Predator Old Vine Zinfandel 2013

After a previous weeks debacle regarding a chain of corked or bad bottles before eventually landing on the Aromo Carmenere, I went digging into my trove and came upon this bottle of Predator Old Vine Zinfandel. I honestly forgot about this wine, sitting tucked in a stack of cases in the corner of my room for over three months since my trip up to see my sister and her husband in Connecticut. Besides the impetus to make the trip to see them that weekend, part of it was all the talk about this place called Total Wine & More: a magical mecca packed like a Costco with wine. It sounded amazing, clearly I was interested if not a little skeptical about seeing this wonderland as I'm conditioned to places like Astor Wines and Warehouse Wines & Spirits where it seemed wine was already wall-to-wall with great finds. So call me a bit naive but humanity knows no bounds in the category of grandeur when we put our will to it: I was blown away by the sheer quantity and scope of varieties of wines that this place was stocked with and so overwhelmed was I that I had a hard time remembering what it was I wanted to drink. With my initial conception lost, so many labels, regions and types that everything seemed to mesh until I thought I was going to have to take a nap and return with an air bag. 

Now that my melodramatic introduction is over, if I haven't already, I'll admit it again: New World wines haven't had my attention in a long time. I kind of fell off the boat somewhere around four or five years ago, call it a work hazard that dually swayed my palate and then converged onto this romantic conception for this blog causing me to rushing through my thoughts with inspiration peeked and then feeling strangely cheated that I hadn't researched further the wines I was peddling. Old World wines I feel still hold more pedigree than any other part of the world and I needed to catch up on those classics while dabbling here and there in the contemporary, which has become, more often than not for me, to mean non-West Coast wines. But lately - and by that I mean in the past nine months or so - I've felt the pull back into Californian and Oregonian wine, picking up a few in order to focus a new blog post around Chardonnay or Pinot Noir with the explicit purpose of contrasting them against their Old World counterparts, or as this entry is a testament to, found myself drawn to one of the three enchanting varietals that captured my attention long ago. You might find it strange but Gewurztraminer, Tannat and Zinfandel left an impression on me, partly from their storied pasts and partly of course from what I found in the glass.

Regarding Zinfandel, I recalled having tasted the Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel many moons ago. It was a gift to the family over Thanksgiving or Christmas from one of my sister's ex-boyfriends. It was beautifully spiced, structured, robust and dynamic but retained a kind of leanness about it - I think I'm the only one who touched that bottle the entire night, the palate too "sweet" for any others. So now in the present, having had a few expressions under the belt, as I ogled the New World section for its Zinfandels, I looked over them in the hopes of having something similarly inspiring or moving but always managed to pause because I knew deep down the risk (lets call it fear) I was running with what I might get, that or I was dissuaded by the rising prices that some of the wines go for nowadays.

What I feared, and not at all surprising, are the seriously oaky iterations of Zinfandels with high alcohol, it's practically the calling card, and often commingled with being robust, bold, spicy and sometimes jammy. With that kind of taste profile you might be thinking you were popping a bottle of Port or dessert wine, wines that often take determination or a celebration for most to even consider casually opening (for the record, I generally have no problem opening wines like this, they happen to be some of my favorites and I could easily sip all night on a dessert wine or Vin Jaune or Port ... just so long as it's Friday now that I'm in my thirties). It's not that there aren't Zinfandels with more delicacy - perhaps a stylistic difference but more often what you'll get are these traits to varying degrees. It's safe to remember here that Zinfandel is not Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot or Syrah from Australia. Zinfandel has louder characteristics than either the first two and I would argue is equal to the third, equal in many ways, one being it's required determination level to get through a bottle more times than not - the sort of mid-late 90's new world curse of big, bold and oaked. 

And then I had a queer thought: it's a fine line to walk when you get used to a style of wine: you look for those taste profiles in your drink and food, everything that is not like it is weighed against this background and when you're hit with a dish or drink that comes off as brusque or bold or just unexpected, you might feel like you've been sideswiped and in need of a medic. From there your conceptions of what to expect are instantly solidified, biases created, aversions implanted and you might never get back around to those types of wines again unless they're in your company and the only available drink at hand. The sad part is - at least I feel this way when speaking with people who are FIGS-centric - is that, following this rather rigid progression that I've laid out, not that there aren't more ways to a conclusion than one, that these wines aren't given the same kind of consideration like their more widely accepted Old World counterparts even when they offer similarly enchanting taste profiles; or perhaps are overlooked and then excused aside and substituted for some Old World wine that would probably fall within the same estranged category but is perceived more acceptable; or simply aren't treated with the same kind of attention that is due when factoring in the history that lay behind them, that's been built upon and acknowledging that the wines have grown into something that commands respect. I realize much of this has to do with one's taste preferences and I don't mean to sound as if these wines aren't awarded or recognized or haven't become an economic force in the world, or are all good across the board but there seems to be a strange undercurrent that belies their due respect. I mean Zinfandel now has ZAP and small producers to thank for its growing influence, but in a broader sense, if wines that could be lumped together in this estranged grouping have been given this attention by said crowds or people in-the-know, I've never been in that company or can't afford to be in that company and so am completely out of the loop; I'm not really qualified to speak on behalf of the work by sommeliers and the food scene, I just can't afford to go out and patronize establishments and schmooze about their preferences, but what I glean is that there is a disparity, perhaps some of it is bias, some preference, some what the establishment requires, some of it may just have to do with what food is being served and what pairs best are not American wines. I'm not sure if this is based in bias or wine making styles - probably a little of both as bias will navigate us away from certain choices unless our taste preferences are peaked and satisfied at the onset. But it seems a certain level of appreciation should be an across the board kind of rule, hence my two-to-three day window for tasting wines because if a wine isn't meant to be open for that long, oh well, I'll find that out, or perhaps it is yet what it turns into isn't what I wanted or expected; it's all about the experience for me at least and then the framework of where the wine fits in (region, style, varietal, etc). It's an interesting thought, perhaps it'll go show up somewhere later in a more concise entry and work my way out of what is beginning to sound like a myopic starting point, one based in older experiences, dinner table chatter and aged familial influences and not one considering what's developing on the ground. 

With that said, in this shopping spree I took a risk, albeit a small one as we had spent far too long in this endless wine mecca, and picked up this bottle from locations and winemakers unknown to me. I mean, Lodi isn't unknown to me but it's been a very long time since I've dabbled in California. 

There's really no way around it, Zinfandel has had an interesting unfolding story over the last thirty years. Most people wouldn't associate such an intriguing background, what with all that White Zinfandel taking over its formative years back in the 1970's and hogging all the attention until perhaps the mid-90's when serious wine makers, who had been trumpeting its qualities, crafted wines with more restraint and balance. Places like Dry Creek, Sonoma, Lodi, Amador and Paso Robles are some of the AVAs known for their old vine Zinfandels, planted sometime around 1850's and quickly becoming "America's grape" in the following years. It was known to be a powerhouse varietal with little hint as to where its origins lay, just a romantic story of clippings that came from the East Coast with gossip that they came from the Imperial collection in Vienna. It wasn't until the 1970's that fancy scientific testing confirmed that it was very similar to Italy's Primitivo and related to Croatia's Plavac Mali. In the following decades, those researchers and growers championing this grape continued their hunt bringing them to the Dalmatian coast where, through more DNA testing, found only 9 vines going by the name of "Crljenak Kastelanski" intermixed in thousands that matched Zinfandel genetically. After extensive DNA testing on Zinfandel vineyards they managed to find a single 90-year-old grapevine in Split, Croatia solidifying the grape's historical name as Tribidrag and showing that it has been around since at least the 15th century. Fascinating! 

So now that it's regained its ancestry, all of those old vine Zinfandels planted in the late 19th century in Lodi, Amador, Paso Robles and other parts, shine wonderfully with a new bit of pedigree in the center of California.  Not that they weren't already being made into great wines by skilled craftsmen, but now a definitive link connections them back to the old world and to a slew of varietals with their own solid reputations stretching back centuries. All this information has reinvigorated my interest in this varietal, I mean the wine did that too but now I'm certainly going to start looking at a few on my next trip.

For some background on the area, the Lodi AVA sits just above middle in the Central Valley of California - a vast depression between the coastal mountains to the west before the Pacific Ocean is met and to the east by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but more closely and for our purposes, it sits between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay Delta. It's this delta and the connecting tributaries that have deposited over the centuries a rich sandy-clay loam soil and the proximity to the bay that give the area its Mediterranean climate. This means the grapes on hot days are cooled by the influx of air from the bay, retaining the acidity that might otherwise get beaten out the warmer temperatures. 

But where does that leave me? Aside from having renewed interest, I'm still a little on the fence with this style of wine. It's slyly seductive and encouraging: on the first day the oak influence is hard to miss beside the intense captured radiant warmth, the burning parsley and oregano over dark berried fruits - namely blueberries - with that distinct undercurrent of spice. It was big and bold while only hinting at more delicate notes that it couldn't quite give up until the second day, when strangely it started out with a little brush of cooled tossed salad with black olives before perking up again as if reawakened by the fact that I was sipping it; the gradual movement into a forest whose air was tinged with equal parts moist soil and dryness still being maintained from the streaming sun's beams from above, through the canopy and instigating further change as the herbs bent into baking spices and blueberries sparking flecks of cinders into your nose causing you to twitch. Although this sounds of an intense scene, it was calmly balanced by the creep of a lakeside breeze trying to eek through and then this sort of chalky base that I would never have thought to associate with Zinfandel of all varietals. Suffice it to say I was surprised and drawn in: those cooler aromas began to take over - the lakeside breeze, the olives, the forest - continued to widen the view the longer it lay open while the heavier oaked and warmer herbal notes seemed to collect in a jumbled mass at the bottom as if ebbing wildly trying to find their equilibrium with the rest; the sensation of warmth pushed to the edges but never I would say vacant from the whole, always a persistent impression in the background. In hindsight, when considering the location and its impression onto the grapes, these characteristics that I'm hinting at become not at all strange and in fact draw a plain parallel to the bold flavors and the creeping expansive wet minerality! This is the best way I can describe the eventual sketch and painting, though I think the sketch was the more successful. The painting was done on linen, an old t-shirt from Banana Republic I had lying around and falling out of disuse. Once stretched, primed and the under painting begun I realized soon after that another coat or two of primer would have probably done better, the fabric absorbed just enough which is why the image has a faded and almost worn look to it; the paint was being applied to areas but not able to spread because of the uneven application of gesso, and so felt more like dry brush painting rather than smooth wet painting with oils. I guess in looking back, comparing the sketch to the painting it captures the intent and impression of the wine as it felt, not done out of conscious intent but by accident yet worked through enough to make it representative of the sketch and as the wine felt. The next painting in the works is being done on an old cotton sweater and with intent to enhance the depiction. (A side note, all the paintings are done on something other than canvas, usually a linen of some sort like bed sheets, cotton being the most agreeable fabric; I like the texture I can get from some and the smoothness of others).

Since I wrote this entry up about three months ago, in the months since I've had this wine I've gone on a hunt for more Zinfandels and found myself swept up in it's brewing nature. I've tried to avoid the usual suspects - St Francis, Ravenswood, Cline etc - and opted for things like The Witching Stick, Sextant and Peirano Estate Vineyards. It's not that I don't want to try their wines, I just want to try those outside the ones I already know, besides I can get them at any time and I've found that I like these wines as long as their not trying to replicate the essence of a tree within the bottle or are overly jammy (extracted?). I've also found, for all my hankerings as of late for bigger bolder wines, I won't lie, the sensation of that coating texture, the intense oak notes and barreling weight just isn't as pleasing as it was in my youth. I still have some hesitation in the idea of spontaneously purchasing a bottle of Zinfandel, just like any California red that comes to mind- it's not the grapes per se but the characteristics that come along with varietals - but my compass is shifting ever so slightly. 

Regarding the alcohol, never at any moment did I feel the burn, I mean, I guess 14% alcohol isn't actually that bad by today's standards, not when some wines are pushing 16% in some categories. So go reach for a Zinfandel, become reacquainted with American history and cozy yourself up to a glass as the season turns to winter (eventually?). 

Producer: Predator Wines, The Rutherford Wine Company

PoP: Total Wine & More (Connecticut) - $15.00

Aromo Carmenere 2014

Preface: These last few months have been kind of a roller coaster of catching colds, antibiotics, work, cutting my foot open, more work and slight melancholy. So this is one of a string of entries that came somewhere in between all that when breathing and inspiration went unhindered. But I'm bouncing back now and excited with what's coming up! I put this entry together some weeks, or a month, ago with the painting taking much longer than I thought (again, interruptions) and I think I'm fairly satisfied with its outcome. It's the first painting in fact that, while in the process, oddly struck me as if I was looking out through the skin of a grape, a little "essence" within looking upwards and out, while the exterior pressures worked their influences. 

I haven't gone out of my way to purchase South American wine in a long while, not since the Montes Alpha Pinot Noir - I must return! - mainly because Europe and my fascination with American wine has taken up my attention and budget, so how I acquired this bottle is a bit of a funny story. 

Recently I purchased a Groupon for a pair of new glasses plus shades, a win-win now that I've reached the age where my eyes are becoming sensitive to the bright summer sun and just when I can't get enough of the open air, warm days and much beloved beach time. As we all know the process with the eye doctor and then left to scour the racks for a frame that fits your face, while in my final decision sitting at the miniature counter with the saleswoman, she noted that she would even throw in a free bottle of wine with my purchase. I didn't tell her I worked in wine already and had a cargo ship of parked in my living room, just letting out a light laugh since she must have been joking as she noted the discounts from my Groupon. 

Well... I was wrong. I paid for my new lenses and frames and she disappeared into the back somewhere for a minute to reappear with a small purple bag and this bottle of wine - plus one to the immediately-to-be-consumed pile. 

I guess I don't mean to sound dismissive, from the label and my albeit outdated experience, I didn't expect much. I knew I'd find robust dark fruit with a generous amount of oak influence and perhaps some vegetal qualities, three traits that frame my perception of South American wine since my earliest days back on the Upper East Side. I guess in some ways it's the same reaction when someone is presented with a wine that shocks their senses and isn't from any one of their favorite FIGS nations. I'm still operating under the assumption that many people still drink Old World because of tradition, conditioning, romance, ease of access and acceptability, or preference and then scoff at the flavor profiles of other worldly wines as if their sensibilities are no where near as precise, leaving their palates dishonored. It's a topic that can come up at any moment and frankly it may be more about re-calibrating one's palate to variation that's always been there, like hearing an argument for the first time or grasping a heavy concept from another's point of view. So I've been caught, I'll admit, in the trap of some askance scoffing as I acclimated over the course of the first night with every sip only to find out that the wine was a pleasant surprise: nothing peculiar or off, no pending or threatening natural funk or strange arrangement of smells that kept my head cocked to one side; nothing that made me have to pour it down the sink (ironically I had opened four bottles that night, who shall remain nameless, and found they were either on the cusp of turning with that sour-metal-olive-leaning-to-cork smell or smelled like the crossing of aged Riesling treated with oak - it was a Beaujolais by the way), or go through an elaborate airing out process via decanter to dither precariously on the line of whether it was bad or not, before giving up from frustration and having to figure out something else to drink. (By the way, all of these scenarios occurred that night). 

By the end of that bottle opening marathon with no rewards, I needed something that would be less of a challenge to the palate, something that would be instantly gratifying. I guess in seeing those words typed out I reveal more of my ignorance and it itches me to elaborate. I can't imagine it is said anywhere that wines of the New World - specifically South America since that's the topic of this article - aren't as serious as their Old World counterparts, nor are Old World wines unable to be instantly gratifying, its just patently absurd but this bias comes to mind perhaps from an anachronistic dichotomy still set in my thoughts, the very same that I'm unaware are playing out when shopping for wine. It's no surprise that the played out meme of Old World versus New World still exists, it's a vestigial argument that captures our attention like a shiny object, or porn, or our favorite sinful dessert and there are at first differences in overarching taste profiles: Old World wines tend to be more austere, mineral-driven and drier, while New World wines are more fruit-forward, have the presence of newer oak and are generally a bit more robust and forward. The funny thing about framing the argument like this is that it seems to only work if you keep to it, shop by it or discuss it like it's so, sort of like holding to a world view that only works in one dimension, built and fostered by a select few who held the reigns of understanding or wanted to focus popular thought towards a more enlightened state or something, while willfully disregarding anything that might follow and shape the world whether you like it or not. The truth is you'll find a lot more crossover in styles if you set your attention to it.

Most people during a blind tasting will eventually mix regions and profiles, are subject to peer influences, subjective influences driven by thoughts and experiences, and inevitably become confused and then either have an answer they're confident in or silently dither because they've acquiesced to whatever the reveal will be. So maybe I'm not jumping too far out on a limb here in saying that I think much of this argument has to do with the diaspora of wine knowledge and techniques nowadays: the world no longer revolves around Europe per se, immigrants from Europe brought their knowledge and desire for the vine with them and literally planted the future making the scene much larger, more variable and creating our current scenario. This has created a situation where it becomes more difficult to pin down and pick out particular nuances of a wine once thought typical to a region or varietal, information that goes beyond the subjective enjoyment and that place it in an environs that we might call terroir. This is not to say that sommeliers and others working in the wine world aren't discerning, educated and trained to varying degrees to assist in picking apart wines and understanding the important differences between a Pinot Noir grown in Burgundy and California, but I feel pointing this out reveals more about how this argument seems only worth the time when we're buzzed and bantering on the hooves of pop culture drivel. But I digress, perhaps this is the start of another entry because right now I've got a Carmenere sitting here patiently...

So with that said and to reiterate, I knew mostly what I was going to expect: a wine with the influence of oak, redolent blueberry notes and perhaps some spice - that was my experience years ago (Montes Alpha, Santa Ema) and has set the frame for this varietal. However, as perceptions and sensitivities ebb, I was struck by the intensity of the nose, not just by the oak but in the dark notes emanating from this violet-hued void. The word that comes to mind is simply visceral, it showed no reservations about what was emerging behind the curtain: lots of pepper and sage - it seemed a bit murky at first but unfolded on day two with the oak subsiding into a gentler sun burnt sage and predominantly black pepper notes showing more confidence. It was like wading through a mystery as the density or intensity of something haunting yet once sleek, like an inherent trait now a phantom calling out, develops and anchors the giving pepper nose - two partners in a dance as this unforgiving warmth wades in the background; the smoke of burning orange peel emanating slowly and more profusely over time; the anchor becoming more apparent, a bloody iron-earth coagulate where, in reaction to the radiant warmth in the background, exudes these burnt characteristics: sage, orange peel, dark red berry fruit. I'm almost hesitant to use 'berries' as a tasting note because those other characteristics are the main focus or become the focus of the wine forming something dynamic and sultry, taking me for a ride in a field that I hadn't experienced in a long time. 

To return to the final visual for a moment, I personally feel it needed to be a little bit grittier in appearance, maybe some of this is due to the influence of  the sketching materials but it turned out a little  stylized in the dense red zone area. It's rather difficult at times to capture the transitions and subtle nuances where the colors shift and collide because that is where the excitement occurs, where scents intermingle, become a little vague and often find new impressions you might not expect; kind of like trying to peel away at the horizon to know what makes up that untouchable sliver. 

I hope that leaves the reader with something to seek. I think I'm again won over by this varietal, maybe even this style of wine as a pleasure outside of feeling like it's a sinful endeavor to be had behind closed doors; there are days one wants his unbridled opulent wines and other days his ephemeral  dreamy ones. I'm even more surprised by the price of this wine on the market, it's under $10.00, what a steal! 

Chile has done well with its spirit grape.

Le Loup Blanc, VdF, Le Regal du Loup 2009

I prepared the basis for this entry not soon after the Cellier des Cray and Chateau des Annereaux entries, so it's been about two months since I meant to transcribe this over to a painting. But the holidays hit and looking back at the sketch feel it communicates exactly what's necessary. So I apologize for a rather short and brusque entry. Perhaps if I come across another bottle I'll plan to elaborate into a final painting.

I feel like no matter how long it's been since one has worked in retail, or perhaps even in a restaurant setting - I've spared many the experience - there are always bottles that catch your fancy due to label, varietal, the hype or simply catch your mood at the time. Usually what outweighs whether one decides to pick up this mystery bottle or not is the price, followed by other competing bottles that have popped out at you from the shelves with equal allure. I know very well that these are the reasons why because just when I thought I was smitten with maybe picking up this bottle or another from the same producer, I was pulled away by another that struck my fancy and my wallet at the time. 

For some reason the Le Loup Blanc labels have always remained somewhere at the back of my thoughts, between their fun script that looks like it could have been done using a Chinese calligraphy brush to their semi-matte appearance that seem almost like stickers with twenty years of age and having a history of being re-stickered onto different pages of your sticker book, the edges a little blunted and worn with the rest of your fuzzy animal collection, and then the big paw print. Perhaps some of this allure I speak of and vaguely recall is the talk of these wines being made naturally and being quite the fad at the time - this is some eight years ago I would gander when the wave of naturally made and biodynamic wines was really gaining traction with consumers, without sulfites, minimal intervention and all the mystery of these trail blazers... 

 ...strange bedfellows...

...strange bedfellows...

The Le Loup Blanc winery is located in Minervois, so named after the Greek goddess Minerva by the Greeks and hearkening back to it's pre-Roman wine growing history, and is situated approximately in the middle of the Languedoc-Roussillon. From what I can gather, the winery was founded by Alain Rochard and Laurent Farre in Bize-Minervois in 1993 and they have been practicing organic farming since 2005, becoming certified two years later only to maintain a more biodynamic slant to their farming and beliefs. They produce a variety of grapes like Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Tempranillo, Alicante and a few others. Many of these varietals reflect the area's past ties with Spain as it was once part of or heavily influenced by Catalunya. 

...But then I never picked up a bottle and don't recall tasting any of their wines. I never went out of my way to hunt any of their wines out and so when I found the Le Regal du Loup on sale at Astor Place Wines for around fifteen dollars I scooped it up; the void created by all the hype and allure would now be filled. It's taken me months to get around to opening this wine from the Minervois...

...Well what can I say, I wasn't entirely blown away. This wine felt like someone was scraping around a handful of dark robust berried fruit, dried pith and all, with singed pine and then trying to smooth it out with a rolling pin. In a strange way I was enjoying the disjointedness - when differing pitches erupt from a wine they tend to be much better teachers in terms of recognizing slight cues as to if the wine is sound or making the turn and in doing so the experience often leads to a slightly varied representation based on these askew chemical interactions. No wine is ever in perfect balance - if there is such a thing- but sometimes you find yourself confronted with a wine that might be slightly off or just showing variation and the challenge then becomes how to tease apart the nuances, the different interactions against which the parts are playing against and how they come to be represented differently. I've not gone out of my way to explore this, it's albeit pretty hard to have or even hold onto say three bottles, hope they're different enough (can you imagine a taster counting on a bottle being varied or off for the sake of the experience?), and read them at different points in their lifespan that will then read significantly different enough on paper. In part my job helps learn individual wines at say three different times over the course of a month, but then I don't have the time to be wax poetic. Not every wine will be as we remember it when it first enchanted us, it doubtfully ever will be again - wine is as transient as anything else we come across and that's part of the fun; it's constant changing nature that makes it so exciting and why these moments of bottle variation reveal something akin to catching one off-guard. Perhaps this is a subject for a future entry... 

But I digress: throughout the lifespan of the bottle I was catching myself intrigued on how this wine came together or the motivations for its style that seem slyly maneuvered while never quite loosing this edginess; it's as if it were caught in between decisions, wavering between a waft of acrid acidity at its edges to then be quickly followed up by undertones of gritty berried fruit and baked earth. Some of these notes weren't all positive as it bounced back and forth over the course of three days, the sense of warmth certainly inherent but the rest, trying to get past this astringent or volatile exterior to the charm beneath - it was teasing - proved tasking. I know the wines from Languedoc-Roussillon to be powerful wines, full of dark earth and fruit, full of this rough nature that reflects the variegated terrain (garrigue) which turns charming and endearing but this one didn't seem to pluck any of those chords. 

I can't say the bottle was entirely off nor blatantly corked, but bottle variation does happen and perhaps I just got the weird one.




Roussillon, Ventoux, & Cheverny...

This is my first attempt at tasting three wines back-to-back and having the wherewithal and diligence to record what's going on. So I bring home three orphan wines:

1) Domaine de L'Ausseil 'Du Vent Dans Les Plumes' 2011 from the Cotes du Roussillon Villages

2) Domaine de Boissan by Christian Bonfils form Ventoux in the Rhone Valley

3) Domaine de Montcy Cheverny from the Loire Valley

As with tasting, I poured about an ounce or less into each of the three glasses before me, quickly swirling and sniffing to get a feel for what I wanted to concentrate on and decided to stick with the wine from Roussillon Villages. I know I know, you always go white to red but this isn't a formal tasting and I'm not one for formalities so I went with what stuck with me: it was more forceful and prescient than the other two.

Almost within a week or two of one another I've had two wines from the Roussillon area, namely near Latour de France but this one is from a separate sub-region allowing it to be designated 'Villages;' there are stricter regulations to acquire this designation, namely where the vines are grown are from the northern half of the Agly Valley, sitting within the foothills of the Pyrenees on what's considered the best slopes. Here they only produce red wines made with at least three on this hit list: Carignan, Cinsualt, Grenache, Lledoner pelut, Macabeo, Mouvedre, and Syrah. Suffice it to say, it's the only one which got the visual review.

Ausseil Du Vent Dans Les Plumes 064.jpg

1) In the short time that this wine was sitting in the glass I was drawn into it, much like being sucked into an enthralling movie or wanting to draw nearer to an endearing presence or indulging in nostalgic memories while living through another. The nose, a brisk engagement of black olives rolled in brown spices, juices littered with the roasted shavings of cloves and cinnamon, passed through an autumnal breeze as hints of dried flowers -namely potpourri scents- mingle on the edges; a fading garden leaning fallow. The Domaine de L'Ausseil produces a number of wines, each a little masterpiece unto themselves but not quite for everyone and this one straddles the line nicely. The wines are made from very old vines (50-80yrs) with some young vines (5-10yrs); the reds are de-stemmed, allowed to naturally ferment, and set to macerate for anywhere between tend days and three weeks depending on the varietals. Overall it's a wine to ultimately sit with but not required; it's not exactly a calm velvety smooth red with its dynamic nose but no where near in comparison to the next wine. It shows an almost teenager-like zest for the characteristics fluttering around in the glass only to be called to settle down on the second day -but I wouldn't leave this for a third and definitely not the fourth day as it begins to fall apart and eventually becomes more astringent than drawing.  

2) In sheer contrast the Domaine de Boissan from Ventoux could have been a Beaujolais for all I knew -hell, I was blind tasted on it and I couldn't get Beaujolais and Gamay out of my mind, that's how bright the dance of minerality and fruit were in the immediate senses. Throughout the first day it sung of berried fruit skating on the sharpened blades of aluminum metal but then coalesced into what one would expect of Grenache and the Rhone Valley: a bit fuller, more calm and collected but that wild acidity turning into a creamier berry make-up, almost like a cooled off and semi-ravaged berry pie left to chill in the refrigerator for a few days; its buttery textures mingling with the once out loud acidity, lifting the tannins forward which weren't there (or obvious) from the start, just the bombastic fruit crisscrossing your senses like distracting fireworks let alone alluding to this new and improved Ventoux on day two. This is a wine that can serve both for fun get togethers and the immediate gratification crowd, or the serious dinner crowd if you allow it say... a day or three to gather itself, not that it needs three days to breath but it matures without loosing much.


3) Sadly the last one fell away from me, not because I didn't try but because on day one it appeared clean with a supply body and lightning-like acidity, a little bread note on the horizon- it's as if a fairy burped in my mouth and I kind of liked it. Maybe that evokes too heavily a mystical, unknown, delicate and alluring quality fit to be equated with another wine, but it popped into my thoughts while drinking it. On day two this Sauvignon Blanc (80%) and Chardonnay (20%) blend breaths lemon extract on fresh baked bread crust: light and ephemeral, supple yet semi-flabby with integrated acidity however that initial sort of high praise of fairy burp ends up leaving me wanting, chasing the savory quality, nudging it to continue yet something else is off. Though showing more flabbiness on day two, it's almost like it's been usurped by the volatile acidity -way too much breadiness- that had been inching in slowly to overcome the rest from the beginning until you're on high alert and your enamel has been harshly cleaned. For those who like these funkier breadier wines, in my last wine shop job I remember getting the impression that this was at one point the new rage in the New York scene -I think this was right before the Jura craze, both of which I came on the tail end of but that still seemed popular. These kind of wines can be exciting and intriguing but this one was unabashedly stepping over the line, doing it like a  drunkard trying to walk a straight line wearing way too much nail polish. Volatile Acidity (acetic acid) is caused by yeasts and bacteria and can sometimes be a desirable quality to make a more complex wine, but it comes as a by-product of fermentation or from spoilage so it's hard to gage whether it's intentional let alone controllable. In these kinds of situations one wonders if it's 'craftsman's intention' or a chemical accident that occurred in this one bottle; is it part of the expression of the wine and terroir  that the craftsman wants or a flaw that came about because of shipping, or not enough treatment at home was used during its making?

Domaine Rivaton "Gribouille" 2009



RIvaton Gribouille 2009.jpg

 "....humid and heavy, a mist rolls in from the lake, a thick fog spreading with creeping pace through the reeds and grasses under a bright moonlit night; cooled over stone and swamp patches -nearby a fading campfire of slate gray and lavender streams leak skyward against the weighted blanket of midnight to lick the lids of the stars and sigh..."

Over the summer I took up an internship at a wine importer in Brooklyn, New York and since then I've learned a lot about the inner workings of this side of the industry. As one would expect, I've also come across and been privy to tasting many great and unique wines on an almost daily basis. It's just the usual routine in this industry for representatives to open samples for the day or perhaps a bottle was opened out of curiosity, or even because it's the dust coated bottle of a past vintage still haunting the office. Sometimes they're left behind, sometimes they're left for the office over the course of a day or two, and sometimes they're banished to the recycling bin --these are the casualties of wine. More often than not these are the bottles that fly past ones senses as you're only allowed a glimpse to formulate what I feel like takes an hour, two hours, or a day of swiveling and sniffing to get an appropriate impression of a wine. The best I've managed is to sketch in my marble notebook, with pen in hand, the forms, line weights, and atmospherics being picked up and jot down notes on which flavors are represented in what shapes or hues or both. Maybe it's for the better that I miss hoards of wines to catalogue, I mean you can't catch them all otherwise you might loose the mystique, besides practice always helps make a polished product. 


Now that I think about the afternoon we tried the Domaine Rivaton "Griouielle," contrasted with many more esoteric or expensive wines, is this idea that I might eventually expect someone to say "well don't more expensive wines give you a more complex or interesting array of impressions." And to that I can easily say that in the end it's really what the wine, with its climate, soil and care, gives you rather than anyone's preconceptions. When we tasted this wine in the office it was rather what one would expect from a warmer climate red composed of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache -you can certainly taste the weight, warmth, and full bodied fruit. But from what I recall the consensus was more unenthusiastic: not complex enough, too full bodied, or too woodsy but good in the end. When I brought it home with me to taste further (as bottles tend to follow me home) I found it to have breathed at least enough to elicit its more sturdy and satiating aspects.

This is a warm wine, not warm in a spiced sense or a burnt sense, but comforting like the warmth of a campfire, it's unabashed weight pressing into this hinted backbone of minerality. If there was one defining trait I'd give to define this wine it would be this sense of weight over warmth; it's a commanding but pleasing factor like sinking into a hug; it wasn't smothering but absorbing and was followed by full earthen fruit notes coming in at a close second which allowed you to be drawn into the preceding campfire notes, the undertones of burnt meat on stakes, the subtle hints of cinnamon and other spices sprinkled throughout sizzling somewhere just out of direct perception. The Gribouille (meaning doodle or sketch) is a sturdy, full-bodied, comforting, and if nothing else, consistent wine once given some time to be left on it's own.

For the winery, Domaine Rivaton exists in the Southernmost tip of mainland France, in a province at the tip of the Languedoc-Roussillon. The area is interesting for two reasons, one is that the local geography where Domaine Rivaton is situated is at the center of a triangle made between the Pyrenees to the south, the Corbieres Mountains to the north and west and the Mediterranean to the east. In the Agly Valley, where Latour-de-France sits, is a landscape dominated by large amounts of shale, gneiss, and slate even at the elevation of 400 meters (1,312 feet) where the vineyards cling to their windswept perches. In this region their mighty wind is called the Tramontane, it keeps the vines dry after heavy rainfalls and because of the predominate Mediterranean climate, the wines tend to be higher in alcohol, fuller bodied and have a combination of earthy, mineral and ripe fruit flavors. The other reason is that Latour-de-France, upon reaching into the past, which lies just west of Estragel, is directly in the heart of Roussillon, a place once ruled by Spain and still at times called Northern Catalonia. Though much of Catalonia seemed to be in flux between France and Spain, it's of noting that Roussillon was once ruled by Spain via the Kingdom of Majorca, a sort of vassal kingdom of Spain until it was dissolved into the Crown of Aragon. More specifically this area was apart of Catalonia until 1659 when the Treaty of the Pyrenees between Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain ceased the war between the two countries, a war caused by France's involvement in the Thirty Years War. If things had gone differently and Spain retained control, we might be drinking Rossello!

 Varietals & Vinification: 80-100yr old vines of 70% Carignan, 15% Syrah, 15% Grenache; works organically and biodynamically; gravity fed slues that run into 15-30 liter concrete tanks where natural yeasts take their time during a 22 day maceration period and then racked again in concrete to rest for one year.

Winemaker: Frederic Rivaton;

Importer/Distributor: Savio Soares Selections, Brooklyn, New York  

 PoP: Savio Soares Selections orphan