Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Disruptive Burgundy From Sextant

Vin de France is a disruptive designation, especially for Burgundy. I'll take it anytime coming from a producer like Julien Altaber. Vin de France has become a badge for honestly made wines at affordable prices. For Burgundy, VdF is particularly disruptive.

Julien Altaber doesn't come from a winemaking family, but he got started in wine early. He studied oenology in Beaune and worked for the past ten years at a negoce (Champy) and at Dominique Derain in Saint-Abuin before venturing out to establish his own winery, named Sextant, with his wife. He hasn't quit his day-job, he still works at Derain and at the same time he continues to build his own label.

Altaber is a conscientoius Burgundy winemaker. He buys healthy, organicaly grown fruit from excellent parcels and vineyards, mainly from vignerons he knows well. In the the cellar, his work is totally manual--using a hand destemmer made of wicker and doing pigeage by foot.

Vinification is totally natural at Sextant. Altaber ferments with native yeasts and vinifies without corrections or additives. If he thinks it is warranted, he would sometimes add a small dose of sulphites during racking.

Sextant's 2013 Vine France Pinot Noir is gorgeously perfumed, light-bodied, intensely flavored with bright red fruits. So pure and luscious. A steal for a red Burgundy with such charming character.

Vin de France Pinot Noir, Sextant (Julien Altaber) 2013 $25.00 (order here)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Better in Magnum?

I was introduced to Domaine Guion's Bourgueil recently by tasting this magnum of 2008 "Cuvee Prestige" next its younger sibling, the current release 2012. The four-year age gap already shows the difference in maturity. The 2008 has evolved to gain more depth and flavor complexity. I can't wait to see how this magnum develops with some more age, that is if I can resist opening it!

Guion's Cuvee prestige is 100% Cabernet Franc from 40 to 85 year-old vines farmed organically since 1965. Stephane Guion vinifies using natives yeasts, without additives and no additon of sulphites until bottling, when a small dose is applied to safeguard the wine for its journey.

Domaine Guion was established by the Guion family in the 1950s in Bourgueil, in the middle Loire near Touraine. They were a pioneer in converting to organic farming as early as 1965. Today, the 8.5 hectare estate is run by Stephane Guion, who took over from his father in 1994. Their vineyards are all within Bourgueil, consisting of all Cabernet Franc (Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed by the appellation) ranging from 10 to over 80 year-old vines.

As I've discovered with this magnum, Domaine Guion is the source for pure, long-lived Bourgueil Cabernet Franc that age beautifully. Their wines evolve as long as a top Chinon or Saumur-Champigny, but at a bargain price.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autour de l'Anne: Loire to Languedoc and Back

In Buellton, CA, in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, I thought I'd lug with me a bottle of Anne Paillet's 2012 Autour de l'Anne "CSG" Coteaux du Languedoc to Industrial Eats, a new local eatery that's frequented by local winemakers. The place, owned by New York transplants, specializes in salumi, charcuterie and smoked meats, much of them made in-house. I thought, this is just the perfect spot to drink Anne Paillet's wine, notwithstanding how this place is big on promoting local wines.

Anne Paillet is married to Gregory Leclerc of Chahut et Prodiges, a much praised natural wine producer in the Touraine area of the Loire. Yet, Anne rents a small organically and biodynamically farrmed vineyard in Pic St. Loup in the Languedoc. She vinifies the wine in the Languedoc, then moves them to the Loire to age in a her husband's cave cellar.

The result is that the cuvee CSG--consisting of Cinsault, Syrah, and Grenache from 40-60 year-old vines--seems to be more Loire than Languedoc. It's a juicy, refreshing, light-bodied red with noticeable tannins, bright acidity, and just 12.5% alcohol. Four of us drained the bottle in no time over plates of charcuterie, salumi, salad, and smoked pheasant. We could have easily finished another bottle, or maybe two. The wine was delicious and refreshing, I hardly touched the water during the meal.

Vineyard Gate offers two of Anne Paillet's current releases. Both brilliant. The other one is all Syrah that has northern Rhone-like intensity, but with just 12% alcohol

Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge "CSG", Autour de l'Anne 2012 $28.00

Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge "Syrah", Authour de l'Anne 2012 $35.00

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Extra-Ordinaire Wine Bar

Ordinaire, a wine shop and wine bar in the Grand-Lake neighborhood of Oakland, CA.

By-the-glass wines on the board above the counter. I walked in and ordered a glass of Angiolino Maule's Bianco, instead, Bradford, the patron, treated me and my wife to a lovely glass of Bulles de Comptoir No 2 Extra Brut from Charles Dufour. I don't sell it, unfortunately. A Champagne brought in by Return to Terroir.

Bistro Ordinaire opens Thursday-Saturday. I made friends with the chef recently, Josh Eubank, a young guy with a sharp palate and keen eye for brilliant wines. I'm looking forward to learning from him more. Meanwhile, his cooking is a pleasure. You can't go wrong with anything on the compact menu, as I had everything except for the steak. My favorite this evening was the Stuffed Squid with Romesco.

One of Josh's selections, a 2013 Chenas from Julien Guillot, who's based in the Macon. Very juicy and showing well this evening. I'm not sure if it was made in the traditional Beaujolais way, as it tasted more Maconnais to me.

I grabbed a couple of bottles from my pantry before I headed to Ordinaire. One was this 2012 Le Raisin & L'ange Fable made by Gilles Azzoni in the Ardeche. Mainly Syrah, with some Grenache, maybe other grapes, too. Quite different from a Northern Rhone red; lighter, gentler, softer.

The second bottle I brought is a new arrival at the store, supplied by Fifi. The 2012 Les Vignes Herbel Alfred & Leon is Cabernet Franc from Anjou made by a young couple. Organically farmed with applied biodynamic methods. They took over the house of Jo Pithon. Excellent depth.

Ordinaire offers the Bay Area's best selection of reasonably priced vins naturels (except for Vineyard Gate, of course!) and with Josh's food--at prices that don't break $15 for appetizers and $20 for mains--the place can't be beat for a night out on a tight budget.

Ordinaire Wine Shop & Wine Bar
3354 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA

Saturday, October 4, 2014

In Shiga, Making Jizake

Last winter I spent a few days in Shiga, Japan, helping make a batch of sake with friends. Jean Marc Brignot, a winemaker from France who now lives in Japan, joined us for the fun and to infuse his wine wisdom to this little project. The two of us were the only non-Japanese in the brewery and both of us had no experience in sake making.

After three days working alongside the brewery workers, I can say that sake making is unimaginably complicated and physically demanding! You wake up each morning at five o'clock in the 40 degree F chill, then start work an hour later through the rest of the day, interrupted by a two-hour mid-day break for lunch and a short nap. For six months straight every year, brewery workers live like this. It's a brutal schedule that, by comparison, makes winemaking, which is tough work, seems like a walk in the park.

My friend, Kei, the brewery's young toji. He's standing next to the special batch of sake we're about help finish. It's never been done, sake brewed and fermented in an amphora-like clay vessel.

The outcome and reward for all these efforts is jizake--artisanal, local, manually produced, small batch sake. It's the stuff of sake dreams. Jean Marc came up with a cool name for this jizake we made: Umami Blue.