Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bound for Bordeaux

I am besides myself with excitement as I pack up for 10 days in France. My itinerary criss-crosses the country to some of the top wine regions.
I’ll start in Bordeaux, where I’ll meet up with Cornelia Blume, a friend from Vitivinitour Then I’ll meet Randolph Resnick, a new online acquaintance from Open Wine Consortium, for an international meet up on the banks of the Garonne River.
Although it’s been only 9 months since I was there, Bordeaux is on my agenda again because it’s the biennial wine festival—too good of an opportunity to miss. There will be massive tastings, parades, fireworks, barrel-rolling, and wine, wine, wine. But not just any wine. The best of the best. After all, this is Bordeaux, the wine region chosen by Napoleon III to represent France at the 1855 World’s Fair. Stay tuned for more trip details, and if an internet café is in the offing, a little blogging from the road.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So Close and Yet So Far

As a preparation for my upcoming trip to France, I’ve been drinking some of the local wines. This past weekend I did a side by side comparison of two Loire Valley wines—one Sancerre and one Pouilly-Fumé. I have enjoyed both of these wines before, especially Pouilly-Fumé, which is one of my all-time favorite wines.
Before I get to the tasting, consider the facts. Both wines are 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Both are grown in the far eastern Loire Valley. The towns are only 20 minute drive from each other (I checked). So, we know the grapes are being exposed to the same amount of sunshine & rain, experiencing the same daily temperature. Sancerre is a little to the north and on the left bank of the Loire. The town of Pouilly-sur-Loire (one of a handful of villages that produces Pouilly-Fumé) is a little further south and on the right bank.
All things considered, you would think that these two wines taste pretty similar. Well, think again. It really amazed me to taste each of them side by side. The Pouilly-Fumé is a bigger wine—more fruit, more intensity, more of the interesting characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc, the fresh cut grass, the zest of grapefruit, although it was far more restrained than the way these flavors show up in a New Zealand SB. In contrast, the Sancerre had more of a perfumed, floral nose. It was all elegance on the palate: crisp acidity and lighter fruit. The Pouilly-Fumé is still my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Sancerre as well, and I can see instances in which the more restrained Sancerre might be easier to match with food.
My side by side tasting demonstrated to me, as nothing else could, that terroir is more than just a fancy French word that wine geeks like to throw around. The soil in which these grapes are grown and the microclimate of the vineyards produced very different wines, despite all the other similarities.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #46 -- Rhone Whites

Wine Blogging Wednesday is here and the electricity isn’t, thanks to a fire at the transformer station and a nasty thunderstorm. In fact, my county declared a state of emergency today. So I’m out on the grass of my front yard (it’s getting dark in the house), draining my laptop’s battery as well as my wine glass. The posting will wait until Thursday, because the blackout knocked out my WiFi.
I actually visited the Rhone River, and really tied one on with some red CDR (talk about rustic!) at a youth hostel in Avignon (but that’s another story). However, I never tried a white, so I turned to a really helpful employee at the Wine Library (Gary Vee’s domain), who pointed me towards the Domaine Philippe Plantevin 2005 Côtes de Rhone for $19.00. In a departure from the usual French labeling, the back label provided detailed information about the blend: 40% Viognier, 30% Grenache, and 30% Marsanne.
I opened the bottle two nights ago and was knocked out by the high acidity. Tonight, I wondered if it would have softened a day after opening. It did, barely. I can enjoy many wines on their own, but to me, this is definitely a food wine. I took out some creamy goat cheese and the acids were tamed by its richness.
On the nose, there are a lot of interesting things going on. I get a little bit of lemon, a hint of peach, the barest amount of floral. It’s a pleasing aroma and quite full. The color is mid-range for a white wine, not quite golden but darker than straw. For a wine that’s three years old, the Domaine Phillipe had a tremendous amount of fruit. The acid was so high that it really left things a bit unbalanced, although I did enjoy the wine’s fresh fruit. The finish was scant. This wine isn’t my style, but I’m curious about trying other white Rhones now to see how they compare.

Friday, June 6, 2008

LI Arrest Prompts Manhattan Galleries to Serve—Gasp—Seltzer!

I went to an art opening in Manhattan last night on 25th Street, which is a veritable Gallery Row in Chelsea. The street was hopping with art lovers taking in a number of openings.
Now you can’t always count on the art being good, or even understandable, at these opening night parties, but one thing you can always count on is wine being served. But the rules have changed in NYC. The Memorial Day weekend arrest of Long Island gallery owner Ruth Vered (see related story) has some of the Chelsea galleries shaken up. Vered, an art scene veteran who owns a gallery in East Hampton, refused to stop serving alcohol after the police showed up. She was carted off to headquarters in handcuffs.
An assistant at Lohin Geduld Gallery said Vered’s arrest caused them to serve only seltzer that night. “And it’s not even like we serve anything expensive. It’s, like, $7.00 for a double bottle.” So now we know that even when the galleries pour wine, they’re doing it as cheaply as possible. O.K., that really wasn’t a surprise.
At CUE Art Foundation gallery a few doors down, wine was being served at a book signing party. I asked a gallery worker about the LI arrest and their decision: “Yeah, we heard about it, but we’re pouring wine anyway. Let them come arrest us.” He told me they would probably starting buying permits in the fall.
A one day permit to pour wine at this type of event costs $31. But according to the gallery people I spoke to, it’s more the inconvenience than the cost. “The permit is for only one day. You have to buy a permit every day you want to pour wine.” As one attendee said, “You’d think the police would have better things to do.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pouilly Travels--Part Deux

Last spring I traveled to the land of Pouilly-Fuissé. The wine is grown in the southern reaches of Burgundy, where the unoaked chardonnays are dry as a bone. I even stayed in the village at the Bergerie Fuissé, a bucolic B& B that faces a hillside of chardonnay vines and has beautiful white hens prancing in the yard.
In a few weeks, I’ll be in the land of the other Pouilly—-Pouilly Fumé, the world-famous Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Loire Valley west of Paris. Long before wine lovers ever heard of Marlborough, NZ, Pouilly Fumé was the measure of a Sauvignon Blanc--fresh with a bracing minerality. It was the first SB I had ever tried and I immediately fell in love with it. I do enjoy those new world SBs, too, with all that grapefruit and fresh cut grass, but they can sometimes seem disorganized and all over the place in their flavor profile. A little too herbaceous, a little too over-the-top citrus. That’s never a concern with Pouilly Fumé—it’s always an elegant expression of this very expressive grape.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dîner Sur L’Herb

Late spring is bringing gorgeous weather here in the northeast. The sky is periwinkle blue. The young maples along our hill are rustling. The local blue jays are calling. I’m enjoying it all from my screened porch, a perfect spot for warm-weather blogging.
Now that June has arrived, squeezing in time outside is a priority—even on busy weeknights, we take short strolls to see whose azaleas are blooming. Friday night the family packed up a picnic dinner—casual fare of hamburgers wrapped in foil, fruit salad, wine for the grown-ups, and birch beer for the kids. We had an urgent need to visit the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens while they were still at their peak.
These gardens in Montclair, NJ are remarkable. The word iris comes from the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and irises have the widest range of colors of any flower. Hundreds of varieties are represented here, and the colors are spectacular: deepest purple, pale white with yellow beards, orange, ruby red, soft blues. Some have lovely color combinations. Petals may be pale orange at the outer edges and their color gradually deepens to a rich garnet closer to the flower’s core. For 80 years this garden has been a tourist destination as well as a harbinger of summer.
Our picnic was set above the gardens under a sassafras tree. We spread our blanket and ate our modest dinner while viewing the colorful gardens spread out below us. My husband and I enjoyed more of the 1998 Ferrari Carano Chardonnay. Its flavor showed even more complex fruit flavors that night—citrus notes, a little bitter orange peel, mixed with tart apple. It glowed golden in our wine glasses (no plastic cups for us). I thought of the famous painting by Manet, Dejeuner Sur L’Herb. The pleasures represented in the painting and in our evening are timeless: nature at its peak, good food, good wine, and gathering with friends.