Calmont Spring Opener @ The Stoweflake

March 24, 2010

This past week, I attended the annual spring tasting held by Vermont wine distributor, Calmont Beverage. The event was hosted at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe, VT and along with the 30 wine importers participating, there was an impressive charcuterie table laid out by Provisions International. I’ve been to these Calmont tastings before, and have to say that they are always an educational experience.  Trade tastings are set up so that retailers and restaurateurs have a chance to sample wines before they develop their wine program or list for the following season.  It is interesting to see the diversity of participants at an event like this, and how they and sometimes they and their posses approach the experience.   I have to say, this event is an important opportunity for people in the business to get educated, find new products, or check up on wines they know they like.  Folks, please do not take it for granted…consumers are relying on your good judgment and good information to pass the quality and the deals on to them.

The day starts with a sit down lecture at 11 am sharp, where John Fagan and Chip Chapell, talk the participants through their special selections of a dozen flights of wine, usually three wines each, with juice that they find especially intriguing or representing an exceptional quality-to-price ratio. After the lecture, there is a conference room with a couple of dozen importers, and over 250 wines.  If this sounds like a big party, it kind of is…but it is also a lot of work.  The number of choices are overwhelming, and so attendees really need to have a game plan, know what wines they want to try, and be realistic about how much terroir can be covered in just a couple of hours. Taking notes, talking with the representatives, spitting a lot of wine, and cleansing the palate, make each one of these events a mini-marathon of sorts, and strategy is key.

I was on site tasting as a proxy for one of our retail connections, so I had a mission in mind, and did my best to execute.  I got about 80% of my target choices, but also spent more in-depth time with a few of the vendors, and was glad that I did.

John Fagan was shepherding the rose reception table near the sinful array of cheeses, salumes, prosciutto, and breads that served as the gateway to the main tasting area…and what a fine way to start it was.  A dozen pink tasties from France, Spain, and Italy ranging from the simple and crisp  to  complex fruit, tannin, and acidic assemblages.  They were all really enjoyable, and Calmont has taken an aggressive position by requesting samples from the importers, so that the retail folks can get orders in, and have delivery for summer, by the end of June…otherwise, here in the north country, we’d only be able to get the first shipment of rose in September. ..which would be a bummer.  Thank you, Calmont.

The two real stars of the rosé lineup, in my humble opinion, were the 100% Sparkling Cabernet Franc Tête a Claque, and the Chateau De Lancyre. (Not Lancers!)  Both were intriguing, complex, and just plain delicious…with clear strawberry and red fruit on the nose and bracing acids that left the mouth watering for more.  Purge any bad memories of white zinfandel from your minds…without a doubt, there is a style of rosé that will fit almost any palate.

Manoir de la Tête Rouge “Tête a Claque” Sparkling Rosé, Saumur (biodynamic)
Bodega Tikalo Albaliza Rosado ‘09  La Mancha, Spain
Villa des Anges “Old Vine” Cinsault Rosé ‘09  VdP d’Oc
Cuvee de Peña Rosé ‘09 VdP des Côtes Catalanes
Dom. Massamier “Cuvée des Oliviers” Rosé ‘09  Coteaux de Peyriac
In Fine Rosé ‘09  Rhône-Ventoux
Domaine de la Berthete “Sensation” Rosé ‘09  Côtes du Rhône
Chateau du Donjon Rosé ‘09  Minervois
Commanderie de la Bargemone Rosé ‘09  Coteaux d’Aix en Provence
Château des Annibals Rosé ‘09  Côte de Provence
Ca’ntele Negroamaro Rosato ‘09  Salento
Planeta Syrah Rosé ‘09  Sicilia
Château de Lancyre Rosé ‘09  Pic Saint-Loup

Joto Sake
Once inside the main room, I made a beeline for table #20, the array of Sake from Joto Sake Co.  I have a real weakness for sake, and in truth, I was introduced to fine sakes several years before I made the acquaintance of fine wines.  The trouble is, quality sake is hard to find here in VT, possibly because the market is so small.  I think if more people tried REAL sake, the market would naturally grow.  Sure it is great with sushi..but sake is so much more than that.  So versatile and ethereal, there are so many pairing options, it boggles the mind.

yuho-150x150If you have only ever had sake piping hot at at a Japanese flying knife grill or basic sushi joint, then you have not really been properly exposed. The only reason for the super hot sake is to cover the multiple flaws.  Great sake is served at just above  body temperature, room temperature, or chilled, and offers a wide array of floral and spice aroma/flavor aspects.  Sake is a robust drink but is delicate enough to require cool temperatures and protection from sunlight during storage.  The small production artisan selections from Joto Sake blew my mind.  Maybe it’s because my access to great sake has been limited by my low number of trips to Boston, and I have a vitamin S deficiency, but I feel like I have to defer to my good taste and say that the consistent quality of the Joto Sake selections makes them an excellent value.  Great sake is not cheap, but relative to great wine, it is an amazing bargain.

I think it would behoove any asian restaurant, or restaurant with asian-esque choices on the menu, to provide and consciously pair great sake, like those of Joto Sake’s, with a fine meal.  I firmly believe that one such an experience would lead to repeat visits, and to to a life long appreciation for the drink.   Below is a listing of the selections I tried including the Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake…I have to admit, I was skeptical, but just one sniff and sip made me a believer. The aroma was of vanilla and a hint of plum, while the bubbles ( created by method traditionale rather than CO2 injection) elevated what can only be described as an adult cream soda experience…with a light yinni syrup sweetness and only 6.1% alcohol, this stuff was something special. Another version was pink due to rose hip and hibiscus infusion, which added a floral, almost strawberry effect to an already surprising brew.  Worth seeking out.  Kanpai!

Table 22 - Joto Sake LLC presented by Henry Sidel
Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu 720 ml
Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry 720 ml
Yuho Junmai 720 ml
Shichi Hon Yari Junmai 720 ml
Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo 720 ml
Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo 720 ml
Yuki no Bosha Limited Release Junmai Ginjo 720 ml
Yuki no Bosha Akita Komachi Daiginjo 720 ml
Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori 720 ml
HouHouShu Sparkling Sake 300ml
Hana HouHouShu 300ml -rosehip & hibiscus

Bourgeois Selections
Stephanie Bourgeois has a great job…she and her partner seek out and find amazing bargains in France and Spain, and have nailed down a recession proof portfolio of wines, that she in turn brings back to share with us.  The best part is that a lot of these “basic” wines, mostly Vin de Pays,  come from properties that are often adjacent to or in the neighborhoods of some of the finest vineyards in Europe.  There is a lot of wine out there, but these folks have a knack for sniffing out the hidden treasures and bringing back wines that we can enjoy on our daily table.  I think that’s why I appreciated the Bourgeois Selections so much.  They support the notion that wine can be a regular pleasure, and not something held for special occasions, and they back up that notion by putting it in the glass.

ledrunkgrenacheIf you are reading this I’m probably preaching to the choir, but the truth is, I firmly believe that afford-ably priced, high quality wines are key to the expansion of wine culture in this state and in this country.  Bourgeois Selections deliver.  I’m especially excited about the update to “Le Drunk Rooster” Langeudoc French Red which has gone from a 100% Grenache last year to 20% syrah this year, giving it a meatier, more substantial backbone behind the lip smacking fruit flesh.  Also, Stephanie is responsible for the Tete a Claque (slap in the head) Rose that we started with that day, and I’ll be looking forward to its arrival in a couple of months….patience.
Table 14 - Bourgeois Selections presented by Stephanie Bourgeois
Manoir de la Tête Rouge “Tête a Claque” Sparkling Rosé, Saumur (biodynamic)
Bodega Tikalo Albaliza Rosado ‘09  La Mancha, Spain
In Fine Rosé ‘09  Rhône-Ventoux
Domaine de la Berthete “Sensation” Rosé ‘09  Côtes du Rhône
In Fine Blanc ‘08 Rhône-Ventoux
Le Drunk Rooster Chardonnay ‘08 Languedoc
Domaine de Ballade ‘08 Gascogny
In Fine Rouge ‘08 Rhone-Ventoux
Domaine de Bahourat ‘08 Rhône-Costieres de Nimes
Domane Capion Rouge ‘07  Languedoc VdP de Herault
Bodega Tikalo “Rubens” ‘07 La Mancha
Bodega Tikalo “Kios”  ‘04 La Mancha
Le Drunk Rooster Grenache/Syrah ‘07 Roussillon
Domaine de la Berthete “Sensation” Rouge ‘07 Côtes de Rhône
Domaine de Chateaumar “Bastien” ‘08 Côtes de Rhône
Domaine de Crampilh ‘06 Madiran

Schafer-Reichart Rielsing
Although I did bop around the big room, and tried to hit a couple of tables for just a single taste or two, I knew that time was running short, and if I wanted to have time to go through one more entire table, I needed to make a move.
I had been really impressed at the lecture by the Züm Riesling ‘08  Mosel QbA, which started the final flight, and cut right through the tannins left by four preceding flights of substantial reds.  A soft stone fruit nose, with crisp, dry, delicate floral and apricot flavors that are elusive but lasting.  This was one of the most inexpensive wines at the lecture tasting, the the most inexpensive Riesling at the the whole event, and with it, once again the formula of price and value was turned on its head.  The retail price on this bottle will probably come in between $10-$12 and let me tell you, it drinks way better than that, and is a great example of the off-dry style Riesling.  The drier end of the spectrum is inexplicably less popular than the sweeter stuff in our US market.  We drink snappy Sauvignon Blancs before or with dinner, but always expect Riesling to be for dessert.  At 3.1% residual sugar, which is just below the level of perceived sweetness for most, and at just 10.5% alcohol, this is a great meal aperitif or a summer-long sipping friend.

So, I used the remaining time available, to make the acquaintance of importer-founder Christian Schafer, and to sample the rest of the super Rieslings that he had to offer.  These wines come specifically from the scary steep slopes of the Mosel valley in Germany, where they experience winters something akin to ours here, and are at the northern edge of the territory where grapes have enough summer heat to ripen.  Like the other folks whose tables I visited, Christian too exuded a passionate glow as he explained the stories behind each of the wines he was representing.  He is a great example of an energetic young person who recognizes and respects the value of the place where he grew up, and is proud to represent and promote the fine wines that his neighborhood produces.

As I tasted through the group, each of which increased slightly in sweetness and decreased in alcohol content, I was again reminded about how many ways Riesling can present itself while at the same time remaining true to its varietal character.  We started with The St. Nickolaus Hospital Trocken (Dry) ‘06, which is totally up my alley…great clean white flower nose, crisp and multi-layered on the palate and pretty much bone dry.   I was able to try the Klaus Meierer Kabinett which I had seen tasted with its winemaker (2009 DLG Young Vintner of the Year)  on Wine Library TV last year, which was a nice opportunity to satisfy a curiosity.  We finished up with the Philipps-Eckstein Auslese ‘05, which had an absolutely huge opulent nose of rich peach and petrol, gorgeous smooth fruit acids. It was drinking like it was brand new after 5 years, and I’m sure it will last much much longer in the cellar…and for something that will probably retail around $25. Achtung!


For anyone who loves Riesling, these are real pleasures, and for anyone that is curious, you cannot go wrong with these choices, and it is money very well spent.
Tell your favorite wine retailer or restaurant that you are looking for some great Riesling this summer, and show them this list.

St Nikolaus Hospital Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Trocken ‘06  Mosel
Züm Riesling ‘08  Mosel QbA
Ernst Schiffmann Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett ‘08  Mosel

Klaus Meierer Kestener Paulinsberg Riesling Kabinett ‘07  Mosel 
[Wine Library TV Episode#689 with Mattias Meierer ]

Johann Wilhelm Schild Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese ‘07  Mosel
Philipps-Eckstein Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese (3Star) ‘05  Mosel

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