Author Archives: Dave

World-Class Sparkling Pinot Noir from Pennsylvania? You Bet!

World-Class Sparkling Pinot Noir from Pennsylvania? You Bet!

Discovering delicious surprises always provides a large part of the fun in drinking and sharing wines. Surprises keep you honest as a wine drinker while refreshing the senses and expanding the palate.

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South Shore Wine Company Sparkling Pinot Noir made with the “Traditional Method” from Pennsylvania fruit.

Such is the case with the N.V. South Shore Wine Company, Sparkling Pinot Noir, Pennsylvania ($19.95; available online and at the winery). from veteran Pennsylvania winegrower Robert Mazza (pictured above).  Made from 100% Pennsylvania-grown Pinot Noir fruit, the wine’s eye-catching salmon pink color offers a persistent mousse of fine beads of bubbles. On the nose, delicate red fruit and floral aromas lead to fresh flavors of black cherries and plums. Crisp acidity and a touch of creaminess balance a dry, elegant finish.

To create the sparkle, Mazza’s winemaking team  uses the “traditional method” (a.k.a., as the “méthode champenoise” in France’s Champagne region). Secondary fermentation takes place directly in the bottle to create more elegant, refined sparkle. This labor intensive process takes more time, but it clearly delivers superior results in the N.V. Shore Wine Company, Sparkling Pinot Noir which offers “world -class” quality at a terrific price.

For Mazza, growing grape and making wine in Northeast, Pennsylvania, on the shores of Lake Erie is a family tradition. His love for the vine came from his father, Joseph, a native of Calabria, Italy, who emigrated to the United States in 1954. Mazza and his brother, Frank, founded Mazza Vineyards as a commercial enterprise in 1972. They built the winery themselves and opened to the public in 1973.

From the start, the brothers focused on learning the potential of the terroir of the Lake Erie Shore vineyards. As in the New York State Finger Lakes, vineyards planted close by the lake, itself, enjoy moderating effects in the Spring and Fall. This plays a critical role in combating frosts and  properly ripening Vitis Vinifera grapes as well as French-American hybrids such as Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc.

The Mazza’s also emphasized quality winemaking and hired a German-trained winemaker. Today, the winemaking team consists of Robert’s son, Mario Mazza, along with Hungarian-born Peter Szerdahelyi, and Carolina Damiano Cores from Uruguay.

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Father and son Pennsylvania winegrowers, Robert and Mario Mazza.

In 2007 when Bob Mazza and his wife Kathie purchased the South Shore Wine Company, they revived an illustrious history. William Griffith and Smith S. Hammond founded the winery in 1864 and created a stone wine cavern fashioned after French wine cellars.

In 1867, the South Shore Wine Company sent their wines to the famous Exposition Universelle better known in English as the Paris World Fair of 1867.  Also in 1867, the South Shore Wine Company hosted a lunch for more than 300 grape growers and guests in the big hall above the wine cellar. Unfortunately William Griffin passed away early, but the winery continued in various incarnations until 1920 when Prohibition dealt a death blow.

After the purchase in 2007, the Mazza’s restored the wine cellar and added a seasonal café and year-round banquet hall. In addition to the Sparkling Pinot Noir, South Shore offers a Pennsylvania Grüner Veltliner (a dry white that has consistently won national awards as well as a Double Gold at the Pennsylvania Farm Show) and a peppery, dry red blend made primarily from Pennsylvania grown Lemberger grapes.

As we roll into 2018, surprise and refresh your taste buds with a sip of the delicious South Shore Wine Company Sparkling Pinot Noir along with the winery’s other well made, terroir-focused table wines.

 

 

 

Notable Wine Books From 2017 Make Terrific Gifts and Good Reading for the New Year

Notable Wine Books From 2017 Make Terrific Gifts and Good Reading for the New Year

The holiday season offers the perfect opportunity to consider notable 2017 wine books as gifts—both for others and for yourself. Several fine choices stand out.

Early on in learning about wine, I made the happy discovery of Kevin Zraly’s “Windows On The World Wine Course.”   The book’s elegant organization, clear prose and commonsense tips bolstered my confidence as a new wine enthusiast while providing a solid foundation of wine knowledge. It propelled me forward on a journey of pleasure and learning that happily continues. Decades later, his book remains in print after selling millions of copies.

Now Zraly has teamed with popular wine journalists Mike DeSimone (no direct relation except in loving wine) and Jeff Jenssen to write “Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide To The 50 Essential Varieties & Styles” (Sterling Epicure; $27.95). The book’s superb format deftly presents what otherwise might be an overwhelming cache of useful and intriguing information. In fact, the authors recommend dipping into and out of the volume over time while actually drinking examples of each of the red wines covered. Can’t argue with that sound advice!

Besides most notable varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir, the book introduces more obscure grapes such as Mavrud and Plavac Mali, natives in Bulgaria and Croatia. In each short chapter, Zraly, DeSimone and Jenssen offer tips on their favorite producers of each variety. Quotations from winemakers add useful context for appreciating the grapes. Each chapter also delivers excellent commonsense recommendations on food pairings.

“Red Wine” features plenty of gorgeous photographs throughout to entertain the eye. Kudos to the authors in concisely presenting useful information wrapped in an attractive format that will fit comfortably on any coffee table.

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Alice Feiring, author of “The Dirty Guide To Wine”

In her memorable 2008 book “The Battle for Wine and Love, or how I saved the world from Parkerization” (Harcourt; 2008), author and newsletter publisher Alice Feiring led the charge for enjoying and extolling naturally made wines. Her heartfelt profiles of artisan French winegrowers toiling with organic farming and “hands-off” winemaking heightened American readers’ awareness of the stakes involved in a wine world awash in industrially produced wines and trophy hunting wine collectors. She continued and elaborated on similar themes in “Naked Wine” (Perseus Books; 2011) and “For the Love of Wine” (Potomac Books–U of Nebraska; 2016).

All the books affirm that the aromas and flavors in truly delicious, naturally made wines should reflect the distinct sense of place that produced the grapes used for the wines. In short, the wines should be products of natural “terroir” rather than industrial process. In her latest offering, “The Dirty Guide To Wine: Following Flavors From Ground to Glass”  (The Countryman Press; $24.95), Ms. Feiring teams with long time collaborator, French-born sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier, MS, to dig in and tackle the wide variety of soils underlying the world’s greatest terroirs.

The book divides logically into the earth’s three primary categories of rock: igneous (deriving from solidified ancient molten rocks), sedimentary (coming from dried up seas that once covered the earth) and metamorphic (arising from rocks transformed by millions of years of pressure and heat). In each section, Fiering and Lepeltier delve into the specifics and variations within each category to show the origins of the world’s prominent grape growing landscapes. Along the way, they include entertaining profiles of many natural wine world characters working hard to produce authentic, terroir-focused wines. For example, they describe a terrific visit to the steep, terraced vineyards of slate and granite in Spain’s obscure Ribeira Sacra appellation before offering insights to the emerging trend of “Atlantic Wines.”

Like “Red Wine,” readers can return time and again to “The Dirty Guide to Wine” and learn new nuggets. It is a great book to have at the ready when pondering the fresh aromas, striking flavors and mouthwatering textures of a glass of naturally made wine.

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Isabelle Legeron, MW, author of “Natural Wine”

And speaking of natural wines, Isabelle Legeron, MW, has released an updated and revised edition of “Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally” (Cico Books; $24.95). It remains the best introduction to the steadily growing, but still relatively miniscule segment of naturally made wines. Legeron’s first addresses the occasionally perplexing, but fundamental question of “What is natural wine?” She argues convincingly that it embodies “living wines from living soil,” and she then celebrates growers producing wines with “nothing added, nothing removed.” In-depth insights from the likes of winegrower Didier Barrel from the Languedoc in southern France, Jacques Néauport in Burgundy, and Tony Coturri in Northern California are particularly informative.

The book’s terrific photography vividly transports readers to the ruggedly beautiful vineyards, wineries and rural villages where natural wines originate. Legeron also delivers useful information on discovering natural wine fairs (including her own RAW Wine Fests). Her section on “The Natural Wine Cellar” gives a road map to leading natural wine producers around the world with Legeron’s buying recommendations on the best wines to drink. Anybody interested in discovering and enjoying the pure pleasures of naturally made wines should read Legeron’s well-written, passionate book.

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Mike Veseth, author of “Around The World in Eighty Wines”


Other notable 2017 wine books:

“Around the World in Eighty Wines: Exploring Wine One Country at a Time” (Rowman Littlefield; $24.95): Noted wine economist Mike Veseth (who previously wrote the highly acclaimed “Wine Wars” covering wine globalization) takes readers on a fast paced journey discovering wines in both familiar and not so familiar places. Syria, Bali, Thailand, and Tasmania are just a few of Veseth’s seemingly unlikely stops around the world. Along the way, Veseth’s engaging, conversational approach delivers wisdom useful for all passionate, open-minded wine drinkers.

“Wine Revolution: The World’s Best Organic, Biodynamic, and Craft Wines” (Jacqui Small; $35); Talented Decanter Magazine journalist Jane Anson profiles 250 leading producers of hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines. Anson combines her well-reasoned, clearly expressed opinions with charming personal memories of visiting the vineyards of many of the growers that she profiles. She offers particularly good coverage of leading Spanish and Italian growers such as Giuseppe Maria Sesti in Tuscany, Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily, and Eliisabetta Foradori in the Dolomite Mountains in the north. Anson also includes a useful section on terrific off-dry wines such as Oliver Humbrecht’s 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Brand Grand Cru Riesling, Selection des Grains Nobles from Alsace. Conversations with with world’s leading sommeliers offering their food paring recommendations add an appetizing, useful touch.

 

 

Enjoy Tasty, Terroir-Focused Wines From Alsace’s Domaine Schoffit

Enjoy Tasty, Terroir-Focused Wines From Alsace’s Domaine Schoffit

Alsace white wine fans take note.  Just in time for holiday celebrations and dinners, father and son winegrowers Bernard and Alexandre Schoffit of Colmar offer three terrific wines with contrasting styles. All are ready for immediate enjoyment and available through Weygandt Wines in Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania’s PLCB Premium Collection stores also offer two of the wines.

The 2006 Domaine Schoffit, Clos Saint-Théobald, Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Noble, Rangen Grand Cru is a singular, well-balanced sweet wine that will enliven any special meal. The 2014 Domaine Schoffit, Pinot Gris, Lieu-Dit Harth “Tradition,” Alsace is a deliciously fresh and versatile food friendly wine. And the 2014 Domaine Schoffit, Gewurztraminer, “Cuvée Caroline,” Lieu-Dit Harth “Tradition,” Alsace offers a classic off-dry but fresh wine perfect for holiday fare. .

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Gewurztraminer grapes awaiting harvest in the Rangen Grand Cru de Thann vineyard.

Following in his father Robert’s footsteps, Bernard Schoffit has for over twenty five years relentlessly worked to push the quality of Domaine Schoffit’s wines to new heights. He follows a “sustainable” approach in the vineyards and sparingly applies treatments on the vines only when absolutely necessary to protect the crop. Reducing yields enhances concentration and complexity in the wines.

Alexandre studied telecommunications in France and then obtained an international business certificate from the University of California-Irvine. He returned to Domaine Schoffit in 2010 to work side-by-side with Bernard in the vineyards and in the winery. Alexandre also promotes international recognition for the wines.

Together Bernard and Alexandre make a formidable team, producing about 100,000 bottles annually. In recognition of their work, in 2015 Domaine Schoffit was invited to join other leading producers in forming the Association of Alsace Crus et Terroirs or “ACT,” a group dedicated to setting standards for excellence and communicating the quality of Alsace terroirs to an international audience.

A large part of Domaine Schoffit’s sterling reputation rests on its vines in Clos Saint-Théobald vineyard, located as shown in the opening photo above in the magnificent Rangen Grand Cru in Thann.  As a young winegrower, Bernard pursued a then risky strategy of purchasing and painstakingly reclaiming 6.5 acres of terraced vines on Rangen Grand Cru’s sheer, volcanic slopes. Today Rangen ranks as one of Alsace’s greatest Grand Crus.

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Domaine Schoffit’s marvelous Clos Saint-Théobald Gewurztraminer SGN from Rangen Grand Cru delivers balanced pleasures defying description.

The Schoffits and their team relentlessly work the Rangen vineyard with passionate attention to detail. Stunning wines result. The sweet, yet marvelously fresh 2006 Domaine Schoffit, Clos Saint-Théobald, Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Noble, Rangen Grand Cru (available from Weygandt Wines for $65) comes from individually selected berries affected by Botrytis cinerea mold. The famous “noble rot” shrivels berries to highlight essential seductive aromas and saturated, complex flavors. Delicious flavors of honey, tropical fruit and citrus linger endlessly on the palate.

As Bernard Schoffit aptly noted, “When you taste a wine like this, you’re happy you worked so hard to make it.”

schoffit pinoy grisThe father and son lavish similar care on the domaine’s vineyards near the winery in Colmar. The grapes for the 2014 Domaine Schoffit, Pinot Gris, Lieu-Dit Harth “Tradition,” Alsace (available from either  Weygandt Wines for $24 or in Pennsylvania at PLCB Luxury Code: 44959 for $22.99) come from a single well-placed vineyard basking in Colmar’s sunny days and cool nights in lingering Autumn weather. The fruit ripens fully while retaining awesome, fresh acidity. This is a “gastronomic” style Pinot Gris with pure fruity citrus aromas and ripe peach flavors balanced by rich acidity and an essentially dry finish. Enjoy it either as a delicious aperitif with savory bites or with pan-seared, panko-crusted turbot with melted butter and shallots.

The 2014 Domaine Schoffit, Gewurztraminer, “Cuvée Caroline,” Lieu-Dit Harth Tradition, Alsace (available from either  Weygandt Wines for $22 or in Pennsylvania at PLCB Luxury Code: 44958 for $24.99) comes from low-yielding, fifty-year old vines that provide exquisite grapes. The Schoffits ferment the hand- picked grapes in stainless steel to preserve intense aromas of pineapples and roses. On the palate, rich, ripe pineapple, honey and peach flavors balance with zesty acidity and mouthwatering mineral notes.The wine finishes off-dry but well balanced. Pair it with classic New Year’s Day choucroute simmered in white wine and garnished with sausages, ham hocks and potent horseradish. Cheers!.

 

 

 

Distinctive Crozes-Hermitage Reds Deliver Quality, Personality and Value.

Distinctive Crozes-Hermitage Reds Deliver Quality, Personality and Value.

Each year with France’s Northern Rhône red wines, critics and consumers alike heap accolades on the marvelous selections from Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Reds from the nearby appellation of Crozes-Hermitage which also rely on Syrah grapes go largely unheralded. So the wines often languish on retail shelves even with prices a third or less of their prestigious Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage cousins.

The situation creates great opportunities for astute consumers to snare terrific values. More and more Crozes-Hermitage winegrowers defy stereotypes by dedicating themselves to producing terroir-focused reds with outstanding quality and plenty of personality. The key lies in purchasing red Crozes-Hermitage wines from growers who work hard in the vineyards and then let fermentations unfold naturally in the cellar.

During a visit to the appellation in May, 2017, I had the pleasure of tasting a solid handful of intriguing wines from Domaine Stéphane Rousset, David Reynaud from Domaine les Bruyères, Domaine Dard & Ribo, Domaine Yann Chave, and Domaine du Colombier.

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Rousset’s “Les Picaudières” features old vines with southern exposure and dramatic views towards the Rhône River.

Domaine Stéphane Rousset:

One look at the engaging Stéphane Rousset (pictured above) reveals a vigneron who clearly spends plenty of time in the vineyards soaking up sun. He works on the steep, wine-swept rocky slopes around the communes of Erôme and Gervans in the northern portion of the Crozes-Hermtage appellation. Like the neighboring Hermitage hillside just  to the south, hard granite subsoils predominate in Rousset’s dramatic, picturesque vineyards such as “Les Picaudières.”

The rocky, terraced vineyard features vines up to eighty years old which Rousset works by hand. His sustainable lutte raisonnée methods minimize chemical treatments. After hand harvesting, he removes most of the stems and ferments the juice naturally in stainless steel with gentle rémontage. Aging occurs in large, old foudres and smaller Burgundy style barrels.

The 2014 Stéphane Rousset, Crozes-Hermitage “Les Picaudières” delivers dark red fruit and black pepper aromas opening to ripe, polished black fruit flavors with perfectly balanced concentration and silky tannins. A marvelous, pure wine ready to enjoy! In the U/S. Chambers Street Wines offers the wine for $22.99.

crozes reynaud David Reynaud:

Beginning in 2000, winegrower David Reynaud converted his family’s Domaine les Bruyères to organic and biodynamic production certified, respectively, by ECOCERT and Biodyvin. The changes served his goals of enhancing the purity of fruit and freshness in the wines.

Today Reynaud uses grapes from 20 to 30 year old Syrah vines growing in clay and limestone soils on the plain south of Hermitage Hill. The vines lie in the commune of Beaumont-Monteaux near the Isère River. Round “galet” rocks cover the ground and help retain heat to ripen the grapes. Reynaud and his team work the vines manually without synthetic chemical treatments. Performing ébourgeonnages—removal of excess buds in late Spring—and vendanges en vert–removal of excess green grape bunches—keeps yields at a relatively low 40 hectoliters per hectare.

Manual harvest precedes careful selection on a sorting table followed by natural fermentation in concrete, egg-shaped vats. Aging occurred in 50% older barrique barrels and 50% in concrete. All the works shines in the delicious 2012 Domaine les Bruyères, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Georges.” The wine is an homage to Reynaud’s grandfather, who passed in 2000, the year of David’s first vintage.

Ripe dark fruit aromas open to fresh, fruity flavors with zesty acidity. Mouthwatering freshness balances the long, fruity finish. Owner/Sommelier Nicolas KalbacheVernerey features the wine at his terrific restaurant Aux Gourmands at 8, Place du Marché in Montélimar, Fance. In the U.S., Wine Works Online in New Jersey offers the wine for $29.95.

Dard & Ribo:

For over thirty years, winegrowing partners René-Jean Dard and François Ribo have produced “natural” wines long before the current fashion. Today their wines are cult classics with natural wine enthusiasts, yet Dard and Ribo still go quietly about their business ignoring the limelight while producing wines with terrific personality and distinction.crozes dard ribo

Their main vineyards lie in the hilly, northerly side of the appellation in the communes of Larnage and Crozes-Hermitage, itself. The soils offer a mix of clay and granite covered with gravel and sands. The area’s altitude and relatively cooler climate creates the potential for chiselled, structured wines with refinement. But the partners also favor an easy drinking, delicious style emphasizing transparent, ripe fruit and minimal oaky notes.

The 2015 Dard & Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage offers a lovely dark purple color with piping aromas of black fruits and black pepper. Rich, ripe flavors of raspberries and blackberries mingle with meaty notes. Fresh acidity, smooth tannins and mouthwatering minerality. Delicious, superb pleasure! Close your eyes and you’ll swear your drinking delicious Fresh acidity, smooth tannins and mouthwatering minerality. Delicious, superb pleasure! Tastes more like a Côte Rôtie! Available in the U.S. from Vanderbilt Wine Merchants for $35 and from Flatiron Wines & Spirits for $35.99.


Yann Chave:
la pyramide 6 chave

Since officially joining his father Bernard at the family domaine in Mercurol in 1998, the affable Yann Chave has become a champion of improving the quality and reputation of Crozes-Hermitage wines. At his own domaine, he has taken the lead by converting to organic cultivation under the European rules for Agriculture Biologique.

The wines have improved steadily as shown in the 2014 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre.” The Syrah grapes come from a special selection of 50-year old vines toiling in rocky soils in the southern plain near Pont de l’Isère,
Chave implements green harvesting to limit yields and harvests manually. For this wine, he ferments only free-run juice in large 600 litre oak barrels, only some of which are new.

One of France’s leading sommeliers, Baptiste Cavagna, serves the wine at La Pyramide, Chef Patrick Henriroux’s gastronomic Michelin two-star stop in Vienne. Cavagna paired the wine with a Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay—sautéed and braised Rozay snails served with crisp, tiny new potatoes and peas over a savory base of finely minced and caramelized meat from pig’s feet and ears. It paired nicely with the wine’s deep purple color and tantalizing aromas of ripe dark fruit and black pepper. Concentrated, ripe fruit balanced with terrific freshness and prominent, yet smooth tannins. It all made for a deliciously memorable pairing!

In the U.S., Cellar Door Fine Wines sells the 2015 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre.” for $33.95.

 

Domaine du Colombier:

 

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Patriarch Gaby Viale picking cherries at the domaine. He is the namesake of Domaine du Colombier’s top Crozes-Hemitage red.

Brothers Florentand David Viale run this highy reliable domaine whose vineyards lie in Mercurol and Tain l’Hermitage.The tall, affable Florent oversees winemaking, and he favors a soft and approachable, yet always fresh and well balanced style. After harvest, he destems the fruit which ferments in large, mostly older 600-liter casks.

For the domaine’s top Crozes-Hermitage red, the “Cuvée Gaby,” Viale makes a selection from the top casks made from “old vines.” The wine pays homage to the family patriarch, Gabriel, who was born in 1939 and who remains vital and active. The Viale family has long grown cherries and apricots as well as grapes, and on a visit in May, we found the jovial Gaby picking cherries in the warm afternoon sun. In a memorable, beautiful moment, he graciously shared his juicy, sweet harvest still warm from the sun.

The 2015 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby” tasted from cask at the domaine offered dark fruit aromas with smoky, meaty notes and hints of wild herbs. Ripe, rich fruit with good concentration and ample fresh mixed with soft tannins. This will be a a wine to drink either now with decanting or up to crozes gaby5 years or more of aging.

I recently enjoyed a 2009 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby,” a wine with eight years n the bottle, and yet it still offered plenty of ripe dark fruit, black pepper and floral aromas. Ripe, rich dark fruit flavors balancde mouthwatering mineral freshness and soft tannins through a lingering, fresh finish. One of those bottles that practically drinks itself!

In the U.S., Astor Wines offers the 2014 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby” for $39.96.       

 

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

When visiting Paris and Burgundy, two of France’s most popular destinations, we all share a burning question. Where can I eat and drink well and memorably without breaking the bank? In Paris, the relatively new Vantre offers an intriguing option, and in Burgundy, Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay provides a reliably charming choice.

Vantre occupies a modest storefront in Paris’ edgy, high energy 11th arrondissement, whereas Le Terroir’s unassuming entrance lies behind a quiet terrace on a side of Santenay’s place du jet d’eau. Each location has its charms, but the engaging personalities and wine knowledge of Marco Pelletier at Vantre and Corinne Germain at Le Terroir provide the real allure. They are owners, but they also serve as sommeliers with genuine passion for pairing delicious wines with their respective chef’s inventive, well made dishes. Add professional, graceful service without pretense, and the essentials for pleasurable, memorable dining moments all come together.

Vantre:

In 2016, Marco Pelletier (pictured above) opened Vantre (19, rue de la Fontaine au Roi, Paris, 75011; Tel: +33 1 48 06 16 96; Subway: Goncourt) with the goal of “democratizing” fine French wines. If anybody can achieve this lofty goal, it’s Pelletier who has matchless, encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary French wines. Previously he served six years as a sommelier at Le Taillevent in Paris’ 8th arrondissement and then eight years as Chief Sommelier at Hôtel Le Bristol, also in the 8th arrondissement. As a primary buyer stocking the vast cellars at these highly rated Michelin-starred restaurants, Pelletier came to know France’s most accomplished producers as friends and colleagues.

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Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu offers bewitching floral aromas and stupendously delicious, fresh flavors.

Even so, the Quebec-born Pelletier has an unstuffy, infectious enthusiasm for enjoying and sharing wine. I first met him by chance nearly ten years ago after one of his long shifts at Hôtel Le Bristol. He was unwinding at a casual “watering hole,”  Gérard Pantanacce‘s old wine bar, Le Café du Passage on rue de Charonne not far from Place Bastille. Joined by Parma-based professor and sommelier, Paolo Tegoni, the four of us wiled away the evening into the wee hours. We ate Pantanacce’s signature rillettes, charcuterie, steak tartare and “Saucisse de Morteau” while tasting blind “mystery” wines.

First came a Tuscan red, then a light-bodied Bugey Pinot Noir. Then came a sensational white, the Domaine Eric Morgat’s Savennières “L’Enclos,” and then an older J. Vidal Fleury, Hermitage. Last, but not least, came the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” a red blend produced by a partnership between Pelletier, Pantanacce and another friend who owned vineyards in the Libournais near Bordeaux. The food, wines and camaraderie all made for an instructive and memorable experience.

Pelletier brings the same enthusiasm for shared discovery, convivial fun and savoir-faire to Vantre’s wine program. The list offers over five hundred selections ranging from “grand vins” to more obscure wines from lesser known, but up and coming producers. Because Pelletier offers his own personal collection of wines accumulated over eighteen years as a top sommelier, many older vintages from Roulot, Comtes Lafon, Vieux Télégraphe and countless others are available. Hard to find gems also stud the list thanks to Pelletier’s direct access to great producers.

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Gonet’s delicious dessert “Vin de Liqueur” made in Champagne.

For example, Vantre offers Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu, a wine with bewitching honeysuckle and peach perfumes, pure, ripe fruit and scintillating freshness. Gangloff produces maybe 6,000 bottles annually for the entire world, and Pelletier secures his allocation by going directly to the domaine to visit his friend. The wine pairs beautifully with talented Chef Iacopo Chomel’s Gnocchi with Sage Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Pelletier offers his “baby,” the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” both by the glass and the bottle. Its enchanting red fruit aromas, ripe, succulent fruit and superb, exhilarating freshness carry through the natural, mouthwatering finish.

“The vines for Galouchey were planted in virgin soils that never saw chemicals,” says Pelletier, noting that his group tends the vines completely naturally. “We harvest by hand, berry by berry to use only perfectly ripe fruit. The juice ferments with natural yeast, and we add nothing ”

It pairs perfectly with tender Beef Cheeks with Braised Endive. The dish is another of example of the chef’s scrumptious, bistro-style cuisine du marché-—“market cuisine”—that guests enjoy at Vantre’s marble top tables and comfortable banquettes under high ceilings.

Ever the wine educator, with dessert Pelletier served a rarity—the Michel Gonet, Ratafia de la Champagne. For centuries, Champagne growers made Ratafia primarily for enjoyment in their own region. It’s a “Vin de Liqueur” where Gonet blends fresh, sweet juice from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the current vintage with Eau de Vie distilled from the third and fourth pressings of Champagne grapes from prior vintages. The resulting drink which has about 18% alcohol by volume. Judicious aging in barrels mellows the wine’s fiery notes without hiding its marvelous fruit forward aromas and freshness. It placed a delicious cap on another memorable food and wine experience thanks to Pelletier’s exuberant, confident guidance.

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Sommelier and co-owner Ms. Corinne Germain at Le Terroir Restaurant in Santenay, Burgundy.

Restautant Le Terroir Restaurant:

Since opening Restaurant Le Terroir (19, place du jet d’eau 21590 Santenay; Tel.: 03 80 20 63 47) in 1989, Chef Fabrice Germain and his spouse Corinne, a native of Colmar in Alsace, have followed one telling philosophy: “Il n’est rien de plus sérieux pour nous que votre plaisir! There is nothing more serious for us than your pleasure.”

The hardworking couple now attracts a cadre of loyal return guests from France and around the world. It is always a pleasure to rediscover the comfortable, cheerfully decorated, white tablecloth dining room as  Ms. Germain warmly welcomes every guest through the door. At the table, visitors rely on enjoying the pleasures Chef Fabrice’s seasonal menus featuring Burgundy classics with creative touches. Corinne provides superb wine suggestions from the list with over 300 references including half bottles and magnums.

When it comes to Burgundy’s most iconic dish—piping hot snails in butter, garlic and parsley—nobody surpasses Chef Fabrice. He cooks the plump snails to perfection for optimal texture. He avoids overcooking the garlic to allow the flavor to shine.

The dish paired beautifully with Ms. Germain’s suggestion of the 2011 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “En Remilly.” As a hard-working vineyard perfectionist, Olivier Lamy consistently turns out scintillating whites like this delicious gem. The wine had just enough bottle age to bring together a lovely balance of ripe fruit and Lamy’s trademark crystalline freshness.

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Chef Fabrice Germain’s classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne.

Ms. Germain offers a range of Lamy’s other selections along with well-balanced whites from Alain Gras, Jean-Marc Vincent, Vincent Bachelet, Bernard Moreau, and many others.

Chef Germain’s main courses start with creative preparations of daily market seafood selections such as cod, salmon and turbot. Other courses include Burgundy classics with creative twists. For example, the fixed menu features Coq au Vin with deboned rooster, smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, and  fresh pasta, served in a casserole. Braised lamb with garden rosemary comes with grilled confit potatoes, chopped bacon, and sweet garlic cream with lemon confit. A grilled Charolais beef tenderloin with red peppercorns has a red wine sauce, beets with gingerbread, potato croquettes, and brown mushrooms. Each dish pairs easily with the restaurant’s wide selection of fresh, immediately pleasurable red wines.

“I choose wines for the immediate pleasure they bring,” Ms. Germain notes. “They must be balanced and without excessive wood and dominant alcohol.”

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Domaine Chevrot et Fils’ terrific Marnages “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru.

The list has a particularly strong selection of Santenay red wines from the likes of Domaine David Moreau, Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair, Domaine Roger Belland, and Domaine Bachey Legros. Highlights from the Côte de Nuits include Domaine Cécile Tremblay’s Vosne Romanée and Chambolle Musigny, Domaine du Vieux Collège’s Marsannay and Fixin, and Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay.

Ms. Germain regularly participates in tastings with a Burgundy sommeliers club where she looks to discover producers focused on using healthy grapes grown with respect for each individual terroir. For example, brothers Pablo and Vincent Chevrot of Domaine Chevrot et Fils in nearby Maranges tend their vines with organic practices and take a natural, hands-off approach in the winery. Their 2014 Domaine Chevrot et Fils, Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru offers pure red fruit, moderate concentration, terrific freshness and elegant tannins that match particularly well with Le Terroir’s cheese course.

The restaurant team presents a classic “chariot” giving guests the pleasure of surveying and making selections from a full array of top French fromages. Amidst the blue Roquefort, the firm Comté, the soft Camembert de Normandie and all the others, Burgundy’s Époisses de Bourgogne invariably stands out. Le Terroir always offers a perfectly ripe Époisses with intense, earthy aromas and a slightly coulant—“runny”—texture.

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The fountain outside of Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay’s central square.

Desserts include Parfait Glacé au Marc de Bourgogne et Son Coulis de Fruits—a firm ice cream parfait topped with Burgundy grape spirits and a purée of fresh fruit—and Croquant Spéculoos, mousse chocolat au lait cardamone et pamplemousse granité à la bière blanche et miel de Bourgogne–a spiced biscuit paired with a duo of chocolate mousse topped with cardamon cream and refreshing grapefruit granita ice with nuances of wheat beer and honey.

Outside of Le Terroir just across the street in Santenay’s central square, the jet d’eau—the public fountain—-offers a cheerful display. It serves as a reminder of another memorable Burgundy dining experience at Le Terroir.

 

 

Ethereal 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux Illustrates Enduring Pleasures From Whole Bunch Fermentation With Stems

Ethereal 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux Illustrates Enduring Pleasures From Whole Bunch Fermentation With Stems

Sometimes, if you’re fortunate enough to drink Burgundies with generous friends who kindly share great wines with decades of cellar aging, you experience a wine whose profound beauty and sheer pleasure stops you in your tracks with emotion. Such was the case this week with the 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux.

The first captivating glimpse of this brilliant wine in the glass hinted at something marvelous. Its limpid, shimmering ruby color stood in stark contrast to more deeply colored preceding wines, the delicious ’05 Domaine Michel Gros Vosne-Romanée “Clos de Réas” 1er Cru and Pascal Lachaux’s full-bodied ’02 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée “Les Chaumes” 1er Cru.

The first sniff of the ’96 Dujac Echezeaux’s heavenly, complex perfumes promised more pleasure. Delicate red fruit aromas and pleasant spicy notes came from the glass. It was enthralling and ethereal.

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The 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux in the glass.

The memorable opening sip fulfilled expectations. Astounding purity of red fruit flavors with full concentration unfolded with terrific finesse and uplifting freshness and energy. The wine’s superb balance and silky, refined tannins carried the lingering, resonating finish. It was a profound wine with transparent fruit, good depth and elegant understatement, and it was a sheer pleasure to drink.

So what could account for the pronounced contrast in styles between the Dujac Echezeaux and the first two outstanding, but less ethereal wines?  Gros and Lachaux certainly are conscientious producers. They meticulously tend their Pinot Noir vines with labor-intensive, hands-on approaches without the extensive application of synthetic chemicals. And the quality of their premier cru terroirs are arguably comparable to Echezeaux despite its Grand Cru status.

A key difference, however, between the wines occurred during fermentation. Dujac used significant whole cluster fermentation with stems, a traditional fermentation method that persisted across Burgundy well into the late 1980’s. The approach came into question because many growers at the time did not discard damaged, rotted fruit and unripened stems. Unpleasant “green” wines with rough tannins resulted especially in difficult vintages. In reaction, beginning in the late 1970’s the late Henri Jayer made the then bold move of completely removing stems before fermentation. He also advocated allowing long maceration of the juice on the skins. The changes enabled Jayer to produce deeply colored, rich wines featuring luscious, intense fruit, fresh acidity and smooth tannins. As the style gained favor with critics and consumers, the destemming approach spread in Vosne-Romanée with well regarded, dedicated producers such as of Anne Gros, Michel Gros, Pascal Lachaux at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Jean Grivot, and Sylvain Cathiard.

Meanwhile other prominent growers—namely Aubert De Villaine at the iconic Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Lalou Bize-Leroy at Domaine Leroy and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac in nearby Morey Saint Denis—continued fermenting wines with high percentages of whole grape clusters including stems. They meticulously sorted bunches to ensure using only undamaged, ripe clusters with fully ripened stems in fermentation. They limited yields in the vineyards and tended the vines precisely in what Aubert De Villaine refers to as a “haute couture” approach. The resulting wines, as shown by the ’96 Dujac Echezeaux, consistently stand the test of time. They scale the heights of excellence and refinement while giving memorable pleasure.

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Winegrower Jeremy Seysses outside Domaine Dujac.

When used properly, fermenting whole clusters with the stems has several advantages. As Clive Coates, MW, noted in “The Wines of Burgundy” (2008), the approach can give more tannic structure, fresher acidity and more complex flavors. The presence of stems also creates better aeration for a more even fermentation. Generally the process results in lighter hued, less densely colored wines.

These days in Burgundy, the young—and even not so young—generation of winegrowers increasingly embraces using more whole cluster fermentation. For example, the talented Charles Lachaux at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux used high percentages of clusters across the board in the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages from Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin.

“For me it creates more seductive wines that suit my taste. It’s the style I prefer,” Charles says. “But with whole bunches you have to be careful to avoid greenness and harsh tannins in the wines. You must be more intuitive in the winemaking,  And it creates the opportunity for more emotional wines. That’s why I like it as well.”

Jeremy Seysses along with his winemaker wife, Diana Snowden-Seysses, now takes the lead at Domaine Dujac, and they favor using whole cluster fermentation tailored to the context of each vintage’s personality and conditions. For example, the ripe 2015 vintage warranted higher percentages of whole cluster fermentation.

Similarly at Domaine Rougeot in Meusault, winegrower Marc Rougeot and his sons used 100% whole cluster fermentation with stems for their delicious 2015 Domaine Rougeot, Volnay Santenots 1er Cru. The wine’s gorgeous ruby color offers raspberry aromas with spicy notes opening to pure red fruit flavors. Smooth tannins carry through the long, fresh finish.

In 2014, a solid vintage where fruit was not as ripe across the board as in 2015. the maestro of Volnay, Nicolas Rossignol of Domaine Nicolas Rossignol, achieved dazzling results using 50% whole bunch fermentation for his Volnay “Clos des Angles” and Volnay “Chervets”

Julien Guillot's delicious Bourgogne "Cuvee Auguste' made with whole cluster fermentation.
Julien Guillot’s delicious Bourgogne “Cuvée Auguste’ made with whole cluster fermentation.

Even Domaine Méo-Camuzet‘s Jean-Nicolas Méo who worked very closely with Henri Jayer has experimented with fermenting about ten percentage of whole clusters and stems for some of his outstanding wines.

“Fermenting with whole clusters is generally not my style or taste, but the experiments show that the whole bunches and stems give some extra tannins and balance,” he notes. “On the other hand, using whole clusters with stems does not permit a cold soak of the grapes prior to fermentation which is very important to us. So you gain on one end, but lose on another.’

In southern Burgundy in the Mâcon, Domaine des Vignes du Maynes winegrower Julien Guillot used whole cluster fermentation with stems for his terrific 2015 Vignes du Maynes, Bourgogne “Cuvée Auguste.” The wine comes from organically grown 50-year old Pinot Fin vines. And in addition to using whole clusters and stems, he wine fermented with indigenous yeasts and was aged in neutral barrels. Bottling occurred with minimal added sulfites. Pure strawberry and earthy aromas waft from the glass. Fresh, crunchy red fruit flavors and fresh mineral traits follow. Soft, elegant tannins frame this brilliant, authentic wine’s fruity, fresh finish.

All this said, the question of whether to ferment with some percentage of whole clusters inclduing stems boils down to a matter of each winegrower’s personal style and taste. Part of Burgundy’s abiding charm and allure lies with the growers’ diversity of choices.  The trick lies in knowing and appreciating the styles so you can spend your hard earned resources on wines delivering your preferred pleasures.

A Summertime Ode to Jim Harrison, Ripe Tomatoes, Mildred’s Meatballs and Cayron Gigondas.

A Summertime Ode to Jim Harrison, Ripe Tomatoes, Mildred’s Meatballs and Cayron Gigondas.

With bumper crops of fully ripened tomatoes piled on kitchens counters, the annual quest for imaginative and delicious recipes begins anew. In “The Raw and The Cooked: Adventures of A Roving Gourmand” (Grove Press, 2001), the late poet, novelist and food-and-wine writer Jim Harrison (pictured above, 1937-2016) provides an innovative solution with a twist on everybody’s old favorite, spaghetti and meatballs.

Harrison’s entertaining essay titled “Meatballs” recounts his young adulthood as a proverbial “starving artist” in the late 1950s in New York City. Using his trademark full-throttle prose and vivid storytelling, he recalls developing a passion for dining at Romeo’s Spaghetti Parlor, “where a large bowl of spaghetti with marinara sauce was forty cents; fifteen cents more afforded you a meatball.”

“At odd times I still love spaghetti and meatballs,” he wrote. “It is soul food, a balm, a food nostrum that helps me understand the often questionable arc of my life.”

Jim Harrison's roasted tomatoes sauce with meatballs.
Jim Harrison’s roasted tomatoes sauce with meatballs.

Instead of going out to a restaurant, Harrison advised preparing the dish at home using fresh tomatoes. His “Roasted Tomato Sauce with Fresh Herbs” recipe showcases a style rarely seen in America’s myriad Italian restaurants. He roasted the tomatoes in the oven rather than stewing them on the stove.

Put a liberal amount of olive oil in a baking pan. Then cut fresh tomatoes in quarters and puts them in the pan. In the spirit of the season, feel free to chop as many tomatoes as you’d like to use up, and don’t hesitate throwing in a few juicy yellow gems if it suits your fancy. Mini yellow tomatoes’ relatively low acidity allows their sweetness to shine.

Sprinkle the tomatoes “liberally” with chopped garlic, fresh basil and thyme. Harrison admitted having a “heavy hand” on garlic. For reasons both personal and gastronomic, Harrison once used 33 cloves for a single batch of sauce. You have to admire how that man rolled.

Cook the mixture for about 90 minutes at 325 degrees in the oven until the tomatoes roast thoroughly and almost liquefy. Chop any remaining tomato chunks.

Harrison recommends making homemade meatballs, certainly good advice. Mildred, my late mother was born in Arnold, Pennsylvania from, French, Beligian, German and Irish stock. But after marrying into my father’s southern Italian family, my Grandmother Libra from Montella near Naples, Italy, taught Mildred to make meatballs from scratch.

Simply blend 1/3 pound each of ground beef, ground veal and ground pork with 1 and 1/2 cups of bread crumbs, two cloves of minced garlic, one beaten egg, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Form the meat into balls, and lightly fry the meatballs in olive oil. Then drain them on a paper towel before chucking them into the sauce to roast for the last 15 minutes.

Serve the sauce with tagliatelle pasta cooked al dente. These long, thin egg noodles soak up the flavors particularly well.

cayronServe the dish with one of Jim Harrison’s favorite southern Rhône red wines–and, I might add, my absolute favorite southern Rhône red–the Domaine du Cayron, Gigondas. Michel Faraud and his daughters–Delphine, Sandrine and Rosalind—make this untamed, delicious red from old vine Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre with a splash of Carignan. Fermented with stems and all with native yeasts in concrete vats, the wine then ages in large neutral foudres.

Year after year this Gigondas delivers enchanting aromas of wild lavender, thyme and ripe black fruits. Marvelous freshness and firm tannins age structure. It’s about as natural and delicious as it comes.

As his health rapidly failed in the last months of his life in 2016, Harrison wrote a work of fiction entitled The Ancient Minstrel and returned to the topic of spaghetti and meatballs.

‘It didn’t work to try to write about sex, doom, death, time, and the cosmos,” one of Harrison’s character observed, “when you were thinking about a massive plate of spaghetti and meatballs.”

Words to ponder over a plate of pasta with homemade fresh tomato sauce, homemade meatballs and a glass of Gigondas.

The Alluring, Enchanting Delights of Chambolle-Musigny.

The Alluring, Enchanting Delights of Chambolle-Musigny.

Among Burgundy’s many delicious wines, those from Chambolle-Musigny frequently offer the most alluring and enchanting delights especially in outstanding vintages. The best examples balance delicate, complex red fruit aromas and ripe, transparent flavors with uplifting freshness and silky, elegant tannins.  Drinking and enjoying four terrific Chambolle wines at a recent lunch proved the point convincingly. Of the highlighted producers, ironically only Fred Mugnier operates in the village, whereas Serge Groffier, the Rion’s and Bruno Clair work out of neighboring villages.

The delicious 2002 Domaine Robert Groffier Père & Fils, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Amoureuses” 1er cru led the pack as a sheer delight. Intoxicating, beautiful red fruit and earthy aromas gave way to pure ripe red fruit with ample concentration. A perfect vein of fresh acidity and elegant tannins carried through the long, long finish. This is a completely seamless and marvelous wine from 2002, a vintage where the reds have finally begun shedding austerity in favor of supple flesh. Kudos to dedicated winegrower Serge Groffier who produced the wine working with his equally talented son, Nicolas, who now directs the domaine located in Morey-Saint-Denis. The vineyard “Les Amoureuses,” meaning “The Lovers” is certainly one of Burgundy’s most beguiling names. The vineyard lies just below the famed Musigny Grand cru as shown on the map at the bottom of the story.

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Delicious Chambolle wines from Mugnier and Danial Rion.

The 2002 Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Fuées” 1er cru and 2005 Domaine Daniel Rion et Fils “Les Beaux-Bruns” followed closely behind.

Fred Mugnier occupies a handsome, three story white stone manor house located in an enclosed park-like setting right in the village of Chambolle. For his wines, he favors an understated, highly finessed style without brute extraction. The irresistible, seductive 2002 Chambolle-Musigny “Les Fuées” 1er cru displayed Mugnier’s trademark style perfectly. Pretty red fruit and floral aromas opened in the glass leading to juicy, elegant red fruit flavors layered in medium concentration. Bright acidity and smooth seamless tannins carried the long finish. It is an incredibly silky, delicious wine with a delicacy uncommon in the 2002 vintage

The Rion Family resides in the village of Premeaux-Prissey down Route 74 south of Chambolle. Their parcel in Chambolle-Musigny “Les Beaux-Bruns” lies down slope from the premier crus and has relatively deep soils as well as a warmer microclimate. This creates a richer style wine as shown by the Rion’s absolutely delicious, beautifully balanced example from 2005. The ruby color unfolded dark red fruit aromas with pleasant spicy touches. Ripe, juicy dark red fruit flavors layered with fresh acidity and silky, seamless tannins. Many wines from the warm 2005 vintage lack proper balance, but this wine offered everything you hope to find in well made, delectable red Burgundy.

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The gorgeous dark ruby robe of the 2005 Domaine Bruno Clair, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles”

Winegrower Bruno Clair and winemaker Philippe Brun. Clair used fruit from well placed village level vines to produce the 2005 Domaine Bruno Clair, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles,” a delicious, masterful effort. Clair planted the Pinot Noir vines in 1989 on two previously abandoned plots.. Ripe, pure red fruits jump from the glass with just a hint of pleasant earthiness. Intense, vibrant red fruit flavors characteristic of the warm 2005 vintage balance with refreshing mineral notes and precise, silky tannins through a long, fruity finish. The wine made a perfect complement to classic Cuisses des Grenouilles–lightly breaded frogs sauteed in butter and garlic. Bruno Clair has his cellar in Marsannay, up the D74 main thoroughfare north of Chambolle. He also produces outstanding Gevrey-Chambertins including an incredibly beautiful wine from Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze Grand Cru where two thirds of his vines date from 1912!
chambolle map (2)

 

Jean-Claude Rateau: Burgundy’s Biodynamic Pioneer Leads Change While Quietly Delivering Exhilarating, Delicious Wines

Jean-Claude Rateau: Burgundy’s Biodynamic Pioneer Leads Change While Quietly Delivering Exhilarating, Delicious Wines

Eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire suggested “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”—“We must cultivate our garden”—even in the face of life’s complications and chaos. Burgundy winegrower Jean-Claude Rateau takes Voltaire’s advice to heart. Since graduating from Beaune’s Lycée Viticole in the late 1970’s, he has carefully cultivated his vineyards very much like a garden using organic and biodynamic methods requiring dedicated manual labor.

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Jean Claude Rateau’s cuverie lies just a few kilometers down the road from his old school.

Today his vital soils and sturdy vines render superb grapes which Rateau uses to produce exhilarating red and white Burgundies with tremendous purity and freshness. Meanwhile as one of the 1995 founders and current President of the Groupement d’Étude et de Suivi des Terroirs (“G.E.S.T.”), he is committed to studying and preserving Burgundy’s unique terroirs. Rateau and other “veterans” readily exchange knowledge with young winegrowing colleagues. The goal is to continue positive changes by training the new generation on the importance of maintaining organic materials in Burgundy’s precious soils.

On a cool, but brilliantly sunny day last May, Rateau provided a close look at his magnificent vineyards coming into bloom. Down the road from his cave, we stop at Beaune “Les Coucherias” 1er cru, a semi-circular vineyard set on a gentle slope where a quarry formerly operated. Rateau has special sentiment for this vineyard that faces directly south.

“It has the best exposure in Beaune with early morning sun and the last rays of sunshine each evening,” says Rateau who planted the vineyard after noted French agronomist Claude Bourguignon analyzed the soils.

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Jean-Claude Rateau among “Les Coucherais” 1er cru’s Chardonnay vines.

“Claude found the red clay soils rich in iron and limestone very similar to Le Montrachet Grand Cru,” Rateau recalls. “So I planted Chardonnay on double cordon trellis which creates good air flow in the vines.”

Instead of applying synthetic chemicals, Rateau relies on natural organic composts and biodynamic teas to activate the soils while also nurturing and strengthening the vines. Vital vines sink deep roots, Rateau notes, to pick up nutrients and critical minerality.

“Les Coucherias gives a rich, deep wine with lots ripeness and  freshness,” he adds. “C’est beau, n’est-ce pas?”

It is indeed beautiful.

Next, we drive into the hills to the west of Beaune to visit the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune vineyards. Deer and wild boar roam the scenic wooded hillsides where black truffles grow in abundance. In recent years increasing numbers of vignerons in the appellation have followed Rateau’s lead by embracing organic viticulture methods. The brown loamy soils of their vineyards teem with green grasses and colorful flowers standing in stark contrast to the dried out, eroded hard surfaces of neighboring vineyards treated with synthetic chemicals.

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The lyre trellis system that Rateau uses in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

“It is possible to make really good wines from the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, but it takes a lot of careful work,” Rateau notes.

He uses the “U” shaped lyre trellis system developed by Dr. Alain Corbonneau in Bordeaux. The vines stand about one meter tall and then branch onto two cordons.

“In my opinion the lyre is the best method for viticulture,” Rateau says. “The vines have plenty of foliage which is all active.”

Active foliage delivers better photosynthesis to ripen fruit consistently which traditionally has been a big challenge in the Hautes-Côtes. And since the grape bunches hang below the leaves, Rateau says the foliage helps protect the fruit from sunburn. In addition, the lyre system exposes the bunches to more wind which helps combat mildew and fungus.

“It is a very intelligent way to grow grapes, and I like it very much,” Rateau adds. “It optimizes the health of the grapes. But it a demanding mode, requiring a lot of care, especially to control the yield. And it is difficult to work manually since the vine leans outwards. But it is the most beautiful method.”

The lyre system has detractors. Grape yields can be high if left unchecked. Plus the vine density is lower than permitted under bureaucratic rules. But with Rateau’s attentive biodynamic approach, his high quality Hautes-Côtes de Beaune white and red wines offer terrific, easy drinking pleasure that speaks for itself.

Meanwhile as President of “G.E.S.T.”, Rateau collaborates with other winegrowers in exploring new methods for training vines.

“We are working towards a  high-vine, high-density system with spacing at two meters similar to Alsace,” Rateau says. “For the regional Bourgogne appellation and Hautes-Côtes appellations, this could eventually replace restrictive low vines and very wide vines on lyres. The goal is to have a more ergonomic system with better quality, lower yields, lower cost, and more ecological balance.”

On the way to see Rateau’s premier cru vineyards, we pass another important “G.E.S.T.” project, the Mont Battois Vine Conservatory northwest of Beaune. In collaboration with the Association Technique Viticole de Bourgogne which owns the parcel, Rateau and his colleagues envision planting fifty-two ancient vine varieties including the well known Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamey plus more obscure vines such as César, Tressot Blanc, Tressot Panaché, and Troyen. The first twenty-two plantings occurred in April 2016.

“These vines are our heritage and history,” Rateau says. “They are rustic varieties more resistant to diseases. The plantings provide a genetic reservoir if anybody wants to recreate grape varieties close to those of today. These varieties produce less alcohol and have more acidity which today has potential importance in relation to global warming.”

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Vital, sweet smelling top soils in the Beaune, Bressandes 1er cru with Rateau’s Pinot Noir vines in early May. 2017.

Next we stop at the beautiful Beaune “Les Bressandes” 1er cru. Here Rateau’s vigorous Pinot Noir vines toil in clay and limestone soils interspersed with distinctive grèzes litées, a scree of limestone pebbles formed by the erosion of an ancient rocky cliff. The steeply sloping vineyard faces directly to the East and covers about 88 acres with 40 different owners.

“This is a very warm vineyard. When it snows, it melts first here,” Rateau notes.”The vine roots decent very deeply here, and the terroir creates red wines with lots of depth.”

Rateau holds a scoop of the rich soil to his nose. The sweet, earthy aromas and texture brings a bright smile to his face as he exhales.

Ah, c’est du vrai sol!l,” he notes. It’s “true soil” resulting from over thirty years of working by hand without synthetic chemicals.  ECOCERT certifies all of his vineyards as organically cultivated, and Rateau is seeking Biodyvin’s certification of his biodynamic vineyard practices.

“When I started I was virtually alone in pursuing organic farming,” he recalls. “Today over fifteen percent of Burgundy growers in the Côte-d’Or are biologique and that’s a great change and progress.”

To encourage more growers to focus on preserving vital, lively soils, each October, Rateau and other experienced winegrowers taste wines from younger growers under forty years old.

‘We taste the wines “blind” without knowing who made each bottle, and then we give our comments,’ he notes. “It’s the best way to discover and encourage promising new growers. If you search, you can still good wines and good value in Burgundy because of the positive changes happening these days in our vineyard soils.”

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Older barrels in Jean-Claude Rateau’s cellar in Beaune.

In the cellar, Rateau minimizes interventions during fermentation and élevage. He relies only on wild yeasts, and, depending on the vintage and terroir, he ferments his red wines with whole grape bunches including stems. Then the wines–both whites and reds–age in used barrels ranging from three to ten years old. Bottling occurs with minimal additions of sulfites.

Because Rateau sells seventy five percent of his wines to French caviste shops and to restaurants in Paris and around France, he is not well known in the United States. But Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan consistently offers a good selection each year. And Rateau’s prices offer terrific value for the quality.

His wines faithfully reflect each terroir and have purity of fruit, freshness and unforced, charming personality. These “old school,” elegant Burgundies favor finesse and juicy, drinking pleasure over extreme concentration and showy power. Every passionate Burgundy should seek them out. The following wines were tasted from bottles in Rateau’s cellar in May, 2017:

White Wines:
2015 Jean-Claude Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc:
Made from Chardonnay growing on Lyre trellises in clay and limestone soils on the sunny, east facing hillsides over the hill from Beaune. The wine has fresh citrus and pear aromas and earthy touches.The pure, fruity flavors balance with racy acidity and fresh minerality through the long, dry finish. Delicious!

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune Pinot Blanc:  Made from Pinot Blanc, a variety that Rateau notes is more widely planted in Burgundy than most consumers may realize. It also has fresh, clean aromas of pears, peaches and apples opening in to round, ripe fruity flavors balanced with Rateau’s trademark acidity and minerality..

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Clos des Mariages”: This is made from an unique blend of late harvested Chardonnay (75%), Pinot Blanc (10%) and Beurot (a.k.a., Pinot Gris) (15%) grown near Rateau’s home in Beaune. The wine has fresh aromas of grapefruit with notes of brown spices, and on the palate it has more concentration than the first two white wines. Clean, fresh finish.

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Coucherias” 1er Cru: The wine has complex aromas of pears and citrus with floral notes and a decided touch of earthiness. The rich, ripe flavors of citrus, melon and honey layer in pronounced acidity and a mineral laden dry finish. Age for 3 to 5 years before drinking.

Red Wines:rateau
2015 Jean-Claude Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Rouge:  A juicy, fresh and easy drinking red from from 50 year old vines in clay, limestone and marne soils in the heights above Beaune. Charming light ruby robe, gorgeous red cherry and spice aromas; juicy, fresh red fruit with lovely transparency; light concentration balanced with zesty acidity and mineral notes; delicious fruity finish with terrific freshness. Beautiful. Good value too. Bien qualité/prix.Tasted chez DeSimone as well.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Prévoles”::  Made from Pinot Noir grapes growing in a well placed lieu-dit below Beaune “Chouacheux” 1er Cru. Rateau fermented the wine with 100% whole bunches to achieve terrific finesse and pure, transparent red fruit. Lovely red cherry and griotte flavors unfold with bracing, delicious acidity and elegant tannins.Decanting it for an hour or so at home should develop more fleshy notes and round out the delicious red fruit.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Gevrey-Chambertin: Rateau’s only red from the Côte-de-Nuits made from Pinot Noir growing in two lieu-dits near Grand Cru and 1er Crues climats. The wine offers complex, aromatic black fruits and floral notes with pleasant earthy hints. The dark red fruit layer in a rich, concentrated body balanced with fresh acidity and smooth tannins. Pronounced minerallity balances the fruity, elegant finish.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Reversées” 1er Cru: Made from older Pinot Noir growing in cool limestone soils also rich in red iron deposits.The wine offers pure strawberry red fruit aromas with floral hints a touch of pleasant earthiness. Red red fruit layers in rich, fresh acidity and moderate concentration. Smooth, refined tannins add balance to long, fruity finish. Delicious.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Bressandes” 1er Cru: Made from Rateau’s warmest vineyard in a particularly ripe vintage. Fresh, frank raspberry aromas and brown spice hints open to ripe, yet refreshing red fruit flavors with medium body and lovely elegant tannins.  A juicy delight with superb balance that will improve in bottle for years to come. Lovely, delicious wine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock and Roll Survives With Chef Fred Ménager, Poultry Breeder Extraordinaire At La Ferme de la Ruchotte

Rock and Roll Survives With Chef Fred Ménager, Poultry Breeder Extraordinaire At La Ferme de la Ruchotte

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Burgundy’s Mâcon region, Frédéric Ménager dreamed of one day ripping guitar solos in a rock and roll band. His family had more immediate ideas, and so Ménager began the long, hard quest to become a chef in France. He worked in Paris and at Restaurant Alain Chapel (with a Michelin-three star rating) before eventually becoming executive chef at Castel de Très Girard, a respected gastronomic restaurant in Morey-Saint-Denis, Burgundy.

One of La Ferme de la Ruchotte’s free-range “ancient race” birds. Photo Credit: Juliette Ranck

But as a rocker at heart with an urge for creative independence, Ménager made a life changing decision to leave the restaurant in 2002. He and his wife, Eva, took a major risk by buying La Ferme de la Ruchotte, a farm where Ménager could chart his own unique path as a poultry breeder and part-time chef. Fifteen years later Ménager has emerged as a respected  champion of the “farm to plate” model not only in Burgundy, but around France and internationally. And his passion for heavy metal, hard rock, popular and classical music flourishes stronger than ever.

The 12.5 acre La Ferme de la Ruchotte lies at the end of a serpentine road on top of a hill above the village of Bligny-sur-Ouche, 25 kilometers from Beaune. The farm provides a free-range paradise for Ménager’s passion and specialty—chickens, coqs vierges, and poulardes descended from colorful, ancient French lines such as the Gaulloise Dorée, Barbezieux, Le Mans, La Flèche, and Coucou de Rennes. He also raises rare, ancient breeds of turkeys, guinea fowl, and ducks—over 2,000 poultry in all—along with ten rugged Solognot sheep and twenty black Gascon pigs. One llama, an ostrich, a big black dog and various felines keep them all company. For good measure, Ménager tends an extensive potager garden with greens, carrots, leeks, radishes, celery, beets, peppers….you name it. He also grows diverse fruits.

Everything thAB pubrives in the farm’s self-contained, organic environment which is certified by the bright green and white “AB”—Agriculture Biologique—sign at the entrance. Vegetables and fruits grow without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Animals breed and mature without synthetic antibiotics and genetically modified methods. Ménager sees a critical rapport between a healthy, uncontaminated farm and high quality poultry.

“Organic farming guarantees a healthy diet to the animals and a life in the best conditions,” he says. “The breeding time is also longer, and the slaughter is done according to very precise criteria. Ultimately the product is healthier and therefore better for the consumer.”

“A chicken of quality must have firm and muscular flesh, be flavorful and properly fattened,” Ménager adds. “The skin must be fine and well oiled.”

la ruchotte table
A ceramic bird in the dining room.

Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants around Burgundy covet Ménager’s tasty bounty, but he also sells to more casual, but excellent culinary destinations such as Caves Madelaine Beaune. Individual customers order poultry for holidays and special occasions. And on Saturdays and Sundays only, Ménager and Eva welcome guests by reservation into their home for a lunchtime meal unlike any other.

On a Sunday in May, Eva greets guests warmly into the cheerfully decorated farmhouse dining room. Inviting aromas fill the snug room while Fred works in the well appointed professional kitchen just through an open doorway. A chalkboard near the fire place features the fixed menu which this day offers Poule en Gelée with new Spring greens, Coq au Vin with Spring vegetables, cheese, and a dessert of chocolate ice cream, gingerbread and gaufrette, a wafer thin, slightly sweet cone.

Homemade, crusty bread and silky pork rillettes await guests who sit at either a large communal table or several smaller tables. My wife and I sat at the communal table next to a couple of American restaurant owners and sommeliers on one side. On our other side sat organic/biodynamic winegrower Yann Durieux with his wife and charming, young daughter. The affable Durieux worked and trained with some of Burgundy’s leading “bio” wine producers. His own domaine, Recrue des Sens, has a rapidly growing reputation for producing deliciously pure and fresh Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines. Dureiux makes wines “naturally” with little intervention and no added sulfites.

la ruchotte-1
Fred Ménager reveals a bit of his hard rock inspired tattoos otherwise concealed by the white chef’s jacket. Another tattoo–in vivid green, of course—refers to his “100% Organic” commitment. Photo Credit: Juliette Ranck

Back in the kitchen Ménager plates the first course as the sounds of AC/DC’s hard rock anthems play at modest volume. The chef is a picture of concentration. The music helps keep him focused and inspired.

“Music remains indispensable and inseparable in my life,’ says Ménager who recalls Django Reinhardt’s distinctive, unforgettable guitar playing in his childhood. “Then I took a slap listening to Led Zeppelin’s first album. Jimmy Page remains an incomparable genius. I also remain very impressed by Elvis’ incredible voice, and the unique Steven Tyler”

Other favorites on his eclectic playlist include Serge Gainsbourg, Van Halen’s first album, Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beatles, Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.

Black Label Society lead man Zakk Wylde, a Bayonne, New Jersey native whom Ménager has met twice, also sits atop the list. “A man of great kindness who has immense respect for his fans.” Ménager notes.

He credits Chef Philippe Jousse at Restaurant Alain Chapel with teaching hard work, commitment and discipline as values essential for a chef to show similar respect for dinner guests.

“At Restaurant Alain Chapel I learned that good food is not possible without good products,” Ménager recalls. “In the kitchen I learned camaraderie and the great techniques of French cooking. Philippe Jousse remains for me the greatest technician.”

As the chef at Castel de Très Girard, Ménager constantly searched for quality products to produce quality food. After starting to raise chickens as a hobby, a fellow poultry breeder introduced him to France’s “ancient races.”

“I raised, ate and discovered something exceptional. The chickens just turned my life upside down!” Ménager says.

He and his wife took the plunge at La Ferme de la Ruchotte unsure of the economic viability of their “farm to plate” model. But they envisioned potential benefits, too.

“We decided to reorient our lives to a more ethical ideal with more autonomy and independence,” he recalls. “I try to show my clients and guests that self-sufficiency is possible. You no longer have to depend on big agribusiness.”

Coq au vin made from an "ancient race" chicken.
Coq au vin made from an “ancient race” chicken. Photo Credit: Kate DeSimone

By controlling the production channel from birth of the animals through slaughter, Ménager maintains the genetic diversity that is critical to quality.

“Year after year I have observed and tasted my animals. We now know how to make a great chicken, but work still remains to be done,” he says. “Genetic diversity remains the most important thing in order to maintain a livestock with a strong capacity to adapt to its environment.”

At our Sunday lunch, the succulent Coq au Vin and vegetables are a revelation. The bird’s firm, flavorful dark meat and rich sauce marry seamlessly. The fresh Spring vegetables cooked to perfection add savory accents. It is a delicious, hearty course where traditional simplicity allows sublime ingredients to hold center stage.

The 2015 Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne rouge.
The delicious 2015 Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne rouge made with whole grape clusters and minimal sulfites.

On the wine list, Ménager offers bottles made primarily from organically cultivated grapes. Well known producers such Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Dujac jump out.  But lesser known yet terrific producers such as Yann Durieux at Recrue des Sens and Marc Rougeot at Domaine Rougeot Père & Fils in Meursault also catch the eye.

“Wine is very important for us. It is in our genes and is an integral part of our Burgundy culture,” Ménager says. “I love wines that tell a story about the history of Burgundy terroir and the work of soils. Plus many of our wines come from growers who have become friends and who love what we do here. So there is coherence in our collaboration.”

As the Sunday meal draws to a close, sated guests linger under La Ferme de la Ruchotte’s spell. We are all happy savoring the pleasure of this memorable culinary moment.

“Being able to feed our guests with animals we saw born and that we cook as best we can is without doubt my best achievement,” Ménager says. “I love to live on farm with the people who work here and share great moments of happiness like the birth of animals. Slaughtering the animals is not easy, you know, but I live this as a sacrifice.”

“I like to make a kitchen that puts forward my products. As a cook, I am only a courier,” he adds.”The cook should fade in front of an animal that by his sacrifice will feed customers. Great products do not need much. The stars should be the product and the peasant.”

Rock on, Monsieur!

“Hey there, all you middle men,
Throw away your fancy clothes.
And while you’re out there sittin’ on a fence,
Get off your ass and come down here.
‘Cause rock ‘n’ roll ain’t no riddle man
To me it makes good, good sense.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
by AC/DC

(Photo Credit to Juliette Ranck for portrait of Fred Ménager.)