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california wine, French Wine Travel, Lopez de Heredia

geeking out.

Anyone who is truly passionate about wine can identify with the titillating effects of spending an evening with other like-minded cork dorks. To gather round, share a meal, and analyze wines of character—well, there are few other pastimes that get me so giddy. It’s unexplainable, that feeling when everyone is on the same passionate page.

The other night happened to be one of those evenings. A few of my wine geek friends and I gathered, each happily holding our bottle to share.

We began by enjoying a caprese salad made with fresh basil from the garden along with the 2007 Domaine Tempier from Bandol. This may sound a bit familiar from a previous posting entitled: ‘La la la la Lulu: rose that makes you think.” The Californian 2007 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rose was created with 120 year old Mourvedre vines in honour of Lucien Payraud, pioneer of Bandol and creator of Domaine Tempier wines. As soon as I put my nose to the glass, a little rush of excitement filled me: this was quintessential southern France. I hadn’t really had a French rose since my return, and I immediately was back on the Mediterranean.

Once I got past the bittersweet tug of newly formed nostalgia, I took care to note the delicate herbs and strawberries that lined my nostrils. There was a candied quality to it tempting me to take a sip, which I did. “So this is what $40 rose tastes like?” I thought. Was it worth it? All things considered, yes. My expectations were met. As I have always been adamant about, this is not just another rose. This is part and parcel of an entire history of the Bandol winemaking region. This is from a family who believed in Southern France and its capacity for world class, age-worthy wine. This rose is serious, showing textural nuances on the palate and demonstrating considerable complexity. Above all, it makes you think. If you are unconvinced that rose can play with the big boys, this is an impressive pink that might change your mind.

We then opened a 2004 Peter Jakob Kuhn ‘Quartzit’ Trocken. This dry German Riesling from one of the most esteemed producers in the Rheingau was ageing beautifully. Kuhn must have a sense of humour, for knowing that he would undoubtedly create a wine with utmost sophistication, he sealed the bottle with a metal crown beer cap. After popping it off with a chuckle, a golden yellow hue greeted us. We took a sniff and started to smile. It wasn’t botrytis (also known as ‘noble rot’), but it was a complex honeyed or petrol quality that signaled late harvest, though this was merely a trocken style Riesling (12.5% alc by vol). Actually, it was more like honeycomb, for there was a grittiness to it, reminiscent of a rind as well as notes of quince, tangerine, and flowers. As it opened a bit more, some dried herbs came through. For $28, we all felt extremely fortunate to have found such magnanimous personality in this well-made Riesling.

As we began dinner—a spread of mussels, grouper, seasoned rice, grilled asparagus and radicchio—we enjoyed a 2006 Feudi della Medusa ‘Albithia’ made from the Vermentino varietal. Truth? This wine ticked me off. I loved it, but it frustrated me. This a wine that can send you into a frenzy if you work too hard to pin it down. It resists all words of confinement. By the time you walk away from this wine, after much contemplation, you can only really determine that it has incredible minerality, well-stated acidity, a respectable mouthfeel, and remarkable balance. It sees 100% steel, but still, crisp apple and floral components only faintly come through. We were all really excited about the austerity in this $15 find.

We moved onto reds, beginning with one of my favorites: the 2006 Domaine des Tours. This is one of the more inexpensive wines you can find from the Reynaud family, who also handles such estates as Fonsalette and Chateau Rayas. I continually tell people this is possibly the best wine I have ever consumed under $20. Every year for several, I have held that opinion. It is consistently phenomenal for the dollar and unlike anything I have ever had within and without the Rhone. This blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Merlot, Cunoise, and Dious has synthesized beautifully, giving off a range of aromas from dried flowers and cranberries to cloves and garrigue (or dried leaves). On the palate, the scent is confirmed and it feels closest to Pinot Noir or possibly Beaujolais in texture. I can’t say enough about this wine. It’s incredible. Everything from the Reynaud estates are first rate, but this little red from Vaucluse is unmatchable in terms of quality for the money.

We then brought out the decanter, in which a 1998 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape had been resting for a couple hours. As some may already know, 1998 was a fantastic year for this region. The weather was warm, and well-spaced rainfall ensured that both Grenache and Syrah—Rhone’s leading red varietals—experienced optimal ripening conditions. It showed in the wine. The nose revealed a desirable aged aroma—a raisiny smell held down by dark cherries. The palate erupted with spices from nutmeg to oregano, cloves to lavender. I think it is drinking superbly right now and probably has another year or two in this state of mind before it begins to change its personality once again.

Finally, what’s a night without some Lopez? We ended the night by sharing a 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rojo from Rioja. Not surprisingly, this traditional-style Spanish red spoke in a familiar tone, displaying deep, thoughtful fruit, well-woven spices, and a kind of depth that takes you back to the 19th century. This current release proves, once again, there is no Spanish winemaker quite like Lopez. Seriously. You must try these wines if you haven’t already.

A couple cups of coffee later, the geek squad dissipated. Off we were to revisit our journals, considering the places we just visited and the years we time-travelled to, all the while pondering which bottle we might bring to the next nerdy gathering of wine lovers.

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About mistralwine1982

Originally from Wisconsin, I moved to Colorado in 2005 in order to get closer to the mountains and rock climb. When it occurred to me that I would never make money with that hobby, I went to grad school. I received a masters in English and American Literature from New York University in May of 2009. I have since then opted not to pursue a PhD, for studying and writing about wine is far more fascinating (well, perhaps not moreso than Virginia Woolf, but still… for the long haul?). My favorite wines come from the old world, especially the Rhone, Burgundy, Rioja, Piedmont, and Tuscany. I am also smitten with roses, Italian hard-to-pronounce white varietals, and dessert wines from around the world. By day I run a wine shop. By nite, I sip and tell. It’s rough… but someone must do this.

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