This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, May. 14, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070514.php.
Ugni's not ugly
Last month, when I raved about the impressive white wines of Italy's Lugana region on the south shore of Lake Garda, I mentioned that the Luganese proudly assert that the Trebbiano grape used in the local wine is, well, different from the Trebbiano that's widely grown and casually produced across most of Italy.
Frankly, most Italian Trebbiano (and the identical French grape Ugni Blanc, which was most likely exported from Italy to France when the Catholic papacy moved to Avignon during the 1400s) is lightly regarded at best.
Indeed, in her excellent Oxford Companion to Wine, British wine scribe Jancis Robinson asserts that the Trebbiano of Lugana (and of nearby Soave) isn't Trebbiano at all but a synonym for Verdicchio, a grape of considerably greater luster.
True Trebbiano, on the other hand, is nearly ubiquitous - Robinson asserts that, when we consider all the Trebbiano and Ugni Blanc grown in Italy and France (and Argentina, which happily adopted the variety), it may be the world's most widely vinified white grape, surpassing the Spanish Airén in production if not acreage.
But most of it, frankly, doesn't amount to much. Speaking of Trebbiano, Robinson says, "It is, like most copiously produced wines, low in extract and character," albeit "usefully high in acidity." Indeed, the lion's share of French Ugni Blanc is never sold at retail but used as the base wine for distillation into Cognac, the world-renowned, strong grape-based liquor of Gascony.
A few Gascogne producers, however, do turn Ugni Blanc into a dry table wine, and some of those have achieved a following based on decent, drinkable quality (if not great character) at an affordable price.
One of the best of these is Domaine de Pouy, a crisp and snappy white that blends Ugni Blanc with Colombard, another lightly regarded white variety. Producer Yves Grassa makes it primarily for U.S. sale through importer Robert Kacher. It's handled with exceptional care, cool-fermented to retain its fruit, kept three months on its yeast lees to impart complexity and never touched by oak.
The 2005 vintage - now closed with a sturdy metal screw cap replacing the synthetic stopper used in recent past years - is now widely available, and the fresh new 2006 will be arriving soon. It's a fine potable for a hot summer day, with or without a meal, but as noted in my tasting report below, like all white wines it shows a bit more complexity and richness at cool cellar temperature, not ice cold.
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Domaine de Pouy 2005 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne ($11)
Clear, pale straw color, with distinct citrus aromas - lime, mostly, and a dash of tangerine - with a background note of fresh herbs. Flavors are consistent with the nose, snappy citrus shaped by sharp, cleansing acidity that makes it a natural food wine. Its mouth-watering character makes it a natural to serve cold as a refresher on a spring or summer day, but allowing it to warm in the glass opens up a bit more complexity and texture, and unveils a pleasant bitter-almond character in the long finish. U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C. (May 13, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Its tart citrus flavors and sharp acidity might overpower more delicate fare, but it's fine as a counterbalance to richer poultry or fish dishes including my choice, a roast chicken infused with fresh tarragon and sauced with a tarragon-Dijon bechamel.
VALUE: Long a "QPR" favorite for well under $10, it's still fair if not quite such a bargain at the $11 I've been paying locally for the past couple of years. Shopping around may pay dividends, though, as Wine-Searcher.com finds it for as little as $6 in some regions.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's not meant for long-term aging, but the modern-style metal screw cap that closes the 2005 vintage will keep it longer on the screw cap than the plastic stopper used in recent editions. Note that the 2006 is already coming into the market, and should be comparable in style with the added benefit of freshness.
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