2010 Domaine Chanzy Bourgogne Clos de la Fortune

So rarely are our Friday nights spent in Boston these days. We’ve been racing up to our house in Peterborough, often leaving in the early afternoon, so that we can be at our local pub for dinner. With no plans for the evening, I went out in search of some wine and cheese while Big Tim went to the gym.

I looked at every bottle on the shelves at Formaggio. Shopping for wine has always been more interesting than anything on TV. I was in no mood for a dark, brooding wine or a big fruit bomb. And I didn’t want to wake up on Saturday morning with a hangover from a 15% alcohol monster. Maybe white, I thought. Maybe a light red from northern Italy. And something around $20 would be my target.

Oh, I was tempted  by a good number of wines. That Julie, Formaggio’s wine goddess, really knows how to fill a tiny area of shelves with brilliant treats and adventurous selections. And Ross, another member of their great staff, taunted me with, “have you tried this” and “have you tried that.” I’m weak! Don’t tempt me! I would buy only one bottle and it would be $20… or, no more than $25?

I decided to buy a bottle of Domaine Chanzy’s 2010 Bourgogne. It shouldn’t have been such a difficult decision because it was just what I wanted, a light and low-alcohol red wine. What put me off and intrigued me, at the same time, was the label.

The domaine name was prominently displayed, as was the term “estate bottled.” Good, I wanted a wine that was grown and bottled in one place. That’s simple enough. Also prominently display were the words, “Clos de la Fortune”. Ah, that’s the name of the vineyard. That’s interesting to me because it means that all of the grapes in the bottle come from one single vineyard and “Clos” means that it’s enclosed to some extent. I like that because it often means there is some history to the vineyard. But the wine was simply labeled “Bourgogne,” which means that this interesting vineyard isn’t located in one of the prestigious villages with sky-high prices.

Why was I hesitating? The label also noted, “100% Pinot Noir.” Duh! It’s a red burgundy. Well, I guess they also grow some Gamay in Burgundy. But you rarely see the varietal and, I wondered, is it on the label because this bottle was made for sale to consumers who don’t know what Burgundy is? I shook off that bit of wine snobbery, confident that Julie only buys delicious wines, and I brought the bottle home.

It is a delicious wine. Light in body and color. There is good acidity that is vibrant on the tongue and that would make this delicious with food. The fruit is pure cherry with very little of the Dr. Pepper taste found in many California Pinots (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) The flavors aren’t intense but they linger on the palate.

Domaine Chanzy was a family business, purchased in 1974 and expanded over the years. Clos de la Fortune is a monopole (a vineyard that is owned by only one entity) in Bouzeron, part of the Cote Chalonnaise. The vineyard has Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Aligote grapes. What I hoped was going to be a picture-book story of multiple generations toiling in their ancient Clos is, instead, the story of a family business that started with the purchase in 1974 and ends with its sale, a bankrupcy, and court-approved purchase by a private equity firm last year. Sigh. Not very romantic.

All that palate lingering gave me time to think about labels.  Here’s a neat little summary. In Burgundy, labels must contain these nine items:

1 → Batch number preceded by the letter L (on glass, label, rear label, neck label, capsule).

2 → Bourgogne wine or Great Bourgogne wine (interprofessional agreement).

3 → Allergen notice : if SO2 > 10 mg/l (since November 2005).

4 → Nominal volume usually expressed in centilitres.

5 → Name of country of origin for wines intended for export.

6 → Health warning recommending that pregnant women should refrain from drinking alcohol. 

7 → Alcohol content expressed in % vol.

8 → Name, address and capacity of the bottler mentioning the locality or its postal abbreviation.

9 → Product description this is the name of the appellation followed  ’Appellation d’origine Contrôlée’. 

Optional information that may be included:

1 → Year of crop if all the wine in the bottle comes from the same crop.

2 → Commercial brand Signature of the producer. Sign of recognition intended to guarantee the quality of the product and encourage customer loyalty.
3 → Name of grape variety 100% of the wine must come from the grape variety mentioned. Tolerance in Bourgogne for regional AOCs.

4 → Place of bottling ‘Bottled in the region of production’ or ‘bottled at the property’

Optional:Old vines, hand-picked grapes, made and matured by…
Other optional informationColour,Production method, growing method (e.g. : wine from organic farming), official distinctions etc …

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2010 Castello la Leccia Toscana Rosso Vivaio del Cavaliere

“A $10 Super-Tuscan!” I teased the owner of this estate at a tasting at Blanchard’s in West Roxbury. At that price, he mused, “it’s a mini-Tuscan.”

Francesco Daddi (not the Italian Tenor) is a young man running an old family property. Recorded in history as far back as 1077 , the original castle has survived numerous wars during which it was burned out,bombed, and occupied. After being converted from a castle fortress to a country manor in the 18th century, it was bought by Francesco’s family in 1922. Completely rebuilt today as a family residence, inn, restaurant and winery, the estate includes 32 acres of vineyards within DOCG Chianti Classico.

There is more to know about Chianti than the straw-covered bottles (called “fiascos” though no one really knows how the term came to also be used for failure)  or that Hanibal Lechter’s recommends to pair it with some fava beans. Chianti is one of the world’s largest wine regions and one of the earliest to be delimited. Nearly 100 miles from top to bottom, any wine produced in that huge area is entitled to be called “Chianti.” Within those borders, there are seven smaller sub-zones. The historical Chianti of 1716, limited to just a few villages between Siena and Florence, has been enlarged and is today know as Chianti Classico. One of the original villages, Castellina, is where Casello la Leccia is located.

Quality standards in Chianti Classico are higher than those for Chianti. Yields must be lower and a higher percentage used of Sangiovese, the classic varietal grape of Tuscanny. No more than 20% of other grapes can be blended with the Sangiovese and none of those can be white.

That brings us back to the wine I tasted at Blanchard’s, the same that I bought and have opened up with some take-out eggplant parm this evening. It is not a Chianti Classico, though it is made in Chianti Classico. The wine is named for the new vineyard planted on the site of the 16th century knight and lord of the castle ‘s vivaio (fishpond). That vineyard contains merlot and petit verdot which are blended with sangiovese to make this wine. Because the amount of sangiovese is less than 80%, the wine may not be labeled “Chianti Classico.” It can, however, be labeled delicious. At around $10, it must also be labeled a best buy.

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2009 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee

20120424-211416.jpgBig Tim called me while on the way home. He was starving and wanted a glass of wine and something to eat. So, we decided to head out to the Franklin Cafe for steak frites.

The wine list has been a disappointment for some time. There had been a delicious Chateauneuf but, lately, none of the reds have been very interesting. With little enthusiasm, I scanned the list. Hmmmm…. A Chappellet Cab.

I had been re-watching some Wine Spectator videos recently and was charmed by Mrs. Chappellet in a panel discussion. In the video, she talked about life on the estate and, with great humility, spoke about winning one of the top spots on Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year awards.

I did not expect that this offering at the Franklin would be one of their award winning wines but, at $35, I thought it was worth trying. As it turns out, this bottle is their “entry-level” wine which they sell online for $32 and some stores in the area have for around $30. Those numbers tell you what a good deal it is at the restaurant. Many restaurants sell wines for 2 to 3 times retail.

The real surprise was how good it tasted. A high quality cab with loads of character, it has that Napa chocolate mint flavor. It is a Bordeaux-style blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a heavy dose of Merlot. There is also a little Cab Franc and a teensy splash of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

This is a delicious wine from one of the oldest, family-owned and run Napa producers. It was a terrific surprise to find and a great value. And it was just one more reason that the Franklin continues to be a benchmark in neighborhood dining.

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Contadino 8

Why is it that we love cheese that tastes like a dirty jock strap but are repulsed by wine with a whiff of funk? Some people call it “barnyard” but, whatever you call it, it’s just funky. When I saw this wine at Formaggio, Julie had written a note of warning on the shelf talker that it was really funkified. But she also called the winemaker a mad genius which, for me, may as well say it is laced with crack. I bought it on the spot. At the register, she again warned that.. these are probably not her words but it’s what I heard anyway.. that the wine tastes like cherries… cow manure covered cherries.

So, who is this mad genius? Frank Cornelissen is a Belgian in Sicily. He bought a small, old vineyard in 2001 in order to practice natural winemaking. Controversial among wine enthusiasts, natural winemaking means no intervention – no chemicals in the vineyard, no additives in the winemaking, no fining or filtration during aging, and no sulfur at bottling. All sorts of things can go wrong and lead to fizziness and funk. But when things go right, the wines can be absolutely dazzling and unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. This is one of the latter.

Frank tends his bush-trained old vines with great care, prunes hard and early, selects the best and ripe grapes, and then ferments in the coolest way. He buries the grapes in big terracotta vessels underground with seeds and skins for 7-14 months before maceration. Then, they go back into the terracotta for another 18 months. Bottled without sulphur, the wines must be carefully shipped at cool temperatures and stored properly. The resulting wine is a lightly colored from a field blend of red and white grapes. It’s light and tingly, more vegetal than fruity. It’s a slightly better version of something your grandfather would have made from backyard vines, if you had an obsessive  grandfather who made delicious, natural wines from an old vineyard behind his house on Mount Etna.

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2009 Mas Carlot Costieres de Nimes Les Enfants Terribles

Once again, I found myself at Foodies on a late evening. I was making good progress clearing out their meat case and decided that I should bring home a white and a red. I picked up another bottle of the Saumur about which I wrote in an earlier post. But, then I had to find a red.

I was planning on making a pepper-crusted NY strip with buttery glazed portobellos on one night and garlic-rosemary pork chops with roasted potatoes on another night. The wine would have to go with both. So, Cotes du Rhone or something like that would be best.

I didn’t see any CdR’s that seems interesting but along the way I saw this Costieres de Nimes. CdN is officially considered part of the Rhone Valley and has been an AOC since 1986, even though it is geographically part of the Languedoc.

Most wines of the southern Rhone have a foundation of Grenache with a splash of syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and carignan (among other varietals) added in various ratios. This wine is made with vines that are 50-60 years old. The yields are low resulting in a hearty wine with bright red fruit and earthy flavors combined with the spicy meatiness of the syrah.

Like the Saumur I wrote about, I ultimately picked this wine over the store’s other offerings because the back label told me that it was imported by Robert Kacher. That told me that I was buying an artisan-made, well-crafted wine that would be true to the terroir, deliciously non-corporate. With a little info on the label about the varietals in the cuvee, I was also sure that I was buying a wine that would go with the steak and mushrooms, too. And, at $15, I also knew it was a great deal.

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2008 Julien Guillot Macon Cruzille Clos des vignes du Maynes

I must have just cashed my paycheck when I decided to buy this wine at Formaggio. I’ve become numb to a $35 pricetag for well-crafted, small-production burgundies. Add the cost of a meal that lives up to the wine and it’s an expensive night! Oh, well. We only live once!

I didn’t have a particular dish in mind when I bought it. I just wanted to be sure that I got it while it was available. These are very small production wines from a thousand-year old enclosed vineyard in Cruzille, a village of Macon. The vines are mostly 50-100 years old and chemicals have never been used. They have been certified biodynamic since 1998.

So, after all that anticipation, I ended up drinking the bottle with some simple chicken and mushroom risotto. It turned out to be a perfect pairing. The wine was flinty and floral, matching the dish’s sage and mushroom creaminess.

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2009 Domaine des Haut de Sanziers Saumur

Having been off the sauce for a month while recovering from bronchitis, I needed a wine to have with some cheese. I was at Foodies to pick up supplies for dinner and decided to check up on the selection to see if they had anything to satisfy my cheese-pairing needs since it was after closing time at Formaggio.

Their wines are split between some racks by the meat cases and an open fridge case which also cools a big beer selection. There’s a decent and wide-ranging selection with a few surprises to be found. This Saumur caught my eye because I recognized the appellation name. Saumur is part of the Loire Valley known to produce excellent Chenin Blanc, a varietal I love. Chenin Blanc is the grape of the better-known Vouvray and it is produced in a wide range of styles and quality. I might not have taken a chance on this one, even at only $15, but I always check the back label to see if it was imported by anyone I know and respect. A spin of the bottle and I discovered that it was imported by Robert Kacher, a well-respected importer known to have a great palate and a discerning portfolio.

The wine did not disappoint. It is round and fragrant with rich melon and crisp pear flavors. The acidity is well balanced with the sweet fruit. The vineyard has been owned by the same family for more than 200 years and is organic. At $15, this is a delicious bargain. Hurry or I will have bought all the rest of the bottles before you have a chance.

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2008 Lemelson Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Thea’s Selection

I bought this at Bauer where they always have a terrific selection of Oregon Pinot’s. It was on special (always an attention-getter for me) but what attracted me was that the fruit is sustainably-grown in their own vineyards. I always prefer grower-producer, even though many good California and Oregon winemakers purchase fruit from vineyards where they also closely manage the vines.

I paid around $35 for the bottle, a bit of a splurge, but Pinot Noir is so hard to grow well that you’ve got to pay for the decent stuff. At lower price points, it’s just not all that great because they really have to limit yields and closely tend the vines. It’s often vinified by vineyard and, more often, by vineyard blocks (small, select parcels within specific vineyards.) All that jacks up the price but quality often goes up much faster than the cost. A $35 bottle can be exponentially better than a $20 one. Still, it’s a splurge and I usually only drink it when I’m making something special to eat.

After having bronchitis for the entire month of December, Big Tim and I were ready to have some wine for the first time since Thanksgiving. I bought duck breast at Foodies which are fantastically easy to make and completely delicious. I seared them, fatty skin side down, so they were nice and crispy. Then, while they rested, I made a cherry glaze with some Luxardo-marinated cherries that I had in the fridge. The sweet cherry and crispy duck was a perfect match for this spicy wine with tart tannins. In all, a nice welcome back!

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2007 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Silex

I was taking a day off from work for Columbus Day and decided to spend some of it at Brix. It turned out that I spent a lot more than time there. There were many temptations but this was one that I could not pass.

Didier Dagueneau was one of those bigger than life wine makers whose wines live up to the hype. He was killed in an ultralight aircraft accident in 2008 and this, the 2007 Silex, is the last vintage in which he had a hand. Pouilly is an appellation in the Loire Valley where benchmark  sauvignon blanc is made. Ruthless pruning and ultralow yields in his vineyards coupled with oak barrels and a very personal winemaking style come together to produce singular wines. These are not your average sauvignon blancs.

I first heard of Didier while watching one of Jancis Robinson’s fantastic series on wine. In this series, she breaks down the world of wine into the most well-known varietals. She travels to the Old World origins of these grapes and to the New World counterparts. For sauvignon blanc, she visits New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay and stops by Didier’s house for some of his wine. Maybe it’s that he roasts some gigantic steaks on an open hearth for her or perhaps it’s because she calls him the “enfant terrible” of the appellation, I just knew that I’d need to drink his wine.

Just before heading over to Brix, I was glancing through the latest Wine Spectator. The last page had a recipe for Dungeness Crab to pair with sauvignon blanc. It was on my mind when I saw the Silex, so I know what I’ll be making when I open the bottle. But then again, maybe I’ll just pop the cork with some friends and a little Loire Valley goat cheese for Big Tim’s upcoming birthday. It’s like that like from Sideways – though this only cost $150, not $2500 that a ’62 Cheval Blanc might fetch – any day you open a Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume is a special day.

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2006 Two Hands Barossa Valley Shiraz Bella’s Garden

I found this on sale at Bauer for $30 a while back. Not quite a holy grail of wine, it is more of a lesser relic. Still, I’ve been hoping to taste what the hype is all about. Not a complex wine to contemplate with food pairings, it is a great wine to drink by itself. Be warned, you won’t be able to think after two glasses of this monster. Its a big beast with nearly 16% alcohol and even bigger fruit extraction. Wines like this are cheap parlor tricks; they please the crowd with their fruit forward charm and everyone goes home drunk and happy. Still, I prefer wines and guests who are more cantankerous. Everyone should go home slightly agitated but a little smarter.

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