La terre parle

Edmunds St. John 2000 Syrah (California) – A bit truculent at first, relaxing to mere surliness, then finally…perhaps most of all after 24 hours of air…showing its inner colors of leathery blackberry skins, hints of smoked meat, and a thick, solid structure. This is aging nicely, if perhaps a bit slower than I’d anticipated, and appears to be willing to be held for a few more years at least.

I was surprised to see a bottle of this hiding amongst ostensibly longer-aging syrahs during a recent cellar reorganization, and immediately moved it to the “drink now” rack. I needn’t have panicked. What Steve does better than just about any California wine maker is pick grapes with the inherent balance for gentle, Old World-style aging and then nurse them – rather than doctor them – from crush to bottling. It’s not the only path to success in California, and winemakers can certainly do excellent work in bigger, riper idioms without falling victim to the excesses of their brethren, but Steve’s wines have a special presence all their own, and age in a way unlike – and, sadly, all-too-frequently superior to – any other California wine. For this, an inexpensive blended syrah, to age in this particular fashion would be an achievement in the Rhône, a miracle elsewhere, but for Steve is merely another step along the path. Alcohol: 13.7%. Closure: cork. Web:

Leydier “Domaine de Durban” 2002 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône) – From 375 ml. Sweet crystals of apple, lemon, tangerine and melon, full of shattered quartz-like minerality and slashing needles of glass. Absolutely the most striking muscat there is in this region. Simply majestic.

It is an open and acknowledged bias of mine to prefer strong minerality to overt fruit. Leydier’s wines are so mineral-driven – the red Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Beaumes-de-Venise even more than this – that it’s virtually predestined that I would love them. This, a lightly-fortified sweet muscat, is made from gorgeous vineyards on the sweeping hillsides above the Dentelles de Montmirail, at a winery with one of the more frightening approaches in southern France (which, on our visit, probably wouldn’t have been quite so frightening had a truck not been barreling towards us from the other side of a land bridge). Nonetheless, the views are worth any moment of terror, and the wines even more so. Alcohol: 15%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch.

Winery B72564 “by Michel Rolland” 2003 Clos de los Siete (Mendoza) – Full-bodied and full-fruited in the anonymous New World style, with all the grapes having their say: chewy, dark and tannic fruit from the malbec, cassis and structure from the cabernet sauvignon, fruity lushness from the merlot, and smoked leather notions from the syrah. The equal partner here is oak, expressing itself in vanilla, chocolate, toast and butterscotch forms. It’s a massive, heavy, thoroughly placeless wine with no apparent flaws, and will undoubtedly be very popular. For those who don’t exist on this style, however, it will be at its most pleasurable at first sip, and then quickly decline to relentless monotony.

40% malbec, 20% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah. I think, based on my preferences, that most people would expect me to hate this wine. I don’t. It has its place, and will please a lot of people. The familiar and obvious objection (so obvious that this is the second time I’ve made it) – that it could be from anywhere – is, I think, a correct one, but that in itself doesn’t invalidate the wine. To those who would argue that this wine is superior to most of the often raw and harsh vinous products of Argentina, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but would instead pose this question: since it is plainly apparent that this sort of wine can indeed be made anywhere given sufficient funding, workable grape sources and enough knowledge in the cellar, wouldn’t the most important differentiator to the otherwise-indifferent consumer be price? Wouldn’t the first goal – the only goal – be to find this wine at its cheapest? Maybe that’s Argentina’s role here, and maybe it’s not (though with Michel Rolland attached, I doubt this will ever contend for the bottom of the pricing barrel), but I suspect that “we can make drinkable New World-style wine more cheaply than anyone else” is not a title on which Argentinean viticulture wishes to permanently hang its hat. In any case, the Aussies will be mightily miffed at the competition for their crown. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Dourthe. Web:

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2003 Touraine Sauvignon (Loire) – Fairly classic riper sauvignon blanc characteristics (melon, overripe gooseberry, sweaty tropicality verging on pineapple alongside more typical grass and tart citrus aromas) with the Touraine chalk, though the latter is muted under the wine’s overall weight; a substantial gain in heft over previous vintages that I’m not sure works entirely to the wine’s benefit.

This is a wine that’s usually much more marked by its site than by its varietal composition. In hot 2003, the grape asserts itself in a not-unpleasant way, though it is certainly still incapable of muting the Touraine signature. Where things go wrong, as noted above, is that the form of the wine is off-kilter as a result; there’s certainly “more,” but there’s no counter-balancing structure (mostly, this would need acid). All that said, there’s little that’s unpleasant here, and one could happily drink this while waiting for better vintages to round into form. Alcohol: 13%. Organic. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner & LDM.

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