Selections for August 2016

You’ve probably never heard of this…

2014 DOMAINE LOMBARD ‘Grand Chêne’ – Brézème, Somewhere in the Rhone Valley, France

I’m grateful to whoever drew the map shown above.  It’s one of few that identifies little-known Cotes du Rhone appellation Brézème.  We have carried but one other red from here in our nearly-seventeen years: Eric Texier’s, the only other example I’ve ever seen. 

We have shown you enough Northern and Southern Rhones over the years for you to recall the main difference between the two.  In the warmer south such places as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Rasteau produce reds based on the Grenache grape, with Syrah and Mourvèdre (sometimes others) playing supporting roles.  Now hop on your scooter and point it toward Lyon.  In the northern part of the southern Rhone you begin to see blends where Syrah’s percentage matches that of Grenache, or overtakes it.  Heading farther north past a very visible nuclear power plant in Grignan-les-Adhemar the vineyards abruptly end and for many kilometers the Rhone River is flanked by other crops and a scattering of big box stores.  Finally, you reach the Northern Rhone places of Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and the like.  You’ve achieved Syrah Country, where that grape is the exclusive player in the red wines (though certain whites may be added to these in certain neighborhoods).

But wait, we passed Brézème!  Easily missed, this wine place on the Rhone’s east bank and back a few kilometers had dwindled to but one hectare (a little over two acres) of grapevines a few decades back.  It has rebounded since then but remains tiny compared with other Rhone sub-regions. 

So, are we in the northern part of the Southern Rhone or the southern part of the Northern Rhone?  If the grape involved in this bottle gets to say, we are in the north:  This is 100% SYRAH, most closely resembling Crozes-Hermitage in style, size, and price.  Its nose is exotic with saddle leather, dried apricot, tamarind, blood orange, wet tobacco, and cured meat.  The mouth weight reminds us that Northern Rhones can be modestly “Burgundian” in stature, but the payback happens with CHARACTER.  Rustic intrigue is the message of this eccentric, tiny-appellation rarity.  Wish not for more richness in this 12.5% alcohol wine.  Rather, appreciate its refreshing rebuttal to decadent food such as grilled lamb chops.

Beautiful Tradition . . .

2012 PAITIN ‘Serra’ – Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy

This month I’m asking our staff to try all 12 wine club wines blind.  Arranged on the kitchen counter are brown bags hiding their vinted contents, with the idea being that tasting objectively can further train the palate.  I can’t ask you to do the same.  You’re reading right here that you have a Barbaresco, rendered from the Nebbiolo grape, so your expectations are already at work; subjectivity is now at play.

- But let’s pretend you don’t know that.  Pour this into a Pinot Noir-style glass for analysis and put the bottle away.  Note the color – or lack of it.  Look through this thinly-tinted wine with a white piece of paper beneath:  What’s striking is the paleness of hue and the orange-brown brick-redness.  This is no Cabernet or Petite Sirah, that’s for certain!  Now close your eyes and after a bit of swirling put your nose to work:  A sultry, dusty perfume of heated strawberries, white smoke, raw beef, and dried flowers fascinates (I hope) your senses.  I have been practicing this for two minutes now, and am ready for a sip: 

Silky textures carrying juicy oranges and dried rose petals are followed by abrupt tannins, and my aggrieved tongue is now convinced of what its processing:  Here is Piemontese Nebbiolo from the Barbaresco sub-region, in its unashamed traditional form.  While other producers (Gaja and La Spinetta, most famously) steer their Barbareschi toward a popularly endearing, modern message of darker and more comfortable fruit, THIS honors the original model.  THIS excites the purists (frankly, I love both styles!). 

Like German Riesling, Northern Rhone Syrah, and Red Burgundy, Nebbiolo such as this is an “arrival wine,” a drink not fully understood by the rookie.  The biggest mistake that wine taster can make is the too-early dismissal of a great wine type.  We admonish the tentative and unsure:  Keep wondering why veteran wine lovers hold a special place for such varieties and regions, no matter how unsettling your own early experiences of those wines may be.  With open-mindedness kept in play, you will re-taste that formerly-misunderstood Barolo or Barbaresco and have your “Ah HA!” moment.  A bell sounds, and from behind storm clouds of doubt the sun of enlightenment emerges.  A choir of angels proclaims your triumph, as your credit card recoils in fear of your new, more expensive awareness.

We are immensely pleased to bring you this classic at a very decent price for the type and quality.  Honor it with braised short ribs or ossabucco. 

P.S.  I have been typing these notes for fifteen minutes now.  In the meantime, this wine has softened dramatically.  We are now very good friends.                                  

Wine Spectator Magazine awards this 92 points:

“A bright, juicy red, exhibiting cherry, raspberry, licorice, spice and floral flavors. Becomes more tannic, lingering on the moderately long finish. Decant now or cellar for two to three years. Best from 2018 through 2030. 1,000 cases made.”