European Vintage Wine Sneak Previews

March 18 2011 - 2:49 PM

Throughout town yesterday many importers were eager to show off their new releases to retailers and restaurateurs. We started out at the Elysian, which hosted an event sponsored by Cream Wine Co. at the invitation of someone I met at a wine tasting the week before. Some of the highlights included some unusual wines throughout predominantly the Loire region, with some entries in Champagne and Provence. The elegant spread of oysters, shrimp, and various French cheeses were perfect complements to the whites on offer.

Cream Wine Co. concentrates on smaller producers with an emphasis on natural, organic, and biodynamic viticulture.   The sparklers were memorable and included some grower-producers from Champagne, among them being their Dis, Vin Secret, a non-vintage blanc de noir from biodynamic producer Françoise Bedel, consisting of 86 percent Pinot Meunier and featuring all 2003 fruit and notes of green apple and terroir of aire de jeux gonflable alluvium (loose sand, gravel, and silt), calcareous (chalky), and clay soils. Their Entre Ciel et Terre, a non-vintage from 2002 grapes in a garish yet memorable bottle, was a mixture of 72 percent Pinot Meunier, 14 percent Chardonnay, and 14 percent Pinot Noir.   Toasty oak and vanilla notes as well as the yeastiness present in the winemaker’s use of wild yeast shone through in this bottle.

Dosnon & Lepage, another grower-producer whose NV Champagne Recolte Blanche is hand-harvested and biodynamic, was another particularly enjoyable wine. Oak-aged, this blanc de blanc (100 percent Chardonnay) had a brightness of lemon and orange peel flavors.

Among the sparklers, another noteworthy producer was Louis de Grenelle Rosé from Saumur, a region in the Western Loire Valley between Angers and Tours,  and consisting of 100 percent Cabernet Franc. Bone dry, its dryness was accentuated by the chalky soils of the region, it has an earthiness and dustiness and notes of strawberries.

Cream also had three entries from Michel Delhommeau, a Muscadet producer. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet presents an excellent value for money.  A search of Binny’s reveals all but one of the wines in the $10-$14 range.

Especially excellent with seafood, in part because Muscadet is at the far western tip of the Loire region, Muscadet hasn’t seen the price inflation that has unfortunately made many wines from France off-limits from every day consumption. The “Harmonie” 2009 and 2010 vintages from Delhommeau, from gabbro soils that form when volcanic magma is trapped underneath the earth’s surface and forced to the surface, was softer when compared to the tight 2009 “Clos Armand” wine from volcanic soils, which had more of an angular and strong terroir influence.

One of the Loire favorites was a 2010 Claude Riffault  “Les Boucauds”, a very minerally, grassy lemony Sancerre (where the Loire starts to dip south) with an intense finsh from chalky soils. Another personal favorite was the Domaine de la Nobalaie Chinon Blanc, situated in the Chinon region just west of Tours, and consisting purely of chenin blanc. It had a round, fruitiness with a muscular acidic backbone.

Cream showcased some obscure wines from France that were particularly pleasurable: one of them was from the Cour-Cheverny region, west of Tours in the Loire Valley.  From one hundred percent Romorantin grapes, this exquisite wine had undertones of gooseberries and lime and a bracing acidity.

Another standout was the 2010 Jean-Charles Girard-Madoux, from 100 percent Mondeuse grapes.  With red fruit and a peppery taste, the wine was featured from the Chignin region of Savoie in the southeastern part of France.

Last, the Domaine Saint-Nicholas Fiefs Vendeens “Gammes en May” was an interesting biodynamic gamay from schist soil.  Situated in the Ile d’Olonne in the western central coast of France, it is a light, easy-drinking Gamay in an obscure region of France.

We weren’t able, unfortunately, to get through all the wines Cream had on display in the spirit of attending more events. The next one was the Europvin Portfolio Tasting at Blackbird restaurant sponsored by Signature Wine and Spirits, which we started out with a glass of Lustau Fino Sherry.

The first table contained a number of white wines, among them being an entre-deux-mers from 2009 Château Terte de Launay, a very nice clean taste of white Bordeaux that, as typical for the region, balances the grassy, herbaciousness of the Sauvignon Blanc with the honeyed notes of the Sémillon.

Also on the table was a Pfalz Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Bürklin Estate Riesling from 2009. Its slightly off-dry foundation was enhanced by a ridge of minerality and a spine of acidity.  Its honeyed notes would make for a good food friendly wine.

The 2009 Priorat Blanco “Font de la Figuera” from Clos Figueras was an unusual white from the Priorat region, north of Barcelona in Spain.  Made from Viognier, Garnatxa blanca, and chenin, it was intensely floral and herbaceous. Viognier, though not traditional to Spain, showed exceptionally well in this wine.

The 2009 Godelia “Viernes” from the Bierzo region of Spain, made with Godello grapes, was a nice crisp, acidic fun summer wine.

Domaine Jean-Max Roger’s “Cuvée GC” Sancerre, however, was the star of the table of whites. With an exceptionally long finish, the Sancerre had great grapefruit flavors as well as strong cirtrus and mineral flavors.

The next table, however, made me fall in love.   Stocked with aged Rioja Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, I was exposed for the first time to Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, who showed a portfolio of Riojas from 1973 to the present.  Two of their vineyards were prominently displayed:  the Viña Real and the CUNE Imperial.    I started out with the 1973 Viña Real, a very delicate wine with a pale orange-red color reminiscent of aged Pinot Noir and lighter than many rosés.   Its tannins were mellowed out by age and it had an eternally long finish with notes of cherry pie and orange zest and the sherry notes that come with some exposure to oxygen.  Surprisingly and noteworthy for an older Rioja, the bottle showed very little signs of oxidization, and its cork was almost perfectly in tact, on display to be shared with visitors at the event. The sensory overload and abundance of the wine on display made it difficult to pick out the secondary and tertiary favors, though there were many to be had in this complex wine. (I have already started to research the most practical way to buy a case of the 1973.)

The 1978 was also very good and shared many characteristics in common with the 1973, though the five extra years of bottle aging had mellowed out the 1973 in comparison. We also compared these to the Cune Imperial, of which the 1976, 1995, and 2004 vintages were on display.  The 1976 Cune Imperial also held up very well, though in contrast to the Viña Real it had notes of leather and a more tannic backbone and stronger acidity. The 1995 also showed relatively well, albeit a bit tart, though the 2004, the latest release, could use a few years of bottle aging to mellow out its tannins but shows promise.

Other wines that could not be overlooked included the Bodegas y Viñedos Pintia from the Toro region of Spain, whose 100 percent Tempranillo 2005 had delicate tannins, though it may benefit from some further aging.

Another delicious wine was the rich 2007 Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils, a wine that I would have wanted to sit down and really try to enjoy.  Its deep red color, long finish, surprisingly mellow tannins, and notes of cedar and tobacco made it a truly remarkable wine.  Beside it was a decent Syrah from Morocco called what else but “Syrocco” from a producer called Thalvin-Graillot.

Due to time and tastebuds, we unfortunately had to skip over many of the wines, but I had to check out a few things before leaving.  One was the Vega-Sicilia 1999 “Unico” Gran Reserva, the wine that made Ribera del Duero famous and became a household name in Spain.  Made from Tempranillo and blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Unico was a tight and very, very young wine at only twelve years old and would drink best after another fifteen-plus years of cellar aging.   (Not that this is a bad thing:  in our era of instant gratification, perhaps more people need to learn the appreciation for giving a good wine time.) The infinity of its finish and forthcoming secondary flavors awaits this wine. Already it had shown a strong nose of cedar, with oak, black cherries, and blackberries.   The Vega-Sicilia Valbuena 5 Ano wines from 2002, 2003, and 2004 were also on display, although these young wines would also benefit from aging.

To finish up our tasting, I had an Oremus, a Hungarian Tokaji, trying both the 2002 5 Puttunyos and the 2007 Late Harvest Furmint.  The ’02 had notes of beeswax, honey, apricot, orange, and orange peel, with the requisite acidity that makes a good Tokaji enjoyable. It was washed down with a  Lustau Amontillado “Los Arcos” sherry, and I enjoyed the nice toffee and almond finish.

The last stop, which is somewhat regrettable as we thought there was another tasting we failed to find, was at Piccolo Sogno, where we tried a range of primarily Piedmont and Tuscan wines (and of the Tuscan wines, Montalcino was primarily represented.    The Barolos despite ’05 through ’07 vintages, were surprisingly drinking well at such a young age, partially due perhaps to “modern” cellar techniques, such as reducinig fermentation time from three weeks to ten days.  The Ca’ Rome was a pleasant wine in the modernist style, whose 2007 “Rapet” Barolo was already ready to drink.  Its “Vigna Ceretta” had a nice texture as well, though a few years in the basement would help it along. The Sori Rio Sordo Barbarescos from Ca’ Rome were also drinking well.

Conterno Fantino had some nice Barolos, among them the ’07 Sori Genestra, and a Dolcetto to break the streak of the more dense wines that predominated the tasting. Despite the representation from these brands, I find Barolo a tough region to buy from, in part due to the vast number of producers

The 2006 Lisini Burnello di Montalcino was a nice, full bodied wine that had nice dark fruit and spice.  Like many wines of its caliber, it would be drinking well after a few years in cellar.

All told, there continue to be more selection and exciting trends in the marketplace.  The challenge, of course, is to continue to keep European wines affordable for Americans, and high fuel prices and exchange rates, not to mention increased global demand, have caused wines from many regions to become out of reach.

–Brian Ziegler