Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


Weekly Wino: Fresh from the Archives

I Vini Paesani

I wrote this way back in May of 2006 when I was living in Italy. If ever you wanted a little slice of Italian life, you can taste here.

That translates as "country wine," but the meaning is closer to home-made wine. I want to talk about this part of Italian wine life because is exists and is very important to the common Italian.

There is a large market for these unlabeled bottles and they are consumed in many homes as the daily table wine. This bottle is of the more "professional" variety, as it is sold in a 750 ml bottle with a cork. Many times, il vino paesano is packaged in old glass water bottles, or even 1.5 liter plastic water bottles. You can see in the photo to the right, the "label" is handwritten and says Gragnano. Gragnano is a slightly sweet and very fizzy red made on the Sorrento Peninsula. If you've ever had a lambrusco amabile, you have an idea of what this tastes like.

The first time that I ever tried vino paesano, I was 22 years old and in Venice. I had lost myself in the winding streets and happened upon a wine store. Inside was a very rotund man with a beard and an apron, and he explained to me that the 9 HUGE straw-covered casks on display were fresh wines brought in from all over the Veneto. Fresh wines! I'd never heard of this. Enthusiastically I asked for a bottle, and he asked me if I had one for him to fill. Of course not! He went to the back, brought out an empty plastic water bottle (1.5 L) and filled it with red. At that time, I paid about 3 dollars (still being a student, this was a pleasant surprise), carried my bottle with me, and shared it with my friend and a rowdy group of Italians on the train back to Florence. It was wonderful because I had found a new wine experience.

By now, I have tried just about every local varietal in its paesano version. In Ischia, that would mean the having tried the less-common-on-the-mainland biancolella (white), per'e'palummo/piedirosso (red). AND, there have even been times when the "uvaggio," or varietal(s) was unknown, even to its contadino (farmer) winemaker.

Wherever in Italy wine is made, (everywhere!), you are sure to find a local paesano production of the regional wines. They are neither fabulous nor complex, and sure never to win any distinction. They can be too sour, too tannic, or even oxidized--but if you find the right supplier, they can also be delicious and fun and just the right compliment to that rabbit braised in a clay pot.

They are certainly not perfect, and one cannot expect the same wine that comes out of a bottle, but they are an experience worth having because to the farmer who makes them, they are a manifestation of his passion for the land, they are his own personal work of art, they are his pride in a bottle that his wife lovingly puts on the table every day for the family. These wines are a pure expression of the important part of Italian culture that takes what nature has given locally and turns it into a sacred familial ritual of eating well every day.

These wines are the bare, simple truth of the vine, brought to fermented life by the hand that has worked his land for generations. It is local, rustic, and Italian; it is a way to get closer to the real culture, and for that, it is special.


Loire Valley Part Deux: Our Queasy Quarts de Chaume Drive-By

As only I am capable of, on our second day of of touring the Loire Valley, I managed to score some sort of first-class stomach funk.

After the Joly winery tour on day one, we drove into Rochefort to find the hotel that Virginie booked for us. Driving through the town square, my eyes immediately spotted a sign that read "Chaume." Jeremy and I had already decided to visit one more town/winery on the way back to Paris the next day--we were thinking more along the lines of Chinon. But seeing Chaume, as in !!OMG-Quarts-du-Chaume!!, changed my mind.

Quarts de Chaume AOC, if you don't know, is one of those revelatory dessert wine appellations. Esoteric and obscure though it may be, it is definitely worth the hunt. Let me take you back in time...

August 2008: Jeremy came to Austin to visit me for the first time. On his second and last day, I cooked dinner. He had never tasted a Quarts de Chaume before. I bought a half-bottle of Baumard from Austin Wine Merchant. It was incredibly memorable and now sentimental.

**Cue back to present-day LOIRE and my excessive rambling.**

So, Quarts de Chaume is produced entirely with botrytized Chenin Blanc grapes. It has that characteristic botrytis nose, but the chosen varietal lends such an incredible minerality and nervous acidity that its perfect balance of sugar and acid with that salty sprinkle of terroir-driven mineral will make you FORGET about ever wanting a Sauternes. Semillion just can't deliver what Chenin can. We had the '05, so I can only imagine how wonderfully this wine would age.

The land area for this AOC is roughly 70 acres, and the maximum yields are appropriately low.

After all of this raving about QdC, I have to say that it was the very last thing I could stomach under the relentless wave of nausea that hit me on day 2. I asked Jeremy to very gently drive me through the undulating vineyards on curvy roads so that I could at least see what I was missing while trying not to leave a bit of myself in the terroir.

The village of Chaume consists of exactly 3 adjacent houses, a man with dark hair, and a horse. Driving through the vineyards, it was clear that the vines were all quite old (40-50 years, at least), many of them head-trained. These kinds of vines were a pleasantly ubiquitous site that may lose something in the transition from reality to digital image. I trust that some of you out there may appreciate it, nonetheless.

It was quite the dream fulfilled being able to poke around this favored corner of the Loire Valley. The air was clean and crisp, much like the wines, and the villages were absolutely charming.

I love good values from regions overshadowed by flashier, more expensive wines from regions famous for being famous. While a good Quarts de Chaume may not be what most consider cheap at $35ish per half-bottle, it offers a product that has more soul and class in its recently-released-375 mLs than an average Sauternes could ever hope to offer, even after 10 years in the bottle. Not that the latter has no merit--we all know that a great Sauternes can be quite thrilling--but a truly great one is simply cost-prohibitive for most of us.

Locally, Baumard Quarts de Chaume, 2005 is available at Austin Wine Merchant. Run, don't walk!


Loire Valley and the Nicolas Joly Winery

Holy vache, did Jeremy Parzen and I have a good ol' time in France! His band, Nous Non Plus, had a 5-gig tour in France and New York, so I offered my services as number #1 groupie and tagged along. I'll blog about the music later, but the priority here is our 24 hour wine jaunt to the Loire Valley. Each of us alone is quite wine geeky, put us together in a couple and there was no place to go but Savennières.

After a fantastic display of my very own signature badgering, Jeremy agreed to take me. It was a toss-up between Chablis and Savennières...so we decided the first winery to respond would be our destination.

Virginie, Nicolas Joly's daughter responded right away, no doubt thanks to Mr. DoBianchi.

It was rainy and cool, and the plains of the Parisian periphery slowly gave way to the rolling hills surrounding our destination. Arriving in Angers, we abandoned the autostrada for the smaller roads leading to the wine country where there were signs reading Bouchemaine, La Pointe, and Epiré.

The sky started to clear upon our arrival at the Joly property. We were greeted by the young, energetic, and super-knowledgeable Virginie who wasted no time in pouring us wine.

The first wine was the Le Vieux Clos, which is their entry-level Savennières AOC, though all of the grapes are estate-grown. Jeremy asked her if this one was exported to the states, because neither of us had heard of this particular bottling. She explained that for some reason, the importer thought that the word "vieux" wouldn't be appreciated in the States, so this one is known as "Les Clos Sacrés" in the USA. The soil composition under these vines is entirely sandy, and some of the clusters are naturally infected with botrytis.

**Just a break for explanation here...it is very often erroneously reported that Joly's wines are oxidized. This just ain't true, for the love of biodynamic bacchus! All of his wines are botrytized, to varying degrees, which gives them that unctuous honeyed nose, and later the golden color that could be easily mistaken for oxidation.**

Anyway, wine #2 was the mid-level Clos de la Bergerie from the Roche-aux-Moines AOC. The vines from this vineyard grow in about 30 cm of sand before they have the strain of brown slate. There is more botrytis, and the vines are just a bit older. That pic to the right is the Bergerie vineyard cooling under a fitfully shining sunset.

Wine #3...drum roll please...was the Coulée de Serrant AOC. This vineyard is composed entirely of brown slate and is planted on a steep slope. The word Coulée refers to a small valley,** and Serrant is the name of a castle nearby, whose inhabitants donated much of the funds to plant the vineyards many many years ago. The Joly family purchased the entire estate in the 60s, and the Coulée de Serrant appellation is exclusive to this property (that's it in the pic below). Look ma, our very own AOC! Can you imagine? (BTW--Clos de la Bergerie is shared among 5ish producers.)

Virginie patiently answered ALL of our questions (we were quite the curious duo), and explained that the most important aspect of her father's wines is the foundation of minerality, which the brown slate supports. Chenin Blanc (my favorite white varietal), in my experience, has a characteristic nuttiness supported by don't-mess-with-me-while-I'm-getting-ready acidity.

Speaking of, the line-up was from the '07 vintage which is SO not ready to be drunk yet. It nearly split my tongue in two with its bracing acidity. Not to say that the wines weren't fantastic! They just need to hang out in their bottles for a bit. Two things give wine endurance to age: tannin and acid. The latter is the reason that Joly's wines, as well as most other Savennières/Chenin-based wines, are so incredibly long-lived.

There was an interesting twist to our tasting, though. All of the wines had been open since Saturday (we were there on a Thursday) and they were still alive! Many claim that Joly's wines should be decanted for as long before drinking. We were quite surprised when she shared this info with us at the end of the tasting.

BUT, there were TWO bottles of Coulée de Serrant on the table. The second, she disclosed, had been open for a few hours. There was a difference. The 5-day-old Coulée was still very vibrant, but the fresher bottle showed more umph and fruit, the complexity was more apparent. (Brooklynguy did a post on these wines with a similar experiment.)

Still reading? Thanks Mom! Here are some more images from the visit and our muddy stroll 'round the vineyards:That's Virginie practicing patience avec moi in the aging room. They use their barrels for many years, keeping the wood from ruining the wine with its scene-stealing presence.

It's my partner in wine crime...isn't he adorable? And just look at that chicken crossing the road! Don't you want to make a yolk?

That is a gnarly old Chenin Blanc vine, 80-90 years old, to be inexact. There are a couple of rows of these at the bottom of the Coulée de Serrant hill. They use them for cuttings, as they are "so used to growing in this terroir." They produce a couple of clusters every year, though, which go into the CdS mix. Wow. I hope you know that I risked a soggy muddy bottom climbing up the hill to take this picture...the things we do for love!

So that's it (really?!) for the
Savennières tour. We had a blast and we are grateful to Virginie for putting up with us and being such a great host!

Stay tuned for Loire Valley Part Deux: Our Queasy Quartes-du-Chaume Drive-by...

**Info provided by Virginie, and she knows everything!


Weekly Wino: Best Bubbles Under 15 Bucks

Who loves bubbles? I do I do! I'm sure you do too. Who loves Champagne-Method-Chenin-Blanc-based-Loire-Valley bubbles UNDER FIFTEEN BUCKS?

Who doesn't?

Nowadays, it's hard to find anything decent under $15, much less high-quality sparkling wine. I am here to testify that it IS possible.

Can I get an AMEN?

That wine is today's special value--Chateau Moncontour Sparkling Vouvray Brut, '06. This wine is made from 100% Chenin Blanc (this girl loves CB), with second fermentation in the bottle (Traditional/Classic/Champagne Method), which lends complexity to an already sassy varietal.

The nose is nutty (thank you Chenin!) and yeasty, with a heart of apricot and citrus. The creamy heavy mouthfeel gains levity from the most elegant little bubbles. This is one of the best values around. I've had some other sparkling Vouvrays, but none has come so close to being this damn good.

This wine is super food-friendly, something that could accompany almost anything, but pair this with a bit of prosciutto, and you'll find yourself in hog heaven.

The Loire Valley is generally a place to go for great values, but when it comes to bubbly, you can't beat it, not even with a stick.

Chateau Moncontour Sparkling Vouvray Brut is available in Austin at VinoVino, Grapevine Market, Central Market, and Whole Foods where it should cost about 14 dollars.

Now go on, y'all have some shopping to do!

Please tune in on Wednesday when I will be posting about the Loire Valley and our visit to the Nicolas Joly winery. Woohoo!


La Tour d'Argent

That's my man Jeremy P, also known as DoBianchi, perusing the wine selection at one fay-miss Parisian restaurant. They emphasized that they had only French wine. (Of course! Maybe someone tried to order Opus One last week...?)

That has to be the heaviest wine "list" I HAVE EVER SEEN, and that's just the White Zin selection!

But seriously folks...

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French Quoted

"3 rivers run through Lyon: the Rhone, the Saone, and Beaujolais!"

--Our friendly taxi driver in Lyon, referring to the quantity of Beaujolais consumed by the locals.