Friday, April 30, 2010

Josh George: Straight Outta Richmond

For today's post, I'm handing over the reins to a guest blogger: Josh George. A regular reader and semi-regular commenter here at MFWT, Josh is a guy I think of as a friend even though we've met only via the blogosphere. By way of intro, I asked him to write a few words about himself. Take it away, Josh.

My wife and I left New York six months ago to head south to the small town of Richmond, Virginia. I wanted space to paint big and she wanted peace and quiet to focus on her writing. We started a blog — Who's Afraid of Virginia? — to document our new life and new changes. We want to show the rest of the world how pretty and vibrant Richmond is, with its historic neighborhoods and the local art and food scene. After a few posts my wife became too busy with her writing but I try to keep it alive by posting photos of food and wine porn.

As Josh hinted at only modestly above, he's an accomplished painter, who shows regularly in New York and has done album cover art for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny — yet another of our common interests.

Please check out Josh's portfolio at his official website,, and follow his news and works in progress at his painterly blog,

Though I wasn't able to make it to New York last week for the annual Louis/Dressner portfolio tasting and Euro-invasion extravaganza, Josh jetted up to NYC for the day just to be there. Here's his report....

We sat in the airport terminal, reluctantly eating a greasy, overly-processed breakfast from one of the vendors. Suffering through a soggy "panino," I knew I'd soon redeem my crappy meal by tasting a portfolio of all natural, honest expressions of earth.

I work a few shifts a week and hang-out part time at J. Emerson Fine Wine down in Richmond, Virginia. On April 22, my manager and I joined forces with the natural wine guys from Williams Corner to take a quick day trip up to New York for the Louis/Dressner tasting. Though excited to taste some of my hero's wines, I wondered how bittersweet the visit would be for me, having just left New York after living there for ten years. I got over any sentimentality after sitting in traffic for an hour on the Williamsburg bridge.

We were greeted by a geeky sign coded for those in the wine business. Out of 29 vignerons, only 16 could escape the eruption of the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull that interrupted European air travel. Along with rain, sleet, snow and drought, the volcano was just another element that the winemakers had to deal with and made for some fun conversations.

Lost between three distributors, the wines of Roagna got their own sealed off Luca Lounge. Polaner will still handle the wines in New York and New Jersey and not be a part of the move to David Bowler. Nationally they will sell through Louis/Dressner, or something like that. Anyway, the whole lineup was there from the '05 Bianca Solea, little Dolcetto and Barbera, the '03 Langhe Rosso, the 'what's in it?' Opera Prima XVII and bottlings from both Barbaresco and Barolo.

A man on a mission. Franck Peillot of Franck Peillot raced to escape the volcanic cloud by driving 800 miles from Bugey to Madrid to catch a flight to get to New York. His non-vintage Montagnieu Brut was bottled, bubbly herbs that can take on anything from Champagne. The '08 Roussette de Bugey Altesse tart and nutty, and the '08 Mondeuse was like warm wool in the mouth. What's not to love?

Manuela & François Chidaine of Vouvray and the stones throw Montlouis had maybe the prettiest wines in the room. Maybe a little riper than other current releases from that part of the Loire, easily enjoyable in their youth.

The wines of Clos du Tue-Boeuf are always a favorite. From the lean, crystal scented Le P'tit Blanc, the wonderfully raspy '09 La Butte, to the mysterious cloudy colored, crushed violet scented '09 Cheverny Rouge.

Pierrot Bonhomme, Thierry Puzelat's business partner, has vines of his own. His unfortunately named '08 Touraine Rouge "KO In Cot We Trust" was a show stopper, proving that Malbec is just a grape, not a flavor in itself but more a communication device to show off some really distinct dirt. I could have this on the dinner table every night.

Cascina degli Ulivi was one of the volcano victims. Alessandra Bera of Bera Vittorio & Figli was around to see us all marvel at their '09 Moscato d'Asti.

Here's Scott Bridi overseeing animals in all forms. He runs the charcuterie program at Marlowe & Daughters. Before that he headed the kitchen at the rustic Lot 2 in Brooklyn and also did meat at the famous Gramercy Tavern for two years. We were in good hands.

My biggest surprise of the day were the wines of Radikon. I was prepared to dislike these mythical monstrosities, thinking they were unobtainable, super sexed up, oxidized trophies. I was so wrong, they were super cool. Maybe it was the context with all the other wines of the day but they were so bizarre, so different, lush and vibrant with bulletproof zip.

Sasa Radikon was on hand to explain the farming, vinification and their approach to bottling. The farming like most of the other vignerons on hand is biodynamic and natural, hand harvested, low yields, all that. What is interesting is the 90 days of skin maceration and the 3 years in large Slavonian oak that make them somewhat indestructible. The 500 ml bottles are used to house the skinny little corks they have specially made, which they feel ages the wine at just the right pace.

These beautiful cider and tea colored wines can justify the high prices.

Natural wine enthusiast Alice Feiring chatting up Olivier Riviere about his un-Rioja-like wines. The '09 Rayos Uva and the '07-08 Ganko and the '08 Gabacho had a bright red freshness that contrasted the oaky, roasted norm.

The man himself keeping everything under control.

The crew from Williams Corner Wine getting the V.I.P. treatment with Luca Roagna.

Even with all the spitting, trying to taste one hundred wines can take a toll on one's constitution. I made a turbo escape for Gimme! Coffee down in Soho. One of the things I miss about New York is good espresso, though outstanding coffee didn't exist in New York until 2001. I'm hoping it is just a matter of time before it trickles down to Richmond. Gimme! does it right.

The crime scene that was Matthieu Baudry. Les Granges was delicious in its youth; the '08 Clos Guillot and the '08 Croix Boisée were like buried treasure.

Francesca Padovani of Campi di Fonterenza was on hand with pink wine, a vertical of little Sangiovese, up through the '07 Rosso di Montalcino and a surprisingly elegant and restrained but mouth drying '04 Brunello. I had to run back to the meat table in between pours.

Also on hand was Jean-Paul Brun of Terre Dorées in Beaujolais. I was too intimidated to take his picture. It was a pleasure, though, shaking his meaty farmer hand. His wines might have been the day's winner. The place was nuts over superstar Eric Texier; he was pouring flavors from Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and of course his greatest discovery of Brézème.

Our last stop before flying home was Peking Duck House Midtown. We were able to sneak in a bunch of Dressner wines to see how they could handle two whole ducks. Afterward our palates were beat... we finished off the night with a $9 Peroni at the airport.

Thank you Louis/Dressner for doing what you do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cognac, Calvados, Chocolate...

Just read that title.... What more could you ask for on a Thursday night? A wee dram of Scotch and a sip of Bourbon? Okay, you've got it.

All that's left to do is call the good folks at Eclat Chocolate, located in the heart of West Chester, PA, and you're in.

Both seatings for tomorrow night's event, where I'll be pairing small-batch spirits with artisan chocolates created and presented by Master Chocolatier Christopher Curtin, were sold out... until a last minute bout of cancellations hit.

Sound too good to be true? I hope so, but true it is. And there are a couple of spots open at each seating.

The full details:

When: Thursday, April 29, 2010
Two seatings: 6:30 to 8:00 PM, and 8:30 to 10:00 PM.
Cost: $55/person, all inclusive.
Location: Eclat Chocolate, 24 South High Street, West Chester, PA 19382
Phone: 610-692-5206

Come on out, dang it! It'll be a blast.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Visitor from the Luberon

When I visited Domaine de la Citadelle back in the fall of 2000, I viewed it at the time as simply a happy coincidence. I was staying for a few days in the Luberon, and our home base was in a B&B located in the valley below the hilltop village of Ménerbes. There just happened to be a winery, a handsome one at that, within easy walking distance. We kind of had to check it out, non? As luck would have it, the wines we sampled in the Domaine's tasting room were pretty damn tasty so, after taking a spin through their Musée du Tire-Bouchon, we left with an armful of bottles to enjoy with our lunches (and afternoon snacks) over the next few days.

That happy coincidence turned into a more surprising one when, three or four years later, the wines of Domaine de la Citadelle showed up at the shop where I work. They've remained in steady rotation there ever since. As with wines from other estates I've had the chance to visit, I enjoy a certain comfort in selling them, as first-hand experience always makes what's in the bottle more personally meaningful — and correspondingly easier to recommend.

Over the ensuing years, I've met Alexis-Rousset Rouard on a few occasions. Alexis' father, Yves Rousset-Rouard, essentially created the Domaine de la Citadelle when he bought the property — a farmhouse and eight hectares of vineyards at the time — in 1989. Alexis joined his father at the estate in 1995 — it's now expanded to include approximately 40 hectares under vine — and has since taken an ever increasing role in both farming and winemaking responsibilities. Saturday just past, I got to know Alexis a good deal better, spending the better part of the day helping him pour and present his wines for the steady stream of customers that came by the shop to taste with him.

When the clock struck closing time at the tasting table, I posed a simple question to Alexis: shall we head to a local restaurant, or accept an invitation to dine with friends? His quick answer: chez amis.

Sometimes staying in really does trump going out, especially after a long day at the office. That's Alexis above, relaxing at the kitchen island in the home of our gracious hosts, Bill and Kelly, with my friend and coworker Eric resting it out in the background.

Since our hosts hadn't made it to the tasting, we carried along a bottle of Domaine de la Citadelle's 2008 Luberon blanc "Le Châtaignier" (pictured way up above) to enjoy with dinner. It's a blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Bourboulenc, fermented and aged solely in tank. As with all of Alexis' wines in the "Le Châtaignier" ("the chestnut tree") line — there's a red and rosé as well — it's produced from a parcel-by-parcel selection of young vine fruit and vinified with the intention of producing a bright, fruit-driven, relatively simple yet characterful wine for everyday enjoyment. Like all of the estate's wines, it's also marked by refreshing acidity; Alexis likes to call it tension. We're not talking tongue-twisting action for all you acid freaks out there, but we are talking about brighter acidity than typical in most of the Southern Rhône. That acidity is a direct side effect of the cool nights and moderate elevation (about 300 meters) in the Luberon vignobles, where harvest typically starts 8-15 days later than in other parts of the Southern Rhône.

The crisp yet ripe texture, orchard fruit flavors, and delicately mineral finish of "Le Châtaignier" blanc made for a delicious pairing with Bill's pan-seared scallops and crunchy "green linguine."

Alexis' vin blanc was a no-brainer, but there was a big question facing us for the rest of the night. Just what do you pour when a winemaker comes over for dinner?

I'd considered bringing along an older Domaine de la Citadelle bottle from the home cellar (something like this, perhaps), but then I figured that Alexis can drink his own wines pretty much whenever he wants. Hmmm...

I think we were all in accord that one can rarely go wrong with Champagne. Bill had actually figured that one out ahead of time, as he had a bottle of José Michel's 1997 Champagne "Spécial Club" lightly chilled and ready to be popped when we arrived. Michel's "Club" bottling is consistently delicious wine. While the '97 may not have quite the elegance and fine structure of the 1996 (that I wrote about as a guest Chez Brooklynguy quite some time ago), it was still vibrantly youthful, showing all of the richness, opulence and ready-and-raring-to-go qualities of the '97 vintage.

What else, though? So many options... but is Burgundy really a bad way to go? We thought not.

We paired Robert Ampeau's 1994 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Combettes" with Bill's franco-american spin on spaghetti carbonara. The sauce featured quail's eggs in place of the traditional hen's eggs; pork belly that Bill had smuggled back from Paris in the stead of pancetta; and sautéed ramp greens in lieu of the oft-tossed fistful of chopped flat-leaf parsley. The caramel depth of the wine's tertiary fruit and its stony finish turned out to be a surprisingly decent match to the subtly smoky yet delicate flavors of the pasta. It wasn't the most vibrant bottle of the '94 Combettes I've had but it was still in great shape, an admirable showing.

The 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Morgeot" of Henri Germain wasn't too shabby a match with our next course, either. Bill's really been dialing it in at the stove-top of late. His butter-braised grouper cheeks, each one about as big around as a standard muffin-top (guess I should have included something in the photo to give a sense of scale), were absolutely scrumptious. I really dig Henri Germain's wines, too. They're hard to resist when they're young, like this bottle so painfully was — all nervy and wound up like a spring but with vibrant, focused fruit intensity and great length. I've yet to taste any mature examples of his whites but there's a bottle of the 2002 version of this very wine waiting in the cellar for that certain moment. Just keeping my fingers crossed that there won't be any prem-ox issues....

Just to be fair, we threw in a little red wine between courses.... The 2005 Montefalco Rosso "Vigna San Valentino" from Paolo Bea — a blend of 70% Sangiovese along with 15% each of Montepulciano and Sagrantino — was snappy, fresh and vibrant. Way too easy to drink and a beautiful example of just how approachable and versatile Sangiovese-based reds can be at the table.

While we obviously opted for an all-Euro entourage of wines, we didn't want to leave Alexis without a taste of home — our home, that is. I'd missed the morning's ramp romp (yes, working on Saturdays is not without its downsides) but Bill and some friends had gone a-foraging and the ramps pictured above were fresh and tasty as could be, lending their springtime fragrance and savor to all three of the dishes we enjoyed on Saturday night.

Looking back at last year's edition of the ramp fest, it seems we broke out a remarkably similar range of dishes and even some coincidentally (and happily) similar wine selections this year. Turns out there's comfort to be found in both the familiarity of home and the reassurance of consistency.

We'll expect you back again next year, Alexis.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Passion of the Fish

This could have been an Earth Day post. Passionfish, located at one end of the precious heart of Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, CA, was the first restaurant in Monterey County to receive "Green" certification. Chef/owner Ted Walter works extensively with local, organically farmed produce and selects only sustainable fish for his seafood-dominated menu. One-half of the restaurant's $20 corkage fee is donated to the Tag-A-Giant Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to rebuilding and preserving the Bluefin Tuna population in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Yep, this could have been about Earth Day if I weren't a day late. But timeliness is not the point of today's post, which is actually about a meal I enjoyed over a month ago while in the Monterey area for my friends Steve and Stacy's nuptial festivities. My wife and I took advantage of the one free night of the trip to sneak in a special dinner. Given the glowing recommendations from Stevie, Passionfish it was — and yes, this post is at least a little bit about the food...

We started with one of the day's specials, Hog Island Oysters, farm-raised in nearby Tomales Bay, topped with carrot-ginger granita; followed by a South Asian-inspired salad of Malaysian pole caught squid with spicy cilantro-citrus sauce and mango; and a salad of warm brussel sprouts and grapes with pancetta and ricotta salata.

Though the "Entrees from the Land" on the menu sounded delicious enough, we hadn't traveled 3,000 miles and opted to dine at a place called Passionfish to eat braised beef or gnocchi. Oil-poaching is the specialty of the house — four of the six fish entrees on offer during our visit were prepared in said manner. I opted for the striped bass with crispy sweet potatoes, romesco, caramelized onions and chard (below, at left), while my dining companion chose what turned out to be the favorite dish of the night for us both, sturgeon with lemongrass-jasmine rice, lemongrass slaw and spicy red curry vinaigrette.

The desserts were no slouch either. We tried to share a single plate — I'm a sucker for bread pudding and Passionfish's pear bread pudding with Madeira-caramel sauce was delicious — but our server was having nothing of it. She insisted on bringing us an order of bruléed bananas served with coconut mousse and lime curd, her favorite of the house-made desserts, which was plated in a playful riff on bacon and eggs.

As much as I enjoyed our meal at Passionfish, what I really wanted to write about, what still has me thinking about our experience there over a month later, is the restaurant's fantastic wine program. Sommeliere (I'll call her that even if she doesn't like the term) Jannae Lizza has put together an extremely diverse, thoughtful list. Sure, there's the occasional red that seems too big for the fish flesh-driven fare – this is California after all – but just look at her list!

Cantina del Pino Dolcetto d'Alba for $20. Domaine de la Tournelle "L'Uva Arbosiana" at $25. Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny for $50. Domaine du Closel Savennières "La Jalousie" at $35. Jean Manciat's "Franclieu" for $25. I mean, come on!

The wines by the bottle are priced at or just barely above what would equate to standard retail price in most markets. That's pretty unheard of in most necks of the woods, and it's a great way to ensure that a bottle ends up on just about every table.

Being that we were just the two of us, I fought the temptation to order three or four bottles and instead opted to splurge on something special. Actually, we did go for two bottles, as I couldn't say no to the thought of Champagne with our oysters and René Geoffroy's "Cuvée l'Empreinte" was calling my name from Jannae's more than respectable list of options by the half-bottle. The slighty more rapid development of Champers in half-bottle combined with a disgorgement date of April 2007 (thanks for the data, Mr. Theise) to yield a wine that was, to my preferences, more mature than ideal with our brisk, briny bivalves. Nevertheless, it was a compelling drink – slightly oxidative, with very apple-y fruit and toasty palate characteristics, fronted by an even more apple-y nose (red apple skins, to be exact).

And that special bottle? Unless you're reclining while someone else reads this to you aloud, you've already spotted the picture at right/above. It's something I'd always wanted to drink but for which I'd never been able to bring myself to plunk down the necessary cash. In a nice restaurant, on vacation and at a price equal to or better than what I'd pay in a retail shop back in the Philly area, though, I had to go for it. The 2007 Pouilly-Fumé "Silex" from Didier Dagueneau (RIP) was immensely vinous and penetrating. Its unmistakable Sauvignon Blanc character was backed by a mineral pungency more reminiscent of a fine Nahe Riesling, while its wood influence was totally enveloped in fruit richness and grapefruit oil aromatics. Most of all, its namesake flint drove through on both the nose and the mineral-laden finish. Am I going to rush out for a case of it at ~$120 a pop? Nope, but I'm glad we went for it at Passionfish.

701 Lighthouse Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950-2501
(831) 655-3311
Passionfish on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Blog of Note: Mosel Wine Merchant

Even though further convincing was long past necessary, Lars Carlberg's anything but "superficial" post yesterday regarding skin contact and its effects on Mosel Riesling has driven me to this....

If you're not already reading the Mosel Wine Merchant Blog, you should be. Add it to your reader of choice. Bookmark it. Whatever. Just do it.

If you're into German wines, it's an absolute must. Even if you're not, the quality of the content coming from Lars and his business partner, Dan Melia, is simply top notch and, really, should be of interest to anyone who is passionate about wine. Period.

Yes, Dan and Lars are importers. And yes, they do write primarily (though not only) about the wines in their own portfolio. But their posts are far more than shills for their own products. Excellent writing, historically relevant context and deeply informative technical information make it one of my most anticipated reads. Add to all of that one of the sharpest looking blog templates out there and the magnificently gothic photography of occasional contributor Tobias Hannemann... I think you've got the idea.

Now if only they'd keep up the regular posting....

The Bremmer Calmont vineyard, photo courtesy of Tobias Hannemann via the Mosel Wine Merchant Blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Champagne Tarlant

Aye, if there's a place in the wine world I'd most like to have been today, though getting there might have been tough given the current airspace restrictions in Europe, it's Aÿ. (Never could resist leading off with a horrible pun....)

Aÿ was indeed the place to be today for the 2nd annual tasting conducted by Terres et Vins de Champagne, a group of young, natural-leaning Champagne growers that was first conceptualized and organized by Raphaël Bérèche and Aurélien Laherte. I won't go into any more detail about it here, as you can read all about last year's inaugural event at Peter Liem's now defunct blog, Besotted Ramblings.

What I will do is take today's event, even if it was 3,000+ miles away, as impetus to finally share some of my impressions from a relatively recent event much closer to home – the Boutique Wine Collection national portfolio tasting, held back in early March in Center City Philly. The lineup at this year's tasting was quite similar to last year's, with one notable exception that was, at least for this taster, an exciting new entry in the Boutique portfolio.

It didn't take long for me to find it, as two steps into the room I was greeted by Mélanie Tarlant, who asked if I'd like to taste through what turned out to be pretty close to the full range of wines produced at her family's estate, Champagne Tarlant. Mélanie's brother Benoit just happens to be one of the seventeen participating members of Terres et Vins de Champagne, so there's today's tie-in (just in case you were wondering).

Mélanie has only recently entered the family business, taking on the role of communications director for Champagne Tarlant. This was her first time visiting the city of brotherly love, and she seemed to have survived her Saturday night indoctrination into the world of Philly cheesesteaks with flying colors.

Though Tarlant's wines have theoretically been available in the Pennsylvania market in the past, actual appearances in shops or restaurants have been less than few and far between. While their Champagnes are most likely still destined to be special liquor order (SLO, in PLCB parlance) items, I'm hoping that the estate's recent leap into the Boutique camp will at least land their wines on a few of the better restaurant wine lists around town.

Champagne Tarlant's history dates back to 1687. Representing the 12th generation of the family business, Melanie's brother Benoit recently joined his father Jean-Mary at the winemaking helm. Benoit has already established his mark, adding two non-dosage bottlings as well as two terroir-driven cuvées to an otherwise more traditional yet already low-dosage (averaging about 6g) house style.

The family's holdings comprise 14 hectares, with 55 separate parcels of vines located in the villages of Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-les-Condé, all in the Vallée de la Marne. Plantings include Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay, along with small amounts of Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. Across the entire range, Benoit and Jean-Mary conduct approximately 60% of their base fermentations in barrel, with the other 40% fermented in small steel tanks. None of the wines go through malolactic fermentation, sulfur use is kept to a bare minimum and, as I mentioned above, all of the wines see very low (if any) dosage.

Benoit's Brut Nature "Zéro," the first pour in the lineup, was regrettably suffering from low-level cork taint (Mélanie mentioned that she'd had a bad run of subtly TCA-affected bottles on this trip). It's an equal part blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay, by the way, the current release being based primarily on the 2005 harvest with a small addition of reserve wines.

The Brut Nature "Zéro" Rosé was suffering no such problems and was indeed delicious, bracingly dry and mineral, full of bright, wild red-fruit aromas. Mélanie explained that non-dosage rosés are quite rare, as it can be tough to balance the tannins that come from the red wine (this is a rosé d'assemblage, 85% Chardonnay with a 15% addition of still, red Pinot Noir) without the aid of a few grams of sugar in the final bottling. Benoit has achieved balance nonetheless, working hard in the vineyards to ensure ample ripeness and selecting only the best vintages of the family's own red wine, again with ample ripeness, for blending.

Can you say "cu-vée"? The "QV Discobitch" bottling is another of Benoit's special projects, made at the request of Paris-based DJs Laurent Konrad and Kylian Mash. Again, there's a detailed write-up of its origins at Besotted, so I won't belabor things by repeating the details. I will say, though, that while Mr. Liem reports that Discobitch is an early disgorgement of the "Cuvée Louis," Mélanie told me that it is actually the same as the Brut Nature "Zéro," but with the addition of a six-gram dosage, just enough to nudge it into Brut designation territory. It very well could be that both are correct if the recipe Mélanie referred to is a change that occurred between the original bottling and the current release. I'll see if I can't entice Benoit to provide full elucidation of the details.... Assuming Mélanie is correct, I'm curious as to how the wine manages to find its balance in both versions.

Last poured among the "Classic" entries in the Tarland portfolio was the "Tradition," a blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 35% Meunier and 10% Chardonnay. Based primarily on wines from the 2002 vintage and aged sur-latte for five years prior to release, the resulting wine was broader and more richly structured than the Brut Nature offerings. Quite delicious, too. And at $37 retail in PA, $10 less per/bottle than what Big Yellow fetches in the Keystone State, a really solid value.

On to bin number two, Mélanie again poured from our right to left, beginning with the 1998 Prestige Extra Brut. From a blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir planted in chalk and limestone rich terroirs, the '98 was drinking well, still taut, fresh and well-defined, and still showing the potential for further development in the cellar.

The 1999 Prestige Rosé, on the other hand, had reached what struck me as its full maturity and potential, showing pretty, dried red floral characteristics and orange-peel fruit along with an ever-so-slightly oxidative character. 85% Chardonnay blended with 15% red wine of Pinot Noir, from two single plots of sand and limestone based soils.

As should be the case, the show stoppers were saved for last. "La Vigne d'Antan" Extra Brut Non-greffée Chardonnay was intensely soil expressive, the most compelling of the wines for the individuality and minerality of its palate impact. Though not vintage dated, "La Vigne d'Antan" ("the vine of yesteryear") was produced entirely from the 2000 harvest and based entirely on Chardonnay planted on its native rootstock ("non-greffée" means ungrafted) in a single plot of sandy soil called, if I'm not mistaken, "Îlot des Sables," located in Oeuilly. The wine was aged sur latte for six-and-a-half years before being hand-disgorged in October 2007 and was finished with a very modest two-gram dosage. It ain't cheap – Boutique specs it at around $150 retail – and it's not even available as a special order item in PA, so I was happy for the opportunity to taste it, something I'll look forward to doing again. Not surprisingly, it's also among the wines Benoit was scheduled to pour at Terres et Vins today.

"Cuvée Louis," the tête de cuvée at Champagne Tarlant, is named in homage to Louis Tarlant, the great-great-grandfather of Benoit and Mélanie who was the first member of the family to estate bottle Champagne under the Tarlant name. A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 60-year-old vines in the "Les Crayons" vineyard in Oeuilly, the wine was sublime – not as muscular and earthy as "d'Antan" but long, delicate yet full-flavored and very, very fine. We tasted the current release, based primarily on the 1998 harvest with reserve wines from both 1997 and 1996.

In closing, I leave you with a little something for your listening and viewing pleasure. To paraphrase my buddy Neil, disco may suck... but at least Benoit can have a little fun while making some excellent Champagnes.

Champagne Tarlant
51480 Oeuilly / Epernay

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wine on the Farm

Just a quick post today, as I'll shortly be heading out the door to pour wine at a benefit event for the Oakmont Farmers Market. Straight up, I should tell you that I have a proprietary interest in the market. First of all, it's in my own home town and, during the six-month growing season in this part of the world, I do my best to buy just about all of my fresh groceries at the market. Second, I'm a member of the all-volunteer Board of Directors that oversees the operations of the market, which is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

The main point of today's event is to raise funds for the educational and community development efforts of the market; we do try to be much more than just a place to buy and sell meat and veggies. The main point of my pouring session, aside from abetting our attendees in the enjoyment of good wine, will be to build and reinforce the idea that real wine, honest wine, is first and foremost and agricultural product. Produce. So while I'm sure that questions about things such as sulfites, corks and all of the other usual suspects will arise, I hope to share a little enlightenment on the differences between small farm wine growing and industrial wine making, and on the idea of thinking about wine as food rather than wine as a lifestyle beverage.

For regular readers here, the list of wines I'll be pouring should come as no surprise. They're all things I drink and enjoy on a regular basis, and they all come from vignerons whose work I deeply respect. Should you care to follow along in practice or in spirit, here's today's line-up:

  • Crémant d'Alsace, Domaine Barmès-Buecher 2007
  • Touraine Sauvignon "Le Petiot," Domaine Ricard 2009
  • Rheinhessen Riesling QbA trocken, Weingut Keller 2008
  • Chinon "Les Graves," Domaine Fabrice Gasnier 2008
  • Côtes-du-Rhône "Bout d'Zan," Mas de Libian (Hélène Thibon) 2008
  • Dolcetto d'Alba, GD Vajra 2008

Wish me luck, y'all.
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