There is a lot more than grapes in a good bottle of wine: Location, Location, Location!
by John Dunham
There is a lot that goes into a good bottle of wine, and it is a lot more than just the type of grape (or grapes) being used. Of course, varietal matters, but so do does time (age and the vintage matter a great deal depending on the wine), style (or how the wine was made), and something that the French call terroir, which loosely translates to the word habitat.
The understanding of the place, the climate, and the soils that nurtured the grapes that go into wine, is much of what learning about wine is all about. And the importance of terrior was on display at the third of four seminars on wine sponsored by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF), a private non-profit organization that promotes and enhances knowledge of France and French culture in America, and the New York based fine wine merchant Millesima. We featured an article on the first of these seminars, which focused on the food and wine of the Champagne region, and now present the third, focusing on terroir.
The seminar was opened by Marie-Monique Steckel, the President of FIAF who recognized all of the sponsored and discussed the mission on the Institute. Then Hortense Bernard, the General Manager of Millesima USA, conducted the seminar which was a comparison of three similar chardonnay varietal wines from three distinct regions, and three pinot noir wines from the same general areas. The idea was to understand how place, or terroir, influenced the wines.
First up, Dana Gaiser from Lauber Imports, presented the three Chardonnay wines, one from France, one from Oregon and one from New Zealand. According to Mr. Gaiser, Chardonnay is the most neutral grape, and wines made from it really take on the nature and effects of the place where the grapes are grown. In addition, since Oregon’s wine growing areas and the Burgundy region of France have very similar climates and soils, they should produce very similar wines. This is one reason why Joseph Drouhin, a major French wine producer and négociant based in Burgundy also operates in the Willamette Valley.
The first wine of the night was a classic white burgundy, Joseph Drouhin Pouilly Vinzelles (2014: $25 per bottle). This wine was pale butter yellow in color with a citrusy nose featuring pineapple and marine notes. On the palate, the wine fresh, with nice acid and a good structure. There was some sweetness on the back of the palate, with flavors of peach and banana under the citrusy notes of the wine. This wine paired particularly well with the smoked chicken breast from Charcuterie D’Artagnan that was served along with the tasting.
Next up was a wine by the same producer, but from Oregon. Domaine Drouhin Oregon Arthur Chardonnay (2013: $36) The first thing to note is that this new world wine from the Dundee Hills area of Oregon, announces the grape varietal prominently, something one would never see from a classic French wine. The Arthur had the same pale butter yellow color as its French cousin, but things stopped there. The nose was not fruity, but woodsy, featuring a strong cedar note. These same woodsy notes came through on the palate which shared the good acid and balance of the Vinzelles. The wine was clean, crisp and less fruity with some spice on the finish. While it did not pair well with the smoked chicken it did hold up nicely to the President Le Chatelain Brie from the tasting.
The third Chardonnay came from New Zealand’s Felton Road winery. The Felton Road Bannockbun Chardonnay (2013: $49) shared the same color as the other two wines, but its nose was redolent with vanilla notes. The wine itself was more of a California style Chardonnay, with lots of vanilla, particularly on the finish. However in the mid palate area there was a lot of fruit, apples, tropical fruits, some mango. This wine also paired well with the D’Artagnan smoked chicken, as well as with the Duck Rillettes. Generally fats pair well with acid, so Charcuterie and cheese should pair well with Chardonnay based wines.
Comparing across the three wines, it was very easy to see how terroir has an amazing effect on wine. The same grape, with similar producers and styles lead to very different wines.
After a break and a brief demonstration of the Coravin wine dispenser system http://www.coravin.com/) that protects wine in the bottle with inert argon gas allowing consumers to pour a glass of wine and keep the bottle for years, we moved to pinot noir.
Again, three different pinot noir varietals were presented, this time by Mike Duffy from Martin Scott Wines. We started back in New Zealand, with Felton Road’s Cornish Pinot Noir (2013: $80). The wine was light garnet in color, with a nose that starts out very tight but opens into blueberry and plum along with a range of spicy notes. The wine had some rubber up front, but moved toward a range of berries, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and cherry. The wine had good tannins and balance but was a bit on the rough side.
Moving backwards down the rotation, to Domaine Drouhin Oregon Roserock Pinot Noir (2014: $38), we find a wine with a deep garnet to red color. The nose featured black cherry, plum, and a lot of sweet red fruits. On the palate, the wine started out tart with a cranberry flavor, this is followed by the sweet fruits and some layers of spice. The tannins on this wine are still a bit tight, and it could use a bit more age. That said, the wine is designed to age for 10-12 years.
The last wine we tasted was Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin (2013: $70). Of the six wines presented at the seminar, this was the best constructed. The wine has a bright ruby color. Very fruity on the nose, with strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and some nutmeg. The wine was very smooth and balanced, with a lot of bruits, sweet cherry, raspberry and some more complex spice notes. On the end there are some tart notes – like cranberry cocktail. This is an excellent wine to pair and it went well with the Charcuterie that was provided by D’Artagnan spread on breads from Pain D’Avignon.
This was an excellent seminar with truly knowledgeable presenters. The class demonstrated the importance of place in wine and showcased some excellent French specialty food suppliers. The seminars continue in May with a class featuring the wines of Provence.
For further information on the tasting series, visit http://www.fiaf.orghttp://www.fiaf.org
For further information on the wines featured in this tasting visit http://www.millesima-usa.com