Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wines at the Spring Table

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my day job on the retail wine sales floor is helping people select wines to pair not just with their Monday night pizza but also with really specific dishes. It can be an overly fetishistic process, I know, but when the stars align, the end results can also deliver an amazing amount of pleasure. That’s exactly what I shoot for, and exactly why I enjoy the challenge.

One of my favorite challenges in that context is recommending the wine pairings to accompany the seasonal menu at Talula’s Table, something I’ve been doing on a more or less monthly basis ever since the inception of their farmhouse table dinners. When I have the opportunity to eat there myself, I’ll sometimes take exactly what I’ve recommended. The occasional self-test is always a good thing. Just as often, though, I’ll pull wines from my own cellar, always with an eye to the food but also with an eye toward fun and exploration as well. On this trip, it was mostly the latter….

Nahe Riesling halbtrocken, Schäfer-Fröhlich 2006
$19. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Rudi Wiest Selections, Cellars International, San Marcos, CA.
Very approachable if somewhat muted, and definitely a good starting point for the meal. There’s a subtle vegetal sense at the wine’s middle but overall it’s driven by flavors of orange oil and red slate spiciness… I’m guessing there’s a measurable dose of Frühlingsplätzchen fruit included. Its acidity is slightly lower than usual (most likely a vintage signature) but not in a bad way; it made the wine gentle and beckoning rather than flat. A still lingering dash of residual CO2 helped keep things lively.

I’ve heard great things about the ’07 version – which I believe follows the current fashion of dropping “halbtrocken” from the label – but have yet to have the opportunity to try it. (As a matter of trivia, winemaker Tim Fröhlich is a member of the VdP’s Junge Generation.)

Wachau Unterloiben Ried Loibenberg Loibner Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, Weingut Emmerich Knoll 2002
$26. 13% alcohol. Cork. Vin di Vino, Chicago, IL.
As much as there is to detest about Pennsylvania’s state controlled liquor and wine system and as much as I’m prone to gripe about it (here’s a recent example), I can’t say it’s not without the occasional accidental merit. You just have to have patience and do a little foraging to find it. Case in point, I stumbled upon this ’02 Knoll Smaragd GV not long ago. It was priced at an already reasonable $33 – the current vintage goes for upwards of $50 – then marked down further to $26. There being no visible suggestions of damage or foul play, I rolled the dice and grabbed a bottle. Good move.

Weingut Knoll is unquestionably one of the top producers in the Wachau. The wines are made in a non-interventionist fashion, with the emphasis always being on quality of fruit and expression of terroir. Most of their wines are fermented in steel, aged in wood (purely for oxidative effect, not for oaky flavors of any kind) and are built to last.

At seven years, this Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner has assumed an almost day-glo yellow color, like classic Gatorade diluted with Pilsner. The inherent flesh of a Smaragd wine has come out with rest in the bottle; its acidity totally resolved and mellow. Immediate impressions were of lemon confit, white peaches and truffled minerals. The typical peppery character of younger and/or lighter styles of GV, if ever present in this wine, had completely dissipated. On day two – leftovers are usually “handled” by the crew in the kitchen but some of this was definitely coming home with me – the wine improved if anything. The peach fruit took on a spicy nuance while the minerality became more profound yet simultaneously more delicate. Aromas were of heady white and yellow blossoms, followed on the palate and down the gullet by light marmalade, clover honey and a suggestion of malted mocha. As delicious as it is now I’d drink up if you’re holding any, though if you have more than a couple of bottles it could be academically interesting to hold one for a few more years.

Saint-Joseph “Lautaret,” Eric & Joël Durand 2005
$30. 13% alcohol. Cork. Fruit of the Vines, New York, NY.
This was my first encounter with the wines of Domaine Durand, so a little research is in order. Brothers Eric and Joël took over their family estate in 1991. Their farm comprises a total of thirteen hectares (eight in Saint-Joseph and five in Cornas) planted to mostly granitic soils. They grow only Syrah and produce solely red wines in, by their own admission, a fairly modern style.

They didn’t need to tell me that, though, as this comes out of the gates with a dense, rich and developed fruit attack, all wrapped up in a sash of spicy oak. There’s definitely some good raw material here but the wine, for me, came across as dull, muddied by overly concentrated fruit and lacking the hothouse flower and pepper scents I associated with more transparent expressions of Saint-Joseph rouge. In its defense, it did gain interest with some time in the glass, developing a little earthy, mushroomy nuance. But not enough to send me scampering back for more.


Joseph Logan said...

It's posts like this that remind me how much I enjoyed chatting with you about (usually) that wine that goes with pizza on a Monday night (BTW, prosecco never fails with a thin crusted proper Italian pie). The reason I know German terms like "trocken" and "halbtrocken" is because you patiently and enthusiastically explained them to me. The reason I can pick a good Riesling by myself is because you helped me understand what to look for, and how to select something tasty. Now that I live within two hours' train ride of Germany and France, that sort of knowledge is pretty handy.

I guess what I'm saying is that beyond what you get out of it, you also impart something really great for a lot of people.

David McDuff said...

You're far too kind. But thank you, big time. I'm glad I was able to help smooth your immersion into the EU in some way. Cheers!

Aaron said...

Great notes, sir. Definitely with you on the vegetative note in the Schafer. Not really on my list of favorites from them, though I think these guys are making some of the finest wines in the Nahe, competing even with the likes of Donnhoff. Great info on the Knoll, though I would've been surprised to hear anything more neutral. I've wondered and been unable to find out why his Gruners always come out so technicolor-piss yellow.

And thanks for the heads-up on the Durand. Sounds not really worth the $30 price of admission.

Question, though: When I go to good BYOs here in Chicago, I'm often dismayed by the craptastic bottles of wine sitting on other tables. Usually the food isn't as elegant as, say, Schwa (or Talula), but all the more reason to splurge on something better than Yellow Tail. Have you witnessed similar inequities at your better BYOs?

David McDuff said...

Agreed on Schäfer-Fröhlich. The more I taste from them, the more I put them up in the top tier of the Nahe along with Dönnhoff and Emrich-Schönleber.

As for the mixture of wines showing up at Philly area BYOBs, I wish I could tell you everyone breaks out interesting stuff here but it just ain't so. It's not at all common to see the bad (Yellowtail, KJ or Barefoot Zin at one table); the overblown (Molly Dooker and Turley) at another; and the inappropriate (First Growth Bordeaux) at the next.

I think, for a lot of people anyway, going out to a Byo just equates to the evening's entertainment and the wine selection amounts to not much more than lubrication and an alcohol delivery system.

More and more people are getting the connection between food and wine every day but we're still a long way from critical mass.

Anonymous said...

I adore the label on the Weingut Knoll Loibner Gruner Veltliner. It took some digging (ok, Googling), and you may already know this, but the saint depicted on the bottle is St. Urban, the patron saint of wine growing.

Growing up Catholic, I always loved how nearly every industry has its own patron saint. I'm delighted to find one for wine growing.

The Knoll family also owns the 400 year old Loibnerhof, which I'm told is the best restaurant in the Wachau Valley.

P.S. Glad you enjoy your day job so much. I can't tell you how much it means to a wine and/or spirits customer to have someone friendly and knowledgeable to confer with when buying or just exploring. Cheers to that.

David McDuff said...

Thanks for the comment and kind words, Laurie.

You're right, I was aware of St. Urban's, well, sainthood, and his appearance on the Knoll label. I opted to leave it out of my write-up for the sake of semi-brevity but probably should have included it, as I've seen the label described as "flaming Jesus" among other things....

To my chagrin, I wasn't able to visit Knoll or the Loibnerhof during my last trip to the Wachau. Perhaps next time, I can only hope. Oddly, the Loibnerhof website is as close as Weingut Knoll comes to having an official web presence. You'll find the link back in the main post.

Enjoy your trip to Austria for the '09 Austrian Wine Summit and best of luck spreading the word for the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

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