Monday, April 9, 2007

The Chenin at the End

The New York City Polaner Selections spring tasting was a few weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to writing about it. So sue me.

I found the event, which took place in the Puck Building at Lafayette and Houston, altogether delightful. One of the best things about these tastings—and the thing that continues to floor me again and again—is that the person behind the table pouring sample after sample to an endless parade of wine-sniffing slobs is often none other than the winemaker him or herself. The name on the label, standing right there like any schlepping salesman.

I had the privelege of meeting many of the vintners I had long admired and knew only be name. Luca Roagna, the spunky, proud young heir to the famed Piedmont winery, was busy pouring out thimble-like servings of his precious Barbaresco. (I couldn't blame him. His table was among the most crowded at the event, with empty glasses constantly shoved in his face.) He was one of the few class acts there who wouldn't accept water as a glass cleanser, but put a bit a Roagna in instead, swirled it about, and then dumped it before filling the vessel with more Roagna.

Another winemaker who insisted on this bit of ceremony was Stanislao Radikon of Friuli's Radikon ("Water is terrible"), maker of rich, potent, flinty whites. He was a humble man who was grateful for any attempt to communicate in Italian. Most of his full-bodied wines deserved a "Bravo!" Francois Cazin was austere and reserved, just like his Cour-Chevernys. Isaure de Pontbriand of the great Savennieres maker Domaine du Closel was pithy and warm, obviously embued with a sense of humor about her trade.

Alain Renardet-Fache was a funny sight, standing there with his one bottle of Renardat-Fache Vin de Bugey Cerdon Methode Ancestrale. It's the one thing he makes, and if you made something as good as this unique, Gamay-based succulent sparkling wine, you wouldn't feel the need to prove yourself further.

It was a pleasure to meet Jean-Paul Brun of Domaine des Terres Dorees. I drank a lot of his Beaujolais Blanc last summer. And now I know his regular reds are even better, as was a new treat, FRV100, a sparkling Gamay. (What can I say? It was a big day for sparkling Gamays. This summer looks like it just got a lot redder and fizzier.)

Next to Brun were Francoise and Michel Tete, Beaujolais makers almost painfully shy about plying their wares. They shouldn't be. The Domaine du Clos du Fief Prestige 2005 was awfully good, with lots of aging power. In fact, the only unpleasant encounter I had with a winemaker at Polaner was with great Rhone winemaker Eric Texier, who was the picture of stingy French hauteur and couldn't have been more sour-faced if he had tried.

My favorite experience of the tasting, however, came at the end, and almost by accident. The joint was closing up and I was getting ready to go. I wanted to conclude things with an appropriate wine, and someone had told me of a table near the hall that had some sweet wines. I found it. It was fairly deserted, except for a few swells who kept helping themselves to glass after glass. A few half-empty bottles littered the table. I noticed the vintages: 1996, 1989, 1985 and—1971!

I'm not stupid; I poured a glass of the 1971, whatever it was. I tasted. Rich, mellow, deep and complex, with notes of burnt caramel and yeast. What was this? I looked at the simple label. "Moulin Touchais." It was a sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire, a historic estate but not widely known. The wine is incredibly ageworthy, and apparently there had been a '59 floating around, but it was gone. I loved the 1971 though. It contained worlds and inspired deep contemplation about wine, the earth and everything. I was the best wine I had tasted there. The 1985 was nearly as good, but less complex, more on the simply sweet side.

An old man in glasses and a vest and tie was shuffling about behind the table, packing up. I was the winemaker, Alex Wilbrenninck, looking like a box boy, invisible. I told him how much I like the wine. He seemed genuinely touched, but did not make a big show of it.

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