Half of the Ansonia team arrived in Europe this morning, where we’ll be for the next month on a trip that’s equal parts honeymoon and business. We’ve begun our trip in northern Italy, in search of alpine hiking, sparkling lakes, and perhaps a splash or two of Barolo.
Though it’s certainly important to know your vintages in Burgundy, vintage hype can go too far. Writers herald some years (05, 09, 10) with hyperbolic fervor, while others (04, 07, 08) they shun. We’ve found the best winemakers produce top quality wines each year. The trick is knowing when to drink them.
Mornings in Maine these days often begin with a cool mist over the water. Though our wool sweaters haven’t yet begun their summer break, the fog lifts a bit more quickly each day, and the sun shines brighter with the promise of warmer weather to come. Much of the rest of the country has already entered short-sleeve, iced-coffee season.
Alsace is a region of beautiful confusion. Wedged between Germany and France, the land has changed hands four times since the 1930s. Its inhabitants identify as Alsatian more than either French or German, and today Alsace incorporates the best traditions – cultural, culinary, oenological – of both nations.
Sauvignon blanc is one of the easiest varietals to identify by nose. Grapefruit usually plays a dominant role, with the rest of the flavor profile varying from smoky to herbal to sweet. In France, where the grape is just known as “Sauvignon,” the two primary sources of Sauvignon blanc are the Loire Valley and Bordeaux.
St. Aubin is the insider’s white Burgundy. For years we’ve pointed our friends and customers here for remarkable values. We are not alone – author/sommelier Rajat Parr (who won the James Beard Award this week) wrote that “it produces some of the best-value Chardonnays in the world.” Our favorite source from the town is the Domaine Gérard Thomas.
Carignan is known as the workhorse grape of southern France. Capable of producing grapes at a rate of 200 hl/ha (for reference, Burgundy’s maximum is 60), Carignan has played a leading role in the surplus cheap, low-quality French wines for decades. But good things come to those who wait -- given time to age, Carignan vines can yield beautiful, concentrated fruit responsible for excellent wine.
From the rock-covered fields of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the hail-prone slopes of Burgundy, the French plant vines in the most unusual places. And no location makes a vigneron’s life more complicated than the strikingly steep slopes of Côte Rôtie -- too steep for tractors. Growing and harvesting grapes here is so difficult that the entire appellation covered just 175 acres until the 1970s.
We often speak about Jean-Louis Amiot’s wines as “wine-drinkers’ wines.” It’s not that everyone won’t enjoy them; rather, they inhabit a traditional place that’s increasingly distant from the New World’s oak-heavy, fruit-driven trend. Today’s wine, Amiot’s 2010 Morey-St-Denis 1er cru “Aux Charmes,” is a classic -- red Burgundy the way it’s meant to be.
Sommeliers often tell us of their search for a by-the-glass Chardonnay to please everyone. Chardonnay is both easy to like and ubiquitous, but the styles range widely from soft and buttery to crisp and mineral. “A glass of Chardonnay” can mean a dozen things to a dozen people.
As the world warms, wine grapes have become easier to ripen fully by the harvest. This trend has helped an “international” style of winemaking: very ripe fruit, soft tannins, new oak, and high alcohol. For us, these wines are too often palate-fatiguing and lacking a representation of place -- there’s nothing quite wrong with them, but they’re not very interesting either.
In the early 12th century, the monks of Burgundy began to organize their vineyards. Drawing borders according to shifts in terroir, they set out a ranking system based on quality and character. Most of these lines are in place nine centuries later, and today the elevation in status of a Burgundian vineyard is rarer than bottles of ’49 La Tache.