Updated: Nov 10, 2022
I am sat writing this feeling quite bohemian as I look down over the Rue Tiquetonne on the edge of the 2ieme arrondissement in Paris watching people in the café below enjoy their morning croissants and cappuccinos. We are here to attend a charity wine auction held by my dear friend, the winemaker Pierre Millemann, who is raising money for the Princess of Monaco Foundation. Of course, being in Paris, we've spent the last few days indulging in the city's unparalleled food and wine scene. A highlight was the fabulous seafood restaurant, Divellec, near the Place des Invalides, which, if anyone pops over, is a must visit. (Thank you Muir Beachers Kirstie and Ron for the recommendation!)
We’ve had a string of late nights since our arrival, and combined with the jet lag, I looked in the mirror this morning and noticed a few extra wrinkles staring back at me -- a look that I am sure bestows a little more character and helps tell the story of my journey through life. (Better than saying I am just getting older!) Cracks, or wrinkles, help tell the story of a wine, too. The structure of the subsoil and rock -- and the fractures that are present -- form the intricate highway the roots of a vine must travel to discover the nature of its terroir. This creates the foundation which the other characteristics of the vintage, such as temperature and rainfall, layer upon. Without this structure imparted by the complex rocks, the wine flaps around like a sail without a mast. Our first wine is a wonderful illustration of the role of 'wrinkles’ in creating a Grand Cru wine.
This Riesling from the Alsace, in the east of France, is grown on an area of dolomitic limestone, marl, (limestone turning into clay), and limestone pebbles. These subsoils soak up water like a sponge in the winter, courtesy of the clay in the marls. However, dig a pit in August and you would see that the clay in the soils has dried and contracted, creating vertical fissures and becoming more rock-like. Now the roots of the vines can delve deep into the sub geology through the fractures, bringing with them elements of the soil above. These ‘self-ploughing’ soils are unique, and an incredibly important aspect of the Grand Cru quality of this particular wine.
How is this Grand Cru terroir expressed in this glass? It is a full bodied wine with wonderful texture and great acidity. Almost dry, but not quite, it has notes of bright yellow cherries and a lively minerality that is just mouthwateringly good. It would be the perfect pairing for both Thai and Indian curries, as well as the traditional rich pork dishes of the Alsace. It is also just a great aperitif with any pâté and charcuterie. A must to have for the cellar.
Our red this week is from a quite different terroir. An Austrian wine made from a cross of Blaufrankisch, it is grown on soils made from windblown sand, or loess, over granite and slate. Compared to clay, which tends to create smoother wines, the sandy soils often result in brighter, lifted wines like this one, that can have an almost ethereal quality.
The Gassner family farms 3 hectares in a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Austrian village of Rust. Until 2015 they only made wine for themselves, their family, and friends. Finally, they were persuaded to release a small amount for sale, so we are super lucky to get some of this minuscule production. They farm biodynamically, which includes hand spraying the vines with their home-brewed teas to feed and protect the plants -- something not for the faint of heart. They also age the wine in large clay amphoras, another influence, which brightens the flavors of the wine. This is a beautiful, delicate, but complex wine with dried rose petals and cherries and a hint of iron from the soils. Serve just a tad cooler. It is excellent with a lamb chop or a rack of lamb with a little redcurrant and rosemary jelly.
Another fabulous Syrah from Saint Joseph in the Northern Rhône. This is a deep, dark purple wine that is almost opaque. The aromas are of blackberry, leather, smoked meat, and earth tones in the mouth. It has near-perfect balance with thick, sweet fruit, and nice, lively acidity. Very difficult to resist now, though it will benefit from 5-10 years of cellaring. Only 25 cases are imported to the US each year so don’t miss this fabulous wine for the holidays this year or for the next 10!