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WILD AND RADICAL, AND A TEENY PREVIEW OF 2023

Before starting in on the samples, I had a quick look at a few 2023’s last week, not enough to offer a judgment but enough to offer a speculation.

In Germany, based on samples from Dönnhoff and Selbach, ’23 looks much better than 22; structure, absence of dubious flavors, polish, clean fruit. Even at the low end they look to be thoroughly solid.

Again based on very sketchy evidence, Austria looks to be “proper to good.”

 

 

Now to the “wild and radical wines - by my standards anyway. I have a case of samples from a local importer/distributor, which I’ll set about tasting and writing about. None are from regions I worked in, and none are from growers I know, and so I have no frame of reference except my simple wits. I won’t research the estates until after I’ve tasted through the wines at least once. I invite readers to grade the results on a 100-point scale, with 100 signifying maximum (and pathetic) foolishness.

I made no promises that I’d “like” the wines, but I did agree that if I really disliked something, it made no sense to publish about it. I’ll tell you about the issues I had in general terms only.



2021 Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Donatsch “Zum Ochsen”

From the Swiss canton of Graubünden, it would appear to be an everyday wine with 12% alc. The first aromas are smoky, more of the ground than the grape. The palate recalls some of the Pinot Blancs grown on granite in Alsace. It has the asperity so many of the ’21 whites show. The words I’d use are “interesting” and “worthwhile,” and they’re not euphemisms for unattractive. The wine is good – but not better than good. And I fear it may cost more than it’s worth, as most Swiss wines do.

Yet I like Swiss wine, in essence, and have drunk a great many while on hiking vacations, including most of the “names,” especially from the Valais. I will say the more this warms in the glass the more the flavor expands. The terroir notes are more rugged than refined, and I’d like to have tasted more fruit. But leaving aside the overall context of Graubünden Pinot Blancs, which I’m too ignorant to address, I find a certain originality here.

It was also lovely at the table, where its minerality was appealingly rugged. I suspect this will have improved further when I “taste” it again, as indeed it did.

 


2020 “Médinette,” Dézelay Grand Cru – Louis Bovard, Cully

I drank this (I believe) at the Mont Cervin Grill in Zermatt last year, and took a picture of the charming colorful label. How nice to see it again! It looks like Julia Child after one hell of a party….

It’s Chasselas as good as Chasselas gets (in a classic idiom, i.e., not counting the wacked-out masterworks from Ziereisen…), made by Louis Bovard in the village of Cully, canton of Vaud, around the eastern edge of Lac Leman.

No secret; I love Chasselas, in all its guises, whether slight and drinky (it’s addictive in that vein) or else, as it is here, ambitious and serious. Chasselas is fundamentally nutty, specifically walnutty, and this wine has attitude. The aromas are fabulous, and I was primed to melt with bliss – yet….

The wine feels a little top-heavy on the palate. I suspect it’s either a shipping and storage issue, or (unlikely) a below-threshold cork, but whatever it is, it’s ungainly. And it suffers from the excessive attention endemic to the “tasting” situation, because I’m imagining having this in a restaurant while the amuse-bouche is cleared away and you’re smearing butter on the yummy bread and settling in to have a good dinner, and in that case all you’d register are the wine’s virtues – which are significant.

After all, a fragrance this compelling doesn’t just become nothing on the palate. In this case it becomes a slice of walnut-bread that was toasted a minute too long. It’s just a little bitter, and that bitterness is starkly exposed. I do think a lot of wine-peeps would like this wine a bunch; it’s original and full of character, and I’m sure I’m silly to find the wine forcing the Grand-Cru-ness by pushing expressiveness at the cost of fruit and harmony. But you really should taste it and judge for yourself. It is certainly important wine.

 


2022 Bourgogne Tonnerre (Chardonnay), Dom. Marsoif

This near-neighbor to Chablis was made by one  Raphael Masson in Serrigny. It smells and tastes Chablis-adjacent, and it’s a lot of fun. (He also bottles a Petit Chablis, by the by.)

Kimmeridge is apparent, and if there’s any oak (discernible on the finish) it is well integrated. And I mean this as a full-hearted compliment: This wine does the job. It will wash down your oysters. It will cuddle up to your mussels. Your trout in a dill cucumber sauce is safe. It’s a smart, tasty “starter” wine if you like, though it won’t pall if you take it through an evening.

The empty glass smells like modest-but-honest Chablis, which is entirely fine by me. And this wine held steady over four days. Seriously, you have to love a modest wine that understands the job, and does it.

 


2021 Santenay Blanc,  Jane Eyre                                                       +

Wax blob for a capsule (which I dislike), but at least the bottle isn’t abnormally heavy. The fragrance is appealing. I’ve liked the ’21 white Burgundies, and this little dickens has all of 12% alc.

I find this, at first, exceptionally good. The wood is quickly effaced by a lovely and novel terroir statement, and the palate is so sprightly you could almost call it drinky. It is terse, though, and dissolves to a finish with less fruit than I prefer. Still, that’s a taster’s impression, and it’s rather at odds with the drinker’s impression, which is more charitable.

It bears an eerie resemblance to certain Austrian Grüner Veltliners, the kind people say “tastes like white Burgundy,” and where the oak is forced. In the end this is a curious wine; it smells good and is seriously attractive while it’s on the palate, and then it bids an abrupt farewell leaving a starkly woody taste in its wake.

This was really moot at dinner, where the wine was delightful in each respect. This kept being true over three more nights, after which I admired it more and more.

 

 

 

2020 “Les Monts de Juchepie” Chenin Sec, Anjou, Eddy & Mileine Oosterlinck-Bracke          +

14% alc, which bothers me less than the rampant oxidation. I suppose oxidation is the point, so I’ll seek to accept the wine on its own terms.

It smells a bit like Calvados. It’s exotic, like a feral farmhouse honey. The palate is massive and really impressive, to the extent one is impressed with the Type. I am not, on principle, yet I can see why one might be blown away by the sheer impact.

And that impact really is impressive, with the caveat that if you drink it too cold it’ll taste medicinal, and too warm it’ll taste rather crudely ripe and “sauvage.” There’s also a kind of facsimile of sweetness I assume is the effect of physiological ripeness. The finish is long and shrugs off the various “issues,” leaving a superbly pure Chenin flavor on the soft palate.

It's also lovely to watch what emerges from the initial oxidation. Classic beeswax and smoke from Chenin charm you as the wine flexes its considerable muscles. Think about well-seared scallops in brown-butter sprinkled with Kandy spices (or Chinese 5-spice). As you see, this unlikely wine is stealing my poor heart. Wicked wines will sometimes do that, and this wine is wickedly wicked.

 

2020 L’Etoile Chardonnay, Dom. Philippe Vandelle (Jura).           +                   

The appellation is meaningful to me; it is the name of my wife’s groundbreaking seasonal-regional restaurant in Madison, WI, which she sold to her chef-de-cuisine in 2005 and which continues to this day. Soon it will be 50 years old; she owned it for thirty of them. The appellation is named for the little star-shaped fossils found throughout the vineyards, and my experience has been that the wines are a little slimmer and more overtly mineral than other Jura wines.

This has that flor-like smell that’s also present in Ziereisen’s whites, and that seems pervasive among Jura whites, as though the bacteria is simply in the air in the fields and the cellars. That’s just my image-tone; I don’t know if it’s true. Maybe Mr. Vandelle likes that sous-voile note in his whites.

But whatever it is, this wine is wicked good.

It’s a sneaky beast. At first it’s kinda <yawn>, I know that smell, and then you get it on the palate and again it’s “what’s below the veil?” and you might be tempted to think too many Jura whites taste alike. But wait about a minute, because this wine leaves the most stunning and astonishing aftertaste, and it takes you by surprise and seizes you with brown butter and aged Comté and toasted hazelnuts, and something that emerges from but isn’t part of any flavor that preceded it.

In the end it’s something like an atavistic Meursault made by some mumbling old coot whose wines are too “primitive” to find an American importer (excluding the naturalistas, I suppose, who’d surely adore it) but who’s well regarded by the neighbors, who were raised on wines like this.

In some ways it hardly matters what it smells like or tastes like. It’s a piece of culture. But if I force myself to try, I’d say it smells like ghee and freshly ground nutmeg, and it tastes something like Mimolette cheese, and the finish is like “WTF did you even do with that butter?!?!” At the very end the tertiary finish has some of the maltiness of the best Assam teas.

 

2022 Chainai Ouillée, Dom. Philippe Vandelle (JURA)                   +                               

100% Savignin, aged (a year) in oak but not sous voile, this comes from a site on white marl and is more modestly priced than the more “antique” bottlings. It is also a markedly pure and articulate example of the variety, and a rare one that doesn’t need extremely high alcohol to taste ripe.

I like this hugely, but then I like Savignin and I can’t recall when I’ve seen it more lucid than this. The palate is splendidly intricate, iodized to within an inch of its life (“salty” doesn’t suffice to depict this); the funky side of florals, allusions to spearmint and explicit references to lychee.

This is an original and compelling wine, full of character and “somewhereness,” charmingly rural while still tasting competent. It’s a bit of an antidote to my profound grumpiness about an Alsace abomination, but I’m taking care not to overrate it as a compensation.

But look at it! There’s as much mineral shimmer as any palate could beg for; there is perfect harmony among its components; there is all the atmosphere of a place that’s off-the-trail (or used to be, at any rate) – there are, in short, all the things that make a meaningful wine meaningful, and a fine wine fine, and a good wine good.

And the finish lasts as long as it would take you to drive from Arbois to Beaune. I do think it’s best finished the day you open it, as I felt a little attenuation a day later. But there’s no reason not to finish it quickly and happily.

 

 

RED WINES:

(NOTE: everything was tasted at least twice, and with a 48-hour gap between the first two occasions. I tell you this because the three Burgundies were slow to unfurl and I needed to see if my initial judgments were reasonable.)

 

2021 Fleurie, Jane Eyre.                                        glug-glug-glug

Among Beaujolais’ many charms, it also has a pretty color, which is insufficiently cited.

Look, the wine is perfect. It’s gluggable, interesting, proper in every way; spicy and salty and rich, with a (not unusual) metallic high note that flirts with reduction, but the wine is so yummy and suave I really don’t want to fuss about this. The classic silvery blueberry element is a balm for all the wines that collapse beneath their excessive ambition.

I still “glug-glug-glug” it only because it’s so compellingly drinky, but there’s true weight and substance here, but what’s really so reassuring is to encounter a wine that, again, A) understands the job and B) does the job and C) seems to really likethe job.

I had the last third of the bottle after it had been open two weeks. It was literally astonishing. The oxidation conferred the most addictive sweetness over the wine, and when I sipped it side-by-side with Bründlmayer’s basic Zweigelt my happiness was just this side of unbearable.

 

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Bondues, Domaine Darviot-Perrin

After the gushing saturation of color of the Fleurie, this looks almost slight. But it isn’t; it’s just correct. And it smells lovely, provided you understand that “lovely” in this case does not mean pretty. There’s a barky gnarl about many red Chassagnes that can (at its worst) feel rustic, but the better ones are maybe “elegantly rural” or “genially candid.”

That said, the tannin here is maybe too pronounced. It’s like one of the “lesser” cuts of beef, brisket or skirt steak where you have to braise away the stringiness. Mixing the metaphor, this wine’s a bit of a tough old bird. I’m hearing that recent wines may be better (and there was some instability at the property?) and ’16 isn’t a fleshy vintage in general.

To be fair, I tasted this at 62º and have watched it improve as it warms. It remains a scruffy sort of Burgundy, though I warm to it as it warms for me. Even that first jolt of tannin has mostly dissolved into a pleasant dustiness. The patient taster will be rewarded! That, or there’s always the carafe.

TWO DAYS LATER the wine was not only more expressive, it had also obtained the ethereal “sweetness” of umami that we look (and hope) for in fine Burgundy. This is truer from the Spiegelau than from the Jancis, but the latter shows more minerality. It also offers a reasonable value (by Burgundy standards) for a less infantile vintage. Is isn’t a hedonic bomb, but I’m enjoying it.

 

2019 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers, Domaine Chicotot

Marked density of color; it looks like what we once knew as “Kacher Burgundies.”

A truly miniscule production – basically a single barrique – it’s not only rare but also remarkable in its marked expressiveness. It’s an assertive wine, with a voice that fills the room. It has a rampant thrust of pepper and animality – the good kind, not the brett-y kind – and I have a certain fondness for a yowling Burgundy, as long as it doesn’t curdle into incoherence. There’s also a not-unpleasantly bitter char that may (may?) have to do with new wood.

One doesn’t find the ethereal perfumey side of Burgundy here. In fact one finds an agreeable rusticity that belies the very weird place Burgundy has become the last few years. Mr. Moneybags will not find a sensuous pet in this bottle. He’ll find – if he bothers to look – a corrugated texture supporting quite a snarl of countrified Pinot Noir. Will he linger long enough to appreciate the length and minerality of the finish? I doubt it.

I like this. It’s Burgundy as a mere wine, not an item or an object or some fantasy jerkoff wine you bring to your tasting group to prove your unassailable manhood. This is the untamed mineral side of Burgundy. I admire it.

TWO DAYS LATER a small oxidation has stolen in, but this isn’t actually disagreeable. It also shows a curious mineral-adjacent fragrance, like if gun metal had a scent. Or Burgundy truffle plus Sarawak pepper….

I had TWO WINES that bothered me. One was something that couldn’t be helped, and the other was something that embodied most of the mistakes in the “natty-wine” mentality.

The first was a village Burgundy from 2020, and in keeping with a tendency in that vintage, it had too much alcohol. 14.5% to be precise. The palate is heady and medicinal. This can’t be helped in such a vintage, but if one rations one’s intake without drinking less wine – as I seek to do – then to “accept” 14.5% I’d prefer to have something above the village level. What I’m tasting here is a kind of pornography of characteristics that would probably be delightful in a less overstated vintage.

The young vigneron’s stated wish for this wine is for elements only attainable in more “normal” years, and so a decent taster must be humble in light of what “could” be done in 2020.

It's here, but you have to dive for it. Somewhere a few fathoms below the bellowing surface of jalapeño heat is the thing you want to taste, but you have to paddle furiously to get there. Look, nature makes the rules, and we adapt if we can. I look for such virtues as may be available if I have a high-alcohol wine I can’t avoid. It’s the decent thing to do.

But I can’t abide Burgundy with 14.5% alc. It’s just gross. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t need them. I’ll just locate wines in my preferred neighborhood and y’all can get down with the dragons.

This doesn’t improve in the open bottle. In my experience it almost never does. Now there’s a metallic edge that reminds me of St Laurent (with the Mourvedre-associated bitterness) and this I actually don’t mind. But look, if you want to just write me off as someone who’s reflexively a pill about wines above 14%, feel free to. A wine like this may well blow your socks off. It happens to singe my feet, but I am, let’s say, unusual among tasters….

 

 

The other wine came from a superb terroir and was made by a vintner who used to have an excellent reputation. I’m sure his new audience likes the wines more now. I don’t.

The color here is suspiciously dark. The aromas are indirectly smoky/slatey and somewhat more directly aldehydic/natural, and then the palate is….strange.

At first I thought “premox?” but then I tasted and saw that this was the point.You’ve ladled some bacterial sauce over what is a very fine terroir, and you also have residual sugar (though not much) and botrytis (or something that strongly resembles it) and when, at the very end, you get a persuasive view of the essence of the site, it's been wracked by all the weird dissonant jazz that preceded it.

Does this make me “conservative?” Let’s say, it makes me someone who dislikes the results of a mentality that sounds great on paper, and tastes shitty in the glass. So fine – it’s not my type of wine, and enough said.

But I still wonder, whose type of wine is this, and what do they like about it? The sweetness is ungainly, the oxidative aromas are decadent, the “natural” cha-cha is band-aid-y, the general effect is crudely medicinal, and the result – from a great grape and from an excellent vineyard – is rustic.

 

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