Obscure Wine of the Week

Obscure Ice Wine from Château des Charmes

You might consider Savagnin an obscure grape variety or you might not consider it at all. If you are unfamiliar with Savagnin, and not a New York Sommelier or wine writer, you can be forgiven. It is generally found in the Jura region of France. In some areas it is also known as Traminer and is a relative of Gewurztraminer.  It is nutty and prone to oxidation but makes interesting wines in many styles. One style is the famous Vin Jaune, the best of these come from the Château-Chalone AOP. Savagnin is also used to make vin de paille, a dessert style wine made from botrytis affected grapes dried on straw mats. as well as many dry still wines.  Here is an interesting food pairing from with a dry Savagnin.

I was not expecting to find Savagnin being grown on the Niagara peninsula! Much less being made into a Ice Wine. But Paul Bosc at Château des Charmes does just that. I had originally discovered his fantastic Vidal Ice Wine and then tasted the Savagnin and was blown away. They have been growing Savagnin since 1993 but 2006 was the first vintage of Ice Wine. The results are magnificient and can be seen in this 2007. It is full of lemon curd flavors and has crisp acidity an almost custard like texture and a beautifully balanced sweetness. This is the only Savagnin made in this style in the world.

To add a deeper level of obscurity the Niagara peninsula has been divide into regional appellations and sub-appellations. These are based on a great deal of research that many might find interesting. This wine is from the St. David’s Bench sub-appellation

There were only 340 cases of this wine produced produced. The grapes were harvested on January 20, 2008.

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Obscure Wine of the Week- Natural Wine in Texas

Natural Wine From Texas

Lewis Dickson is one of the most interesting people in the Texas wine industry. He owns La Cruz de Comal winery in Startzville. Lewis is the only natural wine maker in Texas, in the for what it’s worth column he uses the able bodied Tony Coturri to help him make the wines. The wine pictured above is “En Parejas” which in Luchadore terms means “tag-team.” That concept spins from the fact this wine is a blend of two grapes from two vintages. The base of the wine is 75% 2008 Merlot from Granite Hills Vineyard which was fermented dry and aged in French and American oak barrels for a year. Then the 25% 2009 Black Spanish from Lewis’s estate vineyard was crushed and combined in a tank with the Merlot where it fermented. Then Lewis put it all back in oak for another 5 months. Lewis’ goal is to make the best wine he can sometimes he can do this in a single vintage and sometimes a wine needs a tag team partner. Lewis also suggest decanting his wines 3-4 hours before consuming as they are living and breathing or “elbowing around” as he likes to call it. The wine is delicious and definitely a great intro to La Cruz de Comal.

The erudite Jeremy Parzen has written much about Lewis and you can start here if you need more info.

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Obscure Wine of the Week

Perhaps Domaine Achard-Vincent is the ‘“Inception” of the wine industry. The depths of the level of obscurity in this wine are so great it is almost impossible to track how deep into obscurity you have gone! Perhaps the Clairette de Die appellation is not deep enough. Perhaps the fact that it is a sparkling wine made with the Method Ancestral is not deep enough. Driving this 11ha estate into even deeper obscurity is its Demeter certification. I think we are approaching the fortress now. Kermit Lynch is the importer, which may add another level of obscurity.

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Labor Omnia Vincit

“Where?” was always the first question.

“Beirut” I would say.

“You mean like Beirut Lebanon?” they would ask.

“Yes, exactly” I would say, followed by a long pause.

“Is it safe?”

I think I had this conversation with no less than 3,000 people prior to my departure to Beirut.  However, visiting Chateau Musar was so important to me I would have gone during the war. Having been to many questionable places during questionable times, I was not worried.  My lack of fear was substantiated when I arrived and saw the beauty and felt the amazing hospitality of the Lebanese people.  Upon arriving we ventured out to ride in a Ferris wheel that would be shut down in the US but it had an amazing view of the Mediterranean and of Beirut.

George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. would be proud.

You cannot write about Chateau Musar without waxing poetically about Serge Hochar. Many have written of his effusive personality and still many more about his approach to winemaking and his connection to his wines. I will limit my waxing (here) to a few things about Serge that made the largest impression on me. First, in Beirut, Lebanon, Serge Hochar drives a brand new Cadillac Sedan, like he stole it. He is an intense man who lives every day with passion. He proudly wears a lapel pin that denotes his status in the Knights of Malta. He is one of a kind, and I am a better person for knowing him.

He's Bad, He's Nationwide

Our trip over the Lebanon Mountains to the Bekaa was complete with a great story from Tarek Sakr, the winemaker at Chateau Musar. He told us of one vintage where he was bringing grapes over the mountains to the winery.  A fighter jet blew up a bridge directly in front of him, and he narrowly escaped with his life. How many winemakers in the western world have a story like that?

The Bekaa was the breadbasket of Rome – a large expansive valley with fertile soils. Most of the Musar vineyards are located in the Bekaa. Some are located in the flat of the valley and others located in the mountains in tiny plots harvested by local villagers and brought to the village on donkeys.

Serge and Tarek allowed us to taste the components of Chateau Musar thinking it would give us a grasp of why they use each one. They were right.  Tasting the Obaideh and Merwah separately you see what they add to the final blend. Obaideh is a lot like Viognier. It  tends toward lower acid and is floral, waxy and viscous. Merwah is higher in acid and crisp but not as viscous as Obaideh. The year 1986 was the first vintage of Musar Blanc with Obaideh. Before that it was all Merwah. However, the current “recipe” for Musar Blanc was not in place until 1993-1995. In 1975 Serge arrived at the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 model for Chateau Musar. He found this while trying to express what he calls the Lebanese and not Bordelaise style of wine. Tasting the 2009 and 2010 components, you see that the Cinsault adds a fresh strawberry and has high acid. The Cargnan has a very dense color with an intense iron rich finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon drives the tannin structure and has a milky finish.

Tarek explains all

We visited three amazing sites in Lebanon that should not be missed. Baalbeck is located in the area of the Bekaa that is held by Hezbollah. Going through the checkpoint we were advised by Gaston and Tarik not to take pictures. Baalbeck is home to an amazing ruin, which includes a temple to Jupiter, Venus and of course Bacchus. The Romans called Baalbeck Heliopolis or “City of the sun” although strangely the day we were there it rained.

Riesling-Meister Grieco a Bacchus understudy

We also visited Byblos, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, where archaeologists unearthed 17 different civilizations. It is sad to see that all of this stopped in the 70’s with the war. The castle built by the crusaders is a testament to recycling. There are also Phoenician temples, an amazing Roman amphitheater that looks out to the Mediterranean, and a Byzantine church.

Wish you were Roman?

We also raced to the Jeita Grotto late one afternoon where we were able to explore the upper and lower cave. You ride a gondola to the upper cave. After you walk the length of the amazing upper cave a small train takes you to the lower cave, which is explored via a flat-bottomed boat.  What a set of amazing treasures this country has.

The treasure that we originally came to see and experience was Chateau Musar itself. With Serge as our guide we explored the area where they age Arak in amphora and the barrel room. But what we had all come to see was the vast amount of bottle storage that puts any house in Rioja to shame (more on that to come.) Serge will not tell the number of bottles he has stored under his winery! We explored two floors, which seemed about 5,000 square feet apiece, and there was rumor of another several floors under the castle thatnwe did not have time to explore. I could not begin to speculate on the number of bottles that we saw. They included wines back to the 50’s made by Serge’s father Gaston.

The Riojanas would be proud.

For geeks what follows here is a timeline as far as I understand it. Please leave comments below if you have something to add.

1930- Chateau Musar Founded

1933- First Vintage

1959- Serge takes over winemaking.

1963-1964- In Bordeaux with Emile Peynaud

1964-1970- Wines made in “Bordeaux expression”

1970-1974- Serge searching for Lebanon expression

1971- Wine first exported to US via Houston

1975 -Serge uses Cabernet, Cinsault and Carignan blend for the first time.

1977- War caused a market shift. Domestic market disappeared and more wine was held back.

1979- opened the UK market

1995- “Recipe” for Blanc discovered 2/3 Obaideh and 1/3 Merwah

Vintages Chateau Rouge not produced

62/63/65/71/73/76/

1992 (Distilled for Arak)

1968 Made but not sold

1984 Was produced but not yet released

Vintages Chateau Blanc not produced

60/62/63/65/66/68/71/73-74/76-79/82-85/87

Musar Blanc Anomalies

1954- First wine bottled by Serge (Very Good)

1975- No oak used and not released (A delicious wine)

1980- New oak experiments began

1981- Only Merwah

1986- Only Obaideh

1991- Spent two years in all new oak and shows it

1992- Only Obaideh

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