Category Archives: On the Road

Old-School New World: South Africa’s Mr. Natural

Adi Badenhorst is the most exciting new talent I’ve tasted from South Africa. His Secateurs Chenin 2012 matches the best of the Loire, his cinsault-heavy Red’s classic Rhone and his 2012 Rose smacks of Provence. Yet they all come from old-vine grapes on a forgotten farm in Swartland in the western Cape – and Adi’s embrace of even older traditional farming and wine making. Nothing artificial here. Not even irrigation. Just pure flavor. TIME calls it the “Swartland Revolution.” B-21 is joining it. You should too. Start with a mixed case: this summer sampler, four bottles of all three.

 

2012 Badenhorst Secateurs
Chenin Blanc

…light but pure bouquet with lemon peel, grapefruit and hints of wet wool. The palate is crisp and vibrant on the entry with touches of lanolin and litchi nuts. This is so well balanced – uncomplicated but delicious….

 

2012 Badenhorst Secateurs Rose

…The nose is a little muffled with light strawberry notes, gaining clarity with aeration and offering a fine waxy, resinous aroma. The palate is better, with crisp tart cherry fruit and a razor-sharp finish…

 

 
2011 Badenhorst Secateurs
Red Blend

…has light raspberry, briary and tertiary scented bouquet that is vibrant and demonstrates wonderful clarity. The palate is medium-bodied with fresh, ripe redcurrant and wild strawberry fruit. It is very pure…

 

Badenhorst Secateurs
Chakalaka Sampler

These wines match summer dining of all kinds just like chakalaka, the ubiquitous vegetable salsa South Africans use.

 

On The Road – Bourgueil’s Ageless Beauties: ’89 Cab Franc & ’09 Old Vine

You might not know Faugères and I could not have found this patch of the Languedoc without help. So I’m thrilled that Kermit Lynch showed the way to this special place and a very special winemaker, Didier Barral, and his beautifully pure wines at the Domaine of Leon Barral. As lush and earthy as any in Chateauneuf or Priorat at a fraction of the price.

Let me tell you about the place, Faugères is about 50 miles west of Montpellier and maybe 30 from the sea, sort of near St. Chinian and Minervois. High altitude vineyards up in hills with so much schist that some people say the grapes ripen at night from the heat of the stones. Faugères has grown grapes for centuries. Barral is one big reason Faugères is now on the wine route. Some of the wood and slate buildings have been there for ages and some it hand-built yesterday. Small and old-fashioned, certainly. Barral and his wines are famous across France and a beacon around the world for the biodynamic winemaking of the future.

On my visit a Japanese activist was spending a year with Barral to see how he does it. The answer? With cattle, pigs and sheep in the vineyards, ladybugs and earthworms in the soil and natural yeast and an antique wine press. I tasted the luscious 2009s and feasted on Didier’s food in their ancient barn. He then set out two boudins he had made, a roast haunch of pork and a two foot wheel of Franche-Comte.

A unique experience, wines like few others can make from syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Each wine is marvelous; even the “basic” cuvee from 40 year old vines is a huge helping of Faugères‘ rich, wild terroir. I know you’ll want more, and at B-21’s prices, you can have them all. This is the best of the very old way of France.

2009 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes
2009 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes

1989 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Cuvee Beauvais
1989 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Cuvee Beauvais

On The Road – My Juiciest 2009 Rhone Buy! CdR From Kermit & Friends

2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône
2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône

Once we reached this beautiful, remote plateau high in the Vaucluse I tasted the true genius of Kermit Lynch in his very own Cotes du Rhone. The mountain breeze was blowing lavender and rosemary and Kermit’s 2009 was smokin’, ripe plums and black cherries, meaty and smooth all at once.

Amazing. 92-points rich, richer than wines twice the price. Proves Lynch is a great wine-maker as well as a smart importer. He uses the same skills in both: a terrific palate, a sharp eye for terroir and good relations with the best small vignerons. I had met dozens of Kermit’s partners in the last ten days and more of them gathered here. Growers and winemakers like Louis Barruol from St. Cosme and Vieux Telegraphe’s Daniel Brunier.

In the brilliant sun that morning I saw why Lynch loves Provence and how he finds the perfect vineyards to make wines of his own. He selected 40 year old vineyards a few miles away on the outskirts of Avignon. Then Kermit put together his own robust southern Rhone blend, leading with grenache, then syrah and cinsault. All natural yeasts were used and the wine was bottled unfiltered.

What comes through is pure Kermit and pure Rhone; the finest value of all the wines I tasted on the trip. Lynch‘s vignerons have taught him well and he’s earned their respect. No wonder he’s at home in Provence. When you taste his Cotes du Rhone, you’ll be there too.

On The Road – Found In Faugères: Stunning Organic Mourvedre, 96RAS

You might not know Faugères and I could not have found this patch of the Languedoc without help. So I’m thrilled that Kermit Lynch showed the way to this special place and a very special winemaker, Didier Barral, and his beautifully pure wines at the Domaine of Leon Barral. As lush and earthy as any in Chateauneuf or Priorat at a fraction of the price.

Let me tell you about the place, Faugères is about 50 miles west of Montpellier and maybe 30 from the sea, sort of near St. Chinian and Minervois. High altitude vineyards up in hills with so much schist that some people say the grapes ripen at night from the heat of the stones. Faugères has grown grapes for centuries. Barral is one big reason Faugères is now on the wine route. Some of the wood and slate buildings have been there for ages and some it hand-built yesterday. Small and old-fashioned, certainly. Barral and his wines are famous across France and a beacon around the world for the biodynamic winemaking of the future.

On my visit a Japanese activist was spending a year with Barral to see how he does it. The answer? With cattle, pigs and sheep in the vineyards, ladybugs and earthworms in the soil and natural yeast and an antique wine press. I tasted the luscious 2009s and feasted on Didier’s food in their ancient barn. He then set out two boudins he had made, a roast haunch of pork and a two foot wheel of Franche-Comte.

A unique experience, wines like few others can make from syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Each wine is marvelous; even the “basic” cuvee from 40 year old vines is a huge helping of Faugères‘ rich, wild terroir. I know you’ll want more, and at B-21’s prices, you can have them all. This is the best of the very old way of France.

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Jadis
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Jadis

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Valiniere
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Valiniere

On The Road – Tracking The Great Malbec To Its Ancestral Home In Cahors, France

2009 Clos La Coutale, Cahors
2009 Clos La Coutale, Cahors

Following the path of the famous importer Kermit Lynch I looked forward to meeting many of his great discoveries, especially Philippe Bernède. He’s the master of Malbec, the famous “black” wine of Cahors up in the rugged terrain above Toulouse. This is where Malbec was born, in an old Roman town east of Bordeaux. You don’t know Malbec until you’ve had it from the source, no matter how much from Argentina you’ve drunk.

Bernède is quite modest about it although his family has tended malbec for six generations and Clos la Coutale is the most famous label in the region. It’s an old favorite of Kermit, and mine too. The 2008 was a centerfold of “The Buzz” last year. Finally got to meet him when he joined us for a seaside feast of shellfish straight from the Mediterranean. Too bad we couldn’t have had cassoulet to go with his Coutale; it’s made for duck fat. Maybe next time – and I will be back. Bernède’s a quiet and charming guy with many talents: On the side he invented a new kind of corkscrew with a double hinge.

Anyhow, his wines have set the standard for Malbec, a robust “red” that truly is nearly black. Full of blackberries and very dark fruit, silkier than you expect, maybe because of the dollop of Merlot or his careful barrel aging (in Seguin-Moreau barrels just like the high-priced guys). Still the 2009 is definitely big and built for the long haul. ’09 was a terrific year for Bordeaux and it delivered the same goodness in Cahors.

Boys of Beaune – Trains, Planes and… Sausage

Getting there is no longer half the fun; with modern air travel it’s twice the pain. Some lessons from the wine-weary travelers:

1) Travel ultra light. Layer, layer, layer; rotating dirty clothes makes them fresh! Well, better to arrange a two-night stay somewhere so you can get a few things laundered. If you over do on anything, clean socks and underwear take up less space and go a long way.

2) Make lots of room for electronics. I feel like a traveling power plant but camera, cell phone and laptop are essential; each needs a charger and each plug needs a converter. And European hotels in old buildings don;t have enough outlets. Take a multi-plug extension cord. Take extra storage capacity for cameras and cellphones.

3) Modern airports everywhere are vast. You may have to walk a mile with your carry-ons. See rule one. European train stations are beautifully efficient, but you still have to haul your bags up into the train. See rule one again.

4) If you have a rollaboard, queue up early for the best shot at overhead space. Wait for the line to go down and you lose.

5) Wear your heaviest shoes rather than pack them. Takes a little longer after going through security but worth it.

6) Don’t go to the market on the last day. If you do, the joys of all those cured meats and charcuterie will vanish at the U.S. border. We tried to eat our way through two pounds of hams, salami and cheese on the train to Paris and the flight back to Chicago. Couldn’t do it. And of course I got into a line at customs run by Officer Hard-Ass. He gave a rough time to every one and of course sent me off for further inspection. I was allowed to keep the cheese, but the last of the meat was confiscated. “Next time eat it on the plane,” the inspector warned. I tried.

Semana Gastronomica! With Gintonic for a Chaser…

gintonicI’m still trying to recollect all the glories of Spain for you let me pour you a stiff one. My amiga was so right about the spanish passion for gintonics. They hold the “and” while adding a slew of extras. Very different drink here. Bigger, wildly popular, and painstakingly diverse. I had planned to make a study of them on this trip but didn’t try a one in my first three days of wine tastings. I confessed my failure to the irrepressibe Juan Muga after a day of tasting and a four bottle dinner. Musta been close to 1 am. Great lamb, btw.

No problema, Juan said, we’ll have gintonic with coffee and dessert. The waiter wheels over a gleaming cart and the ritual began. Which gin of a dozen or so, dry or flowery? Juan and I went dry (Seagrams). Which tonic? The hip choice is Fevertree, which must excel in malaria control. Delivery was not the usual sleek long drink but a fishbowl goblet. I passed on a second round. There were more encounters than I could accept in good conscience, often after dinner, some available with extra botanical punch from freshly ground spices. However, a week of professional drinking with Spanish winemakers reminded me of the secret tonic universally loved in the wine world. Cold beer.

Travel Tips from Spain: Pig Out on Gran Reserva Ham

Pata Negra
Pata negra, or "black leg," in Spain

In Spain red wine meets red meat like no where else. Beef sure, but the hams have pride of place. In the states we mistakenly think Italian prosciutto is as good as it gets. That’s only because the food Puritans let in so little Spanish jamon. So in Spain, try it whenever you can, which is breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and tapas – for you won’t find it’s like at home. Jamon Iberico is not pink but blood red, the flesh as silky as the fat; the preferred hams are treated like fine wine, air-cured and cellar-aged up to ten years. The most revered is the black-footed breed raised in many places, but usually finished on a diet of Spanish acorns. The best restaurants display the whole haunch including the hoof as proof it is pata negra. Then a trained server slices it by hand. Rich stuff, but a few slices – less than an ounce – is all the indulgence you need. Or can afford. A whole ham from Joselito of Salamanca, the most expensive luxury jamon brand in the world, sells for 3,000 euros. Very high on the hog.

Million-Dollar Prosecco Was My Biggest Score In Vinitaly: Bisol Cartizze (94RAS)

Gianluca Bisol at Vinitaly 2012
Gianluca Bisol at Vinitaly 2012

Honest, five days in Vinitaly and the most exciting trophy I brought home is… a Prosecco! Not the ordinary Prosecco with more bubbles for fewer bucks. This is Bisol… the original. Prosecco we never see, one that matches the grand marques of Champagne. It is unlike any you have ever tasted. In fact, Bisol made the rep of Valdobbiadene, now key to the DOCG of Prosecco. The vineyards on the hill of Cartizze, where Bisol makes its top cru, now sell for $1 million an acre. No wonder this goes so well with caviar! This is the Le Mesnil of Prosecco, the most famous in the region. The wine is remarkably round and toasty, creamy and long. In France this tete de cuvee would carry an extravagant price, but from Italy, royalty costs much less. I also have Bisol’s Crede, with the same great texture and a fruitier drive at an even easier price.

Bisol Crede Prosecco
Bisol Crede Prosecco
Bisol Cartizze Prosecco
Bisol Cartizze Prosecco

The High Price of a Piece of Lazzarito

Lazzarito - Serralunga d'Alba
Lazzarito – Serralunga d’Alba

The cost to acquire Barolo vineyards is outrageously high, about $700,000 per acre Luca Currado, 4th generation wine maker at Vietti explained to us today. And that’s if you can find any for sale. It just doesn’t happen much.

One of those rare opportunities arose a few years ago with a tiny piece of Lazzarito, a cru in Serralunga d’alba. It was owned by a brother and sister team, neither of whom had ever married. Vietti had bought grapes from this parcel for years. In her 70s the sister unfortunately passed away leaving the brother in sole control of the land. Now alone he confided to Luca he would sell the vineyard and offered him first shot. Despite the high cost Luca knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire a great vineyard.

He also knew he had to move quickly, closing the purchase in record time. Less than two weeks later the previous vineyard owner and 78-year-old lifelong bachelor married his 23-year-old Romanian bride. Had Luca hesitated there’s no telling how high the price of this piece of Lazzarito would have been.

Now there’s a cure for the heartbreak of “tattoo teeth.”

Pearly WipesWish I had Pearly Wipes in France last month … or most any Saturday night in the last 40 years.  Drink enough red wine and you don’t want to look in the mirror. Whose teeth are those splotchy red things.  Coupla solutions; don’t look in the mirror, gargle denture cleaner or new Pearly Wipes. Well ingredients are old fashioned baking soda, salt, peppermint. You get a dozen for less than five bucks and a discreet mirror. They’re up front at the store in Tarpon.  Works on coffee stains, lipstick and other sticky residues but its main target is explained by the name of the manufacturer. Available in mint and orange blossom.

Exploring Kermit Lynch’s France: Rich Fun In Beaujolais!

Charly ThevenetI’m not sure winemakers anywhere have as much fun as they do in Beaujolais. I’m not talking nouveau silliness; year-round their serious crus are meant for a good time. In fact, they invited us all out for Bastille Day when they just might have the biggest party in France. Must be something in the gamay.

Consider the late Marcel Lapierre, since we’re tasting at his property with his son Mathieu. Marcel is revered for leading the organic equality resurgence in Beaujolais, and also as the guy who said his wines were perfect to have while taking a shower! Mais oui, check out the drawing on the label of “Raisins Gaulois” and taste how plump and fleshy it is. Maybe you could translate that as “a good reason to be French.” Officially, the Gaulois is “Vin de France” although most of the grapes are Morgon, and forward, sweet and juicy. Very easy to drink (88 RAS). “When people have a glass of Beaujolais, they just have to have more,” Mathieu explained in true Marcel spirit. I tasted Beaujolais from the other cru villages as well. Loved the 2010 Fleurie from Michel Chignard. A lot of people think Fleurie is flowery. This is classic Fleurie, it has much more in common with pinot noir than gamay. 60+ year old vines and great terroir with the nerve from granite soils (92 RAS). For a Beaujolais that has that extra brightness I turned to the cru village of Regnie, where Charly Thevenet makes the biodynamic “Grain & Granite” from an 8 acre parcel of 80+ year old vines also on granite soils. This is fabulous, serious and driving Beaujolais you won’t want to miss (93 RAS).

I figure Beaujolais may be the best wine region you’re not drinking right now. Try it and I think you’ll love it, I do, the beautiful villages stretching on the eastern side of the mountains of the valley. The locations give them all very strong character and the best vignerons follow natural, organic and biodynamic practices to keep it. The wines are packed with berries, freshness and pure fun and are surprisingly good keepers. You really ought to try all three of these and learn your way around Beaujolais.

Run-n-tell that.

2010 Marcel Lapierre, “Raisins Gaulois”

2010 Marcel Lapierre, "Raisins Gaulois"

88 Points, Bob Sprentall

On the Road: Caves Along the Kermit Trail

Day 3

Wine CaveYou see “Caves” on signs across France, meaning the cellar or place where wines are stored and sold, regardless of whether it’s down or up a few steps from ground level.  However, this morning we meet Anne-Charlotte by a door in the shoulder of a country road. Beyond is a cave that would stun Indiana Jones, chambers of white limestone 60 feet tall, cool and endless. The locals have quarried building blocks here for millennia, some scratches on the wall.

Want to understand terroir? Just look around, this is the rock that gives up minerals and flavor to the roots of the vine and eventually to the grapes. It infuses every wine we taste from the sprightly rose and creamy chenins to monstrous, teeth staining cab Vouv n cheesefranc from a single vineyard of 70 to 80 year old vines. The 2010 vintage is ripe and sunny, not as big as 2009, but quite enjoyable. The 2011 is what the French call “challenging”, a challenge they met albeit with smaller crops.

Farther east the limestone and its cave are much easier to see. For miles along the river through Vouvray, 200-foot chalky cliffs on the north side are perforated with caves. Caves for homes, caves for auto repair, caves for hotels, caves for restaurants and caves and cave and caves for wine. Solid rock walls are punctured with wooden doors and glass windows with lace curtains. To call the occupants troglodytes seems unfair as it seems quite resourceful.

The same holds true for Vouvray’s chenin blanc, which achieves marvelous diversity in this clay and limestone and warmer weather.  We taste Vouvray a half dozen ways, crisply dry, sweet with noble rot and petillant with small Andre-Michel Bregeon bouncing bubbles lightly. Pure fun.  While here makers bring in still more tastes from the Loire including a peppery sauvignon blanc and spicy pinot noir from Cheverny and a second chance at muscadet. Andre-Michel Bregeon has brought his prize examples of his aging experiments.

Now somewhat stooped and walking with a cane, his mind and mien are still quite active. His mustache and ponytail shake with excitement.  One distinction of making muscadet is that the juice is allowed to sit on the skins or lees for months, which is how it acquires its intensity.  Bregeon is a pioneer of extreme aging, he always keeps one tank of wine and lees maturing for four or five years. The results we taste from a 1999 vintage not bottled until 2003 are a lovely gold, soft and almost sherried with hints of licorice and honey. And he points out even normal Oystersbottlings can be kept long past the current oyster season so he pours a 1995 muscadet, now delicate and floral with a hint of orange blossom.

We head up the river 90 minutes to Pouilly sur Loire, for our last stop in the Loire, and our tasting is at Regis and Nathalie Minet’s log cabin and sporting lodge on the river. Regis has a golf tee and bucket of balls on the porch to drive into the river, a wetsuit for swimming the Loire, a brace of shotguns for hunting and I am sure here must a jet-ski in storage.

Regis and three childhood friends have assembled the quintessential tastes of this end of the Loire. The white is now the world class sauvignon blanc that made Pouilly Fume and Sancerre famous, a touch of pinot gris. The red has switched to pinot noir but we are still on limestone and Accordionancient calcareous river bed with rocks of Kimmeridgian clay and flint.

When we arrive Denis Jamais of Domaine Reuilly is shucking oysters on the porch which will prove perfect with the sauv blancs and a plump Sancerre rose from Michel Reverdy, filled with bananas and strawberries. The pinots are surprisingly close to Burgundy. They are all very sophisticated wines that somehow pair happily with a picnic dinner of oysters, cold meats, goat cheese and savory cabbage salad. Turns out Daniel Chotard knows more than Sancerre grapes, which he picks late and very carefully.  He also ages on the lees, keeps some wine in old Burgundy barrels acquired from th Hospice de Beaune.

And plays a wild accordion that ends the night with jigs, chanteuse numbers, dance tunes, Scotland the Brave and the Marseillaise, that have us all on our feet.  Farewell to the distinctive, inventive wines of the Loire.

 

 

On the Road: Hunting Blanc and Franc on the Kermit Trail

Kermit day 2Day 2

This far north the sun sleeps in but I don’t mind. The holiday lights are still on and the French are masterful at illuminating public buildings. In Nantes, the musee and the streets around the plaza are hung with  gold and white lights like swags of bunting. In the next town the colors are white and blue.  In France Santa is in his sleigh and the locals wish everyone Bonne Annee all month long. We will encounter at least three New Year cakes as we follow the wine road up the valley but will find the litte king doll only once. And we are a troupe of 18, wine merchants from across the U.S. plus our guides.

The Loire is a valley of strong terroir and varietal character to match. Its grapes are those that fit this part of the north, in rare cases chardonnay Castle in Nantesbut cab sauvignon need not apply. At the coast, there is muscadet, muscadet and muscadet, until we cruise up into the lands of cabernet franc and chenin blanc.  Also-rans elsewhere, these grapes sing and dance here. You can think of the Loire as the land of beautiful castles; I think of Rabelais and his roustabout pals.  Before we leave muscadet, Eric Chevalier gives us a taste of sauvignon gris, the rarest grape we taste, and one not to forget, clean focused with cactus needling yet not unpleasantly so.

We head east in the valley of the Loire, now far over its banks, to Epire in Savennieres, our first stop in chenin blanc country, where an unloved grape achieves elegance. It has to here in an 18th century chateau and the much older Romanesque church that serves as its cellar.  Here the chenin can be austere crisp with the minerality of schist soils or a more powerful chenin aged in large chestnut barrels. Here we also meet chenin blanc’s longtime companion, plummy cabernet franc from Anjou. I think I could live the rest of my life with these as my only two wines.  After another stop deeper into the cab franc country of Bourgeuil, I am convinced, especially when the wine is old vines, ideally on limestone.

At the next winery, we dive deep into the cellar for a tasting of three chenin blancs, a dozen cab francs and a good helping of wit and charm from owners Catherine and Pierre Breton. Their rose of cab franc is named Avis de Vin Fort,  French for ”Small Craft Advisory,” and a fine time for sailors stuck in port to drink a clairette, summer or winter. Breton is fierce about the superiority of Bourgeuil’s franc; Fie on neighboring Chinon, he Pierre Bretonjokes. He uncorks a dusty bottle of 1961 Bourgeuil  to prove it. Fifty years old, lovely and lively.  No surprise, the Loire has shipped this wine to the world since the 1200’s. And as Breton notes, by the 15th century this was one of the power center of Europe; the castles and palaces prove it.

But we must on to Chinon, and why not,  many Rabelaisian tales of debauchery and cab franc are set here under the ancient castellated walls high on the north bank. We end the night at a warm old auberge with a beef daube in a saturated sauce of Chinon cab franc that has been slow cooking for centuries. Our wines come from Charles Joguet, an old firm known to many for its snappy rose in the 19th century label. Our hostess  however is one of the bright young faces in Chinon, Anne-Charlotte Genet, whose family runs the estate. Before the meal is over, she promises to try to visit B-21 in May.