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What I've Been Drinking Lately: The Departure Issue
By John Anderson
Feb 7, 2024
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The Ole Professor preaches thrift year ‘round—and mostly he adheres to his own preachings — but there are times of the year when even he has to reach into the depths of his cellar for something a little bit more .  .  .  special.
Two of my favorite Christmas wines this year didn’t, however, cost an arm and a leg.  In fact, both were distinct bargains (about $20 each) when purchased online from the Wines ‘Til Sold Out (WTSO) folks.  I liked them a lot when I bought six bottles of each in the fall of 2021.  But both wines were better still after two years cellaring.  These were the 2017 Alsace Grand Cru “Zotzenberg” Gewürztraminer  and 2016 Alsace Grand Cru “Wiebelsberg” Riesling, both  from the excellent Domaine Boeckel in Mittelbergheim.  The “Zotzenberg” displayed a very light lemon color, barely even yellow, but was also bright and glittering, with a cascade of rich spices on the nose.

The wine was clearly vendage tardive (“VT”) in character, meaning that the grapes were picked late and thus were more concentrated.  Curiously, in Alsace this does not necessarily result in sweeter wines—though it might!  Unfortunately, the labels on most Alsace wines seldom give much of an indication as to what to expect in the way of sweetness.  It’s frustrating.  Fortunately, I’d long since tasted 3-4 of these wines from my stash, so I knew what to expect!  And, in any case, the wine went splendidly with the various mousse (Truffée and Basquaise) at table, as well as the foie, all of them impeccably sourced by d’Artagnan.

What I also learned in the course of tasting these Domaine Boeckel wines was that “Zotzenberg” was traditionally, famously planted with Sylvaner grapes.  The Dutch wine writer Hubrecht Duijker explains that the Boeckel Sylvaner came from very old vines (60+ years) yielding superb grapes and makes reference to Boeckel’s “delicious Zotzenberg Gewürztraminer.”  But then the French wine authorities in their wisdom decided to strip le pauvre Sylvaner of its right to the Alsace Grand Cru designation entirely.  Amazingly enough, eventually, the same French authorities did an about-face in 2005 and restored Grand Cru status to the Sylvaner — in “Zotzenberg” alone, making it the first Sylvaner vineyard to be so honored in the whole of Alsace.   Extraordinary!

But now on to the 2016 “Wiebelsberg” Grand Cru Riesling!  Here, the grapes were harvested from a 2.5 hectare planting of 30-50 year-old vines.  Like the “Zotzenberg,” the “Wiebelsberg” came in at 13.5% stated alcohol.  The ’17 “Zotzenberg” had, in my opinion, just a bit more zip — not surprising given the vintage.  But if the “Wiebelsberg” was just a tad on the softer side, it was also elegant and ripe and just properly “petrolly” enough for the likes of the Ole Professor — that is to say for all you seriously dedicated Alsace Riesling fans.  Oh, and you could just tell that the wine came from old vine fruit.  Very lovely kind of a Christmas Day wine, which went beautifully with a simple, juicy roast chicken (that had not been overcooked, heaven forbid!) and some perfectly cooked scalloped potatoes drenched in unsalted French butter.

Well, that’s enough of that!  I’m making myself hungry!  Thirsty too!

So, what then were the really good, young bang-for-the-buck Holiday wines served at Château Anderson?  There were many, some of which I praised in my last column.  You can Look It Up, as they say!

With that same Christmas roast chicken, I also got great pleasure from the 2019 Fleurie “Les Moriers” from Domaine Chignard in that same village.  This is always one of Kermit Lynch’s best — and best value ($25-$30) — Beaujolais Crus, a totally convincing wine of impeccable balance and lovely fruit.  A real seigneur of a wine!  I should point out that we also drank with real pleasure Kermit’s cheval de bataille, the 2022 Beaujolais from his best-selling Domaine Dupeuble (about $20), which is rich and ripe — the vintage — but also has nice acidity to carry it off.

Other Holiday wines which, like the Dupeuble, get stars for great value allied to everyday drinking pleasure included the 2022 Château Bonnet Blanc from the Entre-Deux-Mers region, a snip at $15 or so the bottle; and, in the same price range, the 2019 Château La Grange Clinet “Réserve” from the Côtes de Bordeaux.  I’ve tasted the Bonnet white over the course of many vintages, and I think this must surely be one of the best, not least because it seems less Sauvignon Blanc than usual, less herbaceous and “cat pissy” (sorry) and more rounded-out by the Sémillon fruit.  An easy to drink but also interesting kind of wine.  The red La Grange Clinet is a nice, balanced blend of 68% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc.  I decanted it — and was glad I did!  Tasted over four days, it just got better and better.  Would that more such $15 Bordeaux tasted this good!

Finally, on New Year’s Day, great joy was had from a bottle of white 2016 Château Bouscaut, the famous old Grand Cru Classé de Graves located in the Pessac-Léognan district.  This property has gone from strength to strength under the inspired ownership of Sophie Lurton, Laurent Cogombles and their son Armand.  I’ve long admired what this wife-and-husband team have done here, but now I feel that all the hard work is really coming to fruition.  The balance between 45% Sémillon and 55% Sauvignon Blanc is marvelous — driven as it is by grapes grown on a plot of 100 year-old Sémillon vines.  The resulting wine was aged in 40% new French oak.  Just a beautifully balanced and very elegant kind of wine.  High-class white Graves as it should be.  Not cheap, but still a bargain at $40 a bottle.

So, now, let us resolve to Eat Well, Drink Well, and have a Joyous 2024 in the company of those we love most.


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