Monastrell, Mourvèdre; Monastrell, Mourvèdre — let’s call the whole thing off

February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Another offshoot of my this week (see below) was my re-acquaintance with broccoli rabe. No, it’s not local this time of year (and damn hard to find here in Maine even in season; why is that?). But I made a simple lentil dish (French lentils, and loads of chopped garlic, fresh fennel, fresh sage, rosemary, parsley and mint, plus multiple grindings of black pepper), then blasted the wok for the classic combo of broccoli rabe, garlic and hot red pepper flakes, finished with lemon juice.

The wine was the Atope Monastrell 2008, a bargain of a wine ($13) for what it offers: blueberry at first, then minty bitterness, moderate earthiness, and a shocking kind of freshness that leads naturally to hearty greens. The lentils had fun with the wine’s earth, but it was that green quality — kind of like a balanced Cabernet Franc from the Loire — that took center stage, picking up the herbs of the lentils and bowing in deference to the verdant, bracing tang of the broccoli rabe.

Also-known-as-es: Broccoli rabe is sometimes called “rapini”. And Monastrell is the same grape as what the French call Mourvèdre, that southern-Rhône powerhouse that endows Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe with its spine and can be thrilling as a single-varietal wine in Bandol.



True Gifts are all Shared: Syrah, Neyers and not; Riedel not Rabbit

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

From Portland Press Herald, December 22, 2010

Gifts that actually keep on giving

New federal laws state that any end-of-year newspaper column must either be a best-of list, offer gift suggestions, or discuss parties. Because I’m constantly afraid the black helicopters are going to swoop down and extraordinary-rendition my poor, inebriated butt to an abandoned Australian vineyard, I will obey.

Parties: Attend them. We’ll talk about bubbly wine next year, though. Until Dec. 31 you’re going to bring any old sparkling wine to parties and you’re not going to pay attention to the quality — or to the fact that many sparkling wines make the most incredible food wines. You already know how to buy a get-happy-and-a-little-drunk sparkling wine; let’s talk in January when you’re sober.

OK, on to best-of lists and gift suggestions. As most of you know, I’m navel-gazing to the point of egotism, so I’m going to talk about a few of the best wine-related gifts I have received this year, hoping they’re instructive for you.

I finally got some Riedel wine glasses, for Hanukkah. The difference is astonishing, and supports a friend’s comment, upon tasting wine from my old (wedding-gift) glasses, that no one should ever have trusted my response to a wine tasted from them. I poured a nothing-special red wine into a Riedel Vinum Bordeaux glass and a wedding-present glass, and even a non-wine-lover guest was floored by the difference — in aromas, palate complexity, mouthfeel.

There are thousands of people who spend 50 American dollars on over-engineered junk gifts such as the Electric Rabbit Wine Opener, which has no positive effect on one’s wine experience (and cultivates sloth, weakness and stupefaction), when they could buy a two-pack of Riedel glasses. Infuriating, if not surprising.

What emerged from the Riedel glass was another gift: the understanding that vinifying without filtration is the single most crucial cellar behavior in determining the quality of a wine. The “nothing-special red” mentioned above is the Domaine la Bastide “Les Genets” Syrah 2008 VdP, available for around $12 (Wicked). I’ve had enough mediocre Syrah to know that it’s very difficult to find anything under $20 with this wine’s true Syrah character: Californian at first in its ripe burst, but evolves over an hour into fresh asphalt, licorice, drying plums, and smoky bacon. The wild aromas keep coming as it opens up, countered by silken texture and perfectly tuned tannins.

The wine’s importer, Peter Wygandt, emphasizes unfiltered wines because he knows how thoroughly the act of filtering “impurities” from natural wines strips much of their true character. Sometimes filtration is necessary, but it’s often used to anesthetize wines for the hypothetical “market” that supposedly doesn’t want to encounter any sediment. The gift you could offer the wine market is proving that attitude wrong, by asking your wine merchant for unfiltered wines.

Speaking of Syrah, another gift I recently received was the opportunity to be proven wrong about it. California wines generally underwhelm (or overwhelm) me, but the Bruce Neyers Old Lakeville Road Syrah 2006 from Sonoma, California, is $35 (Nappi), worth more and utterly giftable. No, it’s not Hermitage or Cote-Rotie (French home of the greatest Syrahs), but it is true to self and truly terroir-driven. It unwinds, from ripe plums into an almost existential darkness, packed with charcoal and fresh, loamy earth. A slow, harmonious, tender wine, to accompany slow, harmonious, tender food and people.

Thanks, too, to the folks at Vias Imports, who earlier this year conducted a tasting of the 2005 Cru Barbarescos from Produttori del Barbaresco (Pine State). Prices vary according to the cru, but give the Pora or Rabaja to your favorite (patient) wine-lover. Barbaresco is famously slow to mature, and a 5-year-old is preposterously young, but 2005 was so good that for the first time in my life I saw the potential energy contained in the Nebbiolo grape, a balance of minerality, spice and fruit like none other.

Passing time together is a gift. Magisterial importer Neal Rosenthal recently gifted me this explanation for the size of a wine bottle: “It holds too much wine to be drunk alone.” Wine is about sharing, which is the essence of the best things, and all gifts, and all parties. At a recent tasting of Rosenthal’s wines, I found signs of sediment everywhere — a sign that filtration was avoided (Rosenthal insists on this). His Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rouge 2006 $37 (Mariner), is pure Pinot noir heaven, with a glassy, glycerine elegance, fresh red fruit, and how’s-he-do-that mix of lightness and density. It’s lovely now, but when your loved one invites you to uncork it together in 2020, the gift will have arrived in full.

Bobby Kacher: Wines of Heart, Soul, Mind, Hand

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

From Portland Press Herald, November 3, 2010

“We don’t always realize our potential,” Bobby Kacher says. “Great terroir has the potential it has, and it’s our job to bring it out. But we’re all born with a certain potential, just like terroir.” It’s a tremendously resonant statement from a tremendously important person in the world of wine, and it signifies the complex interrelationship Kacher sees among place, people and wine.

Kacher imports monumental wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Alsace, Burgundy and elsewhere, but his everyday wines light up my heart because they bear no trace of boredom, mass-production, or afterthought, and there simply are no better wines I know of in the $10-15 range. To buy some Top-40-hit of a $12 wine from your local Vino-Mart when there are Kacher wines to be had is borderline-criminally ignorant.

“I’ve always wanted to be judged on my basic level,” he told me. “In some ways there’s more work there, it’s more interesting, because the microclimates aren’t as rarefied.” His winemakers agree: “When you stand in André Brunel’s cellar,” Kacher said, “and taste his VdP (‘country wine’) Grenache and then his Châteauneuf, you really think, ‘Do I see a $50 difference?’ The great growers are going to make great wine at all levels. It’s in their blood, their skin, their DNA. He was trained to make noble wine, so he’s going to apply what he knows – what he is – to every wine he makes.”

The Brunel Grenache VdP Vaucluse 2008, is $10! A 3-D model of the real Provence, it’s unfiltered, dusty but super restrained. Unlike too much overly jammy, off-kilter modern Grenache, the fruit is so well-integrated and graceful, with an evening-soft finish, violets and lilacs (and Red Twizzlers). It’s $10! It’s $10!

Since the early 1970s, when like fellow independent-minded wine importers Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal he hit the back-roads of France in search of The Real, Kacher has been bringing natural, handmade, character-laden wines to these shores.

The Gournier Merlot is another example of an inexpensive wine showing individuality and presence way beyond its price ($11). This is true-blue Merlot in unfiltered, walnuts-and-cocoa glory, spackled with a little mud. The overly rounded-off quality of modern Merlot that allowed “Sideways” to give it such a bad name is absent here, revealing the pepper, violets and life at the varietal’s core. It’s back-of-the-barn stuff, but graceful still. The 2007 I tasted recently was day-um fresh; the now-available 2009 must be stunning.

Of that wine Kacher told me, “I’ve put the Gournier in decanters after a few years of ageing and served it to friends, with food that has garlic, thyme, rosemary, and it’s amazing how people react…they see all kinds of complexity.”

He often does that at home, since “It matters so much to me that the consumer has a good experience at table when they pour one of my bottles. I often serve a simple Ugni Blanc at home without showing the bottle, and they think it’s a grand Sauvignon blanc.”

Ugni Blanc, the main grape in Armagnac, is most of the Domaine de Pouy 2009. This is just easy, bright, fresh white wine, as sharp as broken glass and that exciting, rippling with ricocheting citrus. With 10.5% alcohol and some pétillance, it’ll gobble up clean, direct foods from oysters to sautéed greens. Ten bucks.

A much weightier, wealthier white is the Becassonne 2009, a white Côtes du Rhône ($15-16) that drives deeper every sip. Deep almonds, almost frangipane, and earthy to the core. For winter fare like mushrooms, beans, smoked things, saffron and cream, this is what you want. Dazzling finish.

One more: Le Clos 2008. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Grenache, it is the perfect everyday balanced red wine, for $12. It’s peppery, rustic, granular, angular, above all human wine. Soft tannins hang out in the back with the plummy fruit, maintaining order. Human: all the action moves analog and integrated, not robotic. For heart-filled foods: lentils, caramelized onions, stew. From the same Domaine, the Corbières 2007 costs an extra dollar and brings a foresty spirit: Let it breathe for 30 minutes or more and the fruit comes together in extraordinary ways, turning in the end to something like roasted beets. It kicks at first, then becomes stately.

All Kacher wines are distributed by SoPo Wine Company. The man himself will visit Portland November 12, hosting a dinner at Havana South.

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