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2006-10-06

 
Wine is the Word
 

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” –Anonymous



The same can be said for writing (and talking) about wine.

I’ve been trying to write about wine for a while. The more I try the more difficult it becomes. People often ask me simple questions, like whether a given item is “dry” or “light” – and I can’t answer, at least not without adding qualifications. “Well, yes and no,” I may reply. “It’s a matter of perception.”

What is that? I swear I’m not running for office. Really.

The exception to this would be for the vast amount of commodity wine, sold at all prices, created to satisfy established market norms. But then, so is this true for music and architecture. It’s no challenge to tell about acts televised on American Idol or the towers of Prudential Town Center.

Perhaps Cloverleaf should go back to carrying lots of wine from Constellation Brands, Foster's Wine Estates, The Wine Group, or Diageo. Those products are designed to be summed up in words (ideally in a style of prose commonly found in reports to stockholders.) Shoot, then I could have an intern write this newsletter.

Just think: Cloverleaf could have 30 Pinot Grigios that all taste the same.

They’d ask: “is this light?”

“Absolutely! So is this one!”

At Cloverleaf we don’t judge a wine for strictly for its utility. That would be boring.555555555555555555555555555444444444rr.

Oops. The cat just walked on the keyboard (he’s looking for a warm lap in a Michigan October).

Take the Gavi in last week’s newsletter for example. I finally figured out how to describe it. It smells like a scented candle, perhaps one made out of beeswax and infused with sandalwood. It took me several bottles over several weeks to understand and adjust to this aspect of the wine. Now I can’t stop using it as a nightcap. Is it “dry”? Is it “light”? – not exactly.

The wines we fixate on come from specific places, from specific people and are drunk in specific situations. Unlike the experience of drinking them, the circumstances of their existence can be described. So that’s what I’ll try to do.

Each of the following wines was created by the changing forces of nature and the ingenuity of people who understand and appreciate this nature. The wine is the text. Each one is a parcel of meaning by way of which we may learn about the world that created it. Each possesses internal agility that will mesmerize anyone who wants to learn the language. Listen and learn, or rather, drink and learn.



“What signifies knowing the Names, if you know not the Natures of Things” –Ben Franklin




All photos in this week’s newsletter were taken on a Pentax ist D in southwest Detroit, and all but one in Clark Park.




2005 Beaujolais Rosé, Brun d’Folie (<$14)

“Beaujolais” is light. “Rosé” is light too, right? So this must be “light.” Um – not quite.
It isn’t too light to taste rich and flavorful with tacos from La Tapatia. But then, it was served at room temperature. If it had been served cold, the acidity might have been more pronounced and the wine might have tasted lighter.

Go ahead and serve it chilled when tuna salad is on the menu or during August. Drink it basement temperature with tacos or during October. The succulent, intense, apricot and red berry flavors compliment spicy carne asada magically.

I believe the name of this wine – “Brun d’Folie” – means something like “the madness of Mr. Brun,” Jean-Paul Brun being the mastermind behind it.

Cloverleaf has never hosted a Beaujolais Rosé before. We’ve never been offered one. Is it madness to make pink wine out of Gamay? In commercial terms it may very well be. Ask yourself: have you purchased a bottle of this wine? No? Why not? Don’t you deserve to be dazzled by pure, uncluttered fruit flavor? Is it tedious to explain the amazing flavor of this wine with technical jargon, like the fact that it was fermented with wild yeast, or the fact that it is unfiltered and minimally sulfured?

I like getting together with the guys on the weekend, watching sports on TV, ordering in a dozen tacos and ripping through several bottles of this pink wine. Let the ladies drink red. Grrrr!




2004 Côtes du Rhône, Éric Texier (<$14)

Coat due roan. Mmm. What doesn’t this wine go well with? I can’t think of anything.

The more I use this wine the sweeter it gets. There is a special type of black plum grown in Mediterranean regions that I am reminded of when smelling Mr. Texier’s $14 red. One may locate spice aromas in it too, something that seems more obvious to me upon drinking it.

Drink two bottles of this wine (maybe not all at once). Enjoy the last glass even more than the first one. Then you may wonder, what makes this wine so darned delicious?

I asked the internet and came up with the following amazing facts:

1) “Plus every grape is handpicked and in the steeper locations (like the Côte Rôtie) only small baskets are used, as the pickers must carry the grapes up the steep grade to the climate-controlled trucks that take the grapes to the winery. Thankfully his trusted team and growers work day and night to bring in the grapes at the their optimum ripeness taking care to not harm the precious fruit.”

2) “The red wines are made in a similar gentle fashion. Once the grapes have been sorted, they are normally de-stemmed, lightly crushed and placed into traditional open top fermenation tanks. A combination of wood, concrete and stainless steel tanks are used depending on the vintage and the varietal. Once the grapes are placed into the tank, CO2 is used to create a blanket to protect the wine from oxidation. Once fermentation has begun using indigenous yeast, the temperature are controlled and never allowed to exceed 30° C. Pigeage, the pushing down of the cap of grape skins that naturally float to the top of the fermentation tank, and remontage, the gentle pumping over the grape juice over the broken cap, is done usually on a daily basis.”

3) “Éric raises his wines with the gentle hand of an experienced parent who knows how to provide a nurturing environment without obstructing the natural growth and development. In addition to minimal intervention, Éric believes it is key to age wines in cool cellars with stable temperatures. To this end his wines are cellared in his naturally cool cellar in the Beaujolais. Here, the temperature averages 14º C with limited fluctuation between winter and summer.”




2003 Chianti Classico, Montesecondo (<$22)

“In a previous life, Silvio & Catalina Messana were New Yorkers. There had always been this beautiful farm in Tuscany outside of Florence where Silvio’s mother lived. They visited yearly. His father had planted vineyards there in the early 70’s . Since his death, his mother looked after them and sold the grapes to a local negociant. In the mid-90’s, Silvio’s mother was ill and Silvio’s family decided to move back to be near her. By this time, Silvio already had developed a passion for wine in the Untied States. With the certain impossibility of finding an affordable rent in New York and 3 growing sons, Silvio & Catalina decided to stay on after his mother’s death, turning the Chianti Classico farm into their home and with a portion as a half-year bed-and-breakfast. Silvio immediately began working on the vineyards himself.

“The first vintage that Silvio estate-bottled was the 2000. There was a lot to learn and unlearn. He made friendships with only a few of the suspicious neighboring Tuscan vignaoli, but Paolo di Marchi of Isole e Olena, himself an outsider, was encouraging and helpful. His influence led them to natural farming and seeking a way to make the wine without the use of added yeasts or other additives and enhancers. Piece by piece, Silvio built a winemaking facility with his own hands (there was a small winemaking “garage” on the estate before) and things fell into place.”


Read more here.

Cloverleaf would love to offer the wines of Isole e Olena, but importer Robert Chadderdon is holding them hostage. Joe Dressner doesn’t play such games and, more importantly, for some unknown reason, he sets his prices as low as possible.

Considering the fact that this inky, succulent Chianti Classico is less than half the price of an affiliated, unobtainable Chianti Classico makes us smile. Cloverleaf proudly offers it to the citizens of southeastern Michigan.




2003 Mâcon-Montbellet, Domaine de Roally (<$23)

Say: “Roy-EE.”

I’ve already addressed this unbelievable white Burgundy in previous newsletters. Cloverleaf sold out of it quickly. I just wanted to let readers know that it is back in stock.

Here’s a quotation from a profile of Joe Dressner in Gastronomica (vol. 6, no. 3) a publication of University of California Press:

“The turning point in Dressner’s life came when he and his wife went to a tasting with Henri Goyard, the owner of the small Domaine de Roally vineyard. ‘It was night and day compared to what I was used to drinking,’ remembers Dressner. ‘It tasted like something. It was just delicious.’ Goyard’s fourteen-acre estate was locally well known. Unlike his neighbors in the Mâconnais village of Vire, Goyard still handpicked his grapes and used natural yeast and a minimal amount of fertilizer and chemicals. As a result of these traditional methods, each vintage tasted different and truly reflected the area’s soil composition and the weather that year. ‘It gave my wife and me a notion of wine that was entirely different: the emperor should have no clothes.’

“At the time Goyard wasn’t exporting his wine to America. ‘That really gave us the idea to do this,’ says Dressner. ‘Here’s a market role we could perform. We started looking for other people like Goyard in France, but there aren’t millions of them.’”


Let me know if you’d like a copy of the entire article. It clearly explains why naturalistic, traditional winemaking and wine growing practices result in better wine.




2001 Merlot, Robert Keenan (<$37)

Nils Venge made this wine. At various times Mr. Venge has been instrumental in crafting wine for Groth, PlumpJack, Saddleback and Bacio Divino. My principle complaint about these is they are too scarce and cost more than I can afford.

The Robert Keenan winery sits high on Spring Mountain, along with Pride and Schweiger.

Reviewing these dry, detached facts makes my mouth water.

Mountain grown Napa Merlot is one of the most alluring things you can drink, especially on a cold October evening, with a roast in the oven. It’s velvety smooth and packed with black fruit and mineral flavors.

Thank the stars that Merlot is officially no longer trendy. Now we have a chance to buy and drink the best ones at prices just within reach (for a special occasion).

I love Merlot.

If we’re not drinking Merlot I’m leaving!




2004 Outsider, Linne Calodo ($48.45 – $54.15)

When a California winery makes only a few hundred cases of a wine and earns copious, even prodigious praise from Robert Parker, it is unusual to find their wines for sale at any price.

This is made primarily from Paso Robles Zinfandel – 68%. The balance is made up by Syrah and Mourvedre. “Linne Calodo” is the name for a special type of soil found in Paso Robles, and this enlightened winery would like to celebrate it.

So it’s “earthy,” right? Not exactly. This is the kind of jammy, fat, rich and concentrated wine that is actually drinkable. This could be because these grape varieties are suited to such a ripe state by their nature. There is evidently no concession of complexity and dimension in the process of ripening these grapes to 16.2% alcohol.

“The Linne Calodo wines are driven by four factors: vineyard location, uncompromising viticultural practices, minimalist winemaking, and the desire to learn from experience. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and the crop loads reflect the natural balance of the vine. We believe in harvesting at the peak of ripeness to produce wines that are rich and concentrated.”

Read more here.


2006-09-29



There are 4 tickets left for the opera bus (includes Naples-style pizza and Chianti Classico): Saturday November 11. Call (248) 357-0400.

Now we present this week’s Cloverleaf Newsletter (please opt for any blocked images; we’re harmless):



Biodynamics
A Not-So-Radical Pleasure

 



Ignore for a moment all moral, superstitious and ecological arguments. Biodynamic wine tastes better than the alternative. It’s that simple.

Benziger's site does a good job explaining (and hyping) the concept of biodynamics; even if you can’t actually buy biodynamic wine there (I found one: McNab Ranch Merlot for $35. Anyone ever try it?)

Essentially, biodynamic viticulture is a type of extreme organic practice. Like other organic practices, biodynamics is healthier for the vines. This specific practice, originally detailed by Rudolf Steiner, may also discipline the mind of the wine grower to a degree that other ecological approaches do not.

And everyone agrees – Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Anne-Claude Laflaive, Joe Dressner – everyone: biodynamic wines are better wines. And there is a simple reason for this: biodynamic vines are healthier vines.

If there was ever any doubt, Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer made it official this week (10/15/06): “It's not whether everything in the biodynamic belief system works, but whether its result is worthwhile. Here the answer is surprisingly clear: it is.”

Of course, you can’t go into your Michigan backyard, begin cultivating vines biodynamically, and expect good results. The usual quality forces aren’t negated with biodynamics. Biodynamics merely illuminates a vineyard, bringing the quality and complexity of its fruit into high relief. Logically, if source vineyards are lousy, these techniques will make the resulting wine more obviously lousy.

(So no matter how beneficial biodynamics and naturalistic wine making may be, the fact that most vineyards are high-yield monuments to lousiness makes chemical spoofulation a permanent fact of life. Oenologists will always be employed to “correct” factory farmed fruit, and that is better than its alternative – uncorrected factory farmed fruit.)

According to Matt Kramer it’s like jazz:


“(the validity of Biodynamics – or some similar devotion to intensely self-sustaining agriculture and naturalistic winemaking) calls to mind an exchange between jazz writer Gene Lees and the great Bill Evans, a pianist famed for his lyricism and his "touch":

"I kidded him about (the way he rocked his) finger on a key during a long note at the end of a phrase," Lee recalls in his 1988 essay ‘The Poet: Bill Evans.’

He continues:

‘After all, the hammer had already left the string: one has no further physical contact with the sound. Don't you know the piano has no vibrato? I said. Yes, Bill responded, but trying for it affects what comes before it in the phrase.'"


This week we are proud to bring you three wines: all estate-bottled and all $17. That is about as low a price as you will ever see for wines of this breed. Two of them are biodynamic, the other is the product of another style of organic farming.




2005 Cheverny Rouge, Clos du Tue-Boeuf, <$17

This organic wine may not be farmed strictly according to biodynamic rules, but the winemaker does assign himself another daring task: the avoidance of sulfites.
cheverny rouge
Among people who ask why some wines taste better than others, Thierry Puzelat is known for not using preservative sulfites. Among the rest of us he is known for making dream-like wine. The first fact can help explain the vivid flavors and dramatic life cycles of his various works.

Personally, after years of denying the importance of sulfites in our experience of drinking wine, I am becoming convinced that it is indeed essential to minimize the use of them. The proof that it matters is a wine like this (or, to name another example, Jean Foillard’s legendary Morgon).

Forgoing sulfites is dangerous. If there is anything amiss with the health of the fruit or the microecology of the vineyard and cellar, the wine will fall prey to spoilage. But if everything works you end up with a wine so pure and delicious that it warps your mind.

Cheverny appellation rules require its wines to be blends, and this is a mixture of Gamay and Pinot Noir.

You can link here for a longer version of my initial impressions but for our purposes here I would just like to say two things: 1) I can’t think of another red wine that will go so well with seafood, and 2) what a perfect introduction to extreme naturalistic wine! It shows familiar sensory hallmarks of red wine quality (concentrated fruit and spice) and yet it’s enigmatic and exotic (like forests of cinnamon and chalk).

Please enjoy the aromas for several minutes before gulping it down.




2005 Bourgueil, Catherine & Pierre Breton, Trinch!, <$17

If the first wine is like Burgundy, then this is like Bordeaux. It is made 100% from Cabernet Franc grown biodynamically in clay and limestone.
trinch!
After 10 years studying wine, I had no idea Cabernet Franc could be this pure and delicious. It’s as if the familiar, firm tannins can barely contain the sunny flavors of black berry nectar.

Last night I made what I once would have called Au Gratin Potatoes, but have since learned, from Tom, is really the more sophisticated Potatoes Affinois. It involved layering thin-sliced Michigan potatoes in a baking dish, covering it with roasted peppers, Jarlsberg, aged Gouda (substituting for true soft-ripened Affinois cheese) and stale bread cubes, then pouring enough whole milk in the dish to keep it from drying out in the oven (cover initially, then brown).

Trinch! was the wine, showing unending cascades of tiny black berry fruit while Anne and I quietly demolished the dish.

But this wine goes with anything. It’s biodynamic.




2005 Gavi, Cascina degli Ulivi, <$17

If you tasted the 2004 version of this wine you have no idea what to expect from this. Vintage variation is another one of those natural things that biodynamic techniques tend to exaggerate, and one can hardly imagine a more dramatic contrast than the 2004 and 2005 Gavi from this estate.

It’s as if the micro fauna and flora of this property suddenly began acting like honeybees in 2005, kissing the grapes with sweet nectar as they stirred in the wind. This soil has been biodynamically tended since 1985 and its health is evident in its legendary verdancy.

Steve and I were drinking this wine on the front porch on Tuesday, before it rained. Monica came home and before she came within 10 feet of us she made a face and remarked that we must be drinking something sweet (it is, in fact, a dry wine). Allow me to be analytic: taste this wine and you can hear the soil doing a big belly laugh, snorting out honey-soaked apples and mineral salts as it does.

Here’s the controversy: will people accustomed to ordinary wine be able to cope with the persistent, vivid image of yellow, oozing grape clusters and nourishing minerality in this wine? Its allure is almost overwhelming.

Serve it with tropical and Mediterranean foods – things with cilantro, garlic, parsley, ginger, fish, sprouts, beans, chicken, noodles or rice.



2006-09-22

Opera Fever



Last week, in a blatant attempt to get the attention of the important under-35 age group, the Cloverleaf Newsletter contained the world’s first hip-hop tasting note.

This item entertained some of our regular readers. Others were disappointed.

Paul Ewing asked me if I had ever been to the opera.




the barber of sevilleThe answer was “no”. The closest I’ve ever come to the opera was 15 years ago while living in Munich. I was running errands one day and had to cross the pedestrian zone. I turned a corner and saw a small man producing the most astonishing sound from somewhere deep in his chest. It was like he had a trumpet in there.

He wore a dirty white undershirt that barely covered his exaggerated belly. His pants were dirty and his curly, graying top was matted down with sweat. By way of contrast, this, uh, “presentation” served to isolate the majesty and beauty of his song.

His whole body moved as he sang, bearing down like a wrestler. He power-lifted the pure, clean notes into the air, high above the rooftops.

He was an opera singer, evidently down on his luck.

I stood there with the tourists in silence until he finished. We applauded and threw change into his hat. I assume he used the money immediately for liters of beer, pretzels and sausage.



turandot
Sometimes I allow the television dial to linger on CBC during opera performances. Maybe it’s because I am ignorant of the story line, but the appeal of televised opera for me lies in the physical nature of the performance.

I look at it like athletics. To me, a Brandon Inge double play, a touchdown run by Barry Sanders and Pavarotti blasting music from his belly and throat are equally and similarly devastating to watch.

I don’t know the rules of opera. If I did, its artistic value would be more obvious to me.

If only there was someone to explain it: a teacher, someone who is so enthusiastic about the opera that he infects everyone with opera fever.



romeo and juliet
At 5:00, on Saturday 11 November, 50 guests will gather for thin-crust, New Haven style Tomatoes Apizza and fine Italian red wine (all you can eat and drink). There, Paul Ewing, a leading opera educator, will delight those in attendance with fascinating “keys to the game”.

Then a chauffeur will transport the happy troupe to the Michigan Opera Theater where the best seats in the house await (they are in the “Diamond Circle” – main floor, center aisle, rows 15-20). This is the season’s premiere performance of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

For the ride home: Moscato d’Asti, Mondeuse and chatter regarding what was just witnessed on stage.

Add up the price of the ticket, artisan food, rare wine, comfortable transportation and enlightening lecture. What would you pay?




Well, Cloverleaf called in some favors, and instead of $200, this spectacular evening will cost each person only $130 – that’s only $20 more than the price of the ticket!

Spots for this event can be secured with a credit card, cash or check. Don’t wait.



 



Royal Oak, Michigan
cloverleaf@cloverleafwine.com
248.357.0400
248.399.7166

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