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Wine of the Year

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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.




Exploring Several Hundred Cases of New European Wine
The Third
in a Four Part Series


Here’s some useful information: 2005 was a great vintage in Europe (and elsewhere). What does this mean to me?

The first thing it means is top-tier Bordeaux prices will nearly double, again. Rational people will buy Bordeaux knowing that it is not “worth” the price as wine. It is a hedge move, nothing more. The trend lines all point to one outcome: these wines will command marginally higher prices in the future. As long as global capital grows, so will the price of Bordeaux.

It is rare for one year to produce such uniform, high levels of fruit ripeness everywhere … for all grape varieties … in all classes of vineyard. Sure, 2003 was a great year, but only for the top terroirs and oldest vines – maybe 1% of volume. 2000 was great in Bordeaux but mediocre in Burgundy (the alleged perfection of 2000 in Piedmont seems more and more doubtful).

What does a great vintage mean anyway? To declare greatness is it sufficient that marginally riper and sturdier wines appear at the elite levels? Or is a great vintage one that raises all boats – when vin ordinaire is better than usual?

If we are talking about burning a number into the brain of the average wine drinker, what deserves that distinction?

Logically, superlative vintages must be rare. So let us restrict the award to vintages where the greatest diversity and volume – along with the top growths – achieve the most success.

Using this definition then, there hasn’t been a vintage like 2005 since 1990. Before 1990 it was – what – 1985? Nope. 1959? 1945? Who knows? Maybe 2005 is one of the two greatest European vintages of all time. One can easily test the lower limits of quality in 2005 by examining wines from under-performing producers. Let’s submit the Banfi portfolio to scrutiny soon.

While speculators feast on, and drive up the prices of Bordeaux (before most of them ever touch a bottle) here at Cloverleaf we turn our attention to the first wave of high quality 2005 European wines to appear in the market and on store shelves.

This third installment of our Exploration series tackles a tiny but representative slice of the 2005 vintage question. Our selections this week make a golden arc around the map of France, progressing eastward and upward in price. The first leg meanders up the Loire Valley, from the granitic Loire delta to upper Loire vineyards near the
Sologne marshes. Then we turn south to Burgundy and Savoie, a landscape we refer to as France’s stomach.

Each one of the wines proves what the experts and hype merchants have been saying: 2005 was a great European vintage. Compared to prior editions, each of these wines tastes like the green, golden and peach colored grape clusters were drenched in sweet honey and made stone dry.

Do you prefer more neutral, leaner wine? Sometimes I do. When I do, and when I have the choice, I’ll lean to 2004, 2001 and 1999, depending on what type of wine is under consideration. For dazzling, mouth-filling richness and balance, the odds are on 2005.

Please remember that “vintage shopping” is a notoriously unreliable way to discover remarkable wine. Vintage, like grape variety is just one small piece of the wine puzzle. Far more important is who made the wine and where it was grown. Follow the terminal links for a discussion about those factors.

2005 Muscadet, Domaine Pepiere (<$12)
If you’ve ever been stumped by tasting notes that refer to “mineral” flavors, this Muscadet should help illustrate the concept. Great vineyards always produce this flavor. Large blends, no matter how carefully assembled, no matter how stony the components, cannot relay it. It’s as if one vineyard’s mineral signature cancels out any other.
     Unless you wish to taste only acidity, do not serve this wine ice cold. At about 40 degrees F the mineral flavors become evident. At 50 deg. F one begins to taste the fruit, and at 60 deg. F this wine becomes a hedonistic array of nutty lees and fleshy, succulent yellow fruit flavor. That’s how we consume it, often with deli sandwiches or pan-broiled fish.
     Read more here.

2005 Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine, Clos Roche Blanche (<$13)
Every day we wait for the spirit of Sauvignon Blanc to deliver on its promise, made to thirsty hikers on the slope of Monts Damnes and amidst the sandy pine roots of Graves. Sadly, this variety is too often the victim of vulgar site selection expediency. Growers who would rather grow red wine misuse Sauvignon as filler for colder spots. The carnival industry of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc exports isn’t helping matters either; it testifies to our collective obsession with exaggerated flavor: gooseberry, grapefruit and cat pee (thanks to Zymaflore VL3!)
     It is difficult to describe this Sauvignon Blanc without making it sound a little bit like one of those embellished freaks from down under, so compromised is our language for flavor. My notes refer to surging sensations of tangerine, lemon and grapefruit within peppery, lemongrass-flavored bones. Its leaves a lasting impression of richness and movement, large flavored and refreshing.
     Refreshing. That’s it. Despite its boldness, this wine is deliriously refreshing. It would appear that this combination of weight and agility is the exclusive province of wines made with wild yeasts.
     Read more here.

2005 Cheverny (Sauvignon/Chardonnay), Francois Cazin (<$14)
     You’re hunting prosciutti in the Sologne marshes. A thicket of reeds obscures the only shot of the morning. You break for lunch. From the picnic basket emerges aged goat cheese, hearty marinated salad greens, cured pork, anchovies and this, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. “This is white wine?” you ask. It tastes like cress infused stones – like stones and apples.
     Read more here.

2005 Macon-Charnay, Pierre Manciat (<$17)
     As much as Cloverleaf tries to compete for the attention of local wine drinkers, Cloverleaf competes even more for the right to buy the best wine. Unfortunately for us, a few cases of this White Burgundy leaked onto the local market before we could snap it all up. Reportedly, George at Assaggi in Ferndale latched on to it early (I had a dream about this wine with Moroccan spiced yellow fin tuna!) We’ve also been informed that Tribute bought two cases of this latest vintage. Oh well; if you love someone set them free, right?
     Attention red wine drinkers! If for some reason you don’t take white wine seriously it’s time to do an experiment: serve yourself a glass of this Macon-Charnay at room temperature. See there? It’s good: rich and chewy, laden with dramatic, macho flavors of nuts and vanilla (along with bold, horizontal strokes of lemon and apple, layered and rigid like mica). You don’t dismiss white wine; you dismiss cold wine. Go ahead. Try it.         
     Read more here.

2005 100% Altesse, Franck Peillot (<$23)
     There have been other wines from Savoie making the rounds in Michigan. This one doesn’t taste remotely like any of them. It is far richer – filled with ripe apple and honey flavor.
     Savoie label rules allows Altesse to be blended with Chardonnay and sold under its synonym: “Roussette.” Franck Peillot does not engage in this practice; it can only serve blur the distinction of this noble breed of vine.
     Noble? Impossible. Who has even heard of this grape variety before? That is precisely the point. Rule: outstanding wines come from difficult terrain. Consequently they are scarce and so they may remain obscure to all but the most studious of wine scholars. Why else would anyone bother farming these Alpine foothills? The Savoie is gorgeously wrinkled and pitted, suitable for herding sheep, keeping chickens, tending vines and little else.
     Serve this wine with potatoes, roast chicken
     Read more here.


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