Friday, April 1, 2011
The Wonder Years
Looking back on my formative wine drinking years, I can see that having wine be a part of my everyday life was inevitable. Now, this can sound like a pretty nutty thing to say, particularly in light of the fact that it sounds like I'm saying that I drink every day...not that there's anything wrong with that. I don't actually drink everyday, but I can say that I've always been a bit "old for my years" when it comes to wine appreciation, at least in my younger days.
My business partner and I laugh because when she was young, she had an early love of the culinary arts and often played the role of chef at her parents' dinner parties, cooking for their guests herself while her parents entertained. At my home, I played the role of wine steward and service captain. I would set the table, open the bottles of Bordeaux and pour wine for her guests throughout dinner. I just loved pulling out all of the pieces of silverware from their special cloth covers, folding the linen napkins just so and especially pulling the corks from those mysterious bottles with the incomprehensible French writing all over them. Funny that Suzanne and I still get such pleasure from doing these things today.
My wine adolescence happened during college. I'm not saying that I didn't consume my share of white zinfandel and wine coolers in my four years at university, because believe me, Bartles & James were my good friends. But once I was able to move beyond the sugar-laden sweet wines, I ended up cutting my wine drinking teeth on more complex and satisfying, chewy red wines. I have particular memories of being in my early twenties, dining out with my long-time boyfriend and ordering bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. We loved the dark, hearty and slight smokiness of the wines of that region and particularly loved the rustic qualities of the labels and the bottles themselves with the emblem of the region molded into the glass. He was a Spaniard who loved hearty, spicy food and Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe seemed to be the perfect counter to that. Call me a pushover, but I enjoyed eating and drinking what he did, and in this case it was clearly a good thing.
It was only a few years later that I discovered my first bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe blanc while on vacation with a new boyfriend in the South of France. And this is where I really fell...for the wine and the guy. I can closely describe my feelings towards white Rhone wines, and white Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe in particular, as the wine love of my life. This, my friends, is a love I've never gotten over. To this day, I feel a particular excitement when I get the opportunity to taste a white Châteauneuf. I feel myself start to get slightly giddy, like a child at the door to an ice cream truck, at the sight of that golden liquid being poured into a wine glass. This happened just the other day, when one of my favorite "wine guys" Jerome showed up with with a bottle of the 2009 Clos Saint Jean. I literally saw the words Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe and started to drool just a little bit.
Clos St. Jean, located in the famed Le Crau lieu-dit, is a family owned estate that was founded in 19o0 and has been making wine generation though generation. In 1991 brothers Pascal and Vincent Maurel took over the estate when their father died and hired on Philippe Gambie, one of the greatest oenologists in Châteauneuf, to consult. Their vineyard practices encourage natural methods, low yields and an overall respect for the environment. This relatively younger generation is working to create wines of excellence, which makes sense since their vines are some of the best situated in all of the region. Like all of the newer generations to be taking over family estates, they are trying to make their mark and to focus on quality over quantity. So far so good.
I could tell the minute I saw it in the glass that this was my kind of wine, dark golden color and sparklingly bright. It's made from a blend of equal parts Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc and is the essence of refinement. The nose shows delicate honeyed aromatics that continue on to the palate where they mix with fleshy rose, honeysuckle and unripe peach notes. Beyond even the palate, the texture of this wine really blew me away with its rich, oiliness and bright acidity. It was the perfect balance of soft and firm, lush and lean, fleshy and structured. The wine was partially aged in new oak barrels, giving the wine a rounded, slightly new world feel...but not in a bad way.
And like those old bottles of red that my boyfriend I loved to drink, this wine has a label that is unforgettable. On it is a portrait of a saint with a gilt halo that appears to be taken from a 16th or 17th century painting. Reflective of the the wine itself, the combination of the image and clean, contemporary text on the package is a study in opposites; old with new, classic with modern, history with present day. This seems very much in keeping with what the new generation in the winery is trying to achieve. It also reminds me of my wine past and my wine present, reflecting where I once was and where I am now.