Yesterday, I spent a relaxing afternoon tasting through some of the current lineup coming into the US courtesy of importer Bryce McNamee’s Boutique Wine Collection. Boutique held their 2009 National Portfolio Tasting over the course of the weekend in Center City Philadelphia. Unlike their tasting at the Moore College of Art last fall, this weekend’s event focused solely on the wines in Boutique’s direct book. While the core of that book remains based on Bryce’s work in Spain and South Africa, they’ve made a couple of significant additions to their French portfolio in recent months.
The highest profile of those French additions must certainly be the old Sancerre estate of the Mellot family, the Domaine de la Moussière. Alphonse Mellot Sr. and Jr. (Alphonse is the favored family surname) produce opulent Sancerre based on severe fruit selection from their low yielding, biodynamically farmed vineyards in the commune of Sancerre itself. A freshly bottled sample of their 2008 Sancerre Blanc “La Demoiselle” was one of the standouts of the entire tasting, full of high-toned gooseberry and granny smith apple fruit balanced on a knife’s edge of finely detailed acidity. Mellot’s 2008 Sancerre Blanc “Satellite,” on the other hand, was initially dense and wrapped up with the influence of its time spent in foudres. Returning to it three hours later, though, it was another wine entirely – creamy, mineral rich and hinting at the possibility of very interesting development with further time in the bottle.
The other new addition to Boutique’s French folio is the Domaine du Petit Métris, a 30-hectare estate based in the AOCs of Savennières, Chaume and Quarts de Chaume. More Loire wine! I wasn’t complaining…. Petit Métris has been in the Renou family since the late 18th Century and is now run by Joseph Renou and his sons, Pascal and Hervé. The Renou’s, members of Vini Vitis, apply both organic and biodynamic techniques on the farm. Their holdings in Savennières, purchased in the 1990s, are the most recent additions to the estate and consist of two lieu-dits: Clos de la Marche and Les Fougeraies. The 2005 Clos de la Marche was my favorite of the line-up, showing the beginnings of bottle development and a classic aromatic profile, full of herbal tea and quince notes; the much less evolved ’05 “Les Fougeraies” showed a streak of menthol through its otherwise closed framework. The 2007s from both vineyards were youngsters but demonstrated the fruit-forward character of the vintage. From their holdings in Chaume, the 2005 “Les Tétuères” was pretty irresistible, while the intensely opulent aromas of their 2007 Quarts de Chaume hinted at the promise of good things to come for those who can wait.
I was again impressed by much of the range from Alsace’s Rolly Gassmann, another in Boutique’s growing stable of estates practicing biodynamie. All of Gassmann’s wines are fermented on their native yeast and showcase both varietal typicity and clear expressions of terroir. The wines are released to market only when young winemaker Pierre Gassmann deems them ready. Their 2004 Riesling “Kappelweg” vied, along with Mellot’s Sancerre “La Demoiselle,” as best of show with its brilliant yet subtle structure and a spark of wintergreen in its aromatic profile. The Pinot Gris “Rotleibel,” also from 2004, showed fantastic nerve and acidity. Two different vintages of Gewürztraminer “Oberer Weingarten” were also on point: the 2004, very drinkable at a low by Gewürz standards 12.5% alcohol , had a refined nose of orange peel and spice while the 1998 was showing fantastic bottle development. Even Gassmann’s range of Vendanges Tardives bottlings showed fine balance, from a 1997 Muscat “Moenchreben” that was surprisingly subtle despite its 258 grams of RS, to the seemingly dry finish of the 2000 Riesling “Cuvée Yves.”
Continuing with Riesling, albeit of an entirely different style, the father/son team of Rudi and Christian Hermann were on hand, pouring wines from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages. Their estate, Dr. Hermann, consists of 6.5 hectares split among choice vineyard sites in the middle Mosel villages of Erden and Ürzig. It was highly instructive to taste the wines from the difficult 2006 season side-by-side with the very classic wines of 2007. There were true Kabinett wines from both Erdener Treppchen and Ürziger Würzgarten in ’07, while no Kabinett at all were produced in 2006, when even the Spätlesen were affected by botrytis (and were mostly declassified Auslesen). The standouts at the Hermann’s table, though, were two wines from 2005: the minty Erdener Treppchen Auslese that was just beginning to reveal some lovely bottle development and the Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese, produced from 80-100 year-old vines and showing intense extract. Produced from even older vines (phylloxera is unable to live in the meager soils in this part of the Mosel), the Erdener Treppchen Spätlese “Herzlay” was the star of their 2007 lineup.
As I’d completely missed the lineup from Parés Baltà at Boutique’s last event, I did my best to spend a little time with them this go ‘round. A large estate in Spain’s Penedès region, with over 700 hectares of land including nearly 180 hectares under vine, Parés Baltà has practiced organic farming principles since its inception in 1790 and is now certified organic. All fermentations, save the secondary round for their Cavas, occur on autochthonous yeasts. There’s a clear drive and ambition behind the wines. I found their entry-level efforts most enjoyable, from a crisp, floral NV Cava Brut, to the intensely toffee driven (but dry) white called “Calcari” made from 100% Xarel.lo, and on to the “Mas Petit” red, a 60/40 blend of Garnatxa and Cabernet Sauvignon that showed fresh, herbal red fruit and a bracingly tannic finish.
As you may be guessing, time was running short by the time I worked my way up to this point. A quick power tasting session – not my preferred or natural approach – was in order. Though I hardly got to taste everything, there were at least a few wines worthy of mention. There was a juicy and directly pleasing example of Bierzo “Joven,” a varietal Mencia from Bodegas y Viñedos Castro Ventosa. Scali Blanc, a small-lot blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay from Willie and Tania de Waal’s property in the Voor-Paardeberg district of South Africa, was much tastier on the palate than its somewhat muted nose led me to expect. And the 2003 Cape Vintage “Port” from a winery called Axe Hill in Klein Karoo (about a four-hour drive north of Capetown) would have been right at home in a blind tasting line-up of young Vintage and LBV Ports.
Last but not least was arguably the most unusual wine in the room, a Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes “Vieilles Vignes” Blanc from the tiny producer Le Signal, situated about five kilometers west of Maury in the town of Saint Paul de Fenouillet. Based almost entirely on the fruit from 80-year-old vines of Grenache Gris, plus a dash of Macabeo, the wine was a powerhouse – in a good way. Produced very naturally, it was showing a positive touch of orange wine oxidative character along with aromas of campfire smoke, toasted brioche, caramelized pecans and garrigue, and had no problems holding its 14.5% alcohol in check.