines on offer. A bit of a disappointment from my self-critical perspective but, I suppose, not really that bad considering the time constraints and logistics of the day.

With nothing more than a quick sandwich and a quicker walk in the break after leaving the Theise tasting, jumping right back into bubbly seemed the most obvious way to resume.

Starters – A Few Bubblies from the LDM Portfolio:

Skipping the familiar (and wonderful) sparkling Vouvray and Montlouis of François Pinon and François Chidaine respectively, and intending to come back to the cidres of Julien Frémont (which I never managed to do), I started off with one of the few wines I’d yet to try from Thierry Puzelat. His 2006 “Pétillant Naturel,” I have to say, is an encapsulation of the fact that natural wine does not always equal good wine. This bottle was just in a weird place, all yeast and reductivity with little else to offer.

A non-vintage pétillant Saint-Péray from Les Champs Libres, a joint effort between Hervé Souhaut and René-Jean Dard (of Dard et Ribo) was pleasant in comparison. Albeit a bit aromatically neutral and coarsely textured, its forward fruit would make it an enjoyable quaff.

The Champagnes of Larmandier-Bernier were delicious across the board, from the fine and richly textured Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV to the steelier, more finely chiseled “Terre de Vertus” Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Non-Dosé. I somehow missed L-B’s rosé but the “Vieille Vigne de Cramant” Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004 more than made up for that. Tightly wound but lovely, lovely wine that’s just in need of some tender care in a cool cellar until it’s ready to really unfurl.

An extremely briny, mineral Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut from Ulysse Collin topped things off. As my description implies, I’d love to sit down with this and a platter of shellfish. Though not vintage dated, the fruit is all from the 2004 growing season.

On to the Beaujolais:

As much as it pained me, I leapfrogged past the wines of Jean-Paul Brun’s Terres Dorées and headed straight for Roilette, Tête and Descombes. In a tough crowd, the wines of Clos de la Roilette stood out. Their 2007 Fleurie was a thing of sheer beauty, extremely sappy at its core and built on a lean, tannic frame while the ’07 “Cuvée Tardive” showed similar sap with much more brooding, intense structure. These will both reward cellaring, especially the “Tardive.”

One of the great pleasures of the day was getting to taste, at least here and there, alongside my pal and blogging cohort, Neil, aka Brooklynguy (or is it Brooklyn Guy?). Sometimes you can learn more about someone’s tastes from what they don’t like than what they do. In that context, I think I’m beginning to get my arms around Neil’s preferences in Beaujolais, as he liked Michel Tête’s wines less than did I. In contrast to Roilette and Descombes, they’re softer and fruitier yet also more herbal in style, though the 2006 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” does take on a nice firm spine from the structure provided by 100-year-old vines.

Georges Descombes2007 Regnié was a delicious contrast, at once funky and brambly, with really juicy, exuberant fruit. Befitting of the cru, his wines from Morgon brought another level of intensity, apparent in the basic 2006 Morgon and framed even more clearly in the 2005 and 2006 “Vieilles Vignes” bottlings. Both were tightly wound, especially the darker ’05, but both showed real potential.

You Are So… Variable – The Wines of Nana, Vins et Cie (Domaine le Briseau) and Domaine de la Sansonnière:

Nana, Vins & Cie is the négociant business started in 2005 by Christian and Natalie Chaussard of Domaine le Briseau. Their wines, very natural and edgy, fall squarely into what many would call the hipster camp. Their labels vary between cute, minimal or simply indecipherable. And, at least on this day, the wines showed their quality to be quite variable.

In spite of the name, I really dug “You Are So Nice,” a blend of two-thirds Côt and one-third Gamay. The nose and palate both reeked of middle-Loire Côt, like a corned beef/pastrami sandwich finished off with a little wild raspberry jam. Relatively soft, it would make for a tasty picnic wine. “La Dérobée,” a Coteaux du Loir blend of Pineau d’Aunis and Côt, was not dissimilar from “Nice,” though with firmer backbone and a more guttural expression of earthiness.

I was less enamored with the whites. “You Are So Fine,” a Vouvray elevated in old barrels, showed intense wood influence with what little fruit there was being dominated by fermentation-derived aromas. And their Touraine Sauvignon called “You Are So Cool,” intensely minty and confectionery, was marred by a rubbery blast on the finish.

As much as I liked the 2005 Anjou Blanc “La Lune” from Mark Angéli’s Domaine de la Sansonnière when last I tasted it – coincidentally, it was also with Brooklynguy – it’s now gone into a very bad place, tasting of pomace and paint thinner. Just a phase, I hope. From the same vintage, his Anjou Rouge “Jeunes Vignes Les Gélinettes” was tannic – severely tannic – and weedy, in need of a hunk of roast beef to stand even a chance of being palatable.

Some More Wines I Did Like:

Lest you think I’m being a nasty cuss or naysayer, there were plenty of wines I did like. The whole lineup from Château d’Oupia was delicious, from the great value VdP “Les Hérétiques,” lean and full of barky fruit, to their top wine, Minervois “Cuvée les Barons” 2006, which drank like a magnified version of the “Tradition,” with greater richness but similarly wild, chunky fruit.

There was a delicious 2006 Mondeuse du Bugey from Franck Peillot, bright and juicy, and a very attractive if somewhat atypical 2006 Saint-Joseph Blanc from Dard et Ribo that might have fooled me for Chenin Blanc in a blind tasting.

I did take the opportunity to revisit a couple of old friends in new vintages. The couple of ‘06s I tasted from François Chidaine’s estate in Montlouis were showing great. “Clos du Breuil” was surprisingly rich, with really pure honeysuckle character. “Les Tuffeaux,” Chidaine’s multi-vineyard demi-sec cuvée, displayed the earthier, more mineral side of Montlouis and was showing a bit more structure than “Breuil.”

The Chinons of Bernard Baudry also showed well – big, boisterous and delicious across the board. The 2007 “Les Granges” displayed Baudry’s wild side in its fruity, animal nose. His top wine, the 2006 “La Croix Boissée,” was a monster on the palate, with a beautiful nose of red earth, sycamore and brambly fruit. Olga Raffault’s 2005 “Les Picasses” represented the more old-school side of Chinon, more feminine and delicate than Baudry’s expressions, with higher-toned aromas and a much more assertive acid profile.

It may come as no surprise – at their prices, it shouldn’t – but the showstoppers when it comes to Cabernet Franc were the 2004 Saumur-Champigny bottlings from Clos Rougeard. The “Clos” cuvée was lush and cuddly, full of cassis and eucalyptus, while “Les Poyeux” showed a more modern oak profile with fantastic structure. “Le Bourg” was simply rocking, coming across as more classic than “Poyeux,” with fantastic delineation of flavor and structure, fine balance and truly lovely fruit.

The 20th Anniversary Table:

By the time I found my way over to the table of wines from the 1988 vintage, being poured in celebration of Louis/Dressner’s twentieth year in the biz, I was too late to catch the ’88 versions of Clos Rougeard “Le Bourg” and Breton’s Bourgueil “Perrières,” as well as the ’88 Muscadet “Clos des Briords” from Domaine de la Pépière.

A trio of fantastic Loire Chenin Blancs helped to ease the disappointment.Back to Chidaine again, his 1988 Montlouis was redolent of tuffeaux terroir, with an intensely mineral nose. Showing aromas of fennel and pickling spices, François Pinon’s 1988 Vouvray Moelleux “Cuvée de Novembre” was complicated and lovely. Rounding out the threesome, Domaine du Closel’s Savennières “Clos du Papillon” may just have been my wine of the day. At the very least, it had the most beautiful nose of the day, rich with scents of aged goat cheese and limestone. Like Sainte-Maure in a glass.

As the close of business ineluctably approached, I wanted to believe that I’d overcome the challenges posed by the day’s doubled-up agenda. Deep down, though, I knew that the Dressner tasting had gotten short shrift. By around 3:30, I’d hit the wall, pure and simple. I found myself wandering the room. I’d gone from any sort of methodical tasting approach to looking around rather randomly for things that struck my fancy or cried out to be sampled. Serendipitously, though, just as I thought I’d have to throw in the towel, I wound up at a table of wines that helped bring things back into focus.

Happy Endings – the Whites of Stanislao Radikon:

Given the scarcity and relatively high prices of Radikon’s wines, it was a real treat to finish the day with a serious look at his whites. Stanko Radikon is an extreme naturalist, both on the farm and in the winery. I won't go into a ton of detail regarding their approach here but you'll find plenty of good information, albeit in Italian, at Radikon's website.

His 2003 “Jakot” (Tokaj spelled backwards), a varietal expression of Friulano, shows most clearly the funky side of Radikon’s natural winemaking, with a nose full of wild yeast, cider and damp minerality.

His other whites more clearly display his approach in the cellar. 30 days or more of maceration on the skins endowed his 2003 Ribolla Gialla with an energetic spiciness and tannic finish. 2003 “Oslavje,” a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Grigion and 30% Sauvignon, shone a beautiful tone of orange, like a California sunset in a glass. Its flavor profile, with a hint of spearmint on the finish, was sweet and ripe.

2001 Ribolla Gialla was in a much more mature state, with a nose full of dried herbs, apricot and citrus confit and less primary fruit on the palate; the ’01 Oslavje was fresher on the nose and still a bit more direct.

With the 1997 library releases, though, the tables were turned. The 1997 “Oslavje Riserva Ivana” was a bit of a paradox, lighter in color than the younger versions and very oxidative in style – interesting but not delivering much pleasure. Radikon’s 1997 Ribolla Gialla “Riserva Ivana,” on the other hand, was just singing. The wine of the bunch for me, with a great nose and rich, vinous texture, laced with cidre, thyme and candied orange.

These are not wines for every day pleasures. Rather, they’re profound wines, at once incredibly idiosyncratic yet also pure. While I can’t say Radikon’s line-up brought me back to spring daisy state, it certainly opened my eyes and provided a much-needed centering before saying my goodbyes and hitting the streets.


Joe Manekin said...

Good job, man. Tasting 1/3 is nothing to be ashamed of, especially given the circumstances.

You are so Nice, the cot-gamay version, was really tasty the last time I drank it, as opposed to when I first tried it a month and a half or so ago. I'm having an increasing amount of these type of experiences with these 'hipster' natty wines. They need good storage, not to be recently transported, and I had recently opened. Except the 'You are so nice' I so much enjoyed had been opened the night before. Who knows....

David McDuff said...

I had a similar experience with "You Are So Beautiful" (Coteaux du Loir, Pineau d'Aunis) last week. More interesting on day one but it held up fine and was still plenty tasty on day two. Good handling is definitely key though, even more so than usual.

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