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Tasting Notes From the Underground

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Tasting Notes by
George Heritier


Building a Better Wine List Part 2


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Little Guy Wine Company

Our quest to update the Slows' Bar-B-Q wine list continued with a visit from Elisa Weber-Saintin of Little Guy Wine Company, out of Ann Arbor.

Elisa Weber-Saintin and Putnam Weekly


Elisa (above with Putnam Weekley) studied for and achieved the title of Sommelier while living in Italy some years back. She worked as a Sommelier in the 3 star Michelin restaurant and wine mecca Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence for a year, then moved to France with her husband Emmanuel, where she became Sommelier at a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Cannes until he was offered a job in Burgundy. She completed a Masters program in Wine Business in Beaune, and then moved back to Michigan. Rick Lopus of J. Lewis Cooper/Viviano ran the idea of creating a small distributor within Cooper/Viviano that she would manager.  She just couldn't say no thus was born the Little Guy Wine Company. As she told me, "We created the book focusing on small, family run wineries and importers, mostly from Italy, France and the US. Little Guy has grown a little through the past 2.5 years, and doubled the sales force to a grand total of 2, calling on the most wine-savvy restaurants and independent retailers statewide." She is also working towards what she refers to as "the elusive title of Master of Wine."

We started off with two nice whites.

Wine Bottles

2007 Domaine Alain Normand Macon la Roche Vineuse, 13% alc.: Medium straw color, with pretty green apple, anise and mineral flavors and aromas; tart, but rich, with good weight and balance and a nice finish. Putnam found it "salty," and everyone agreed that it's a very nice wine. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. This one made the cut, and you can now order this at Slows for $35 per bottle. Find this wine

2007 In Fine Au Pays du Ventoux Blanc, 80% Clairette, 20% Bourbelenc, 13.5% alc.: Medium straw color, with clean, fresh sea air and rain water on the nose, followed by peach, melon and lanolin on the palate. Full bodied, with zesty acidity, and like so many from Little Guy's book, the grapes that went into this were produced through sustainable farming methods. They can't all make the cut, and this one didn't but it's nevertheless an excellent white Rhone. Find this wine

2006 Chateau Coupe Roses Minervois La Bastide, 90% Grenache, 10% Carignan, 13% alc.: An entry level red from one of Putnam's an my favorite little appellations, Minervois, this shows good dark color and very pretty flavors and aromas of red and black berries shaded with black olive and violet. Medium to medium full bodied, this isn't a big wine per se, it's simply a charming one. It now sells for $28 per bottle at Slows. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. Find this wine

2006 In Fine Au Pays du Ventoux Rouge, 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 14% alc.: Clean dark color, with earthy mineral over a rich core of black plum and berry; full bodied, well structured and while good now, will be even better in a few years. Although not chosen, both this and its sister white noted above offer excellent value and should retail for about $11-12. Find this wine

2007 Le Jardin de Charlotte Bourgogne Pinot Noir2007 Le Jardin de Charlotte Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 12.5% alc.: Clean medium dark color, with a hint of animal over smoky black cherry and plum flavors and aromas; Elisa rightly points out that this has a slightly Gamay-like quality, something that we all appreciate and enjoy. But it's no lightweight; it's a pretty wine with good depth and structure and you can order it off of Slows' wine list for $34 per bottle. Sourced from 80% Macon vineyards and 20% Côte de Nuits.  Find this wine

2007 Di Giovanna Nerello Mascalese Etna Rosso Sicilia IGT: Good dark color, with animal and earth on the nose; gains added deep, rich red and black currants and berries in the mouth, with good depth, length and structure. $37 per bottle at Slows. 100% organic. Find this wine

Out of these six very fine wines, four would be selected for the new wine list, which is quite a good percentage. Elisa Weber-Saintin and her Little Guy Wine Company are doing great things, and I hope to focus on more of their wines in the near future.

Veritas Distributors

Our next appointment several days later was with Darrell Finken, Sales rep with Veritas Distributors, in Warren, Michigan. We've already written of our appreciation for this vendor's book in these pages, and Darrell is a true professional. Veritas carries both selected wines from Kermit Lynch and Louis/Dressner, among others, and Mr. Finken started us off with one from the latter's portfolio.

2007 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Touraine Gamay: Every bit as good as the two we so enjoyed from this producer during our initial meeting, this shows a pretty ruby color and even prettier aromatics that scream Gamay; the wine's personality is all about cherry, cranberry and pomegranate shaded with undertones of earth, forest floor and tobacco. The house style is obvious here, and this taster really likes it, as did my colleagues. Medium bodied and structured for at least a few years in the cellar, but perfectly enjoyable now at Slows for $35 per bottle. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. Find this wine

2007 Domaine des Terres Dorees/J.P. Brun Beaujolais l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes, 12% alc.: Although we've already reported our fondness for this wine previously, it was interesting to taste and compare with the Clos du Tue-Boeuf. Clean ruby color, with a rich strawberry, black cherry and plum profile; rich, yet very dry, with decent structure to take it a few years down the road. It wasn't selected for the list, but it sure is good. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. Find this wine

2007 Dragini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Presented as an inexpensive by the glass pour, this made the grade with good dark color and earthy, sticksy dried cherry and currant flavors and aromas. $20 per bottle, $5 by the glass at Slows. Find this wine

2004 Dragini Selvacononici: Shows some oak, with licorice and black fruit on a medium full to full bodied frame with good structure. Not what Slows was looking for. Find this wine

2005 Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône, 12.5% alc.: Another that we've reported on recently, this is all earthy black fruit and underbrush that's drinking very well on this occasion and has at least a few years of development left in it. Now available for $31 a bottle on Slows' list. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. Find this wine

2007 Dragini Chardonnay: Like the Montapulciano d'Abruzzo, this was also presented as an inexpensive by the glass pour, and it too made the grade. As Putnam put it, "No oak, no butter, no bubblegum." $20 per bottle, $5 by the glass. Find this wine

2007 Domaine des Terres Dorées/J.P. Brun Beaujolais Blanc (Chardonnay), 12% alc.: Much as I remember from tasting it a few months ago and nicely so, but it didn't make the cut. Find this wine

2008 Yellow and Blue Torrontes: This is an Argentine wine and comes in a 1 Liter Tetra Pak and was presented as an inexpensive by the glass pour, but no one liked it quite as well as I did, and I only liked it, I didn't love it. It's organic, shows good color and throws a nose reminiscent of orange blossom, honeysuckle and "fabric softener," according to Putnam. In the mouth, the wine comes off drier than the nose would lead one to expect, and while I had no problem with it, no one else was particularly impressed. Tetra Pak is an interesting and valid concept, an intriguing alternative to box wine in a smaller format, but neither this nor the Malbec noted below fit Slows' needs. Find this wine

Alvear Fino Sherry NV, 16% alc: Putnam is on a mission to have dry sherries available in restaurants and bars in Detroit, but this one did not convince me by any means. All alcohol on the nose and bone dry, petroleum, moss and almonds on the palate. I'm not sure I could ever acquire a taste for this stuff. No mas. Find this wine

2007 Yellow and Blue Malbec: Organic, in a 1 Liter Tetra pak. Good color and shows some earth and animal on the nose and a good dark fruit core, with good depth and decent structure. Both this and the Torrontes offer good QPR for around $10-11 per unit at regular retail prices, and Darrell claims that one is plenty for a table of 3 or 4 people, but Slows' brain trust passed. Find this wine

2006 Clos La Coutale Cahors: Always a solid selection for the Kermit Lynch book, and a different breed of Malbec from the preceding selection, this delivers subtle chocolate over earthy black currant and blackberry in both flavor and aroma; full bodied, with solid depth and structure. A worthwhile wine and then some, but ultimately not selected for the list. Find this wine

2007 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois Tradition, 13% alc.: Always solid and an old friend of Putnam's and ours from vintages past, this is as we remember from a few months ago, and available now at Slows for $27 per bottle. Find this wine

Interesting side story (to me, at least): When we tasted the 2006 Chateau Coupe Roses Minervois La Bastide with Elisa, Putnam was adamant that the 2007 Chateau d’Oupia Les Heretiques Vin de Pays de l'Herault would be a better choice for a little less money, but Phillip, Tara and I liked the La Bastide so much, that in the end (and after a side-by-side tasting that I was unable to attend), the choice was made not only to include both wines on the list, but also the d’Oupia Tradition as well! 3 Minervois in a Bar-B-Q joint?! If it had been my call, Les Heretiques would have been left off the list, but that's a minor point.

2003 Meeker Gold Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon: Not-so-subtle oak as it opens in the glass; in fact, too much wood for all concerned and quickly dumped. Find this wine

2006 Black Pearl Oro Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon: Deep dark color with a tarry nose and a deep, rich core of black plum and berry; earthiness and ripeness vie for dominance, with neither winning. Full bodied, well structured and rich, but not gobby. A good wine, but not what Slows was looking for. Find this wine

So 5 out of 14 wines tasted on this day (along with one that wasn't) were selected from the Veritas book. Not a bad ratio, all things considered, and not surprising, considering the quality of their portfolio.

Imperial Beverage/Elite Brands

The final tasting that I took part in to select wines for the Slows' list was with Scott Donovan, of Imperial Beverage/Elite Brands out of Kalamazoo and Southfield, another vendor with a solid book. I've known Scott for 3 or 4 years, and while he has always had a solid handle on craft beers, he's worked hard to expand his wine knowledge as well. He started us out with an impressive QPR white from Austria.

2008 M. Hofer Gruner Veltliner, 1 L (with a bottle cap rather than Stelvin or cork):12% alc.: Clean medium color with an effusive nose of green apple and mineral that carries over nicely onto the palate; rich, yet bone dry, with medium body and excellent cut. Tasty and offering great value at $26 per bottle and $5 by the glass at Slows. Organically grown and/or naturally fermented. Find this wine

Scott brought along a representative selection of Heron wines for our consideration. I've been aware of this producer for a few years now, but this was my first opportunity to try them. Laely Heron sources her fruit from France, Spain and California, but despite the claim to employ "small-lot, hands-on winemaking techniques and French oak... to consistently produce wines that over deliver," we found all of these to be underwhelming, to say the least.

2007 Heron California Chardonnay: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with pear and canned green bean flavors and aromas; Putnam mentioned a note of caramel. Medium full bodied, fairly ripe and leesy, but not too oaky. This was the best of the Herons tasted on this occasion, and while I can see how it might work with the right food and some might like it, I didn't. Find this wine

2006 Heron Vin de Pays D'Oc Pinot Noir: Deeply colored, with dark plum and black cherry flavors and aromas covered with dog fur; tastes more like Carignan than Pinot Noir. Fairly big and chewy, and rather rough. One taster referred to it as "a palate assault."  Find this wine

2006 Heron California Cabernet Sauvignon: Good color, with slightly vegetal earthy black currant and black berry flavors and aromas; full bodied and a little rough and unbalanced. Find this wine

2006 Heron California Merlot: Good color and that's about the best thing you can say about this one; rough and definitely not ready. Find this wine

2005 Heron Vin de Pays D'Oc Merlot: Good dark color and again, that's the best I can say about it. My notes read, "It's unanimous, the reds all suck." Find this wine

2005 Terra Alta Sexto, 33% Grenache, 30% Carignane, 20% Tempranillo, 6% Lledoner Pelut Noir, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah: Wasabi-like whiffs on the nose and raisins and prunes on the palate; good weight and depth, but just too ripe for me. Find this wine

2005 Alquezar Moristel Somontano: Deep dark color, with tight black currant and blackberry underscored with earth and mineral; full bodied and well structured, this needs time and/or air. Find this wine

2005 Dominio de Tares Bierzo Baltos Mencia: Sulfur and matchstick aromas follow through on the palate in a rather unattractive manner. No mas! Find this wine

2007 Altos las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza: Now we're getting someplace with a red wine worthy of the list! Deep dark color, with a tight nose that only hints at the rich, earthy black currant, toast and coffee flavors. Full bodied, with solid structure and easily the best of the reds tasted at this sitting. Now available at Slows for $27 per bottle or $7 by the glass. Find this wine

2007 Cusumano Nero d'Avola Sicilia:The tarry nose carries over onto the palate with a big core of black currant and blackberry; full bodied, well structured, deep, dark and mysterious. Needs air or time and is not as attractive as the Altos las Hormigas. Pleasant enough, but ultimately an also-ran. Find this wine

Finally, Putnam loves good Muscadet as much as I do and had been lobbying strongly to get one on the list. In fact, we sipped on glasses of the 2007 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie all four times we got together, and everyone loves it. I suggested that a good alternative might be the 2006 Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie Domaine Pierre de la Grange Vieilles Vignes, which cost just a little less by the case. Tasted side-by-side, the Pepiere really shows it youth with all of its zippy acidity, while the Luneau-Papin is more toned down. Both are very nice, but the Pepiere has more impact at this point. In the end however, the choice was made to go with the Pierre de la Grange for purely practical reasons; there were only about 2 cases of the Pepiere available and more than 14 of the Luneau-Papin, which now sells for $28 per bottle at Slows on Muscadet Monday and every other day too!  Find Pepiere Muscadet   Find Luneau-Papin Muscadet

Many thanks to Putnam Weekley, Philip Cooley and Tara Garrity for the opportunity to take part in the tasting process to update Slows' wine list. It was not only quite interesting, educational and enjoyable, but it also gave me the opportunity to renew acquaintances with Putnam, Elisa and Scott, and also to forge new friendships with Phillip and Tara. I'm looking forward to continuing these fine relationships for many years to come.

Reporting from Day-twah,

geo t.


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© George Heritier June, 2009