Top Three Wines of May: Loire Valley and Niagara, Ontario
May’s “Top Three Wines” headline does not contain a typo. The reference to Ontario, Canada is purposeful. As a matter of fact, southern Ontario’s wine region (41°-44°) finds itself in a close latitudinal relationship with the Loire Valley (46°-47°), home turf for May’s other top wines. A couple of this month’s finishers are certain discoveries, one a very old Muscadet that is currently available in the retail market and the other a Pinot Noir from, of all places, Canada.
$49 ***1/2 2008 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara, CA
I joined a gaggle of wine writers in Ontario’s Niagara wine region this month to taste a couple hundred local wines that cumulatively generated a newfound respect for the region. This Hidden Bench Pinot climbed to the top of roughly one dozen wines that most of us felt could ably compete on a world stage. The wine reigns supreme over the other 200 bottles and barrel samples we tasted because it stays varietally true while presenting the nuances of its Niagara terroir. Wild gamey aromatics combine with stewed strawberries and wafts of cola, followed by an elegant mouthfeel, purity of fruit, and appropriate supporting acidity. While it is not a bargain, it’s fairly priced. A seemingly great source for Canadian wines in the US can be found online at Canadian Wine Shop. I didn’t see the 08 Hidden Bench Felseck on the site (but several recommended wines I wrote about are available), so you might have to contact the winery…it’s worth it.
$45-80 **** 2005 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant Savenniéres, Loire Valley
You need to ignore the controversy and simply embrace this wine as a single-minded winemaker’s personal expression of Chenin Blanc made from what is arguably the finest vineyard site for the variety…anywhere in the world. I drank this wine last week at TW Food and as usual, intriguing wild aromas roll out of the glassware to either offend your varietal intellect or serenade your senses. Joly will claim it is the finest form of Chenin expression and critics will say the wine is oxidized and over ripe. Either way, you will be captivated by the puzzle in your glass.
The bottle we drank this evening did not hold up through the entire meal, turning flabby and suffering after an hour of oxygen contact. I won’t take the usual critical route here and hypothesize about problems in vinification or bottle variation. We drank 7/8 of the bottle while it was in fine condition, reveling in its alluring mystery, appreciating Joly’s whacky biodynamic fanaticism. Caramelized nuts, honey, pear, apple, and a host of other mysterious nuances bounce around this 2005 as the weight of the wine becomes immediately apparent on the palate. It is a totally individual style of wine that every wine enthusiast needs to try at least once in their lifetime. I hope to drink it hundreds of times.
$25 ***** 1999 L d’or de Lundeau-Papin Cuvee Medaillee Muscadet Severe et Maine, Loire Valley
May was Muscadet month in Boston. I was happy to lunch with the New York based Loire Valley folks while they were up in Beantown promoting the spring-ey rights of Melon de Bourgogne and oysters. I had heard the stories about aged Muscadet, how locals with deep cellars feel that 20+ year old Muscadet can offer some of the finest white wine drinking experiences in the world. We didn’t taste wine that old, only going back to 1995 this afternoon, but if this Lundeau-Papin bottling from 1999 is any barometer of age worthiness, then I am clearing out a corner of my cellar and filling it with $15-$20 Muscadet. You can still buy this wine in New York by clicking on the above link. The ’99 L d’or is advancing in all the right ways, knitting flavors and aromatics while holding onto its fruit and wet stone character. It’s crisp with acidity, and had a classy regal mouthfeel and pinpoint flavors and balance. This wine completely stole the show. The fact you can go into the market today and spend $25 on a 10+ year old white wine that has done all you can ever ask over its ten years in the bottle is simply too good to be true. The wine is a must have and a total steal.
Happy June drinking…