I've been working through some wines from Savio Soares and wanted to let you know about three that I'm liking.
From the Chignin region of Savoie, in the eastern part of France, we have a little Jacquère. At under $13 a bottle this Cellier des Cray is a refereshing, innoocent example with a splash of CO2 and orange essence. Nothing exciting, but wet and fun. Party wine white alert.
I have to say the Octavin Dorabella '08 Poulsard was delicious. Kind of the wine that you keep on coming back to you, it just kept on saying, Alice, come here. It was puls, lighthearted and ethereal but with a vein of tannin. At $30, a little steep, but the glass was empty.
Then we come to Domaine Le Picatier which was the most gamay-like pinot noir I'd ever had, which I suppose is a compliment coming from granitic soils of the Cote Roannaise, an area that gets no respect.
The ‘Auver-Nat-Noir’ is a VdT Pinot Noir, aged for 11 months in barrel. And I loved it. Tremendously complex. This is reported on Richard Kelley's site as being a traditional fermentation but it seemed methode (partial carbonic) in the best sense, in the way of Puzelat, where the grape (okay, even if I did think it was gamay!) shone through. It was spicy, cinnamon, perfume by the gallons, angels and angles, with a compelling floral finish. About $23.
Guests arrived. The inevitable pile up of wines collected on the marble kitchen island. I was looking forward to some old Gaglioppo I carried north from Los Angeles. But little did I know, those were not going to be the treat of the evening. After the beet salad came an Arnot-Roberts. I had heard the buzz. New faces about town.
“This is your wine, the 2008 Clary Ranch syrah? ” I asked Nathan Roberts as I tried to register what this new taste of old California was in my mouth. Alcohol, mint, clover, stem, spice, color and horse.
“Pretty neat!” I said as I noted that this must have had low alcohol.
Sure, I found it lovely, delicious but I suspected that some readers of other blogs would run for a stick of gum. I thought to myself, '"If is a direction alternative for California, I'm in-- ready to write a retraction to my 2008 op-ed piece on California wines.
Then I doubled back to the label...11.5%? "But how?” I asked.
The 2006 was picked on November 3rd @ 21.05 Brix and that was the ripest that wine has ever plumped out to. The 2007 never quite made it to ripeness and the 2008 squeaked through. The 2008 wine was foot -trodden (as was the '07) and had plenty of cola, clover and spice, helped by whole cluster, natural fermentation.
To find out how, I needed to spend some time with the three Ts; thinking and talking and tasting. Last month, I olled in to their old apple processing barn in Forestville, Sonoma. It was the second day of that hot spell, the one that felled so many grapes in the Golden State.
The winery was warm, let's make that hot. We retreated to a narrow packing room with the A/C. There I was, around a barrel with fresh-faced Nathan Roberts and his equally fresh faced boy-hood bud, Duncan Meyers, friends since their Cub Scout days in Napa
"Napa? You grew up in Napa and make wine like these?” I asked with great admiration.
They were embarrassed by the Cub Scouts but tried to explain to me they grew up around wine and their evolution was nothing unusual. "Napa? And you make low alcohol and low intervention wines? No inoculations, acid or tricks. You've got a chardonnay in there still not finished from 2009. Don’t people think you’re freaks?”
Turns out this was a relatively new turn of vinous events for them. As Nathan said, "The narrative for me is being rewritten."
Their first vintage was in 2002. Their real philosophical change came about in the cooler 2005. Other people in California were flipping out but they liked this lean. So they did some soul searching. The wines they admired were high acid, low jam, with some edge and always provoked a reaction. They traveled, they talked to winemakers, unlike so many other winemakers who bow at let's say Thierry Allemand's feet, they actually listened to those wines. They did not mimic, but they listened instead of drinking Allemand and making fruit bombs.
As Duncan said, "Our palates shifted westward towards the ocean."
Which is how they unearthed the Clary Ranch. Writer, Jordan Makay describes that vineyard close to Tomales Bay beautifully in a piece for San Francisco Magazine, "Windblown, fog tormented, denuded hillsides ."
2009 Arnot-Roberts Old Vine White Compagni-Portis Vineyard Sonoma Valley ($30): -Gosh, I love california field blends. This is floral, honeysuckle, lily and a bitter edge.
2009 Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Green Island Vineyard Napa Valley ($30):- Lively and lemon.
2009 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau Luchsinger Vineyard Clear Lake ($30): yes, you read right. Trousseau. A gamay lilt and perfume, berry and bitter. Pretty complex cookie.
2007 Arnot-Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon Bugay Vineyard Sonoma County ($80): helped out by the petite verdot and cabernet franc, bell pepper varietal character but sweet fruit and Reminds me of a cali cab with aging power, like the ones we love now from the 70's?
In August, I arrived from sticky New York into hot Sonoma sun. I couldn't complain, after all it was their first two steamy days of the entire vintage. Ever wilting me, the arid 110 degre day was far more tolerable than 90 and 100% humidity of New York City.
I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that sitting in dinner party pro, (Marcy with the worlds best dog)
Marcy Mallette’s Healdsburg backyard, with a fig tree groaning with unripe fruit and guests sopping up the last of their Alaskan salmon BLT
wasn’t a joy, even if everyone wore wearing flip-flops, and Kevin Hamel (my boss on the Sagrantino project and winemaker for Pellegrini) made fun of my trapped shoes. I was outted from the shtettle. That's okay.
I reached into the pileup of wines we had assembled. "You got to taste this," I said, and poured around, then sat down on the stoop, near the long, al fresco dinner table.
Taking a tentative taste of Coturri’s 2005 Cabernet, Hardy Wallace said, “That sure is some Hippie juice." He was certain the wine had a significant retro taste, within spitting distance of a Haight-Ashbury head shop.
ripped off from Hardy's facebook page.
Wallace, you might remember, is the young cherub who arrived to northern California from the South to live out a dream. The dream had been induced when he won a very high profile contest to be social media guru for a Kendall Jackson winery. He knocked out the competition with his brains, chops and goofball charm. After his six months, however, he really found his dream job, with Kevin Kelley,
the winemaker whose grapes I had trod, cheated on, really, when my Sagrantino was in process. His palate, as far as I could see was more aligned with 'hippie juice,' than techno-wines. I kept on trying to look into his face to see what he really thought about the wines. I knew if I had the rosé or even the chardonnay he'd have been won over as Marcy and I had been.
Earlier that day, when it was only ninety-three degrees or so, she and I drove to the Coturri Global Headquarters in Glen Ellen, clear on the other side of the county. We wended on the back lanes, past brush and the spindly copper barked trees. Baking in the heat, the landscape seemed friendlier to cattle ranching than grape farming, I thought. And then there were the zinfandel vines, floppy and unirrigated.
Tony Coturri (with brother vineyard manager Phil) had the winery bonded in 1979, aiming to make wine the way their father learned from their Tuscan grandfather. The only difference seems to be fermenting in one-ton redwood tanks instead of two-ton and more whole clusters. They had been in my consciousness since the mid-eighties. I remember back in the day seeing bottles of Coturri relegated to the 'organic' wine section, a pathetic rack of a few wines down the block at Astor Place. The bottles stood upright, in the sun, languishing and bleaching out. Not a good thing for natural wines without sulfur.Perhaps like so many, I discounted them as hippie juice, but was that a bad thing? I mean, I was a little hippie wanabee, too young at the time to be part of the movement, but yearning to grow up to be free.
It wasn’t until Jenny Lefcourt, (a woman who could look like my dark haired sister, who started to import natural wine in 2000) took them on as her sole-American winery, did I reconsider.
I was at a party in New York City (not that long ago) and the only wine I could drink there was the 2004 carignan. I didn’t just like the wine, I loved it, earthy, never a touch of new oak, brambly and call me impressionable, but I thought it tasted, like California, whatever that means; wild, unbridled and friendly.The talk on the street was that sometimes the wines were great and sometimes they sucked. But to some, they were cult, before there were cult CEO wines. Tony always made his wines with the credo, organic viticulture, nothing added, nothing taken away and no sulfur, even at bottling.
This was crazy. Tony was never a hipster. I'm not sure he, even with his wooly, unkempt beard, was ever a hippie, he just cared about land and health and the environment and honesty.
Separated at birth by 6000 miles, the Coturri winery had been organic and sulfur free---that reads ‘hard core natural,’ since the beginning years. Two years before Francois Morel started his sans soufre wine bar in Paris, Tony was an American pioneer. Thirty years later he was just as hard core as Laureno Serres in Terre Alta. The only difference is that the others had a circle of friends, of like-minded people. Until Tony joined up with the Return to Terroir group, he was working in total isolation. He did not have a clan. He didn’t have any idea he wasn’t alone untl he went to Paris around 2000 and a friend told him about a wine store, he can’t remember which one, that had natural wines. He discovered Paolo Bea, sagrantino, as a matter of fact. He was still struggling but maybe he belonged to something bigger. And now he does.
Some of my favorite wines from that tasting were:
'09 Coturri Chardonnay: peachy and refreshing.
'08 Carignan; Yes, from the smoky year, and there it is like a lamb smoking on the spit. Sheep, lanolin and currant.
'05 Cabernet; VA alert, if you can't take it, move away, but I think this touch is lively. Old school, not too ripe, earthy with just enough lilt, and berry fresh.
'03 Cote de Cailloux; a blend of Rhone-ishisms, forest and licorice.
The next generation:
(photos, from the generosity of Marcy Mallette)
Five-years ago I went on my second visit to the Pope of Pup, Pierre Overnoy, and was getting nostalgic about it all today. So, here you go, a repost.
The day started with a train ride from Paris and then to Pupillin and Chez Overnoy, directly outside to his garden, to where he has his own little nursery with baby ploussard, savignin and chardonnay. While late June, the yard had this tender spring green about it. The hour was 11 o'clock. Out came the glasses. A mystery wine was poured. We stood in the breeze, just where Pierre likes to taste, per instructions of his old mentor M. Jules Chauvet. No one had any intention of spitting.
Jean Paul Rocher & Pierre Overnoy
"Guess how old it is?" he asked.
This was a tough one.
I usually fail miserably at the games, though I love them. Keeps you sharp. Forces you to think. It was savagnin. Got that. It's salty. It's got age. But how much age? It's saline heaven and full of freshness with the sweet sucked out of the caramel. It's long. It whistles. And then more salt. Pass the Maldon. I say 1999. Why? I have no idea why. I have no context for guessing the age of an oxidized wine with its sherried taste. I just don't have enough practice. Pierre gives us a hint and says the wine was ouillé.
Poetically, this means filled to the eye, (which now I realize must mean to the bung hole) and this topping off is done regularly to protect it from the punch of oxygen. Vin Jaune is made in the opposite manner, sur voile, under the veil of a yeast layer called flor. The result is a wine rich with intense band-aid and nut. Never the less, the wine is not totally immune, especially when it stands in barrel for so long, as the one in our glass had. We were all stumped. Pierre, tanned legs and hiking boots, younger looking I'm sure than his age, flashed a smile. Gangsta gold teeth glinting from the rear of his mouth, he said with great pride, "The oldest wine in this is 1991."
Each year they added wine from the last vintage, so it is understandable that I flubbed.
It was eighteen years in the barrel and this was the third 1/2 bottle that M. Overnoy ever opened up. Okay. A thrill. "The last wine we topped off with was either 2007 or 2008."
He and Manu tasted it every 2-3 years. He said you can't open the barrel, but needs a special pipette. So this was wine was the result of blend of minds, Manu Houillon (who many people refer to as childless Pierre's 'adopted' son, and the man who has taken over the technical aspects and decisions of winemaking). There was something in the wine that defied decay and death. I had the feeling when tasting that 18- year -old, which he only opened three bottles of so far, might change the mind of the angel of death. How do you have the patience to wait for eighteen years? What kind of spiritual life must be in place to command that kind of impulse control? Hell, I don't even have that impulse control to wait until my copy is edited before I post. I am ruled by urgency, but Pierre?
Somehow, if you meet Pierre, you understand. Life seems like this amusing journey. He reminds me so much of my grandfather who did not even get old til his 100th birthday. (Please give me an IV of something lethal if I get that old. I just don't want it.) The end of the salty dog came. Our glasses held mere stains.
Pierre put his nose into the vessel and said, "Smelling an empty glass gives you a lot of answers." Like great people I have met, Pierre is given to statements worth repeating. Many of them are about the end of life and many cover the same ground. "You are the same jerk at 20 or 80, but at 80, it's the end of it." "In Biodynamie you need a life for experience, even if you die before you have the answer." "Mr. Chauvet said, when he was in his 80's, 'I'm going to die and I don't know anything about wine."
We left the garden and retreated into the darkness of the office, when vineyard fresh, Manu made his entrance. Manu Houillon started to work with Pierre when he was only 15. The connection? Manu's father bought the Overnoy wines. When the father saw that his son just wasn't interested in school, but could be interested in the vine, he asked if Pierre would take on Manu as an apprentice. Manu showed talent and engagement and (along with his sister and brother) is in charge and Pierre is proud. This is the stuff of fairy tale. Of fiction. Of romance. Pierre kissed him six times, not like a father, but with the unconditional love of a grandfather. I recognized the kisses. My own grandfather used to kiss me like that, before he turned away from me when he turned 100. But Pierre doesn't have the underlying anger Pop did. Manu will retain that love from Pierre forever. And from there to lunch. A new one for me. Lovely.
Felt odd drinking a non-Arbois wine but this was gorgeous.
In the beginning, Oriol who with his wife Gloria and wee daughter Berta make up the GOB of the Penedes wine bottled as Els Jelipins, met Rene Barbier who said to him, "You're crazy like me." The superstar winemaker (Clos Mogador, married to Sara Perez) invited him out to the winery and to learn. Through Rene, Oriol met the whole intense Priorat the -fatter -the- wine- the- better crew and he learned how to make those 92+ point wines. Oriol said, "At first I thought wine was poetry. I realized it often was just the recipe." Part of the recipe was cold soaking up to a week with quite a bit of sulfur. Then, adjust the temperature to about 30-degrees centigrade (pretty hot) for fermentation to kick in and extract. Remember to punch down or/and pumpover often. Give plenty of oxygen into the juice (MOX aka micro oxygenation), rack into new barrels, MOX each month. "That's the low-tech version of a recipe wine," he said. Add the tricks like yeasts and enzymes etc, for the high tech version. Yet, the man grew unhappy using the recipe geared towards the big critic. Until one day, and there is always that one day, Oriol met the head buyer for Lavinia. "She was friends with a lot of people in France and she started to show me those wines and I started to think differently. I also met Maria Theresa Mascarello and she too told me that wine could be different. I realized that making wine in the way I had been trained was depressing me." Even in a bad picture, he and Gloria are lovely. He and Gloria who worked together at the Priorat winery, were by then a couple, and went out on their own, still making conventional wine before 2003 and then they broke out. That was the first year they vinified without yeast. "We were so afraid because everyone told us the wine wouldn't ferment. My wife was crying every day with fear." It fermented as if thumbing its nose at the cautionary tales of yeast and its vices. By then Oriol and I were on the road to rendezvous with three more Americans. We pulled up to a small cafe where wine importer Jose Pastor was waiting, with his two charges, Farm Wine imports Keven Clancy and Chris Barnes of Chambers Street. Chris's eyes were ringed in dark and his face was blending into a reptile green. I looked at the puddle of canned mussels in the middle of the table, next to a beer and I thought, "Uh, oh. Poor guy." Then we took off to the GOB's household and the road was so twisty I almost was reduced to crawling on my knees as well, this was more than just sympathy pains. I get car sick on those roads unless I'm behind the wheel. Note to self. Placed in the wilderness, in the middle of views, and smells, and dogs, was their house and garden and rustic winery, with a spring green wall as a backdrop and there, in front of the olive oil barrel like amphora, some more story was unwrapped. "We used to make Parker wine," Oriol started up his story once more. "In 2002 we were going to leave the wine world. It was depressing. Cynical. The way we worked with yeast and new oak and enzymes and everything was against everything we believed in. It was against our nature."" But now?? No temperature control. No SO2. No cold maceration. No pumps. No racking. Whole cluster (most of the years, but sometimes 20-30%). Some pigeage in small tanks. No battonage and no racking before bottling. Yes to amphora (2006 red and white were done in amphora), they don't like the lifelessness of stainless. "Inox reacts to electricity, it's not good for the wine," was the answer. The wine often macerates for 4-5 months. Sumoll is quite tannic and like Bea's philosophy for sagrantino, long maceration softens aggression. They also do a long elevage because they want their wine to be 1) stable 2) ready upon release. Right now look for the 2004. Upstairs. Gloria cooked chickpeas! Waiting in the bathroom were teensie kittens. I seemed to have an inexplicable draw to the toilet so I could cuddle the kittens. As a self-professed cat hater. Never say never. ++ 2003 Red---70% sumoll, 30% garnacha It's a different silty animal. Etheral and elegant. Brickish notes. Extremely spicy with a tumeric sort of nose and white fruit, something like gooseberries and almost similar to a barolo if the barolo has some dried cherry, Earl Grey Tea and firm expressive tannins. "Sometimes there's even a stem inside the bottle," Oriel says. "We work dirty." 2004: powerful acid punch on the long finish. Veru strong, mica like? Why do I say that? Who the hell knows. Cherry. Skunk, just a touch. But plenty of life and jumps. 2005: Firmer cherry, bluer in color, back to barolo and I'm stretching for something, slate-like nuance on top of a sun-dried tomato, ripe cherry and sangiovese grown on clay. 2006- this puppy had extended maceration up to five months and the result is almost a honeydew aroma and juiciness. 20% of this was made in amphora. But wait! Some puppy breath, or was it kitten breath? Just a hint and it is in conjunction with the cherry. They also do a little parellada which, in the Penedes usually finds its way into cava. The 2006 was bottled directly from the amphora. They make so little of it. One day they want to zoom up to a whopping 2.000 bottles, and maybe, just maybe they can one day quite their day jobs. What are they after? Oriol said as we gathered some wild mint for Chris to take in the car to guard against the bad mussels, "When you drink a wine, and you have an impression, and you are impressed, and you feel something so deeply you can't describe it, that is what I want."
++ If you want to try some of the wines, and they are expensive, Jenny & Francois brings the wine into the country except for California which is Jose Pastor Selections.
I might add that their friendly decision to share them is exemplary and makes me happy. Saying good bye, I started a two day voyage with the boys and who could guess that we were off to another paradise, complete with a disco for the wild boar under the lure of the cherry trees.