I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about why we support the winemakers that we support. The least common denominator, of course, is that the wines must be delicious. Delicious can be hard to pin down though, and there are wines I find delicious one day that do nothing for me the next time I open them. So we also rely on other things in addition to taste, including: a translation of a place, a unique expression of a grape, a track record of excellent winemaking, and/or a compelling story about the future of a region. In short, we look for drinkable narratives. Wines that are not only part of a story, a region, or of a grape, but wines that tell a story.
Last month we pushed the needle towards the rustic and the challenging, while telling the story of one man’s authentic translations of the Sierra Foothills. This month we’re moving back towards the classic in terms of flavor and the story turns on parcel acquisition. Both wines tell the story of the importance of vineyard site.
We’re presenting an old-vine guru, a woman who has been heavily involved in the conversation about no and low-sulfur wines in Burgundy. She is a woman we’ve supported for years at the shop, someone whose commitments align with our ethos, a winemaker who consistently makes world-class wines at accessible (under $100) prices. Her wines stand out because the plots of land she works are special and her wines are engaging, but not demanding.
The second winemaker is a newcomer, who somehow snagged a parcel of land that abuts one of the great white wine vineyards in France. This is his second vintage and we couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come. Greg, the owner of Vanderbilt Wine Merchants, found his wines in France last month and we are thrilled to throw our weight behind what this newcomer stands for.
Matthew & the Vanderbilt Wine Merchants Team
Claire Naudin Orchis Mascula 2016
Grape: Pinot Noir
Region: Burgundy, France
Appellation: Hautes-Côtes de Beaune
Claire Naudin, a part of the no and low-sulfur conversation in Burgundy for her entire career, has built her reputation by crafting impeccable translations of miniscule parcels spread across Burgundy. The Naudin domaine covers a little more than 22 hectares of vineyard in the Côte de Beaune region of Burgundy, with prestigious parcels (Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and other) in Aloxe, Ladoix, Echezeaux and Nuit St Georges. The domaine was one of the original wineries to use the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune appellation when it was created in 1961.
I’ve loved Claire’s non-sulphured Aligoté for years, but my preference is beginning to veer towards her red wines. They are all made in small quantities (833 cases of this wine) and transcend the rustic, present, engaging, Pinot Noirs that are accessible out of the gate.
2016 is the third in a line of beautiful tasting vintages for red wines in Burgundy - though most winemakers you’ll talk to had a very hard go of it. There was devastating hail intermittently throughout the summer and some winemakers lost as much as 90% of their crop in certain vineyards. Generally, the quality of the wines that were made is very high. When hail destroys grapes early in the season, the vines focus their effort into the remaining grapes and there is concentration. Across the board, the red Burgundy I’ve tasted from 2016 is remarkable; there is just so very little of it.
This wine is the expression of several plots with high quality potential -- good exposure, good plant material and excellent harvest quality. The work in the vineyards and the quality of the product means that Claire can complete vinification with whole clusters (no destemming) and without adding sulfites during the winemaking process. After 5 days of intracellular fermentation, the grapes are pressed and the fermentation continues. There is no “pumping over” (where, in order to extract more color and flavor, the winemaker takes the juice at the bottom of the tank and pumps it to the top of the tank, where all the skins are). When the time comes to press the juice off the skins, the pressing is very gentle, which means that no bitter or astringent flavors from the skins is brought forth. The wine spends a year in 44% new oak before being bottled without filtration. There is a touch of sulfur added at bottling, to protect the wines during travel and for years of aging to come.
Because the wine is unfiltered, I’d recommend setting the bottle upright at least 1 hour before serving. It is gorgeous upon opening and evolves marvelously over 2-3 hours. The nose has a beautiful complexity, combining crunchy cherry, coriander leaf and dried rose petals. The palate bites on the attack but has a beautiful depth; the woody and umami character counterbalanced by a fresh fruit. Together, the fruit and non-fruit characteristics, combine as a harmonious wine, already very pleasant to drink. 833 cases made.
Serving Suggestions: The classic red Burgundy pairing is duck, so I’d suggest running up to the Farmer’s Market and grabbing some Long-Island duck, perhaps the breast, or a cured duck-ham. Also fantastic with Chinese food.
Cornelius Says: Enjoyable now, though cellaring for 3-4 years will reveal more potpourri, more liquorice and more non-red fruit character.
Brendan Stater-West "Les Chapaudaises" 2016
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Region: Loire Valley, France
Appellation: Saumur Blanc
I’m going to step aside and let Greg take this one. He’s fresh off the plane from France’s largest natural wine fair and he found a real gem hidden in the cellar of one of the great Chenin Blanc producers in the world, Domaine Guiberteau.
Brendan Stater-West’s story starts in Paris in a wine store. As a young English teacher from Oregon, Brendan fell in love with wine through a fellow teacher and eventually traded out pedagogy for wine. One of the first bottles of white wine that spoke to him was a 2008 Brezé from Domaine Guiberteau. After months of harassing Romain Guiberteau, Brendan was finally given an internship at the Domaine in 2012.
It’s not every day that an 8th generation French winemaker decides to champion a newbie American, but by 2015 Romain Guiberteau had helped Brendan secure a small parcel of Chenin called “Les Chapaudaises” abutting the famous Guiberteau parcel of Clos du Guichaux.
There is one important thing to keep in mind here – the Loire is a vast expanse running hundreds of miles and dozens of appellations. And despite this massive swath of French vineyard land there is really only one place that is as heralded (and fiercely guarded) as a Burgundian vineyard – the hill of Brezé.
There are only four producers that release estate wines from the Brezé terroir and the list reads like a Saumur Hall of Fame: Arnaud Lambert, Clos Rougeard, Domaine de Collier and Domaine Guiberteau. The hill of Brezé extends southeast into a town called Bizay, which is where Brendan has his parcel. Only a few hundred meters from the southern edge of Brezé, Les Chapaudiases has the same exact soils as Brezé.
Brendan’s Les Chapaudiases Chenin Blanc is made in the Guiberteau cellar, affected by the same ambient yeasts as the Guiberteau wines, fermented and aged in the same old oak barrels as Guiberteau, and offers the same great balance of immediate explosiveness and deeply satisfying lift and energy that I have come to love from Brezé. In Brendan’s words: “I knew it was a terroir that could make the style of Chenin that I am crazy for: elegant, pure, vertical, with salinity from the limestone. Beautiful ripeness and satisfactory yields after a very easy growing season.”
We are thrilled to welcome Brendan Stater-West’s wines to our small shop on Vanderbilt and excited to share his sophomore effort with our wine club.
Serving Suggestions: I like Chenin Blanc with butternut squash, with sweet potatoes, with any vegetable that has a slight sweetness to it. Maple crusted pork served with apples, homemade pork belly. Chenin has a ton of acid and a honeyed smell, so rich dishes with a hint of sweetness do very well.
Cornelius Says: Because of the acid, this wine will last a long, long time - easily a decade plus. If you drink in the next year, you’ll find a mineral, precise wine that shimmers with tension. If you have the patience to wait, the wine will relax, and you’ll find more citrus preserves, ginger tea.