10 February 2011

loire road trip, pt. VI: la dive bouteille

My friend and traveling companion J had told me serious horror stories about the darkness and freezing temperatures at last year's Dive Bouteille, the sprawling natural-focused public wine tasting that, for the second year in a row, was held in the catacombs below the Château de Brézé in Saumur. The wines were overchilled, you couldn't see, winemakers turned into ice sculptures and then you walked into them in the dark, etc.

Most of his descriptions were still pertinent this year, despite the organizers' best efforts. (They had even gone so far as to include images of toasters and heat lamps on the posters for this year's event.) La Dive this year remained drafty, antarctic, pitch-dark in places - echoes even made it difficult to hear - which numbing conditions all amount to a miserable environment in which to taste wines professionally, and a great deal of unserious fun.

This was the one tasting on our Loire itinerary where I said to hell with note-taking. Nevertheless I managed to retain very positive impressions of a few wines I tasted that day, beginning with the powerhouse Côtes du Marmandais wines of Elian de Ros.

Côtes du Marmandais, the AOC, established in 1990, has sort of an exotic aboriginal ring to it. (Marsupial? Marmoset? I can't put my finger on why.) But in fact it's located just south-east of Bordeaux appellation Entre-Deux-Mers, and the grapes are the familiar Bordeaux varietals, with Gamay, Syrah, Fer Servadou, and the obscure native Abouriou thrown in for good measure. Elian da Ros, who previously worked at Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, is the unquestioned star of the appellation, from which he has turned out surprising, quality-conscious natural wines since 1998.

J and C tasting da Ros' reds.

We tasted through a number of his reds, all of which were crisp, rich, and tasty, none of which I feel confident pronouncing a real opinion on, because they were freezing cold at time of tasting and it was like chewing on frozen cherry pie. It was a 2008 white we tasted called "Coucou Blanc," from Sauvignon, Semillon, and Sauvignon Gris, that struck me the most, through some combination of it being plain awesome, and me being frustrated enough at having not really appreciated the previous reds that I wandered around with it for the requisite ten-to-fifteen minutes, warming it in my hands, until the wine showed properly.

Then: wow. A beautifully weighted, sleekly crafted, apricot-floral thing, with just enough dewiness and cucumber apparent to prevent the fruit from becoming cloying.

My friends and I had roughly the same difficulties keeping up track of one another at this tasting as at the Renaissance des AOCs tasting the day before, only this time it was exacerbated by low light and the general maze-like quality of the place. Additionally if you wanted to warm something up long enough to properly taste it, as above, you then had to contend with your friends having zoomed on ahead and tasted through several other ranges without you. J was again looking for sellable things he didn't already know. C, the architect, was looking to leave as soon as possible and go view a different château. Towards the end I agreed to meet them both in fifteen minutes at the soup stand, once J had found some money with which to purchase soup. (We were all out of cash.)

Inwardly I gave myself half an hour, since the odds of J easily locating an ATM in the Loire countryside in the off season seemed slim. That is one reason my soup was cold by the time J came to find me. The other reason is I ran into two new friends, N and C2, the latter of whom is the somm at excellent Paris 5ème market-menu restaurant Itinéraires. Then together we had the pleasure of tasting through current vintages of Montlouis vigneron Bertrand Jousset's wines with the extremely tall jolly winemaker himself.

I've gone on about these wines before. They're all pretty terrific, with less emphasis on the weird and imbalanced Loire Chardonnay* and more on the glowy, mineral cru Montlouis "Singulier."

Tasting all the current vintages in order didn't upend any of my prior opinions, except that things seemed to read as a little bolder this time round. Particularly the entry-level Montlouis "Premier Rendez-Vous," which had been left with what seemed to me higher RS levels than I'd previously tasted. Sort of a bad-ass thing to do with your entry-level cuvée, since residual sugar is to most casual wine drinkers what a missing limb is to most speed-daters, an instant deal-breaker. You pretty much have to dig that kind of thing to begin with. It is, however, my personal critical policy to prize interesting decisions over sound commercial ones; furthermore I don't mind RS if the wines remain balanced. With the one exception mentioned above, Jousset's are, and they're fantastic.

So fantastic that I lost track of time, and nearly made us late for the day's architectural appointment. After J found me we hightailed it to the dining area, got some soup, and hit the road.

Related Links:

Loire Road Trip, pt. I: Domaine Guiberteau
Loire Road Trip, pt. II: Clos Rougeard
Loire Road Trip, pt. III: Café de la Promenade, Bourgeuil
Loire Road Trip, pt. IV: La Renaissance des AOCs, Angers
Loire Road Trip, pt. V: Bistrot de la Place, Saumur

Sharing a bottle of Jousset's Loire Chardonnay at Au Nouveau Nez, 75011
A magnum of Jousset's rocking great 2007 Montlouis "Singulier" at Quedubon, 75019

A surprisingly market-minded rave about Elian da Ros' wines @ AndrewJefford
More endorsement of Elian da Ros @ MineralWine
An interview with Elian da Ros @ TheWineBottega (which Boston wine shop I must credit, also, with turning me onto the subject of wine in the first place.)

A tasting of the Joussets' wines @ TheSommelierDiary (scroll down)
A good informative technical profile of Lise et Bertrand Jousset @ WineTerroirs
Some photos of a Lise et Bertrand Jousset open-door tasting @ Jim'sLoire

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