Harvest Wine Tasting

28 09 2008

Last Saturday (September 20th) we hosted a wine tasting focusing on wines perfect for fall foods like roasted root vegetables, pork loin with fig and apple chutney, and pear and gorgonzola tarts. The wines were full-bodied whites and light reds. We started with Pascual Toso 2007 Torrontes from Argentina, a lighter, acidic white that is best with end of summer foods like tomato salads, and spreads like pesto with its rich parmeggiano base. Plus, at only $7.99 it was an excellent deal.

From the lighter Torrontes, we moved to two different Viogniers, one from Washington State and one from Australia. The Washington State Viognier was from Kestrel–a little expensive, coming in at $22.99–and I did not feel it was worth the price. A little creamy and full-bodied, but it was definitely past its maturity. The Rolf Binder HOVAH from the Barossa Valley was a better value, although here the wine was a typical Australian, a little sweet on the palate with all fruit and no complexity. At only $12.99 however, I would certainly rank it the better value of the two.

At this tasting, the reds were the real stars. All three reds were excellent and matched very well with the foods they were paired with. The most delicate and lightest of the three was a Jaboulet-Vercherre negociant-produced wine from the Gevrey-Chambertin Cru of Burgundy in the Cote d’Or. Coming in at $31.99/bottle, this was the most expensive wine of the evening, but certainly well worth it, as its nuance and complexity were enjoyed by the glass sniffer camp, and the fruit forward folks could still appreciate the accessibility of aromas and flavors presented.

The next red was the 2005 Domaine du Grand Bouqueteau Chinon from the Chinon appellation in the Loire Valley, France. Cabernet Franc, one of the two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, is the only varietal used in this wine. It is soft, delicate, and very aromatic, with lots of luscious violets, soft tannins, and a very pleasing overall mouth-feel. Plus, at the price point of $14.99, this is the wine I am most likely to want to revisit out of everything tasted that evening.

The final red wine was a slightly bigger red: Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva vintage 2004. This wine was a little dirty, which I think is great. It was far more robust than anything else that evening, but matched very well with the rustic roasted roots vegetables I had prepared. It also went smoothly with the pork and the simmered mushrooms. The Sangiovese so prevalent in this blend gave it a great earthiness, and as a classico it certainly captured more of the true Tuscan style and profile. A slightly more expensive wine selling for $21.99, this would still be a great choice for a nice dinner at home, or as a bottle to take to your favorite Italian BYOB place. It would probably go well with even heavier dishes, such as game, but would work nicely with any kind of roasted fowl, or any food that accents the rusticity of the wine.

We finished our evening with some full-bodied Pinot Gris from Eola-Hills in Oregon ($13.49- and certainly a good value). We also had a comparative tasting with a Gewurztraminer–Banyan from the Central

California Coast ($11.99)–and Trimbach, from Alsace ($19.99). The Alsatian wine had many more of the traditional characteristics of classical Gewurztraminer, with petroleum, roses, and spicy aromatics heavy in the glass, thick body, and a lot of minerality. The California version was much lighter in body but had a pleasing combination of citrus rinds blended with some floral touches that came perhaps just shy of smelling like roses that the tasting group as a whole found very pleasant.

All in all a wonderful night of wine, and we look forward to the next one.

French wine: Montpeyroux

26 04 2008

Imagine if you would a small rural town deep in the heart of France. The road from the highway winds its way to the village, which is set on the crown of a small hill. The houses lining the street are made of stone and look as though they have been here forever. The people bustle by, headed to the market with empty baskets, or coming back with a treasure trove of fresh produce, flowers, poultry, wine, everything that makes life good and livable, the riches of the land to share with a hungry family at home at the family table.

Looking north from the village there are the Massif mountains, and between the village and the mountains are vines-acres and acres of vineyards. Among those vineyards are the vignerons, artisans of untold worth, toiling away in the hot Mediterranean sun, pruning their vines and checking their grapes. They are like artists stretching their canvas and preparing pigments for their paints. Each plot of land is chosen for its soil. Each vine is patiently tended. The earth collects beneath the fingernails of someone deeply connected to the land, the seasons, the passage of time. When autumn comes, they will harvest the grapes, pull them from the stems and crush them, releasing the sweet nectar held within each globe, patiently waiting to be transformed by the artist’s hand. The vigneron will carefully paint their first strokes on their canvas, some bold passes of the brush leaving behind the framework for the art to follow. Every detail is lovingly tended to, patiently addressed by the grower of wine.

For truly, here is not some mechanical production of vinified grapes, not some harsh approach to one of the most delicate balances between art and science. Here are those few who continue to grow wine with their own hands, by their own toil. The families here, from one generation to the next, work to produce what can only be called one of the greatest wines in the world. The vignerons of Montpeyroux produce one of the best wines in all the Coteaux du Languedoc. Its base of Grenache and Syrah, often with Mourvedre and Carignan, adds complex levels to the wine. These winegrowers build a wine inspired by the past, with hundreds of years of experimentation and learning before them, producing robust wines that can stand up to hearty fare, with acids and tannins that add to the quality of the wine and the food. But the people who make Montpeyroux wine also appreciate the heralded future of wine: big berry and rich fruit flavors and aromas.

Pour some out of the bottle and stare at the mesmerizing ruby color of the liquid. Smell the wonderful scents of raspberries and roasted fruits along with clove and laurel, bits of lavender or mint. Every time you raise the glass, a new scent introduces itself gently to your senses. Then the flavor, with the richness and breadth of the liquid on your palate, a bit of soft fruit and spices and herbs, followed by a soft, delicate finish that lingers and invites you to come back for another sip.

Wine from Burgundy is beautiful, but can be rather one-dimensional. It is a versatile wine in the sense that it can pair with many dishes, but the qualities of the wine really are quite similar. Bordeaux has long been heralded as the most amazing source of wine, but the best bottles often require years of careful cellaring before they reach an enjoyable state. Even then, despite a variety of grapes, Bordeaux all too often has the same flavors over and over again.

What is amazing about Montpeyroux, is that each glass of each bottle is its own adventure. Not to imply a lack of consistency, but rather that there is something truly beautiful about the wine here. It’s wild and untamed, and all the more amazing and delicious because of those qualities. Drinking a great Bordeaux or Burgundy can be like watching a tiger in the zoo. The animal is beautiful, powerful, amazing and mesmerizing, but in the wild, the same creature is somehow magnificent, feral, terrible and great all at once. By stepping away from the borders wherein we all feel so comfortable, by taking the bars away from the tiger’s cage, we can truly experience the wild side of wine. True, it takes an adventurous heart to venture into unknown territory, but like the quiet meal at home with family, the rewards that lie waiting in the wild are some of the things that make life worth living.