This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill famously (if ungrammatically) said, “All politics is local.” Had he squandered his talents on wine writing, O’Neill would surely have observed, “All fine wines are local.”
Fine wine is all about place. And every good neighborhood has its boundaries.Of course, winemaking plays a role. Craftsmanship matters — at least once provided with suitable raw material in the form of the right grapes grown in the right place.
Now, a lot of marketing forces seek to convince you that you can have it all: the quality that comes from artisanal craftsmanship available in unlimited quantity with you-can’t-miss-it distribution. These are what might be called “Big Lie wines.” Their ultra-heavy bottles, lavish amounts of oak, and Teflon-smooth textures make them seem like great wines. And the high prices asked further buttress that notion.But its’ all trappings and very little substance, like suburban plywood paneling aping authentic boiserie.
While it’s true that technology in both farming and winemaking has allowed wineries to scale up with impressive results (we’ve never seen betterquality bulk wines) one fact cannot be overcome: Fine wine comes from somewhere. And those “somewheres” are almost always small-scale.
So here’s, ahem, the deal: You can get the real, true, artisanal fine-wine thing.They are available in reasonable quantity. But you won’t find them stack-cased at every Mom and Pop liquor shop. That’s just not possible.
What’s more, you can find such wines at sometimes implausibly low prices for their quality. Precisely because such wines almost never see much marketing, there’s no attendant marketing markup. It sounds illogical but there it is: higher quality at a lower price.
The catch is that it will take a bit of effort on your part, although not as much as it would have years ago. NewYork abounds as never before with wine merchants, big and small, who care about what might be called craft wines. Or you can buy the wine version of plywood paneling.
HERE’S THE (ARTISIAN) DEAL
CHINON “LES GRANGES” 2004, DOMAINE BERNARD BAUDRY Before diving into the particularities of this compellingly beautiful red wine from the Loire Valley, let’s give credit where it’s due.
This wine is available to us not only because Bernard Baudry is an unusually dedicated winegrower who has spurned the slacker mentality so regrettably common to many of his Chinon confrères, but because he has an equally committed importer in Louis/Dressner Selections.
We tend to take the importer of producers such as Mr. Baudry for granted. After all, importing isn’t quite the same artistic effort as winegrowing. But the eternal parental plea, “Do you think money grows on trees?” can be invoked for finding artisanal wine producers as well. Wines such as this don’t just appear on the shelves thanks to the touch of Tinker Bell’s magic wand. Somebody’s got to find them and schlep them.
That somebody in this case is a fellow named Joe Dressner, who shepherds the production of several dozen mostly French producers to America. His portfolio reflects a zealous commitment to artisanal wines. You could do worse than to find your wine way through his particular lens.
As for Domaine Bernard Baudry, in 2004 Mr. Baudry created a succulent, drink-now Chinon crafted entirely from cabernet franc, the traditional red grape of the district. This is an unusually rich, ripe-tasting Chinon, almost devoid of the herbal-vegetal weediness that afflicts so many Loire Valley reds. The locals insist that it’s the cool climate, but too often it’s a function of overcropped vineyards and too-early harvesting. That’s not an issue here.
This is delectable, smooth-down-the-gullet red wine with no intrusive oakiness. It practically oozes the raspberry scent and taste of fully ripe cabernet franc yet is buoyed by superb acidity, resulting in a wine of exceptional finesse. It’s a steal at $16.95 a bottle.
What’s more, the hunt isn’t too strenuous as it’s sprinkled all over town at merchants such as Martin Brothers Wines and Spirits, Astor Wines, Crush Wines and Spirits, Parker Avenue Liquor, and Chambers Street Wines, among others.
Côtes du Rhône Villages “Tradition” 2004, Domaine de Mourchon [bf] As you likely already know — or soon will when you scan the wine shelves — all sorts of wines are sold under the designation Côtes du Rhône Villages. Many of them are impressively good. The district comprises some 75 or so villages in the southern Rhône Valley.
Domaine de Mourchon is a new name in the zone, the creation of a transplanted Scotsman named Walter McKinley. In a surprisingly brief time since its first vintage in 1998, Domaine de Mourchon has made an impact, thanks to issuing unusually fine wine. (Mr. McKinley secured the help of his fellow Brit, Nicholas Thompson, as a consulting winemaker. Mr. Thompson is the owner-winemaker of the nearby Domaine L’Ameillaud, whose wines I’ve previously and enthusiastically recommended.)
Briefly put, this is superb red Côtes du Rhône. A blend of grenache (60%) and syrah (30%), with a bit of carignan and cinsault, all from 35-year old vines, this is dense, rich, red wine redolent of wild cherries and blackberries with a distinct mineral note that adds up to real character. The price is equally delicious: $13.95 at Sherry-Lehmann, among other merchants.