November 15, 2007

October 2007 Wines of the Month

October Wines of the Month


The Concept of Terroir

Ah....what is "terroir?" We'll get to that a little later on!

All of the wines for this month come from Rosenthal Wine Merchant (RWM). Neal Rosenthal is widely considered the foremost importer of French wines into the USA, as well as one of the top importers of Italian wines.

Newsweek wrote an article in 2003 about Neal Rosenthal's single-minded pursuit and support of winemakers who are bucking the trend of producing "copycat" wines designed to score high.

"Rosenthal maintains that "terroir is built on the notion that a certain piece of land and its particular climate is best suited to certain grapes and approaches. But the most delicious and layered wines take time to discover: hundreds, if not thousands of years."

Rosenthal has said, "Californian wines may be technically perfect but who cares? I want perfection in my software programs, not my friends or my wine."

Each year, RWM visits each grower twice - to follow the evolution of each wine and the development of each estate. Rosenthal is highly particular about the quality of its winemakers, preferring to deal with tiny, hands-on producers.

Rosenthal does not pick a wine or an appellation (winemaking area) because it is "hot." Rather, they look for high quality first-and-foremost.

You will pay for this quality - rarely are Rosenthal wines the least expensive wines from a given area. They are often the best - and, they pack a lot of value into a bottle.

Rosenthal looks for wines that show quality and character. The portfolio remains rather consistent - rarely does a producer get added or subtracted. This is because of the care Rosenthal takes when picking a producer and the hands-on partnership he has with each producer.

The Concept of Terroir

What is "terroir?"

Over the last 25 years, the wine business has boomed. Huge amounts of money have been invested in this business. By-and-large, the result has been better wine, at all price levels.

At the same time, the trend in the wine world has been to chase ever higher scores from a small number of reviewers (Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, etc.). The result has been a merging of winemaking styles so that many wines (regardless of where it's made) are beginning to taste alike.

At its core, this runs counter to the idea of "terroir" - and it runs completely counter to the entire premise behind the wines Neil Rosenthal selects and imports.

To make outstanding wine, one must start with a proper vineyard site and have excellent viticultural practices. 90% of the ultimate wine is created in the vineyard; and, the role of the winemaker is to let the wine make itself.

Wine is an agricultural product. Its flavor and characteristics bear the influence of the soil and climate and how those work with the grape variety. Neil Rosenthal believes firmly that wine should show its "local" characteristics.

So, with all that said, let's look at this month's "terroir- expressive wines!

The Wines!

Tier 1 - $9-15/bottle

We're off to Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.

The White:

Chateau La Rame Bordeaux Blanc 2006 (Bordeaux, France) $14.99 - This wine has the slate, flinty minerality that is a hallmark of the best wines from the region and from Graves! The Armand family regards the 2006 as the best vintage of the last decade (and that includes the legendary 2000's and 2005's).

Aromas of slate and flint and bright, ripe tropical fruits and gree apples. The flavors reflect the flinty mineraity and also show nice notes of apples, tropical fruits and white stone fruits. The Semillon adds a smooth, soft richness to the wine towards the end. This is medium-bodied and has a nice long finish. Food pairing - simple white fish, such as sole, sea bass or halibut. Roast chicken, Thanksgiving dinner.90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. The Armand family seeks extreme ripeness for its grapes, so the harvest is entirely done by hand and requires multiple passes through the vineyard over a period of weeks.

The vineyard is on the East Bank of the Garonne River, directly across from the commune of Graves, approximately 25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux. The 20 hectares (approximately 50 acres) of Chateau La Rame are on a clay-limestone soil that is blessed with an unusual substratum of a bed of fozzilized oysters! The hillside vineyards overlook the river and face fully to the south as they slope down towards the river. The vineyards are 75% Semillon and 25% Sauvignon Blanc and the vines average 45 years of age.

This is the appellation of Sainte Croix du Mont. Yves Armand and his family have set out to reestablish Sainte Croix du Mont as an appellation of merit to rival the great estates of Sauternes and Barsac.

The Red:

Domaine Monpertuis Vignoble de la Ramiere Cuvee Counoise 2005 (France) $14.99 - 100% Counoise! That's the grape!

This is a chance to taste a really good wine made by a GREAT winemaker whose Chateauneuf-du-Papes sell for $40-$100/bottle! We have 2 of his wines in Tier 3 and "the other" this month. Winemaker Paul Jeune (one of the LEGENDS in Chateauneuf-du-Pape - "CNP" - his family has produced "CNP" for 6 generations) expanded his holdings in the Southern Rhone when he bought the "Vignoble de La Ramiere" vineyard on the western side of the Rhone across the river from Chateaneuf in the village of Rochegude in 1995.

Being on the west side of the river takes this vineyard out of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation and most of it is outside of the Cotes-du-Rhone appellation, so this is a "lowly" "Vin du Pays du Gard." It's "lowly" status as a Vin du Pays keeps the price of this superb wine low! I always say great winemakers make good wine regardless of price - and Paul Jeune is a great winemaker and this is just good wine!

Counoise is one of the 13 grapes that may be used to produce Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is reminiscent of blackberries when it is ripe.

The 2005 vintage of this wine is fabulous. The grapes were definitely ripe, as this wine just explodes with ripe blackberry aromas! It also exudes comfortable warmth as the aromas include notes of soft, rich black earth just shoveled up in the garden! The flavors are blackberries and more blackberries, including the "seedy" qualities that ripe berries have. At the end, the rich dark earth circles around and also has notes of mushrooms or truffles buried in the blackberry fruit. Food pairing - most any grilled and/or red meats. Awesome with game birds! Rich mushroom dishes. Hearty stews.

Tier 2 - $16-24/bottle

Both the red and the white are from Beaujolais this month - neither of these wines bears any resemblence to the "candied" fruit flavors of a Beaujolais Nouveau. The red is a "Cru du Beaujolais" from Julienas. The white is from the village of Leynes, the northernmost village in Beaujolais, just south of Maconnais in Burgundy proper. If there is ever an 11th "Cru," it will be Leynes.

Pascal Granger is the winemaker for both of these wines. He was born in 1961 and his family has been making wine for 200 years in Beaujolais.

Cru du Beaujolais comes from 10 villages - (1) Brouilly, (2) Cote du Brouilly, (3) Chiroubles, (4) Saint Amour, (5) Chenas, (6) Julienas - named for Julius Caeser, (7) Morgon, (8) Regnie, the newest "cru," (9) Fleurie - these wine have distinct floral aromas, hence "Fleurie," is the biggest rival to Moulin-a-Vent's status, and (10) Moulin-a-Vent, the most esteemed of the "Crus."

You will see the name of the village on the label of a Cru. You likely will not see the word Beaujolais - at least not in in letters. This is tradition because a Morgon is different from a Fleurie which differs from a Julienas.

Over 99% of the wine made in Beaujolais is red; so, it is unusual to have a Beaujolais Blanc!

The White:

Pascal Granger "La Jacarde" Beaujolais Blanc 2006 (France) $18.99 - Beaujolais Blanc is Chardonnay.

This is the first vintage of this wine from Pascal Granger, who has been making fabulous Cru Beaujolais in Julienas, Chenas and Moulin-a-Vent for years.

Granger purchased this tiny vineyard, "Clos de la Jacarde" a few years ago. It is mostly Gamay vines, but it includes 2 rows of Chardonnay grapes. The village of Leynes, where this vineyard sits, is just outside the area of Fuisse, of Pouilly-Fuisse fame in Burgundy.

This is not a fruity or oaky Chardonnay. This is a "poor man's" Chablis and it packs the similar mineral leanness and cut that is a hallmark of true Chablis.

Think of this as a sleek, racy thoroughbred. The soil in this vineyard is granite and this wine shows that quality. This wine is complex with minerals and a "cut" to it that defines Chablis. It's racy, crisp and lean with amazing complexity to it. Food pairing - shellfish, white fish, oysters and mussels.

The Red:

Pascal Granger Julienas 2005 (France) $18.99 - Anyone who loves good Burgundy and good Pinot Noir, needs to think again about Beaujolais if the candied, bubblegum flavors of Nouveau has turned you away from Beaujolais! Cru Beaujolais is a great value!

Wines from the Julienas and Fleurie "crus" have silky textures. They aren't lightweight, but they are not as tannic and heavy as many Morgons. This is CLASSIC Gamay (the Beaujolais grape) and CLASSIC Julienas!

Brilliant dark red color. Aromas of vibrant dark fruit - lots of blackberries and some raspberries. Notes of violets and white pepper. Flavors of rich dark fruit! This is lush, with great weight and depth to it. Soft tannins. Long juicy finish with great acidity. Food pairing - roast chicken, Thanksgiving Dinner, mushroom dishes, etc.

This is fermented like it is a Burgundy - there is no carbonic maceration - which is a style of fermentation generally used in Beaujolais. This is a technique in which the grapes are not crushed. Rather they are placed whole in the stainless steel vat and the weight of thousands of pounds of grapes crushes the bottom grapes and fermentation begins - which eventually breaks the skin on all the grapes. This wine is fermented in open top cement vats. The grapes are hand-picked, destemmed and crushed. The wine is then placed in barrels and aged before bottling. Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, 90 points.

Tier 3 - $25-55/bottle

We are in Burgundy and Chateauneuf-du-Pape for Tier 3.

The White:

Jean-Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Chaumes" 2003 (France) $54.99 - This is drinking just beautifully right now!

This wine is an example of what a skilled winemaker is capable of when confronted with both extreme heat and drought. Despite the heat which led to overripe fruit - which in turn led to lesser winemakers producing overly alcoholic wines that were too "hot" for Burgundy, Jean-Marc was able to produce classic Chassagne-Montrachet!

It has a creamy texture and shows the faint nutmeg, brown spice, cream and butter aromas and flavors that are hallmarks of true Chassagne-Montrachet. This shows just light hints of oak as it is fermented in 3-, 4- and 5-year oak barrels. Food pairing - roasted chicken, Thanksgiving Dinner, lobster, scallops, etc.

This vineyard is located just below the highly esteemed Premier Cru vineyard of Les Champs-Gain. It is in the very heart of the Chassagne commune. Most of the vines are 25-50 years old.

Jean-Marc Pillot recently took over the reins at this family-owned winery from his father, Jean, who is still actively helping in the vineyards and winemaking.

Jean-Marc is recognized for using new oak "juste comme il faut," that is, "just enough. The white wines are fermented in oak barrels, but Jean-Marc never uses more than 25% new wood - he doesn't want to overwhelm the intensity of the fruit and the sense of terroir. Batonnage is done to enrich the whites (batonnage is the stirring up of the lies or residue at the bottom of the barrels), but it is not exaggerated. The wines are aged 12-18 months in the bottle and are bottled unfiltered to preserve their purity.

The Red:

Both the Tier 3 Red and the "Other" come from Domaine Monpertuis - and both are Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge.

The Domaine de Monpertuis has been in the Jeune Family for 6 generations. Each successive owner has added bits and pieces to the estate. Today, Paul Jeune owns 10 acres in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as well as property in the Cotes du Rhone and Vin de Pays du Gard.

The majority of Jeune's CNP vineyards contain vines that are 60-110 years old. The rest are 20-to-60 years old. So, he has a wealth of "old-vine" fruit to use. The heart-and-soul of the Jeune holdings are in La Croze, Le Clos de la Cerise and Monpertuis.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape may contain any of 13 individual grape varietals. Jeune relies heavily on Grenache. The "Cuvee Classique" is usually 70-85% Grenache with Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault providing the balance. The "Cuvee Tradition," produced only from vines that are at least 60 years old and even then, it's only produced in the best years, is at least 85% Grenache.

All grapes are hand-harvested. They are not destemmed. It is aged in large "foudres" (really big oak barrels) for 18-24 months after the harvest and bottled approximately 2 years after the harvest. It's bottled without filtration.

Domaine Monpertuis Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvee Classique" 2005 (France) $44.99 - Truly a great red from an awesome vintage from a great winemaker!

This wine combines both power and elegance with expressive bright red berry fruit!

Aromas of fresh raspberries and strawberries backed up with great mineral notes. Flavors of wild berries, red currants, Soft, smooth tannins at the finish and a lot of red fruit at the end!

Food pairings - beef, steak, lamb, roasted meats and grilled meats, bold mushroom dishes, etc. Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, 91-94 points

The Others:

Domaine Monpertuis Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvee Tradition" 2005 (France) $79.99 - This is a POWERHOUSE of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Paul Jeune, the winemaker, says it is better than the 1989 or 1990 vintages.

This winery only produces this wine in the best years!

Aromas of cherries, blackberries, Provencal herbs, coffee, minerals, rhubarb, roses and smoked meat. Big flavors across the board - dark and red berries, dark chocolate, This wine is almost chewy in its weight and texture! Long, long finish with soft, supple tannins that compliment the ripe fruit at the finish. Food pairing - steak, lamb, roast beef, venison, duck, etc!

This is a wine I'd linger over with a good friend who enjoys wine and good food! I'd take 2-3 hours to enjoy this bottle!

You can lay this down and age this for years. Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, 93-96 points