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ABCs of Wine: Tasting "Anything But Chardonnay"

Apremont Appellation in the French Alps

As a wine educator, one of the most pleasurable aspects of my profession is choosing a theme for a class and introducing students to exciting wines or wine regions I have discovered. And here in Manhattan, this is a special challenge, because in this jaded city most everyone dabbling in the world of wine has tasted pretty much everything the world has to offer.

So I first decided on a theme of Aromatic white wines, and decided that this class should be called “Discovering the ABCs of Wine.” Now in this context, the word “ABC” can mean “introduction to wine” – which is also an intention of the class. Many people have enjoyed wine for decades without really understanding how to analyze wine and appreciate the opportunity to formally learn this skill. Yet for me, ABC also means “Anything But Chardonnay.”

Now there is nothing wrong with Chardonnay. It is an international variety produced almost everywhere on the planet. It can grow in warm and cool climates. It can smell and taste like hot buttered popcorn, apple pie a la mode, or like mineral water with a squeeze of lime or lemon. And the reason it has so many expressions is because for the most part it is a neutral grape, with its expression and style coming from the choice of vinification.

Now for this tasting I chose three aromatic white varietals considered very unusual and hard to find. The first was a 2007 Domaine de Cezin, a wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape that grows in a tiny AOC region called Jasnieres in Touraine in the Loire Valley (France). What’s interesting about this appellation is that it was created in 1938, about a half century before the ‘frenzy’ AOCs are today. Almost every day, it seems, a new AOC is granted.

Given this 1938 AOC designation, one has to ask what is so special about this wine that it was distinguished from all the other regions in the Loire? First of all, Jasnieres is a tiny appellation … just 128 hectares under vine and a dozen producers making a living off their wine. The wine is named after the “terroir” so Domaine de Cezin is the name of the plot, now owned by the Fresneau family since 1952. In doing research on this wine, I saw many family photographs dating even earlier than 1952 – it is very much a family operation. This was likely the case in the Middle Ages, when wine from Jasnieres was drunk and celebrated by Kings (possibly, I’m assuming, with oysters from the mouth of the Loire). If you know Chenin Blanc, you know that it can be dry, sweet, or off-dry, depending on the mood of the producer and the vintage. In good vintages, Chenin Blanc is almost always sweet. This 2007 vintage borders that difficult area between dry and sweet … technically, I believe it must be under 9 grams of residual sugar to be considered “dry” yet sometimes searing acidity can make a technically off-dry wine taste dry by contrast.

In any event, when you taste this wine (a class favorite) you will find very high acidity that is a perfect match with seafood, good mouthfeel, racy acidity, minerals, and notes of lemon and citrus. The soil here is called “tuff” and is made of soft chalk, decomposing clay, with flint – very difficult to work. Vineyards face the south for sunshine and protection from the north winds. The forest of Berce also helps te vines resist the wind. On the web I read that some visiting journalists stopped by for tasting and M. Fresneau revealed that he recently tried a wine from the turn of the century left on the property from previous owners – and that it was still fresh and lively. I can believe this given the soil, acidity, and fifty year old vines.

Now the next wine ws Vin de Savoie Apremont Les Rocailles. I loved this wine in the 2007 vintage (no longer available). I first experienced it in a blind tasting, and with its delicate white and gold flowers, seemed possibly a Muscat. Actually, the grape is the Jacquere and it ONLY grows in the Savoie area of France, which is between the Italian and Swiss Alps. Unlike the Chenin Blanc from the Loire, this wine is meant to “drink now.” The 2008 had less flowers, and more minerals and fruit, which seems mostly citrus (tangerine, orange pith) with some minor CO2. The producer is now Pierre Boniface, who inherited the vineyard from his father when it was twenty hectares producing only this varietal. Now, I read that Mr. Boniface also makes red wines, has increased his hectares, and has succeeded in conquering the export market. In conducting research for the tasting, I see that a handful of blogger/tasters have written notes on this wine, with their readers so excited about it they are demanding to know where they can buy it. If you are reading this outside NYC, you might check out the web site for Hand Picked Selections, its importer.

The last wine in the tasting was the 2007 Finca y Bodega Carlos Pulenta Torrentes Tomero Valley de Cafatyate, which is a favorite among the ladies who lunch crowd. People – mostly women – who rarely drink love this wine because of its intense floral nose. It is like being at a bridal shower in terms of that light, white floral aroma. The grape is indigenous to Argentina (Salta) where it is sunny 360 days a year. Irrigation is mandatory. Despite the sun, the wine keeps its acidity because despite the warm days the nights are cool. The Torino brothers started the winery in 1898, twenty years after the Cafayate Valley became confirmed as a quality wine producing region.

So there you have it. Three very interesting white wines, none of them a Chardonnay!

Please try these wines and use the comment feature to share your thoughts.

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  1. [...] is the original: Tasting and comparing wines of the Loire, Savoie, and Argentina By admin | category: acidity | tags: 2007-vintage, believe-it-must, brief-article, [...]

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