Neal Rosenthal is one of our favorite importers to work with beacause all of his wines are hand-selected and true to their respective terroirs.
They are "real wines" - generally not as fruit forward or oak influenced as some of the more popular and high-scoring New World bottlings, but I find them to be outstanding for their incredible uniqueness, traditional production methods, and reflection of terroir.
Out of all the excellent wines in this style that we've purchased in the last few months, there are two whites that I find to be particularly exciting: a blend from the Coteaux du Languedoc and a slightly oxidized bottling from the Jura.
Domaine de Montbourgeau
While well recognized in France (regularly winning gold medals in Paris for their efforts), Montbourgeau is family-run estate that is virtually anonymous in the US.
The estate, located in the Jura region, produces a variety of wines, including the ultra-traditional Vin Jaune from the tiny appellation of l'Etoile (see sidebar).
While many wines from the Jura are completely oxidized, the Domaine has chosen a more approachable style (and pricepoint) for their Vin Blanc.
Unlike its Vin Jaune counterparts, the Vin Blanc is made primarily from Chardonnay, with some Savagnin in the blend that the domaine says (with tongue firmly in cheek) "might have been in the vineyard as well."
Here are my tasting notes on this excellent wine:
"Slight Amontillado-like sherry aromas to the wine that add tremendous complexity to the nose. An amazing amount of ripe fruit on the palate for a wine from the Jura. Zesty acidity and excellent purity. Approachable and intriguing at the same time."
Hautes Terre de Comberousse
My other pick is from the estate of Hautes Terre de Comberousse in the Coteaux du Languedoc.
While the Languedoc is primarily known for its reds, young winemaker Paul Reder has chosen to work with white grape varietals and is making some of the most interesting wines (of either color) in the region.
The 2001 "Cuvee Rocalhan," a blend of Rolle (Vermentino) and Roussane is incredibly addicting - with each sip and sniff it reveals something new and different about the wine - perhaps due to the contradicting terroir of stony, spare soil and strong sea breezes from the Mediterranean.
Here are my tasting notes: "A juxtaposition of flavors that is constantly changing. The intense mineralogy on the nose gives no hint of the palate - where a tidal wave of stone fruit yields to a distinctly mineral finish. The wine changes every time I taste it!"
What is Vin Jaune?
Literally translated as "yellow wine," Vin Jaune is made from Savagnin grapes picked late in the harvest.
After slow fermentation in old oak casks, the wine is moved into extremely large (30hl = nearly 800 gallon) foudres where it begins to oxidize, developing a thin protective layer of flor (yeast cells) on top as a result of its exposure to air.
After 6 months, the wine is moved to much smaller 60 gallon barrels where it rests for at least 6 ½ years, though many producers, including Montbourgeau, age it for longer.
The resulting tastes are intense and unique to the world of wine. Vin Jaune is absolutely amazing with the regional food, particularly Ortolan (a small, sparrow-like game bird). Due to their oxidized nature, the wines are ready to drink immediately, but will last 50-100 years in bottle.
Where in the World?
L'Etoile is a small appellation in the heart of the Jura département of the Franche-Comté region.
The vines are among the oldest in France, covering 2,500 hectares and about 100 km.
Located near the Swiss border, Jura has nutrient rich limestone soils which give the white wines very citrus-like acidity.