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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):

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.
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.


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.

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.



Wine of the Year

(Cloverleaf is using a new email service. Please reply if anything looks amiss.)

The other day I was waiting for a bus on 8 mile and I bumped into rap legend M&M. He had a flask of wine and he offered me a drink. Incredibly it contained 2005 Minervois from Chateau d’Oupia. One taste of the thick purple grape juice made the rain stop and we began to rap freestyle with the help of bystanders. I can’t recall all the rhymes, but part of it sounded like this:

Playaz, watch outta ‘cuz I’m about to scoop ya.
I drink a wine dats really red without a lotta hoopla.
It’s delicious and churlicious like a bowl of Fruit Loops ya.
Slappa Napa (bling). This red is gonna whoop ya.
Peace to
Andre Iche ‘cuz he grows a Chateau d’Oupia.

What makes a wine of the year? What makes one wine more exciting than another? Five things: price, quality, versatility, distinction and availability. Here’s how 2005 Minervois from Chateau d’Oupia stacks up:

<$12. I was shopping at Trader Joe’s last week and a gyrating hipster was talking on his cell phone. Someone was attempting to guide him to the correct wine: Charles Shaw Chardonnay for $3. He was loud. I heard him ask over and over again whether it was good. ‘Good for dancing the night away,’ I thought.
There are lots of wines under $10 that taste good but I don’t know of a single one that deserves more than a few words of dismissive approval. We drink them when we can be distracted by other forms of entertainment. Only hand made wine is itself worth pondering on a quiet evening alone or with others who also bother to remember words on a label. Due to labor costs, hand made wine is simply unavailable for less than <$12.

Chateau d’Oupia is entirely hand-harvested. This ensures that the wine is harvested at optimum ripeness and isn’t tainted with under-ripe or rotten grapes, something unavoidable with machine-harvested grapes (there are cheap chemical patches for those problems, interventions which anyone can taste and feel if not always identify.)
Chateau d’Oupia is unadulterated purple blood squeezed from the limbs of old Carignan vines, vines that clutch the rocky, jagged slopes of the Languedoc. It is not oaked.

Because Chateau d’Oupia is not aged in oak it can be served with seafood. Because it is thick and rich it can be served with steak. It can be served with chicken. It can be served with tacos. It can be served to your neighbor, your girlfriends, your buddies from work, your client, your vendor or your mother. It can be served at lunchtime with cold cuts. It can be served on a white tablecloth with Hasenpfeffer. It can be served while watching sports on television or during a Yahtzee tournament.
But whatever you do, don’t brush your teeth with it – unless you want purple teeth.

Ok fine. So Chateau d’Oupia goes with everything and everyone (except meanies) likes it. How can it possibly be special?
Thousands of low-lying, flat, machine-harvested acres of Languedoc Carignan have now been replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These are varieties the market can easily plug onto American store shelves regardless of the fact that they produce wines just as plain and dull as Carignan did in those places. You see it’s the place that matters, not the breed of vine. What remains of Carignan plantings now are mostly old vines on great terroirs and we have only begun to witness the potential of this variety.
Chateau d’Oupia is the gregarious face of Carignan, friendly and grape-scented in youth. Within its tell-tale shock wave of black grape and cassis aromas there is a sticky, sappy core of raspberry fruit, sweet brown spices, pepper and dried herbs. Over the course of 5-7 years it will lose its baby fat and display these noble interior flavors even more.

While we expect our 100 case allocation of 2005 Minervois from Chateau d’Oupia to be depleted before a supplement arrives in the spring of 2007, there should be plenty available in time for you to read this newsletter, purchase two bottles to evaluate at home, and return to the store for multiple cases.
Do not enter the holiday season with a 12-pack of this wine as a go-to. It costs $108.

Next Week: Cloverleaf goes to the opera with the ten best wines of the year.

Royal Oak, Michigan

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