An evening with Kermit Lynch wines
On Saturday September 26, Posie and I attended a Kermit Lynch Wine Tasting on the top floor art gallery of Hudson Wine Merchants (in Hudson, New York) hosted by KL local rep Phil Sariel. This was a welcome break from the usual wine store tasting in that it was reservation only, accompanied by hors d’ouvres, seated for the presentation of the fine wines, and that all pours were at least a couple of ounces, and in Riedel glasses. Oh yes, and the tasting was free. For those who don’t know, Kermit Lynch is one of America’s top wine merchants, a man without whom our tastes and habits might still be rooted in Californian jug wines. He’s also the renowned author of Adventures on the Wine Route, and a decent musician: I reviewed his first CD, Quicksand Blues, a couple of years ago, and his follow-up, Man’s Temptation, complete with cover of “Girl from the North Country” was playing as we gathered for the aperitif and socializing part of the evening. (You can hear samples here: the opening song references French tastes in wine and frog legs. The man sings of what he knows.)
As we listened with half an ear, we sipped a 2008 CHATEAU SAINT MARTIN DE LA GARRIGUE COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC, an exceptionally good wine well worth its above-average (for south of France) $17 price. A golden color with an oily, floral nose, floral on the body with bright ripe apple and citrus flavors, a mineral texture, and a full body, it didn’t surprise me to learn that there was Marsanne and Rousanne (and Viognier) in with the Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Terret. I heard a few people rave about this as their white wine of the night and in terms of immediate drinking pleasure, it was difficult to disagree.
Seated now for the formal tasting, a DOMAINE ROBERT CHEVILLON BOURGOGNE ALIGOTE 2007 bravely attempted to sell us Burgundy’s “other” white grape. Light in color, with a creamy apple nose with hints of chalk, it was noticeably sharp up front with vibrant pears coming through on the palate. The bite on this was so bracing as to be almost a shock to the system. While interesting enough in a tasting format, I’d hesitate to have more than a glass without food. $21.
Not surprisingly, the OLIVIER SAVARY CHABLIS “VIELLES VIGNES” 2006 proved more pleasurable. Raised in older oak barrels, bottled unfiltered (as I believe are most Kermit Lynch imports), and from 50-year old vines. Again light in color, I found the nose quite muted (I see that Lynch himself recommends decanting this wine or letting it sit in the glass for awhile to unravel itself). On the palate, apart from some typical Chardonnay apple flavors, I got a distinct minerality, and this before Sariel referenced it for everyone else’s benefit. I then wrote, “what’s notable is the clean and pure finish, especially compared to the Aligote.” Still, a little expensive for my tastes at $30.
The DOMAINE LAPIERRE MORGON (BEAUJOLAIS) 2007 was a translucent mauve-purple. From gamay grapes “grown on decomposed rocks and crumbly schist” (there’s a rhythm to that description, isn’t there?), the banana aromas of young Beaujolais were absent here. What I got instead was some earth and dark raspberry, a solid body and yet a clearly refined wine. Seductive and quite complex, much more so than the color might suggest, and well-priced at $25.
Of the DOMAINE GACHOT-MONOT CÔTE DE NUITS VILLAGES 2006, Sariel said that when he smelled this, it could be nothing but Burgundy, and it was, certainly, quite distinctly the aroma of pure Pinot Noir. Still relatively light in color, the dark cherry smells were refreshingly free of the heavyweight chocolate and brute strength that accompanies a lot of New World impersonations of Burgundy, and yet there was plenty asian spice to be found, and certainly some of the forest floor and mushroom referenced in KL’s own tasting guide. From low yields in three different villages, aged in old oak, I really enjoyed the balance of rusticity and refinement in this wine. Acceptably priced at $30.
Now on to the wines I came for, starting with the DOMAINE D’AUPILHAC COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC MONTPEYROUX 2007. My only experience with Montpeyroux before now was the sensational bottle of a 1998 Domaine Chabanon I brought back from Nimes, and aged to ten years from vintage. That one was mostly Syrah; this one is apparently dominated by Mourvèdre and Carignane, with Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault making up the blend. From what Sariel referred to as “poor soil, hot and dry,” on south-west facing terraces on a site for which the winery is named, and aged in large oak foudres, this was almost purple in color. Very plummy, spicy and earthy on the nose, with gorgeous touches of blueberry and forest floor coming in to play in addition on the palate, I noted that it was big but not overwhelming, and that “it’s not Châteauneuf du Pape but it’s distinctly southern French.” Very heady and rustic. The word “gnarly” was used. Without doubt, this could benefit from airing and ageing, but at $25 you might consider yourself in with something of a relative bargain.
The DOMAINE DU VIEUX TELEGRAPHE “LA CRAU” 2006 most certainly IS a CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE. I’ve had my share of ‘06 CDPs at industry tastings (here and here), and found them all quite comfortably forward; this was the first time I’ve tasted the La Crau 06 and, at least at first, it proved equally giving. 65% Grenache, 15% both Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a touch of almost everything else allowed down there making up the balance, this was a dusty purple with a fruit fresh nose: blueberries at first but then licorice and earth and spice all starting to kick in, and even raisins, as if the wine’s weight and body and cellaring potential felt the need to take over any initial exuberance. The body, I wrote, is “incredible, lots of dust, forest floor, leathery, with dark plummy blackcurrant tendencies coming through…. Heady, powerful, forceful.” There was no doubt but that the audience – for that what’s I would call it – were equally impressed. People started talking out of class the moment they tasted this. They could, of course, just have been buzzed by this point, but I’d like to think there was something else at work: I sometimes forget that the majority of wine drinkers are not familiar with Châteauneuf du Pape and they can find the experience almost spiritually embracing. While there’s no doubt that this would benefit from a decade or so in the cellar, there’s enough fruit poking through the darkness to merit immediate enjoyment. Priced, here, at $68.
Finally, the DOMAINE TEMPIER BANDOL ROUGE 2006. A wine that needs no more introduction for Bandol fans than Vieux Telegraphe needs for those of Châteauneuf du Pape. 75% Mourvèdre on average, with Grenache and Cinsault and then just a 3% touch of Carignan making up the mix, aged in oak wood vats, this was even darker than the Châteauneuf du Pape, but not as “gnarly” – to use that word – as either the La Crau or the MOntpeyroux. In fact, given the typical ageing requirements of a Bandol (especially a Tempier) I was impressed by its finesse and civility. There was good body, soft tannins, plenty of Mourvèdre’s textbook mushroom/leather/barnyard/blackberries, and yet ample evidence that the wine would only get better with age. Priced, sadly, at $55. There are many who remember when it was but a third that price – and as recently as the last decade. Lynch has a French country pile just down the road from Tempier; we can presume he drinks it for free.
Thanks to Michael and Marianne from Hudson Wine Merchants for hosting such a high-end tasting without pre-conditions. I saw plenty people filling out orders for the wines so I trust it was a success. I’ve known Michael but vaguely the last 3-4 years; as I told him about my new book (I’m reading up the road from his store, at the Spotty Dog, on October 24), I found out that he was in a punk band back in the day, signed to SST if I remember our conversation correctly, and that he played CBGBs many a time. That music-to-wine progression just keeps on coming.