Sips: Bouley meets the wines of France's emerging South West

None other than David Bouley proclaimed the other night that France’s South West was poised to make important gains in acceptance as a significant wine region, just as Languedoc to the east had done in recent years. He noted that there was at least one South West wine on the list at Bouley, his signature restaurant. The occasion was a tasting of some of the region’s wines at Bouley Test Kitchen, which is where the famed chef and his staff come up with new dishes for the restaurant and which has become a popular special events venue, its island kitchen providing an intriguing centerpiece for the space. For the tasting, the whites were placed on one side of the kitchen, the reds on the other.

I have to admit that between talking with a lot of people, listening to David Bouley and tasting an array of delicious appetizers, I didn’t get much beyond the white wines. And that is why I’m going to focus on them here, although it is for such red appellations as Cahors, Madiran and others that the region is mainly known.

First off was a very fresh and lively wine from Gascony, Domaine de Ballade’s 2009 Cotes de Gascogne Blanc, a blend of 70 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent colombard that bursts with lime and pink grapefruit and is rounded off with a slightly creamy note. It’s a natural for shellfish and also paired nicely with an asparagus and crème fraiche appetizer. It’s also a real value at around $10. (Imported by Baron Francois Ltd., New York.) Just as refreshing, though a little less complex, was another $10 wine from Gascony, the 2009 Colombelle made by the Plaimont cooperative. This blend of 70 colombard and 30 ugni blanc is marked by citrus notes and a bit of spice. (Imported by Winesellers, Ltd., Niles, Illinois.)

The most interesting of the whites was the 2009 Saint-Mont “Les Vignes Retrouvées,” also from Plaimont, with apple, pear, honey and spice notes and a good deal of minerality that comes across on an impressively long finish. Made from 70 percent gros marseng, 15 percent petit courbu and 15 percent arrufiac, it was subtle and complex and was an excellent match for a number of appetizers. It’s also a great value at $13. (Imported by Jerome Selection Wines, Brooklyn, New York.)

One red I did get to enjoy was from the Gaillac appellation, Chateau Sainte-Cecile’s 2006 “Cuvee Allegro,” a medium-bodied $13 wine with delicious red berry fruit, violets and lots of earth. It’s a blend of 40 percent syrah, 40 percent braucol and 20 percent duras. (Imported by Jerome Selection Wines, Brooklyn, New York.) When it comes to original wines at relatively modest prices, this and other reds from South West compete very favorably with wines from Bordeaux, the region’s famous neighbor to the north. And the whites are true bargains.


Sips: Debunking the idea of “the right wines for the right seasons” with some outstanding Beaujolais

As I think about it, this whole notion of winter wines and summer wines is largely a gimmick embraced and promoted by wine writers and marketers. For my part, I am going to enjoy a good Beaujolais or two (as I recently did) whether I’m sweating in the summer heat or trying to stay warm in the frigid late autumn we’ve been having here in New York. All right, maybe I’ll appreciate the depth of a full-bodied California cab a bit more in the fall than I would on a stifling August evening. But the point FLEURIE_SMALL is, I find myself turning to all kinds of wines in every season and enjoying them no less, as I did with a range of new offerings in  recent weeks.

As I tell you about them in coming days, let’s start with a couple of notable Beaujolais. The 2009 cru Beaujolais (from 10 specific villages and areas in the region) have been out for a few months or so, and one worth seeking is Clos de la Roilette’s ‘09 Fleurie, which shows subtle notes of ripe raspberry, red cherry, earth and a nice tannic structure that belies Beaujolais’ reputation among some as simple, unsophisticated wine. This outstanding $20 Fleurie has great fruit and a good deal of complexity and will match well with everything from fish to a simple pan-seared steak, which is how I enjoyed it the other night. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York. And by the way, the ‘09 vintage is considered an outstanding one.

In case you didn’t realize it, there is such a thing as white Beaujolais, made in very limited quantities from chardonnay. And Chateau du Chatelard’s 2008 Beaujolais Blanc is an excellent example. It shows a lot of minerality, some pear and apple notes and the slightest touch of butterscotch. Uncomplicated but delicious, it’s a very good value at about $18. Look for the ‘09 vintage as well. Imported by Wineberry America, Valley Cottage New York. Wines received as press samples.


Swirls: Cork wars, climate change, Wal-Mart wine, China wine

SWIRL: Producers of cork (the genuine thing) are fighting back as they lose market share to screw caps and a variety of synthetic closures.  A newcork advertising campaign by 100PercentCork.org, reported on by the Huffington Post, argues that cork is better for the environment and, perhaps just as importantly to some, will help you get where you want to go, so to speak, on a date. At least that’s the premise of  “First Date,” a  hilarious video created by the campaign.

SWIRL: There’s new evidence of the growing impact of climate change on the world’s vineyards in an excellent article by AFP that focuses on France. Says one researcher, "Overall, we are seeing a rise in alcohol content and a drop in acidity. That's a problem.” The head of a large French wine trade organization says, “We are seeing for the first time bird species from north Africa. In the vineyards, new types of weeds are growing even as others disappear.” Read the full article here. And for more on climate change and wine see my interview with a leading American researcher.

SWIRL: Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board, which oversees the state’s alcohol business, has given Wal-Mart approval to put Walmart-logo wine kiosks in seven of its stores across the state. And yes, they will include the same strict controls announced when the kiosks started appearing in Pennsylvania grocery stores earlier this year, including facing a camera, showing an ID and breathing into a Breathalyzer so a state employee monitoring it all can approve the sale. One user reading about it on The Consumerist asks, “Why does PA have to be so weird?” Read more here.

SWIRL: NPR takes note of China’s “meteoric rise” as a player in the high-end wine market. And it’s not only the Lafites of the world that are cashing in. The owner of one more down-to-earth Bordeaux property says “China is the salvation of our chateau.  Six years ago we had no sales in Asia. Now, China and the rest of Asia make up 30 percent of our sales.” Read and listen to the full story here.


Sips: Next big thing – will the little-known torrontes become Argentina’s white malbec?

A relatively unknown wine from South America may be poised to become the next big wine talking point from the continent, at  least as far as value whites are concerned. My guess is that most American wine drinkers have still not heard of torrontes, which is grown in Argentina and has remained in relative obscurity until now. That deserves to change. While the market is flooded with inexpenalamossive sauvignon blancs from neighboring Chile, those wines seldom rise above their status as useful but undistinguished wash-down wines; you might as well turn to white Bordeaux or sauvignons from California, New Zealand, South Africa or any number of Loire Valley appellations. By contrast, you won’t find a torrontes on the shelves from anywhere but Argentina. Combine that with an exotic and often lovely flavor profile (one that is far more interesting than that of many sauvignons) and vinification without oak and you have a wine that could well become Argentina’s white malbec.

The possibility has not been lost on malbec producers.  Catena wines of Mendoza, for example, has a winner in its 2009 Alamos Torrontes, a wine that shows the variety’s signature floral and herbal profile combined with lush tropical fruit notes and lime. The result is a striking $13 wine with unusual complexity, elegance and length. Served as an aperitif, it will immediately provoke a conversation and will match well with fish, including sushi, and with other lighter fare. Imported by Alamos, USA, Hayward, California.

Another malbec producer, Diseño, is about to enter disenothe field with its 2010 Torrontes. While the wine won’t be released until next May or June, I tasted it the other night at a small press dinner in New York. It will be priced at $10.99 and is another superb value. It combines floral notes with dried apricot, lime and a bit of honey and cream and has an impressively long finish. Diseño is owned by Constellation Brands, the big international wine company, and was created five years ago, mainly to produce wines for the American market. The wines are made for Constellation by two Mendoza wineries. Based on a first tasting, the torrontes should do very well here. Imported by CWUS Imports, Madera, California.


The Daily Sip: From Italy’s Piedmont, Icardi’s 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Tabaren”

Whenever I make tomato sauces for pasta, I simply have to have an Italian wine with lots of acidity, and one of the best I’ve tasted recently comes from a winery I’ve written about a number of times over the years, Icardi in Piedmont.  Barbera, of course, plays something of a second-fiddle role in Piedmont to the more profound nebbiolo, the source of Barolo and Barbaresco. But when it comes to everyday drinking at a modest price with simple, Italian-inspired dishes, almost nothing compares with icardi barbera.

And Icardi’s 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Tabaren” (from the Asti area) shows why. It’s loaded with bright red fruit, especially cherry and raspberry, and hints of red licorice and vanilla. The overall impression is one of freshness and vitality, a wine that almost dances out of the glass with its tingling acidity and moderate alcohol of 13 percent. I enjoyed it with a sauce based on yellow heirloom tomatoes (picked by me at their ripest in October and then frozen), chopped basil and parsley. I tossed the sauce with penne in a cast-iron skillet, sprinkled chopped mozzarella over the pasta and then  browned it under the broiler for a few minutes. The result was superb, with just the right wine to match. I paid $15 for the wine in New York. Imported by Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.


The Daily Sip: Taming duck with a hearty Madiran from France’s South West

There is really something to the notion that wines and foods from a particular region are often made for each other, and that proved to be the case once again the other night when I cooked some duck breasts and served what turned out to be the perfect red wine. The region is France’s South West, where duck is a staple of the cuisine and where some of the red wines provide just the right amount of oomph to hold their own against the gaminess of dmontusishes like our seared duck, served with a rich demi-glace and apricot sauce, along with wild rice and roasted carrots and parsnips.

The wine that worked so well (there were a couple of others that didn’t) was the 2006 Château Montus Madiran from Alain Brumont, a well-known producer in Madiran, which, along with Cahors, are the region’s most famous appellations. The wine is a blend of three grapes, most importantly the largely forgotten  tannat, along with smaller amounts of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. It demands food, and in this case the duck tamed its considerable tannins while the wine provided a beautiful counterpoint to the dish with its red fruit and earth notes and long finish. It is complex and elegant (even with 14.5 percent alcohol), worthy of considerable aging and among the region’s very best wines. The suggested price is $33. Imported by Lauber Imports, Branchburg, N.J. Received as a press sample.