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d OstertagWhy it took so long for me to cross paths with one of the most dynamic indie/natural wine producers, I’ll never know, but in all my time between restaurant and retail gigs, pleading with Kermit Lynch reps to crack a bottle of Domaine Ostertag’s deep roster, in hopes of saving my billfold an extra flex, the moment never materialized. It was high on my list of things to try and I would read about the Alsatian producer frequently as if to sate my parched lips vicariously, stubbornly clinging to hope for a chance encounter. That all changed on my latest trip up north.

After tasting at Donkey & Goat in Berkeley, turned on by the prospect of natural wine, and close enough to the Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant—the importer’s retail outpost and wine lover’s Candy Land—to hope that the stars would align, I thought about closing ceremonies of my San Francisco trips upon entering the iconic shop; shouldn’t a traditional late lunch at Mission Chinese be paired with a Domaine Ostertag Pinot Blanc, punctuating a sensational weekend spent eating through the Bay? To get there one had to first find the bottle.

General TsoStrewn with open cases of varied offerings from the importer’s reputable lot, I rummaged like a record collector in Pasadena to find the most fitting candidate. Striving for a modest introduction, not wanting to get ahead of myself, I purchased a basic Pinot Blanc “Barriques.” As I would learn, little was basic about that wine.

My friend and I stuck to the script, toting a chilled flûte d’Alsace into Mission Chinese as a fond farewell to San Francisco. Shellfish had been sidelined (taken off the menu), so we went heavier, ordering General Tso’s veal rib, egg-egg (sic) noodles and broccoli beef brisket, skirting what would have too easily paired with the wine, in order to challenge it.

egg egg noodlesChilling on the side, the Pinot Blanc exhibited buttoned-up traits, youthful notes of green apples, a squeeze of lemon and spice. The first sip followed the nose, but the medium-body had been graciously toned by the use of barrique (a 228 liter used barrel), rounding it out on the tongue—giving a textural omnipresence.

It was when the spicy food arrived that we saw what the Pinot Blanc wielded. A lot of fat and a hearty dose of capsaicin in General Tso’s veal rib was perfectly fit for the lush white wine to demonstrate its capacity. The medium-plus acidity inherent in the wine was able to squelch the heat while handling the fattiest elements of the entree. Interspersing veal tidbits with the mouth-coating egg-egg noodles, the Pinot Blanc squeegeed our taste buds clean, leaving a candied green apple, mineral and slightly herbaceous finish. It didn’t mesh too well with the broccoli brisket combo (the greener parts of a dinner [asparagus, artichoke, etc.] can prove difficult for most wines and it was no exception here), but that was no drawback, since by then we were already sold on the results.

Perpending our full bellies in Dolores Park, not quite sold on fate in our post-meal torpor, but not resisting it fully either, it seemed that these two things—an exalted producer in a far-off place at the side of a great meal—were meant to go together. Whatever the reason it took so long for me to cave and actually purchase a bottle of Domaine Ostertag, I’m grateful, because I couldn’t imagine that midday meal without it.

My thesis for the current year has been Beaujolais, dedicating most of my allotted B-time in wine studies to Gamay… by learning all of its intricacies, from Cru to carbonic maceration. My love affair with this French red started a couple years ago but came to a head last Christmas when my parents purchased a case of Morgon from Marcel Lapierre—his last vintage—as a gift for me. That bottle changed the way I viewed Beaujolais forever and has been a guiding moment I hope to recapture. I have been so taken with Beaujolais, that I often try to orchestrate countless tastings amongst my wine groups and random friends around this star, championing the wine for its subtle complexities while maintaining a nonchalant deportment—as if I weren’t sad to be overruled! It’s a wine that I can count on to fit for most occasions like lighter poultry dishes, charcuterie (goat cheeses and cured meats) or even, sans food, as a drink sidekick with a good group of friends. Last week was no exception; I decided to host a group event, tasting through a flight of Beaujolais in the hopes of better understanding the Gamay grape and cinching up any loose bolts in my argument.

As a precursor to the tasting, I had purchased a bottle of 2009 Dupeuble Beaujolais (#148) to enjoy just days before my group would meet. Whetting my appetite, the wine was silky in texture and replete with red fruits and earthen characteristics. To pass the time, I read about Morgon and the legendary Côte du Py, a site geologically comprised of decomposed rock on a hillside within the greater appellation of Morgon—one of ten Cru appellations inside Beaujolais—the better to confidently present the wines I would be serving.

After the pleasurable amount of prepping I felt ready, nearly mastering my appellation, with knowledge just shy of a vigneron in Morgon, I was ready to say something about my selections. My choices fell safely under the umbrella of Kermit Lynch and his impressive catalog of Beaujolais producers that read like an all-star lineup. I was ready, until I learned that someone would be bringing a wine that might overlap with one of my selections. I amended the list on the fly, going with a preordained backup, this time from a different importer.

The day had arrived and the tasting commenced with a slight hiccup, one of the members had to cancel just prior to the event (this seems slight but when the group is comprised of three people it is kind of a big deal). We carried on, opening all the wines we had and ready/conferring on the drinking order. Beginning the night was a wine from Chenas, specifically a seven-fifty of 2009 Potel Aviron (#147). The red wine was extracted and deep, with candied fruit and cherry up front. The wine packed moderate tannins, boosted by medium body (deeper and fuller than expected), a little oak and long finish of cherry. It was an excellent bottle of wine and the most affordable of the set.

The following Beaujolais hailed from Morgon. A bottle of 2010 Jean Paul Thévenet’s Vielle Vignes (#146) was a little lighter than the previous Chenas in all senses of the term. The coloring was a transparent ruby that yielded dusty notes of licorice, leather, and hints of red fruit. On the palate there was a bit of curve, vibrant cherry appeared unannounced, jolting our palates. The wine was softer, less extracted with a light body and softer tannins, moderate oak and a lasting finish of Bing cherries. The previous bottle of Chenas dwarfed the body of the Morgon, leaving us a little underwhelmed and illustrating how crucial the tasting order can be.

Very quickly we transitioned into our final Beaujolais for the night, from the 2009 vintage (the heralded vendange) but sharing terroir. Bottled by Dominque Piron, sourcing the fruit from the mystical Côte du Py (#145) inside Morgon.  The wine poured a deeper garnet in the glass and had a limited amount of aromatics. In the mouth though, the wine was much more expressive, yielding a blend of strawberry and minerals, with firm (gripping) tannins, moderate acidity and leaving a long finish.

I learned that there was a noticeable difference in concentration between vintages; both 2009s shared richer, fuller palates that the 2010 did not wield. It is not to say that the 09s were so much better but it would definitely be easier to make a case for cellaring them. I was ecstatic about the showing of each Beaujolais, but then that was to be expected. Before the night finished, as was customary, I had ordered Thai food to serve with a chilled bottle of 2009 Bollig-Lehnert Kabinett Riesling (#144). The Thai carton contents were consistent and delicious for take-out—not quite Sapp Coffee Shop good—nevertheless, it was an enjoyable meal. The Riesling, though not the focus, was a destined partner for the spicy Thai food, the bracing acidity meshed brilliantly with the capsaicin, and the apple and mineral flavors chimed brightly on the palate to provide a refreshing surge after each bite of spicy shrimp in black bean sauce. A great segue.

The Cru wines had worn their stripes proudly, showing their finesse and structure, manifested into variegated notes of dusty fruits and earthier tones. The tasting provided a lesson on vintage, easily being able to discern the differences between the two younger years. As the holidays approach, Beaujolais becomes sine qua non of my (any) Thanksgiving dinner and while I am not yet to ready to close the books on my research I can tell you that these affordable Cru wines will continue to appear on the countdown.

I alluded to a tasting in my Bruxië article, one that I would host at my trusty Westside domicile, focusing exclusively on the 2009 vintage of Cru Beaujolais that would hopefully inspire enough of the makeshift tasting group to attend en masse.To my chagrin, one person showed up, other than my roommate—a victim of the tasting happenstance—and my friend who had accompanied me to Orange County. Easy to say that this tasting was limited, only two bottles poured, however they did have a wow factor that enabled them to steal the night.

I am a huge fan of the underdog, finding the charm in Clippers basketball (as opposed to the Goliath—LA Lakers) and wines that have not garnered the same attention as other massive varietals and regions. Thus I decided it was time to peer deeper into the 2009 vintage of Cru Beaujolais, focusing on the ten appellations between St. Armour and the Côtes du Brouilly. Even though there was a blitz of press for this past vintage, it is still a greatly overshadowed region in comparison to the “collector” wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Beaujolais has never been too heavily sought after in the American market place, a myriad of great producers making a lighter bodied style of wine from the Gammay Noir à Jus Blanc grape represent a tremendous value but sit undisturbed on the shelves of wine shops everywhere. Often confused with the floral labels of Beaujolais Noveau, a lot of consumers think of these wines around Thanksgiving and then are content to let them recede once the season has past. The Cru Beaujolais can often be found in your bazaar for less than thirty dollars—that means the greatest appellations of Beaujolais and best pedigreed winemakers in the region are a lot more affordable and easier to gamble on than most of the overpriced California wines with the import costs included! Their food friendliness is enough to make them a sought out necessity.

In the North, Beaujolais is produced in soils of granite, schist and to a lesser extent, some limestone and in the southern terrain Gamay grows in richer clay based soils. Beaujolais can be found on the map in the greater Burgundy region and the soil composition is but one aspect that separates Beaujolais from Burgundy’s heralded grape Pinot Noir that dwells in the predominately limestone rich hills. Another difference is carbonic maceration where whole clusters of grapes undergo intracellular fermentation by breaking down inside an anaerobic environment (one without oxygen). The changes in the grape happen quickly, softening the harsher malic acid in the process, the grapes take on a sleek body and more lifted aromas.

Anxious to get started we were showcasing a Moulin-à-vent from Domaine Diochon (#297), another wonderful wine in the Kermit Lynch portfolio and Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte Du Py (#296)—a wine that had flown under my radar but came highly recommended by the person who brought it. I was happy to see that the wines were almost equal in price, both hovering below the meniscus line of an Andrew Jackson, to see exactly what could be purchased for that money in an exciting vintage.

With an endless amount of buzz pouring out of France about the greatness of the 09 vintage (as a whole), I could easily foresee both wines disappointing, yet the beauty of Beaujolais is its affordability so it was refreshing to know that not too much would be wasted if my fears happened to pan out.

Fortunately for the four of us in attendance neither wine sucked! The Domaine Diochon’s bouquet of lavender, earthy soil and red fruits was excellent on the palate with a hearty structure (more body than I could remember in previous vintages), moderate acidity and a long finish of cherries, raspberries, anise, mushrooms and strawberries. When it came to the Jean Marc Burgaud I thought for sure this would be the clunker but no, the savory and earthy characteristics were up front while the red fruits were happy behind the scenes—present but not at the forefront. The Morgon showed a different composition of the flavor profile that was equally stunning. It has been well documented that these two wines could be aged but at this juncture they performed well, living up to the hype.

It was a shame that this tasting (hard to even call it that) was truncated; the wines were showing the power and finesse, more the potential of the Gamay grape. Though I was skeptical of all the praise, the wines proved equal to the task and did not disappoint our unreal expectations; I would have loved to inch closer to five hundred by drinking some more massively undervalued gems like these.

Knowing your importer can simplify the process of choosing a wine when you are staring at thousands of bottles like I was on Friday at the Wine House in Los Angeles. What made it easier was looking for importers that I knew. An importer that tends to select wines that mesh with your palate can be invaluable, saving you money and bringing you a lot of pleasure.

I was first introduced to Kermit Lynch’s wines at Jar Restaurant where the sommelier steered me to a bottle of 2007 Domaine Les Palliéres “Les Racines Vieilles Vignes” from Gigondas among a heavy lineup. It was a gem and he saw that I was enthralled and he began telling me all about Mr. Lynch’s portfolio as well as sharing with me a little about another great importer, Neil Rosenthal. Since that memorable meal and bottle of wine I have had Kermit Lynch engrained on my mind.

KL WineKermit Lynch, much like David Lynch, excel at what they do—whether you agree with his direction, David Lynch has made wildly cultish, creepy films—and Kermit imports a handful of very famous producers under his label stretching from Beaujolais, France to Piedmont, Italy.

A certain standout in Lynch’s remarkable portfolio was the 2009 M. Lapierre Morgon (the winemaker’s last vintage); my parents gave me a half case of it as a Christmas present. Each bottle sealed with wax, too beautiful to open. I had already secured a bottle to pair with the Christmas dinner but the rest has since been transferred to my cellar.

Kermit Lynch’s wines resonate sweetly with my palate much like Yo La Tengo’s rendition of “Here Comes My Baby” (although Cat Steven’s version ain’t bad either); they are what I look for when I search for indie French producers, especially when the retailer presents a dizzying array.

On my recent trip I purchased eight wines, of which five were from the KL portfolio and I look forward to trying them all. I know that I am in good hands with Lynch.

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