In my last post, I was so relieved to be done with Bordeaux ... not that anyone can EVER be done with Bordeaux. I thought that my studies on Burgundy would be a breath of fresh air. Until I started studying, I never really took into consideration how terroir -- the land where grapes are grown -- influences the wine.
|Burgundy map by LinkParis.com|
What has made this area of study so exciting to me is that my taste buds traveled over a large portion of Burgundy, and I developed a true understanding of the connection between the soils, the regions and the growing of the grapes.
There are four main grape varietals that are responsible for the complex wines grown throughout Burgundy. Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes are used for red wine; Chardonnay and Aligote are used for white and sparkling wines, with many of the wines being produced from one varietal. In the north, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay/Aligote are grown for reds and whites respectively. In the south, Gamay and Chardonnay are the main grape varietals for reds and whites.
Much like Bordeaux, Burgundy has many appellations, divided into Regional ACs, which will always have the word Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) in the title; District ACs, which do not have the word Bourgogne on the label; and last but not least, Communal ACs, where the name of the Commune will be the only information on the label.
In the Sept. 30 issue of Wine Spectator, Bruce Sanderson writes about the 2007 and 2008 vintages of the white Burgundies, noting that both the Chablis and Macon wines are some of the brightest stars. My first taste of Burgundy was a 2007 Macon Villages white, which is a Commune AC wine made from Chardonnay grapes. Peach, apple and lemon notes make up a beautiful bouquet. This is a creamy, lightly acidic wine that is easy on the palate. In conclusion, this was a delightful welcome to Burgundy.
Next I tasted a 2008 Chablis, which had a similar nose as the Macon Villages wine plus a slight mineral smell on the end. The Chablis was more vegetal, with flinty flavors, but very creamy and smooth to drink. While the noses of the wines are similar, the tastes are completely different, which is making me more interested in terroir as my studies continue.
As my taste buds longed for the more familiar, I was finally finished with my whites and on to a 2006 Beaujolais. Beaujolais is red wine country, and I was ready to visit. I became an instant fan. I have read that Beaujolais is a easy red wine to drink if you are usually a white wine drinker, and now I know why. This is a very light-bodied, low-tannic red with wonderful fruit notes.
Although Pinot Noir is the dominant grape varietal in Burgundy, Beaujolais is made exclusively from Gamay grapes, which carry very fruity bouquets of cherries and other red berry fruits. Beaujolais are grown for drinking young, so if you cannot wait for your Bordeaux to mature, you should try the Beaujolais.
Yesterday (and every third Thursday in November) was a particularly exciting day in Burgundy, commonly known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine created for almost immediate consumption through carbonic maceration. This means the whole grape is fermented before crushing, rather than after, resulting in deeper red colors with fruitier flavors.
Hopefully, I will get the chance to taste this rare varietal before it's all gone. Keep your fingers crossed!
Geerlings & Wade has now been officially absorbed into the new, improved Winetasting.com, but the same philosophy applies that earned G&W more than 200 awards and laudatory wine reviews annually since I started entering wines in competitions back in 1999. We strive to offer the strongest price/value ratio wines available in each region or country, as dictated by what types of wines our clients look for.
We taste any and all potential candidates ... we kiss all the frogs. If there's nothing available that delivers the required price/value ratio, we'll take an existing bottle blend and modify that for the better. If tweaking the blend is impossible, we'll make the entire wine ourselves, or walk away from that category entirely. Our house brands are the most stressful wines to manage each year, as they're far too important to the business for us to live without. They cannot be eliminated in difficult vintages.
With Thanksgiving in mind, here are two house brand white wines that offer a great alternative to California Chardonnays:
2009 Grass Tree, South Eastern Australia Chardonnay
Grass Tree Chardonnay sports our "exclusive Australian white" label. The current problem with offering an Australian Chardonnay is that it must push the rest of the world, particularly France and California, off of the tasting table via price/value ratio at the same dollar retail range, while delivering characteristics that make it uniquely Australian. The days of subsidized Down Under "critter wines" are a rapidly fading memory.
The 2009 Grass Tree is at the mid-point in style between Burgundy's Maconnais and California, without those characteristics that may polarize consumers. This wine exhibits the vibrant structural acidity indicative of French Chardonnays, without the pronounced mineral character via limestone-rich soils found in Chablis, for example.
Then there's the purity of the upfront apple and tropical fruit flavors, with that signature Australian bright, peachy quality, without what is sometimes interpreted as excesses: buttery-to-the-point–of-tasting-processed (aka too much secondary malolactic fermentation), and oak masking the varietal fruit, which many around the world still equate with California. Though the Aussies didn't invent unoaked or naked Chardonnay or wines displaying the "kiss of oak" concept, they remain savvy enough marketers that many wine consumers believe these are Australian in origin.
Long story short, we made this wine via the "tweak the blend" method at Berton Vineyard, shipped it here in tank and bottled it in St. Helena for more control over the final wine – to insure my tweaks held. Here are my final, pre-release quality control notes:
"Burnished lemon-to-sunflower yellow. Focused, integrated nose of white flowers, peach fuzz, apple, tropical fruits, nuts & lemon zest. Nose flavors follow through on the palate, plenty of acid & apples, fruit is bright and peachy, textbook 'mid-point between Macon & CA' in style. OK to make available to clients, with confidence."
I'm enough of a fossil to remember when every top table in the U.S. served Dover Sole and poured Pouilly Fuisse. At one time, a Maconnais was the definitive fine white in the American food and wine world. And those Chardonnay wines, like this feature, are often still blindingly good. Part of it is obviously this (Prisse, Solgony, Verze) co-op's Macon La Roche Vineuse Vineyard fruit in a legendary vintage that I'm enamored with. "Great wine is made in the vineyard" may now be another tired wine marketer cliché, but in this case it's still gospel.
No oak – Macons were naked long before marketers usurped the term. Fresh, vibrant, exuberant - structure. Delicious aromas and flavors of white flowers, pristine green apple fruit, with nuts, date & fig notes. The wine's mineral component is sensed rather than felt or tasted, so it functions more like a spice than a major building block. Elegant yet accessible, particularly to those who learned Chardonnay via the New World.
We have not yet been able to replace this champion from the spiritual and ancestral home of the varietal at the tasting table for as long as we can remember. It still defeats all comers, whether from the Midi, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Cote Challonaise, other Macons, Saint Veran, Pouilly Vinzelles, Pouilly Fuisse, and Chablis, often at significantly more money.
Enjoy this while we can still offer it. I previously blogged about this wine as part of Santa's Nice List in December. Since then, it's received a 3-star recommended review from Decanter, as well as an "attaboy" for me from Ann, our Director of Merchandising.
And now, on to the reds ...
2006 Black Shadow, North Coast Syrah, California
I previously blogged about this item in Saga of the Black Shadow in June, where I explained (painfully, I suspect, to some) the thought process involved in the creation of the new Black Shadow label design, in addition to the assembly of the wine itself.
The '06 is a great flag-waver to kick off the new Black Shadow label, as it over-delivers on all fronts. This Syrah is a perfect house red, a chameleon that pairs well with an astonishingly wide range of foods. Dark and inky, it looks massive in the glass, but it's surprisingly supple in the mouth. This North Coast wine is a blend of mainly Sonoma County and Mendocino County fruit, but I sacrificed the sexier Sonoma County appellation to make the wine in the bottle better and more affordable.
The '06 Black Shadow is a uniquely Californian Syrah, with less of the earthy agricultural characteristics supplanting the fruit that's often exhibited in Syrahs from France's Rhone Valley and the Midi. It's also not dumbed down, unlike many Aussie Shiraz at this price point. We ended up with exactly what I wanted in the bottle, a deep, dark wine unfurling aromas and flavors of pepper, graphite and blackberry jam, with even a hint of bacon as a trace flavor. (My wife feels I dig the pig element a little too much...) Anyway, this wine is great for my ego – it's a magnificent value that's both sophisticated and beginner-friendly.
Make a bottle of '06 Black Shadow, North Coast Syrah part of your Thanksgiving holiday meal. To quote the Catwoman, it's purrrrfect with turkey and stuffing.
We have a long-standing history with farmer, winemaker and hard-core World Series Champion Giants fan Guy Davis. Before we became part of Winetasting.com, Geerlings & Wade purchased the original Passport Wine Club from Guy and his partner. For years he served as G&W's California guy (sorry) on the West Coast. My wife rides with him and his wife Judy at Levi's Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo in Santa Rosa each year.
Davis Family Vineyards is a small family winery producing handcrafted small lots. The Santa Rosa (Russian River Valley) Estate boasts 100+ year old Zinfandel vines, plus younger estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Syrah, with a Front Street, Healdsburg, tasting room. Guy also makes some Napa Valley Cabernet annually; the rest of the winery offerings vary vintage to vintage. He has made some quite successful Gusto label wines in New Zealand and Argentina and also sometimes bottles Olive Oil and the fun Apple-Ation apple brandy, "California Calvados".
Guy studied management and finance, and was first bit by the wine bug working in a French restaurant while in school. He studied winemaking, worked as a wine buyer, assisted in winery production, worked for Jess Jackson, bought acreage and bottled his first Davis Family Vineyards wine in the 1997 vintage.
As a winemaker, Guy understands elegance, balance and finesse ... wine as a piece of the meal, part of life graciously lived. He's not a "Look at me, I'm a Parker bottle!" guy (sorry). Discussing his sold-out-at-the-winery '06 Pinot, Guy feels, "Pinot Noir should be a sensual, alluring, somewhat mysterious grape ... as the meal progresses, the wine should be taking you on a journey. Different flavors should continue to unfold. It should have a pretty, elegant side, but still give forth a richness that stands up to any dish -- and this one is all that. Our vineyard is on a southeast hillside that takes in the soft morning sun but dodges the direct harsh afternoon sun. This exposure reflects itself by leaving bright acidity and a more elegant perfume in the wine every vintage. The soils are full of volcanic ash and the minerality on the palate. The flavors of earth and stone are also present every vintage. The third part of this trinity, the vintage, is the changing variable; because as the soil and the grape never change, the weather is never exactly the same ... but enough to deliver a mouthful of magic."
Since release, Guy's '06 Pinot Noir earned gold at both the 2009 Sonoma County Harvest Fair and the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. And it is a zillion times preferable to cranberry sauce as that tangy red berry foil to the Thanksgiving turkey.