Tag Archives: French wine

From WWI To President Trump, Château Le Puy Pours Vintages From A Century Of Wine

The 1917 vintage of le Puy was remarkably intact.

If you missed my story in Forbes, here’s a second chance to read it…

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.

In 1926, real estate on Broadway and Wall Street sold for $7 per square inch.

In 1936, Robert Redford, John McCain, and Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy were born.

In 1944, The United States and allied troops invaded at Normandy, known thereafter as D-Day.

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white person.

In 1959, the Cold War-Antarctic Treaty was signed, establishing Antarctica as a scientific preserve.

In 1967, race riots and Vietnam protests spread across the U.S. The 25th amendment was ratified.

In 2017, Donald Trump took office as president of the United States.

A few weeks ago, at the New York French consulate, family-owned Bordeaux estate Château le Puy opened a century’s worth of wine.

To an intimate room of trade and media guests, 13th gene

ration le Puy owners Jean Pierre and his wife Françoise Amoreau presented 27 vintages from 1917-2017, including ones from the consequential years noted above. Coincidentally, the arcane (to some) historical footnote from 1967 — ratification of the 25th amendment in response to the assassination of JFK — was in the news anew the morning of the tasting. (The amendment outlines the transition of power if the president is unable or unfit to serve; it gives the vice president and majority of the cabinet power to remove the president from office.)

Long before there was a president of the United States, however, the Amoreau family was making wine on the right bank in Bordeaux. Historical records for the property reach back to 1610. Vines blessed with views of the Dordogne Valley shared a rocky plateau with neighboring Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. The Amoreau’s called it the “hill of wonders.” Today, almost half of the 247-acre estate is under vine. Largely Merlot, of course, with a block of Semillon made into a varietal wine.

Le Puy media lunch at the French Consulate in NYC.

According to the family, their approach to viticulture hasn’t diverged far from that of their forebears. They eschew chemical agriculture, farm biodynamically (awaiting organic certification), and use a horse in the fields. I sat next to Françoise during lunch. She explained: “after WWI, fertilizers were pushed on the farmers.” While we commonly think of post-WWII as the start of the Green Revolution, she said it came “into vogue” far earlier in France. Around 1924, her husband’s grandfather, Jean, turned down the opportunity to make “vines more productive for less work” mostly because “he was stingy with money. The farm remained organic somewhat by accident” she said.

The Amoreau’s did find themselves seduced by the wave of mechanization that swept through France after the Second World War. “Modernity and convenience” drew them in, but they eventually recognized the adverse effects it had on the soil. Compact and uneven from the weight of machinery, the soil formed water pockets that harbored damaging fungal parasites. So, they returned to horse-drawn plow in 2009.

In the winery, Jean Pierre and his son Pascal work naturally with indigenous yeast. They forego fining and filtration on their top reds, use low- to no-sulphur methods, and work according to the lunar calendar. The red cuvées, “Emilien” and “Barthelemy,” are raised in barrel for 24 months.

The afternoon started with 90 minutes for guests to taste quietly through the wines, all from the Emilien line. Importer Neal Rosenthal was on hand to answer questions and interpret for Jean-Pierre, who admitted to a facility with English akin to that of a Spanish cow. The meal enjoyed after the tasting was prepared by vaunted Parisian chef Yves Camdeborde who flew in specifically for the occasion.

Starting exactly one hundred years ago, I worked through all the bottles twice. A through line of bright acidity, the backbone of an elegant house style that seemed immune to manipulation and trends, became the evident theme. Liveliness, too, especially given the extraordinary age of many wines.

The 1917—born of a year that forever changed the contemporary world — was delicate but still connected like fine, faded lace. Leather and spice served as savory canvas to the specter of cherry fruit. It haunted, much like the events of that era still do today.

When Manhattan real estate was cheap!

If I could go back in time, I’d buy Bordeaux, Burgundy, and New York real estate near Broadway and Wall Street. The 1926 showed a tinge of smoke and caramel, a silky palate still firm with acidity, although was a touch hollow on the mid-palate.

When John McCain was born, a statesman now nearing the final days of life, Jean Amoreau collected the fruit for the 1936 Emilien. According to his records included in our comprehensive tasting book, le Puy enjoyed a “great harvest and nice weather.” Last week, the wine showed vim, still evocative of its youthful days with notes of dried plum and fig.

1944 brought another year of tumult and heartbreak, the death of nearly 425,000 troops during the Battle of Normandy. It was also the only vintage of Emilien made by a woman. Aromas were delicate but still perfumed. “Earthy, sensual, with a touch of sweet fruit still lingering” I deciphered from my scrawl.

Great vintages were found across every decade, although the 2000s had just started to hit their stride. The 80s, such as the ’89, delivered that synergy of maturing fruit, soft tannin, and striking acidity that make drinking older wines so pleasurable.

While the opportunity to drink across a century of wine from an organic estate speaks for itself, taking a journey through history added another dimension of gravitas. Authentic wine, not liquid manipulated in a factory for a commercial audience, provides a snapshot of the people and conditions of a time and place. Granted, what’s in the glass tells a very specific story, but its mere existence decades or a century later gives the drinker pause to consider the events between now and when the grapes were picked, pressed, and bottled.

And if we’re to learn anything from history or a good bottle of wine, it’s that life, like the weather, is often out of our control. We do our best, take care of those around us, hopefully the land, and try to accept what’s beyond our reach. All this leaves me wondering: when someone pours a glass of Château le Puy 2017 in fifty years, what will they consider to be the defining events of our vintage? I can think of a few things, although the year’s not yet over.

2000 was an excellent vintage.

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Corsican Wine Takes Manhattan. Get Tix and Go!

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Image by Lauren Mowery of a photo taken by Aaron Zebrook the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn

Last night, I attended “Being,” a collaborative wine and art exhibition in a brightly lit, white-walled gallery in Nolita, NYC thrown by Wines of Corsica. The event sought to transport wine enthusiasts to the French isle near Italy, a rugged, windswept place still raw and untouched in its beauty, but refined in its wines. Twelve producers brought their current lineup; guests noshed on cheese from Artisanal and perused photos of Corsica by Aaron Zebrook, the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and art by Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer.

From what I tasted and the gorgeous photos I’ve seen (included the ones on display last night), Corsica is the most beautiful spot I’ve never visited, and I need to rectify that immediately. For now, we can at least drink the flavors of the island because 8 of the 12 producers at the show are in the NYC market. Several wineries noted in their tasting manual profiles that they are looking for representation. So, for any importers interested in Corsica, there are three more events slated for today through Saturday. For consumers, you can buy $30 tix here for the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows.

I didn’t make it through all of the wines, but I found six of the seven I spent time with, impressive. The typical varieties of Corsica are the white grape Vermentinu, and reds Sciaccarellu (pronounced check-ar-ello), and Niellucciu (pronounced nell-oo-cho). The range of expressions squeezed out of Vermentinu was surprising. Textures changed depending on the location of the vineyard, and the winemaking styles, and even fruit profiles differed enough to make every Vermentinu a new discovery. Apple, pear, citrus, lemon-curd, herbs, white flowers, a stony mineral character, hay, and occasionally, an oily note, could be detected.

The medium-bodied reds were often a blend of the two grapes: one for color and fruit, the other for tannin, and showed dark red/black fruits, pepper spice, licorice, savory herbal notes, occasionally a meaty/ferrous quality, and varying degrees of acid structure, depending on the side of the island the grapes were grown.

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All images by Lauren Mowery

The surprise hits of the night were the rosés. Maybe I just long for this ghastly East Coast winter to choke and die, but sipping the refreshing, pale pink lovelies put visions of seafood on a warm, breezy beach in my head. The wines hit the perfect balance of delicate red fruits, orange citrus notes, and litheness and minerality on the palate, without  a single touch of sourness, bitterness, or sharpness of acid on the finish.  None. Corsican rosé should be stocked in your fridge all summer.

Overall, the producers I particularly liked were Domaine d’Alzipratu (no importer), Clos Teddi (The Vine Collective), Orenga de Gaffory (VOS Selections), and Yves Leccia (Kermit Lynch). The last producer, Yves Leccia, makes a stunning and unique white wine from the grape Biancu Gentile. Originally thought to be extinct, there now are only five producers in the world commercially making this wine. Flavor profile: Ginger spice, almond, ripe pear, lemon, and white flowers on the rich, aromatic nose, leading to a broad, waxy-textured palate almost reminiscent of a white Rhone grape. Really cool, really rare. Go find it.

Yves Leccia/Domaine d’e Croce, 2013 Biancu Gentile Blanc, I.G.P. Ile de Beaute (the French government, sticklers that they are, wouldn’t officially recognize the grape in the region’s appellations, hence the IGP.)

I posted a brief synopsis of the event on Unscrewed two days ago:

Wines of Corsica Presents “Being” at Openhouse Mulberry Gallery (201 Mulberry Street), April 9 through 11
Transport yourself out of Manhattan and onto the rustic and beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica with “Being,” a one-of-a-kind, artistic event series dedicated to the dreamy French isle’s finest export — wine. Attendees will sample an array of local vins while viewing depictions of daily life through the eyes of two artists.

For three days — Thursday, April 9, and Friday, April 10, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 11, from 7 to 11 p.m. — nine Corsican producers will be on hand to discuss their wines, walk patrons through the process of winemaking, and describe the various grapes commonly grown on the island.

The visual component to the tasting was conceived by Aaron Zebrook, a photographer and the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer. Both artists spent ten days on the island during the harvest season in order to capture the essence of Corsica, from the wine culture and the natural surroundings to the people who call it home. Bravo Clavello creatively incorporates organic elements into her paintings by using Corsican soil, vines, and rocks. Zebrook will present his inspiring photographs.

Tickets for “Being” are $30 and include the wine tasting, cheeses by Artisanal, and the art show.

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