Archive for March 26, 2012

Independent Wine Growers Do It Better…

A while ago, I was at the French Association’s Independent Wine Growers event in London and was really impressed with the high quality level of many of the producers there.  There were many interesting wines that showed great character and true typicity of terroir –something that seems so lacking in many of the wines I have tasted of late.  Best of all, the prices were frequently very reasonable.

Of course, I am partial to small, artisanal producers who often put heart and soul into their wines, with very little money relative to the cost of the finished product coming back.  I feel lucky and grateful that these producers exist and are willing to share the beauty that is their wine with us wine lovers.  The fact is, supporting these growers, wherever they are, is imperative to the continued “betterment” of wine everywhere and gives a much needed alternative to what increasingly looks to be the “global” homogenization of style and varietals.

Although, most of the wines I tasted are difficult to obtain outside of France, or a handful of countries, I thought it would be fun to mention some of the producers that struck my fancy, starting with grower Champagne producer Le Gallais, located in Boursault, just a handful of kilometers from Epernay.  As those who know me will attest, I love sparkling wines and I don’t discriminate based on origin, only on quality.  Having said that, there is something about Champagne that is just a bit extra special…

Hervé Le Gallais

The champagne was delightful like the husband-wife team who produced it; the overall style of the house was refined, delicate and floral.   Le Gallais described all his wines, proudly explaining his methodology in the cellar such as only using the first press, aging well beyond what is required by law, and the rose made using the siagnée method, a more difficult and expensive process.   When I commented that this was optimal for the champagnes, but not for his bottom-line, he shrugged and said, “I make it for me and the rest I sell!”

Some of the champagnes I liked:

Le Gallais Cuvée du Manoir Brut NV is their “basic” NV and comes from a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay and is just under 6 grams dosage.  Aged 3 years in cellar, apple blossoms and citrus notes on the nose, this champagne was floral and balanced with a touch of almond it had wonderful acidity. This is a great food wine.

Le Gallais Cuvee du Manoir Brut Champagne



Le Gallais Cuvée du Manoir Extra Brut NV, made from the same blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay with just 2 grams RS, very refined, mineral notes, stone fruit, apple custard and a pinch of almond.  Aged 4 years in cellar.


2004 Le Gallais Rosé des Poètes Brut


2004 Le Gallais Rosé des Poètes Brut 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinot Meunier, 5 grams dosage, aged 6 years cellar, this wine has a beautiful rose color.  Red fruit aromas, wild strawberry and nuances of red cherries on the palate, well balanced with a long finish.



Another producer of note:

Jean-Christophe Granier of Domaine Les Grandes Costes

Domaine Les Grandes Costes’ range of wines were all high in quality, and reflected their terroir of limestone, clay and gravel; all seemed very soft and velvety, well-balanced and best of all didn’t seem manipulated like so many wines out there.   Below, one of the wines I tasted:

2009 Domaine les Grandes Costes La Sarabande Coteaux du Languedoc is 25% Cinsault, 26% Grenache, 19% Carignan, 30% Syrah, no oak contact this wine is velvety with black raspberry, currant and red plum flavors and finishing with a touch of spice.

Domaine Les Grandes Costes’ Range

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Opens to Rave Reviews

On my last trip to Vermont, I had the opportunity to visit Smugglers’ Notch Distillery’s tasting room.  Only producing vodka for about a year, Smuggler’s Notch has already won double gold for its vodka in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, one of eleven distilleries in 2011 to achieve this feat.  Equally impressive, the distillery’s vodka was given the highest rating for a domestic vodka in America by Wine Enthusiast, receiving a “95” score.

There can be a no more appropriate location for a distillery in Vermont than Smugglers’ Notch.  Smugglers’ Notch is a rugged, mountainous passage in the Green Mountains, used periodically by smugglers to transport all types of goods from Canada.   The Notch was used during the Embargo Act of 1807, which prevented trade between Canada and the US, and later was an important entry point for alcohol smuggling during Prohibition in the 1920s.  Today, the notch is popular with hikers, who can visit the caves used by smugglers decades earlier.

Started by father and son team, Ron and Jeremy Elliott, Smuggler’s Notch distillery has been the brainchild of son Jeremy, a chemist at a pharmaceutical company. Jeremy wanted to use his chemistry skill-set to start a business and knew with his background that he could make quality vodka.   Ron, a retired business executive from a large restaurant group, got the project off the ground using his business experience to lay the foundations of the distillery.   The licensing and recipe taking about 5 years before the father and son duo was finally open to open its doors with a product.  Today, Jeremy work as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry, while developing Smugglers’ Notch’s presence in the Vermont and New Hampshire markets currently, with other states to follow.

Tasting Notes:

The vodka was surprising in its weight on the palate, very round and creamy, almost lusciously sweet and all without the bitter finish that accompanies many vodkas. It wasn’t surprising to discover that the base material was a mix of mostly corn, often associated with imparting sweetness, and winter wheat, often attributed with adding creamy notes. All in all, this vodka seems to be ideal vodka to drink straight-up.  It is pure, yet has character without the sharp edges.

In March 2012 (about now), Smugglers’ Notch Distillery is planning to launch a single-barrel amber rum, aged for 3 years in charred-oak barrels and finished off in 4-year-old whiskey barrels.   I had the chance to taste a barrel sample and was impressed with the complexity of the rum.  Bright gold-Amber in color, with rich flavors of crème brulee, vanilla, some butterscotch notes, it will be interesting to taste again now that it is set to be released.