Following Annette’s search for new wines

This begins a series of short posts following Annette Peters on a journey through France to find new gems for World Class Wines.  She’s forwarding info via text messages, choosing (wisely) to forgo the laptop computer.

January 30th: “aaah, Paris.  The smell of stale cigs, scarves tossed over shoulders, unmistakable CDG tubes, delicate lingerie clad models welcome you from giant posters – Le Bon Vie!!!!!”

January 31st: “Just finished judging Concourse du Vins des Loire competition — It really is work!”

The Loire wine festival has quickly turned into one of the great wine events of year, showcasing the diversity and beauty of Loire selections from the type of producers that we seek out (smaller, family run, integrity filled).  More info here.

Do you know the Terrasses de Larzac?

This post by Annette Peters refers to a wine she discovered for World Class Wines a bit under two years ago, called “Les Ruffes” by the producer La Sauvageonne.  To our great delight, that wine was featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year (link here), even though it was only available in two places: Minnesota, and an obscure retailer on the east coast that self-imported the wine.

This is a wine with huge bang for the buck, but gets lost in obscurity without a little background on the place and the people.

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SAUVAGEONNE – My recent visit in the Terrasses de Larzac

Terrasses-de-LarzacWHERE IS TERRASSES de LARZAC?

The area is part of the historic Diocese of Lodève. Since the days of Roman Gaul, it has benefited from its position close to a major traffic route, an artery known as the Cessero to Segodunum Way (St Thibéry to Rodez), linking the highlands of the Massif Central and the Mediterranean coastlands.  Grape growers have always lived around here.

WHAT IS IT LIKE?

A rugged terroir at the edge of the massif central. Three different soils;  1)”ruffes” on the low hills which is scrabble of schist and volcanic rock, 2) sandstone, gravel and schist, and 3) the hills which a rugged rocky schist as you see to the left.

WHY IS IT GOOD TO GROW GRAPES HERE?

Larzac_terroirWhen Gavin Chrisfeld had the opportunity to pick out vineyards anywhere in southern France here he settled here because, “the soils here are like nowhere else” says Gavin. “The vines cover 32 hectares on a band of schist at an altitude of between 150 to 400m. A variety of well-exposed sites and the prevailing north westerly winds ensure that our vines reach perfect maturity with little risk of disease.”

Now ask him how easy it is to farm here! The rocky terrasses tear up tractors as fast as they do your boots. There will be no traipsing about in sandals here!  Windblown, garrigue-y and remote it is in indeed a destination and not likely to get passers-by stopping for a swig.

How does all this affect the wines?

Gavin Chrisfield

Gavin Chrisfield

The vines work hard to here to penetrated the rocky domes and the prevailing winds keep air circulating in the vineyards and it’s easy for Gavin to work without any pesticides, mildicides etc.  It’s cold at night here and hot during the day so grapes get ripe but acids stay in that very “fresh” range.  The wines are strong and rugged like the terroir, with phenolic ripeness that gives texture to the tannins while remaining amazingly fine.  Vines here were planted 30 years ago, but the yields have lowered in the last decade, they are as low as 15 hl/Ha in some years.

Wines here at Sauvageonne are dark dense and powerful and due to the Syrah are on the reductive side in their youth.  They are natural wines however, not “built to last” but just will because the raw material is so “knitted” together.   The Ruffes, which is the lightest of the lot, still offers lots of bing cherry flavor with a textural component that is typically in wines at a higher price.

We import only Les Ruffes from this producer so far (Thanks weak dollar!). It’s comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault.   This is 100% stainless steel tank.  I tasted the 2008, bottled just 4 days ago, and showing a little bottle sickness on the nose (a reductive mercaptin note)  but the dark intense fruit and big fleshy feel tell you what will be; a helluva red wine for a modest price!

Ayala Champagne joins World Class Wines

Two years ago I attended a French Trade tasting in Chicago and was introduced to several new Champagne producers but one of the standouts was Champagne Ayala.

The Brut Majeur which is the real value of the line-up is a dryer style NV Brut with only 9 grams of sugar (some cuvees have as much as 200 grams!) but still delivers a broad palate of richness and flavor, but with a delicate bubble bead that is creamy and elegant.  The Brut Majeur also has an average of “93” on the Echelle des Crus scale*!   I was equally excited about the rosé here, very refined style and yet persistent and refreshing.

A petite histoire……..
The only French champagne house with Latin roots, AYALA was established in 1860 in Äy, France by Edmond de AYALA, the son of a Colombian diplomat in Paris, who married the niece of a noble Viscount and received the Chateau of Äy as his dowry, along with prime vineyards located in Aÿ and Mareuil sur Aÿ.

The House of AYALA was one of the elite founding members of the “Ivy League” of the top champagne houses, the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne.  AYALA was purchased by Bollinger in 2005.

On December 26th, 2008, Ayala was named Wine Producer of the Year 2008 and Ayala Cuvée Rosé Nature named Wine of the Year 2008 by the highly regarded American writer and Champagne expert Ed McCarthy.

Ayala Brut Majeur is also one of the 8 champagnes recommended by the Wall Street Journal and in the Top 10 Affordable Champagnes of Food&Wine.

Welcome Ayala to the World Class Wines family!

Welcome the wines of Patrick Lesec!

Patrick Lesec (in red), the mad professor

Patrick Lesec (in red), the mad professor

Provence can be a spooky and unfriendly place in the winter. Winding around on narrow tree-lined roads, over treacherous bridges and aqueducts, dodging the debris kicked up by the   notorious mistral winds, its hardly the sunny place depicted by   Peter Mayle.  It was dark by the time I arrived at the manor house of Patrick Lesec. Chateau de la Barge, at the end of the muddy rutted road,  huge wooden doors dimly lit, reminiscent of Young Frankenstein, he is waving a flashlight through a swirl of leaves, lavender and maybe an occasional poodle.

I’m quickly brought into the warmth of this medieval kitchen, he tours me through his blending laboratory strewn with bottles, beakers, and tubes.  This is the workplace of a wine mad scientist. We take a seat at a paisley patterned  kitchen table to taste wines. Patrick pours the wine, his Robin Williams face is expressionless. Another wine buyer, another tasting. I ask him if this wine comes from the “arriere” of Beaumes de Venise.  His face brightens, he smiles, he pours another wine, sits back, folds his arms, and says “how about this one?”   He seems happy that he’s now got game.

The wines of Patric Lesec  are natural, true-to-type, and are excellent values. They are in fact all estate-bottled wines, vinified in the cellars of the properties that Patrick Lesec has contracted to work with.

Patrick makes great efforts to search out the finest terroirs, the best soils with old vineyards – and thus the finest sources of grapes – in each appellation. These are often growers who own parcels of the best sites, but who may not bottle wine under their own label. Historically, these growers have sold their production to negociants who blend and market their own cuvees.

lesec1Once Patrick has located and made agreements with these growers, he works closely with them to produce the highest quality possible using his principles of non-interventionist winemaking. First, he tastes through all the barrels and tanks and makes a strict selection of components he wishes to blend into his final cuvee. The variables in this process include different grape varieties, different vineyard sites, and even different lots of the same wines (since each tank or barrel has its own unique character).

Once the lots have been selected for the final blend, Patrick specifies how he wants the élevage done. Some lots will be kept in tank to preserve the freshness of their fruit; others will be aged in barrels to add richness, texture and complexity. He continues to visit the cellars and taste the lots to monitor their progress. Adjustments are made, as necessary or desirable.

Patrick’s cuvées are usually treated with as little sulphur as possible. The wines are not fined or filtered, and are hand-bottled where possible.

Patrick’s cuvées of Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueyras clearly reflect the style of their respective appellations and terroirs. They have in common lovely aromatics, a distinctive purity of fruit flavors, soft, round tannins and long, pleasant finishes. His cuvées are fresh, natural and vibrant. They generally represent great values.

World Class Wines is proud to be the distributor of the Patrick Lesec selections for the state of Minnesota!

Welcome DeLoach, Bouchard, Lyeth, and Louis Bernard to World Class Wines!

We’re proud to announce World Class Wines has teamed with the legendary wines of Boisset America!

These are dynamic additions to our portfolio, and will help to round out our American and French selections. Bouchard has a stellar reputation as one of the top ‘major’ producers of Burgundy. Louis Bernard brings us value oriented wines from the Southern Rhone Valley. DeLoach has been on a tremendous roll the last couple of years, reducing production levels to 30% of what they were years ago. In other words, less wine and far more quality (they still have many of the best landholdings in the Russian River Valley). And Lyeth needs little to no introduction … in these times of customers looking for value and huge bang for the buck, Lyeth is on the top of everybody’s lists!

We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with our new friends, and we hope you will too. Expolore more information about Boisset at their website.

Affordable luxury in the world of wine

Image from The Wine Lovers Page.com

Image from The Wine Lover's Page.com

In yesterday’s New York Times, Eric Asimov wrote a wonderful article with the pointed opening line, “Arguments and disagreements rage over styles, tastes and preferences, but I think everybody can agree on one thing about wine: The less spent, the better.”

Amen, Eric!  When the economy is dancing around like a fresh caught crappie, it’s more important than ever to find the diamonds in the rough.  That’s why he wrote about our latest Vouvray.

“The Loire is so versatile, and so blessedly undervalued… Vouvray is a famous name in wine that is often compromised by indifferent winemaking, but Bernard Fouquet’s Domaine des Aubuisières makes terrific Vouvrays. His 2007 Cuvée de Silex ($16.99) is rich and lively with a floral edge that can seem like a touch of honey.”

Click here for a wonderful article on the word Silex and the role of geology in Vouvray.

Click here for the New York Times article of 23 September 2008.

RIP, the wild man of the Loire

The Wild Man of the Loire, Dagueneau.

The Wild Man of the Loire, Dagueneau.

This has been a tough year … first Robert Mondavi, then Sergio Zenato, and now Didier Dagueneau.

Mr. Dagueneau was killed in a plane crash yesterday in southwestern France.  This was a man who put his personal style first and foremost, and invited the critics to crush him if they wish.  They returned his offer with massive scores and press for his dynamic and unforgettable wines.  He was quirky, opinionated, a risk taker, and simply one of the more fascinating characters in the world of wine.  They are the kind of people that make the wine world interesting.

We express our sympathy to those close to him.  We’ve lost another one of the greats.  Pop a bottle of Silex, if you have it, and raise a glass.

More here.