At Domaine Tour Boisée

July 4, 2013.  I’ll be back in the Western Hemisphere before long, but here’s one more missive from the Old World.  Yesterday I visited Domaine Tour Boisée.  That translates as “the wooded tower,” although the tower itself, part of the original fortifications of the village of Laure-Minervois, isn’t terribly “wooded” anymore, as you can see:
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That’s Florence Hallet, export manager at Tour Boisée in the second photo.  Some of you in Des Moines will remember her, since she participated in the Des Moines Wine Fest in 2010.  She took as around to some of the Minervois vineyards and showed us some 400-year-old olive trees on the property, from which the winery also produces a tiny quantity of oil.

IMG_0415 IMG_0416 IMG_0417The first two vineyard photos are of 60+ year-old Carignan vines; the third shows the vineyard plot for the “Plantation 1905,” with 23 different grape varieties.  And finally we tasted through some wines with Florence and with Tour Boisée vigneron Jean-Louis Poudou.

IMG_0421Jean-Louis reiterated the same mantra that Florence had told us while driving around among vineyards: “I do not make oenology; I make wine.”  Jean-Louis is not interested in the advice of newfangled winemaking consultants; he would rather listen to the vines themselves and follow his instincts, learning over decades of experience what seems to him the best way to proceed.
Cheers !

At Domaine Clavel

July 1, 2013.  Anyone who works with wine knows that the vocation of winegrower is very hard work.  And that of the small-scale organic winegrower is much harder work still.  Estelle & Pierre Clavel, north of Montpellier in the Pic Saint Loup area of the Languedoc, are passionately committed organic farmers who work very, very hard — tending their vines with conscientious care — and they find joy in their work.  Yesterday they invited us to lunch at Domaine Clavel.  The meal, shared on the grapevine-shaded terrace, consisted of house-cured fresh anchovies, seasonal vegetables from the Clavels’ garden (peas, green beans, favas, eggplant, & onions: my wife declared it her favorite vegetable dish ever), and grilled lamb with sweet peppers, accompanied by wines of the domaine:
IMG_0272 IMG_0275 IMG_0276 The Domaine Clavel “Cascaille” Languedoc Blanc (50/50 Grenache Blanc & Roussanne, with, as Pierre says, “a few grapes” of Muscat & Viognier) has long been one of my very favorite white wines — beautifully aromatic (stone fruit & white flowers) with graceful balanced acidity.  I learned that the wine’s name comes from the ancient local Occitan dialect and has two meanings: first, the sound that the plow makes as it strikes stones in the vineyard soil; and second, the sound of the hubbub of conversation as townspeople talk in the village square.  After the meal, Pierre took us — all of us — for a ride in his Citroën deux chevaux, and we spent a little time among the vines:

IMG_0285 IMG_0288 IMG_0294 IMG_0299 Here you can see what healthy Grenache grapes look like at the end of June.  I asked Pierre what he thought about this year’s growing season so far.  He said it is far too early to know anything, that the final two weeks before picking are really what determine the quality of the vintage.  Of course that doesn’t take into account the patient everyday work of the growing season.  Every sip of Clavel wines is an authentic expression of this beautiful land and the loving care that the Clavels put into their soil.

At Château Famaey

June 26, 2013.  I’m here in Puy l’Évêque, in the Cahors winegrowing region of southwestern France, with my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law.  We have the good fortune to be staying for a week in a gîte, or holiday cottage, run by the family of Maarten Luyckx, the winemaker at Château Famaey.  Maarten built the gîte himself out of an old wine cellar, and the ends of the vats are still visible, for instance, in the kitchen:


Our terrace looks out across rows of vines upon the winery itself, and beyond that, to the Lot River itself, blanketed this morning with fog:

It was an unseasonably wet & cold spring, and temperatures remain much cooler than normal.  As Maarten walked with me among the vines this morning, he explained that half of this year’s grapes have been lost to coulure, where such conditions cause the immature grapes to fall from the vines.  If conditions improve, however, the winery could still be looking at a good harvest.

The family invited us to share a lunch with them at the winery today.  First we joined Maarten in the chai (with Chica the winery dog) to taste a few wines from barrel:

IMG_0811 IMG_0813And then we headed to table and enjoyed a long, leisurely repast, accompanied by wines from the Domaine.  Maarten’s father Luc assumed duties at the grill.  Chicken, lamb, beef, and sausage joined plates of pasta salad, tomatoes, green beans with hard-boiled eggs, & endive slaw.  The meal ended with a plate of cheeses, two variations on the region’s prized walnut tortes, and coffee.  The meal, the weather, and the company were perfect.
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April 18 Dinner at Des Moines Embassy Club West

April 11, 2013.  One week from tonight, the Des Moines Embassy Club West will host “A Night to Make it French,” a French dinner with Wini Moranville, food writer, critic, and author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook; Chef Michael Bailey of the Embassy Club West; Stephen Volkmer-Jones, Wine Director of the Embassy Clubs; and Yours Truly, importer of wines featured at the dinner.  Five courses, including appetizers and dessert, and the following stellar wines to match: it will be a night not to miss.
* NV Champagne Vollereaux Blanc de Blancs
* 2011 Domaine Clavell Languedoc Blanc “Cascaille”
* 2010 Domaine Clavel Pic Saint Loup “Bonne Pioche”
* 2009 Zédé de Labégorce Margaux
* 2010 Château Haut-Mayne Sauternes

Some relevant links:

Portuguese Reds from Vidigal Winery

December 9, 2012.  Announcing the Iowa arrival of three red wines from Vidigal Winery !

Americans’ first acquaintance with Portuguese wine is typically Port, or Porto, the famed fortified wine made in the Douro Valley.  Over the past few years, Americans have caught on to the appeal of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s flagship white wine, as a refreshing summer sipper or accompaniment to spicy foods.  More and more, we are finally seeing red table wines of Portugal in the American marketplace, too.

There are dozens of wine-grape varieties grown in Portugal, both those that are grown elsewhere (e.g. Tempranillo, known in Portugal as Tinta Roriz, or Cabernet Sauvignon) and those that are grown virtually nowhere else.

Vidigal is a longstanding family-owned winery whose wines are just starting to be imported to the United States.  I’ve brought three bottlings into Iowa.  The Vinho Tinto is a nonvintage blend with soft black cherry fruit, easy to drink and easy on the wallet.  The Dão offers high-toned red cherry fruit and just a hint of vanilla.  The Reserva is more traditionally styled, with a firmer tannic backbone and notes of spice accompanying the wine’s fruit.  All three are delicious, serving as a perfect introduction to affordable red wines of Portugal.

Champagne Vollereaux P.S.

October 22, 2012.  Less than a week has gone by since my last post, and I have just learned that the November 30 Wine Spectator will give yet another 90+ point review to a Vollereaux Champagne:

Vollereaux Cuvée Marguerite 2004  Creamy and floral, offering flavors of ripe Gala apple, white peach, ground ginger and anise, with hints of biscuit and almond. Elegant and mouthwatering throughout, featuring a mineral-tinged finish.  92 points

Vollereaux’s Cuvée Marguerite is named in honor of Pierre Vollereaux’s grandmother, who worked the vineyards, kept the winery operational, and hid wine from the Germans during World War II.  It is made only during the finest vintages, from the estate’s finest grapes (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir).  The 2004 is an exquisite, complex, sublime wine.  Huzzah!

Champagne Vollereaux does it again

October 16, 2012.  Last week we had successful, enthusiastic events Wednesday evening in Iowa City and Thursday evening in Des Moines with Champagne Vollereaux, thanks to the market visit of Vollereaux Export Manager Julien Breuzon.  On Friday we’ll have a wine dinner in Fairfield that kicks off with the Vollereaux Brut.  Julien brought with him the news that the November 15, 2012 Wine Spectator will feature the following review:

Vollereaux Brut NV  Rich and refined, with layers of pear pastry, black cherry, hazelnut, lemon cream, honey and floral notes. A spicy thread of minerality winds through this wine, as does the precise and seamlessly integrated acidity. Drink now through 2018.  92 points

This comes on the heels of this year’s earlier Wine Spectator review:

Vollereaux Brut Rosé de Saignée NV  Ground spice notes accent flavors of wild strawberry, plum and kirsch in this dry, citrusy rosé. A hint of biscuit adds richness and builds on the firm, mineral-tinged finish. Drink now through 2017.  91 points

These are only the two latest in a long list of awards & reviews, including a Gold Medal for the Vollereaux Blanc de Blancs NV from among over 900 wines in the prestigious “Chardonnays of the World” contest of 2011.  So it appears that word is spreading about the quality & value of Vollereaux Champagnes — although this comes as no surprise to many of us here in Iowa, where we’ve been able to enjoy these delicious wines for several years!  Also note that the Wine Spectator lists the national suggested retail of these wines as $40 & $44, respectively.  You will see them on Iowa retail shelves for much lower prices, since in Iowa, your Iowa importer and your Iowa wholesaler are the same person.

My own experience has shown, and these Vollereaux events in Iowa have confirmed, that Champagne should not be reserved only for rare special occasions.  Champagne is a versatile, delicious food wine as well.  As Julien said during his visit, every refrigerator should have a bottle of Champagne in it.  You never know when you’ll feel the urge to pop the cork, to hear that unique and delightful sound, and to enjoy Vollereaux Champagne in your kitchen or around your table.  Cheers!

Wines of Domaine Clavel

August 23, 2012.  Last week I passed the one-year mark for my self-employment.  It felt like a landmark, to be sure.  I’m grateful to everyone who has supported & encouraged me, and for the enthusiasm people have shown for the wines.

Speaking of enthusiasm, there is no producer in my portfolio that makes me happier than Domaine Clavel.  As I write on my webpage about Clavel wines in the Languedoc, I have wanted to sell them (and drink them!) in Iowa for a long, long time.  Before visiting France last February, I e-mailed Pierre Clavel to see if I could meet with him and taste through his wines.  At the Clavel estate, Pierre drove me around his vineyards in his old Citroën and humbly insisted that it’s the soil and vines that do the work, rather than he himself.  When I tasted through the wines, I found them, impossibly, even better than those I remembered from a decade ago.  And now four of them are here in Iowa!

Through his hard work and passionate commitment to ecological farming, and through the quality & expression of the wines, Pierre Clavel has earned the respect & admiration of wine lovers the world over.  Once you try the wines, I’m confident you’ll feel the same way.

You say Picpoul; I say Piquepoul: New from Henri de Richemer

August 8, 2012.  I just received word that my next container of wine from France, 13,000 bottles, will arrive at my warehouse this Friday — and not a moment too soon.  Later, I’ll write about some of the other wines in this container that I am very excited about, but today I want to write about Picpoul.  Or should I say Piquepoul?

This ancient grape is grown around the south of France, and is allowed as a blending grape, for instance, in Tavel (it’s in the Chantepierre Tavel that I offer) and in Châteauneuf du Pape.  But it really steals the spotlight in varietal wines grown & bottled around the Mediterranean coastal village of Agde, southwest of Montpellier.

Picpoul’s popularity is on the rise in the United States (indeed, as a retailer I would consistently sell out of the three-litre box on my shelves), and no wonder.  It’s dry but juicy, brisk (the name of the grape means “lip-stinger” in the ancient dialect), refreshing, delicious — and inexpensive!

During my first year as a wholesaler, Picpoul has been my fastest-selling white wine.  Late last year, however, my Picpoul supplier imposed a new requirement.  If I wanted to continue working with the wine, I would need to buy 500 cases of it at a time.  That’s a tall order for a small importer like me in a small state like Iowa.  So one of my main goals when I went to France in February was to find a new Picpoul to bring back to Iowa.

I am thrilled that this week, for the first time ever, our state will see wines from Henri de Richemer, among them a Piquepoul (spelled the old-fashioned way).  This Piquepoul, grown around the marshy Thau Basin, is bright & citrussy, with floral notes.  It’s an immediately appealing wine, especially refreshing on these summer days, but good to drink all year round, particularly with lighter fare or appetizers.

I will also be able to offer Richemer’s Merlot, the award-winning Sauvignon, and the unique varietal Terret Blanc.  Try them soon!

Aveleda Vinho Verdes back in Iowa

July 4, 2012.  I admit, I’m a Francophile.  The majority of wines I offer are French wines — partly, it is true, because I love France: the wines, the cheeses, the culture, the language, the people and places; but also because I find them the most compelling wines for the money among any on the planet.

Of course I realize that there are delicious wines of good value from other areas besides France, and I am very happy, for instance, with my small but growing number of Spanish and Portuguese wines on offer.  Among these, I am thrilled to announce the arrival of three different Vinho Verde wines from the longstanding family-owned winery Aveleda.  I don’t know how to say “vin de soif” in Portuguese, but these wines certainly fit the bill.  It’s hard to imagine more satisfying wines for summer enjoyment.  Check them out: