Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. James v. Beaujolais

Following a hopelessly sad visit with one parent in the Alzheimer's section of the Louisiana Veteran's Home, we descended on the 85+ degree home of another parent for a ridiculously large Thanksgiving dinner that included Beauregard sweet potatoes prepared four different ways. Before the acorn squash went into the oven, we set the stage for the official tasting of St. James' 2010 Nouveau and George DuBoeuf's 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau.


The judges: Rupert Reginald Vaughn, a.k.a. Daddy, whose primary care physician has instructed him to "drink more red wine." On the doctor's advice, he has distanced himself from his longtime love affair with cheap fishing beer and small batch Kentucky bourbon.
Ronald Teasdale, sister Ashley's friend, an expert in affordable Petit Syrah and all other big, bold, jammy reds from California. I don't know much about him but he's really nice, I like his dog, and he's remarkable for putting up with my sister.
Myself, an enormous casual fan of Nortons, Washington cabernet, anything from the 07 vintage from Cotes du Rhone, but always fawning over Willamette Valley pinot noir.

The referee: Douglas Miller, a lover of treats like peppermint ice cream and chocolate chips, but can appreciate Washington cabs, 07 Cotes du Rhones, and other subtle reds solely because they're "good for" his health. Those enormous Willamette Valley pinots are "too much, too big, too kablammo!" for his palate. Ironically, his palate can detect the faintest hint of mineral, the metallic overtones in sharp whites, and he regularly whips out tasting notes like "the 08 Vignoles from Mt. Pleasant tastes like canned chicken."


Four Reidel pinot noir glasses schlepped from Missouri to Louisiana. Two half full of the 10 Beaujolais, two half full of the 10 St. James Nouveau.

Result: All three judges preferred the St. James Nouveau. The referee commented that the Beaujolais may have maderized in the late fall heat, adding that the same bottle in Missouri on Sunday at Ann's tasted remarkably different, better, more like the 09, 08, 07...etc. Beaujolais Nouveau.

Daddy: The French wine was more acidic, too tart. The buttery aftertaste in the French was nice, but the fruitiness of the Missouri is more pleasing, delicate and more interesting.
Ronald: "Oh boy, that's nice" he said to the Missouri. Elegant, bouncy. The French was flat.
Me: The St. James Nouveau did not taste like a Missouri wine (it must have been the absence of the oak barrel?). I liked the complex fruit character, heavy on the creamy Chambourcin reminiscent of a good pinot noir. The Beaujolais was simple, light, with no finish to speak of.

But the referee? He says the Missouri tasted like "a jumble of mixed grapes" with little definition (which is what it is, a blend). It's not convincing. The French was "consistent, whereas the Missouri was a Frankenstein of flavors with notes of dog." Caveat: there were five dogs in the house where the wine was sampled, including one particularly stinky bassett named Gulliver.

10 comments:

Derek Z said...

I live near Barcelona and have lately been tasting many Spanish wines. Recently, on a visit back home to KC, I to my mother to Stone Hill in Hermann. I was looking forward to tasting Missouri wines with my newfound, though still limited, wine knowledge.

I should first say that I didn't like most of the wines I was served. Apart from being mostly sweet wines, which I don't like, many of them had what I think is referred to as "foxiness", ie. a smell/taste of stinky fur. Gross. I couldn't really get past this. Unsurprisingly, these wines were made with native American or hybrid grapes, which are known for this.

However. Not all of the wines had this characteristic. The port and the cream sherry dessert wines did not, and I found them complex and interesting in a very good way. I thought the dry Vignoles was decent as well.

But it was the the Norton I was really interested in, partly thanks to reading about it so much on your blog. It was very good; comparable in quality to many Spanish reds. But the Cross J, not included in the tasting, caught my attention. If the relatively mass produced (by Missouri standards, at least) Norton was this good, imagine what they could do by throwing piles of love onto a little vineyard next to the family home? I took home a bottle.

I was absolutely blown away. While I liked the standard Norton, the Cross J takes it up a level of smoothness and complexity. I think this wine would be right at home competing against Cabs, Merlots and all the other heavyweight varieties out there. I'd really like to try some of Missouri's other great Nortons while I'm here, but don't quite know where to start. Any recommendations?

Allison Vaughn said...

It's like a snowflake, but not as cool. I can't write the same thing twice. Just wrote a long and involved comment, but when the wind hit the chinquapin, the server went out.
Great Nortons and Norton blends can be found throughout Missouri. I would check out the Catchwine.com comments from the Norton Wine Travelers, the logo of a rhododendron, to see what they have to say about individual wineries. I like the older vintages of Norton, say, 06, 05, as old as 02. I think the foxiness disappears with time in the bottle. I would check out Westphalia Vineyards, Augusta (awesome), Hermannhof (though the NWTs always ask why I say that...), I like Chaumette down in the Ste. Gen area, and the NWTs love Blumenhof, but I think they're selling their 08s and it's not ready yet, I don't think. I have some downstairs in the aging racks. Anyway, go to catchwine.com, click on the Missouri wineries link, and scroll through the listings. The NWTs seek out great Nortons, they're the country experts on Norton. They're adventurous, too...going into old barns for tasting..."a hint of barnyard on the nose" which also means that there's bacteria in the wine. Anyway, they're fun to read, and have good advice.
So, can you recommend a good Garnacha that I could find in Columbia? When I lived overseas, I lived on cheap Italians and bordeaux, and have a hard time shelling out a paycheck for a Brunello....they just weren't around when I lived there. Italians weren't making world class stuff back then. I need to go back. I need to see what the fuss is about those jammy and syrupy Spanish wines. Glad you liked the port. You should try River Ridge's port, their Joie de Riviere blend of Chambourcin, Norton and I think St Vincent. Play around with catch wine.com before heading to your local Schnuck's. I agree, by the way, that Missouri wines can be world class. Unfortunately, most wineries in the state make their living on the sweet crap that I won't get anywhere near. (My tastings are always very limited: dry reds, maybe a vignoles, only.)
Missouri Nortons need time in the bottle. Don't drink anything younger than an 06. And if you can, get a good Reidel Norton glass, or a good cab glass for Missouri wines. It really makes a difference....
take care, and I'm open to your suggestions!

Justin Thomas said...

Great post, Allison! After reading it I jumped in the truck, headed to St. James Winery and bought a few bottles of the Nouveau. As you suggested, it is very good. My wine savvy brother-in-law from SanFran agreed. Thanks for the tip and the wine lesson. I think I'll go buy more.

Derek said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply twice! I'll check out your recommendations.

I didn't actually detect any foxiness on either of the Nortons, though I thought both bottles had a certain "wild" or "untamed" quality that added to the interest of the wines.

Garnachas, eh? I'm still learning about Spanish wines, and I'm much more knowledgeable about Catalan wines from the Penedès area near Barcelona than any other region in Spain. So while I'm afraid I can't tell you too much about Garnachas (yet), I can pass on what I do know.

DO Penedès wineries specialize in very light, dry white wines, and especially Cava (sparkling wine), which they make primarily by blending 3 local grapes: Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello. Local whites run the gamut from easy and drinkable to oak-aged "red wines in disguise" made from decades-old vines. They are never sweet.

There is a trend right now in the Penedès region towards still white wines made solely with the local Xarello grape. Very funky, different and good. Excellent bottles of these can run as low as the equivalent of US$10 at the winery, so perhaps $20-25 in a shop here in the US.

Now the tricky part. Most Penedès wines I've seen here in the US are from the larger wineries, which, unsurprisingly, make the least interesting wine. The largest is Freixenet (Fresh-uh-NET), which comes from a vast factory-style winery. It's very easy to find, but less than fascinating stuff. The other big exporters include Codorniu and Torres, which are decent, if somewhat unspectacular, representations of the region. However, if you can find something not made by these three producers, you're more likely to be drinking something from a smaller winery. The best stuff comes from the higher elevations, above 400m or so, known as the Alt Penedès).

The Priorat region is a bit farther south, drier and is known for very strong (up to 18% alcohol - is that still considered wine?), very good reds. It's one of only two DOQs in Spain (the other is Rioja). I have never tasted a bad Priorat. A bottle is likely to set you back $25-40.

Most of the wine produced over there is consumed locally, and many of the wineries are small and family-operated, so the best way to taste is to plan a trip!

Derek Z said...

Now the tricky part. Most Penedès wines I've seen here in the US are from the larger wineries, which, unsurprisingly, make the least interesting wine. The largest is Freixenet (Fresh-uh-NET), which comes from a vast factory-style winery. It's very easy to find, but less than fascinating stuff. The other big exporters include Codorniu and Torres, which are decent, if somewhat unspectacular, representations of the region. However, if you can find something not made by these three producers, you're more likely to be drinking something from a smaller winery. The best stuff comes from the higher elevations, above 400m or so, known as the Alt Penedès).

The Priorat region is a bit farther south, drier and is known for very strong (up to 18% alcohol - is that still considered wine?), very good reds. It's one of only two DOQs in Spain (the other is Rioja). I have never tasted a bad Priorat. A bottle is likely to set you back $25-40.

Most of the wine produced over there is consumed locally, and many of the wineries are small and family-operated, so the best way to taste is to plan a trip!

Allison Vaughn said...

You know, these high alcohol reds kill me. I know the higher Brix factor makes for fuller wines, but dang, man, I can't drink these 15% pinot noirs and Nortons. I'm only 94 lbs, for heaven's sake. It's one reason I stay away from ports--18% hits me like an 18-wheeler.
Thanks for the advice. I'll look into the Priorats. I stay away from whites. Something in the sugars make me crazy. Or maybe I am already and they just heighten it? I don't know, I tend to get belligerent when I drink whites. I didn't historically, like when I lived in New Orleans and drank cheap Trebbianos on my deck everyday. It's Missouri. It's making me nuts.

Derek Z said...

Wow, at 94 pounds, even vanilla extract must have an effect on you! I'm a skinny guy myself, so I know what you mean about the effects of alcohol. It's a shame, really, that I don't drink to get drunk, because I'm the perfect build for it!

TNWT said...

To give "Derek Z" a general overview of Norton wines: There are 213 Norton wineries today in 23 states. Finding that exceptional Norton wine is like kissing a lot of toads to find that prince(ss). After tasting now 104 different Norton wines from ten states, we have found a few (6?) exciting Nortons and a handful of other really good wine examples which vary annually due to production whims. Many people want instant wine gratification upon purchase, but here is where that does not work since most Norton wines need to be put away for several years, ~ something most people are not willing or able to do. To date, we've found only a few "drink now" Norton wines; as, Westphalia and Peaceful Bend in Missouri and Castle Gruen in Virginia. And wineries that hold back their wines four or five years also consequently charge you more for these wines (Stone Hill Cross J Norton as example). But not to discourage you in Norton wine purchases, you will enjoy even younger Norton wines if you let your bottles rest even for a few weeks after purchase (travel bottle shock) and make sure to let your Norton wine breathe for no less than 40 minutes before serving. Your first sip will smack you of malic acids (+ tannins), but quickly settle down with the second sip, etc. Depending on your travel location, do try the best Norton wines within the following states: White Oaks (AL); Mount Bethel (AR), Three Sister (GA); Century Farms (TN); Elk Creek (KY); Castle Gruen, *Cooper, DuCard, Chrysalis $$(VA); Stone Mountain Cellars (PA), Heinrichshaus, Stone Hill's Cross J, Montelle, Robller, Peaceful Bend and Westphalia (MO). Please do not compare this wine to California and European vinifera, it's truly an American wine which reflects our American culture. Doug Frost, a Kansas City wine writer and master sommelier expressed Norton wines best as "powerful, muscular, crazy intense in malic acid and capable of staining teeth or even wineglasses. [The wine is] probably something most drinkers have to learn to love, with its rough and rustic personality often evident." Another concern for many is the cost of Norton wines. Realize that grape production can be less than one third per acre with Norton grapes as compared to other grape yields because of its small size and extremely seedy fruit. There are other factors involved also, but generally expect to pay $18-$25 per bottle. Most less expensive Norton wines reflect anticipated quality, but here we also have some fine exceptions; as, Horton ($12-$15 VA), St. James ($8-15 MO), and White Oaks ($13 AL). Try to find Norton vineyards with older vines which combine well with more experienced Norton vintners. But here again, we have been pleasantly surprised with new Norton upstarts who make amazing blends to camouflage their young green Nortons. Do yourself a favor by enjoying Todd Kliman's novel-like-Norton biography, The Wild Vine, with a Norton wine in hand.

Anonymous said...

Also check out www.missouriwine.org and www.nortonsays.com Cheers!

Derek Z said...

Wow. Many thanks, Norton Wine Travelers, for the in-depth recommendations — you and Allison make me feel like party to rare insider information! I've never even heard of several of your Missouri suggestions, but will see if I can get my hands on a bottle or two. A day trip down to central Missouri is especially tempting after seeing your review of the Westphalia.