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Artisanal wines: supply and demand
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Most 'food-friendly' wine?

Artisanal wines: supply and demand

Yesterday, while quite a few wine fanciers were celebrating the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau, I took a road less traveled, sampling a dozen limited-production wines of France from the portfolio of amiable importer David Schildknecht.

The wines were interesting, unusual and generally affordable ... in other words, they showed just about everything that I like about "artisanal" wines. And based on the E-mails I receive from many of you, I'm not alone in my affection for these intriguing if offbeat items.

But therein lies a dilemma that makes life frustrating for wine enthusiasts - and for wine writers who want to share the joy of affordable, artisanal wines with an international group of similarly inclined wine lovers like you.

Please follow me closely here, as this is important: If you like Beaujolais, it's not hard for you to find it in just about any city, village or town. All by himself, the ubiquitous Georges Duboeuf of Beaujolais ships 2 million bottles of his Nouveau to the United States alone.

Contrast this with, say, the Gosset-Brabant Champagne that Schildknecht presented at yesterday's tasting: After selling most of its annual output of bubbly to private clients and top restaurants in Europe, this tiny producer has only about 500 cases available each year to offer consumers in France and around the world.

Most of the other wines offered are hardly more available. Represented in the U.S. by small, regional importers like Schildknecht's employer, Vintner Select of Cincinnati, they can be found in the States and in other countries outside France, particularly the UK. But distribution is spotty, and tracking down that rare bottle can be a chore that ranges from difficult to impossible.

So what's a wine writer to do? Keep silent about the tasty oddities I find rather than frustrate readers who can't find them? Publish tasting reports only on the most widely available of wines ... the Duboeuf Beaujolais and the Jadot Burgundies, the Kendall-Jackson or Gallo wines from the U.S., Rosemount from Australia or Montana from New Zealand? I don't think so ... but it is not an easy call.

My advice, if you enjoy rare affordable wines (as opposed to rare pricey and sought-after wines, which is another story entirely), is to encourage your local wine shops to order wines from the importers who specialize in wines of this type.

If you live in a state or region where it's legal to shop for wine across state lines by mail or Internet order, an outstanding resource is Wine-Searcher.com,
Its free database offers a quick way to search for specific wines available from online vendors; its nominally priced "Pro Version" permits even more powerful and thorough searches.

On the other hand, if you, like me, are hampered in your quest by living in a jurisdiction that denies you freedom of choice in buying wine, I urge you to get serious about working with other wine lovers to change those laws. For more information on this issue, visit Free The Grapes,

Finally, hoping more to whet your appetite than to increase your frustration, following are my quick and casual notes on the wines at yesterday's tasting. As noted, all 12 wines are imported by Vintner Select of Cincinnati, which distributes wines in Ohio, Kentucky, the District of Columbia and parts of North Carolina. Other regional importers representing some of the wines in other parts of the U.S. are Louis/Dressner (NYC), Ideal (Massachusetts), Import! (Madison, Wis.), Dionysos (Virginia), Wine Co. (Minnesota), North Berkeley (California) and others. Remember that importers don't sell direct to the public, but may be able to refer you to vendors in your area. Prices shown are Vintner Select's suggested retail in Ohio.

Marc et Roger Labbe 2001 Abymes Vin de Savoie ($8) - From well off the beaten path, this is made from the Jacquere grape in the French Alps. Very aromatic, grapefruit and pear; good body, mouth-filling fruit, tangy finish. "Gulpable," but plenty of structure for food.

Chateau Villeneuve 2001 Saumur ($10) - Floral, a hint of beeswax, white fruit and minerals. Crisp and steely, a bit austere, but should sing with food. A fine, affordable presentation of Loire Chenin Blanc.

Champagne Gosset-Brabant Brut Tradition ($30) - "Farmer fizz," the jocular term for artisanal Champagne, and fine indeed. It's 70 percent Pinot Noir, and it shows in rich cocoa and appetizing tart-berry qualities, mouth-filling and rich, nicely balanced. Could easily compete with "name" Champagnes selling for twice the price.

Champagne Gosset-Brabant Brut Reserve ($36) - A step up from the Brut above and also predominantly Pinot Noir, it's complex and refined; appley and yeasty, with a backbone of bracing acidity.

Domaine la Blaque 2001 Coteaux de Pierrevert Alpes de Haut Provence ($10) - New release of a wine I loved in the 1999 rendition, from a recently defined appellation high in the Provence Alps. A tasty blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, it's a virtual "fruit bomb" of blackberries and rich dark chocolate; but unlike New World "fruit bombs," it's built on a steely structure of acidity and tannins. Remarkable value.

Domaine Dragon 2001 Cotes de Provence ($8) - Another perennial value favorite from Provence, this is another GSM but adds a dash of Cabernet. Lots of fresh red fruit, grapey and ripe.

La Sauvageonne 2001 Coteau du Languedoc "Les Ruffes" ($8) - A favorite of the early '90s, now back and thriving under new British ownership. GSM plus Carignan, it builds complex aromas from red fruit and earthy "paintbox" scents. Mouth-filling and ripe, jammy fruit and "grilled meat" flavors, structured and long.

Lacroix-Vanel 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc "Clos Fine Amor" ($11) - A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, it's relatively refined, showing cherry and blueberry fruit, herbs and spice in a well-balanced display.

Eric Texier 2001 Cotes du Rhone-Brezeme Vieilles Vignes ($18) - Texier, a small negociant based in Beaujolais, is making quite a name for himself by sourcing grapes from off-the-beaten-path sections of the Rhone and turning them into impressive wines. This one from near Cornas in the Northern Rhone is made entirely from Syrah. It is opaque and intense, huge tart-berry fruit laced with anise, herbs and fragrant pepper.

Eric Texier 2001 Cotes du Rhone-Seguret Vieilles Vignes ($15) - Grenache shines through as ripe strawberries, with herbal notes and a big but mellow body reinforced with powerful but silken alcoholic strength.

Eric Texier 2001 Cotes du Rhone-St.-Gervais Vieilles Vignes "Les Cadinieres" ($14) - Also 100 percent Grenache but very different in character, this one shows mouth-watering berries accented with white pepper and anise.

Eric Texier 2001 Cotes du Rhone-Laudun ($14) - Gains character with the addition of 60 percent old-vines "Mourvedre," apparently Spanish Monastrell brought to France in 1937 by a Spanish Civil War refugee, which contributes characteristic "raw meat" and "animal" nuances to the Grenache tart-berry fruit.

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Most 'food-friendly' wine?

Wine and food have evolved as natural companions since the Bronze Age, and with thousands of years of history behind us, it's no surprise that many people consider wine the ultimate beverage to enjoy with dinner.

Some specific wine matches are considered classic, like Bordeaux and lamb or Burgundy and beef. But many of us who love wine and food reserve a special place in our hearts for the regional wines and grape varieties that can "multi-task," serving well with not just one monogamous partner but dancing with a diverse variety of foods.

For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, then, we single out a short and perhaps opinionated list of wines that play this role particularly well as we ask, "What is the most 'food-friendly' wine?"

Please drop by the Voting Booth,
and tell us what you think!


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Friday, Nov. 22, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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