The Kings of Charlottesville (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-22-2014

Claude Thibaut. (Photo credit: Jordan Rongers.)

Claude Thibaut. (Photo credit: Jordan Rongers.)

This is the second post in a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

On a recent trip made with a group of friends to Virginia’s idyllic Monticello Wine Trail outside Charlottesville, we arranged to visit a gauntlet of the areas best wineries and to meet with some of the areas most interesting, important, and innovative winemakers.

We quickly discovered that King Family Vineyards’ talented winemaker, Matthieu Finot was a common thread between these wineries, placing him, I suppose, right at the heart the quality revolution. Born in Crozes Hermitage in the Rhone Valley and well travelled thereafter, Matthieu typifies the ambitious, worldly, tuned-in and connected culture of the new Virginia.

But if Finot represents the future, this is in part thanks to the fact that Virginia began to attract winemakers looking for a challenge and interested in making a difference, like Claude Thibault from Thibault-Janneson. Thibault, a vastly experienced winemaker who makes sparklers with the traditional methode champenoise, has succeeded in Virginia in part because of his empirical and practical approach to traditional winemaking.

Listening to Thibault speak about the intricacies of grape growing in Virginia, from pest regulation to the advantages and disadvantages of different biodynamic methods, is to receive a master class in marginal climate grape growing. Having made massive batches of champagne for years at champagne powerhouse Nikolas Foullette, Thibault now produces only small batches.  Thibault-Jannesen wines are difficult to find, and even harder to come by now that the White House is snatching it up by the case, serving Thibault-Janssen to everybody from the President of France to the Queen of England. If you get your hands on a bottle, be happy.

I’m thrilled by these wines. I can’t believe that Virginia makes sparklers of such intensity and sophistication, and in an Old World style that I’d gladly take over many vaunted California sparklers. Enjoy the look on your friends’ faces when you blind taste them on a bottle and then tell them they’re from Virginia.

If the wines of Thibault-Janssen are worldly but traditional, the wines of King Family Vineyards have one foot in both the Old and the New World. The region’s culture fosters collaboration, and Thibault and Finot at King Family are more than just neighbors — Thibault makes the champagne for King Family. While Finot was away during our visit, we were very lucky to have the knowledgeable James King to tell the story of his family’s wines and explain the connections. But judging from the wines, it would seem that some of Thibualt’s practicality and precision has rubbed off over the years on Finot. Read the rest of this entry »

The Kings of Charlottesville (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-18-2014

Ankida Ridge Vineyards. (Photo credit: Jordan Rongers.)

Ankida Ridge Vineyards. (Photo credit: Jordan Rongers.)

The time has come to reassess the wines of Virginia. Gone are the days of weedy, green, foxy, thin and charmless wines of little consequence. In their place have emerged wines of character in a panoply of styles, many of which speak convincingly to Virginia’s terroir.

For a while now I’ve been excited by Virginia whites, and especially Virginia’s Chardonnays that, to my palate, are frequently vastly superior to those over-ripe and oaky versions from California and generally have more in common with Chablis. And I’ll take the Chards over the vast majority of “Virginia’s signature grape,” Viognier, which are too often (although not always) sweet, flabby, and cloying.

But as a rule, historically, I’ve never been a big fan of Virginia reds — with so many great red wine regions to chose from, whatever cache or advantage that was conferred by “buying local” was simply overwhelmed by the massive price-quality gap.

Sure, I’ve sometimes enjoyed Linden reds well enough (although unlike the winemaker, I’ve always preferred his whites), but I’ve never thought of Virginia reds as much more than a novelty. You might come across a drinkable one and say: “Isn’t that adorable! Virginia made a red!” You might then open it for your friends to prove that such a thing can be done, but never because you thought in earnest that the wine could compete with the world’s best.

I’m happy to have been proven wrong.

Much to my surprise, it’s clear that Virginia’s red wines now have a place at the table with the big boys. Indeed, there is now enough good red wine in Virginia that a tipping point has been reached. And some of these are downright world class and well worth of collecting.

In short, learn from my ignorance: if you gave up on Virginian wines earlier than, say, about five years ago, you are missing a quality revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos from Domaine Jacques Selosse

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-20-2014

My recent trip to Champagne ended with a tour of Domaine Jacques Selosse, led by the legendary vintner himself, Anselme. Much has been written about Selosse, of course. And I added to that yesterday with my latest piece for Grape Collective.

One thing I didn’t mention? The 10-room hotel and restaurant he runs with his wife, Corinne. The hotel was beautiful, the food was exquisite, and the entire staff was charming.

Below are some photos from my visit to the winery.

An assortment of wines brought by visitors to the Domaine. Note the bottles from Arnot-Robert and Sandhi!

An assortment of wines brought by visitors to the Domaine.

Ham, slowly curing. (Check out my recent Grape Collective column for details.)

Ham, slowly curing. (Check out my recent Grape Collective column for details.)

 

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Barrel samples!

Labeling the bottles we selected to taste.

Labeling the bottles we selected to taste.

We opened the Version Originale, the 2002, and the Ambonnay Le Bout du Clos.

We opened the Version Originale, the 2002, and the Ambonnay Le Bout du Clos.

Discovering Greece’s Splendors

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-18-2014

Photo credit: Ed Comstock.

Photo credit: Ed Comstock.

When I told people I was going to Greece this summer, I received my share of odd looks. Didn’t I know that there was a financial crisis going on there? But I was going to Greek islands, well trodden on the tourist route, not even mainland Greece where, perhaps, maybe, I’d be more likely to experience problems.

Still, my interlocutors imagined mass strikes, poverty, violent protests, and worse. They seemed sure that — given their essentially “flawed” society, given that the chickens of European socialism had come home to roost — everybody in Greece must be miserable.

I saw none of that, nor, frankly, any sign at all of the economic downturn.

This is not to say, by any means, that there aren’t real problems that have befell the wonderful people of Greece, nor that many are not suffering from some very real difficulties. Rather, I’m saying that to imagine an economic collapse, or localized violence, as somehow essential to the fabric of such a great society — as indiscriminately and totally crashing across every place and every institution like a tsunami — is akin to imagining that Manhattan or Seattle are dangerous places to visit because there is violence in Flint, Michigan.

So here’s the point: if you have wanted to go to Greece, go. There is no better time. Don’t let anything stop you. Its land is still as eternal, its blue skies are still holy, and its people are still as authentically kind, unpretentious, and generous as when Henry Miller was there.

But when you do go, I suggest you be very careful in selecting your wines. For the most part, they are not good.

In fact, I’ve never experienced more science-project wines in my life. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos from Champagne Savart

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-14-2014

If there’s one grower whose popularity has exploded over the last year, it’s Frédéric Savart.

While at a small dinner party in Napa in February, two different guests arrived with bottles of Savart. When a New York attendee inquired about the producer, the Bay Area folks were shocked — “he’s the hot new grower,” they explained.

On Instagram, it sometimes seems as if Bryan Garcia (aka @corkhoarder) drinks Savart on a daily basis. Superlatives are used by Raj Parr whenever he pops open a bottle — which he seems to do quite regularly. Mike Madrigale is a fan. These are great allies for any wine brand.

It helps, of course, that Grand Cru Selections imports Savart’s wines. (Garcia works as a rep for Grand Cru.) And Fred, as he’s known, is quite active on Twitter and Instagram.

But his wines are the real deal.

Producing about 3,000 cases annually, it’s obvious that Savart’s goal is to make high-quality wine. He just happens to be in Champagne. That’s why some of his wines see malolactic fermentation and others don’t. Some see large oak barrels, some see small oak barrels, and others don’t see any oak at all. Dosage varies. It’s also why his vin clair was mind-blowingly delicious.

Hanging out with Fred on my visit to Champagne was a blast. Get your hands on these wines, because they’re only going to get even more popular. Below are some photos from my visit.

The three vin clairs tasted.

Three of the many wines tasted.

An oak barrel. I'd never seen one before.

An oak barrel. I’d never seen one before.

Frédéric is extremely photogenic.

Frédéric is extremely photogenic.

Explaining the different wines.

Explaining the different wines.

Brotastic.

Brotastic.

Photos from Champagne Krug

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-13-2014

There’s never been a better time to explore Champagne.

Since the dawn of global wine consumption, large producers like Moet & Chandon and Louis Roederer have dominated the Champagne market. That all changed in the late 1990s, when Terry Thiese began importing “farmer fizz.”

Wine geeks quickly became obsessed with growers in Thiese’s portfolio like Chartogne-Taillet, Vilmart, Pierre Peters, and Gimonnet. Today, it seems like there’s a hot new producer every month. Ulysse Collin! Vouette et Sorbée! Jérôme Prévost! Frédéric Savart! Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up.

But there’s still something special — heck, beautiful — about certain big-house Champagnes. One of my favorites is Krug. The NV offering (ahem, “multi vintage”) is without comparison. And all Krug’s wines effortlessly combine power with finesse.

Visiting Krug was certainly one of the highlights of my recent visit to France. Below are some photos from my visit.

Joseph Krug and a journal of his that was discovered just three years ago.

Joseph Krug and a journal of his that was discovered just three years ago.

One hallway (of many) in the cellar at Krug.

One hallway (of many) in the cellar at Krug.

Riddling racks.

Riddling racks.

The library. Sadly, it was behind a locked gate.

The library. Sadly, it was behind a locked gate.

The wines we tasted.

The wines we tasted.

Photos from Jean Foillard

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-12-2014

Earlier this month, I spent 10 days eating and drinking my way through France. (See here for details on my July 4th tour of Paris’ natural wine bars and retailers; Click on the winery names for photos of my July 9 visits to Chateau Thivin, Domaine Chignard, and Domaine Diochon.)

On the morning of July 10, I headed to Domaine Jean Foillard.

Together with his wife Agnès, Jean Foillard took over his father’s 35-acre domaine in 1980. Kermit Lynch had just started importing wines from the region, and it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with Foillard’s wines. Together with a handful of other producers in Morgon, Foillard was rejecting the temptation to churn out industrialized, oak-soaked wines designed for mass appeal. Lynch dubbed Jean Foillard, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton the “gang of four” — and praised them for holding onto Beaujolais’ ancient practices of viticulture and vinification.

The moniker stuck, and the four men helped save Beaujolais from itself.

I’ve been a huge fan of Foillard for years, and tasting the wines at the domaine was a spectacular experience. Below are some photos from my visit.

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A rainy morning in Morgon.

Waxing the bottles.

Waxing the bottles.

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The wines we tasted.

 

Photos from Domaine Diochon

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-07-2014

Earlier this month, I spent 10 days eating and drinking my way through France. (See here for details on my July 4th tour of Paris’ natural wine bars and retailers.) On July 9, after visiting Chateau Thivin and Domaine Chignard, I headed to Domaine Diochon in Moulin-à-Vent.

Located just across the road from the cru’s namesake, the 12.5 acre vineyard and winery was established in 1935. Its modern history begins in 1967, when Bernard Diochon succeeded his father.

Seven years ago, Bernard handed off the winemaking responsibilities to Thomas Patenôtre, a local vigneron. Bernard’s presence is still felt, though. The winery is his home, and while visiting, it was obvious that he still spends quite a bit of time in the vineyard and in the winery.

Below are some photos from my visit.

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The famous windmill.

Bernard Diochon.

Bernard Diochon. Check out the sweet ‘stache.

Thomas Patenôtre, showing us the pre-phylloxera vines.

Thomas Patenôtre, showing us the pre-phylloxera vines.

The vineyard at Domaine Diochon.

The vineyard at Domaine Diochon.

The wines we tasted.

The wines we tasted.

 

Thomas Patenôtre also likes to DJ.

Thomas Patenôtre also likes to DJ.

Patenôtre's cat.

Patenôtre’s cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos from Domaine Chignard

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-06-2014

Earlier this month, I spent 10 days eating and drinking my way through France. (See here for details on my July 4th tour of Paris’ natural wine bars and retailers.) On July 9, after visiting Chateau Thivin, I met with Cédric Chignard, a fifth-generation vigneron in Beaujolais.

Domaine Chignard was founded in 1900 on a steep site in Fleurie known as “Les Moriers.” The vineyard slopes down into Moulin-à-Vent, and Kermit Lynch has described the resulting wines as “a marriage of the two. That explosive, floral Fleurie character emerges from an intense, regal, tannic, Moulin-à-Vent chassis.” In addition to 20 acres in Fleurie, the Chignards own a small hillside vineyard in Julienas. At both sites, the vines are more than 60 years old.

Below are some photos from my visit.

 

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Cédric Chignard.

An artistic shot!

An artistic shot!

 

Exploring the differences between Fleurie and Julienas.

Exploring the differences between Fleurie and Julienas.

The full lineup of wines tasted.

The full lineup of wines tasted.

 

Photos from Chateau Thivin

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 07-31-2014

Earlier this month, I spent 10 days eating and drinking my way through France. (See here for details on my July 4th tour of Paris’ natural wine bars and retailers.)

On July 9, I arrived in Beaujolais for a visit with Claude-Edouard Geoffrey at Chateau Thivin.

Chateau Thivin traces its roots to the 15h century, when it was built on an ancient volcano. Its “modern” history begins in 1877, when Zaccharie Geoffray purchased the property at auction. (Claude-Edouard, who manages the property today, is Zaccharie’s great, great grandnewphew.) When Kermit Lynch made his first trip to Beaujolais in 1979, Chateau Thivin was Richard Olney’stop recommendation” in all of Beaujolais.

Below are some photos from my visit.

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The welcome sign at Chateau Thivin.

Claude-Edouard Geoffrey, the fifth-generation proprietor of Chateau Thivin.

Claude-Edouard Geoffrey, the fifth-generation proprietor of Chateau Thivin.

 

St. Vincent, the patron saint of vintners, watching over the wines.

St. Vincent, the patron saint of vintners, watching over the wines.

Exploring the differences between Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly.

Exploring the differences between Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly.