Regularly tasting through the full line-up of new releases from a single producer is part and parcel of working in a wine shop that cares at least a little about its products. Even though sip-and-spit tasting has its drawbacks, working through several wines from a single producer at one sitting is one of the best ways, short of an actual winery visit, to get a handle on what that producer is really all about.
Such tasting is something, I expect, far too few of us do at home. Economies of scale (not enough people to share with) and economy, plain and simple, both get in the way. For me, a certain level of jadedness acts as a deterrent as well. It’s increasingly rare that I get jazzed enough about a single producer’s full range of new releases to want to take them all home at once. But the motivation still occasionally presents itself, most recently with three new arrivals from Vincent Ricard. The good value/Loire Valley/natural wine trifecta may have had more than a little to do with it. My more than abiding interest in the estate, ever since visiting Ricard in 2004, figured in there as well.
Touraine “Les Trois Chênes,” Domaine Ricard 2008
$20. 13% alcohol. Cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
This was quite the buzz a couple of weeks back when two leading wine e-tailers offered it, at drastically different price points, via e-mail blasts on the same day. I didn’t mind a bit, as the momentary hype brought more than a few “researchers” to my profile of the estate.
“Les Trois Chênes” is arguably Vincent Ricard’s flagship wine. He makes other Sauvignons (his specialty), at lower and higher price points, but this one really captures the balance between his terroir, natural farming and talented winemaking. The Sauvignon comes from a single vineyard of 50+ year-old vines planted on their native rootstock in sand dominated and silex (flint) laced soils. The fruit is hand-harvested in several tris and then sees a slow, three-month barrel fermentation, part of the wine’s total eight-month aging regime, which includes occasional bâtonnage, in barriques.
The end result is not so much creamy and opulent as it is densely packed, firm and sappy. Things open up with a big blast of mineral soaked lemon drop fruit, with a very energetic, full mouthfeel. The vibrant fruit soon yields to the wine’s resinous, structural wood influence. More fruit returns with aeration: kumquat, mango and lemon oil. At the approach of ambient temperature, the woody notes combine with the Sauvignon to form a distinctly spearmint driven aromatic profile. It’s even good at room temp. Only recently bottled and shipped, this has yet to find its harmony but all the voices are definitely there and definitely singing.
Touraine “Le Clos de Vauriou,” Domaine Ricard 2008
$12. 12.5% alcohol. Composite cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
“Le Clos de Vauriou,” as its name implies, is another single vineyard bottling hailing from the family’s small plot of Gamay. Theoretically, Vincent makes this wine only in good vintages, though 2008 marks its third or fourth consecutive release so it may well be on its way to becoming an annual staple. After a 20-day maceration and primary fermentation in steel, “Vauriou” undergoes its malolactic fermentation in barriques and sees only the lightest filtration before bottling.
I have to say, this wine was in the back of my mind when writing (and responding to the comments) on my recent posting regarding some of the inherent risks taken by those making natural wines. When bottles of the 2007 version of “Vauriou” were on, they were delicious – full of juicy, grapey fruit, a pleasure to drink. But there was a spate of bad bottles, gone to one degree or another to vinegar. Whatever the issue was, and I’m guessing acetobacterial spoilage, it seems to have been avoided in 2008, as I’ve tried several bottles that are sound, consistent and even more delicious than the good ones from last year. The grapey, gulpable goodness is still there, but it’s also accented by fine tannins, chalky minerality, a spike of white pepper and very snappy texture. There’s a definite inky/graphite element on the nose as well, along with an enticing twist of blood orange. Very food friendly; at the price, it’s a serious candidate for a by-the-case summer red.
Touraine “Le Vilain P’tit Rouge,” Domaine Ricard 2007
$19.50. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Childlike renderings of trees, purple grapes dangling above a glass, a devil clinging to a goblet’s stem…. The paintings on Ricard’s labels are all the work of Tours-based artist, L. Bouro. In a comment left here some time ago, Brooklynguy mentioned finding the labels off-putting. I can see that, as I’ll almost always steer away from critter labels. However, a growing number of producers in the natural wine set seem to be going for fun or quirky art on their labels; I’m thinking of Puzelat/Tue Boeuf, Le Briseau/Nana Vins & Cie, and Marcel LaPierre, just to name a few. Point is, I kind of like Vincent's labels, though it certainly helps that I know the winemaker behind them and know that they both capture his spirit and reflect something of the essence or story behind each wine.
Going on memory, the 2007 release of “Le Vilain P’tit Rouge” seems a bit less rich than the 2006. Based on my note for the ’06, though, it’s certainly more similar than it is different, perhaps influenced by the fact that it’s again a blend of 90% Côt (Malbec) and 10% Cabernet Franc. There’s some funky-monkey happening on the nose – dark and sour, loamy and wild. It’s loaded with black cherry fruit backed by flavors of clove, charcoal, hung beef and coarsely ground black pepper. There’s lots of texture, too. Definitely a wine for food; to quote my tasting buddy, "Côt and duck is good." (That's a pic of his oven-roasted wild duck, by the way; gamy and damn tasty.)