Monday, December 31, 2012

Didier & Sylvain

Didier Barral
Long-time members of the club may remember us including Didier Barral in a previous offering. Didier’s wines are fabulous, authentic, and unique. One of the two wines in this month’s selection, the “Jadis,” was the No. 1 panel pick in a recent NY Times Eric Asimov piece on the wines of the Languedoc.

Didier founded Domaine Leon Barral in 1993, naming it after his grandfather.  Quickly he decided that biodynamic practices were the best choice for farming his vineyards, which are located deep in the heart of the Languedoc, in the Faugères appellation just outside the hamlet of Lenthéric.

Farming thirty hectares of vineyards is no small feat. Luckily Didier has a little help from his friends: a team of twenty cows, horses, and pigs, that graze the cover crops in and around the vineyards. The grazing of his animals naturally cultivates healthy microbiotic activity in the soil, bringing mushrooms, ants, ladybugs, earthworms, and other essential life forms, and adding important nutrients while aerating the soil. This is sustainability at its finest, an ecosystem of interdependence.

The grapes benefit from this environment, which ultimately translates into tremendously powerful, complex, and age-worthy wines. Most of Didier’s vines get full southern exposure.  In this Mediterranean climate where summer heat waves and drought happen regularly during the growing season, Didier prunes them in the gobelet style to shelter the grapes from the blistering sun. Most of his vines are very old, keeping yields naturally low.

In the cellar, Didier works with the same zeal, although he would consider the wine all but finished once it leaves the vineyard. Didier’s type of artisanry, once nearly extinct, has had a profound influence on other winemakers of a similar bent, who see how his insane work ethic and ideology translates into profound results.

All grapes are harvested by hand and then sorted. In general, the youngest vines are de-stemmed; otherwise whole clusters are used. No SO2 is added. His wine is vinified in gravity-fed, cement cuves and fermented with their natural yeasts. Maceration takes place for 3 to 4 weeks with regular, manual punch-downs in an old wooden vat. After maceration, the grapes are lightly pressed with an old, wooden, vertical basket press. The Faugères Rouge is aged for 2 years in cement and stainless steel cuves. The “Jadis,” however, is aged for 24 to 26 months in barrel, 10% of which is new oak. Didier’s wines are never racked, fined or filtered.

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Rouge
A blend of 50% Carignan, 40% Grenache and 10% Cinsault from vines that range in age from 40 to 70 years, planted in rugged schist. This is a vibrant wine of power, rusticity and yet it also has incredibly fresh, pure fruit. On the nose, notes of violets, black olives, leather, barnyard; in the mouth, a generous, delicious earthiness… kirsch, black currant, coffee and tobacco.

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères “Jadis” Rouge
Made of 50% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache from 30 to 60 year old vines planted in schist. Asimov characterizes this wine as “juicy, earthy and tense with complex aromas of flowers and purple fruit, and a touch of oak.”  Like the straight Faugères, it is indeed of the earth, but in a deeper register, singing of robust fruit and spicy garrigue.

Sylvain Fadat
We had the pleasure of hosting a Sylvain Fadat wine dinner at Thirstbar in March. Three generations of Fadats have farmed the large, eighteen-hectare lieu-dit known as Aupilhac, in the village of Montpeyroux, across the river Hérault from Daumas Gassac and Grange des Pères. Aupilhac is a special parcel for many reasons. It sits at a high altitude, nestled below the ruins of the village’s château, at almost 1200 feet above sea level on terraced land with southwest sun exposure. The soils are rich in prehistoric oyster fossils, which lend an incredible length and minerality to the wines. Sylvain is not one to shy away from hard work. In a volcanic amphitheatre comprised of marine fossils and raw limestone, called Cocalières, he has done what few vignerons dare to do nowadays: he’s planted a vineyard on steep, extremely rocky terrain, and terraced the land himself. This is not only an enormous financial investment, but back-breaking work. This was the work done many centuries ago by the founders of France’s great terroirs such as Savennières and Cornas, planting the best and most promising parcels irrespective of time and money.

Sylvain has also elected to have his fruit certified as organic in Europe, a mandatory three-year conversion process. For him, this is a choice both of conscience and pragmatism. He works the soil vigorously by plowing regularly. This forces the roots to dig deeper and deeper in the soil in search of cooler, humid subsoil, which protects the vines from drought and sun. Ultimately, his rationale centers on helping achieve a natural balance. In his words, “We believe that work in the vineyards has far more influence on a wine's quality than what we do in the cellar.”

2011 Domaine d’Aupilhac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault “Les Servières” Rouge
Made from 100% Cinsault planted over a century ago in 1900 co-produced by Sylvain Fadat of Domaine d’Aupilac and his neighbor and childhood friend Alain Robert. The vines are located behind Robert’s house, 10 kms outside of Montpeyroux. When Robert told Sylvain that he was finally going to tear out his century-old Cinsault vines in order to plant olive groves, he was aghast. However he was easily able to convince his buddy not to pull out the vines and to plant his olive groves elsewhere, and to allow him to care for them (hence the olive tree on the front of the label).

“Les Servières” comes from the name of the wild lynx that is now extinct in the area but used to roam in the local forests. It is produced from organic grapes and only indigenous yeasts are used. The vines enjoy southeast exposure on hillside terraces and are planted in marl and clay-limestone. The grapes are hand-harvested; they macerate for 20 days on the lees. The wine is aged for 9 months in barrel and is bottled unfiltered.

This wine is such a treat! We are lucky to have gotten a tiny amount to share with you. Although it’s made from grapes that matured on very old vines, it is fresh and aromatic, and reminds us a little bit of a red Burgundy, with notes of sharp red fruits. 

All of these wines are worthy of cellaring, especially the “Jadis.” If you haven’t patience, or a cellar, however, we recommend decanting them for an hour or two before serving and serving them at cellar temperature.  For Sylvain’s wine, a nice pairing would be chicken roasted with herbs. For the Barral wines, pair them with something equally flavorful, earthy, and honest, like a lamb stew or rib-eye steak.

If these wines pique your interest, click here to sign up for our club at the $25, $50, or $100 level and we'll get you started.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


This month, come with us to Sicily! Emilia and I were there in March visiting producers with Kevin McKenna from Louis/Dressner and it was, well, downright revelatory.

Mt. Etna from an I Vigneri Vineyard

Salvo Foti has revived a 15th Century Mt. Etna winegrowers’ guild, I Vigneri di Salvo Foti. The wines I Vigneri make are truly representative of this special place. Salvo has also been a consulting winemaker for some of the best wineries in the area.
The I Vigneri team share a passion, a fervor, for what they do. Their aim is ”to avoid the damage that over-reaching ambition and egoism can cause.” They are hands-on, work organically in both the vineyard and the cellar, use non-invasive methods and systems, and have a deep respect for the local traditions. For them, it’s all about the pleasure of work well done, being in harmony with their environment, and patiently working a one-of-a-kind terroir that's been deeply marked and shaped by the active volcano that is Mt. Etna.
Their vineyards are heterogeneous, with young vines living alongside the not-so-young and the rather ancient. Different varieties and variants of the same variety thrive together, each bringing something valuable to the creation of a unique yet typical wine. Shunning easy answers like biotechnological superyeasts and superenzymes, they make wine the way it should be made: just grapes!
I Vigneri di Salvo Foti, Sicilia IGT Rosato Vinudilice 2009
Vinudilice is a rosé that's produced from their Bosco vineyard, which is one of the highest in Europe (1,300 meters or 4,265 feet above sea level). It’s nestled in a vast forest of holly oaks in the territory of Bronte -- the Sicilian name of the holly oak, ilice, gives the wine its name. The wine is made from the indigenous grape varietals Alicante, Grecanico, Minnella, and a small quantity of other even more obscure local varietals.

The Bosco vineyard is tiny, 0.35 hectares (0.86 acres), and more than a century old. It’s planted using an Etnean alberello (bush-training) system in a 1 meter by 1 meter scheme, equivalent to 10,000 vines per hectare, and is cultivated by hand, with more than a little help from their mule. The wine is vinified in wooden vats without refrigeration or added yeasts or filtration. Decanting and bottling follow the phases of the moon.

Vinudilice is normally a still wine but the 2009 vintage of this wine had a happy accident: a second fermentation in the bottle that’s created a simply lovely sparkling rosè. It pairs great with spaghetti with a spicy tomato sauce.

Arianna Occhipinti & Kevin McKenna

At 29, Arianna Occhipinti is a rising star. It’s truly amazing how much she’s already accomplished at such a young age. When we tasted through several vintages of hers with her at her home, it was frankly astounding how well some of the first wines she made, her 2004s, have aged. And her future looks even brighter.

Because she was feeling cramped at her current winery, Arianna jumped at the chance to buy a beautiful but run-down property across and down the road that will allow her over the next several years to spread her wings even wider and fly even higher. Her boyfriend, an architect like her father, is helping her on the project.

Tami IGT Sicilia Bianco Grillo 2010
Tami is Arianna’s second label with and her aim with it is to make uncompromising but more affordable wines for everyday drinking. Her boyfriend also has a combination wine, book & design store called Tami in the ancient town of Siracusa. For her Tami wines, Arianna sources the grapes from neighbors. As with her other wines, it’s made using indigenous yeasts.

Grillo is a grape most closely identified with the production of another Sicilian wine: Marsala. Here, however, it’s rendered in a dynamic, fresh, clean, fruity style. Drink it with a simply grilled fish from Pura Vida at Saturday’s Fort Greene Farmers’ Market!

If these wines pique your interest, click here to sign up for our club at the $25, $50, or $100 level and we'll get you started.