I arrived to work slightly ahead of schedule today, thanks mainly to my precious daughter’s insistence upon awaking long before dawn and alternating her loving parents through a bed-side ritual that had all three of us watching the sun come up. I’ll admit I do find some odd comfort in these not-too regular routines of little M’s; these middle of the night calls for conversation and comfort. Her brain is as active as Einstein right now, I know this to be certain, and listening to her now three-year-old mind as she shares her little middle-of-the-night fantasies is truly a wonderful part of being her Father.
I probably wouldn’t have slept much anyway last evening as I knew today was my scheduled appointment with Joe Dressner’s local representative. I had initiated this meeting after several evenings of digesting the new work by Feiring, a book that reminded me of so many of the wine producers I have so enjoyed for many years. Prompted by the passionate prose, though not needing much more than a nudge, I found myself one morning signing in at Joe’s website, reading up on current goings on and drafting a short letter that I hoped would not go unnoticed.
To my surprise and great elation, on the very next morning, Joe himself responded to that heartfelt note of mine, yet his tone was one of confusion. He came across as perplexed in his writing, not remembering the initial contact he and I had some 7 or 8 years back, also not seeming to recognize the loving moniker Feiring had bestowed upon him. I wrote back, this time with an even more personal tone, explaining my company a bit more and reminding him that Alice had nick-named after an initial meeting between they two many years earlier.
The final note between Joe and I was quite jovial, signed “Large Joe”, giving a slight nod to the pet name his “friend” Feiring places upon him, and he assured me that his local folks would be charged with taking great care of my needs. Joe has waited many years for a champion in the Texas market, it appears, and now that I had made the connection, all roads would be smooth. And while there had been a few of his wines in my shop up the street some years back, other than those few cases, shockingly, not one bottle of Joe’s stunningly pure and palate satiating wines had made their way to the Texas market. As I’ve said for years, Texas remains in a vinous time warp…
Returning to the event of my week now, the representative handling Joe’s wines here in Texas rolled into the shop just before noon, wine tote on wheels, wines properly chilled, reds at cellar temperature, ready for action. I asked her if she was familiar with my history with some of these labels and when she answered in the negative I guided her to a few pieces of recent and expired promotional material for the shop. Eyeing the labels in print, she was immediately relieved, admitting that when her company first engaged in business with Dressner not a soul in the organization had one clue as to the wine’s backgrounds or details. I explained that the juice in the bottles would be all that we would need and she happily grabbed a wine key – we were off!
The first wine my eager, excited palate was to engage this late morning was a Francois Pinon Vouvray from the 2006 vintage. One whiff of the aromatics and all previously engaged vernacular, all once-held-common-place “wine speak” went out the door! I’ve smelled a lot of Vouvray folks, and never has a Chenin Blanc once reminded me of that crystal clear stream that ran behind my Grandfather’s house. I could smell the stones, clean as a whistle, that we would collect from that river bed. There were aromas of pure minerals, a sense of yeast and of fresh bread. This wine was as bright as the sunshine on a mountain top, just as pure as a Spring day in the country. There were flowers and the fruit and acidity on the palate literally took my breathe away. I described the wine as a demi-sec, neither totally dry nor sweet, and when I finished my note taking, I had devoured half a legal pad page. Naturally, I bought quite a bit.
From that point, we moved further on into the Loire, this time to the village of Chavignol in the Sancerre region, to taste the wine of the Domaine Thomas-Labaille from the slopes of Les Monts Damnes, this, too, their 2006. This slope, just to the east of the more commercially recognized Vacherons, is so steep that one could never use a machine for harvest as has become so prevalent throughout the rest of Sancerre. The results of the tender loving care taken in the vineyard here shows up immediately on the nose; this again showed a brightness and purity rarely found in the region and the appley fruit on both the nose and palate made me want to set up a table outside and watch the day go by. Again, I bought this wine too for the shop.
As we began to move into the reds, I found myself daydreaming of my many trips through the Languedoc and my copious contacts, not to mention all of my tasting sheets resting just feet away in filing cabinets. Yes, we were about to experience one of the true masters of the Minervois universe, and I was bubbling over. Chateau D’Oupia’s “Tradition” label, again tasting the 2006, is produced from a parcel of Carignane that was planted just after the turn of the previous century – in 1908 or so. These 100 year old vines could never have continued offering their bounty in a world filled with pesticides or chemicals, never could these gnarled old beautiful vines survived today’s “modern” practices. So lovingly organic has this farm been tended that these work-horse vines offer the wine drinker a window into the past; a wine full of the life of the vineyard. There are pure and inescapable aromas of freshly turned soil, deeply pure and sun-kissed minerals, and the most succulent blue fruits that I’ve ever wanted to just pop in my mouth and allow to stain my teeth deep purple. This is wine of the Earth, a wine of the Sky and a wine of Mother Nature; and the wine screams of beauty. This is succulent, delicious, and both sublime and yet subtle. There is complete balance here and I bought every bottle they had. I’ll buy the next vintage and the next, as well…
Moving north now, I found myself this time taking over the conversation as we began to discuss the wines of an old friend of mine. Perhaps Texier won’t recall our 1 and only encounter, for it took place a few years back and at a time when he was represented by another importer. That first encounter, however, cemented in my palate a love for this negociant’s wines that lingers to this day, so tasting his wines again, for the first time in a couple of vintages, was thrilling. As I sit here with a large glass of Texier’s wine next to me, revelling in its transformation, I continue to be amazed at the depth of complexity this man brings to the humble class of wine we know as Cotes Du Rhone. Tasting his 2006 version, a wine adorned with a fanciful label, spoke volumes as to Eric’s talent. First, consider the color. I knew he was a naturalist when I first met him, and viewing his ruby / gem stone colored Grenache simply confirms his natural ways. Then comes the nose; a virtual spice box combined with every fresh herb imaginable, all rolling around in a bowl of fresh strawberries. We have a balancing act of power meeting grace and a complexity that this category has been sorely lacking forever.
We moved into Texier’s Chateauneuf du Pape from the 2005 vintage next and I literally had to take a seat. This is the wine resting in a very large-mouthed glass next to me as I compose my thoughts, some 8 hours later. The wine continued to deepen in color throughout the day, beginning the day already an impressive deep ruby red. These are extremely old vines Eric is working with, sourced from farms with vines as old as more than 85 years of age. This is a wine for your personal time capsule; a wine that requires one to have some special event that took place in the year of 2005 that you will celebrate 15-20 years from that vintage. The initial explosion of pure and unadulterated cardamom, all sexy and alluring, has now become brooding, darkly fruited and like a very, very fine and rare cigar. There is pure and pristine underbrush as well, the kind you expect from a fine Burgundy, but the dark pitched fruit is pure Chateauneuf. On the tongue this is as robust yet sneaky as an old wise man and only those with great patience will be rewarded when this toddler becomes legal. I’ve waited 8 hours for the wine to unfold, and it has done precisely as I thought it would; it ran from the gate, flashed it’s bare bosom, got caught by its Father, and has now retreated to its room for many years. Do not enter until 2020, you are not welcome.
As if my day had not already been fascinating enough, now we released, in perfect silence for my host is a true professional, the cork from a bottle of one of the most thrilling sparkling wines I have ever drank. This rosey colored wine, the color of a pristine pink hibiscus, with as much mousse as any Champagne you’ll ever consume, comes to us from the 2007 vintage and from the house of Renardat-Fache in the region of Bugey, not that far from Geneve. This is the land of Poulet de Bresse, a chicken so famous the French gave it its own appellation, and the culinary world finds this part of France a real turn-on. Drinking this sparkling wine is an experience like none other, one that I continue to find difficult to characterize. The flavors, perfectly demi-sec and mousse-packed, are the vinous equivalent of an exploding strawberry pie. The aromas combine the pure and other-worldly characters of a fine Chambolle-Musigny with the “feel-good” nuances of ‘Nilla Wafers. This wine grabbed my palate, daring me to move on, and I very nearly closed the doors for the day just to sit with this wine and contemplate the wine maker’s agenda. Drink this wine, oh ye of the Champagne disapproving lot, your life will be changed forever.
By the end of the tasting, I had purchased more wine than my paltry budget would ever allow.
But my landlord is an approving sort, I’m certain he’ll allow a grace period…
All the best in wine and life,
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
2439 Times BLVD
Houston, TX 77005