Marvelous Marsannay

ornette_coleman_600p_01 After a particularly compelling weekend at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival I could not help but ponder what complexity is all about. On Friday I watched Ornette Coleman in what was one of most moving artistic performances I have ever experienced. This was followed on Sunday by a solo piano performance by Cecil Taylor, whose music is so complex and creative it refuses to be captured by any genre, including jazz. The thing that defines the music of artists like Coleman and Taylor is that it does not request your attention, but demands it. If you don’t focus your attention on their music you will miss the challenging beauty and energy it processes and its elegance becomes cacophony. The contrast to this is music like Led Zeppelin with big clear rhythms impossible for the deadest ear to miss. Such music requires little of the listener except to dance, not that there’s anything wrong with that. As seductive as those 95 point Led Zeppelin wines may be, true complexity can only be found in wines that demand your attention to fully appreciate them. Obvious wines don’t make you dig deeper to understand them. The best wines draw you in slowly, sip-by-sip and glass-by-glass until they finally reveal every aspect of their complexity to you. Eventually they demand your attention.

Having no time after work to grab a bite before the Ornette Coleman concert, I went out to eat afterwards and my over-stimulated brain received another jolt from the excellent Marsannay,  Les Saint Jacques, Domaine de Beauclair, 2002 I had with dinner. The dramatic increases in the knowledge of winemaking and viticulture have transformed Burgundy and appellations like Marsannay ( related posts here and here). Once a place name to be ignored, growers in places like Marsannay are often producing better wines than their more famous neighbors. This is a wonderful pinot noir with a regal richness laced across a firm backbone and bright acidity. What was most exciting about this wine was how it grew and expanded with each sip eventually becoming a wine that demanded your attention. That’s what defines complexity.

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Wine Notes

Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

  • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
  • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
  • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
  • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
  • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
  • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
  • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
  • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
  • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
  • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.


domaine bart I tasted the wine and could not believe it. Astounded I took another sip, then another and finally a joyous gulp. I still could not believe. I went back to my desk and rummaged through my papers until I finally found it. Even with the proof in front of my very happy nose I could not believe. Yet the truth could not be ignored. There printed on the receipt was the undisputable truth: $18.89. I still don’t believe it. They had even given me a 10% discount. What I got for $18.89 was an astounding pinot noir that I would have thought a value at twice the price.

The Marsannay, Les Saint Jacques, Domaine Bart 2005 may be the finest pinot noir bargain I have ever tasted. At least it’s the best I can remember. You’d be hard pressed to find an equal for under $60. This is what pinot noir is all about. It is stunningly fragrant with layers of exotic spices, black fruits and black truffles all laced into a vinous magnet that attracts your nose to the glass and won’t let it go. The flavors are rich, concentrated and powerfully elegant. This is a wine that deserves respect and that means about five more years of pampered aging to allow the great potential of this wine to show itself.

A wine of this quality at this price is a glaring indictment of all the overripe, variety and terroir-free New World pinot noirs selling for four times the price of this treasure, not to mention the many Burgundy wines with more famous names and prices that have no relationship to what’s actually in the bottle. We are entering a new era in the world of wine where wines with the highest prices and the most famous names are often some of the least interesting wines to actually drink.

Now the only question is do I have the willpower to age my remaining five bottles.

(pictured above: Domaine Bart) 

A Vintage Bargain

Etiquette-Boucherottes As a well seasoned business traveler I have the dining alone thing down. I have my magazine in hand and seek out the best meal I can find. One thing about dining solo is you get to really dig into those massive wine lists. Were you not dining alone the half-hour of study sometimes required, bouncing back and forth between the menu and the list, would not endear you to your dining companion. I am divorced after all. However, this night the magazine would not be required as a far more alluring companion unexpectedly joined me.

As you dig into these big wine lists you get buried under the weight of the prices. Every bottle that catches your eye is both outrageously expensive and way too young. As my attention always drifts to the Burgundies and pinot noirs the shock of the prices of the available new releases is more often than not depressing. These stratospheric prices mean that a restaurant is certainly no place to experiment. One of the main advantages of solo wine list reading is you have time to do your research. Due to the bizarre world of the wine business today, often younger wines are more expensive than older wines and one of the best places to find bargains is older vintages. Obviously this is not always the case, but I have found many relative bargains on some wonderful wines with a few years under their corks that are perfectly ready to drink.

One recent find was the 1998 Pommard, 1er Cru, Les Clos des Boucherottes, Monopole, Domaine Coste-Caumartin, which was selling for some $50 less a bottle than 2005 Big Point California pinot noir. This was a put-your-magazine-away type of wine as no other entertainment was needed. I stashed the magazine away and spent the meal with the scintillating company of the wine alone. It is moments like this that refocus your passion for wine. The Pommard was an otherworldly accompaniment to rich braised pork shank served buried under a small mountain of black winter truffles. As you sip on such a complex wine you can really feel the direct sensory connection of flavors to the pleasure centers of the brain. This is what great wine is all about. While still richly fruity, the black fruits are just giving way to an exotic spicy earthiness that both mirrored and amplified the fragrant truffles on my plate. I spent another half-hour lingering over a last glass and then shared the rest of the bottle with the captain and sommelier, both of whom had been drawn to my table by the bottle I’d ordered.

We finished the last sips and I asked for the check, which arrived with a complimentary dessert and a glass of Kracher Beerenauslese, with which I toasted the late great Alois Kracher who just passed away.

When a meal is perfect, you never dine alone.