Last February I traveled to the Loire Valley to attend a fair held at Angers each year highlighting the wines of the region. There was a big group of us from all over the U.S., retailers, distributors, sommeliers and a couple of die-hard wine nuts. Going to such an event is useful as you can taste a ton of wines and really get a feel for the vintage and how it played out in all the different regions. But the best part is visiting the producers at their estates before and after the fair. One of my favorite visits is always to Marc Olivier at Domaine de la Pépière in Muscadet, this being the third straight vintage I have tasted prior to bottling. For those of you who don’t know this estate, Marc Olivier hand harvests, a rarity in the region, uses natural yeasts, waits for the wine to finish and bottles with a very light filtration. The vineyards are in old vines (40 years and older) with a particularly good exposition on a plateau overlooking the river Sèvre. All the vineyards are from original stock; Olivier is the only grower in the Muscadet who does not have a single clonal selection in his vineyards. This heroic vigneron does in Muscadet with old vines, granitic soils and low yields what others dream of in much more “serious” appellations. Some of you had the pleasure of meeting him at our event last March. He was very impressed with the welcome you all gave him. The 2005 Domaine de la Pépière Classique Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie has now arrived just in time for the summer. It is energetic, juicy and full of life, a cool crisp slice of the Muscadet soil tempered with snappy fruit. Don’t delay. These wines have built up quite the following. —Jeff Vierra, Proud Muscadet Lover
Once again my good friend, and ex-boss, has created a force to be reckoned with. As he puts it, “being a small farmer from the Rheingau, I not only want to produce wines that represent my region but also the village from I have been born and raised.” Johannes has continued to practice the same philosophy since he began making wine, purity of fruit. He is fanatical about it, trust me on this one! When working for him, he would say, once a day at least, my wines are made 90% in the vineyard and only 10% in the cellar. Nothing but clean, bright, healthy fruit will do for this guy. I swear one day I thought I saw him cry when he came across a cluster of grapes that were not up to his standards. Running along the top of the hill of Rudesheim, just below the forest line, is a vineyard named Drachenstein (Dragonstone), aptly named after the dinosaur print found there. The Drachenstein vineyard is steep and very difficult to work. The soils are filled with all sorts of shapes and sizes of quartzite, which really defines the character of wines that can come out of there. The 2005 vintage was a superb one, and the 2005 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Drachenstein “Dragonstone” Riesling ($14.99) is yet another fantastic example. Yes, although considered a QBA, this is no QBA, especially considering this was picked at the high-end spatlese level. This year’s Dragy has a powerful core of fruit, reminding me a bit of ’03, spiked with that quartzite minerality and a truly unbelievable sharp, ripe, citrus acidity, unlike ’03, that leaves a translucent, pure lingering finish. Mr. Leitz has given us another world-class wine at an unbelievable price. This is truly a no brainer for a summertime sipper, or gulper! Thank you Johannes, you are my hero!!! —Eric Story
Located at an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, are the vineyards of Chateau Musar which rest, warm, happy and excited. The Bekaa Valley is surrounded by mountains running parallel with the Mediterranean coast. Here grow vines that rarely see any frost or disease and are bathed in a long, warm sunny growing season. Grape varietals of cabernet sauvignon, cinsault and carignan dominate the vineyard, which consists of a gravelly soil and base of limestone. Founded, as a hobby interest, by Gaston Hochar and now run by his two sons, Serge and Ronald, Musar strives “to translate what nature intended.” The blend is always based on the vintage, hand picked then aged 12 to 15 months in Nevers oak, blended in its third year, bottled and then aged in the cellar for another four years. Known world wide for their complexity and maturity, the wines are ready to drink upon release, seven years after harvest, but will continue to age with style and grace for many, many years. The 1995 Château Musar, Lebanon ($47.99) is a vibrant little beauty. A rich round core, spicy chocolate aromas and a zippy, elegant finish is what this is showing off now, but I can’t wait to try it again in five. The 1997 Château Musar, Lebanon ($43.99) is a bit more austere and rugged with a darker, richer style of old-world flare that needs time to really begin to strut its stuff. This is definitely one for the cellar. Since it is time for those summer time sippers, we are also excited to have the 2004 Château Musar Cuvee Reserve Rosé ($16.99). This is a blend of mostly cinsault and obeideh that is aged in oak for 6 to 9 months, bottled and then finally released two years later. You have to give this a shot with a grilled vegetable cous cous with fresh parsley, cilantro and good extra virgin olive oil!!! —Eric Story
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