Wednesday, March 22, 2006

March 2006 wines...

March is the first of the "3 wines-that'll-knock-you-out per month" format. I managed to throw in one of my all time favorites... which one? Ahaa... go out, try them and judge for yourself...

Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2004
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Loire Valley, France
Price: $23.49
Importer: Kermit Lynch

The world of wine has changed for the better over the past decade, yet remains rather full of ratings-obsessed owners, egotistical winemakers and manufactured wines. However, there are still producers out there that do most of the work individually, couldn’t care less about ratings and consider themselves a modest part within the process that creates a great wine. Michael Reverdy, part of the rather large Reverdy winemaking family, fits squarely into the latter category. And it is noticeable in this wine.

The best word to describe it would be “beautiful”. It has beautiful floral, lime and apple notes on the nose. Beautifully fresh citrus flavors abound on a slightly weighty palate. There is beautiful minerality and impressive acidity. And the finish is beautifully clean with a touch of spice that lingers around. This wine can be seen on lists at some of the top restaurants in the country (including Californian food Mecca, Chez Panisse), yet it has no ego about it. This is the supermodel that somehow retains her modesty.

Just southwest of Paris, the Loire Valley is home to wines that are always elegant. Sancerre is the original Sauvignon Blanc, and as much as New Zealand and South Africa make some delicious examples, this wine shows why there will always be demand for the classic French style. The acidity and minerality give this wine serious aging potential. Though it drinks very well now – it would slowly change in composition over the next ten to fifteen years, and reveal an impressive range of flavors. Many Sauvignon Blanc’s at the same price would lose their flavor and character within 2-3 years, when this wine would still be an infant.

I wouldn’t recommend sitting on this wine for long, unless you decide to buy a case and enjoy a bottle a year for the next 12 years – a nice way to get to know a wine! Rather wait until the next spring day comes along and enjoy it then. If you’re feeling special, take some freshly shucked ‘oysters on the half shell’ home from the fishmonger and enjoy with nothing but a few drops of lemon juice and a few glasses of Hippolyte Reverdy. It makes a good brunch wine, along with some crispy toast, smoked salmon, capers and Crème Fraiche. Alternatively, pair it with a goat’s cheese tart, seared tuna with soy and chives or as an aperitif with assorted antipasto. Mmm, now I’m hungry…

Flowers Sonoma Pinot Noir 2003
Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Region: Sonoma County, California
Price: $44.99

It was a Monday night at Montrachet in Tribeca, and we were taking advantage of the prix fix dinner menu with no-corkage BYO. It turned out to be an appropriately named restaurant for my first great pinot noir experience. During dinner we bumped into a wine industry friend who sent over a mystery glass of red wine. Not particularly dark in color, it had more of a ruby tint to it. The nose however…whoa! It almost smelt like Riesling at first! So floral! Okay, so our table had finished off a fair share of wine already, but this was remarkable. Beautiful, sweet perfumery overcame each of us as we passed the glass around and took the nose in. As soon as it came back to me, I took a big gulp of the velvet-soft knockout of a wine, and savored the moment - before someone snatched the glass away. This was the Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir 2001, my first taste of wine from Flowers Winery.

Sonoma County, along with Mendocino and Monterey, offers conditions suitable to making some of the finest Pinot worldwide. However, the reputation for Pinot Noir is built solidly on the wines of Burgundy, which has a history of high quality wine longer than perhaps any other region. Wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti regularly sell at auctions for tens of thousands of dollars per case and rare Burgundy is often more prized by collectors than the vintage ‘First Growth ‘Bordeaux wines. A 1978 Montrachet from Romanée-Conti fetched $23,929 per bottle at a Sotheby’s auction a few years ago. Thankfully, there is a good selection of down-to-earth Pinot Noir grown elsewhere.

So there is more expensive Pinot Noir. There is Pinot Noir that is harder to get. And there is Pinot Noir that gets better ratings. But I think Flowers Pinot Noir trumps them all. Flowers has a number of single-vineyard wines, but this Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 03 uses grapes from a selection of all their prime Sonoma vineyards that are basket-pressed and sent straight to French Oak barrels after fermentation for a year of maturation. Distinctive black cherry and plum aromas jump from the glass, and on the palate the acidity and dark Pinot fruit flavors are perfectly balanced.

Enjoy a glass or two on it’s own to get the full spectrum of flavors. Food-wise, I’d love to pair this with salmon sautéed with bacon and shallots, fresh-herb covered roast quail, pork chop with balsamic glaze or just some prosciutto and warm bread.

Wine & Breathing
Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir would certainly develop if allowed to breath. What does this mean? When wine comes into contact with oxygen, it essentially starts to release aromas, usually along with some unwanted bitter tannic flavors. If a wine is left open for too long (usually 3-4 days, though some wines can show miraculous longevity) it loses its flavor and you’re left with nothing worth drinking. A wine that has been aged (kept around under good storage conditions for a length of time) has slowly been interacting with the oxygen in the bottle to soften and release unwanted flavors. Thus when you open a 1978 Bordeaux, you won’t need to decant it or let it breathe – it has already done so. A younger Bordeaux just a few years after release might benefit from breathing, thus you’d be better off decanting an hour or two before drinking. You don’t need a decanter to let wine breather either. Simply pouring into a glass and letting sit for 20-30 minutes is the equivalent of decanting the bottle.

One of my favorite things to do is see how a wine changes over time once opened. Try open a bottle of wine and have a glass a night for four nights. You’ll see how the character can often completely change. Some of the young wines lose their appeal, but rich and denser reds and mineral-heavy whites can start to show amazing aromas and a softer palate after a day or two.

A note on rare wines…
There have been some amazing bottles of wine purchased in auction houses over the years. However, the money is poorly spent if the wine is not correctly stored once purchased, as famously occurred in the mid 80’s when Malcolm Forbes paid $160,000 for a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux. Sadly it was stored in a warm room in bright lights and within a few years the cork fell into the bottle and the wine was ruined…

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2002
Varietals: Approx. 85% Sangiovese; balance of Canaiolo & Mammolino grapes
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Price: $22.99
Importer: Dalla Terra Inc.

I first tasted this wine over dinner at a little spot in Greenwhich Village that I’m rather fond of, where it was the perfect accompaniment to a very satisfying Hamburger with Roquefort Cheese. The wine surprised me with its almost sweet nose and overwhelming burst of ripe fruit flavors. I’ve since heard it described as “Italian sunshine in a bottle”, which is very apt. You can almost taste the warmth of the Tuscan sunshine and imagine the bright purple grapes being plucked from the vine - it made a fantastic opening red for the dinner. Okay, I was at The Spotted Pig (yes, again!) that night, and maybe I’m just in a permanent state of delirious happiness when I’m there, but the wine struck me as remarkably soft and luscious for a Tuscan. The wine label might have a classic look, but the wine is full of “New World” soft and jammy fruits and is just so thoroughly enjoyable.

Avignonesi, pronounced “avee-oh-naysi”, is a prime Tuscan estate that produces wines highly praised by the critics (they have had a 100 point Wine Spectator wine previously). Interestingly, the family estate is of French (from Avignon, Provence) descendents that followed the Pope’s move to Rome in the 14th century. Since then, they’ve been producing wines in this most picturesque region, most notably the dessert wine known as Vin Santo.

The classic Tuscan wines are Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, both made from (mostly) Sangiovese. Wines made in the small town of Montepulciano itself are bottled as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano such as this, and since it doesn’t carry the name equity (and thus cost!), the wines offer similar style and quality to a Brunello but often at significantly lower prices.

Made from mostly Sangiovese (although the grape is known as ‘Prugnolo’ here) and a small amount of indigenous grapes that aren’t worth trying to remember, the fermented juice spends a full 24 months in oak barrels to soften the tannins and develop structure, with an additional 6 months in the bottle to allow further integration of flavors before release. This Avignonesi with its ripe cherry fruit flavors proves that while Chianti and Brunello wines may steal the spotlight, as in so many other wine regions the lesser known wines offer no less pleasure.

I would suggest it as an opening red wine at the dinner table – scrumptious to enjoy on a cold winter evening before moving onto something a little drier and subdued with the meal. Otherwise, it would do beautifully well with rich, meaty dishes like barbecued ribs or brisket, grilled flank steak, a rich, aged-cheddar ‘macaroni and cheese’, pasta with olive oil and spicy sausage or with some firm, sharp cheese (Parmigiano, Irish Cheddar or Piave).


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