Committing To A Long-Term Relationship With Burgundy

a berry of Gamay Teinturier in the Mâconnais

I hail from a place where just about everything is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly new. The houses are, maybe, 75 years-old. The schools were built in the ’60s. Supermarkets did not replace small artisanal bakeries and butchers, because there hardly ever were any. Growing up in the typical American suburbs, one’s sense of the past is vague, illustrated in high school history books but hardly livable or comprehendible in any way. Heritage is whispered about during visits from grandparents, who generally would rather forget the past, its global wars and times of bare-cupboard scarcity.

What, then, gives me, a child of the American suburbs, any right to delve into the profound mysteries of Burgundy? Can a Millennial do justice to a region whose history stretches back over a Millennium?

I am writing from Paris, after spending a week traveling around the Côtes d’Or, visiting producers including some whose wines I’ve deeply admired for many years. I am humbled by the experience. It was my second visit to Burgundy; the first was in 2014 when I somehow got myself into cellars of the likes of Frédéric Mugnier, knowing very little about what I was experiencing. Now, I have a much stronger grasp of wine tasting and wine writing, and my French is finally good enough to do an entire visit in that language in cases where the vignerons don’t know much English. But still, I feel that I am really only seeing the tip of the iceberg, in Burgundy, just beginning to understand the diversity of grape varieties there–meaning, the various clones and older varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Gamay–and the nuances of vinifying Pinot Noir in particular.

talented vigneronne Fanny Sabre, age 32, who worked for Philippe Pacalet for several years

What helps, though, is that there is a forceful, somewhat younger generation in Burgundy–people like Julien Guillot, and Fanny Sabre, who have learned from their parents and mentors, and who believe deeply in the terroir they work with, and have their own, strongheaded ideas about how to best represent them.

Along with Guillot and Sabre, I have a lot to think about after stimulating visits last week with Sylvain Pataille, Jean-Yves Bizot, Antoine Jobard, Pierre de Benoist of Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Dominique Derain, Pierre Fenals of Maison en Belles Lies, and JJ Morel.

Sylvain Pataille in the Clemengeots vineyard, Marsannay

Burgundy is not only an old and storied winemaking region, it is constantly changing, and quite significantly in the second half of the Twentieth century. New issues arise all the time–some related to climate (frost and hail, mainly, as well as the Suzuki flies of 2014), and others related to winemaking techniques, such as the much-discussed premox problem. Every year, there seems to be less and less wine made in Burgundy; meanwhile, the region’s top talent is churning out better and better wines, but at higher prices. I’m privileged, as a wine writer, to have access to some of these domaines for tastings, but I can’t really afford to drink most Burgundies on my own dime, unless we are talking about young Village-level or Bourgogne appellation wines, which I’m always happy to drink.

I guess the answer to my above rhetorical question is: I don’t really have any right, per se, to cover Burgundy as a journalist–except for the fact that I find the region fascinating, and I really do love the wines when they are made with care in a non-interventionist way. And I have a lot of respect for the vignerons working in this fashion, despite the market pressures.

Anyway, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be working on some stories based on this tour, and I’ll try to do justice to such a complex and fascinating region. But the fact is, I need to commit to Burgundy, if I want to truly understand it. This isn’t a region you pass through and say, “well, that was fun,” and never revisit. It requires a lot of study and attention, over time. I can say for sure, after this trip, that I’m captivated enough by the wines and the terroir to gladly lend myself to the task.

Jean-Yvez Bizot overlooking his Gâchés vineyard, in Vosne-Romanee

By the way, I have a new story out, focused on the main New World sister winemaking region to Burgundy–yep, Oregon! I covered a recent tasting of Gamay wines from all around Oregon for the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine. Read the article here.

I definitely encourage you to seek out Oregon Gamay; many of the producers are treating the grape with the same attention that you’d find in Cru Beaujolais wines, so these are wines of finesse meant for aging. A few that I really liked are in the following slideshow; reach out directly to the wineries via their websites for availability and pricing.

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A bientôt! RS

 

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“Everything But Barrel” Winemaking (aka Wherever You Go, There Amphora Is)

I wrote for Wine Enthusiast magazine about all the ways to ferment wine–besides using barrels or stainless steel tanks. Of course, clay amphorae are featured, but also glass carboys, and concrete. Quotes from some pretty awesome winemakers. Check out the story here! And if you’re interested to learn more about amphorae wine, stay tuned for my trip to the Republic of Georgia in May! Thanks for reading.

Being-Together, With Wine, And Supporting Domestic Winemakers

Earlier today, I sat down to work on the article about orange wine that I started last week, and I thought: “Ugh. Who even cares?”

It’s hard to reconcile writing about wine, food, the stuff of revelry, with the events of this week. It’s still too raw for me to formulate cogent words about what I’m feeling, or how I see my life changed by this election.

But I do want to suggest that, for those of us who find beauty, culture, and intellect within wine and food, that we hold really tight to that. I don’t think I have exactly the same feelings as I did four days ago, with regard to wine, food, or life in general. But, and while I’m not quite ready to parse it all out and dive in, I do think that wine and food encourage community, and this is what we need right now. Not that we have to get wasted, or overindulge–but rather, take time to share a meal or a special bottle with someone, or some people, you know and care about. Talk about the wine if you want, or not; it’s the being-together that’s most important.

On this note, I do want to mention an upcoming dinner that I know still has a few seats left: the Division Wine Co dinner, at Rebelle on Monday night. One half of this urban winemaking team, the passionate and knowledgable Tom Monroe will be there to talk about these delicious Chenins, Gamays, and Pinots. Tom and his business partner Kate Norris are incubating a lot of Oregon’s future natural winemakers in their urban winery in Portland. If there ever was a time to support our domestic winemakers, now would be it. I’ll be at the dinner, and hope to see you there. Below is the menu and line-up of wines. 

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The New Wave Of Oregon Natural Wine: Notes From Tastings

This summer, I tasted many exciting Oregon wines during a two-week trip that I pulled off with generous support from the Oregon Wine Board and Travel Oregon/Portland. I’m a little too amped up about some of these wines to wait for an editor to approve this story, so I’ll write briefly here about the naturally-working Oregon producers I’m most energized about. To keep things short, only one or two wines will be discussed, with the focus more on the overall project (if you’d like further tasting notes, please ask). Several of these producers have wines distributed nationally, and some are in New York as of just recently. Probably all of these producers are knee-deep in harvest right now! As of my trip to Oregon in July, it was looking to be a very “classic” growing season, so there are high hopes for the 2016 vintage. Note that all producers listed here are fermenting spontaneously, using low amounts of sulfur, and filtering minimally if at all. (For more on natural wines, please see my explainer on Esquire.com.)

Jackalope

Jackalope Cellars: I tasted Corey Schuster’s wines alongside those of Sterling Whitted, below, both at the recommendation of Brianne Day. Corey wound up in winemaking after moving on from his engineering career in 2008. He wanted to do something completely different, and therefore got a job at the SE Division Collective (more on that here), where he helped with harvest and managed the wine bar. He now makes wine out of Brianne’s facility in the Dundee Hills, and is distributed in New York through Avant-Garde.

Of note: The 2015 “White” is a blanc de Cabernet Franc, which seems to be a theme in Oregon (Leah Jorgenson makes one that Jon Bonné has written about; St. Reginald Parish—see below—makes a blanc de Pinot), and originally Corey was even getting it from the same grower as Leah, that being Herb Quady in Southern Oregon, but he’s now moving onto new sources. The nose on this very unique wine is herbaceous, lemony, and floral; it’s refreshing and deeply textured on the palate with a hint of tannin. As well, the 2014 Cabernet Franc was a wine that I would order in a restaurant in a heartbeat—it’s sultry and sumptuous, with herbal notes and rich fruits, but also that singing acid. Corey aged the wine in older barrels with one new barrel mixed in there, and the fruit for this wine also comes from Herb Quady. Others tasted: 2015 Viognier, 2014 Pinot Noir from Crowley Station.

Holden Chardo

Holden: After working as the wine buyer for several Whole Foods locations in Oregon, Sterling Whitted studied winemaking at Schemeceda in Chehalem, worked harvests around the Willamette and helped out at Teutonic Wine Co in Portland, and came out with his own label in 2011. He feels strongly connected to the winemaking cultures of Northern Italy, and made a trip there to visit producers in those appellations, which was a pivotal experience for him. Hence, Sterling works with Dolcetto, something of a rare bird in Oregon, and makes a skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc in homage to Friulian wine. With his non skin-contact whites, Sterling practices “hyperoxidation,” a process where the wine is oxidized in lieu of adding sulfur at the crush pad; it browns the wine in the short term yet prevents “the enzyme polyphenol oxidase from functioning, which is the component in fruit that turns phenolics brown,” as Sterling explains it. Sterling works out of Union Wine Co, where those super trendy Underwood canned wines are made. Holden wines are in New York through MFW. Both Holden and Jackalope have some of the coolest labels I’ve seen in a while, designed by local artists.

Of Note: The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc saw one month on the skins, and was finished in a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrels. It’s a charmingly straightforward wine full of stonefruits and black tea notes, with balanced texture. The 2014 Chardonnay is particularly flavorful, with 10 months in barrel on full lees, showing beautiful white peach notes and lemon zest. Others tasted: 2014 Johan Vineyards Gruner Veltliner; 2014 Dolcetto.

St Reginald Parish

St. Reginald Parish: I’ve still never met Andy Young, but after I tasted his single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines in the fall of 2015, I linked him up with a friend of mine at Communal Brands and his wines are now brought into New York through them. But while the single-vineyard Pinot wines are great, I’ve really been enjoying Andy’s more experimental juice. I don’t know too much about Andy’s winemaking, but I hear he’s a really good drummer who finally settled in Portland after many years of touring with My Bloody Valentine and others. Once in Portland, he got a job at a wine bar (seems to be a theme amongst upstart producers, no?), and after tasting his way through some ’06 Willamette Pinots, thought he would give it a try. I believe the winery’s name has to do with the fact that Andy was raised by a Baptist preacher in New Orleans.

Of note: St. Reginald Parish makes a refreshing and tasty carbonic Pinot Noir, which New Yorkers can drink by-the-glass at The Dutch until it runs out. It’s really a summer wine, to be drunk chilled on a hot evening. I think this is his most successful wine at the moment, although his rosé of Pinot is very, very pretty and gluggable, the kind of rosé you would have with oysters, and his blanc de Pinot is quite interesting and full of personality. Something tells me that good things would happen if Andy got his hands on some Gamay. Also tasted: 2015 old vines Pinot Gris.

Jasper Cisco alsatian blendJasper Cisco: I met Justin Paul Russell during an IPNC event, and realized that he was working out of the SE Division Collective, so I tasted with him there during my visit with Kate and Tom. (Again, see the Vogue article if you’re wondering what this place is.) These wines are really interesting and even somewhat challenging. A few of Justin’s wines are made in an oxidative style, and I believe all the wines we tasted were sulfur-free; there’s some skin contact on the whites. Really fun juice. Currently not distributed in NYC, which I’m sure will change soon.

Of note: The 2015 “Gratus Bynum,” a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat from vineyards way up in Washington, really captivated me. The small amount of residual sugar performed beautifully alongside the natural acidity from the grapes, which come from a 1400-foot-high site above the Columbia River. The smoky nose is followed by black tea compounds, married perfectly with that touch of sweetness.

Statera bottle

Statera Cellars: Another label coming out of SE Wine Collective. I requested some samples of Statera months back, after reading an article about their devotion to Oregon Chardonnay, something that is oft overlooked but, I think, on the rise as winemakers hone their approach to this grape and more is planted. Statera is a collaboration between two friends, Luke Matthews (assistant winemaker at Division Wine Co) and Meredith Bell (assistant winemaker at Omero Cellars, where Chad Stock is in charge). Their wines are in Jura bottles, on the basis that they retain the aromatics. 2014 was their first vintage. Zev Rovine is going to distribute Statera in New York.

Of note: I really like the 2014 Statera from Johan Vineyard Chardonnay. It was aged in only neutral barrels for 16 months, with sulfur only before bottling. The nose is very floral, and the wine boasts all the minerality and acidity that I think people are striving for with Oregon Chardo.

Hiyu Dave Ready_Rsigner

Hiyu Wine Farm: I was directed to Hiyu Farms, a biodynamic estate making some very unique wine that’s about to be released on the market, thanks to a publicist with a very good palate, Samantha Chulick. Nate Ready is a Master Sommelier who worked at The French Laundry and Frasca before intelligently deciding to make his own juice, which I am pretty sure is bound to become “the next big thing” because it lives in that sweet intersection of the artful, the intellectual, and the delicious. Nate is co-planting some very unusual grape varieties based on regional groupings, in effect creating a little map of the wine world (or at least, his favorite appellations) on the Hiyu property, located in the Columbia Gorge not too far from Portland. There’s Savoie, there’s the Rhone Valley, there are Iberian things happenings—it’s very cool. “Hiyu” is Chinook for “gathering” or “abundance.”

Of note: In bottle, I tried a very good skin-fermented Pinot Gris that seemed completely unfiltered—not sure of the vintage, as it was served during lunch and we didn’t get into details. In the cellar, I swooned for a 2013 Gewurtztraminer that saw a few days of skin contact before being tucked away into old barrels. (Nate seems to like letting his wine age in barrel for a long time.) It was smoky and full of stonefruits, not too weighty on the palate, lots of nervy acid. Other wines tasted: too many to note here.

I have more to write, in particular about my visits to Omero Cellars and Beckham Estate Vineyard, but these entail greater complexities than I’d like to delve into here, so please be on the lookout for these stories soon. OK, enough: go out and drink these fantastic wines!

#CheninCheninChenin

IMG_4117Chenin Blanc is one of those varieties that wine lovers really obsess over–and master sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier is most obsessed of all. I was so glad to sit down with her and learn the story of how Loire Valley winemakers realized the potential of dry Chenin by improving their vineyard and cellar practices, mainly through a return to non-interventionist winemaking.

Read my article for Eater here. Cheers!