Mature Burgundies and Bordeaux at Gravity Wine Bar; Upcoming Donato Enoteca Italian Winetasting

Richard Jennings
November 30, 2011

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MATURE BURGUNDIES AND BORDEAUX AT GRAVITY WINE BAR – Gravity Wine Bar, Palo Alto, California (9/6/2011)

Palo Alto and its environs are blessed with many excellent wine-oriented dining spots. One of the newest is Gravity Wine Bar. It was launched by the team that owns Scratch, Palo Alto Creamery and Reposado. Reposado is another excellent spot to do wine dinners, which is unusual as one doesn’t normally think of Mexican food pairing all that well with fine wine. Since they know wine there, however, they go out of their way to find combinations that work. The food at Gravity, however, is even more calibrated to work with a variety of fine wines. For starters, the menu includes a large selection of charcuterie, a couple of patés, and several tasty appetizers, including boudin blanc sausage, moules frites with Pernod, and burrata. The entrees include braised beef short ribs, duck confit and a $12 bistro burger.

So is there a better way to spend a Tuesday evening than sharing Burgundy and Bordeaux from great years with old buddies? I don’t think so. In honor of one of peripatetic, legendary wine offline host Jonathan Dinh’s rare visits our way these days, since he moved to Singapore a couple years ago, we gathered at Gravity for good food and some stellar wines from specific years. The Burgs hailed from the great Burgundy vintages of 1978, 1985, 1990, 1993 and 1996 (okay, so a ’91 crept in there too). The Bordeaux were products of the incredible years 1982 and 1989. And our lone Super Tuscan, which turned out to be my WOTN, was a 1993 Tignanello. Yeah, a memorable Tuesday alright.

The vintages represented at this reunion tasting were extraordinary years from Burgundy and Bordeaux, and we enjoyed many great wines as a result. Nonetheless, my wine of the night was the sexy, complex and delicious 1993 Super Tuscan Tignanello from Antinori. For more details on the wines, and my tasting notes, see below.

A fun and highly educational tasting of Italian wines is coming up at Redwood City’s Donato Enoteca this coming Saturday. From 1 pm to 4 pm, you can taste 100 current release Italian wines, or more. I’ve attended this event for the past couple years, and plan to be there this coming Saturday. To save $10 on tickets for the event, bringing the price down on a fun event, which includes great food and live music, from $55 to $45, use the event code “rjonwine” here. My report on last year’s Donato 100 tasting can be found here.

For a great discussion of the 100-point scale that has come to dominate analysis and recommendation of wines, see IntoWineTV.com’s panel, including Richard Jennings, which went up on the IntoWineTV.com site tonight.

White Burg Starter

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This was a great start to a lovely evening. Les Caillerets is a large vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet, at 10.68 hectares, and the name indicates a stony soil with very little earth. The vineyard is entirely planted to Chardonnay, to which it gives a minerally, complex, ageworthy expression. 1993 was a terrific vintage for both white and red Burgundy, and this is a particularly ageworthy and complex example. It went beautifully with our chicken salad starter.

Older Red Burgs

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This was an enjoyable older flight of red Burgundies, beginning with the very fine 1978 vintage, and continuing with a few examples of the ripe and generous 1985 vintage. The wine of this flight for me was the Bouchard Hospices de Beaune bottling Monthélie Cuvee Lebelin. The Hospices de Beaune is a charity for the poor and needy that was established in the 1400s in Burgundy. Over the years, vineyards and parcels of vineyards have been willed to this charity, and great producers and winemakers make wines from these vineyards for sale at the annual November auctions held to raise money for this charity. Gravity’s steak tartare is a delicious appetizer that went surprisingly well with this flight.

  • 1978 Lionel J. Bruck Gevrey-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin
    Bricked medium cherry red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, mature, tart cherry, dried cherry, soy sauce, baked strawberry, light lavender nose; mature, lovely, tart cherry, tart strawberry palate with leanness and good acidity; goes downhill though after 20 minutes in the glass; medium-plus finish 91+ points
  • 1985 Bouchard Père et Fils Monthélie Cuvee Lebelin Hospices de Beaune – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Monthélie
    Bricked medium red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, lifted, baked raspberry, baked strawberry, strawberry preserves, rose petal and light herbs nose; tasty, mature, baked cherry, tart cherry, tart strawberry preserves palate with balance; medium-plus finish 93+ points
  • 1985 Louis Latour Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Bricked medium red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; troublesome, maderized, tart red apples nose; better on palate, mature, light strawberry, tart cherry applesauce palate with near medium acicity; medium finish 88 points
  • 1985 Domaine Philippe Naddef Mazis-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
    Bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; white chocolate, tart cherry, cranberry, baked sardine nose; nice tart cherry, black cherry, mineral palate that pulls back on the finish; medium-plus finish 91+ points

Younger Red Burgs

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1993 and 1996 are both great vintages for red Burgundy, although 1996 was a particularly tannic year that has taken some time to come around. That’s why I was particularly impressed by the 1996 Chevillon Les Roncières in this flight. Chevillon is my favorite producer in Nuits St. Georges, and Roncières is a smallish premier cru vineyard, at not quite one hectare, on a steep slope that usually has a sense of garrigue, or local herbs. I thought the 1996 Chevillon Les Roncières was outstanding, and that it will also age for 15 to 20 more years, with ease. The Jadot Clos St. Jacques from the same vintage is also a very youthful wine with good complexity that needs a few more years of bottle age to show what it’s fully capable of. The mushroom risotto went particularly well with this flight.

  • 1993 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
    Bricking medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; light TCA, baked cherry nose; tart cherry, tart red fruit palate with good texture, medium acidity and a touch of cork; medium finish (NR/flawed)
  • 1996 Domaine Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Roncières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru
    Slightly bricking dark cherry red color; rich, baked cherry, baking spice, black cherry nose; voluptuous, rich, youthful yet, silky textured, tart black cherry, cranberry, mineral palate; will go 20-plus years; medium-plus finish 94 points
  • 1996 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru
    Dark cherry red color; nice, lightly woodsy, black cherry nose with subtle sweet green herb; youthful and a little tight yet, velvety textured, tart cherry, tart black cherry, black raspberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 more years; medium-plus finish 92+ points

More Red Burgs

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This was an interesting juxtaposition of an overhyped Burgundy vintage (1990) with an underappreciated one (1991). Intriguingingly, both were quite youthful and showing well. Boillot is an excellent producer, and their Jarollières Pommard is a delicious Pommard. The name Jarollières derives from an old word for “maurading spirits,” possibly werewolves, who allegedly frequented this area. Bernard Maume owns .67 hectares of the 9.10 hectare Mazis-Chambertin grand cru vineyard, with characteristic firm structure and power.

  • 1990 J.M. Boillot Pommard 1er Cru Les Jarollieres – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard 1er Cru
    Bricking, opaque red violet color; nice, roses, mineral, black raspberry nose; rich, youthful, black raspberry, black cherry, mineral palate with good acidity; will go 20+ years; medium-plus finish 93 points
  • 1991 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
    Slightly bricking dark cherry red color; tart red fruit, mineral, deep beef jus nose; tasty, structured, beef jus, mineral palate with firm tannins; will go 25 years; medium-plus finish 93 points

Bordeaux Flight

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1982 is the great, very ripe vintage on which Robert Parker made his reputation, and our 1982 Bordeaux were very good, especially the very youthful Ducru-Beaucaillou. Our Figeac, also from a ripe vintage, 1989, was similarly quite delicious and youthful.

  • 1982 Château de Pez – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
    Bricking dark red violet color; earthy, tobacco, beef jus, pencil lead nose; tasty, mature, tobacco, lamb jus, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 92 points
  • 1982 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
    Very dark red violet color; reticent, herb, green tobacco nose; tasty, youthful, silky textured, tart plum, currant, cedar palate, showing good breeding but restrained; medium-plus finish (decanted for 90 minutes) 93 points
  • 1989 Château Figeac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
    Intriguing, tart currant, tobacco, mineral nose; youthful, tart currant, tobacco, mineral, herbs, sweet black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points

Tignanello

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Sometime after 1900–when Piero Antinori, head of the great Antinori winemaking family that has been producing wine for 600 years, purchased several vineyards in Chianti Classico, including 47 hectares at Tignanello–he planted some Bordeaux varieties in Tignanello. Piero’s son Niccolo scandalized the region in 1924 by making a “Chianti” containing these Bordeaux varieties. A couple of decades later, in the mid-1940s, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, founder of Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, started producing a wine called Sassicaia (“stony field” in Italian) using Cabernet Sauvignon vines sourced from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. This wine, made only for family consumption for many years, was aged in French barriques instead of the large Slovenian casks that otherwise dominated winemaking in the region. Starting in 1968, renowned consultants Emile Peynaud and Giacomo Tachis were engaged to improve the quality of this wine. The resulting Sassicaia was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but it was not released commercially until the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, in 1968, Azienda Agricola San Felice produced the first commercially available wine of the type that would subsequently be called Super Tuscan, by eliminating the white grapes (Malvasia and/or Trebbiano) that were then required in Chianti, and making the wine instead entirely out of Sangiovese. They named it Vigorello. In 1971, the grandson of the Piero Antinori who purchased the Tignanello vineyard, whose name was also Piero, was inspired by trying his cousin’s Sassicaia to produce a Sangiovese-based wine that included Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for greater richness. The wine thus created he named Tignanello, after the vineyard that was the source of the grapes. From 1975, white grapes were also eliminated from this wine and it included 20% Bordeaux varieties. Since 1982, this wine has been made with 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

After Tignanello and Sassicaia became critical and commercial successes, the Chianti Classico DOCG rules were changed to accommodate wines without white grapes, and to include up to 20% of red grapes other than Sangiovese.

Until 1994, these wines that didn’t comply with any of the existing DOC(G) rules had to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” i.e., table wine–the European Union’s lowest classification for wine. In 1994, an IGT category was added to cover these wines. In 1995, the DOC rules were further changed to allow Chianti to be made from 100% Sangiovese. Despite these changes, Tignanello and many other Super Tuscans that could now use the Chianti DOC continue to be labelled as Toscana IGT wines.

Our 1993 was youthful and complex, with many years yet to go, and a delicious mix of black fruits, spice box and dried berries with sweet tannins on the palate. It was definitely my wine of the night (WOTN).

  • 1993 Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Very dark red violet color; sexy, black fruit, baked berry, dried berry, tobacco nose; youthful, tart berry, tart black fruit, spice box, dried berry palate with sweet tannins; needs 3 years yet; long finish (my WOTN) 96 points

Sweet Finish

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To finish the evening, we had one of California’s greatest sweet wines ever–one that I bought a half case of after I first tried it–a rare late harvest Chardonnay from a new producer, Baton, made by Jeff Pisoni, wnemaker for Pisoni, Fort Ross and Baton. The 2006 vintage in Sonoma was one of those rare ones–it happens every 15 to 20 years–where a rainy spring and two weeks of cool and cloudy weather in September permitted botrytis cinerea to develop on some of the grape clusters. Baton’s owner asked vineyard owner Charles Heintz to let those clusters continue to hang after the rest of the Chardonnay was picked. In November, they finally picked these botrytised grapes at 36.4 brix. The results, in the hands of Pisoni winemaker Jeff Pisoni, were, I think, pretty spectacular. The wine had good acidity, with a pH of 3.58, and reached 15.2% residual sugar. As usual, this wine was showing rich lime cream and lemon meringue flavors, with good balancing acidity.

All-Chablis Lunch: Raveneau, Fèvre and Brocard

Richard Jennings
August 13, 2011

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I love minerally white wines. They are refreshing and delicious on their own, and the perfect accompaniment to a summer meal. The king of minerally white wines is Chablis, at least top premier cru and grand cru Chablises. I was therefore very excited about our monthly Euro lunch this month, with the theme of Chablis from some of Chablis’s great producers. And the king of kings when it comes to minerally white wines is the top grand cru of Chablis, Les Clos. Five of the 13 Chablises we sampled at this lunch were from the Les Clos Grand Cru. Domaine Fèvre, a great producer, was responsible for a plurality of our wines–five. Next most represented was Jean-Marc Brocard with four. Domaine François Raveneau was responsible for two of our most stunning wines. We also had one each from Vincent Dauvissat and Domaine Christian Moreau.

Our chef, Pedro Ayala, did his usual expert job of pairing new dishes (he’s never repeated himself yet, in the course of 15 Euro lunches) with our minerally Chablis. We ended with a sweet wine that, like the Chablis, is entirely Chardonnay–the best late harvest, botrytised California wine I’ve ever tried. In all, it was a delicious lunch, and the wines showed well.

We were lucky that nothing was prematurely oxidized–the curse of white Burgundies these days–despite a scarily darkened ’01 Dauvissat Les Clos. And nothing was corked either. What we did experience was some late onset “green meanies” in two of our three 2004 Chablises. This is a phenomenon that lovers of Burgundies have been experiencing with red Burgundies, and many white Burgundies, from this vintage–a distinct and often overpowering green note, like split pea in some Burgundies, or green chilies in others. The writer who first reported this phenomenon was Bill Nanson in his Burgundy Report. For Bill’s conjecture on the source of this increasingly dominant “green” note in 2004 Burgundies, which has to do with a large number of ladybugs reportedly present around harvest time, see here. We found this distinct green note, more like green chilies than split pea, in two of our three 2004 Chablises, neither of which had shown this feature when I had sampled them in previous years. That was the saddest takeaway from this tasting–the insidious, late onset of the 2004 green meanies. Otherwise, there was much to enjoy in this line up. My wine of the day was the exquisite 2001 Domaine Fèvre Les Clos, but there were many great wines. For my detailed tasting notes, and summaries of winemaking at the producers represented, see below.

Our talented chef, Pedro Ayala
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2008 Flight

Domaine Christian Moreau came into being in 2002, after Christian Moreau triggered a five-year take-back clause in 1997 from the family’s sale of J Moreau and their vineyard holdings to Canadian firm Hiram Walker. Fabien Moreau took over from his father in December 2001. Fabien received his degree in Oenology from Dijon and a Masters in Business Administration at the E.N.I.T.A in Bordeaux. With this vintage, 2008, they began using ambient yeasts for fermentation. The family owns half a hectare of Vaudésir, which is planted 7,000 vines to the hectare. The average age of the vines is only 10 years. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then raised for four months in barrels, 90% in one-, two- and three-year-old barrels, and 10% in new and one-year-old barrels. This was a wonderfully well made wine, with creamy texture and poise. I think it will also age quite well, and be even more complex and delicious in 2018.

Jean-Marc Brocard set up shop in 1973. The domaine is a mixture of land it owns and vineyards under long-term contracts–for a total of about 200 hectares. Jean-Marc’s son Julien and son-in-law Frédéric Gueguen are currently in charge, with Julien serving as vineyard manager. The vineyards, which have been certified organic since 2004, have been converted to biodynamic principles under Julien’s leadership. Patrick Piuze, whose wines I earlier posted about here, is the assistant winemaker. Most of the premier crus, including the Fourchaume, are made in stainless steel. The grand crus, including the Bougros in this flight and the Les Clos in our third flight, are fermented and raised in large oak foudres.

Our caponato dish went beautifully with the wines, to my surprise. The silky texture of the dish also complemented the silkiness of our wines.
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Sicilian caponato with pesto Genovese, buffalo mozzarella and carta musica
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  • 2008 Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light yellow color; nice, focused, apple, ripe lemon, hazelnut shavings nose; creamy textured, medium bodied, poised, tart lemon, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (45% for 7 mos. in barriques) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru Bougros – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light medium yellow color; reduction, tart lemon, ripe grapefruit nose; a little reductive, tart lemon, ripe grapefruit, mineral palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (50% stainless steel, 50% foudres) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
    Light medium yellow color; waxy, light hazelnut, acacia nose; tasty, medium bodied, ripe lemon, tart apple, mineral palate; needs 2+ years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Fèvre Bougros Cote de Bouguerots flight

Domaine William Fèvre owns substantial parcels in some of the greatest vineyards, and regularly makes some of the finest Chablises, especially since the oak treatment has been dialed back following the sale of the domaine to Joseph Henriot in 1998. The wines are now made by Didier Séquier, who came from Bouchard. The domaine owns 12 hectares of premier crus and 16 of grand crus, including 2.11 hectares of Bougros Cote de Bouguerots. These are on a steep portion of Bougros, above the road, and the wines made from the grapes from this portion tend to be very minerally. The 2007 was my favorite of this treat of a flight, showing wonderful definition and minerality, but the 2008 is also quite good, if softer. The green meanies have attacked the ’04, unfortunately, giving it a strong note of Padron chilies that just wasn’t there when I last tried this bottling a year ago.

The wild prawns poached in lime juice dish with this flight went perfectly with our wines. Kudos to Chef Pedro for a particularly inventive, great looking and ideal pairing!
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Les Clos flight

On to an all Les Clos flight–from the well acknowledged greatest vineyard of all of Chablis’s grand crus. It is also the largest of the grand crus, at nearly 27 hectares. Domaine William Fèvre owns the largest portion, with 4.11 hectares. Vincent Dauvissat has 1.7 hectares. Jean-Marc Brocard’s Les Clos bottlings are from vines they have under long-term contract. The best of this flight was the stunning 2008 Brocard, with wonderful minerality and a long finish. The 2007 was also very good and aromatic. The 2004 Fèvre was another unfortunate victim of the late-onset green meanies, as this was a delicious wine only a year ago when I last tried it, but it’s now showing off-putting and dominant green notes.
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Spaghetti with squid ink, with Monterey Bay calamari, peeled grape tomatoes, scallops and arugula
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  • 2008 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light yellow color; ripe green fruit, lime cream, green apple nose; tasty, medium-bodied, tight, tart green apple, lime, mineral palate with balance; long finish (decanted for 2 hours) (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light medium yellow color; intriguing, ripe green fruit, green fig, lime, aromatic nose; tightish, tart lime, mineral,, gunpowder palate with depth; long finish 91+ points (decanted for 2 hours) (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light yellow color; very ripe green fruit, kiwi, gooseberry, nearly a NZ Sauvignon Blanc type nose; green on palate too, tart gooseberry, tart kiwi, gunpowder, mineral palate, with off putting green notes; medium-plus finish (seems like the cursed ’04, time-delayed Burgundy green meanies have claimed another victim, as this was wonderful last year) (89 pts.)

Older flight

For our last flight, we moved to our oldest Chablises–two from Raveneau and two 2001 Les Closes from Fèvre and Dauvissat respectively. I have written on this blog about Raveneau a number of times, and a post with more background on this great producer, with information as well on Dauvissat, can be found here. Montée de Tonnerre is typically the greatest of Raveneau’s premier cru Chablises, and our 2002 certainly showed very well, with strong minerality and oyster jus characteristics. I preferred the 2004 Butteaux between the two Raveneaus, however, and it was thankfully free of the dominant green notes that had afflicted our prior two wines from that vintage. The Butteaux had the weight and richness that I admire and enjoy in Raveneau Chablis.

The best wine of the flight, however, and my WOTD, was the gorgeous 2001 Fèvre Les Clos. Fèvre’s 4.12 hectare parcel of this great vineyard is divided up into eight plots, nearly all of which are on the upper slope. The average vine age is 50 years. This wine and our 2001 Dauvissat Les Clos had the longest finishes of all of our Chablises. The Dauvissat is at a more advanced stage of evolution than the Fèvre, with our bottle showing a medium golden color, and the nose having a mature, clarified butter character to it. From these two samples, I would predict the Fèvre to be the one most likely to age beautifully for another 20 or more years.

The truffle and mushroom flavors in our riostto with this flight were a great counterpoint to the maturing flavors to be found in older Chablis.
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  • 2004 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
    Light yellow color; lovely, maturing, apple, light honeysuckle, green fig nose; tasty, rich but balanced, medium-plus bodied, ripe lemon, saline, mineral palate with a touch of gunpowder; medium-plus finish 92+ points (no ’04 Burgundy “green meanies” here as yet) (92 pts.)
  • 2002 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
    Light yellow color; earthy, oyster jus, floral nose; earthy, oyster jus, mineral, saline, tart citrus palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light yellow color; green apple, acacia, green fruit nose; tasty, maturing, tart lemon, mineral, lightly honeyed, light gunpowder palate; long finish 94+ points (gorgeous, my WOTD) (94 pts.)
  • 2001 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent) Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Medium golden yellow color; mature, clarified butter, tart lemon, green herb nose; tasty, mature, tart lemon, mineral, gunpowder palate; long finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Sweet Finish

For our final Chardonnay, we turned to my last bottle of a half case of a botrytised late harvest gem made by Jeff Pisoni for Baton Wines, a producer whose first vintage happened to be 2006. The 2006 vintage in Sonoma was one of those rare ones–it happens every 15 to 20 years–where a rainy spring and two weeks of cool and cloudy weather in September permitted botrytis cinerea to develop on some of the grape clusters. Baton’s owner asked vineyard owner Charles Heintz to let those clusters continue to hang after the rest of the Chardonnay was picked. In November, they finally picked these botrytised grapes at 36.4 brix. The results, in the hands of Pisoni winemaker Jeff Pisoni, were, I think, pretty spectacular. The wine had good acidity, with a pH of 3.58, and reached 15.2% residual sugar. As usual, this wine was showing rich lime cream and lemon meringue flavors, with good balancing acidity. Along with our peach poached in Moscato, this was a delicious sweet ending to an all-Chardonnay wine feast.
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  • 2006 Baton Wines Chardonnay Late Harvest Charles Heintz Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    From 500 ml – light medium golden yellow color; botrytis, lemon meringue pie filling, baked apple nose; tasty, rich, lemon meringue pie filling, green apple, lime cream palate with good balancing acidity; long finish (94 pts.)

Superb Summer Treats: Non-Champagne European Sparkling Wines

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SPARKLING (NON-CHAMPAGNE) THEMED EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (7/10/2011)

The summery theme for our July Euro Lunch was sparkling wines from throughout Europe with the exception of Champagne. We excluded Champagne so as to give more focus to our theme, and to afford ourselves the opportunity to taste and compare some of the wonderful Cavas, sparkling Loire and Jura wines, and fizzy Italians that are out there, among others. It also seems to me that other sparkling wines are all too often automatically, and unfavorably, compared to Champagne, even when they are made from different grapes, by different processes and from very different terroirs. Champagne, to me, is its own wonderfully diverse and fascinating category, but since Champagne so often overshadows other sparkling wines in the minds of many, it’s important–for the sake of vinous and tasting experience diversity–to give other sparkling wines their own place at the table once in awhile. As usual, our chef at Donato, Pedro Ayala, did an outstanding job of pairing very creative dishes to our wines. The result was a delightful summer afternoon of bubbles and flavor that made me thankful for the felicitous combo of summer weather and sparkling wine, as well as for wonderful wine-loving friends to enjoy them with.

We started with a flight that included two very impressive vintage Italian sparklers, from Franciacorta, made by Monte Rossa, along with one representative each from Portugal and the Canary Islands. My favorite of this flight, which paired beautifully with Chef Pedro’s creative fried mussel, clam, tomato and zucchini dish, was the 2005 Monte Rossa Brut Cabochon. We then moved to a trio of Cavas, with a truly delicious stuffed calamari dish. My favorite Cava producer–Raventos i blanc–came through with my top wine in this flight: the ’07 L’Hereu Reserva Brut–a delicate, complex and impressive Cava, as I’ve grown to expect from this house. Our third flight was devoted to the Jura and Loire, and it was the best overall flight of the day. The very best of this flight of five, for me, was a 2007 Crémant du Jura from Les Chais du Vieux Bourg with the punning name “Delire des Lyres.” This was closely followed by the always reliable sparkling wine from François Chidaine. With our fourth flight, we changed color to pink, enjoying two crémants d’Alsace and a Spatburgunder sekt. The easy standout of this trio for me was the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Crémant. In an afternoon full of striking presentations from the kitchen, the presentation of our fish course for this flight, including the upright fried tail of a Branzino d’orada, was the most striking of all. A couple of sparkling Shirazes from Australia managed to make their way into the lunch as well, even though they’re not European sparklers, so we opened those as a little intermezzo flight, before our dessert. These were my least favorite sparklers of the day, both being on the oaky as opposed to the fruity side for sparkling Shiraz. We finished with a trio of sweet sparklers, including a Clairette de Die, a Bugey-Cerdon and a quite delicious Brachetto d’Acqui from Braida that retails for about $20.

A major takeaway for the day for me was a sense that the world of sparkling wine outside of Champagne has advanced dramatically since Tom Stevenson, in his groundbreaking World Encyclopedia of Champagne & sparkling wine, complained bitterly about the quality of French sparkling wines outside of Champagne. In his book, published in 1998, Stevenson asserted that “two-thirds of French sparkling wines are undrinkable,” and claimed “more than three-quarters of Cavas are boring or worse.” I believe the increasing emphasis on quality and artisanal products that has taken hold throughout the wine world in the past ten to 15 years can definitely be sensed in sparkling wines as well, and that there are many more fine, complex and noteworthy non-Champagne sparklers being made now than ever before. Many of these wines have great minerality and acidity, and arguably pair even better with a variety of foods (especially dishes from the same regions and countries where these wines are made) than rich, yeasty Champagnes. The latter are wonderful aperitif wines, for enjoyment and contemplation on their own, or with simple bites of caviar or oysters, but are arguably often too big and attention demanding to play any kind of equitable supporting role for more complex and attention-worthy creations from the kitchen. Kudos, once again, to Chef Pedro for showing us how well a creative array of dishes can pair with many of the wonderful sparklers represented in our luncheon.

For more details on many of our wines, and my complete tasting notes, see below.

Eclectic flight

The Monte Rossas are made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, i.e., Champagne grapes, grown on a hillside vineyard. The Cabochon is their top tier wine, and it undergoes its first fermentation in barriques, and is aged on its fine lees for 40 months. Keeping in mind what I wrote above about the too-automatic tendency to compare other sparklers with Champagne, due to the grapes and methods involved here, one could argue it is more fair than usual to compare this sparkler to Champagne. From this perspective, both Paul, who brought the wine, and I were surprised at how easy it would be for the ’05 Cabochon to pass for a fine Champagne if it were poured blind. It was also the most pricey of our sparklers that afternoon, at $55 to $65 a bottle. Paul had to obtain it from the importer, as there is none currently available from U.S. retailers.

I also quite enjoyed our sparkling Malvasia from the Canary Islands–the Los Bermejos Lanzarote Brut Nature. It’s minerally, delicate and flavorful. It’s also fairly pricey, at about $42, if you can find it. The Pato, from the Beiras region of Portugal, made from the indigenous Baga grape, was not as strong as other sparkling wines I’ve had from this producer, especially the ’08 Bairrada Vinhas Velhas.
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Green tomato and zucchini with tomato emulsion, rice flour fried mussel in tomato and red pepper emulsion, fried clam with Italian parsley and calabria pepper
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  • 2005 Monte Rossa Franciacorta Brut Cabochon – Italy, Lombardia, Franciacorta
    Light lemon yellow color with very tiny bubbles; lifted, yeasty, elegant, tart citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Nero) (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Monte Rossa Franciacorta Brut Cabochon – Italy, Lombardia, Franciacorta
    Light medium lemon yellow color with tiny bubbles; rich ripe apple, tart pear nose; tasty, fine mousse, rich, leesy, tart apple, very tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • N.V. Luis Pato Maria Gomes Espumante – Portugal, Beiras, Vinho Regional Beiras
    Very light yellow color with a steady stream of tiny bubbles; fresh, bright, ripe peach, apricot, floral, nectarine nose; ripe lemon, mineral palate; meium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • N.V. Bodegas Los Bermejos Lanzarote Bermejo Brut Nature – Spain, Canary Islands, Lanzarote
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; leesy, chalk, tart citrus, mineral nose; tasty, delicate, tart citrus, mineral, very tart orange, chalky palate; medium finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

Cava flight

One of our Cavas in this flight, the 2001 Castell Sant Antoni Cava Gran Reserva Brut Nature, could have been quite wonderful, but was unfortunately corked. I look forward to sampling another bottle. The Avinyó Penedès Seleccio La Ticota Gran Reserva was good, with a remarkably powdery texture. It and the star of this flight, the Raventos i blanc, were both made from the traditional cava grapes–Macabeu and Xarel-lo, plus Parellada in the case of the Raventos. Neither included Cava newcomer Chardonnay, which was authorized for Cava in 1986. The week before, at Luce Restaurant in San Francisco, I had another Raventos i blanc, a rosé, which was my favorite sparkler yet from this producer. It’s the 2007 Cava de Nit, and for $20 to $22, I think it’s about the best buy for a sparkling rosé out there right now. I strongly recommend it.
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Monterey calamari ripieni stuffed with wild prawns, balsonic olives and garlic with sauteed fennel, beans and arugula
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  • N.V. Avinyó Penedès Seleccio La Ticota Gran Reserva – Spain, Catalunya, Penedès
    Light yellow color with small quantity of medium-sized bubbles; intriguing tart apple, chalk, lemon nose; powdery textured, tart lemon, chalk, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (Macabeu and Xarel-lo from old vines) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Raventos i blanc Cava L’Hereu Reserva Brut – Spain, Catalunya, Cava
    Very light yellow color with a good stream of tiny bubbles; lovely, ethereal, light green fruit, green onion, vaguely savory nose; tasty, delicate, refined, tart green fruit, lime, mineral palate with a sense of green herbs; medium-plus finish 92+ points (60% Macabeu, 20% Parellada, 20% Xarel-lo) (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Castell Sant Antoni Cava Gran Reserva Brut Nature – Spain, Catalunya, Cava
    Light medium yellow color with steady stream of tiny bubbles; TCA on nose; TCA, tart citrus, mineral palate (NR/flawed)

Jura and Loire flight

As I mentioned above, this was our best overall flight, and all of the wines were quite good. This was the second time in a month that I’ve had the Rolet Crémant Brut, and its minerality and fine definition are growing on me. Domaine Rolet is now the second largest winegrowing concern in the Jura, with 60 hectares of vineyards in well placed areas in the hills of the Arbois and Côtes du Jura. The 2007 Brut is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Poulsard and 15% Pinot Noir. It sells for only about $19.

Les Chais du Vieux Bourg was established in 2003 by Ludwig Bindernagel and Nathalie Eigenschenck. It consists of two and a half hectares of vineyards in Arlay, with vines from 40 to 50 years old. The Blanc Delire des Lyres is made from Chardonnay (there’s also a rosé by the same name, made with Pinot Noir). K&L is the only U.S. producer that has it (only the blanc), for $30. It’s a very appealing sparkler, and another strong recommendation.

Our two Montlouis-sur-Loire producers included one of my favorite producers anywhere, whom I’ve written about here a number of times–François Chidaine–and Domaine La Grange Tiphaine. The latter was founded in the late 1800s by Alfonse Delecheneau, and is now run by his great grandson Damien Delecheneau and his wife Coralie. The Nouveau-Nez is made from young Chenin Blanc vines. Chidaine also makes his Brut from younger Chenin Blanc vines, and picks them at a high level of ripeness, so as not to have to add dosage. It’s another good buy at about $20.

Our most unusual wine in this flight, with the least bubbles (since it is only a petillant), was Frantz Saumon’s “Un Saumon dans La Loire,” which is imported by our buddies Cory and Guilhaume, the principals behind a small importing and online retail company called Selection Massale, based here in Oakland. The wine is made from the Menu Pineau grape, also known as Arbois, which makes softer wines than the predominant Chenin Blanc. A petillant is made with only one fermentation, instead of the two required for Champagne and most other sparklers. It is made by lowering the temperature of the wine before it has completed fermentation, bottling it, and then allowing the fermentation to complete in bottle. The wine’s subtitle is the French slang expression for a morning erection, literally “the little morning pole.”
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Risotto safforono with rock shrimp and calamari with hydroponic watercress and fennel
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  • 2007 Domaine Rolet Crémant du Jura Crémant Brut – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Very light green-tinged yelllow color with an abundance of tiny bubbles; tart pear, leesy, mineral nose; tasty, light citrus, mineral, tart green apple palate with definition; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Les Chais du Vieux Bourg Crémant du Jura Delire des Lyres – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Light wheat yellow color with steady stream of tiny bubbles; very appealing, peach, tart nectarine nose; tasty, very poised, tart peach, light apple, ripe lemon palate with perfect balance; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Nouveau-Nez – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
    Light yellow color with lots of very tiny bubbles; rich, baked apple, peach, pear nose; tasty, poised, tart peach, pear, mineral, yeasty, floral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Une Saumon dans la Loire Petillant Naturel “La Petit Gaule du Matin” – France, Loire Valley, Touraine
    Light lemon yellow color with very few bubbles; poached pear, mineral, stone nose; tasty, poached pear, tart peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • N.V. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
    Light medium lemon yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; lifted, ripe apple, golden apple nose; tasty, good mousse, tart golden apple, baked apple, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Rosé flight

On to our pink flight. The Allimant-Laugner was a remarkably good Crémant d’Alsace, an excellent buy for $18 to 21 from a number of retailers. It’s made from Pinot Noir. The other two wines were good, but the Allimant-Laugner was the most impressive.
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Branzino d’orada real with heirloom tomato and pea sauce, wild mushroom puree under potato and pearls with agromato lemon-infused olive oil
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  • N.V. Domaine Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Rosé – France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
    Light orange pink color with medium bubbles; tart cantaloupe, orange cream nose; tasty, poised, light cantaloupe, orange cream, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé – France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
    Light orange pink color with steady stream of tiny bubbles; yeasty, light strawberry, strawberry cream nose; tasty, strawberry cream, light raspberry palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • N.V. Latitude 50 Pinot Noir Spatburgunder Sekt – Germany, Nahe
    Light orange pink color with steady stream of tiny bubbles; light strawberry cream, mineral nose; tasty, creamy textured, tart cherry, red berry, floral palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Sparkling Shiraz intermezzo

I’ve had one extraordinary sparkling Shiraz in my life, the 1998 Rockford Shiraz Black Shiraz, which I rated 94+. It was complex, had a very long finish, and in no way called for or brought to mind any comparisons to Champagne. My dear L.A. friend Andy had obtained that bottle on a trip to Australia, and it’s virtually never seen in the States. The other sparkling Shirazes I’ve had have ranged from mediocre to worse. With many of them, like the Schild Estate below, one has the sense that they just added bubbles in an attempt to jazz up and disguise otherwise faulty and unmarketable Shiraz. The Black Chook was at least tolerable, as compared to the Schild. From my one excellent experience, I know that very good sparkling Shiraz is possible, if very rare in these parts.
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Chef Pedro Ayala

  • 2004 Schild Estate Shiraz Sparkling Barossa Valley – Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color with large bubbles; smoky, roasted plum, tart berry, oak, coffee nose; oak, roasted berry, smoke palate; medium finish (83 pts.)
  • N.V. The Black Chook Shiraz Sparkling – Australia, South Australia
    Very dark red violet color with medium bubbles; roasted plum, black fruit, charcoal nose; roasted plum, black fruit, charcoal palate with a light sense of pepper; medium finish (85 pts.)

Sweet finish

We had this fun array of traditional sweet sparklers for our last course. Our Clairette de Die Tradition is based on Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grown around the town of Die in the Rhône region. It’s made by the méthode diose, where the juice is kept at very cold temperatures before being fermented to about 3% alcohol. It’s then bottled and completes fermentation, usually based on just the remaining grape sugar. After four months or so, the wine is then decanted off the lees and rebottled under pressure. Our Bugey came from grapes grown in the 170 hectare cru Cerdon. It’s predominantly Gamay, with a little Poulsard. It’s made by the méthode ancestrale, which is much the same way that the Clairette de Die is made, with a continuation of the fermentation in the bottle. Both of these were good versions of very traditional wines, but the delicious and refreshing Braida Brachetto d’Acqui was the show stopper in our final flight. The grape variety is Brachetto, an appealingly aromatic light red grape grown in Piemonte near Asti, Roero and Alessandria. The 2009 vintage from this producer was quite good when I had it a couple of times last summer, but I think this 2010 is even better, and well worth trying with summer fruit tarts, fresh berries and similar desserts for only about $20.
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  • N.V. Carod Clairette de Die Tradition – France, Rhône, Clairette de Die
    Very light yellow color; ripe apple, ripe pear, peach, orange blossom nose; tasty but simple, ripe pear, peach, orange blossom palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • N.V. Caveau du Mont July Vin du Bugey-Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale – France, Savoie, Vin du Bugey-Cerdon
    Light medium orangey pink color with limited tiny bubbles; tart plum nose; tart plum, tart apricot palate; medium finish 87+ points (95% Gamay, 5% Poulsard) (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Braida (Giacomo Bologna) Brachetto d’Acqui – Italy, Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
    Neon dark pink color; wild berry, roasted berry, charcoal nose; charming, tasty, ripe cranberry, tart raspberry, juniper berry, tart cherry, wild berry palate; medium-plus (very appealing light dessert wine for about $20) (91 pts.)

Super Tuscans: Legacy of a One-Time Wine World Darling

Richard Jennings
July 15, 2011

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SUPER TUSCAN WINE DINNER: 1997S AND MORE – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (6/4/2011)

Introduction
Super Tuscans were darlings of the wine world from the mid-’90s through the early 2000s. These wines, whose producers include some of Italy’s most illustrious and historically significant, are based sometimes on blends of Sangiovese with international varietals–like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot–and sometimes just on international varietals. The term Super Tuscan is used to describe any red wine from the Tuscan region that does not conform to the region’s DOC(G) blending requirements, such as the Chianti DOC rule that the dominant grape of the blend has to be Sangiovese. Many Super Tuscans garnered very high scores from Parker and the Wine Spectator, leading to much demand and increasingly high prices for these wines. By the middle of the first decade of 2000, however, many Italian producers were offering Super Tuscan blends, most of which were indistinguishable from red international varietal blends from elsewhere. The market grew increasingly soft for these kinds of wines, and only the top, most well established names are still commanding prices well over $100 a bottle, and the demand even for these wines is much reduced from their heyday.

Historical Background
Super Tuscan history is a little murky, as competing claims for first this and first that are made by different producers. As best I can make out from competing accounts, the following were the significant events along the way. Sometime after 1900–when Piero Antinori, head of the great Antinori winemaking family that has been producing wine for 600 years, purchased several vineyards in Chianti Classico, including 47 hectares at Tignanello–he planted some Bordeaux varieties in Tignanello. Piero’s son Niccolo scandalized the region in 1924 by making a “Chianti” containing these Bordeaux varieties. A couple of decades later, in the mid-1940s, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, founder of Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, started producing a wine called Sassicaia (“stony field” in Italian) using Cabernet Sauvignon vines sourced from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. This wine, made only for family consumption for many years, was aged in French barriques instead of the large Slovenian casks that otherwise dominated winemaking in the region. Starting in 1968, renowned consultants Emile Peynaud and Giacomo Tachis were engaged to improve the quality of this wine. The resulting Sassicaia was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but it was not released commercially until the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, in 1968, Azienda Agricola San Felice produced the first commercially available wine of the type that would subsequently be called Super Tuscan, by eliminating the white grapes (Malvasia and/or Trebbiano) that were then required in Chianti, and making the wine instead entirely out of Sangiovese. They named it Vigorello. In 1971, the grandson of the Piero Antinori who purchased the Tignanello vineyard, whose name was also Piero, was inspired by trying his cousin’s Sassicaia to produce a Sangiovese-based wine that included Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for greater richness. The wine thus created he named Tignanello, after the vineyard that was the source of the grapes. From 1975, white grapes were also eliminated from this wine and it included 20% Bordeaux varieties. Since 1982, this wine has been made with 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

In 1977, Montevertine released a 100% Sangiovese called Le Pergole Torte. In 1978, the Antinoris released the first Solaia, from a 10 hectare vineyard adjacent to Tignanello. The 1978 version was 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc, but the blend is now 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Franc. In that same year a Decanter Magazine tasting of “great clarets,” judged by a panel including critics Hugh Johnson and Clive Coates, declared the 1972 Sassicaia the winner over 33 wines from 11 countries. After Tignanello and Sassicaia became critical and commercial successes, the Chianti Classico DOCG rules were changed to accommodate wines without white grapes, and to include up to 20% of red grapes other than Sangiovese. From 1979 through the mid-1980s, a couple dozen producers created their own new Tuscan wines, including I Sodi di San Niccolo by Castellare di Castellina (Sangiovese and Malvasia Nera) in 1979; Cepparello by Isole & Olena (100% Sangiovese) and Sammarco by Castello dei Rampolla (Cabernet Sauvignon based) in 1980; and Camartina by Querciabella (Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon) in 1981. Also in 1981, the vineyards for Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, adjacent to those of Sassicaia, were planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc by Piero Antinori’s younger brother, Marchese Lodovico Antinori. Ornellaia’s first vintage was 1985, which was also the first vintage for several other new Super Tuscans (San Martino by Villa Cafaggio, Vigna L’Apparita by Castello di Ama, Balifico by Castello di Volpaia, Il Pareto by Tenuta di Nozzole and Veneroso by Tenuta di Ghizzano). In 1986, Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia started bottling Merlot from the seven hectare Masseto vineyard as a varietal wine, inspired by Bordeaux’s Chateau Petrus. They started calling it “Masseto” in 1987, and for me, it is the greatest and most consistently impressive of the Super Tuscans.

Until 1994, these wines that didn’t comply with any of the existing DOC(G) rules had to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” i.e., table wine–the European Union’s lowest classification for wine. In 1994, an IGT category was added to cover these wines. In 1995, the DOC rules were further changed to allow Chianti to be made from 100% Sangiovese. Despite these changes, Tignanello and many other Super Tuscans that could now use the Chianti DOC continue to be labelled as Toscana IGT wines. And in the late 1990s, Sassicaia was granted its own DOC, becoming the only wine in Italy from a single estate to be so recognized. By this point, Super Tuscan generally meant a very modern styled, powerful, dense wine with significant tannins and plenty of new oak.

Our Dinner
Our buddy Sandy collected a number of the more significant Super Tuscans on release. We put together this dinner to check in on several of these wines from the 1997 vintage, nearly a dozen years or so after their release, and to ponder, while we were at it, the Super Tuscan phenomenon and whether the earlier enthusiasm for these wines had been justified. Sandy generously provided eight mature Super Tuscans for the dinner, seven of them from 1997, including the Sassicaia, Tignanello, Ornellaia and Solaia. Others in the group contributed additional wines, so we started out with two lovely Champagnes, including the 1996 Krug, followed by a Chablis flight, before our three flights of Super Tuscans. Besides the seven 1997s, we added two Ornellaias (1995 and 1998) for an Ornellaia vertical flight. And then there were the delicious additional wines for our cheese course and after dinner. These included two vintages of Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore Vigneto Monte Lodoletta, a 2003 Dal Forno Vigna Seré Veneto (my WOTN), and an Ornellaia Grappa.

1997 Vintage
The 1997 vintage was hyped as the greatest vintage in decades by Tuscan winemakers. Tignanello’s Piero Antinori claimed, ”I have never seen a vintage like this and I have been making wine for 30 years. I have never seen the grapes in such perfect condition.” Prices mounted and both the 1997 Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcinos disappeared off the shelves. Unfortunately, however, the Brunellos did not live up to the hype, and their prices tumbled once people started opening and drinking them. Recent reports suggest consumers needed to give these traditionally styled, long aging wines more time, and that they are just now starting to come around. So how are the modern styled Super Tuscans showing from a top year like 1997, now that they have some significant bottle age on them? The answer, from our dinner, is generally pretty well. My favorite of the ’97s was the Sassicaia, which is mature now and quite tasty, and which should go another five to seven years. My next favorite was the Solaia, which was quite youthful and complex, and which should go another 10 to 12 years. It impressed me a lot more than the Tignanello from ’97, which still seemed quite closed down, needing another three to four years yet. The 1997 Ornellaia was powerful but also bretty, and I very much preferred the 1998 version of that wine, which should go another two decades or more. Of the lesser known Super Tuscans in our first flight, the best was the Isole e Olena Cepparello, which was rich, mature and cedary.

Conclusion
From this tasting, which confirmed mini samplings I’ve done of these top Super Tuscans in the past few years, I do believe the very best producers–Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tignanello and Solaia–used their considerable resources to produce excellent wines, especially in favorable years like 1997 and 1998. I think they’re generally holding up well, and still have significant lives ahead of them. I also think the high scores and intense attention on Tuscany in the late ’90s and early 2000s led to over-planting, overproduction and a glut of mediocre wines that have tarnished the early strong reputation garnered by the leading houses. From the new releases of the top houses that I’ve tasted in recent years, I think they are continuing to produce powerful, impressive and ageworthy wines. They may not be worth the high prices that some of the big names still command, but they are, on the whole, very good. One must be very careful, however, buying other wines that use the Super Tuscan name, as there is now a sea of mediocrity going under that designation: a host of dull, generic, international styled wines. But those of you who bought Sassicaia and Ornellaia back when those names were golden are still in for some excellent drinking over the next several years. Enjoy!

For my detailed tasting notes, and an additional note about the wines of Romano Dal Forno that we enjoyed at the end of our dinner, see below.

Champagne Starters

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  • N.V. Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color; lovely, lightly yeasty, tart apple, tart peach nose; tasty, poised, delicate, high pitched, yeasty, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 1996 Krug Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
    Light medium golden yellow color; rich, yeasty, hazelnut, peach, apricot nose; tasty, yeasty, balanced, hazelnut, tart apple, tart peach, very tart apricot palate; long finish (94 pts.)

Chablis Flight

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  • 2002 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Monts Mains – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
    Light medium yellow color; a little reduction, tart lemon nose; tight, tart lemon, mineral, reduction, lime palate; needs 4-5 years yet; medium-plus finish (decanted for 6 hours) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Light green-tinged yellow color; floral, tart lemon, lemon gelee, green apple nose; tasty, tart lemon, green apple, mineral palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

First 1997 Super Tuscan Flight

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  • 1997 Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Slightly cloudy, bricking, dark red violet color; nice tart plum, dried berry, tart currant nose; rich, mature, tart plum, dried berry, cedar palate with firm tannins; good now and should go for 8-10 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 1997 Ruffino Romitorio Di Santedame Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Dark red violet color; mature, plum, berry, red currant nose; maturing, tart currant, tart red plum, herbal, oak palate; good now and should go 7-plus years; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 1997 Fattoria Le Pupille (Elisabetta Geppetti) Saffredi Maremma Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana IGT
    Very dark red violet color; redolent, berry, black plum, light herb nose with a touch of brett; tasty, herbal, tart plum, oregano palate; most youthful of the flight, needs 2-plus years and will go 8-10; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Ornellaia Vertical

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Second 1997 Super Tuscan Flight

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  • 1997 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia Sassicaia – Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Sassicaia
    Bricking dark red violet color; mature, mushroom, menthol nose; tasty, mature, currant, tart plum, menthol, umami, tobacco, smoke palate; drinking well now, should go 5-7 years; long finish (94 pts.)
  • 1997 Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Very dark red violet color; black fruit, plum, oregano nose; tasty, youthful, tart plum, currant, oregano, green herb palate; should go 10-12 years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 1997 Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Very dark red violet color; tart black fruit, herbal, currant nose; tight and/or shut down, tart black fruit, tart currant, iodine palate; needs 3-4 years yet; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Dal Forno Valpolicella Flight

I thought it very appropriate that we ended our dinner of modernist Italian wines from Tuscany with these modernist artisanal wines from one of the great producers of the Veneto, Romano Dal Forno. Dal Forno’s pricey and sought after wines are derived from the extremely low yields of the family’s 12.5-hectare estate in Val d’Illasi, outside the Classico zone. Romano Dal Forno, who took over the running of the family operation in 1983, has taken this already well considered estate to new heights, with the construction of a new winery in 1990, and the introduction of a number of new techniques (e.g., the use of stainless steel punch-down pads that Romano designed). The Valpolicella Superiore was, until 2002, made by blending fresh grapes with grapes dried for about 30 days, but Romano switched to entirely dried grapes in 2002. The blend of grapes is 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Croatina and 5% Oseleta. Fermentation is in controlled temperature stainless steel tanks, with cap submersion every 90 minutes for four to five days. The wines are then aged in barriques for three years, and in bottle for an additional year. The two wines in our flight are both quite young yet, and the ’01 in particular needs some more years of bottle age to show its best. The complex and rich 2002, however, is already drinking well now, and makes a good argument for the change to 100% dried grapes.
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  • 2001 Romano Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore Vigneto Monte Lodoletta – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore
    Opaque red violet color; lavender, ripe cherry, berry, cantaloupe nose; tight, rich, extracted, berry, cassis, red berry palate with firm tannins; needs 4-plus years; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2002 Romano Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore Vigneto Monte Lodoletta – Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore
    Very dark red violet color; redolent, dried berry, black raspberry, lavender, cassis, pepper nose; ripe, concentrated, rich berry, cassis, raspberry, roasted coffee palate; drinking well now; long finish 93+ points (first vintage where they used 100% dried fruit) (93 pts.)

Dal Forno Recioto

Our final wine from Romano Dal Forno was my wine of the night. This is also made from dried grapes, only in particularly favorable years, but by the passito method. The grapes are dried slowly over a period of five to six months. Fermentation is then at controlled temperature of 76-77 degrees Fahrenheit, with maceration on the skins for two days. The wines are aged in barriques for two years. The blend is 55% Corvina, 15% Rondinella, 20% Croatina and 10% Oseleta. This wine was formerly Dal Forno’s Recioto, but the DOCG commission rejected the 2003 from that classification, so it was relabeled as Passito Vigna Seré. (Shades of the DOCs’ rigidity in Tuscany for many years, summarized above.) This is a truly delicious sweet wine, full of dark chocolate, tar and acacia honey. It should last for decades. It’s exceedingly expensive, but a wonderful treat.
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  • 2003 Romano Dal Forno Vigna Seré Veneto IGT – Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
    From 375 ml – opaque black red violet color; bittersweet chocolate, chocolate syrup, creosote, tar nose; rich, chocolate syrup, tar, 70% dark chocolate; acacia honey palate; will go decades; very long finish (96 pts.)

Ornellaia Grappa

We concluded, Italian style, with a grappa made by Tenuta dell’Ornellaia from the skins and other solid material from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes after they make the wine for the Ornellaia. This material–also known as pomace or marc–is pressed and taken to their distillery. Only the best lots after distillation, the most elegant and balanced, are used for the grappa. After these best lots are blended, the result is aged in barriques for 18 months before bottling. This was a particularly flavorful and intense grappa, with huge tannins. It needs a decade, in my opinion, before it’s at its ideal drinking window.
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  • N.V. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Grappa – Italy, Tuscany
    Light medium golden orange color; whiskey barrel, peat moss, rye, orange cream, tobacco nose; intense, whisky, rye, peat, baked apple, pear, cantaloupe palate with serious tannins; needs 10+ years; very long finish (42% alcohol) (93 pts.)

The Mellowness Inducing Wines of the Jura

Richard Jennings
June 23, 2011

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JURA-THEMED EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (6/12/2011)

Our monthly Sunday wine lunch continued its tour of France’s major appellations with this delicious survey of mainly new releases from the Jura. With flights of sparkling crémant, dry whites, oxidative whites, delicate reds, vin jaunes and sweet wines, we surveyed most of the major types of wines produced in the Jura.

I have become a big fan of these wines in the last few years, in part because they are particularly food friendly. All of our wines were good, with some top producers represented. The combination of the wines, well matched food courses from Donato chef Pedro Ayala and excellent company generated in me a very distinct feeling of mellowness and well being. I’m not sure in what precise measure the wines of the Jura contributed to this feeling; I guess I’ll have to repeat the “experiment” a few more times, changing a variable or two, to get a better fix on that. I do think, however, that there is something particularly mellow and endearing about the traditional wines of the Jura that can’t help but make people drinking these wines over a lovely meal feel very contemplative and charmed themselves.

The Jura is a very small region, lying between Burgundy and the Swiss border, planted to only 4,700 acres. There are four geographical AOCs–Arbois, l’Etoile, Chateau Chalon and Côtes du Jura–and the sparkling wines have their own product AOC, Crémant du Jura appellation, which includes much of the area of the other four. There are five permitted grapes in the region, two white (Chardonnay and Savagnin) and three red (Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir). Each may be bottled on its own, or in blends. For the Chateau Chalon appellation, however, the wine must be 100% Savagnin, and red varietals are not grown in l’Etoile.

Sparkling Starters

Crémant de Jura is made by the méthode champenoise, and comes in both white and rosé styles. Appellation rules require that it be held for at least a year in bottle before release. By 2005, over 20% of wine production in the Jura was crémant.

Domaine Rolet was established in the early 1940s by Désiré Rolet. It is now the second largest winegrowing concern in the Jura, with 60 hectares of vineyards in well placed areas in the hills of the Arbois and Côtes du Jura. The 2007 Brut is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Poulsard and 15% Pinot Noir. This is a very appealing, minerally and complex crémant that sells for only about $19.

Domaine Tissot’s Stéphane Tissot is probably the Jura’s most famed vigneron. Domaine Tissot farms biodynamically and has relatively large holdings in many of the best terroirs around Arbois. Tissot’s crémant is 100% Chardonnay.
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Tomato foam made from heirloom and grape tomatoes with cucumber and poached wild prawn
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  • 2007 Domaine Rolet Crémant du Jura Crémant Brut – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Light green-tinged yellow color with an abundance of tiny bubbles; intriguing, lifted, tart pear, mineral, saline, grapefruit, lime nose; medium-bodied, creamy textured, tart pear, tart citrus, mineral, ripe lime, chalk palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • N.V. Domaine Tissot (André & Mireille now Stéphane) Crémant du Jura Brut – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Light peach yellow color with small amount of tiny bubbles; a little oxidized, apricot, peach, chalk, yeast, mineral nose; a touch oxidized, tart apricot, tart peach, mineral, apple palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

White Flight

To understand the Jura’s unusual white wines, it is helpful to be reminded of the process for producing the region’s vin jaune. The following information is largely borrowed from Jura and Savoie expert Wink Lorch’s article entitled “A Jurassic mystery.” Ripe Savagnin grown at low yields is first conventionally fermented and then transferred to old Burgundy barrels partially filled and place in a warm environment–-the producer’s attic, cellar or a storage warehouse, someplace well ventilated and subject to temperature fluctuations. This allows for the voile or film of yeast (like the flor of Jerez) to form on the wine’s surface, protecting it from oxidation while it continues to develop and concentrate. Those barrels that ultimately become vin jaune are aged for at least six years and three months, during which each cask is regularly checked for VA levels, and the formation of ethanal, an aldehyde that helps provide the “gout de Jaune.” Slow oxidation takes place, but the voile protects the wine from turning to vinegar. Those casks that aren’t developing in the necessary way are withdrawn and sold as Savagnin whites, or blended with Chardonnay and sold as whites. For the most rigorous producers, the rejection rate can be as high as three-quarters of the original barrels. Those that make it to the six year and three month point are bottled in the 62-centileter clavelin bottles. The best can age for another 10 years or more. In our flight, we had two Savagnins, one 100% Chard and a Savagnin/Chard blend.

Domaine Montbourgeau was founded in 1920 by Victor Gros. His granddaughter Nicole is currently in control of this relatively small, nine hectare estate. The Savagnin for the Montbourgeau L’Etoile is grown on rocky limestone in l’Etoile. Fermentation is in stainless steel, followed by aging sous voile in old oak barrels for two years before bottling. The sous voile aging definitely gives it an oxidized, sherried kind of nose. It is also juicy, mouthwatering and minerally, and went quite well with our savory ensalata.

Les Chais du Vieux Bourg is a relatively new producer, having been established in 2003 by Ludwig Bindernagel and Nathalie Eigenschenck. It consists of two and a half hectares of vineyards in Arlay. Their vines range from 40 to 50 years old. The BB1 is a blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin. I very much enjoyed its rich nose, oily texture, and complex and elegant palate. This wine paired beautifully with our dish.

Jacques Puffeney is the best known traditionalist winemaker in the Jura, having made wine for nearly 50 years now. His domaine consists of about seven and a half hectares of vineyards all located in the Arbois appellation. The Savagnin is normally the last variety he picks, after the Chardonnay, the Poulsard, Pinot Noir and then the Trousseau. The Savagnin is fermented both in cuve and foudre and then aged in small oak barrels. Puffeney farms organically and uses only ambient yeast.

Michel Gahier’s domaine is in Montigny, a couple of streets away from Puffeney, for whom he worked for many years. Gahier now owns about six hectares. He is also a traditionalist, who farms biodynamically, using only a horse drawn plough. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts and the wine is raised in old barrels, mainly barriques. His Chardonnay was quite delicate, elegant and delicious, and was my favorite of this flight.
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Ensalata di porcini in a grana padano cheese basket with Sardinian olive oil, asparagus, fava bean puree
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  • 2005 Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin L’Etoile – France, Jura, L’Etoile
    Light lemon yellow color; intense, oxidized, sherried, tart lemon, kumquat nose; tasty, oxidized, juicy, mouthwatering, tart lemon, kumquat, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Les Chais du Vieux Bourg Côtes du Jura BB1 – France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
    Light medium lemon yellow color; lovely, preserved lemon, baked lemon, almond nose with a touch of honey; tasty, fascinating, oily textured, tart lemon, ripe lemon, kumquat, mineral, almond, saline palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Jacques Puffeney Savagnin Arbois – France, Jura, Arbois
    Light golden yellow color; sherried, VA, light eggplant, almond nose; oily textured, sherried, savory, baked lemon, mineral, almond oil palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Michel Gahier Chardonnay Arbois Les Crets – France, Jura, Arbois
    Light lemon yellow color; oily, olive oil, lemon tea, baked orange nose; elegant and appealing, oily textured, delicate, baked lemon, ghee, mineral, almond palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)

Oxidative White Flight

We had originally planned to do these next two wines as an intermezzo wine flight, without food, but our wonderful chef surprised us by managing to come up with a dish that suited them quite well.

Melon à Queue Rouge is a descendant of Chardonnay that developed in the Jura, and which has reddish stems. It is also supposed to be related to the Melon de Bourgogne from which Muscadet is made. Puffeney’s version of this rare varietal had a very intense, oxidative nose, with a tart minerally, kumquat palate. I preferred the Savagnin from Frédéric Lambert. This domaine was started in 1993 and now holds about 4.5 hectares in the Côtes du Jura appellation.
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  • 2005 Jacques Puffeney Melon à Queue Rouge Arbois – France, Jura, Arbois
    Light medium lemon yellow color; intense, oxidative, nutty, VA, rancio nose; oily textured, kumquat, mineral, very tart lemon palate; medium-plus finish (Melon à Queue Rouge means “red headed melon” and is a variant of Chardonnay) (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Frédéric Lambert Côtes du Jura – France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
    Light golden yellow color; fino sherry, almond, baked pear nose; tasty, almond, peanut, fino sherry, baked pear, baked lemon palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Red Flight

I am very much a fan of both of the Jura’s indigenous red varieties, Poulsard and Trousseau. Poulsard tends to be very lightly colored, with a nose much like red Burgundy, but oftentimes with a floral and dried fruit dimension. It can be complex but very delicate on the palate, with tannic grip nonetheless. Trousseau usually has more color and tannins than Poulsard. There has long been speculation that it is the same as Portugal’s Bastardo, which was the only red grape traditionally used for vintage Madeira prior to phylloxera.

Puffeney makes two Poulsards, the “M” that we sampled at our lunch and another bottling just labeled “Poulsard.” The M is sourced solely from Puffeney’s home village of Montigny-les-Arsures north of Arbois. The wine undergoes a 15-20 day cuvaison and is then racked into old foudres, where it undergoes malolactic and remains for about two years before bottling. The Puffeney Trousseau bottling is the only Trousseau Puffeney makes, and although labeled a cuvee, it is actually a single vineyard wine from Puffeney’s home village of Montigny.

With our two Trousseaus, we had the same year, and same village, grown and vinified basically the same way. Although both wines were quite good, for me, despite some brett on the nose, the Michel Gahier was the more haunting and memorable.
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  • 2007 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard Arbois “M” – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium orange color with red lights and pale meniscus; tart blood orange, mineral, light brett, orange melon, white pepper nose; delicate, tart pomegranate, light brett, tart blood orange, white pepper palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Arbois Les Berangères – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium red color with 2 millimeter meniscus; intriguing, tart pomegranate, cranberry, white pepper, mineral, herbal nose; tasty, poised, silky textured, light bodied, pomegranate, tart cranberry, tart cherry, herbal, mineral, blood orange palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Michel Gahier Trousseau Arbois Grands Vergers – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium orange red color with 2 millimeter clear meniscus; tart pomegranate, tart cranberry, herbal, brett nose; intriguing, haunting, tart cranberry, tart pomegranate, smoky, dried red berry, herbal palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Vin Jaune Flight

Vin Jaune, as described above, is what so much oxidative Savagnin aspires to becoming before being selected out and bottled early because it is not developing in the way required for slow aged vin jaune. Here we had two excellent, if quite youthful, examples. My favorite was the ’02 from Domaine de la Tournelle. This producer was created in 1991 by consulting winemakers Evelyne and Pascal Clairet, who have amassed six hectares of vineyards. Their vin jaune spends nearly seven years aging below the voile. There was something particularly delicate about this wine, despite its oily texture and deep fino sherry nose. I suspect the fact that it was from 2002 gave it a slight edge on our Montbourgeau, as 2002 was a particularly fine vintage for vin jaune. The Montbourgeau Vin Jaune spends seven years under voile. It was also rich, oily textured, with an evocative nose.

As far as the mellowness inducing quality I am attributing to Jura wines, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if its key source is the slow aged vin jaune, and its derivatives, the oxidative whites that result from this slow aging process but that don’t fully develop into vin jaune. If a region can devote this much time and effort into producing distinctive wines from white grapes, patiently allowing them to mature for seven years or more, there must be a lot of mellow in this place. Surely wines from such a place must be an aid to contemplation and relaxation, wherever they are served.

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Sweet Finish

We finished with two vintages of an idiosyncratic sweet wine made by Stéphane Tissot from the Poulsard grape. Tissot claims he is the only vigneron in the Jura using the method of drying late picked grapes on straw mats to produce this kind of passerillé. The results are certainly unctuous and rich, with complex flavors including blood orange, black cherry and pomegranate. These may not be a typical example of wine from the Jura, but they were a sweet and delicious way to keep the mellow going from a remarkably satisfying and delicious Sunday afternoon spent contemplating the distinctive grapes and winemaking practices of the Jura.
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Languedoc-Themed Euro Lunch

Richard Jennings
June 12, 2011


LANGUEDOC-THEMED EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (5/15/2011)

Our monthly Sunday Euro lunches at Donato Enoteca continue to be a delightful, delicious, relaxing respite in what can otherwise be a hectic month. Over a leisurely three to four hour meal, with wonderful courses from our chef, Pedro Ayala, who has yet to repeat himself, 10 of us sample a dozen or more wines of a particular region or other theme. This month, on our several month tour of the regions of France, we focused on the Languedoc.

I’ve made a few visits to the Languedoc in person over the last several years, in part because I have some dear British friends who have a place down there. They’ve introduced me to a number of the better producers, especially in the innovative Montpeyroux AOC, near the village close to the Hérault River where my friends have remodeled a wonderful old farmhouse. I’ve been very impressed with the diversity of Languedoc wines–from sparkling, to dry whites and roses, to powerful and ageworthy reds and lots of interesting and historically significant sweet wines. So this lunch was devoted to sampling some of that diversity from a huge region whose vineyard area is three times the size of Bordeaux.

We started with a sparkling wine, a Crémant de Limoux, and proceeded to a flight of dry whites, including two Picpoul-de-Pinets. A flight of verticals of L’Oustal Blanc and Mas de Daumas Gassac followed. The L’Oustal Blancs were very good, and the ’90 Daumas Gassac was terrific. We continued with a flight of younger reds, the best of which was the ’05 La Pèira En Damaisèla — quite a wonderful wine. We concluded with two peculiarly Languedocian sweet wines: a Rivesaltes and a Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois Vin Doux Naturel. For more details on each flight, see below.


Chef Pedro Ayala

Sparkling starter


roasted tomato stuffed with noma scallops, Monterey Bay calamari, prawns and capers, with fava bean and tomato reduction sauces

This was a good start. It’s yeasty and a very good value at $12-13.

  • N.V. J. Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Crémant de Limoux
    Light straw yellow color; yeast, wheat, straw, tart lemon nose; oily textured, tart lemon, straw, chalk, mineral palate; medium finish (great value; would be ideal pairing with bean dishes, especially white beans; 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc, 5% Mauzac, 5% Pinot) (89 pts.)

White Flight


Prawn with lemon butter sauce, Piemontese hazelnuts and farm peas

How often does one get to try a duo of Picpouls? Picpoul-de-Pinet is one of the few French AOCs that includes the name of the varietal. The varietal is Picpoul Blanc. It’s high acid and lemony, and has a long history in the Languedoc. It goes beautifully with oysters and seafood, much like Muscadet. The Château Petit Roubié was the better of the two, and sells for only $11 to $13. Our other dry white, from Les Clos Perdus was particularly impressive. Paul Old and Hugo Stewart run this winery, whose name translates as “lost vineyards.” They look for hillside parcels of old vines. The L’Extreme Blanc bottling is from 100 year old vines of Grenache Gris, with some Grenache Blanc mixed in. The wine is fermented and raised in large oak foudres; malolactic is avoided. K&L has it for about $30.

Mas de Daumas Gassac and L’Oustal Blanc Verticals


Pan-seared Sonoma quail breasts with viane di Espana puree, guanciale, rosemary and balsamic vinegar

When we heard quail was next, we changed plans, figuring our older reds would pair better with delicate quail and that we should save the younger reds for the steak. But we’d already started pouring the L’Oustal Blanc, so we went with those and the Mas de Daumas Gassacs.

Claude and Isabel Fonquerle started Domaine L’Oustal Blanc with Chateauneuf du Pape enologist Philippe Cambie in 2002. The aim is for purity of fruit and minerality. The L’Oustal Blanc blend is dominated by old vine Cinsault, with 20% Carignan and 20% more that’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. The Cinsault is fermented and raised in cement vats, to keep it fresh and fruity, while the other varieties spend a year in barrel before the blend is assembled and the wine then spends another three months in vat. These are delicious and very well priced wines.

I’ve written here before about Mas de Daumas Gassac, including about a tasting at Terroir with Samuel Guibert, the son of the founder and owner of Daumas Gassac, here. In the early ’80s, they were the producer that caused the wine world to focus, for the first time, on the Languedoc as a potential source of top quality wines, with wine writers calling the domaine the “Lafite” and “Latour” of the Languedoc. The reds tend to be very ageworthy wines, and our 1990 was a good example of mature Daumas Gassac. It reminds me a little of Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape, but it also had an herbal and meaty quality all its own. Very elegant though. Our ’89 had a low fill and was a little oxidized. The ’98 was a little bretty, but still quite tasty.

  • 2004 L’Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Minervois Naïck 4 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
    Very dark red violet color; tart berry, vanilla, blackberry, black fruit nose; silky textured, tar, charcoal, tart black fruit, tart blackberry, green herbs, bay leaf, clove palate; long finish (very impressive, and terrific value) (93 pts.)
  • 2005 L’Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Minervois Naïck 5 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
    Dark purple red violet color; black fruit, tar nose; focused concentrated, tart black fruit, plum, tar, spice, tart blackberry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 1989 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; mature, earthy, roasted plum, beef jus nose; a little oxidized, mature, velvet textured, beef jus, meaty, tart plum palate; long finish (this had a significantly lower fill than our 1990 from the same cellar, and a cork that indicated there might have been some leakage) (89 pts.)
  • 1990 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; lovely, meaty, meat loaf, bay leaf, herbs nose; tasty, velvet textured, tart plum, herbs, bay leaf, beef palate with subtlety and elegance; long finish 94+ points (94 pts.)
  • 1998 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; brett, smoke, roasted meat nose; silky textured, tart black fruit, brett, smoke, herbs palate; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Assorted Younger Red Flight


Filet mignon wrapped in prosciuto and pan seared with purple, yellow and orange carrots and turnips

Our last flight of reds featured a Grange des Pères, a Merlot from Alain Chabanon, and an outstanding La Pèira.

I’ve previously written here about Domaine de la Grange des Pères, including a post about a six-vintage vertical of their wines here. The red wine is made from about 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and roughly equal parts of Mourvedre and Syrah. Sometimes a little Counoise is added in too. Our 2002 was drinking quite well, and should go up to 10 more years. Alain Chabanon is a winemaker in Montpeyroux that I’ve gotten to know through my British friends. This Merlot that he makes is full of black fruit and minerality. La Pèira en Damaisela was started in 2004, and is located halfway between Grange des Pères and Daumas Gassac, at the foot of the Larzac plateau. The owner is London based composer Robert Dugan, and the winemaker is Jérémie Depierre, who previously worked at Château Margaux and Château Guiraud. Their 11.6 hectares of vineyards are planted to Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Roussanne, Cinsault and Carignan. Our 2005 was made mainly from Syrah with some Grenache. It was rich, concentrated and delicious, with a long finish. It’s one of the more pricey wines from the Languedoc, with current vintages selling for about $125. It was a treat to try this one with a little age on it. We also had Chapoutier’s Domaine de Bila-Haut V.I.T., which is made from grapes from 70-year-old Grenache vines and Syrah grown on clay soils. It seemed awfully young in comparison to our other wines, and a little bretty too.

  • 2002 Domaine de la Grange des Pères Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color with pale meniscus; nice herb infused, rosemary, tart plum nose with brett; tasty, silky textured, tart plum, tart black fruit, brett, iron palate; drinking well now and likely to go for 8 to 10 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2003 Domaine Alain Chabanon Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
    Very dark red violet color with 2 millimeter clear meniscus; maturing, tart plum, tart black fruit, tar, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Mas des Dames Coteaux du Languedoc – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
    Bricking dark red violet color with pale meniscus; fig, black fruit, prune, tar nose; tart black fruit, prune, fig, tar, charcoal palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2005 La Pèira Coteaux du Languedoc En Damaisèla – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
    Opaque red violet color; blackberry, lavender, berry, oak nose; youthful, rich, concentrated, berry, blackberry, lavender palate; delicious now and should go for 10 years or more; long finish (94 pts.)
  • 2007 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour Dom de Bila-Haut V.I.T Visitare Interiore Terrae – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour
    Very dark red violet color; brett, roasted meat, tart black fruit nose; brett, tart black fruit, roasted meat, smoke palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Sweet Flight


chocolate mousse

We finished with two sweet wines, both examples of long traditions of sweet wine making in Roussillon and Saint Jean de Minervois. The process by which these vins doux naturel are made, with spirit added mid-way through fermentation, before all the grape sugar has been turned into alcohol, is called “mutage.” This method is supposed to have been invented in the thirteenth century by a doctor at Languedoc’s Montpellier University, Arnaud de Villeneuve, who was given a patent by the King of Majorca in 1299. By stabilizing young wines in this way, long before glass bottles had been perfected, the wines could withstand long journeys via ship to foreign markets.

I first tried a Rivesaltes on my first visit to the Languedoc several years ago, and am quite fond of these wines, particularly when they have a lot of bottle age on them. They can be made from Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Maccabéo or Torbato, as well as from Muscat of Alexandria or Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains. They vary in color depending on the varietal(s) used, and the amount of skin contact. A vin doux can be called “ambré” if it has been aged and oxidized for at least two years outdoors, usually unstoppered in a large glass container called a bonbonne.

Our 1999 ambré was quite tasty, with silky texture and smokiness. I preferred it to the younger, simpler vin doux from Saint Jean, which is a small area in the extreme north-east of the Minervois. The Saint Jean vin doux was made from Muscat a Petits Grains, the finest type of Muscat, which is all that’s allowed in this appellation.

Loire-Themed Euro Lunch: Huët, Chidaine, Clos Rougeard

Richard Jennings
April 20, 2011


LOIRE-THEMED EURO LUNCH: HUËT, CHIDAINE, CLOS ROUGEARD – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (4/3/2011)

This Loire-themed edition of our monthly Euro lunch was one of the most delightful yet. Not only did our wines show well, and we had a couple very interesting verticals, but the food, which was excellent as usual, also paired beautifully with each course. We can’t wait to do this theme again.

We started with a pair of sparklers from two of the best producers in Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire: Huët and François Chidaine. Both are terrific, complex, sparkling versions of Chenin Blanc, with wonderful focus. Our course with this flight was a beautiful looking and very tasty salad in a parmesan basket, or frico. We then moved on to a flight of Savennières and Saumur, including a three-vintage vertical of Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon back to 1979. This oldest bottling, which was both youthful and savory, showed how wonderfully ageworthy Savennières can be. We cleansed our palates after that with a little Muscadet intermezzo before proceeding to our red flight: a Chinon, a Bourgueil and a two-vintage vertical of Clos Rougeard from Saumur. There’s a short video clip below of Cory Cartwright, of Selection Massale, talking about Clos Rougeard. After that great flight, we segued to the sweeter end of the Loire with an ’85 Moelleux from Huët and an ’08 demi-sec from François Chidaine. We concluded with another awesome Huët, the sweet and delicious Cuvée Constance. Oh yeah, quite the delicious lunch alright!

For more details on some of the producers, and my tasting notes, see below.

Our talented Chef, Pedro Ayala

Sparkling Flight


We bookended our lunch with pairs of wine, sparklers and then off dry wines, from two of my favorite Loire producers, Huët and François Chidaine. I’ve previously posted about a Huët tasting here: http://www.rjonwine.com/loire/domaine-huet-tasting/ and summarized a blindtasting of 2005 bottlings from Chidaine’s several vineyards here: http://www.rjonwine.com/blindtastings/francois-chidaine-2005/ This was a great showing for the July ’08 disgorgement of the Chidaine Brut. Chidaine makes these sparkling wines from younger vines, and picks them at a high level of ripeness, so as not to have to add dosage. In general, I think Chidaine’s wines just keep getting better and better. The ’02 Huët Reserve Brut, which I’ve enjoyed before, was excellent as usual. It is a pétillant as opposed to the other type of sparkling wine from the Loire, the mousseux. The latter is bottled with a pressure of up to 5.5 bars, with a resulting very forceful bead and dominant quality of mousse. The bottling pressure on the pétillant is only 2.5 bars, giving it a finer, lightly prickling bead, and showing off the fine quality of the wine more than the bubble experience, which I greatly prefer.

Salad of frisee, yellow beet, fava bean and buffalo mozzarella in parmesan and parsley frico

  • 2002 Huët Vouvray Pétillant Réserve Brut – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray Pétillant
    Light golden yellow color; lovely tart apple, chalk, mineral, quinine nose with a little honey; tart apple, mineral, tart lemon palate with medium acidity, focus and depth; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • N.V. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
    Light lemon yellow color; lifted, tart apple, mineral nose; tasty, focused, tight, tart apple, chalk, lemon palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 93+ points (disgorged July 27, 2008) (93 pts.)

Clos du Papillon Vertical


For our dry whites, we were fortunate to have a flight of Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon spanning 25 years. The 1979 was the wine of the flight for me and the group, showing how well this wine can age and add fascinating tertiary flavors with 30+ years of bottle age. The Baumards own 7.5 hectares of the 14.5 hectare Clos du Papillon vineyard, which gets its name from its butterfly (papillon, in French) shape, as viewed from the opposite slope. The entire Savennières appellation consists of only about 77 hectares of vineyard, nearly all of which are planted to Chenin Blanc. Winemaker Florent Baumard avoids oak on the Baumard’s Savennières, which are bottled after about nine months aging on the lees. He also does not encourage malolactic fermentation. These wines are definitely made for aging, and our ’04, which seemed like such a lightweight compared to our bottles with age on them, may indeed age into something special, but this particular bottle just wasn’t showing those qualities. I have, however, had a couple other bottles of the ’04 that were quite good. Florent moved to Stelvin screwcaps with the ’03 Clos du Papillon, a change that surprised a lot of people given that these are wines for aging. Given my recent experience tasting the ’97 Plumpjack Reserve in its cork and Stelvin closed incarnations, and greatly preferring the screwcapped bottle, I’m glad Florent made this change.

Our fourth wine in this flight, from Domaine du Collier, was also quite wonderful–delicate, floral and flavorful. Domaine du Collier was established in 1999 by Antoine Foucault, son of Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard, with his partner Caroline Boireau. Antoine had previously worked for four years at Clos Rougeard. Antoine and Caroline currently own six hectares, which they farm biodynamically. This Saumur Blanc is the Domaine’s basic Chenin Blanc bottling, from 30- to 75-year-old vines grown on clay limestone soils. They also make an old vine cuvée, from 100-year-old vines, and small quantities of Cabernet Franc.

Strudel of baccalà with tomatoes, onions, cauliflower puree and Jacoby Farm fresh peas

  • 1979 Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières
    Light medium golden yellow color; savory, dried mushroom, smoke, parmesan, white pepper nose; youthful, tasty, savory, tart citrus, mineral, baked lemon palate; medium-plus finish (group’s WOTF) (94 pts.)
  • 1999 Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières
    Light golden yellow color; light, fresh lemon, focused, mineral, delicate nose; tasty, medium bodied, tart citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières
    Very light yellow color; has a touch of petillance on nose, with nearly bitter citrus; tart kumquat, lemon, tart apple palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 88+ points (flawed somehow? Not at all as good as when I’ve had it twice before) (88 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine du Collier Saumur – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Saumur
    Light medium butter yellow color; lovely floral, white flower, ripe apple, apple blossom nose; tasty, delicate, tart apple, floral, tart pear palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)

Muscadet Intermezzo


This wine didn’t quite fit in with any of our other flights, but we wanted to taste it, so we did it as an “intermezzo” wine (what our buddy Craig Haserot has dubbed “tweener wackage”). Marc Ollivier is one of the best winemakers in Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, and his vineyards are 40 years old or more, planted only to original stock. He is reportedly the only grower in the appellation to use no clonal selections. This is his least traditional Muscadet cuvée–grown on granitic soils, and spending two years on its lees. It is a stunning, and very minerally, Muscadet, that also has good aging potential.

Red Flight


Brothers Charly and Nadi Foucault have been running Clos Rougeard, whose vineyards have been in their family for several generations, since 1969. They produce three different Cabernet Franc bottlings from their 10 hectares: 2 old vine, single vineyard bottlings, and this cuvée made from other plots. They also make a white Saumur and, in some years, a sweet wine. Our red bottling sees no new oak, just mature barrels, and is aged for 18 to 24 months. Both of these wines were silky textured, elegant and complex. The ’02 was the best of the two for me, but the ’03 was very close. Here’s a brief clip of Cory Cartwright–an owner of Selection Massale and author of the Saignée blog–telling us at lunch about visiting Clos Rougeard:

Our Chinon, from Olga Raffault, and Bourgueil, made by Domaine de la Butte, were also quite good, although the Bourgueil seemed very youthful and tight by comparison to the other wines in the flight. The Les Picasses bottling from Olga Raffault is from the 50-plus-year-old vines in their Les Picasses vineyard. The wine is aged for two to three years in neutral large oak and/or chestnut barrels. Jacky Blot is the owner/winemaker of Domaine de la Butte, where he found the vineyards he was looking for, to farm and vinify, to make red wine, after having established a strong reputation with his white wines from Montlouis and Vouvray under the Domaine de la Taille aux Loups label. The Mi-pente bottling is from the domaine’s oldest vines, that are over 50 years old. It is aged in a mix of new, one year and two-year-old barrels for 16 months.

Duo of veal: Milanese with salad of wild arugula and celery hears and filleti dimiale wrapped in panciale on top of a yellow beet slice

  • 2002 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
    Slightly bricking medium dark red violet color; maturing Cab Franc, tart, herbaceous red fruit, tobacco leaf nose; tasty, silky textured, medium bodied, tart currant, herbaceous palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2002 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny “Clos” – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Saumur-Champigny
    Slightly bricking medium dark red violet color with 6 millimeter clear meniscus; tart currant, tart cassis, ox blood nose with a touch of menthol; silky textured, tart currant, tart cassis, herbaceous palate with herbal edges, minerality; medium-plus finish (group’s WOTF) (94 pts.)
  • 2003 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny “Clos” – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Saumur-Champigny
    Slightly bricking medium dark red violet color; nice herbal, tart currant nose; tasty, silky textured, rich but poised, tart red currant, mineral, herbaceous palate with depth; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 2005 Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-pente – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Bourgueil
    Opaque red violet color; carbonic maceration, tart currant, tart red plum nose; tasty, tight, medium bodied, tart red currant, very tart red plum, olive palate with medium acidity, needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Off-Dry White Flight


We moved on to a lovely flight of sweeter Chenin Blancs from two masterful producers. It was a treat to taste the aged Huët Moelleux from their greatest vineyard, the very old, six hectare Clos du Bourg, which consists of a shallow layer of soil over solid limestone. It had the classic wet wool and lanolin nose that I look for in great Vouvray. And while I loved it, I felt it was somewhat eclipsed by the much younger Chidaine Clos Habert. Clos Habert is in two parts, one about 25 years old, with the rest 60-80 years old. Chidaine uses these vines to make a “vin tendre,” i.e., between a sec and demi-sec, style of Montlouis with balance and minerality. They usually have about 20 g/l of residual sugar. Chef Pedro’s dish with this course was also wonderful, and went well–with the light spice from the squid ink and tomato and pepper foam playing off the sweetness of the wines.

Sea bass wrapped in Yukon potato and pan seared with black rice from Piedmont in squid ink, topped with tomato and pepper foam

  • 1985 Huët Vouvray Moelleux Clos du Bourg – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
    Light medium lemon yellow color; mature, mushroom, wet wool, lanolin nose; tasty, rich, lanolin, mature, mineral, tart peach, green apple palate with near medium acidity; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 2008 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
    Light lemon yellow color; focused, tart pear, tart peach nose; rich, poised, ripe peach, ripe apple, lime palate with medium acidity; long finish (94 pts.)

Sweet Finish


For the perfect ending to a gorgeous meal and great set of wines, we had this masterpiece from Huët. This is a sweet wine made from selected botrytised grapes in only the best years, starting in 1989. It is named for Gaston Huët’s mother Constance. The fruit is sourced from any of Huët’s primary vineyards: Clos du Bourg, Le Haut Lieu and Le Mont. It is a wine made for long aging, but was quite delicious at this stage, with its viscous, unbelievably rich and complex palate, which carries its 200 grams of residual sugar with remarkable balance.

Lemon tart over citrus infused yogurt with homemake milk gelato with lemon zest

  • 2002 Huët Vouvray Cuvée Constance – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
    From 500 ml – light orange gold color; lovely almond, toasted almond, lemon tart, baked peach, baked apricot nose; viscous, rich, apricot, lemon tart palate with good acidity; long finish (96 pts.)