As I sit at San Francisco’s airport, I savor the moments that filled the past two days. I flew into San Fran for the annual tasting of my favorite importer’s portfolio: Martine’s Wines—a French wine importer who lives in California and is renowned for her exceptional global selections of wine. The one common denominator these wines share is regional integrity. Each embodies the soil of their respective birthplaces.
This tasting—a meeting of all these fabulous finds—is a highly anticipated event for the wine community. Needless to say, it is an event that compelled me to make the trip with little hesitation.
It began with yesterday’s Sunday afternoon informal luncheon reception at no other than Martine’s home in Marin County. She lived upon a marsh-like pond that recruited numerous birds from the Bay area. It was peaceful, sunny and filled with sounds of insects and birds alike. I knew straight away that this, compounded with the fact that I was to chat with some of my favorite French producers, would make this a most memorable afternoon.
From the delicate, focused bubbles of Champagne producer Stephane Coquillette and mineral laden Muscadets of Metaireau to the heavenly honeyed Vouvrays from Vincent Carame and almost startling sophistication of Christophe Perrot-Minot’s Burgundian Pinot Noir (a 2000 was opened just to give one an idea of its unquestionable ageworthiness… this baby was just starting its life).
I was all smiles, listening to each and every thickly accented French winemaker explain their reasons for applying various viticultural techniques as well as their family histories of winemaking. Many come from a long tradition, a family tradition, which speaks to the importance of history, family and steadfast integrity to be found in Martine’s portfolio. It is a book in which I could select any bottle blind and know with certainty that it will be among the best of its region. They are of the utmost in purity and expression of terroir. In a word, they are important wines, as they communicate each region’s personality and greatest potential.
Though I sipped each wine on Sunday with only a hint of frustration (oh, how I long to break free from the crowd and revert to my reclusive, research self, writing copious notes on each wine), I reserved my palate academic undertakings for today’s elaborate five-hour tasting, which was held at the gorgeous Golden Gate Club.
The setting couldn’t have been better. It was lovely—open, airy and teeming with eager oenophiles, such as myself, glass in hand, whilst holding a pen and paper packet in the other. Thirty-four tables were arranged, and nearly forty producers were represented—most of whom were there in the flesh to pour their creations. Some people envision an afterlife of hot fudge sundays and palm trees. For me, this was my version of paradise.
Though I could go on about each and every wine sampled, the following were particularly striking. They are the ones I would keep an eye out for if I were a collector, burghound, or general wine geek (disclaimer: please pardon the number of times you will read the descriptors ‘mineral,’ ‘elegant,’ ‘focused’ and ‘balanced’… Then again, why use another word when that succinctly sums so many of the wines up?):
· Stephane Coquillette Cuvee Diane Brut Champagne ($65)—Biscuity nose with hints of floral, a silky soft mouthfeel, notes of apple and pear. Light, focused, and worthy of its namesake (and price tag) “Champagne.”
· Gonet-Medeville Rosé Extra Brut 1er Cru Champagne ($65)—Perhaps what describes Xavier Gonet best is his reaction to Fernet Branca (a herbal—might I add ghastly—digestif). He winced it down and remarked in his charming French accent, “Why would someone drink of somesing so not nice… I spend a life of mine trying to make somesing that is very nice and lovely and people will want to drink… somesing that tastes very good.” He is dedicated to uphold Champagne’s prestige by producing some of the best bubbles in the entire region. He has a way of expressing the region’s distinct terroirs, whilst utilizing organic farming principles and applying low dosage to his wines. The rosé is a perfect example of his expertise—radiant minerality, precise structure and enticing aromatics. Everything a bubbly from this region should be.
· 2007 Louis Metaireau ‘One’ ($25)—There’s a reason this Muscadet wears a higher price tag. It is their most complex selection. Vinified from grapevines planted back in 1937, this mineral-rich, dry, serious white is not made every year. Only the best vintages wear the name ‘One.’ A paragon of its class. A must-have with oysters.
· 2008 Clos de la Briderie Touraine-Mesland Rosé ($16)— A rosé for the season. A fun bubble gum palate, showing strawberries and cream. Elegant, balanced, and oh so very pale. This pink immediately had me pining for summer. Plus, it’s biodynamic, such as several are in Martine’s portfolio.
· Vincent Careme Vouvray ($22-35)—Where does one start? The whole gamut is remarkable, from the ‘Sec’ (dry) to the sweeter styles of Chenin Blanc. A truly sensational showing of such a classy varietal (the Coco Chanel of white grapes).
· 2007 Laporte Sancerre ‘Domaine du Rochoy’ ($30)—Oh, yes. This is Sancerre. Flinty, focused and loaded with mineral rain. Only shimmers with glimpses of grapefruit and zest. The acid is knee-bending. Even their little ‘Le Bouquet’ Sauvignon Blanc is worth more than a second glance at only $16.
· Jean Marc-Brocard ($15-$60)—Again, I must simply say that Brocard’s range of Chardonnays from Chablis (plus his Sauvignon Blanc from Saint-Bris) are all incredible values. Each wonderfully reflect the rainwater minerality and razorsharp acidity that defines this region’s whites. He is competitive with such negociants as Drouhin and Bichot, but the quality far surpasses any other in this price range. Quite simply, the most for your money when you are in the mood for Chablis.
· 2007 Domonique Cornin Macon-Chaintre ($16)—If you are fan of unoaked Chard from the Maconnais, don’t pass up Cornin. This biodynamic producer has taken the reigns of a vineyard that was started by his father in 1938. His goal: the wine must translate the language of the soils from which it came. No exceptions. This selection is well-rounded, reminiscent of apple and pear fruit, but certainly not exceedingly fruit forward. A mineral essence as well as stiff acidity provide it the backbone it needs to graduate to a more serious Maconnais.
· 2007 Vernay Condrieu ‘Coteau de Vernon’ ($125)—This was the most incredible white of the day. Its presentation was flawlessly correct in accordance to region and varietal. A walk through a spring garden, it dripped with honeysuckle, marmalade and mandarin. Its 12-18 months time on the lees gave it richness on the palate, a decadent indulgence of the senses. The sure-handed acidity kept its rotund body in check. This Viognier promised decades of enjoyment. A wine to visit every couple years for the next twenty or so…
· 2006 Charles Audoin Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ ($30)—This bright-faced boy of a young man was such a delight to meet. I have carried his wines for a while—they are always such a good value. But getting to know him makes them taste even better. He is a fifth generation vigneron, and at the ripe age of twenty-seven is now the head of the estate. This wine offers so much for the price. It is pure, layered with spices, floral tones, earth, dried fruits and cherry. A fabulous preview of Burgundy if you have not yet ventured into that wonderful (albeit sometimes intimidating and pricey) world…
· 2007 Rion Chambolle-Musigny 1er crus ‘Les Charmes’ and ‘Les Fuelles’ ($95)—The wines of Patrice Rion bedazzled me. Each vineyard sang such a different tune. It was hard to pick a favorite, as each bottle seemed to call for a different context, meal and year for consumption. It came down to these two, though. If you want to sip on one relatively soon, open the ‘Les Fuelles’, which displayed a lovely perfumed bouquet and traces of dried tea leaves. It was light-footed and sweet-hearted. However, if you were looking to lay some burgs down, I would likely opt for the ‘Les Charmes.’ This one had a bit more muscle flex—the tannins and color were richer, the structure more prominent, the acid racing. A stunning wine I wish to revisit in a decade…and beyond.
· 2007 Clavelier Vosne-Romanee ‘Les Beaux Monts’ 1er Cru ($110)— This was my favorite Burgundy producer of the tasting. You could tell I was not alone. Everyone lit up when they put this liquid to their lips. They were all brilliant. But there was one, in particular, that compelled me to swallow the entire 2 ounce pour (aside from my heart, Chateau Rayas, as well as a ’52 Vintage Port from Niepoort, I did not consume the entirety of any other of the other hundred or so wines…I rarely swallowed one sip of many to be honest, for could you imagine?!). Alas, the wine I refer to was the ‘Les Beaux Monts.’ The nose was not quite ready to tell its life story. It was shy, but intriguing. It wore every characteristic of Burgundy one should ever hope for: baking spice, cherries, tea, damp forest floor, and above all else: complexity in structure. It gave one a sense of life—the reminder that wine is a living thing. This wine is in its infancy… a prodigy to be realized.
· 2006 Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Lavaux-St-Jacques’ ($170)—Albeit these wines are, well, pricey. But they are worthy of the investment. This, the ’06 Lavaux-St-Jacques, is most distinctive for its elaborate spice box. I could take in that introduction on the nose for eternity. It is connected to the earth, loaded with dried violet and rose petals, and reminiscent of a free fall kind of dream. It has a seemingly endless depth that pulls one into a state of slow suspension.
· 2007 Perrot-Minot Chambertin ‘Clos de Beze’ VV Grand Cru ($300)—It may be expensive, but if you are an investor who is looking to spend, this would probably be a good bet. Unwavering in its focus, this tightly structured Pinot was born to live a long life. It may be hard to understand in its youth, but give her time. She will have so many stories to tell one day…
· 2007 Leroy Bourgogne Rouge ($35)—An affordable introduction to a legendary name in Burgundy. Madame Leroy inherited one of the most sought-after cellars in the world, home to possibly 2 million bottles. The philosophies hold that wines are released once they have finally achieved a most accurate personality—a true sense of terroir—by which the world can finally understand them. Though the rouge is more for quality everyday enjoyment, try the 1995 Leroy Cotes de Beaune Village for a more accurate representation of Leroy’s intention and overall integrity of product.
· 2007 Domaine du Pegau ($90)—If, like me, your heart is often pulled towards the Rhone, this is an estate not to be missed. Pegau is among the leaders in Chateauneuf du Pape, and their Blanc and Cuvee Reservee Rouge continuously demonstrate a traditional style. These wines are meant to age, so although today I wanted to fall in the glass, so in love with the nose was I… I know it was only a glimpse of what is yet to come in a few years…
· 2006 Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape ($90)—Though it is tempting to prattle on about the current release of Chateau Rayas (inspiring as always), I was quite taken with Pignan CDP this afternoon, which was half the price. Made from slightly more ripened vines, this Grenache still had all the makings of Rayas—that unmistakable mixture of tea leaves, garrigue, and dried cranberries. Insanely addictive…the nose, that is.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of Martine’s portfolio. If you have yet to explore these producers, I am super excited for you! Many of these producers cultivated my passion for wine. If you have more questions about these or other wines in the book, I very well could have tasted them and am more than happy to go into greater depth with you. Just give a shout…