La Republique Francaise
On with the show. Late in August, the Wineslacker and Sophisticated Companion attended the tasting party at Domain LA in Hollywood, California, for Alice Feiring and her new book, Naked Wine, letting grapes do what comes naturally. OK, old news. But his patient readers were promised an accounting of the wines tasted, all being mentioned in the aforementioned book. And as mentioned earlier…ok I’ll stop. Anyway, all the wines were organically grown and made. Now, as the intelligent reader is aware, these terms, “organic”, “natural”, and such, are not as straight forward as they seem and much of the book discusses these terms and just what they have to do with grapes, wine and wine making.
If one is not familiar with wines organic, natural, or biodynamic; the Wineslacker directs you to the writings of Ms. Feiring and others, but you can basically assume that “organic” and “natural” as related to the wines tasted on this occasion were made with the least amount of human intervention, especially chemical intervention, possible. Some of these winemakers adhere to the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, a philosopher of the late 19th, early 20th century who advocated a number of farming techniques, let us say, unfamiliar to modern farmers and perhaps even, ah, on the meta-physical side. Some are simply convinced that the best wines are those allowed to ferment with as little intervention as possible. Two of the represented winemakers, Vignerons, such as Theirry Puzelat of Touraine and Olivier Cousin, of the Loire Valley, are well known as characters in the movement and characters in their own right. Olivier Cousin is known for plowing his vineyards with a plow drawn by a horse, for cryin’ out loud. But in the era of wines fussed with, cuddled, fertilized, groomed, massaged, thinned, then de-stemmed, crushed, yeasted, sulphered, bubbled, centrifuged, reverse-osmosized, flavored, watered, oak chipped, generally pumped up, and god knows what else…one does wonder, what does un-adjusted wine taste like? What did it taste like back in the Belle Epoch, when wine really came into it’s own and in the ancient days those monks at the abbey were getting their feet purple; like when your great, great grandad was making wine in the cellar for the San Frabrizzio festival?
We started off with the 2009 Theirry Puzelat Tesniere Blanc, a bio-dynamic wine from Touraine and Cheverny (France). This is a white Pineau d’Aunis, slightly almond flavored with a long, minerally finish. This is a wine most Americans will have to take some time with, a wine you know immediately as French, being very dry with the taste of wet stone or gravel in the finish. This is a wine that will, as it was meant to, go with sea food; oysters, mussels, white fish, monk fish; light fish with delicate flavors. This wine will compliment, not overwhelm them. It runs about $23.
Second came a 2006 Phillippe Bornard Chassagnes Savagnin (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc). From a lesser known region in France, the Côtes de Jura, this is a wine closer to the American palate, a white with a nutty slightly floral fruit, much less mineral in the finish, light and flavorful. The Savagnin is made with “native yeast”, that is, no artificially added yeast, only the naturally occurring yeast that is brought in from the field. The wine is slightly oxidized (but naturally) for the light, slightly caramel toast in the wine. Delicious, and the most expensive wine the ‘slacker tasted that day, at about $38.
Third, we had a California wine, from Glenn Ellen, near Sonoma, from Coturri Winery, a 2009 Rose of Merlot. This is a slightly clouded wine (its OK that its clouded, really) with a lot of fruit in the nose and just a hint of vegetable. It’s very light, dry with the taste of dried strawberries. Very much a Merlot for the warm evenings of California summers. About $22.
The fourth wine of the afternoon was a Gamay, from the Morgon region of Beaujolais, known as a Cru-Beaujolais, the best quality gamay wines of the region. Morgon is typically a lighter red wine with a lot of fruit, in this case, berries. It has a clear garnet color and a somewhat short finish. This was a lovely young wine, with a bit of asparagus on the nose. The Wineslacker would decant this for an hour before passing it out to the guests. 2009 Chamonard Morgon, about $32.
Fifth came the surprise of the evening, at least for the Wineslacker. 2010 Les Vins Contes Lemasson Poivre et Sel Pineau d’Aunis. This pleasant and striking little wine from the Loire Valley came on with a strongly herbal nose (that may come from the traveling it must have recently done, but decant first), but in the mouth, the name came suddenly alive. This wine tastes just like pepper and salt (poivre et sel). OK, it tastes like red wine with pepper and a little salt. While some might think…”ew!” it’s really very charming and would be a great conversation starter for your next wine party. Imagine you, seen as an original thinker! The Wineslacker recommends it to you if you can find it, and you really should try Domaine LA first. About $20; a steal.
Number six was the well-known (among vignerons) Olivier Cousin’s 2010 Grolleau, from the Loire Valley. Grolleau is a grape usually used in blends, frequently used to make rosé and rather dismissively treated by Monsieur Parker as worthy only of digging up to make way for more profitable grapes. Still this is a lovely red wine with medium fruit and some spiciness. It’s berry flavors and medium structure is quite likeable and, after all is the personal product of a true individualist, who still plows with a horse. Monsieur Cousin’s Grolleau is only about $22, all the way from France.
An important part of the ideals of these individualistic wine makers is the preservation of ancient and less well known grapes. The ‘slacker has read that soon, some of these varietals won’t be allowed to be included in the French AOC system; they’ll be forced to use the designation, “Vin de Table” or simply table wine. This will preclude them from dating the vintage as well.
La Clarine Farm’s Home Vineyard blend is from a team of hard core winemakers from California. Hank Beckmeyer and Caroline Hoel in the Sierra Foothills. Their vines are not irrigated, un-weeded, except by their squad of goats and otherwise un-tampered with. Hank writes that they have even discarded Rudolph Steiner’s methods as too interventionist and become adherents of a Japanese farmer by the name of Masanobu Fukuoka. Their output is minimal, but if you buy early, they will happily share their unusual and really handcrafted wines. 2009’s Vineyard Blend is a red with sharp fruit at the front, the flavor of rubarb and dark berrys and a lot of structure; almost never seen in a California wine anymore. Chances are you’ll only get this wine by mail, so the ‘slacker suggests you let it sit for 10 days or so before opening. The Wineslacker has had their Voignier “Orange” from 2009 and can say that it is a memorable white wine, with a rich taste built from the wine, not the addition of oak. The Vineyard Blend is one of two that the Wineslacker brought home with him from his afternoon at Domaine LA.
Last, but far from least, Eric Texier’s 2009 St Julien-en-St Alban Cotes du Rhone opens with a rich, slightly bacony nose and is full of dried fruit and spice. It’s a red, and a tannic wine by California standards, with a medium long finish. Texier apparently came across this smallish vineyard on the West bank of the Rhone planted with Vielle Serine Syrah sometime around the end of World War Two. “Serine” indicates an un-cloned Syrah, characterized by loose bunches and often olive shaped fruit. Texier himself recommends some time yet in the bottle for this unusual, possibly unique, wine (about $35).
If you have an interest in purist wines and haven’t read Ms. Feiring before, the Wineslacker highly recommends to his loyal readers this passionate, honest book about her personal journey into a relatively unsung corner of the world of wine making. It’s a world where the ancient art is practiced and honored, where hard work is the coin of the realm and is not always rewarded.
All of the above wines were available at Jill Bernheimer’s Domaine LA, 6801 Melrose Avenue, L.A (Hollywood), California, 90038, at the time this was written.