January is cold in Burgundy. The pace slows considerably from the year-end holidays, which the French do particularly well. For the fêtes de fin d’année, the shops and markets swell with luxury items -- for example, crates of oysters from Belon and the Mediterranean as well as the usual supply from the Loire estuary. Boucheries add special pâtés and terrines and pâtisseries produce bûches de Noël and other specialties. People really do roast chestnuts on an open fire. And at Christmastime in the provinces, local restaurants often create a high-end takeout menu of sorts, with neighbors dropping off their china a few days before and returning to pick them up on Christmas Eve. (When we were there they came back filled with Quenelles de Brochet in a Sauce Nantua.) January brings a pause from all the merrymaking.
Though the January pace is also slower for vignerons, there’s more work than just topping up the barrels as the new wines bubble their way through their malolactic fermentations. Out in the vineyards it is the time of la taille, the vine-by-vine process of pruning off last year’s wood and setting the stage for the coming growing season. There’s not as much weather risk as when the vines flower and leaf out, but there is the worry of a deep freeze -- perhaps more these days as vignerons struggle to cope with the new weather patterns of the last decade.
At Ansonia Wines, January means the annual collection of wine and olive oil in Tuscany, a particularly pleasant task this year (as you will read later in these notes). From Burgundy, we’re continuing to bring in the 2017 whites, supplying more evidence that this vintage’s white Burgundies are charming, generous and already drinking beautifully. In this offering we propose the yin and yang of barrel-raised Chardonnays from St. Aubin and no-oak Chardonnay of Chablis. From Gevrey-Chambertin, we offer more of the excellent red Burgundies of the 2016 vintage. In the Southern Rhône, we stop for delicious and inexpensive blends of Grenache and Syrah; and from there we jump to Bordeaux for Christian Dauriac’s big, rich wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol. We round out this offering with the fruit of our travels in the Alsace last fall: an exciting new producer who makes exceptionally interesting wines.
We hope there will be something in this lineup for everyone. If you find anything of interest, don’t forget to submit your requests by the Order Deadline of January 27, 2018 -- we will place the orders with the vignerons immediately thereafter.
With Ansonia père installed on the coast of Maine, we open wines to match seafood with great regularity. The Domaine Gautheron, one of our two producers from the northernmost appellation in Burgundy, is an essential element of our seafood strategy. Gautheron’s style seeks to capture the purity and energy of unoaked Chardonnay. He assembles his wines from many parcels, each vinified in separate tanks, in every case seeking balance and focus. They are lively, fresh, and versatile.
The 2017s from Gautheron will drink well early, with ripeness levels somewhere between the opulent 2015s and the brisk wines of the very small 2016 vintage. The 2017 Petit Chablis is a straightforward glass of lemony fruit. On the hors d’oeuvre table it will pair well with many things -- fresh goat cheese on crackers, shrimp with cocktail sauce, or ripe melon wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma. On a hot summer afternoon it will provide a refreshing accompaniment to light fare from the grill or the fryer. It is what the French like to call a “vin de soif,” a wine to quench thirst.
Moving to the Chablis Vieilles Vignes means an increase in sophistication. The old vine Chablis has more body and more depth. A tiny proportion spends time in barrels (though not new ones) and this whisper of oak adds complexity. The goal is the same, but this wine comes from older vines in better places, and so there is more complexity in the glass and a longer life. This wine has the presence to stand up to an hors d’oeuvre of smoked oysters or salmon mousse, or a grilled piece of swordfish.
The premier cru Vaucoupin offers yet another level of intensity, length, and aging potential. It will be rounder and fuller in the mouth than the other wines, and it will persist longer on the palate. We love to match this wine up with our home-grown oysters, and we think you’ll find it similarly well-suited to fresh bivalves from anywhere. Or for another perfect pairing, serve with sushi.
After a great red Burgundy vintage, the one that follows often lies in its shadow. Sometimes the next vintage stays there (the 2006 after the 2005), but sometimes it matches or even exceeds the great one (the 2010 after the 2009). The 2015 was unquestionably a great Burgundy vintage. It’s too early to say for sure, but we think that the 2016 will more resemble the 2010 than the 2006. It was a vintage that kept the vignerons up at night throughout the early part of the growing season, but a luminous, perfect September rescued the vintage and created exceptional quality at domaines that were able to take advantage of it.
Gevrey-Chambertin’s Domaine des Varoilles is our newest red wine producer from the Côte de Nuits. It has some of the very finest terroir in Gevrey: a one-hectare monopole in the Village, and two monopole Premier Cru vineyards that are among the very best situated. This town produces the biggest and most powerful of the Côte d’Or’s reds, wines that usually need time in the cellar to come up to their full potential. The 2015s from Varoilles were all very big, dense, extracted, and offering much promise down the road. And the 2016s?
We love the 2016s at Varoilles. Like the 2015s, the 2016s show excellent ripeness, but they are less massive. The tannins are very fine-grained, and when we tasted them right after bottling it was easy to see down the road to a delightful maturity. They are also likely to drink well sooner than the 2015s. For what it’s worth, Allen Meadows (“Burghound”) agrees with us, projecting a score of 90-93 for the Premier Cru Clos des Varoilles and the Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin, and 90-92 for the Premier Cru “La Romanée.”
At the village level we suggest the wine from the Monopole Gevrey-Chambertin “Meix (pronounced “may”) des Ouches (“oosh”). Though decidedly less extracted than the 2015, the 2016 Meix des Ouches has excellent depth of color and plenty of dark, ripe fruit. Burghound found aromas of plum, cassis and black cherry, and described the wine as “exceptionally rich, round and velvet-textured.” Like all Gevrey, this wine will show its best with some time under its belt, but we think a carafe will make this wine enjoyable sooner rather than later.
The Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Clos des Varoilles 2016 shows a particularly nice balance between fruit and oak, and though there’s plenty of structure to carry the wine forward for many years, the fine-grained tannins are not at all harsh. The 80 year old vines contribute exceptional depth in any vintage, and they match beautifully with the refined texture of 2016s tannins. Burghound felt that the wood “frame[s] the aromas of plum liqueur, black raspberry, warm earth and a touch of the sauvage;” and he found “excellent richness” on the palate. As with the Meix des Ouches, we think this vintage will be drinking really well before the 2015s do.
For those who lean toward finesse over power, there is the monopole Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru “La Romanée.” This vineyard abuts the Clos des Varoilles on the upslope side, and its 60+ year-old vines produce elegant wines that make the vineyard name seem particularly appropriate. As Burghound put it, the wine is “finer if less powerful,” offering “plenty of minerality on the sleekly textured, refined and lingering finish.” These are wines of much character, and will be certain to provide pleasure over many years.
Finally, there is a small quantity available of the Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin 2016. Like the Clos des Varoilles, this is very big wine. Burghound called it “rich and impressively powerful,” and found “blackberry liqueur-like aromas that are liberally spiced with earth, spice, and a whisper of smoked game.” This will be a wine to lay down for some time, but one that should amply reward patience.
Recent growing seasons in the Côte de Beaune produced new gray hairs on its vignerons, as frost, hail, and other mishaps arrived year after year. In 2017, producers finally caught a break, as almost two weeks of near freezing Spring temperatures ended without disastrous frosts. (We were there for the last of the dangerous nights, and you may recall our photos of dense smoke in the early morning, as everyone stayed up all night burning bales of hay in an effort to move the dial just half a degree or so.) The rest of the growing season went well, with the result that 2017 produced both good quantities and high quality. Vinous’s Josh Raynolds called the 2017 white Burgundies “pure, easygoing, fruit forward wines of considerable charm.” Jasper Morris MW calls them “consistent and delicious.”
Tucked away up a side valley that separates Chassagne-Montrachet from Puligny-Montrachet, St. Aubin’s off-the-beaten-path location continues to favor wine lovers with better prices for fine white Burgundy than its more celebrated neighbors. Year in and year out, the Domaine Gerard Thomas offers consistently well made wines with the qualities that make white Burgundy unique. The 2017 vintage continues the streak.
The Thomas Bourgogne 2017 is immediately expressive, with the nose showing a mix of ripe fruit and vanilla notes from its élevage in barrels. In the mouth it reveals the principal difference between white Burgundy and New World Chardonnay: enough structure to keep the wine fresh and focused in the glass, without the heaviness that often afflicts lesser Chardonnays. This wine should pair well with a wide range of dishes, and drink well from the time it arrives. At $250 a case, this is an excellent option for a house white wine.
Stepping up to the St. Aubin “Champ Tirant” brings more complexity on the palate and in the nose. Like the Bourgogne, the Champ Tirant 2017 will be expressive from the time the first cork is pulled. But the aromatic profile is more refined, the mouth offers more interplay between fruit and minerals, and the wine persists far longer on the palate. As we completed these notes it offered the perfect accompaniment for simply broiled haddock brushed with good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Moving to the Premier Cru “Murgers des Dents de Chien” adds another layer of sophistication, more intensity to go with greater complexity, a greater capacity to develop in the glass (and in the cellar), and considerably more length on the finish. This has a more refined mouthfeel, and, though lovely today, should improve for another 3-4 years.
The Domaine has a very small parcel in Puligny-Montrachet’s premier cru “La Garenne” vineyard. The Domaine’s style shows here as well: very nice balance between fruit, minerals, and oak. This is racier wine that will require a bit more time to show its best. As with much Puligny there’s an intense minerality alongside the ripe lemon fruit -- today they may seem in competition; in three years they should be singing together in harmony. Whatever your budget and interest in variety, there should be a wine in the Thomas lineup to suit. And at every level you can expect good value for your investment.
Christelle Coulange makes a Rhône for all seasons. Her family property is tucked away in Bourg St. Andéol in the northern corner of the huge Côtes du Rhône appellation. Christelle took over the vines about a decade ago and began to bottle her own wine. (The vines have been in the family for generations, but before Christelle the product went to the local cooperative).
Most of you are familiar with her Cuvée Mistral, a delicious blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah that regularly takes Gold or Silver at the Concours de Paris. The wine is always inexpensive, supple and generous. The Grenache dominates, with pretty red fruit and a bit of spice; the Syrah adds interest and a floral touch in the nose. It’s a wine to drink early and often, equally well suited to a wintry veal stew and to summertime burgers on the grill.
For those of you who would like to try something new from Coulange, we’re also including her Côtes du Rhône-Villages from the 2015 vintage. In this wine, there’s 60% Syrah vs. 40% Grenache. The fruit is darker here; there’s a little more structure; and the in the nose there’s more aroma of violets. The Côtes du Rhône Villages is just a bit more serious than the Mistral, but remains smooth, easy, and approachable. We’d serve this with game, lamb, turkey, or sausages.
Some time around the turn of the millenium, Christian Dauriac began to lavish attention and investment on his St. Emilion property Chateau Destieux in a quest to elevate its classification in the St. Emilion hierarchy. That effort succeeded in 2006, and today the wine carries the designation Grand Cru Classé. Dauriac applied the lessons of that work to enhance his other St. Emilion property, Chateau Montlisse, and to La Clemence, his property in Pomerol. Today he makes big, serious wine at all three properties, particularly at Destieux and La Clemence.
The Chateau Destieux St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2015 has drawn particular praise from Antonio Galloni of Vinous. In February of 2018 he awarded it a score of 92, calling it “unctuous, deep and super concentrated.” Though we might be inclined to cellar the wine for a while, Galloni felt that “today it is super-expressive, not to mention flat-out delicious.” Among the elements he identified were “bittersweet chocolate, grilled herbs, plums, violet, new oak and spice … fused together in a texturally rich, sumptuous wine that hits all the right notes.” This is intense, velvety, and very long -- it’s as good a vintage of this wine as we’ve seen since the 2001. Give this a few years in your cellar and you’ll wish you’d gotten more.
The 2015 La Clemence Pomerol is if anything even bigger than the Destieux. As a Pomerol, the wine is principally Merlot (85%), but don’t let that make you underestimate its power. Galloni called it a “decidedly virile, muscular Pomerol,” a wine of “power more than finesse.” We agree entirely -- it’s a big wine that will need time for the tannins to soften and integrate with the other elements. When it does, though, there is plenty for the many of you who love Pomerol to look forward to: Galloni found “black cherry, chocolate, French oak, cloves, menthol and licorice,” and we have little doubt than one day all these will blossom. It’s bolder, longer, and perhaps slightly less refined than the Destieux, but it’s awfully fun. If intensity and richness is your game, this won’t disappoint.
If you’re not so patient but still love the richness of St. Emilion, consider the Montlisse St-Emilion Grand Cru 2015. We might call it a “junior” Chateau Destieux, showing many of the same elements but less massively. We tasted the two wines together, and after a few hours in the air, the Montlisse was rounding out and beginning to express itself much more than the Destieux. Look for notes of chocolate, dried roses, plums, and hints of cinnamon -- this is deep and intense but should drink well (in a decanter) immediately.
New producers come to us in a variety of ways -- sometimes through recommendations from existing producers; sometimes through bottles in local restaurants; sometimes through things we read. But we have the most fun with those who come through serendipity, and Vincent Gross is one of those.
He arrives as we say goodbye to our longtime Alsatian producer Francis Muré, who is retiring from winemaking this year. Francis himself arrived serendipitously after we entered his courtyard twenty years ago in search of a different Muré. Learning that Francis made wine too, we tasted there, saw the quality, and began what turned into a two-decade relationship. It’s appropriate, then, that our next Alsatian producer should come to us from out of the blue.
Ansonia père et ux travel every few years with a group of couples, and last year’s trip found them in the Alsace. The group likes to rent houses for such trips, and we found a nice one among the vines of Gueberschwir, a town just south of Colmar. Upon our arrival there was a bottle of local wine in the fridge along with a note mentioning that our landlord was also a winemaker. To our mild surprise, the bottle was not only good but excellent. With further inquiry we learned that the winemaker was indeed a serious one -- certified organic, following biodynamic principles -- and an eventual tasting of la gamme confirmed that this is a very skilled producer indeed. And so we offer Vincent Gross as a replacement for our retiring friend Muré.
Like most Alsatian producers, the Domaine Gross offers an extensive list of wines, and we have decided to begin with just a few. We were particularly delighted by the dry Riesling “Gueberschwir.” It’s a beautiful blend of fruit and minerals, with an expressive, spicy nose and lots of energy on the palate. The wine is delicious right now but there should be no rush to drink it -- Gross designs his wines to be around for a while.
Our second recommendation, the dry Pinot Gris “Neuweg,” already has some time under its belt -- the vintage currently on offer is the 2014. While it has the mellow and rounded-out mouthfeel of a mature wine, there is plenty of pure, clean orchard fruit and excellent length. The wine still shows focus and precision -- it’s not a bit tired at an age when much Pinot Gris would be ready for the stockpot.
As much as we liked the traditionally-made wines, we got the most excited about his “vins de maceration” -- what are often called “orange wines” these days. (In fact they are not all orange; the color ranges from straw to orange and in between.) These are wines made from white wine grapes but vinified like reds. Red wines ferment with their skins (the source of their color), and white wines are generally pressed off the skins and ferment only with juice. To create orange wines, winemakers ferment the white grapes together with the skins and lees -- often for 8 or more months in large barrels. The technique extracts tannins and other elements from the skins, and results in a complex and fascinating palate.
We’re excited to include two orange wines from Gross -- a Pinot Gris from the Osperling vineyard and a Gewurztraminer from the Neuweg vineyard. Both are from the 2017 vintage. The Gewurztraminer Neuweg (Orange) offers a wonderfully spicy nose along with what resembles the citrusy hops of a summertime session beer. The spicy nose creates an expectation of sweetness on the palate, but in the mouth the wine is completely dry. The texture is lovely, substantial but showing plenty of energy. The Pinot Gris Osperling (Orange) is also mouthfilling and rich on the palate, but without a hint of sweetness. The nose is savory and dry, with notes of herbal honey and dried flowers. There’s ripe stone fruit with good supporting acidity in the mouth, making the finish clean and precise. These may be a bit hard to describe if you’ve never had one, but trust us, they’re worth your attention.
Finally, we’re including a Gewurztraminer dessert wine. It’s a sweet wine (moelleux), but with about 45 grams per liter of residual sugar it’s half as sweet as many Sauternes. This is a wine to enjoy by itself after the meal, or at a cheese course featuring a powerful, ripe cheese like St. Marcellin, Époisses, or real Munster. Look for notes of ginger, pineapple, and grapefruit -- the lovely spicy aromas combine with an unctuous mouthfeel to punctuate the end of any fine meal.
As longtime readers know by now, January is the month we make our annual purchase at Poggerino in Chianti Classico. We schedule it this way in order to include Poggerino’s superb olive oil, which gets bottled in December. Fine Tuscan olive oil is a whole different product from the everyday stuff available in the stores. With a pinch of sea salt it utterly transforms a slice of crusty bread; drizzled over fresh roasted fish it provides a perfect finish; and with a dollop of lemon juice it dresses a salad of greens like nothing else. Poggerino packs it in 500 ml tins. (The olive oil always sells out in the Futures offering, so if you’re anxious to try it, don’t tarry with your order).
As we explained in last week’s blog post, appreciation for Poggerino’s quality continues to expand. Rajat Parr’s just-released (and excellent) book “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste” lists a handful of the best producers at the end of each section. Poggerino is one of just five producers singled out in Chianti Classico: “[Piero Lanza’s] excellent 100 percent Sangiovese wines fly under the radar, but are some of the purest expressions of the grape in Italy.”
The 2015s are particularly fine. In fact, last August the Wine Spectator listed the 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva Bugialla and the 2015 Chianti Classico “Nuovo” among six wines that were described as “the most exciting discoveries from our editors’ most recent tastings. . . . high scoring wines from around the world that may be difficult to find but are worth seeking out.” They awarded the 2015 Riserva a whopping 96 points, praising its pure cherry fruit supported by “rosemary, iron, and tar flavors;” and expecting its structure to carry the wine for a decades. For our part, we were struck by how beautifully ripe the Riserva’s tannins are, and that despite the big structure the wine drank beautifully with only a bit of time in a carafe. If you buy Riserva only from time to time, this is an excellent vintage to consider for that occasional purchase.
The Wine Spectator was only a touch less impressed with the 2015 Chianti Classico “Nuovo,” awarding it 95 points. Piero makes a very small quantity of this wine, which is raised in a cement egg (hence the name) rather than barrels. The egg makes for a particularly round structure with a ripe and mouth-filling texture -- this is riper and perhaps a bit more modern than the regular cuvée. The regular 2015 Chianti Classico is also a delight, and probably more, well, classic. Its ripe cherry fruit mingles with spice and a touch of licorice, and we think the wine will have a long and graceful life. It’s of a piece with the Nuovo, but less intense and more refined -- think a soccer player to Nuovo’s rugby player. Drink the Nuovo with Arrabbiata; the Classico with Bolognese. In any event, all of these 2015 wines would make excellent additions to your cellar.
Finally, we heartily recommend the 2017 “Il Labirinto.” Piero vinifies this wine in tanks rather than barrels, seeking a wine built for early drinking. The 2017 shows beautiful ripe fruit, pure and clean. A bit of blackcurrant or black raspberry mingles with the cherry in this fruit, and there’s plenty of freshness to help the wine stand up to those tomato-based sauces we all love to pair with it. It way overdelivers for its price, and has to be one of the best values in our lineup.
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OPTIONS FOR GETTING YOUR ORDERS
Pick-up in Massachusetts. We store our inventory in a basement in Newton (437 Newtonville Ave), and open it up to the public on Saturday afternoons. Futures customers can pick up their orders here during Saturday open hours, or by appointment.
Pick-up in Delaware. Many of those who aren’t near Boston will choose to collect their wine in Delaware. For such people, we set times for pickup at a temporary storage location and the owners pick their wine up there over the course of the two or three weeks after it arrives.
Shipping elsewhere. In some states we can arrange for shipping at an additional cost that varies by location ($3.50 per bottle to the west; $2.50 per bottle everywhere else). If shipping interests you, let us know the state and we will figure out if it can be done.