(with suggested music)
|As per the first set of featured wines, part of the plan with this web site has always been to interweave wine and music. By all means, take the recommendations with a pinch of salt - it's all done in good humor - but by even more all means, try the pairings. And let us know how they work.
CREMANT DE LOIRE, NV
Saumur, Loire, France
Want a bubbly from the north of France at less than Champagne prices, full of effervescence and with a solid track record? Head west of Paris to Saumur in the mid-Loire, where Cremant de Loire is made predominantly with the region's star grape, Chenin Blanc. Langlois Chateaux is one of the biggest producers of wines in this region, and given it's owned by Bollinger, you can be assured of quality whatever year you pick up this lovely non-vintage. Lots of green apple on the nose, the bubbles are noticeably smaller than on a regular champagne - they don't stick around for ever either, so you want to drink this as soon as you pour it. Very dry, quite racy, well-balanced if just a little short on the finish, it comes at just the right price - below that of the superior Champagnes, a notch above some of the new world prices. As well as Chenin Blanc, there's some Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau in here too. When we visited the Loire region a couple of years ago, we took a tour of the Langlois cellars. It's clearly big business, but the attention to detail was obvious. The grapes are handpicked, pressed lightly, and the bottles spend at least two years in the cellars. We got to see the separate labels reserved for Langlois' biggest customers - the British Houses of Parliament, for whom this is the house bubbly. If it's good enough for the champagne socialists, it's good enough for you.
Effervesent, racy, and consistent regardless of vintage? Sounds like DB's drum and bass retrospective CD The Secret Art Of Science, for those who like such music.
SAUVIGNON BLANC Reserve 1998
Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA,
My delightful introduction to Honig's basic, unwooded Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc bottling led me to both visit and write extensively about the winery's web site. At the back of my mind, I had the inkling that the reserve Sauvignon Blanc would come wrapped in the heavyweight oak barrel taste that seems to affect all supposedly high-end California wines. Far from it: the 1998 Reserve, which has recently shown up in two Park Slope stores, turns out to be unique in many respects. It starts off with some citrus tendencies and mineral, flinty notes as you'd expect from a Loire sauvignon blanc and with that almost bracing acicity too; but then it offers up, on both the nose and the palate, tropical fruit touches like papaya, mango, pineapple and the like. There's a nuttiness in the flavor; the finish is complex and lengthy; oak is apparent but not intrusive. In short, it's phenomenal. For that unusal tropical taste, my only comparison would be another favorite Californian white wine, the Sanford Chardonnay, which is generally richer and more oaky as well.
The upbringing of this wine is as complex as its taste: one component is left alone in stainless steel, another is moved from steel into a mixture of large oak casks and small oak barrels, a third amount is left in barrels and aged on the lees. The wine that is wooded goes back into stainless steel tanks for blending and bottling. Oh, and there's just 1% of Muscat in there too. None of this need concern a drinker looking for a top-end refreshing and flavorful non-Chardonnay Californian white made by artisans, under $20, without a predominance of oak. Look for the very tall and lean bottling and the word 'reserve' at the bottom and treat yourself; a better summer food wine could hardly be recommended.
MUSIC? It's organic and yet it's ultra-modern. So is The String Cheese Remix Project by DJ Harry.
The Australians know their dessert wines as "stickies" and for good reason. Think of drinking a home-made toffee and you're getting close to the taste of this Liqueur Muscat from the Rutherglen region of north eastern Victoria. The reputation of Rutherglen Muscats (and their Tokay siblings) is built on the blending skills of the winemakers, who utilize small amounts from barrels dating back as much as 100 years. As a result, even the premium examples - which retail for over $100 and are impossible to find - are designated Non Vintage. This makes it all the easier to just buy what you see as long as it has the circular R logo (for Rutherglen) on the back label; I came across this entry-level Campbells Rutherglen Muscat for a respectable $18 in Woodstock.
Unlike other Aussie wines that come on like a WWF wrestler, the Campbells was almost as subtle as its packaging. An unusual darkish brown in color, it offered up the smell of sweet raisins and figs, some brown sugar, and that quite viscuous and luscious taste of toffee. Naturally this made it an ideal match for the kind of heavyweight dessert (or indeed, "pudding") that even port can be ruined by; a chocolate-almond pie proved perfect. The alcohol level is appropriate for a fortified wine - 17.5% - and given that just a small glass feels like a raid on the sweet/candy jar, that the wine will keep in the fridge, that there's some seriously old ingredients in here and the distance it's traveled to European or American shores, it's remarkable value too.
(Since initially writing this review, I took the wine to a dinner with some of my fellow New York wine buffs, who either praised or dismissed it depending on their enthusiasm for Earl Grey tea, the taste they most came away with. English readers may be even more keen to hunt it down as a result!)
MUSIC? Sipping wines demand a sipping kind of music. Hub's new album Daylight would me a perfect match for this Muscat.
|LA GASCOGNE PAR ALAIN BRUMONT
GROS MANSENG 1998
Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, France,
Gros what? The growing French habit of labeling their vin de pays wines with the prevalent varietal has reached a certain loveable insanity when the varietal in question is almost unheard of. Gros Manseng, and its supposedly superior sibling Petit Manseng, are hardly at the top of anyone's wine vocabulary, unless you hail from the Basque or Gascony region of south-western France. There, Manseng is widely planted, the Petit version hanging on the vine long enough to create some hailed sweet whites, the larger - Gros - version dominating most dry Jurancon.
Whatever. I picked this one up given its easy-going price and my own insatiable curiousity and wasn't disappointed. A middling paleish yellow, it has the almost bilge-like seawater aroma of a good Muscadet from up in the Loire, and some of the marzipan oiliness you get from a Marsanne. The taste also fit somewhere between that crisp fizziness of a coastal French white wine and the more cloying richness of something grown further inland. An ideal summer wine, it's uncomplicated, but no simpleton. The 11% alcohol content is so light side that you don't need to worry about knocking it back in hot weather either. A new discovery - and one I'll be returning for.
MUSIC? Classic, feminine, populist, arty and easy on the palate. Ooh, that sounds like Slumber Party.
|DR. KONSTANTIN FRANK
GEWURTZTRAMINER 'Limited Release', 2000
Finger Lakes, New York
Two reasons to fear this wine. For one, upstate New York is so cool, with such a short growing season, that few outsiders believe it can produce wines of note from anything but hybrid grapes (Concord and others that are best used to make jam). And Gewürtztraminer can be an acquired taste. One of those wines that suggests sweetness even when dry, its powerful bouquet, mineral palate and spicy finish can jar if not enjoyed in the right cirumstances.
Two reasons then to love this wine. Dr Konstantin Frank, who passed away in 1985 (his son Willy now runs the winery), arrived in the States as a Lithuanian refugee and upon settling in the Finger Lakes district near the Canadian border, gradually proved his belief that the region could indeed produce good wines from the noble grapes of vitus viniferas. As a result of his efforts, there are now dozens of acclaimed wineries in the region, of which Dr Frank is still considered the benchmark. The Gewürtztraminer, bottled as a "Limited Release," is considered their top white wine (above some lovely inexpensive rieslings), and it's easy to see why...It's a delicate yellow-gold, with lovely aromas of roses and grapefruit, some of that pink grapefruit on the palate (told you it was an aquired taste), good but not bracing acidity, a substantial body and a nice, spicy finish. Gewürtztraminer can be quite alcoholic, so the gentle effect of this New York classic (which even at a modest 12%, is one of the stronger white wines from the cool climate Finger Lakes) serves as yet another advertisement. Like viognier, the spicyness and aromatic nature of Gewürtztraminer makes it a good match for Asian food; we had it with a gentle "Couscous Chinoise" where it balanced out the soy source but still shone in its own right.
MUSIC? Spicy, fruity proof that Americans can match the Europeans...Bad Boy Bill does the same with his house mix.
|LUCETTE et MARTIN DAUBREE
CÔTE ROTIE 1996
Rhône, France, $8
Côte Rotie is one of those wines that doesn't sell for less than $30. A noble northern Rhône appelation whose ancient vines - Thomas Jefferson was an early fan - are on some of the steepest hills known to winemakers, it's anything from 80-100% syrah (the remainder is the white grape viognier), and though coarse in its youth, it settles down into a silky, luxurient wine after five-ten years of bottle age. What to make of this curio then, which showed up at the oddbin Warehouse Spirits on Broadway a year ago at a humble $8? Fellow wine drinker and Buzzcocks lover Joe Moryl tried this when he saw it and reported favorably, even suggesting it might merit laying down a while. I took his advice, at least in the short run. My notes? It still explodes with very dark raspberry/black cherry flavors, some tar and pencil shavings, and a smokiness one associates with these wines when young. The "acid attack" Joe referred to has eased off, as have any aggressive tannins, leaving a predictably rustic but satisfactory medium-to-full bodied syrah, demanding some substantial food as accompaniment. Though Daubree's bottlings are hardly going to worry those better Côte Rotie producers, this wine reveals a more flavorful example of authentic rustic syrah than many of the vin de pays at the same price.
MUSIC? It's meaty, its ballsy, but it's not as harmonious as you'd like. Sounds like the Renegade Soundwave mix CD Music For All Persuasions.
DRY CHENIN BLANC 2000
Clarksburg, CA, USA, $10
The star of the central Loire (where Vouvrays can mature for decades), Chenin Blanc is one of the world's most planted grapes, the prime ingredient for all those terrible Californian jug wines. (Ditto in South Africa, where it's called Steen.) Fortunately, a new group of Loire-style Rangers seem determined to give it due credit, of which Dry Creek is probably the most established and conservative of these producers. (See Vinum's Pointe Blanc for a Californian upstart.) Its Dry Chenin Blanc hails from Clarksburg, a notable AVA at the northern tip of the otherwise mass production San Joaquin Valley. Dry Creek's 2000 Vintage is an undistinguished pale yellow on the palate, but it offers up some lovely notes of apple, pear and melon on the nose; in the mouth it has the crisp acidity that renders a dry Chenin Blanc a delightful summer aperitif, but also delivers a nice spicy kick and a deceptive note of sweetness. The combination makes it a very good match for food with an Asian twist and especially with sweet-and-sour or ginger/honey influences. The alcohol content is low for California (12.5%.) And the price renders it a perfect introduction to a grape that is too rarely marketed on its own merits.
MUSIC? Seductive, sweet, spicy, this summer-time sipper deserves similar. Jody's Way Out There mix CD is a good dance match.
|MAS SAINT LAURENT
LES VIELLES VIGNES
VIN DE PAYS DES COLLINES DE LA MOURE, France,
The increased quality of vin de pays wines is the French success story of the late 1990s; no trip to an interesting wine store seems to be complete these days without acquiring a previously unknown wine from a rarely discussed area starring a generally obscure grape. (See the Gros Minseng above.) The Vin De Pays Des Collines De La Moure is the coastal region around Montpelier in the ever improving Languedoc region. There the Picpoul grape, which is generally used for blending in the Rhône and the rest of the Languedoc, acheives some distinction of its own, so much so that Picpoul de Pinet has achieved its own Cru status just to the west of this vin de pays.
This particular wine, picked up at the new Red White and Bubbly store in Brooklyn, is a gorgeously golden yellow color, with a curious nose that combines lovely summer flowers with the rich oiliness that seems to permeate white wines grown in the hotter French climates. It's rich and oily on the palate too, with a good acid attack and a nice long finish. Its full-bodied chewiness is likely the product of the "Vielles Viegnes" distinction, though I'm finding this catchphrase to show up on any number of wines these days without qualification. (Old vines will produce a more concentrated wine, but there are no laws govering the claim.) Like the Gros Minseng above, the Mas Saint Laurent is not going to win any awards, but it's a lovely food-friendly summer sipping wine that further proves the value of vin de pays wines and second-tier grapes..
MUSIC? An honest, solid wine with some history and integrity, a little cult-ish too, needs music to match: Michael Franti & Spearhead's Stay Human fits the bill.
DRY CREEK CUVÉE, 1997
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, USA
While enamored of California's Rhône Rangers, I eschew their standardized Côtes du Rhône style blends given that I can get a truer example for less money direct from France. What distinguishes Quivira's Dry Creek Cuvée is its infusion of California's native grape Zinfandel (11%) to the very Rhône-like mix of Grenache (50%), Syrah (21%) and Mourvèdre (18%). As might be expected, the Zinfandel adds a delightfully tangy kick to a wine already full of spice (grenache), tannins (Mourvèdre), and meat (syrah). Yet this combination of frequently over-powering grapes is surprisingly fruity and friendly on the palate, its 13.5% alcohol content almost laughably light for California. I gather that Quivira has been criticized both for its over-use of oak and its unassuming zinfandels in the past, but in this prize Cuvée, the oak is unobtrusive, and so is the alcohol. This bottle was consumed casually on summer vacation in the Catskills with chips (alright, crisps!) and dips and a veggie burger laden with tomato ketchup, a match that many a red wine would curl up and die against. I just wish it was five bucks cheaper, but nobody said that finding a quality Californian red for less than fifteen dollars was easy these days,.
MUSIC? Such a blend of grapes requires a blend of music that uses some imagination. DJ Spooky's Under The Influence mix is spot-on.
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