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October 2014

Regnier David Saumur Cuvee de la Guichardiere

Domaine Regnier David is a small domaine in the central Loire AOC of Saumur that was established in 1962 by Maurice Regnier.  Maurice started by purchasing about 5 acres in Saumur and soon after converting to organic farming practices, which back in the 70's were still pretty radical.  In 2002 Maurice passed on his responsibilities to his 20 year old son Jean Francois.  Jean Francois continued on the course set by his father and employs only natural yeasts for fermentation, ferments in cement, and uses heritage massal selection vines in replanting his vineyards. 

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The cuvee Guichardiere comes from a 1 hectare vineyard planted back in 2000.  The vineyard was planted with cuttings from Domaine Huet.  The Cuvee de la Guichardiere is hand harvested, finishes fermentation in old oak casks, and then rests on the lees for 24 months.  Only 225 cases are made.

Vintage: 2010

Varietal: Chenin Blanc

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Aroma: Jean Francois' Saumur has a rich substantial aroma that immediately pulls me in.  There's honey, wild flower, caramel, ripe apple, and pineapple all there in the glass.  I don't say "bursting" or "leaping" because it's not that kind of wine; the Guichardiere Saumur isn't that high strung.  The aroma of this Chenin isn't inviting: it's beguiling and seducing, but it's a wine that seems to be relaxed in everything it does.  The aromas here are more savory, rich, deep, and kind of primal as opposed to the more frenetic Vouvray secs and lighter modern Saumurs I've had. 

Yes, I am a wine geek.  And I'm a sucker for these gorgeous Loire Chenins

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Look at that golden color! 

Palate: This.  This is it.  This is exactly what I imagine when I dream of sexy, serious, old school Chenin Blanc.  Regnier David's Saumur is fun and playful, but there's so much depth and flesh to it.  This Chenin has just the right amount of buxom honeyed flavors and toasted vanilla from some traditional barrel aging, matched perfectly in step to slightly salty minerality.  The finish is so long and deep.  This is a warm comforting autumn white if I ever had one.  Excuse me, I'm going to go get some Stilton now.

This Saumur is a fantastic and gorgeous Chenin Blanc.  Wines this good, this integrated, this deep are rare.  Considering how only a couple hundred cases are made this won't be available forever. The Regnier David Saumur Cuvee de la Guichardiere is about $22 and is available at Lois's Natural Foods, Blue Hill Wine Shop, Meridians in Fairfield, Lily Lupine and Fern, and Rosemont Munjoy Hill.


Refelctions on the Natural Wine Movement

There's an industry wide argument over an emerging movement called "Natural Wine" happening right now.  Some people think Natural is the only real wine, others think it's a mass hysteria and it's all bad wine, and more people are somewhere between. 

First a definition: Natural Wine is usually taken to mean wine that is made from at the least organically farmed grapes, fermented with the wild yeasts on the grape skins, and then not manipulated with coloring, acidity, sugar, water, or other things added in the winery.  About less than 10% of commercially available wines can make those claims.

Wine is such a personal and subjective thing, but that's never before stopped people from trying to argue over what's right or authentic.  The emergence of Natural Wine is an interesting situation and dilemma. On one hand most changes and new movements are at some early stage a fad.  The philosophy of natural wines in general is an extension or evolution of the desire for wines with terroir and sense of place, but taken further and paired with a reaction against modern chemical technologic wine making methods.  Natural, or maybe better called wild, wines have been around as a commercial movement for maybe 15 or so years, but it's just in the last 1 or 2 that the movement has gained enough momentum to break out of exclusively wine geek circles.

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I don't think that I would call the Natural Wine movement as a whole a fad; however it may be experiencing a fad right now. If anything the arguments and attention are evidence of this. Louis Dressner was one of the first importers to go in this direction and Zev Rovine was one of the first to carry the terroir movement to it's more extreme elimination of chemical intervention and wild wine making extension, but the fact that now large established prestigious companies like T Edward wines are in the market is proof that it is no longer a niche and has crossed into the mainstream.

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As with any new movement experiencing a surge in popularity and attention many new people will jump into the arena; not all will last.  It's rare for any business to last for decades.  Market conditions (what people want to drink, exchange rates, what wine makers think people want to make) all constantly change and it's devilishly hard for a company to continually adapt.

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As some people try to challenge the legitimacy of natural wine making it's good to remember too that natural wine making is unusual in that it started from the supply side.  The movement started with wine makers who were fed up with modern conventional wine making and decided that it was worth risking their livelihoods to experiment with something new and unknown.  That's how bad wine making with pesticides and chemical fertilizers had gotten; natural wine wasn't originally created to sell wine.  Natural wine making started as an uprising against the status quo.

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Natural wine is a new development and as such many winemakers are self-taught. Self taught only happens with mistakes.   I'll be the first to admit that there are many flawed examples out there; however there are also people making really transcendent compelling wines from this method. Natural Wine is a new thing that is still developing and defining itself, but I'm sure that this type of wine is here to stay.   The Natural Wine movement has a lot of value for the wine industry in reminding people that wines are living fragile agricultural products.

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French Wine Dinner at Aragosta

I love wine, but if there's something I love more than wine it's wine paired with complementary dishes and peoplewith which to share the experience. When Aragosta in Stonington emailed me on a Wednesday to ask if I'd host a French wine dinner on Friday: I said yes. I wasn't sure how I'd fit it into my schedule, but I knew it would be worth it.

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Aragosta is in a beautiful little shingle building right on the water in Stonington and they actually have a deck built out into the harbor. Stonington is a bit of a unique place in that it's at the very southern tip of Deer Isle looking out towards Isle au Haut.  It's not on the way to anywhere else and the remoteness gives it a feel of the end of the earth.  Aragosta was created by Devin Finigan 2 years ago; this was their second season.  I'd heard high praise from people in the area, but I'd only eaten at Aragosta once earlier this summer and I hadn't met Devin prior to the dinner.

Getting to the restaurant in time for dinner was a bit of a mad rush, but Aragosta has such a calm feel that once I was there and setting up I immedeatly relaxed.  A lot of the credit for how freindly Aragosta feels goes to Claire, Devin's front of the house manager who is exceptionally out going and welcoming.  Claire has an rare gift for connecting and putting people at ease; it's invaluable in a host. 

A wine dinner is much like a theatrical play or musical performance: there's tension and worry before the thing gets under way.  staff is checking and re-checking, second guessing and fidgetting, waiting for the guests and audience to arrive so that the script can start moving.  A performance event with so many steps and people is like a ship: when not moving it has no power of it's own and all kinds of possiblilities threaten it.  Once it starts moving, though, it has momentum and steerage way.   As soon as the first glass of wine is poured there's a releif, the tension releases, and everyone has purpose.

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The food was stunning beginning with the amuse that came out right at the start: sea urchin flavored egg custard served in the egg shell and presented in a classic French champagne glass with two oysters.  The oysters were flavored with a champagne sauce and while I usually poo poo adding anything to oysters as ruining their purity the flavors of these oysters were perfectly done.  The dishes were great.  The combinations of flavors were creative, artful, and most importantly delicious.  The food Devin made wasn't just delicious and satisfying though; there was a rare thoroughness and presicion in all the dishes and balances of flavors.  The food tasted like days of thought and work had been put into them, and in fact it had.  Sometimes there's just no substitute for hard work and time.  The food Devin made Friday night was pretty exceptional, showed seroius talent, and I count myself lucky to have experienced it all.  Below are pictures and quick descriptions:

Amuse Bouche
oysters with champagne sauce  
Sea Urchin infused egg custard, black truffle confit and nasturtium

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I paired the egg custard and oysters with the Domaine Berriere Muscadet
 
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Digging in 

Beet Tartare
quail egg, pickled shallot, creme fraiche and fennel frond
 
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For the Beet Tartare I used the Famille Laurent Saint Pourcain Rouge


Shellfish Fricassee
butter poached lobster tail, cockles, mussels and tarragon  
 
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Rich, but also elegant I went with a ripe yet still dancing white burgundy for the seafood: Domaine Chene Macon la Roche Vineuse
 
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The broth of the shellfish fricasse was rich and delicious: far from an afterthought it was as big a part of the dish as that lobster tail.  I asked Devin and she said the broth had taken her three days to prepare.

Caramelized Foie Gras
apple compote, pea shoot salad and hazelnut crumb
 
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This was a really fun and classic pairing: Domaine Laballe demi sec Gros Manseng with Foie Gras.

Filet Mignon
gratin dauphinois, red wine reduction, and cracked peppercorn  
 
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I paired the 2011 Bel Air Bourgueil with the perfectly cooked and tender filet mignon

Gran Marnier Caneles
bittersweet chocolate, raspberry mousse and almond nougat 
 
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Lastly I paired the Le Mazel Cuvee C'est Im-portant with the desert plate.  The chocolate, canales, mousse and all wasn't overpoweringly sweet so the rich, wild, juicy Portan paired pretty well.
 
It was a great night.  I think that the remoteness of Stonington and the Deer Isles creates a sort of self selection of the people living there.  That distance from everywhere else is limiting in some ways, but limits can force people to be creative in other ways.  That self selection means everyone there has chosen to live on the island and the remoteness creates room for people to create exciting and unique things that might not happen in higher traffic places.  There's a different mentality here in this place that by necessity is a destination.  Aragosta is an impressive example of what talent and determination can create.

Chateau Ksara Le Prieure

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I'm tickled pink to have added another Lebanese winery to the Devenish portfolio!  Chateau Ksara is my new addition to Chateau St Thomas.  Ksara, according to their website, is the oldest continuously operating winery in Lebanon.  I say oldest continuously operating because Lebanon has been the site of wine making since....the dawn of history?  before recorded history?  A long time.  Most recently Lebanon was a French colony and the French did what they always do: they planted vines.  Ksara was originally started by Jesuit monks in 1857, but is now owned by a local family.

Ksara and Lebanese wine making in general happens in the Bekaa valley.  The Bekaa isn't far from the Mediterranean, but it's in the Lebanese mountains and is over 3,000' above sea level.  So the summers are hot and sunny and dry, but the winters are surprisingly cold, wet, and snowy.  That seasonal variation helps to make more serious wines than you'd expect considering the distance from the equator. 

Vintage: 2011

Varietal: Grenache, Carignan, Mouvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon

Aroma: Nice juicy aroma of plums, prunes, blueberries and just a touch of smoke.  The Prieure has a hearty robust and very inviting aroma.  It smells very much like a southern French red blend, just a little bit rustic and with a ripeness to the fruit that makes me imagine hot direct sun.

Palate: Rich and juicy and spicy too.  Definitely some cooked blueberries on the finish.  The Prieure is juicy and lush but also dense and mouth filling.  There's cranberry, cherry, all that jazz.  behind the forward fruit is a nice dry earthy quality on the mid palate followed by substantial enough tannins to draw the wine out.  And then there's this cool raspberry-ish flavor that lingers on after the finish.

Ksara's le Prieure is a delicious and accessible table wine that's similar to a Provencal wine but with something different that's hard for me to put my finger on.  It's a little "drier".  Any way, the Prieure rocks and is about $11 at Rosemont Munjoy Hill, Rosemont Commercial St, The Farm Stand in South Portland, State St Wine Cellar in Bangor, and the Blue Hill Wine Shop.