Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For No Particular Reason

Ever have one of those nights when you just feel like getting together with friends and opening up a few interesting bottles?

Rheinhessen Riesling trocken “Von der Fels,” Keller 2002
$20 on release. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
I’m pretty sure 2002 was the first release of Keller’s “Von der Fels” (“From the Rocks”). Even though I have only a couple of bottles, I felt it was about time to check in on one. I’m glad I did as it’s in a really good place right now, just starting to bridge into the development of some tertiary characteristics. Very fresh and prickly, still showing some residual carbon dioxide when first opened. It quickly rounded out and took on depth and richness with aeration. White peaches laced with lime zest, orange oil and honeysuckle hit the front palate, while a touch of oiliness and salinity follow. This is bone dry but completely physiologically ripe Riesling, loaded with palate staining fruit that shoots sparks across your tongue. With yet more air, rainier cherry fruit and intensely concentrated, almost sour minerality develop. Tremendous length. Lovely wine.

Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay, Emmanuel Houillon (Pierre Overnoy) 2006
$28. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
This showed big time sulfur/struck match aromas when first opened. After a quick and vigorous decant, it became clear that the wine was in a pretty severely reduced state. It showed much better on the palate, though, where I initially found flavors of apple cider and an element that reminded me of Junmai Daiginjo sake. Coming back to it fifteen minutes later, the nose was still full of totally reductive funk. But the wine had gotten even tastier, showing ripe red apple fruit and notes of cinnamon dusted pastry dough. I still had a hard time getting past its nose. Maybe it’s just too young yet, or needs a few hours (or days?) in the decanter.

In the context of my recent posting on wine naming conventions, how does one handle Houillon’s wines? All the bottles name Monsieur Houillon, while one bottle makes no mention of Overnoy, one names Pierre Overnoy and another is labeled as Maison Pierre Overnoy. Meanwhile, there is no visible differentiation in appellation or wine name from bottling to bottling; technically they are all just called Arbois Pupillin. Only different colors of sealing wax (not pictured), used in place of capsules, seem to differentiate one cuvée from the next: pale yellow for the Chardonnay, marigold for the Savagnin and red for the Poulsard.

The de rigueur shot of orange wine, sharing the counter with a Baltimore icon.

We never quite got around to opening Houillon’s Poulsard. But his 2004 Savagnin (the orange wine in the above photo), which had already been open for at least three or four days, was still quite interesting, offering up a nose full of Manzanilla and candy corn aromatics, finished off with tongue-twisting, gripping acidity.

Nahe Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Kabinett trocken, Emrich-Schönleber 2001
$15 on release. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Our brief detour into the Arbois didn’t prevent us from taking pleasure in trying this alongside the Keller. The eye alone, given its deeper golden appearance, was enough to show that this has traveled further along its path of development. But it still has plenty of stuffing and potential. Can there be such a thing as hedonistic Kabinett trocken? This would seem to suggest so, as it offered up voluptuous scents and flavors of clove-poached pears, fresh baked apple pie a la mode and peach cobbler. Did I mention that this is completely dry? And that it paired seamlessly with saba (mackerel sushi)?

This bottling doesn’t exist in the Schönlebers’ lineup any longer, replaced along with their other dry Kabinetts by the non-Pradikat “Mineral.” And wines at the quality level of this and “Von der Fels” no longer exist at these price points ($15 and $20, respectively). Can you hear that? It’s the sound of my teardrops hitting the floor.

Barolo “Cerretta,” Germano Ettore (Sergio Germano) 2000
$50. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Though showing just the slightest hint of its alcohol on the nose, this is nonetheless in a fine place right now. It’s still quite youthful in the fruit department but is soft, round, exotically spicy and sweetly scented. Enjoyably pondering a glass, I was struck with the thought that I’m not sure there’s any vine that takes to oak quite so well as does Nebbiolo. I find the aromatic fireworks that result when it’s done right really hard to beat. Here, it results in classic oak-derived spiciness and warm red floral aromas and scents of rooibos tea intertwined with red licorice and sassafras. The 2000 may lack the acid/tannin profile of a more classic Piedmontese vintage but firm, well-balanced grip still presents itself on the finish.

Ever think of pairing Barolo with chocolate? Don't. On the other hand, this worked surprisingly well with Peking duck, perhaps helped along by the rich fruit and soft texture typical to the 2000 vintage.

Gevrey-Chambertin, Sylvie Esmonin 2005
$60. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
A bit clumsy right out of the gate, the sweet red fruit immediacy of Sylvie Esmonin’s Gevrey was marred at first by slightly disjointed alcohol. It didn’t take long for its grace to emerge, though. Definitely lots of red fruit, both fresh and caramelized. A campfire set in a forest clearing on a nippy fall day comes to mind, not through any overtly reductive characteristics, just through the wine’s overall expression of brambly fruit and energy. Esmonin gets her knocks from some quarters for the concentrated, forward nature of her wines but I dig them. This has a wonderfully barky, sinewy character that helps to back up its boisterous, spicy red fruit. It’s slightly lean yet sappy and generous all at once, topped off with a beguiling nose of sandalwood. I would have guessed, as did Bill Nanson at Burgundy Report, this sees some stems in the vat but Dressner’s page on Esmonin says not.


Anonymous said...

Pupillin makes some fantastically interesting wines on par with the better Jura producers, the poulsard especially and is fast becoming a favorite for me. I know that it is more in demand now because last year the 2004 won Wine of the Year in a Japanese publication. I will track a link down for you. Really intersting choice for WotY.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

More on your Arbois Pupillin from Emmanuel Houillon (Pierre Overnoy). Firstly the naming: the appellation for all of them is Arbois Pupillin and by tradition (and this is a very traditional domaine) the grape variety is not named (in fact technically, it's even illegal to name it!). This is the old French attitude of "terroir is all - grape variety irrelevant because everyone knows what is grown in each appellation". Because wines in the Jura in particular are mainly hand-sold direct from the producer (at the domaine or at wine fairs or through local sommeliers), they don't see the need to bother. It drives me mad and I believe that if Jura ever wants to develop its reputation and sales abroad (and by that I mean even within France, but outside the region of Franche-Comté where Jura is) then it needs clearer labeling, ideally with a compulsory explanatory back label, not just naming the varieties but explaining the style of wines as well - that's another story (for more of a rant on this see my Opinion pieces in the Jura chapter in any recent editions of Tom Stevenson's Wine Report). Pierre Overnoy is an amazing, hugely respected character in the Jura, but with no successors; many years ago he started to work with a young man Emmanuel Houillon, who has now pretty much taken over the domaine, following to the letter the same philosophy as Pierre Overnoy, using so-called 'natural' winemaking techniques. Pierre Overnoy has been renowned for being a follower of the very unusual no-SO2 school of winemaking, believing that the only way this can be done is to use a highly reductive form of winemaking - hence your impressions of the wine, David. I find all the wines from this domaine difficult to really appreciate, but lovers of this style always advocate decanting the wines - both red and white - and it is true they can age superbly - I've tasted some older red Ploussard (confusingly Poulsard is called Ploussard in the village of Pupillin) made by Overnoy in a good year, and it has been extraordinary - but remains weird.

David McDuff said...

"Interesting" is putting it mildly, Cory. I suppose there could be a more unlikely WotY.... If I could read Japanese, maybe I'd be able to figure out the logic, if there is any. Either way, it's cool to see something from so far off the beaten track get that kind of recognition. Thanks for the link.

David McDuff said...


Thanks for your incredibly detailed comment -- worthy of a blog post in and of itself.

As a relatively old school guy who's more inclined to respect the French attitude of "terroir is all" than to hope for its replacement by marketing savvy (even though I realize that marketing driven labeling has the possibility of helping the wines in the long run...), I understand the simple AOC convention Houillon uses for naming these wines. While naming grape varieties on the label may be illegal, I'm surprised at the absence of any kind of cuvée name to distinguish the multiple bottlings. The tri-color wax "solution" might work on the local market but needs some pretty experienced interpretation abroad. Differentiating these wines is not quite as cut and dry as knowing that a white Sancerre is always Sauvignon Blanc while the red is always Pinot Noir, or that Red Bourgogne and White Bourgogne are always (at least nearly) Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively.

In any event, I won't let the vague labeling stand in my way of exploring the wines.

Joe said...

Yes, I often have those nights - in fact I just posted about one! Unfortunately ours were less interesting selections - my group is a little less adventurous and would probably have a tough time with an arbois. Funny about that Arbois chard - sulfur seems to be a signature for those - I would always decant an Arbois chardonnay. Hard to find Savagnin here - not impossible, just difficult. Have you tasted the wines of Nahe extensively? I am curious - hard to find, but I have loved the Donnhoffs.

Louis/Dressner Selections said...

The Houillon/Overnoy wines are made without sulphur. They have been working without sulphur since the mid-1980s. They are sulphur-free.

Joe Dressner

David McDuff said...

Canada Joe,
I'm glad to hear I'm not alone.... Savagnin is hard to find in my neck of the woods, too. Really need to go to New York (or order online) to find any. As for the Nahe, I've tasted reasonably extensively though far from exhaustively, mostly through the lineups of Emrich-Schônleber, Dônnhoff and Schâfer-Frôhlich. It helps that I've been to visit Schônleber -- you'll find my report among my winery profiles. Just follow the link in the left sidebar on any regular page of my blog.

Joe D.,
It's good to hear from you as always, and I hope you're feeling well and winning the fight.

I do understand that Houillon practices (and Overnoy practiced) a winemaking regime that involves no added sulphur dioxide. I hoped to make it clear in my note that the sulphuric/matchstick aromas we experienced with the Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay were the result of reductive, volatile sulphuric compounds, not a side-effect of surreptitiously added SO2.

Louis/Dressner Selections said...


Thanks for the good wishes. I'm doing badly and probably dying of cancer.

Anyhow, the wine under analysis would have almost 0% sulphur. It is raised in a reductive environment and you are confusing reduction with sulfuric smells. I find this happens commonly.

Although, I find it odd that this happened with the 2006. I find this bottling shockingly forward and delicious without any reductive notes.

Perhaps the bottle was having a bad day, but I've never had this experience and have tasted this wine a dozen times.

David McDuff said...


Thanks again for the feedback. This bottle of the '06 was definitely funky. I have another bottle at home; I'll try to check in on it sometime soon and will report back.

As for your bad news about the progress of the cancer, I don't know what to say other than that I hope you're wrong. Keep fighting. My thoughts are with you.

Louis/Dressner Selections said...


The wine is largely beloved. Perhaps it is not your taste in wine. That's fair enough.

Otherwise, do you have any suggestions about whom I should fighting with? Any concrete idea would be much appreciated.

I'm glad your thoughts are with me, but I'm not sure what that means. There is no way for me to sense your thoughts, important as they me to you.

I've received many messages from people who tell me that I am in their thoughts. Frankly, I wish they would think about other things. Personally, I suspect they are really doing just that.

I have asked on my cancer blog, for people to make their thoughts concrete by either sending me $30.00 (it is very expensive having brain cancer) or by sending $30.00 to Doctors without Borders in my name.

I'd appreciate it if you channel your thoughts in that direction and hope you enjoy your second bottle.

There is a mistaken notion that a good wine is loved by all good people who love wine. I hate most new world wines but understand that other people like those type of wines. Its a question of taste not political correction.

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