Muscadet, for now and forever.

July 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

ImageWhy forever? Because you can age it, dummy! Muscadet is briny, light and great with oysters. Yes. Sure. I get you. But there’s a lot more to the story. My column in the Portland Press Herald last week tells a small sliver of that story.

Gist: Great Muscadet is not to be trifled with. Set aside your oysters, and bring on the main course, even if the main course includes hearty fish, cockles and clams, sausage. And one of the greats of the greats is Guy Bossard. Bossard is a legend in the Loire for his low-tech, all-natural approach. Now that he’s in his 60s and looking to the future, has hired a protégé, Fred Niger, and the winery is now called Domaine de L’Écu.

Whatever you call ’em, the wines are extraordinary now, but will gain tremendous complexity over the next 3-10 years at least. It’s a bargain investment: $19 for a bottle of wine that already offers much of what good Chablis does, and over time will offer even more.

Summer wines for when you’re feeling wintry

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

People have already asking me if I’m feeling OK. Maybe I laid it on a little thick at the start of my Portland Press Herald wine column today, but I was just being honest. Everyone asks how your summer’s going and if you don’t grin and say “Great!”, then somehow you’ve given the wrong answer. Summer’s great, but it can be a bit stressful as the schedule and routine explode, and you’re stuck at work when you should be at the beach.

Anyway, I’ve found a couple of thrilling wines lately to cure my summertime blues: a Muscadet with 30 months of lees-aging that tastes much grander than most Muscadet I know, and a simple roble from Jumilla (majority Monastrell) that just makes me smile. Which is often more than enough.

Rock on: Headrick Loire wines and the primacy of place

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve never really heard or read anyone speak eloquently about what “minerality” in wines actually is. I know I have a hard time translating into language that sense of stones in the glass. Wines from the Loire make me try harder than any other wine, though (with the one obvious exception of Mosel Riesling). From flinty Sancerre to sawtooth Vouvray, the Loire valley’s unique terroir (the geologic beneficiary of the 7.32 trillion oysters who have given their lives to its bedrock over the millennia) imbues rocks with poetry.

This week in the Portland Press Herald, I give thanks to the Loire, and specifically to Jon David Headrick, a Loire specialist who imports stunning Savennières and Cheverny, but also scintillating “everyday” Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet and Gamay that are joyful at the simplest of tables but hold their own at the most elegant. Jon David is on our side: the side of the small guys over the big, of the interesting over the stupid, of finesse over blast. You know: us quiet soldiers.

Peter Weygandt, real-wine scout

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

From Portland Press Herald, January 5, 2011

Meet the importer Peter Weygandt, who modestly calls himself a “glorified prospector”. Weygandt’s tastes and philosophy are firmly rooted in old-school traditions, but he’s never fusty or reactionary. He stands for what I’d call a holistic, macroscopic approach to natural, handmade wines. The holistic view comprehends that no wine is made in a vacuum, according to checklists or scorecards. The people who produce them from grapes they grow themselves require long-term physical, economic and social health, just as their vines do. Weygandt calls his winemakers “midwives”, to emphasize their role as able aids in a process rather than ego-stricken engineer-geniuses.
His wines deliver remarkable value for the price (see below), but those prices are real. “You cannot have low yields and hard work in the vineyard,” he told me, “and get the same prices as wines made by negoçiants or co-ops.” Such operations, which buy often-lesser grapes from numerous growers, usually rely on increased technological intervention and low wages to drive down prices. Weygandt asserts that economies-of-scale-leveraged co-op wines’ prices ought to be even lower than they are, because they are majority profit (for the co-ops, of course, not the growers). (Perhaps Trader Joe’s $3 Shaw wines are that rare phenomenon: an honestly priced co-op wine).
None of this comes without cost to the wine itself. “There are enough consumers who can taste the difference between hand-harvested, low-yield [wines] on one hand, and the mass-produced stuff on the other,” Weygandt says. “It’s not theory; you taste the difference! I’m dependent on consumers who can taste the difference, and for whom the difference matters.”
The Weygandt-imported wines available in Maine (distributed by Wicked) that I’ve tasted share an unmistakable vibrancy and right-there-ness. This is bigger than terroir, bigger even than the familiar panoply of traditional approaches: appropriate-varietal planting, hand-harvesting, low grape-per-acre yields, minimal cellar intervention and sulfites, etc. Vibrancy and immediacy of true flavor come, to put it imprecisely but accurately, from winemakers who get it, and you’re not going to know who gets it by what’s printed on a wine label. Instead, you’ve got to align yourself with importers, sommeliers and retailers (informed middlemen) who share your values.
Once you start to develop regulations,” Weygandt said, “you lose the entire spirit of what it’s about. This is what irks me about the ‘organic’ label. Organic viticulture addresses only what’s put on the vines. It says nothing about pruning, about deshooting, about canopy management, about hand-harvesting! Nothing about the use of enzymes and artificial yeasts in fermentation, and nothing about low yields….The regulations are all designed for the big guys, and the big guys drive the small guys out.”
This is where you come in. (Weygandt told me he has been amazed by the Maine market’s willingness to try new things.) Buy these wines for taste and liveliness alone, but in doing so you’ll be casting a vote for the small guys, for the planet itself, and for the long-term success of the way wines should be made.
Domaine des Cassagnoles Gros Manseng 2009, Côtes de Gascogne, France ($11). A little-known southwestern-France grape, producing what most people wanting an everyday Sauvignon Blanc are actually looking for: a crisp, citric white with just enough of a plump middle to keep things friendly.
Domaine Bonhomme Vielles Vignes 2009, Viré-Clessé (Burgundy), France ($17). A soaring Chardonnay that swoops outward with flowers, then tightens into stones, salt, and scrub-brush, Chablis-like. The Acadia National Park of whites.
Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2009, Loire, France ($16). My current favorite <$20 white, for the way the softness and richness are encapsulated in crackling acidity. For the meal-making granular texture only possible with low-intervention wines. For the frangipane and cardamom notes, for the endless intrigue.
Monte La Sarda 2009, Aragon, Spain ($11). A Garnacha that’s not trying to be Malbec? Yes, this is the true, tangled, wild heart of Garnacha: Plush but peppery, woodsy and kicking.
Domaine Plouzeau Chinon Rive Gauche, Loire, France ($14). A perfect Cabernet Franc, because it has only the best of that underloved varietal’s classic attributes: Black pepper over green; long, granitic minerality; aromas of smoke, bark and wool. The fruit is integrated with such clarity, and the whole wine develops mightily over an hour or more, gaining depth rather than power. It finishes like Yves Montand or something, almost wistfully.
Clos Martinet Menut 2006, Priorat, Spain ($20). Most of us will never taste a good Priorat, because even when they’re not overripe, over-extracted and over-oaked, they need to age longer than you’re willing to wait. But here’s a good, truly approachable-now Priorat (made by a woman – a rarity in the Priorat): fat but balanced, and bloody perfect for a bloody steak.

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