The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

If wines had seasons, late autumn would be the time for Chinon. Earthy, juicy, tannic, brooding, and elegant with age, these wines taste of the moment following the harvest when the work of producing fruit is done and the vines are soaking in the last of the warm autumn sun before leaves fall, wood hardens, and sap descends to their roots.

The wines are one hundred percent cabernet franc, a thin-skinned, aromatic, black grape best known for its opulent star turn further south in Saint-Émilion, particularly in the hallowed cellars of Chateau Cheval Blanc (ten percent cabernet sauvignon is permitted in Chinon, but rarely included in the blend). Cabernet franc-based wines from Chinon may not be as overtly sumptuous as those from a Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux, but the best examples can be equally noble, if quietly so.   

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Grenache Lovers, Meet Gigondas

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Mention Gigondas and devotees of this grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhône will wax poetic about the grandeur of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the dramatic limestone cliffs below which region’s vineyards are planted. They will go on about how Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s growing popularity has led to soaring prices and confide that Gigondas provides much of the interest of its famous neighbor, with perhaps a tad less finesse, for a much smaller investment. Once they’ve set the stage and given the sales pitch, hopefully they’ll open a bottle and offer you a glass.

Located in the hills on the eastern edge of the broad alluvial plain that tracks the Rhône River, Gigondas sits in the path of the blustery wind known as the mistral, making it a cool climate wine relative to its famously hot locale. At their best, Gigondas’ are more expressive and complex than their neighbors in the Côte du Rhône. Gigondas must be at least eighty percent grenache; this provides the wines with a rich base of red fruit and plum flavors. They must also be at least fifteen percent syrah and mourvèdre; these thick skinned varieties anchor grenanche’s overt fruitiness with savory aromatics, tannic structure and the capacity to age in oak.

Delicious, if rustic, in its youth, Gigondas begs for an exotically spiced lamb tagine or a hardy stew. Time is this wine’s friend. If you can forget about a bottle for a decade, its rough edges will soften and a sense of harmony between the flavors of fruit and earth will emerge. Wines from Domaine du Pesquier, Domaine du Cayron, Pierre Amadieu and Lavau are all good places to begin to explore this gem of a region in the Southern Rhône.

Denis Dubourdieu on Drinkability as an Essential Characteristic of Dry White Bordeaux

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Denis Dubourdieu is the leading authority on the white wines of Bordeaux. Beyond being the Director of General Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, he manages four family estates, including Doisy-Daëne and Clos Floridéne, and consults with wineries such as Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem. Here, he guides us through Bordeaux’s distinctive white wines.

Sophie Menin: What are the hallmarks of a great dry white Bordeaux?

Denis Dubourdieu:  Drinkability is the most important quality of a Bordeaux Blanc. They should be fresh and fruity without too much alcohol. A good one will quench your thirst.

SM: What distinguishes the region’s sauvignon blanc and sémillon, the two grapes that make up most white Bordeaux?

DD: Our sauvignon blanc is a wine of the Atlantic coast. It is more delicate than the intensely grassy and tropical wines you find in New Zealand and less flinty than sauvignon blanc from Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. At its best, it exhibits flavors of grapefruit and white peach.

Bordeaux is at the northern limit of where sémillon can be cultivated and it does very well here. It is our chardonnay. The finest examples are grown on limestone. Bordeaux wines made from sémillon smell of hazelnut, almonds and brioche. After a few years, they develop aromas of fresh apricot or orange. 

SM: How has dry white Bordeaux changed since you started making wine?

DD: Bordeaux Blanc as we know it did not exist thirty years ago. Our dry white wines used to smell like oxidized sweet wines. Things started to change in the mid nineteen eighties when I was directing white wine research in the enology department of the University of Bordeaux and we began to understand which molecules were involved in creating the characteristic aromas of sauvignon blanc and the role of the yeast in protecting wines from oxidation.

When we applied this knowledge to Bordeaux’s two main white grape varieties, sauvignon blanc and sémillon, we discovered their fruity taste and how well they complement each other in a dry white blend.

SM: Could you describe the sweet white Bordeaux known as Sauternes for us?

DD: Sauternes caresses the mouth. There is a quality of softness. You don’t sense any corners. No matter how long the wine has aged, you always encounter aromas of fresh fruit, not just jam and honey. Last month I opened a bottle of our 1934 Doisy-Daëne, a sweet white made next door to Sauternes in the commune of Barsac. It was a complex bomb of orange, smoke, chocolate, ginger and apricot.

SM: When do you drink Sauternes? 

DD: I like young Sauternes as an aperitif and old Sauternes at the end of the meal. 

 

What is a "Non-Dosage" or "Brut Nature" Champagne?

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The terms “non-dosage” or “brut nature” on a bottle of Champagne may mean that no sugar has been sugar added at the end, but don’t be fooled, these are far from the sparkling equivalent of a SkinnyGirl drink. They are more akin to the feat of appearing gorgeous on camera without makeup. Just as it takes a great beauty to successfully forego a little foundation before submitting to the camera’s lens, it takes a truly exceptional base wine to make a compelling “non-dosage” or “brut nature” Champagne.

To understand why this is so, it helps to review the methode traditional used in Champagne production. Traditionally, Champagne is made by bottling a base wine made of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, then adding a liqueur de tirage (wine mixed with sugar and yeasts) to initiate a second, in-bottle fermentation, which gives carbon dioxide off as a by-product, lending the wine its distinctive effervescence. 

The wine is then aged in bottle for at least fifteen months. At the end of the aging process, the sediment from the second fermentation is coaxed into the neck of the bottle by a process called riddling. The neck is then flash frozen and its contents are pulled out like a stopper. Finally, the dosage (wine mixed with cane sugar) is traditionally added before the bottle is re-corked.

The dosage is like the pat of butter or splash of sherry added to a sauce or a soup before serving. It rounds out the flavors and balances the component parts. For a winemaker, forgoing the dosage means giving up their chance to make small corrections. That’s why some wine lovers have dubbed these wines “naked Champagnes.” 

A renewed focus on farming, the growing importance of grower Champagnes, a wider understanding of Champagne as wine, the preference for drier wines, and global warming have all played a roll in the growing importance of the “non-dosage” or “brut nature” category. If you have not yet tried one, the Ayala Brut Nature, Pol Roger Pure, Benoît Lahaye Brut Nature, or any of bottle from George Laval or Tarlant are an all excellent places to begin to explore Champagne stripped down to its essence.

 

The Halmarks of a Classic Rosé de Provence

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Rosé de Provence is the kind of wine that fulfills a longing for a particular time and place. Its pale salmon hue, fresh fruit aroma and tumbling minerality evoke seaside lunches and sunset aperitifs. Typically made from grenache, cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, the classic style is light and refreshingly dry. When the weather begins to warm, Americans have an insatiable appetite for Rosé de Provence. For eight consecutive years this bottled essence of Southern France has experienced double-digit sales growth here. As such, today we have access to more rosés from a greater variety of Provençal producers than ever before.

Achieving the elegant simplicity of a well-crafted rosé requires gentle handling of mature fruit. Corners cut in the vineyard lead to thin wines with an aftertaste that can be green or medicinal, wines that are the bad oysters of summer drinks. Good rosés should be light-bodied with mouthwatering acidity and taste of white flowers, seashells and just-picked berries. A few bottles that fulfill this tall order are Château de Pourcieux,  Domaine de Saint-Ser, Château la Calisse, AIX and Domaine de l'’Abbeye Clos Beylesse.   

Rosé de Provence is not a wine to be sipped slowly and pondered. It is meant to disappear quickly, by the magnum if possible, and its charming way of capturing the spirit of Mediterranean idyll should be delivered to the consumer without emptying their wallet.

Stephen Carrier on Harmony in Mature Red Bordeaux

Few people understand what distinguishes the red wines of Bordeaux from their New World counterparts better than Stephen Carrier, the winemaker at Château de Fieuzal in Pessac-Léognan. The son of grape growers from Champagne, Stephen began his career as the winemaker for Newton Vineyard in the Napa Valley before honing his skills crafting Bordeaux blends at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac. Here he shares his passion for mature red Bordeaux.

Sophie Menin:  What makes for a great red Bordeaux?

Stephen Carrier:  In one word? Time.

SM:  We’re surprised you didn’t say vintage or terroir.

SC:  Bordeaux has sixty appellations each with a distinctive terroir. Every year the potential exists for great wines to come from the Medoc where the presence of clay gives the wines the potential to be bold and lush, or the exacting gravelly soils of Pessac-Léognan, or the merlot based wines of St-Émilion and Pomerol. But in all these regions, the young and old wines taste very different.

SM:  How so?

SC: Young Bordeaux is like a bright child in need of a good education. It is alive with aromas of fresh fruit and spice. If you hold your nose to the glass, you will experience the heady scents of blackberries, red currants, tobacco and vanilla. I assure you that you will want to drink this wine, but I don’t recommend it. All you will taste are the building blocks of a wine that has not yet reached its potential. A wave of fruit will be followed by the drying sensation of tannins on your tongue and gums. 

SM:  What changes over time?

SC:  With time the fruit flavor grows deeper, the tannins become silky and aromas of spice and earth begin to dominate the wine’s perfume. This experience of depth, harmony and balance is what great Bordeaux is all about. Depending on the vintage, this transformation can happen after five, ten or twenty years in the bottle. 

Many wines go through an intermediate stage when the tannins have softened and integrated into a wine that still possesses the expressive bloom of fresh fruit. I like these wines very much as well.

SM:  What do you drink when you are waiting for the wines to mature?

SC:   In France we drink the less celebrated vintages while we are waiting for the great ones to come around. Many of the less celebrated years produce wines with more delicate fruit. These wines are less tannic and mature earlier. Right now, the 2007s are very good!

Rosé Champagne

    

When Belinda Chang, a James Beard Award winning wine director wrote the wine notes for Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game, her biggest takeaway from the many weeks of sampling bottles in Trotter’s enviable cellar was this: the perfect wine for a dish is often completely the opposite of what you think it should be! Rosé Champagne and dry aged steak is a great example of this maxim. 

Traditionally, Champagne is a white sparkling wine made by bottling a base wine made of white grapes (chardonnay) and two red grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) that are pressed gently so that no color is extracted from their skins, then adding a liqueur de tirage, wine mixed with sugar and yeast. The liqueur de tirage initiates a second in-bottle fermentation resulting in Champagne’s distinctive effervescence. 

Of course, there are variations on the theme, a Champagne labeled blanc de blancs will be one hundred percent chardonnay. A Champagne labeled blanc de noirs will be entirely pinot noir and pinot meunier, though it will still be a white sparking wine. Then there are the rosés. 

Rosé Champagnes are generally made by adding a small amount of red wine to the base. Their colors can range from delicate salmon to ballerina slipper to hot pink, depending on how much red wine is present. When a rosé is also a blanc de noirs, its hue is achieved by letting the base wine absorb color from the dark skins until it turns pink. But the wine is drained off the skins or “bled” before the color grows too deep. Both methods yield Champagnes with more structure, intensity and earthy flavors than the traditional blends. These qualities along with Champagne’s naturally high acidity make rosé Champagne a terrific foil for rich meats. 

When pairing a rosé Champagne with a dry aged steak, Belinda recommends looking for houses whose rosés demonstrate development and richness over fresh fruit. Veuve Clicquot was the first house to commercially export rosé Champagne and still makes a very successful style that works with a savory steak cut. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Rosé and Gatinois Brut Rosé are two of her other favorites for a meat centered feast. 

There are certainly several styles that pair beautifully with a dry aged steak! 

Chablis: Chardonnay for Champagne Lovers

If you gravitate toward Champagne and Sancerre and prefer your chardonnay without overt flavors of oak, vanilla or butter, try Chablis. The eponymous wine of the most northerly appellation in Burgundy, Chablis is pure unadulterated chardonnay cultivated in Kimmeridgian limestone, a type of ancient (Kimmeridgian period) soil containing fossilized seashells. Combining the juiciness of the chardonnay grape with the fresh dry mineral qualities of wines from Sancerre or a Champagne Blanc de Blancs, the wines are delicious without being showy.

There are four levels of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The wines grow weightier and more complex as they scale the hierarchy. A good quality Petit Chablis, such as Domaine Seguinot-Bordet, tends to be refreshing with citrus and mineral flavors. Wines at the Chablis and Premier Cru level, such as Domaine Romain Collet Les Pargues, have more weight, body and structure, yet retain all the liveliness and gripping mineral flavors of their siblings. In recent years, young producers like Thomas Pico of Domaine Pattes Loup have brought organic and biodynamic practices to the region resulting in Chablis’ of remarkable clarity of flavor. Meanwhile, Grand Cru Chablis, such as the Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur are among the world’s most age-worthy white wines. Not only do they develop attractive almond and caramel flavors after a few years in the bottle, once opened, the wines evolve in the glass in a way normally associated with Burgundy’s best pinot noirs, growing richer and more nuanced with each passing hour.

Because of its high acidity and restrained fruit character, Chablis is an extremely versatile food wine. It makes for a delightful aperitif served with fresh goat cheese or a nutty hard cheese such as Emmental. It holds up well in the face of salad dressing and asparagus, and will enhance any meal that features oysters, seafood, poultry or pork.

Second Time Around: Thanksgiving Leftovers & White Rhones

Thanksgiving leftovers are one of the best meals of the year. Stuffing tastes better the next day as does gravy, homemade cranberry sauce and sweet potato soufflé. Some like to refresh the meal a bit by using the turkey carcass to make a rich soup, but for those who can’t look at the stove after all the holiday prep, a new wine pairing will do the trick. 

Roasted turkey with gravy involves caramelized skin and dark rich sauce, which means that it calls out for a wine with some weight, aromatics and refreshing acidity. For The Big Meal the tried and true choices are pinot noir, cru Beaujolais and, for those who prefer something associated with America, zinfandel. Leftovers are a time to be more adventurous. 

Once the guests are gone, why not try a white Rhône marsanne-roussanne blend? These age-worthy medium-bodied wines are a staple of the southern French table. Marsanne-roussanne blends combine marsanne’s weight and structure with roussanne’s bright acidity along with its honey, floral and mineral flavors. At their best, these wines possess great finesse. They run the gamut from great values from top domaines, such as the Domaine François Villard “Version” Saint Peray, to delicious splurge-worthy bottles, like the Jean Luc Columbo “Le Rouet” Blanc Hermitage. Look for producers from Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Saint-Peray.

Introducing Jura

Jura is a French wine region located in a narrow fifty-mile strip in the mountains between Burgundy and Switzerland. Its high-altitude vineyards spent centuries in relative obscurity before being rediscovered in recent years by influential sommeliers and wine geeks the world over.

For those new to the region, discovered is not necessarily understood. Jura is home to an unusually wide array of idiosyncratic wines--some are lip smacking, others are fascinating but not overtly delicious. We’ve put together a crib sheet to Jura to help anchor your experiences.

For chardonnay and pinot noir, think of Jura as Burgundy’s cool cousin to the east. Cooler temperatures and rich limestone soils yield high-quality classically styled wines in a lighter fresher style.

It is with white wines made from the local white variety, savagnin that Jura begins to defy expectations. These wines are made sous-voile or “under the veil.” After fermentation the wines are aged in barrel, usually for three years. The barrels are neither topped off nor stirred, so that a protective layer of yeasts grow, as with fino Sherry. These wines are never fortified; they are at once delicate, complex and aromatic and will challenge your expectations of what white wine should taste like.

Jura’s most famous sous-voile wine is Vin Jaune: late harvest savagnin that has spent at least six years in small oak barrels under a protective blanket of yeasts developing complex and beguiling aromas walnuts, almonds, honey, apples and sweet spices. The finest examples of Vin Jaune come from the appellation Chateau-Chalon.

Jura’s two native red varieties, trousseau and poulsard, yield wines a shade darker than rosé. Trousseau tends to be softer with red and black fruits. Poulsard is more structured and perfumed, sometimes with an earthy character. 

A Recipe for Rosè and Autumn Nights

Valérie Rousselle knows a thing or two about entertaining. A Saint-Tropez native and the proprietor of Château Roubine, a Cru Classé winery in the Côtes de Provence, she studied hospitality at the famed Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland before becoming the steward of a historic vineyard that once belonged to the Order of the Knights of the Templar. 

In the autumn, once the grapes have been harvested and the chilling winds of the mistral wind blow down from Rhône River, Valérie invites friends to the winery to welcome the new season with a glass of her Prestige rosé and a dish of eggplant “caviar” served warm. 

We love her eggplant “caviar” for the alluring smoky flavor taken on by the eggplants when roasted directly on the stovetop, and because it can be made in the time it takes to put some olives in a bowl and pull the cork from the bottle. The Château Roubine rosé is a beautifully textured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a pale salmon hue and aromas of flowers and spice. 

Eggplant “Caviar”
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
- 2 Japanese eggplant
- 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper 

Blister the eggplants directly on stovetop flame (as if you are roasting a pepper), turning them regularly until their skins are entirely charred and black. Set the roasted eggplants aside to cool for two minutes, then slice the eggplants in half and scoop the soft flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and puree with an immersion blender. Alternatively, transfer the entire mixture to the jar of a traditional blender and puree for 30-60 seconds, until the mixture is creamy. 

Serve warm with thick slices of toasted baguette and your favorite Provencal rosé. 

 

The Gold Standard in Grower Champagne

Terry Theise calls himself an introvert capable of portraying an extrovert in small doses. In those small doses he has done more than perhaps any person on earth to bring respect, attention and legions of fans to the grace and precision of rieslings from the classic growing regions of Germany and Austria. With far less fanfare, and arguably even greater success, over the last decade and a half he has also introduced Americans to the pleasures of ‘grower Champagne’. Today his portfolio, Terry Theise Estate Selections, is the gold standard of this category, broadly defined as sparkling wines from the Champagne region produced by the estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. Grower Champagnes can be identified by the presence of the initials RM (for récolant-manipulant) in tiny print on the wine label. At their best, grower Champagnes express choice vineyard sites and artisanal winemaking. For example, Denis Varnier of Varnier-Fanniére forgoes temperature-controlled fermentation when making his Grand Cru Champagnes, and Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet includes within his blends a high percentage of wines from older vintages. This gives his final Champagnes a sense of integration and richness.

Grower Champagnes can sometimes deliver higher quality at lower prices than the large Champagne firms , since large PR and marketing budgets are not built into the cost of each bottle. But not all grower Champagnes are created equal. With their soaring popularity, it can be difficult to sort the transcendent from the mediocre. That’s why it’s helpful to have a passionate and experienced treasure hunter as your curator. If you look at the back of a Champagne bottle and see it is one of the Terry Theise Estate Selections, you are in for the real deal.

 

Challenging Conventions in Bordeaux

At 41, Stephen Carrier of Château de Fieuzal may be among the youngest head winemakers at a Bordeaux Cru Classé winery, but that has not stopped him from challenging the conventions of the historic appellation. The son of grape growers from Champagne, Carrier’s first job as an oenologist was at Newton Vineyard on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. 

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Winter Pruning and Tai Chi at Château Lafon-Rochet

With the work of producing fruit complete, vines soak up the last of the autumn sun to create energy reserves to store for use in the spring. Once the foliage has dropped, the wood on the vine hardens, and the sap descends to the vines’ roots. It is time for winter pruning to begin. 

More than any other event in the cycle of the vine, winter pruning straddles past and future. It is a reflective process during which the winemaker takes stock of the previous seasons and chooses a direction for the year to come. His or her decisions determine the vineyard’s potential to produce fruit for the next summer and influence the quality and character of future wines.

At Château Lafon-Rochet, the Grand Cru estate in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux, winter pruning takes place from mid November to the first days of March. The work is demanding and technical. It requires a deep understanding of the vines and the vision of the château, along with long hours in the field when the region is dark, wet and cold. Château Lafon-Rochet owners, Michel and Basile Tesseron, believe tending their vineyards begins with taking care of their vineyard workers, particularly in the winter months when the bitter weather often leads to stiff muscles and aching bones. Thus, twice a week from November to March, the nine men and five women who comprise their vineyard team meet in the wine cellar at 7:30 a.m. for twenty minutes of Tai Chi with Michel Tesseron and their coach. What has become a treasured ritual has also resulted in fewer injuries and greater overall happiness at work. If the story of wine is the story of the men and women who dedicate themselves to living in tandem with a particular terroir, then this is a truly eloquent argument for adopting a holistic view of what it means to practice sustainable viticulture. 

La Route des Châteaux

The Route des Châteaux is a bit like the wine world’s version of the map to the homes of the stars. Officially known as D2, it traces the path of the Gironde River northwest of the city of Bordeaux through the Médoc, cabernet sauvignon’s native home, offering a tour of the region’s most prestigious classified growths.

To drive the Route des Châteaux through Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe is to experience sensory overload. You can’t help but marvel at the classical proportions of the neo-Palladian villa of Château Margaux; experience a revelation about Château Latour as you witness how its gravelly vineyards slope toward the river’s edge; or begin to associate the gardens of Château Rauzan-Ségla with the wine’s beguiling floral aromas. Plan your trip in advance. Choose two châteaux you would like to get to know better and book your tastings long before you go.

Tastings are generally by appointment only. To organize a tasting at your favorite producer, go to the winery’s website and click on the contact page. Under the heading “visiting us” will be the email address of the person or department with whom you need to coordinate. Be sure to include your preferred times and dates.

Most of the top houses welcome visitors, including Château Pichon-Longueville Baron, Château Gruaud-Larose, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Cos d’Estournel. If you collect wines from a château that does not have an official public tasting program, see if your local wine shop can help. If they can’t, they may be able to recommend a producer with a comparable style.

 

Reducing the Carbon Footprint in Bordeaux

Few economic sectors see the effects of global warming as clearly as winemakers, for whom the words “weather” and “vintage” are synonymous. In Bordeaux, decades of records show that the harvests are occurring earlier and the wines tend to be less acidic and higher in alcohol. While these changes are not entirely linked to climate change -- technical improvements and new vineyard management regimes have made it easier to grow ripe healthy grapes -- the Bordelaise know it is a fact of life.

Aware that wine regions must implement strategies to preserve vineyards for generations to come, in 2008 the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) commissioned a study to measure the Bordeaux wine industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The study pointed to incoming goods, particularly glass bottles, as being the leading contributor to the region’s carbon footprint, followed by wine transport and energy use in the vineyard and cellar.

The CIVB responded to the study by launching The Bordeaux Wine 2020 Climate Plan with the goal of reducing the region’s total emissions by 20% by the end of the decade, while increasing its energy and water conservation 20% during the same period. For wineries seeking to reduce greenhouse emissions, here are a few lessons from the Bordeaux study worth considering:

Use Lighter Bottles: Move to bottles that retain the same physical properties and appearance as conventional bottles, but are lighter and made with fewer materials.
Collect Empty Packaging: In 2012, Bordeaux was able to collect and recycled 17.5 tons of empty packaging, which was used to produce alternative energy for cement manufacturing.
Study and Alter Wine Shipment Methodologies: Bordeaux plans to increase its use of maritime shipping, which generates 5.5 % less CO2 than ground transport.
Consider Groups and Support Networks: Collective efforts allow winemakers to share both the startup costs linked to setting up an environmental protection process and strategies for continued improvements.

The Genesis of Louis / Dressner

When Long Island son Joe Dressner met Burgundy native Denyse Louis at NYU, the two were studying for their masters’ degrees in journalism. At the time, they had no idea that one day they would start a wine importing business together. Yet with their partner Kevin McKenna, they have created one of the most influential wine portfolios in America. Today, Louis / Dressner represents over a hundred properties, mostly in France and Italy, but also in Spain, Portugal and Croatia. Advocates of organic and artisanal practices long before it was fashionable and simply because the practices made wines taste good, they have introduced some of the most characterful wines available in the country. When they imported the Didier Dagneau Pouilly-Fume Silex, it set a new standard for the level of complexity one dared to expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. With Arianna Occhipinti they revealed the potential for Frappato and Nero d’Avola to capture the wild elegance of southeast Sicily. Their Alice et Olivier de Moor A.O.C. Chablis “Bel Air et Clardy” is ethereal in its clarity. Dressner passed away in 2011, but his spirit is very much alive in the catalogue of passionate vignerons he assembled during his lifetime.

Graves and Entre-deux-Mer

Bordeaux’s dry white wines are too often overlooked for those of Burgundy and the Loire. Perhaps because the region’s signature white blend -- sémillon and sauvignon blanc -- lacks a clear new world reference like chardonnay from the Napa Valley or sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Perhaps because the wines struggle for airtime, given Bordeaux’s identification with collectible cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Still, the category begs for discovery. There is very good dry white Bordeaux at every price point. Given its reputation for soaring prices, the region may be the world’s least expected source of value wines. 

Dry white Bordeaux comes from three appellations: Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers, with the most exalted examples, such as Domaine Chevalier and Laville Haut-Brion, coming from Pessac-Léognan. But it is in Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves that the unexpected treasures are found. Gems from Entre-Deux-Mers, the area between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, tend to be simple and well priced. At $12 Château Fonfroide, a blend of sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle, is as refreshing as it is pleasing, offering hints of white peach and honey on the nose and a soft yet lively expression on the palate.

In Graves, the appellation directly south of Pessac-Léognan, each wine tells its own story about why bright and herbaceous sauvignon blanc should be blended with fleshy honeyed sémillon. At $16, the award winning Château Les Clauzots, speaks generously of citrus and tropical fruit anchored by a firm mineral backbone. At $29.99 the Vieux Château Gaubert is a tightly coiled double helix of seashells, honeysuckle and lemon pith, suggesting a wine with true aging potential. Tuck it away for three or four years in the back of your closet and witness the transformation. You are likely to be rewarded with a textured wine possessing aromas of honeyed almonds that is supple and broad on the palate. 

A helpful place to continue exploring Bordeaux’s value wines is Today’s Bordeaux, which features 100 wines from the region priced between $9 and $55.

A Royal Warrant For Champagne

Given that 2013 will likely be a year for William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to celebrate, why not use Boxing Day as a moment to revisit the Champagne chosen to toast their marriage. For six months before their nuptials, only six people outside the Royal Household Wine Committee were in on the secret that magnums of Pol Roger Brut Réserve Brut were served at the reception, two from the Pol Roger office in England and four from the office in France. The order was run through Berry Bros. & Rudd, the venerable wine and sprits shop on St. James Street in London, whose managing director Simon Berry moonlights as the Clerk of the Royal Cellars and head of the Royal Household Wine Committee.

Far from the only Champagne in the running, the Royal Household Wine Committee considered wines from all seven Champagne houses with a Royal Warrant from H. M. The Queen: Pol Roger Bollinger (the preferred Champagne of 007), Louis Roederer, Krug, G. H. Mumm, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin and Lanson Pére et Fils. Robert Large, the Royal Cellar’s Yeoman, ultimately chose the wine for the event.

Why Pol Roger? Hubert de Billy, who directs domestic sales and global marketing for the house, speculates, “Given the economy, they wanted high-quality non-vintage Champagne in magnums from a family-owned company that was not trendy, but part of the gentry way of living.” The price offered had to be fair, “Not more than the general public would pay and not less.” And it didn’t hurt that Pol Roger was a favorite of both Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. The Brut Reserve, which is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, is given at least three years to age, leaving it round and elegant.

Laurent-Perrier was served at the private dinner at St. James Palace in the evening – it has Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales but not H. M. The Queen. It makes one wonder what the Yeoman of the Royal Cellar will serve on New Year’s Eve.