Welcome to the ASV Wine Club
The Andy Swann Voyage Wine Club is a regular feature where we will be presenting fine wines from the region with commentary by esteemed wine professionals. Keep checking this page for updates, or see our Contacts page to add your name to our mailing list!
With the winter holidays just around the corner, we’re in a celebratory mood. What better way to add some sparkle to the season than with our December Wine of the Month, selected by our friends at Chêne Bleu.
2016 Barmès-Buecher Brut Nature Millésimé
Appellation: AOC Crémant d’Alsace
Producer: Domaine Barmès-Buecher
Grapes: 42% Pinot auxerrois, 36% Pinot gris, 13% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot blanc
Farming: Certified biodynamic
Ageing: Perfect to drink now
“Crémant d’Alsace” is the appellation for the white and rose sparkling wines of the Alsace wine region of northeastern France. The appellation accounts for approximately one quarter of the region’s total production – about 45 million bottles per year. After Champagne 150 miles to the west, it is the second largest sparkling wine production in France, with more than half the output of all Crémant wines. A ‘Crémant’ is a French sparkling wine made outside of Champagne using the same méthode traditionelle, the method developed in and used to make Champagne. The wines must spend a minimum of nine months maturing on their lees to ensure a certain level of complexity. This lees ageing brings the wine a toasty, nutty, sometimes flinty character. After the ageing, a dosage (mixture of sugar and wine) can be added to the nearly-finished wine to bolster the final sweetness levels. Depending on the balance of sugars and wines administered in the dosage, the winemaker is able to control the sweetness of the final product – brut (very dry), sec (dry) or demi-sec (medium-dry)..
Domaine Barmès-Buecher began in 1985 when Geneviève Buecher and her husband François Barmès combined the vineyards of their respective families, which each had owned since the 17th century. François wholeheartedly believed in the research of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, considered the father of biodynamics, on the interdependence of the forces of life, earth and the cosmos. So, in 1995, in order to undo the damage caused by decades of chemically-dependent viticulture, he began the transformation of his vineyards to biodynamics, gaining certification in 2001. Today his son Maxime runs the 17-hectare vineyard and winemaking with the same commitment to growing the most exciting, terroir-expressive wines in Alsace.
This dry pale-yellow wine features medium floral and almost leafy, greenish notes on the nose, reminiscent of a spring meadow, and tender green pear, and offers fine and persistent bubbles, an important trait in quality sparkling wine. On the palate, it is medium-bodied and has a bright lively acidity and a broad texture. Notions of lime zest and green pear become stronger towards the refreshing finish and slowly settle into a wine of gentle, charming textures, with subtle notes of brioche and meringue that float around the edges. This zero-dosage wine is an elegant, slender and wonderfully bone-dry bubbly.
A great alternative to Champagne at your holiday parties, it’s excellent with appetizers and snacks, but also try pairing with shellfish, crab and lobster, lean fish or poultry. Serve chilled between 48-50°F.
This biodynamic wine from the IGP Alpilles is a “natural” choice for our November Wine of the Month, from our friends at Chêne Bleu.
Appellation: IGP Alpilles
Producer: Domaine Hauvette
Grapes: 60% Cinsault, 30% Carignan, 10% Grenache
Soil: Clay and limestone
Farming: Certified organic, biodynamic practices, hand harvesting, natural wine, no sulfur added
Ageing: 20+ year potential
Provence may be most renowned for rosé, making up over sixty percent of total wine production there, but you can also find superb reds and whites. Located near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in Southeastern France (a town I highly recommend visiting, known for its Roman ruins and as the place where Van Gogh painted his “Starry Night”) is Domaine Hauvette. The vines are surrounded by a rocky and wild landscape in the Alpilles mountains, where the soil is able to hold on to moisture for the hot summer months; heavy winds blow more than half the year, keeping the vines clean and free from mold; and garrigue (low-growing vegetation such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender that grow wild along the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast) goes on for miles. It is here that in the early 1980s, after a successful career in law, Dominique Hauvette rediscovered her passion for raising horses and began studying oenology. Thirty-some years later, Dominique now has 17 hectares of vines and an international reputation for making benchmark natural wines.
What are “natural wines”, you ask? Actually, to date there is no official or legal definition of what is or isn’t a natural wine. The general definition used is “nothing added and nothing taken away”, and it is generally accepted by most producers worldwide that natural wines meet certain criteria:
- Come from organic or biodynamic grapes (no chemical pesticides or fertilizers)
- Dry farmed, meaning not watered, which creates hydraulic stress to lower yields and increase quality
- Hand-picked, so no machine harvesting
- Fermented using only wild or indigenous yeasts, no commercial yeasts
- No adjustments to the natural grape juice (correcting sugar or acidity levels, color, tannins, minerality, etc.)
- Little to no filtering or fining
- Minimal sulfites added (or none at all, this is still fairly controversial)
Not all natural wines will tick every box, but the two defining elements tend to be the wild yeasts and low-to-no sulfites added. Does this make these wines better? Not necessarily. Sulfites act as a preservative to protect wine (and many other food products) from oxygen contact, so no sulfites added during bottling offers no protection to the wine during storage or transport, so the risk of oxidation is higher. Wild yeasts can often create very funky flavors and aromas that can’t be predicted, so the winemaker has little control over the final outcome. But variety is the spice of life, right?
I love this biodynamic wine because it’s made to the most exacting standards of sustainable viticulture, so it’s both good and good for the planet. The minerality shines through thanks to the rugged mineral-rich soil, and the wild yeasts give a “sense of place”. In the cellar, the winemaker takes a decisively non-interventionist stance and is very low-tech, yet she is not afraid to experiment as is evidenced by her being one of the first winemakers in the region to use concrete fermentation eggs. The Cinsault in the blend brings a finesse that rivals many Burgundies much further north, while the Carignan and Grenache create an explosion of red cherry fruit along with delicate notes of chamomile and garrigue, and oh-so-velvety tannins. This is an elegant wine that will age for at least 10 years. Serve around 64ºF (18ºC), and I recommend carafing for at least an hour to release even more powerful aromas. Try pairing with expressive dishes like duck breast in pepper sauce, roasted lamb with herbs, or slow-cooked beef cheeks.
As we head into cooler weather, our friends at Chêne Bleu bring us an ideal choice for the October Wine of the Month, a light-bodied red from Roussillon in the IGP Côtes Catalanes appellation.
2017 Segna de Cor
Appellation: IGP Côtes Catalanes
Producer: Domaine Roc des Anges
Grapes: 50% Grenache, 30% old-vine Carignan, 20% Syrah
Soil: Schists, north facing slopes
Alcohol: 13.5% ABV
Farming: Certified organic, biodynamic, parcel selection, bush pruning, hand harvesting
Ageing: 9 months in concrete vats
To celebrate the last of the warm summer days before winter kicks in, sometimes you’re in the mood for a lighter-bodied red wine that still packs all the intensity and excitement of its full-bodied siblings. For that, I’ve headed down south to the Roussillon where they get more sunny days than anywhere else in France, plus the cooling effects from both the Mediterranean coastline and Pyrenees Mountains on either side. Everything you need to produce fruit that has balance and elegance while still packing a punch! Segna de Cor, literally an anagram for the winery Roc des Anges, is produced by Marjorie Gallet and her husband (although she wears the pants in the cellar!) using traditional artisanal methods of winemaking, namely the use of indigenous yeasts. This means she does not add commercially-bought yeasts from elsewhere but instead allows the natural yeasts found on the outside of the grape and in the air to allow for the fermentation. This often produces very earthy (we sometimes may even say “barnyard”) flavors that give a different flavor profile to the typically intense fruit-forwardness of a wine from a hot regi
Give it a swirl in the glass, and you’ll find a delicate blackberry color and glass-coating sticky legs, a sign of quality in the winemaking of lighter-bodied wines. On the nose, I find the luscious red and black fruits one would expect from these hot-climate grapes but was delighted to pick up gentle hints of chocolate and light smoke. On the palate, this wine is fresh and lively with smoky notes and spicy black fruits like cassis and black cherry with the addition of dried spices and roasted herbs. The tannins are complex yet discreet, thanks to a very hands-off philosophy in the winemaking, and the finish is fresh and lingering. I love the description from the winemaker on this wine: “Four S’s: soft, smooth, silky, and smoky!”.
I love wines like this because it’s light enough to drink on its own (for those of you who prefer red over white and rosé), but it also has enough body and character to stand up to cooked food as well. Try this with your favorite grilled or BBQ meats and vegs, slow-roasted dishes and sauces, or what about an earth mushroom risotto?? I’d be down.
Our September Wine of the Month comes from Burgundy, an ideal choice for early Autumn recommended by our expert at Chêne Bleu.
Producer: David Duband
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Alcohol: 13% ABV
Vines: 65 years old
Residual sugar: <.1 g/l
Farming: Certified organic
I love Gevrey-Chambertin wines because the appellation is one that contains both Grand Cru, Premier Cru and village productions, which means you can find wines at more reasonable prices that still pack all the wow factor of a top Burgundy. In fact, it’s the largest village appellation in the Côte de Nuits and second largest in all the Côte d’Or after Beaune. These wines tend to be very colorful and intense for the region. Most of the vineyards used for David’s Gevrey-Chambertin come from the commune of Brochon, which just borders the Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard, where he does all the organic farming himself. I love that each vineyard has its own name: Les Journaux, Les Gueulepines, Les Croisettes and Pince-Vin. Brochon soil tends to be stonier and contains a combination of brown clay and limestone.
On first impression, this wine packs a punch, strawberry and blackcurrant with hints of licorice on the nose. Color is a straight-up juicy red. The on the palate, the texture is chewy for a Pinot due in part to about 80% whole bunch fermentation, where the stems are fermented with the grapes, and no filtration nor fining. This also gives a little more acidity to the juice, which helps to balance the rich red fruit. Subtle wisps of oak linger on the palate, which is long and fresh. This is a powerful wine with elegant tannins for being so young, ready to drink now or cellar for up to 8 years.
Try serving this wine just the slightest bit chilled (68°-72°F) with strong flavors like lamb or rabbit. A good pairing tip is to serve a wine with dishes from the same region, so think boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin and don’t forget those smelly Burgundian cheeses (Époisses comes to mind!).
Our August Wine of the Month is perfect for summertime in the south of France, and comes to us from our friends at Chêne Bleu.
2018 LE ROSÉ
Appellation: IGP VAUCLUSE
Producer: Chêne Bleu
Grapes: Grenache noir (62%), Syrah (16%), Cinsault (5%), Mourvèdre (8%), Rolle (9%)
Alcohol: 13.5% ABV
Residual sugar: 1.9 g/l
Farming: Certified organic
This vineyard sits at 550m (1800ft) in elevation high in the Dentelles de Montmirail in the shadow of the famous Mt. Ventoux in Provence, southern France. Growing grapes at such a high altitude in a region that gets so much sun in the summer produces grapes with pronounced opulent fruit that retain their exceptional acidity.
This award-winning rosé from Chêne Bleu is a blend of the typical Grenache and Syrah with slight additions of other varieties for color, acidity and balance. The strawberry, raspberry, pink grapefruit, dried limes and white pepper notes on both the nose and palate make this a very fine wine to enjoy during those hot summer months on the terrace. However, thanks to the barrel work here (approx. 3 months ageing in demi-muids [600l barrels] on around 30% of the production), this wine is highly concentrated in fruit and has a lovely rich texture that goes exceptionally well with food. So start with this with your aperitif, but then keep on it as you move to your starter and all the way through your meal (I’ve even served it with dessert!). Try pairing with roasted salmon in lemon and dill, grilled freshwater trout, spiced shellfish pasta, fresh goats cheese, smoked or dried meats or tender spring lamb. Also delicious with fresh strawberries and cream!
Serve slightly chilled (but not too cold), around 56-58°F. Or try ageing for up to 4 years for even more richness and food friendliness.