Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tasting Session: Joe Dressner, Savio Soares and Blake from Rosenthal (1st part: Joe Dressner)

Today was my lucky day, work-wise, 3 of my favorites importers / distributors came to the store. 

The first one was Joe Dressner, famous in the US and in France for years for bringing exclusive, small, artisanal, esoteric, and mostly true to their Terroir of origin, organic and biodynamic French wines in the United States. It was the first time that I met him and the guy matches the legend and especially his website writings (go to his website and you will see what I mean, to verify it, if you don't believe me, go to www.joedressner.com). 

I could write a few pages about him, but it will be boring and some people already wrote a lot about him... so let's just say that he is a great guy, and I wish that more people in this industry could follow his example by bringing great wine discoveries that could be enjoyed by everybody (connoisseurs and non-connoisseurs). 

I should probably write this in an other post, but along with Dressner, other people like Kermit Lynch, Rosenthal, Savio Soares, Jenny & Francois, Liz Willette, Wineberry, Fruit of the Vines, Village Wine (to name a few) and about 4 dozens more under the radar small importers/distributors are proudly filling the New York market with incredible rare gems from Europe at very good price (see my post on my favorite wine importers/distributors). 

However, let's go back to the tasting. Just about a week after celebrating Louis/Dressner 20th anniversary with a big tasting last Tuesday, October 21st, Lee Campbell (his sales rep. for the store) and Joe Dressner (the man himself) introduced us to the following wines: 

1)     2006 Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet-de-Sevre-et-Maine-sur-Lie "Clos des Allees" Loire Valley France 
Suggested retail price $13-$16
Imported or Distributed by Louis/Dressner in NYC

Joe Dressner was explaining to us that, along with Marc Olivier from Domaine de La Pepiere (which is another one of my favorites Muscadet imported by Louis/Dressner and distributed by Polaner Selections in NYC), Pierre Luneau-Papin is surely one of the top best producers of Muscadet. 

"Clos des Allees" has a very distinctive green label (you'll will understand when you'll see it). The wine is organic, made from 60 years old vines (with no clones) planted on schist soils. The wine is bottled with barely no filtration which explain its slight dull aspect. 

Made from hand harvested 100% Melon (de Bourgogne) grapes (like all Muscadet wines for those of you who may have thought that Muscadet was also the grape... not to be mistaken with Muscat or Muscadelle),      

2006 Clos des Allees Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie has a slightly cloudy robe. The nose exposes fresh notes of apple, oranges zest and citrus. The palate is fairly round yet refreshing and light, with easy balance and fairly good length. It is very lemony, almost like a soft citrus juice with a bit of the pulp. Somewhat raw, this organic wine is like a good soft lemonade during a warm summer day. I like it a lot. Drink it as an aperitif and with light appetizers.   

2)     2007 Les Champs Libres "Lard, des Choix" white VdT de L'Ardeche France
Suggested retail price $19-$23 
Imported or distributed by Louis/Dressner in NYC 

Ok, before anything else, here are a few things that will (or may) help you (or even confuse you more) to understand the label of this wine. 

So, at first, you may have some difficulties to make the relation between the pigs, the names on the label and the wine. Well, to translate it, "Les Champs Libres" means "The Liberated or Free Fields"; "Lard, des Choix" refers to the pigs because "Lard" is the French word for pig's fat and "des Choix" means "of choices" or "the choices" (Fat pig of choice), somehow "Lard, des Choix" is also a play-on-words which really means "L'Ardechois" (which is the name for the peolple living in Ardeche: the area where the wine come from, located within the Rhone-Alpes region). 

Basically, the owners must have had a good time and a good laugh putting that label together. No wonder why Joe Dressner chose a wine with such a label.   

Les Champs Libres is a partnership between Rene-Jean Dard (from Dard & Ribo: famous producer of St. Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, etc...) and Herve Souhaut (Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet and Sainte Epine, wines available from Jenny & Francois Selections -World Wide Wine-, also another one of my favorite small importers of organic and biodynamic wines from France). 

2007 Les Champs Libres "Lard, des Choix" white Rene-Jean Dard and Herve Souhaut managed to create a great VdT (Vin de Table) made predominantly of Grenache Blanc. Here again, the wine is cloudy and even more dull in aspect than the previous the above described Muscadet. The nose is even more expressive and zesty. The palate is raw, fat, dense, rich and intense yet super bright, balanced with vivid acidity and marked flavors of citrus, lime zest and unripe white peach, and hints of minerals. With an excellent texture and length, the refreshing acidic finish is exceptionally crisp with a likable touch of bitterness (almost like a freshly squeezed lemon juice). 

This organic wine is raw, pure, untouched and somehow fascinating. I loved it. Pair it with raw shellfish and unseasoned grilled fish, you will not need any lemon, it is already in the wine.  

3)     2007 Les Champs Libres "Lard, des Choix" red VdT de L'Ardeche France
Suggested retail price $18-$21
Imported or distributed by Louis/Dressner in NYC   

Here again like the white previously described above, this Syrah and Gamay blended wine is raw, unfiltered and organic, with a dull, cloudy color. The nose is clean, fruity and discreet (compare to the white) with red and dark cherry aromas mixed with hints of spice and a smoky touch. The palate is fairly fruity (and no, I do not mean sweet for the 100th times), earthy, juicy and spicy with a good tannic structure, interesting texture and length. 

Overall, I liked it but was less impressed than I was by the white, especially at this price. The downsides are the slightly disjointed acidity and a slight trace of green bitterness in the finish. Somewhat esoteric, this wine needs food to round up some its angularities. Wine-geeks to your glass!

4)    2007 Thierry Puzelat "La Tesniere" Touraine Pineau D'Aunis Loire Valley France
Suggested retail price $19-$23
Imported or distributed by Louis/Dressner in NYC 

First, I need to say that I'm a huge fan of Loire wines (whites and reds), but I'd also like to stress that Thierry Puzelat has been one of my favorite Touraine producers for the past 6-7 years. 

Pineau D'Aunis is a red grape variety, referred to as a red version (or red sibling) of the Chenin Blanc also called by some wine growers Chenin Noir. Once popular during medieval times and largely planted in the region of Touraine, Saumur and Anjou, and bottled on its own, this grape variety is now often uprooted to plant more financially attractive grapes. Often blended with Cabernet Franc and other Loire red grapes (or even with white grape like Arbois, not to be mistaken with the region of the same name in the Jura, to make rose in Cheverny) it adds sharpness, spiciness and light esoteric character like pencil lead notes. 

Only a few temerarious winemakers and growers like Thierry Puzelat continue to dare exploring the limit of this unique grape variety. 

2007 Thierry Puzelat "La Tesniere" Touraine is made of 100% Pineau D'Aunis, planted on clay mixed with silex stones. It is raised and vinified with Organic and Biodynamic methods, then ageing occurs in regular oak barrels (225L / 59.43 Gallons) and demi-Muids (large oak barrel of 600L / 158.50 Gallons) for better homogenization and integration. The wine was bottled without filtration. The best nature can do (with Thierry's touch of course) is in the bottle.

Due to no fining nor filtration before bottling, the color is light, slightly amber, dull and cloudy (do not panic, it is normal and in this tasting, all wines were unfiltered...). The nose is peppery and spicy, with unripe dark wild berries, touch of minerals and dry pencil lead hints. The palate is light, smoky, spicy, juicy, somewhat funky and slightly bitter with rustic edges, yet it is clean, balanced and intriguing, with great acidity. 

A nice discovery in my opinion, that will excite the taste buds of my fellow wine lovers and wine-geeks. Definitely far from the over-ripeness-jaminess-in-your-face of some Californian and Australian wines, this wine is a must taste and a food friendly gem from the Loire. Somewhat rustic for some palates, it may not please everybody but some people may venture with pleasure in this nearly forgotten red grape variety. 

(also try, if you can, an other lesser known red grape called Counoise from Domaine de Monpertuis, distributed by Rosenthal. The 2005 is definitely worth it). 

5)    2007 Olivier Riviere "Rayos Uva" Rioja Tinto Spain 
Suggested retail price $14-17
Imported or distributed by Louis/Dressner in NYC

Olivier Riviere is a french winemaker, Bordelais (let's say that he studied in Libourne on the right bank near St. Emilion, so I assume that he is a Bordelais), expatriated in Rioja, making fantastic, organic (tending towards Biodynamic methods) value wines from Rioja Alta. It is pure juice, organic and unoaked (in the case this wine).

As Joe Dressner will say: "That's right, no yeasts, no enzymes, no fake concentration, no Parker points!"

He founded the winery in 2006 and this 2007 is his first vintage. He decided to start this project after learning his winemaking methods from renown winemakers like: Elian da Ros (Chante Coucou, Cotes du Marmandais, Southwest of France), Domaine Leroy (Burgundy, France) and Telmo Rodriguez (Spain). 

He produces different cuvees from 35 to 100 years old vines and ages some of his wines in partly used Burgundy oak barrel to minimize the wood taste. He mostly concentrates all of his efforts in the vineyard to obtain high quality grapes and to produce great, healthy wine with minimal intervention in the cellar. 

2007 Olivier Riviere "Rayos Uva", his first attempt, is a Rioja Tinto made with 79% Tempranillo and 21% Garnacha raised and vinified in stainless steel tanks to keep the maximum expression and the freshness of the fruit aromas and flavors. The color is quite dark and vibrant. The nose is clean, fruity and engaging. The palate is medium bodied, with good ripe red and dark cherries and juicy texture. Notes of cherries, earth and spice characterize the dry, fruity finish. 

Overall, this is a nice, balanced and rounded wine which encourages me to taste the next step-up cuvees. I've been a Rioja lover for the past 10-12 years and visited Rioja each year for the past 6-7 years, and I hope to be able to visit this winery during my next trip. I think Rioja's drinkers should keep an eye on Olivier Riviere's wines. 

LeDom (du Vin)

To be continued... for the other 2 wine importers/distributors Savio Soares and Rosenthal tasting session.       

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