Tuesday, January 16, 2007

16 January 2007 - Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Starting with Champagne -- we always start with Champagne -- Billecart-Salmon is gone (from Maryland), again. It would be tragic if it weren't for H. Billiot and Moutard. First the bad news about Billecart-Salmon. They're imported by Robert Chadderdon, who has had constant problems maintaining relationships with distributors in Maryland. It doesn't matter who's to blame, it just sucks that a great Champagne like Billecart-Salmon gets punted around the way it does in Maryland. Now for the good news. After visiting H. Billiot, a tiny estate-bottler in Ambonnay (see the 12 September "back to school" post) I was able to order all six of their fantastic Champagnes to carry at CWC. Then Tom Calder, a broker who lives in France and finds lots of fascinating, delicious wine to sell here in the US, brings in Moutard, a small house in the Aube. Like Billiot, primarily Pinot Noir, albeit in a different style (and price), Moutard also grows three grape varieties that have virtually disappeared from Champagne. Their "Cuvee des 6 Cepages" combines those three old varietals (Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslieres and Arbane) with the typical Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay to make a delicious bubbly as well as a great learning tool.

More bubbly news in 2006. Movia (Brda, Slovenia) makes two sparkling wines from 100% Pinot Noir, Puro and Puro Rose. The catch? After three years on the lees they are neither riddled nor disgorged. In other words, you have to do the disgorging yourself! It's a little messy, opening a bottle of bubbly upside down, but the results are fascinating -- absolutely dry wine (after all, no disgorgement, no dosage!), but silky and frothy. Delicious, and a great learning tool!

I predicted great things from the Rhone in 2004 and 2005 -- so far, "great" is just about right. We're well into '04 Rhones except for Chateauneuf du Pape (though Vieux Telegraphe and Perrin et Fils' Les Sinards are both terrific), and I just purchased my first '05 Rouge -- from August Clape, no less.

After years of wondering when I'd taste something memorable from Chile, Vineyard Brands obliged by importing Cono Sur, a big winery with some 2200 acres of vineyards. Big in this case, at least so far, has not meant mediocre. Frankly, the quality from cheapest to most expensive that I've tasted, is shockingly good. I'll be keeping an eye on these guys in 2007.

In the US, Delia Viader lost most of her 2003 vintage in a huge warehouse fire near Richmond, California, but we were able to keep a Viader presence with her delicious DARE label Cabernet Franc. We look forward (probably not as much as she does) to her 2004 release this year. The happy story in California is Porter Creek, a small vineyard/winery in Russian River Valley, whose '06 releases amazed. In Maryland, I have only one problem with Paul Roberts at Deep Creek Cellars -- he doesn't have enough wine!

We brought in a bunch of new (for us) varietals:
Fie Gris (Saint Bris, France)
Roter Veltliner, Roter Traminer, Gelber Traminer, Rotgipfler Rodauner (Austria)
Petite Arvine (Val d'Aosta, Italy)
Barbarossa (Emilia-Romagna, Italy)
Arbane, Petit Meslieres (Aube, Champagne, France)
... and we had our first dry Brachetto (Matteo Correggia's "Anthos") as well as our first 100% Poulsard (Tissot).

I failed to do this last year, but I just counted the number of bottles with screw caps or other closures besides cork: 33+, or about 5% of our current selections. I predict the number will be closer to 20% by the end of this year. The coolest closure has to be the glass top, which snaps on and off with the help of a tiny ring of silicone -- elegant, easy. I had two irreplaceable bottles end up being corked this past year. What a waste.

The biggest news of 2006, and looking ahead to 2007 and beyond? Whether they're practicing organic, biodynamic or sustainable agriculture, increasing numbers of winegrowers are realizing that if they work with nature instead of fighting against it, they can make better wine. Even a few of the bigger wineries are getting it. Why put so much effort into making more and more cheap, crappy wine in the face of a global glut of the stuff when the only segment of wine consumption that is actually growing is the quality segment? Why overproduce an acre of grapevines in one place when another place is ripping up vines and planting almond trees or selling wine for ethanol production instead of human consumption?


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