Side Roads (Jan. 14, 2020)

It's no small irony that the first meetings I remember best are of the people I first met at wine tastings - where, theoretically at least, my memory should have been somewhat impaired. My first meeting with importer Uri Caftory was at a Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting, way back in July 19, 2007 (so says the date of the blog post). Torn t-shirt and a short philosophical monologue. The shirts and monologues have improved since. I may not agree with everything Caftory says, but it's fun milking him for ideas.

Caftory reminds me of a famous Neil Young quote. Well, it's famous if you're a Neil Young fan and then you can put it to just about a thousand uses. "Heart of Gold" put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.

Caftory isn't exactly in the ditches, but it sure feels like you couldn't find some of the wines he carries with a GPS.

Philippe Tessier, Cour-Cheverny, 2017

Take this, for example. Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book lists just about every French appellation, yet Cour-Cheverny rates only a line or two within the Cheverny entry. Cour-Cheverny is an AOC that recognizes only the Romorantin grape, which is grown nowhere else. Tessier ages it in old oak, with a lot of batonnage. Thus, the character is oxidized but not oaky. It smells almost like a still Champagne: baked apples, yeasts, mushrooms. Romorantin is a grape with an oily texture and high in acidity and retains it even in a ripe vintage like 2017. 

Michel Redde et Fils, Pouilly-Sue-Loire, Gustavsson Dudain, 2017

I'm sure Dageneau fans will offer an argument, but Redde is my favorite producer of Sauvignon Blanc. This, however, is made of Chasselas, and is labelled under a lesser designation than the Sauvignons. Chasselas is the signature Swiss grape, which I'd never actually tasted. Here, it shows a grassy, mineral-inflected character that recalls Pouilly-Fume, but markedly less smoky and much cooler and thinner A curiosity, an important curiosity, but at the end of the day doesn’t have the effortless weight of Redde’s Sauvignons.

Goisot, Côtes d'Auxerre, Les Biaumonts, 2015

A knockout expressive nose, where smoky, marine minerals evoke a cold, Northern sea, setting you up for the nuanced, elegant power of the palate. Whoever decided that Côtes d'Auxerre was a lesser appellation than Chablis didn't have the Biaumonts to contend with. 

Domaine de l'Horizon, Côtes Catalanes, Blanc, 2016

This Grenache Blanc/Gris/Macabeu blend used to knock me out and I recognize that it still can, but this night, its broad, spicy charms  were overshadowed by the etched nuances of the Biaumonts and the evocative, oxidative zombie slump of the Cour-Cheverny

Clos Marie, Languedoc Pic St. Loup, l'Olivette,  2017

This used to be the brett poster boy in the catalog. Nowadays, it's just meaty, without the feces stink, carried on to lightly tannic, yet persistent, finish. Tasty and spicy with a relatively silky texture. 

Elian Da Ros, Côtes du Marmandais, Chante Coucou, 2016

If you travel southeast on the Garonne, you'll reache Côtes du Marmandais, a backward AOC whose only claim to distinction is arguably Elian Da Ros. Because of the restrained use of oak, there's nothing to block the fresh vitality of the fruit, as is likely to happen with a young Bordeaux. I also get hints of the aromatic complexity of a more mature Bordeaux. I don't see that as premature aging, but rather as a different aging curve than Bordeaux. Also, there are hints of cherry chocolate, but not in an obnoxious way.

Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Cotes-du-Rhone, Petit Ours, 2016

Barret is Cornas producer that totally avoids barrels in all his wines, fermenting and aging in concrete and tanks. The Petit Ours is 100% Syrah, which is rare for a CdR. The fruit is all bought from other growers around Cornas and Saint Joseph. It's a very fruity wine, a bit candied with a touch of flowers and spices, but not pepper. I always like it, but never in love with it, but it is a good illustration of the house style.

Domaine Hauvete, Baux-de-Provence. Cornlaine, 2013

This is the wine that drew me to the tasting and the background story is an interesting one, although not very uncommon. Well, not uncommon in the portfolio of Hauvette's American importer, Kermit Lynch. In the early 1980s Dominique Hauvette left her lawyer job in the Savoie and came to Provence in search of more sunshine, eventually taking up first winemaking, then biodynamics. Almost four decades later, she's making cult-status wines, doesn't have an email, Facebook or Instagram account and hardly picks up the phone. Caftory had to struggle for years to get an allocation. The blend is 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and is a sort of Côte Rôtie meets the Loire, combining Côte Rôtie texture and telltale signature of bacon with damp earth, sweet (but not overripe) fruit and integrated tannins. Still a youngster, it impresses for its harmony and depth right now, rather than complexity.

Chateau d’Or et de Gueules, Costieres de Nimes, La Bolida, 2016

Mostly Mourvèdre. I have fond memories of the 2006, but I've changed a lot since and right now  I find that, while it’s not as sweet and heavy handed as a CdP (it’s actually quite elegant for its weight), it serves as proof that the true villain of Chateauneuf is Mourvèdre, which makes up 90% of the blend. It's clean and the ripe cherries are tasty, but it's not especially memorable, for me.

Domaine de l'Horizon, Côtes Catalanes, Rouge, 2014

A Carignan/Grenache blend. Red fruit and white pepper. This is more complex than I remembered from previous vintages, with integrated tannins making for a surprisingly smooth texture. Very good, maybe not my first choice at the dining table, but very good.