Category: Wine Tasting Notes

Didier Barral: The Gentle Voice of the Earth

Didier Barral, winemaker and steward of the ecosystem in Faugères.
Didier Barral, winemaker, winegrower, and valiant defender of the ecosystem in the town of Lentheric, in Faugères (Languedoc, France).

Listening to Didier Barral — the most careful and loving steward of nature — speak from among his vines in Lentheric is a religious experience.

But even if it feels religious, and even if Didier is a noted advocate of organic, Fukuoka-influenced hands-off farming, nothing about Didier’s discourse feels preachy. There are no exhortations; no imperatives. His persuasiveness flows from the stunning beauty of his 35 hectares of vines, and from the freshness and purity of his wines. He speaks for himself, and tells his story: one of observation, of trial and error in his vineyards.

At some point in your experience of wine, you grow interested in terroir. Rocks; slopes; drainage; expositions.  Later, like it or not, you become interested in farming. Careful farming enables great wines, and is often the most reliable predictor of a wine’s ability to transmit terroir. 1

Didier is quick to contrast his neighbors’ vines with his own as a starting point to understanding his wines. What follows is my translation from French, with interjected bits of Didier’s English interwoven.

Didier: “Look at the difference in the grass between the neighbor’s vines and my vines. The key to soils is vegetative diversity. And what’s most important (Click to Read more)

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  1. This is not to say all organically-farmed vines go on to make great wines; some taste like a horse’s ass. Skillful, responsible farming simply enables terroir-driven wines to rise from a cellar. []

The Wildness That Courses Through Languedoc Reds

There’s a 400 lb monster that rustles through the garrigues of the Languedoc, a snarling, horned beast with an appetite for grapes.

It can destroy an entire vineyard in a single night. And each vigneron is convinced it only wants their grapes. “It LOVES Vermentino!’ “Ah, but it doesn’t just eat Vermentino, I can assure you! It destroyed 75% of one of my vineyards in one night — 15% of my crop!”

Surrounding your vineyard with electrified wire helps a bit, but ultimately, you can’t be present day and night to protect it. Only solution? Call in the hunters.

A great deal of the Languedoc is still an untamed, wild place, especially near the Cévennes National Park, where these wild boars roam.  Unsurprisingly, the wild boars wander down from the forest into vineyards; and perhaps equally unsurprisingly, this wild side of Languedoc terroir wanders into the wines — particularly the red blends.

Consider Jean-Marie Rimbert’s Saint-Chinian ‘Le Mas Au Schiste’. I’ve consumed cases of this wine over the years, and always wondered exactly what accounted for the unique, savage aromas that course through it.

2010 Domaine Rimbert Mas Au Schiste and Provençal rabbit with garlicky beans.
2010 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste, with Provençal rabbit and garlicky beans.

The 2010 Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste brings to mind fading roses, bitter chocolate, sweet candied fennel, (Click to Read more)

Deep Thoughts after IPOB: Wine as Photograph, Ripeness as Saturation

deep thoughts
And now, it’s time for Deep Thoughts . Click for a Deep Thought.

The In Pursuit of Balance (or IPOB, to sound like an insider) tastings and seminars have established themselves as a powerful force in shaping the discourse of wine criticism and perhaps even production. Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr’s pet project has grown into a tasting that’s almost become a ‘who’s who’ of the wine world.

Their initial complaint was quite simply that domestic wines are often too ripe, too hot, too big, too everything; and that we must reclaim a sense of balance in our wines to access the best Sonoma terroir has to offer.

Many have since accused them of driving up prices and proffering illegible, contradictory notions of balance. Each time a threshold is set (say, an eminently reasonable maximum alcohol at 14.5%) some valid counterexamples arise to explode the rule; and by necessity a more vaguely iterated allusion to balance follows.

The annual New York City IPOB event passed through last February, and I enjoyed the chance to taste a number of Sonoma wines I’d wanted to test for some time, but never could, as I had nearly always rather spend money on Burgundy. The ‘Pursuit’ portion of the tasting is no joke, as I tried a few wines that still struck me as patently unbalanced, and a few others that were ravishing and surprised me with an earthy character.

But it was an audience member’s question during a seminar that has haunted me these last few months. The seminar discussed Triumphs and Failures in the Pursuit of Balance, and brave, honest winemakers were asked to present an example of a vintage they were proud of, and one they weren’t — each from the same vineyard.

Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards spoke about how he wished they’d picked his 2009 Peay Vineyards Ama Estate Pinot Noir two days earlier. To view the original interview, do so here (exact time is at 1:01:11): http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/59186856

The critical question for Andy Peay is this:

Well, we’re talking about expression of vineyard; this is the same vineyard, it’s just basically a two-day difference. So, maybe you’re not getting what you wanted out of that vintage, but at the same time it IS the expression of the vineyard; it’s just … two days later?

Andy Peay responds (Click to Read more)