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Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist


WBW #37 - Indigenous Varieties

For a final summer fling, the knitter and I took a week-long trip to beautiful, historic, Portsmouth, NH, where we rented an apartment in a former (18th century) warehouse overlooking the harbor. I knew of only two things that were certain to happen on our trip: 1) I would finally come through on my promise to my wife that I'd learn how to knit, and 2) I would be bringing my Wine Blogging Wednesday homework with me. This month, Dr. Vino gave us our assignment to taste and write about indigenous grape varieties. That is to say, wines from grape varieties of limited production, that are not world famous, and have an historical connection to the land on which they have been growing for a very long time. I loaded up my wine bag with several candidates, and set out for vacation.

En route to New Hampshire, we dined at Boston's Toquet, where we enjoyed a lovely meal alongside a delicious bottle of Huards Cour Cheverny 2002 (made from Romorantin, and tasting of lemon peel and slate) and another bottle of bombastic, brash, yet surprisingly balanced Mollydooker "The Boxer" Shiraz 2006 - 'cuz, well, I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about. We finished the former, and left half of the latter for our service staff to enjoy. Our second night in Boston, we had a fine, albeit somewhat less fabulous meal at a place called Bin 26... which we opted to visit after being ignored by the overwhelmed staff at another restaurant owned by the same people a block away. There, we encountered (and enjoyed more than the food) a Movia Ribolla 2004 made from vines as old as 80 years, and aged in neutral oak for a couple of years. The Ribolla (a.k.a. Ribolla Gialla just over the border in Friuli, Italy) comes from one of the best regarded producers in Brda, Slovenia. The wine was texturally rich and a curious and enjoyable combination of fruit, soil, and herbs.

In Portsmouth, we returned to a restaurant we had enjoyed on a previous visit (the name had changed, the chef had not) called Black Trumpet. Though I still had plenty of options in my wine bag, I decided to keep exploring restaurant wine lists in the hopes of making one more discovery. We did!!! From the owner of the famed and incredibly expensive Domaine de la RomanéeConti, a much more affordable option presented itself: The A & P de Villaine Bouzeron 2005. Aside from Chardonnay in Burgundy, limited amounts of two other white varieties can be found: Sauvignon Blanc is planted near Chablis, and the grape that made this wine, Aligoté, can be found in the south. The village of Bouzeron, just north of Rully, is perhaps where the best versions can be found. Known for its high acidity, Aligoté was historically blended with cassis to create the aperitif Kir (Kir Royale is made with Champagne). The wine was rather crisp, dry, and floral, with subtle fruit and a solid mineral structure. As you can imagine, we ate a good deal of fish and seafood thus far.

Finally onto one of the wines I had schlepped up from New York... a Jacquére! We had rented an apartment, after all, and had intended to cook most of the time we were away - budget vacation. With a plate full of fresh lobster ravioli from Terra Cotta Pasta, across the harbor in Kittery, ME, we enjoyed a mighty tasty Jacquére from producer Jean-Claude Masson in France's Savoie. The wine, his 2006 Cuvee Nicolas, is produced from high altitude, old (100 years plus) vines. Masson has a 9 hectare estate in the appellation of Apremont, the largest AC in Savoie. He makes 10 different cuvées from 10 different parcels of vineyards. The soil in the vineyards is made of the rubble left by the collapse of the peak of Mont Granier in 1248; it is a mix of chalk, marne and and stony rubble. All of the wines of the AC Apremont are made from the varietal Jacquère, which was surprisingly similar to the Aligoté we had enjoyed the night before. This wine, however, was much more texturally rich, and a real sense of alpine air about it. I found it to be delicious (and in the spirit of full disclosure, should also mention that it is imported by my employer, Polaner Selections).

The lesson to be taken from my posting (along with the dozens of others, who have, no doubt, also offered their experiences up to blog audiences) is that you don't need to know the grape to enjoy the wine. There are thousand of grape varieties out there (around 2000 in Italy alone) that most of us have and will never come across. My goal is to try to encounter as many as possible... and, as a certified member of the Wine Century Club, I'm well on my way!