I start the year off with one of my best wines of 2012. It's not a regular, run-of-the-mill, easy to find or even easy to drink wine but it's interesting, full of life, and is part of a region of the world that is making awesome, non-mainstream wines.
I'm talking about Southwest France. Home of Cahors (which churns out amazing Malbec), Bergerac (a more rustic version of Bordeaux), Madiran (the very tannic Tannat thrives here), and, of course, Jurançon, this area of France is definitely worth exploring if you're looking for "something else."
|Map courtesy Terroir France|
As I alluded to above, Jurançon comes in a few styles. I'm going to talk about the dry version of Jurançon (sec) but you should know that the area makes a lightly sparkling (Moulleux) wine and is famous for its sweet stuff, which is made mainly of Petit Manseng, which is picked when the grapes have raisined on the vine.
Before I get to the wine, let me tell you -- this ain't Jurançon's first rodeo, even if it's the first time you've heard of it. This place has been churning out wine for centuries. The Oxford Companion to Wine offered some cool facts:
- The first documentation of wine being produced in this area was in the middle ages -- like in the 900s.
- Wines of Jurançon had a heyday from 14th - 19th century. The wines, made from the same grapes that are grown today, were shipped all over Europe and to America, and were very popular.
- The wine hit its peak in the mid-1500s when future King Henri IV had his lips rubbed with it as part of his baptism. Can't ask for better PR than that.
Sadly, from these great heights, Jurançon and neighboring regions took a great fall. Phylloxera, the Charles Manson bug of the wine world, destroyed the vineyards of the area and instead of re-planting with the quality grapes that had been there for centuries, vignerons (the French word for winegrower and winemaker), planted cheap French/American hybrid varieties that made crap wine. The area hasn't fully recovered from that mis-step but there are producers who are trying.
And Yvonne Hegoburu, a nearly 90 year old woman who was featured in one of my favorite movies, "Mondovino," about the dirty side of the wine trade and what it does to smaller wineries, is one of them.
|Yvonne Hegoburu: Link to an Interview|
Having owned Château de Viaud in Bordeaux (Pomerol), Ms. Hegoburu was experienced in the business management aspect of wine, but didn't know anything about viticulture. She figured it out and experienced success.
But after about 10 years of conventional farming she wanted a better life for her vines and wines, so she joined a local Biodynamic growers "support group" and converted her vineyards. By 1994 her work was complete. Today Domaine de Souch is one of the most revered Biodynamic producers in France.
If the wine is an indication of how these very natural, in-tune-with-the-earth practices affect the wine, I wish everyone would get on board. Here's the review of one of the best wines I had in 2012.
The Wine: 2010 Domaine de Souch Jurançon Sec
The Grapes: 70% Gros Manseng, 20% Petit Manseng and 10% Corbu
Color: The juice of Gros Manseng is actually grey when pressed, which translates to a really rich green-golden color when blended and produced. This wine was dark gold -- a rich color, like a brass horn.
Smell: So complex and interesting. I got excited smelling this wine because it was unlike any glass I'd ever stuck my nose in. At first, it was a little like Sherry -- a strong, musty, almost nutty smell. On a second whiff a lot more came through -- tons of green apple and honey and an herbal taste like oregano. The wine smelled like crushed up rocks and had a tiny bit of gasoline smell to it but against all the fruit, herbaceousness, and honey it was pleasant and a great counter to the rich fruit smells.
Taste: Just like it smelled but with excellent mouthwatering acidity. All those complex aromas came together in a full feeling yet bright, medium feeling wine. It was a wine to think about and one to keep sipping because each sip brought new flavors.
Drink or sink? Drink. One of the most interesting, delicious wines I've had in a long time. I loved it for its complexity and ability to keep giving as it warmed up and changed with more time in the glass.
This wine is not for everyone. You have to approach it with an open mind and know that it may take a little getting used to before you reach a conclusion. I struggled a bit at first sip but after the third or fourth try I wanted more. (And as a pairing note: I really wish I'd had it with scallops, although it was damn good with an avocado, tomato, and mozzarella salad dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper too).
If you've had this wine, let me know what you think. It's a rare one, but a memorable standout in my book.