Those who have until now associated the Tel Aviv boutique importer of Giaconda primarily with the wines of Germany had best sit back in their chairs, take a deep breath and start adjusting to the reality that the company is now also importing red, white and rose wines from France. At a tasting yesterday (Weds, 16 July 2008) I sampled a generous handful of those wines, several from the Loire Valley based on Chenin Blanc grapes and then on to two reds from the Rhone Valley village of Vacqueyras. This small company continues to impress by importing wines that show both individuality and excellence.
Chenin Blanc, discussed recently with the release of Sea Horse Winery's first varietal wine from this grape, remains fairly unknown to many within Israel, that largely because here as in California for many years it produced thin, acidic and uninteresting wines. At its best, however, this grape, which has its origins in the Loire Valley (including Anjou and Touraine) and also one of the most frequently planted grapes in South Africa, is capable of producing dry, sweet and even sparkling wines of both interest and extraordinary quality. What surprises many is that at its best, Chenin Blanc is capable of aging and developing for 20 or more years, in its youth being floral and fruity and, as they age taking on depth and complexity.
As to Vacqueryas, one of the two villages in the Cotes du Rhone to have its own appellation (the other is Gigondas), the major red grapes of the region are Grenache and Syrah, with close runners-up being Mourvedre and Cinsault. Although the wines of the region are somewhat more rustic than, for example, those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape they often offer a richness of bouquet and flavors that justifiably woo many.
Giaconda sells to clients via direct contacts, tasting seminars and an internet presence. Those interested can contact Giaconda by telephone at 03 6022746 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . The company has an internet site at http://www.giaconda.co.il and at that site one can see the full list of wines being offered. The prices quoted in the reviews that follow will be discounted by 10% to members of Giaconda's members' club. My tasting notes for the wines tasted follow.
The Loire Whites (Chenin Blanc)
Domaine de CLosel, Chateau des Vaults, La Jalousie, Savennieres, Loire, 2006: Light golden in color, showing fine Chenin traits and opening on the nose with a nutty, almost yeasty bouquet, that going on to reveal summer fruits, quince and pineapple aromas and flavors, all supported by appealing stony mineral and floral notes. Look as well for a hint of near-sweet brioche that comes in on the finish. Drink now-2011. NIS 130. Score 90. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Chateau de la Guimoniere, Guimoniere, Anjou Blanc, Loire, 2005: Developed sur lie for 6 months, showing light gold in color, with a fruit-forward nose, a crispy dry and refreshing Chenin Blanc with orange and orange peel, vanilla and spicy notes, along with a light honeyed hint on the fresh and lively finish. Drink now-2009. NIS 100. Score 89. (Tasted 16 July 2008)
Chateau de Varennes, Savennieres, Loire, 2004: Fermented partly in stainless steel and then transferred to oak where it spent 12 months on its lees. Medium-bodied but with an almost chewy texture, showing peach, nectarine and bitter almonds on first attack, those yielding comfortably to notes of ginger, and lightly toasted almonds. Appealing hints of bitterness on the long and sprightly finish. Drinking nicely now-2015, perhaps longer. NIS 135. Score 91. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Domaine des Baumard, Trie Speciale, Savennieres, Loire, 2003: Golden straw in color, opening with a nose that calls to mind the aroma of sculptor's clay. Medium-bodied, opening to reveal notes of quince and white peaches, those with a hint of citrus peel and always in the background earthy minerals. On the long finish a generous hint of figs that is bound to make itself more dominant as the wine develops in the bottle. Drinking nicely now but will be at its best only from 2010-2017. NIS 210. Score 93. (Re-tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Domaine Bourillon d'Orleans, La Bourdonnerie, Vouvrey Demi-Sec, Loire, 2003: Made from intentionally late-harvested grapes, with wild yeasts and with no exposure to oak, a medium- to full-bodied Chenin Blanc with marked but moderate sweetness balanced nicely by acidity and fruits. Opens slowly on the nose and palate but when it does, it is lovely, showing white peaches, ripe Anjou pears, and honeyed citrus peel, all on a background of heather and freshly mown grass. Drink now-2011. NIS 130. Score 89. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Domaine des Baumard, Carte d'Or, Coteaux du Layon, Loire, 2005: Light gold in color, with figs, green almonds and generous sweetness that is offset nicely by refreshing acidity. At first sip this one reminds of Riesling until on realizes that it is not petrol but licorice and minerality that one senses. Concentration builds towards a long and generous finish. Approachable and enjoyable now but best 2010-2016, perhaps longer. NIS 130. Score 92. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Chateau de Belle Rive, Quintessence, Quarts de Chaume, Loire, 2003: Sauternes and Barsac have their honey and Tokaji has its molasses but the wines of Quarts de Chaume, as this splendid example, are set aside by their distinct date, sugared nuts and maple syrup notes. Golden towards bronze, almost apricot in color, showing hints of licorice and salt water as well as of maple syrup and date notes. With almost intense sweetness, but that balanced nicely and set into proportion by fine balancing acidity, opens to show candied citrus peel, browned butter, minerals and, coming in on the finish a note of ginger. Remarkably long and complex, deserves to be served entirely on its own. If you do insist on serving it with a dessert, only a light baba will do. Drink now-2020. NIS 285. Score 94. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)
The Vacquyeras Reds
Le Sang de Cailloux, Cuvee Doucinello, Vacquyeras Rouge, Rhone, 2005: A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% of Mourvedre and Cinsault, this cannot help but trigger taste and aroma sensations of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Super dark ruby towards garnet, opens with blueberries and purple plums, goes on to blackberries and spices, those never letting us forget the mineral-rich soil that permeates the wine. Full-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely and a generous finish. Drink now-2011. NIS 160. Score 91. (Re-tasted 16 Jul 2008)
Le Sang de Caillou, Cuvee de Lopy, Vacquyeras Rouge, Rhone, 2005: If you need a reference, think of this as an elegant country-style Chateauneuf. A full-bodied, generously tannic blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah, showing a meaty, almost musky and earthy nose and opening on the palate to reveal ripe currant, blackberry and spices. Approachable and enjoyable now but best from 2010 at which time those tannins will integrate somewhat more. Cellar until 2016, perhaps longer. NIS 250. Score 93. (Tasted 16 Jul 2008)