Wine tasting: two superb red values from France’s Languedoc

Languedoc in southern France, as I have noted in recent months, represents some of the world’s best wine values. By that I mean, if you choose well, you’re likely to find modestly priced wines of greater interest and dimension than from most other regions. Many Americans are still unfamiliar with the wines (they would have trouble telling you exactly where Langudeoc is much less specific appellations within the region).

Two reds I sampled recently illustrate the Langudeoc value proposition especially well. The first is Domaine de Fontsainte’s fontsainte 2007 Corbières “Réserve la Demoiselle,” a superb, authentic terroir wine that combines delicious red and dark berry fruit and a deep earthiness. There are lots of other elements here, including fig, mint and rosemary along with cocoa and leather notes. The blend is 60 percent carignan from century-old vines, 30 percent grenache and 10 percent mourvèdre. With a relatively modest 13.5 percent alcohol, this wine would be a perfect match with grilled or pan-seared pork chops. It’s also a real bargain, with the average price listed on wine-searcher.com at about $15.

The second wine is Domaine d’Aupilhac’s 2008 Montpeyroux, a slightly bigger wine with a core of blackberry accented baupilhacy herb, spice and unsweetened chocolate notes, with alcohol listed at 14 percent.  The village of Montpeyroux is a sub-appellation of the broader Coteaux du Languedoc and this wine is a blend of 30 percent mourvèdre, 25 percent syrah, 25 percent carignan, 16 percent grenache and four percent cinsault. Easy food pairings include grilled beef, lamb and sausage. The average price on wine-searcher.com is about $20 or so. Both wines are imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, California. 

As I found on my visit to the region in May, Languedoc, which churns out more wine than any other region in the world, is trying mightily to move past its quantity-over-quality image. These wines are a testament that Languedoc is succeeding. Wines received as press samples.


Remembering Joe Dressner

The world of wine lost one of its real originals this weekend when Joe Dressner, the New York-based importer, died after a three-year battle with brain cancer. Joe was a leading proponent of  natural winemaking and defined his business by bringing in wines from producers, mainly from France and Italy, who didn’t overly manipulate their wines and who usually followed orgdressneranic or biodynamic methods. Joe believed in honesty in winemaking and honesty in the wine business. I was struck, not long ago, by a thread on  Twitter in which he took on someone in the business he perceived as not being transparent. Joe was outspoken and could be direct, although he never made me feel uncomfortable in a number of conversations and meetings we had over the years. Joe was passionate. He was interesting, and so are his wines, which, for me, is the best thing a wine can be. Opulent fruit was far less important to him than a expression of place and vintage that give soul to a wine.

I think I was introduced to Joe’s wines many years ago by David Lillie, now a proprietor of Chambers Street Wines in New York. I called David this afternoon for a thought or two about his close friend. “He was extremely faithful with his friendships and very loyal to people,” David recalled. As for his evolution in wine, “Joe just started to realize what kind of wine he liked. And that was accelerated by our trips to the Loire Valley and Beaujolais.” It was in those regions that both men came to appreciate the wines of such producers as Jean-Paul Brun and Marc Olivier, among others, who emphasized good work in the vineyard, non-intervention, reliance on wild yeasts for fermentation and organic growing. “Joe realized that those were the wines he enjoyed the most and those were the people he enjoyed the most.” I remember running into Joe at a large tasting in the Loire Valley last year and then, a few days later, at Charles de Gaulle where he was waiting for the flight back to New York with his wife and business partner, Denyse Louie. He looked okay and seemed to be fighting the good fight against his cancer. But he was more interested in how I had been and what I was up to. That’s the kind of guy Joe Dressner was.


Sips: How Sweet It Isn’t – A Superb Dry California Riesling

Like the issue of climate change, the notion that dry riesling exists in this world still has its detractors -- those who believe that riesling is always sweet. Just the other day I found myself explaining the facts about riesling once again to someone who winced when I brought up the wine. For further irrefutable evidence, one need only turn to Trefethen’s delightful 2010 Dry Riesling from the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley. For me, this is Trefethen’s signature wine and the 2010, just released at $22, is a refreshing and complex in its aromas and tastes, which include white peach, green apple, orange and touches of ginger and white pepper. A wet stone aroma announces unmistakably that this is riesling. Minerals provide some texture to the long finish. The wine is a natural match for sushi as well as broiled flounder fillets and chicken  and makes for a crisp and refreshing aperitif. Alcohol is 12.5 percent. On the back label, Trefethen utilizes a very useful riesling sweetness scale that should be embraced by more in the industry. Based on levels of residual sugar, it tells consumers exactly where a wine stands on a scale from completely dry to very sweet. Received as a press sample.



Sips: Post-hurricane, the power returns and the corks pop

Hurricane Irene, as everyone knows, inflicted only a glancing blow on New York City, but in the suburbs and beyond it was a much different story. The day after, we spent most of the day cleaning up around our house in eastern Long Island, and now it was time for some (hopefully) good wines.

Irene knocked out power to our entire town, along with about half a millionsanti other homes and businesses throughout the island. There was no damage to our place but lots of branches and leaves blanketed the property. Down the street some big trees were down, one crashing on a main power line, closing the road, another a huge weeping willow blown over, narrowly missing the historic home next to it. Fortunately for us our neighbors have a   big emergency generator and they were nice enough to let us run an extension line from their house to ours. Candlelight is fine for a night, but the adventure quickly gives way to frustration.

With the lights on we were able to start preparing a decent meal and went with a simple favorite – penne tossed with crisply sautéed Italian sausage and broccoli rabe. As we cooked we started off with what turned out to be just the right aperitif wine – a light and lively Italian rose, Santi’s 2010 Infinito, a Bardolino  from the Veneto region. Salmon colored, the blend is 65 percent corvina, 30 percent rondinella and five percent molinara. It was an instant hit with its cherry and strawberry flavors accented by some herbal notes and a touch of lime rind. Fruity and refreshing, it was great for casual drinking with alcohol at just 11.5 percent. The suggested retail price is $11. (Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.)

With dinner I wanted a serious red, and with the weather now  cool and clear after the storm, it was the perfect sbragianight to try something I’d been avoiding in the heat of summer -– a big California  red. I went with Sbragia Family Vineyards’ 2007 Rancho Del Oso Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain District. This exquisite, concentrated yet precisely balanced wine is showing very well right now and, with ample acidity, belies its relatively high alcohol level of 14.8 percent. No California clunker here. The blend is 95 percent cabernet sauvignon and five percent cabernet franc. With a classic blackberry core and notes of graphite and truffles, this is a California cab I could drink every day. It was perfect with our sausage and broccoli rabe dish and will match nicely with all kinds of meats and risotto with mushrooms. It’s listed on Sbragia’s website at $75. (Wines received as press samples.)