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Contents of this issue of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine

  • Busy, Busy, Busy!
  • Making the Case for Savagnin in the Jura
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Busy, Busy, Busy!

You may have noticed that the Poor Man's Guide has been coming a bit less frequently of late. Sorry about that! I've been so busy because we just bought our first home, we are busy fixing it up and trying to move in, and my wife is pregnant and due any moment! So, you can imagine that its a bit hard to find time for things like writing. But don't fear, I'm still here tasting wine for you and the newsletters will keep coming, just a bit less frequently for a while. Thanks for understanding!

Making the Case for Savagnin in the Jura

One of the least known regions in France is one of my favorites. How can that be? How can millions of wine lovers simply miss something so great? Well, as I've mentioned before, the traditional wines of the Jura are a bit polarizing. Some people love them, and some people detest them! The most famous of these wines are the fabled Vin Jaunes ("yellow wines") which are produced 100% from Savagnin which is aged for over 6 years in oak barrels without topping up. This means that they are allowed to evaporate and develop a "veil" (called voile) of yeast over its surface. This protects the wine and allows a slow oxidation which gives the wine much of its characteristic color and aroma. The result is something like Sherry with the oxidative notes of roasted nuts and such, but with a unique character all its own.

Now, not all white wines in the Jura are made this way. Chardonnay is widely planted in the vineyards and not all wines are made in this oxidative style. In face, many wines are made by standard means. Given the worldwide expectations and preferences currently, the Jura has had to increase its output of modern-styled wines to compete on the world market. However, in my very biased opinion, while these wines can be outstanding, the real gems of the Jura remain the traditionally made, oxidative wines.

However, I've noticed something of late that I feel is an important observation. While all the Vin Jaune must be 100% Savagnin, many of the other oxidatively produced wines, whether Côtes du Jura, Arbois, or l'Etoile, are made with a large percentage of Chardonnay. Now, we all know that Chardonnay is a great grape, producing the glorious white wines of Burgundy and contributing to the blend of most Champagnes. I have no problem with Chardonnay. Yet, in the Jura, in oxidative wines, I find that I'z be needing me some Savagnin to really get my motor revving!

Slow oxidation under a veil of yeast produces characteristic aromas and flavors often described as "nutty" or Sherried, similar to the notes found in Sherry from Spain, also often made with some oxidation under a flor of yeast. But I've noticed that my favorite Jura wines had something else going on. They have an umami, savory aroma and flavor which really takes the whole thing to another level. It is hard to pinpoint but I'd describe it as a more animal characteristic. Some almost smell like a rich chicken or veal bouillon on top of the roasted nuts and ripe fruit. These aromas are so enticing and heady that they really bowl me over. I had originally simply attributed them to oxidation, but the more I tasted the more I realized that oxidation can't explain it all. Some oxidatively produced wines did not have this characteristic. I then started to notice a trend. This extra complexity of sexy, musky, umami goodness is more prevalent in wines which have at least some Savagnin in the blend. It is certainly there in Vin Jaune and Chateau-Chalon, but it is also there in other oxidative wines that have Savagnin in the blend with Chardonnay. Those wines with 100% Chardonnay do not have this characteristic!

In addition to the flavor characteristics, the wines with some Savagnin also seem to have an added punch and pungency to the acidity. They have a ripe, juicy tang on the palate that gives them great presence and lift, despite the rich, expansive fruit and oxidative notes.

One of the most pointed demonstrations of these facts was revealed to me by my recent tasting of both the 2004 and 2005 Côtes du Jura from Domaine Macle, found in Issue 16 of the Poor Man's Guide. Jean Macle has been making some of the best wines of the Jura for years and his Chateau-Chalon is arguably the best made in that tiny appellation. His Côtes du Jura is almost as good, vying with many other producers Vin Jaunes and Chateau-Chalons. It can be a stunningly complex and complete wine that can age for decades. In this wine, which is made in an oxidative style from vineyards which used to be within the Chateau-Chalon appellation before the lines were redrawn, the blend of grapes used varies a bit from year to year. The 2004 is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin. The 2005 is 100% Chardonnay. While both are outstanding wines produced by a stunning artisan of a winemaker, the 2004 just has that something extra special about it. An oily, richness and heady, musky aroma and flavor that sets it apart. It doesn't seem possible that these flavors have come from mere grapes! The 05, while very nice on its own merits, pales a bit in comparison because it seems just a bit too clean, a bit too pedestrian, a bit too... normal!

While at first glance I thought maybe this was just a virtue of the vintage, I started to suspect that it was the lack of Savagnin in the 2005 that make the difference. Yet the trend has continued in other Jura wines. A recent Berthet-Bondet Côtes du Jura Tradition continued the trend. A very nice wine, but missing that bouillon! The Puffeney Cuvée Cristelle reviewed below is the same. A great wine... but not a transcendent wine.

Perhaps this finding shouldn't be surprising to me. The Jura winemakers have been working with these grapes for centuries. The fact that Vin Jaune and Chateau-Chalon must be 100% Savagnin is for a reason! They know that they produce the best oxidative wines. Additionally, Savagnin is in the Traminer family of grapes. Gewurztraminer ("spicy traminer") is notorious for being quite polarizing itself, some people loving its pungent and unique personality and others not quite getting it.

So I've concluded that when it comes to traditional oxidative-styled wines from the Jura, give me Savagnin or give me death!

The Poor Man's Guide's
Wine Reviews

Wine Ratings Explained:
Zero Stars A wine I don't particularly recommend.

One Star
Well made, simple and tasty wines that I recommend.

Two Stars
Excellent quality. Worth an extra effort to search out and enjoy.

Three Stars
Outstanding wine of the highest caliber.
Either a wine that is close to deserving a higher score or a wine that may not be showing that much but with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up or shows potential for significant improvement. Assuming it opens and improves with additional age, it may merit a higher rating.
??? Flawed bottles or wines that are difficult to assess for any number of reasons. Judgement reserved.

Sparkling Wines:

Cantina Puianello
Bon Da Mat
Ancellotta Dell'Emilia
Rosso Dolce
Drink Now-2011 $12
This is a fizzy red from Italy and if you think you are too cool to drink bubbly reds, read this.

Bubble gummy and jovial, fresh juicy berry fruits and a hint of rocky minerals jump from the glass. Lightly sparkling, this has a sweet fruitiness not unlike a bubbly Beaujolais. Fresh fun and refreshing with low alcohol so gulp away! One Star.

White Wines:

Marquis d'Angerville
Meursault Santenots 2006
Drink Now-2026 $50
d'Angerville is one of the most consistent and best producers of red Burgundy, mostly producing wines from Volnay in the Côte de Beaune. Although they are known for their reds, they make a couple whites as well. This comes from the Santenots vineyard which grows both red Volnay as well as white Meursaults.

Transparent, pure fruit and stones which are at once round and seductive yet taut, mineral and bright. Just lovely. So pure. But so young. This could have a great life ahead of it. When tasting this wine, one of my friends simply said "One of these days I'll taste something from them [d'Angerville] that I don't like." Amen. Two Stars Plus.

Château Beauregard Ducasse
Graves 2006
Drink Now-2016 $12
Graves is one of the regions in Bordeaux famous for their white wines, made general from some blend of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Semillon. To find one this cheap and this tasty is not easy.

Pristine, classic gunflint with hints of melon. Crisp, high acid, with vibrant and reverberating energy with fine minerals. Yummy. Beware, if you love fat, buttery, oaky California Chardonnay, stay far, far away. One Star Plus.

Blason 2007
Casa in Bruma n23
Friuli Isonzo
Drink Now-2012 $13
This Friulan white has a classic fresh friulano nose, like a tropical meadow graced with melons and wildflowers. Waxy but fresh, the subtle, pretty flavors have a persistence to them lingering on the palate. Yummy and quite satisfying this hot summer afternoon. One Star.

Domaine des Cassagnoles
Reserve Selection
Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne
Cuvée Gros Manseng 2008
Drink Now-2011 $10
From Gascogne, in the southwest of France, you don't see much Gros Manseng in this country. It is an under-appreciated grape. Well, in all honesty it doesn't always make great wine, but good examples can be remarkably tasty.

This one has a sweet, ripe, gooseberry-like nose that almost reminded me of a ripe Sauvignon Blance. But the mouth is something different and quite interesting. This has a sweet, juiciness to it that is a delight. Lively and fun with a bit of grassy sweetness that is at once crisp and refreshing yet with a gooseberry and honeydew mellon ripeness. Just simply yummy. One Star Plus.

Chinon Sauvignon
Drink Now-2014 $8
White Chinon? Who's ever heard of white Chinon. Chinon, along the Loire river, is known for its red wines made from Cabernet Franc. So where did the white come from? Well, this one is Sauvignon Blanc. And its good.

This is fascinating because the nose is more Vouvray (which is Chenin blanc) than other Sauvignon wines. Tropical fruits and tart apple with a hint of gunflint. No geese to be found. Crisp and creamy in the mouth at the same time with just a subtle hint of sweetness to wake up those taste buds. This is pure and delightful. Two Stars.

Ebner Ebenauer
Grüner 2008
Drink Now-2014 $10
The 2008 Grüner Veltliners from Austria are turning out delicious. This cheap one comes in a 1 liter screw cap bottle so there is plenty of refreshment to go around.

So fresh. So lip smackingly refreshing. This is what you want when your hot and thirsty. Bright and herby, the vibrance of this thing just sings. Not complex or big, this is simply yummy and easy. One Star Plus.

Domaine Gauby
Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2004
Drink Now-2024 $32
In the southern part of France known as Roussillon, this domaine, run by Gérard Gauby is hitting on all cylinders. He is making arguably some of the best wines in the region, emphasizing terroir and balance in the wines. The wines are farmed biodynamically. This white is from over 100 year old Maccabeu and Grenache gris vines.

A fascinating nose. Both citrus fruits and pits as well as a white ground granite and chalk minerality. There is also an earthiness, not unlike a white Burgundy and hints of something umami, like nuts and mushroomy meat. Round and caressing in texture, the crisp citrus grip gives it a lively balance. This is young but already delicious and really quite unique and interesting.

Domaine Labbé
Abymes 2007
Vin de Savoie
Drink Now-2014 $12
The wines of the Savoie in France along the foothills of the Alps are so unknown in this country that it is sad. However, that means the prices stay low for those of us in the know! These are real wines. Honest wines. They could come from nowhere else.

This is one of those wines that doesn't make you focus and concentrate for hours on all the nuances, details and complexity, yet at the same time you are completely satisfied and at peace with the world while you drink it. This lovely wine has a mountain stream-like purity and freshness. This transports you to the chilly Alps, it could come from no where else. If Mother Earth needed a refresher, I think she'd reach for this. I don't think giving you specific descriptors of the wine could do it any more justice than that. Two Stars Plus.

Pata Meiras
Vinho Regional Alentejano
Branco 2007
Drink Now-2011 $9
A cheapy from Portugal, this white is a blend of Arinto, Antão Vaz and Perrum. Briny and salty grapefruit aromas are quite similar to a Muscadet but there is a more citrus minerality to the crisp and fresh flavors which is part Muscadet, part Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and fun, this is a delight to drink. One Star Plus.

J. Puffeney Arbois
Cuvé Cristelle 1999
Drink Now-2019+ $60/500mL
This is about as fascinating and fun a story as you can get behind a wine. I've told you about Puffeney's wines before, the "Pope" of Arbois. This producer in the Jura makes outstanding red and white wines, most notably the Vin Jaune which are aged sur voile for 6+ years before bottling. But this is something quite different. Yes, lots of Chardonnay is planted in the Jura. But most of it is harvested early and goes into non-oxidized wines or sparkling wines. This one is different. Apparently a few weeks after the harvest, "his holiness" was walking through the vineyards when he noticed a few rows of Chardonnay which had not been harvested! The pickers had somehow missed it. Rather than get pissed off and trash the over-ripe fruit he picked it and vinified it much like he does his ripe Savagnin for the Vin Jaune. He put it in big oak barrels and let it age under a layer of mold for years and then bottled it. This is the unconventional result.

The aromas and flavors of this are similar to Vin Jaune in many respects with its nuttiness and oxidation. But the fruits tend more to the ripe tropical Chardonnay fruit. A bit more diffuse than a great Vin Jaune with less exotic spice and umami flavors but with a similar richness and intensity. Personally, I prefer Savagnin for this style of wine as it just maintains more of an acid spine while giving those exotic, even kinky, complexities. But perhaps that is splitting hairs. On its own merits this is a fascinating wine with loads of complexity. Two Stars.

Ronchi di Cialla
Ciallabianco 2000
Colli Oriental del Friuli
Drink Now-2015 $9
Only nine bucks, this Italian Friulian wine is a blend of Ribolla, Verduzzo friulano and Picolit, three grapes most people know little about. But it is a quality winner with a honeyed rich, nutty and tropical aroma which is almost heady and quite unique and interesting. The palate impression is fat and oily even that coats every inch of your palate yet ends with a bright citrus burst dusted with herbs. A lovely and eye-opening wine. One Star Plus.

Red Wines:

Nicolas Potel
Volnay Vieilles Vignes 2005
Drink Now-2035 $29
While this isn't the current vintage, 2005 is the latest so called "vintage of the century" in Burgundy. Because of this, the prices were high. In this economy, despite the demand, there are still many wines lingering on shelves. While the bigger premier and grand cru wines are still brutally young and hard to approach at present, I thought I'd check in on this villages wine to see what's going on.

This greats you with an enticing, crystalline nose of crunchy red berries, candy sugar and crumbly minerals with a fine etching of spices in the nooks and crannies if you look. Crackling, sappy old vine fruit and dark rocky earth flavors. The texture is velvety and ripe with tannins that turn a bit dusting on the lingering finish. Quite tannic and tight but already pretty. A baby to be sure, but this is very promising and quite good for a villages, a testament to the vintage and the winemaking skill of Potel. Definitely worth buying and cellaring. A relative bargain for a 2005. Two Stars.

Dessert Wines:

Domaine du Mas Blanc (Dr. Parce)
Banyuls Rimage 2006
Drink Now-2036 $22/375mL
Banyuls is an appellation in the south of France which produces a unique wine. It is in a way a French version of Port (although from different grapes, generally mostly Grenache), being a fortified wine, meaning that the fermentation is halted before completion by the addition of a neutral grape spirit, leaving some residual sugar. Some are aged a long time in barrel before release, giving more oxidized, mature aromas and flavors while some vintage wines are bottled young, to be aged (or drunk) in bottle. This is the later from one of the better producers in the region, Domaine du Mas Blanc. Some people say Banyuls is the perfect accompaniment to chocolate!

Earthy southern grenache aromas of dirt, kirsch and the like. A hint alcoholic, there is ripe, sweet, earthiness to the brambly fruit and just a hint of igneous crumbled earth. This is pleasing young but could probably gain complexity with age. One Star Plus.

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