Comfort Wines

When a death in the family hits you hard, you immediately look for things and people to comfort you. Friends and family come to the rescue, reminding us of how rich we are in real terms, not monetary or material ones. And we turn to those things which inspire and impassion us to help us through the difficult times.

Seeking to celebrate the memory of my deceased aunt, who enjoyed life to the fullest (hmmm… must run in the family), I turned to what I would term “comfort wines”. For me, of course, this would be Burgundy and Champagne. However, the stores in this part of the US are sorely lacking in interesting bubbly, leaving me no choice but to open a few of my Burgundies and the occasional Rhône.

My go-to red Burg down in FL is one I stocked up on a few years ago and which has never led me astray: the 2005 de Villaine Côte Chalonnaise la Digoine. Its white counter-part is the 2004 Carillon Puligny Montrachet. Both of these offer huge bangs of pleasure for the buck.

The Digoine was beautiful from the get-go, and as a vehicle for pleasure delivery, this lived up to its promise. It got better as it breathed, with lovely earthy cherries wrapped in a silken, minerally structure that ended with a long finish. Absolutely yummy, and look at that, I’ve got some more left!

The Carillon was absolutely crispy at first, with an almost quartz-like mineral structure wrapped in lemon zest. As it warmed up, almond skins and green apples rounded it out, giving it a soft wrapping of a steely skeleton with a medium finish. And as it breathed more, and seemed to gather more and more strength on itself, becoming an absolutely swoonaliciously good wine. Damn, that was my last bottle!

Then I found something interesting, something I’d heard about for a long time but had never had. Not that I was really looking that hard, but I had always wanted to taste de Villaine’s famed Aligote. This grape usually doesn’t make awe-inspiring wines, but, as with all things, something good can come of it in the right hands. Aligote from good producers can be quite nice. And despite the insinuations of those around me, I actually do have an open palate (and mind!).

At first sniff, the 2005 de Villaine Bouzeron Aligote, a somewhat deep golden-colored wine offers hints of wax and white flowers, wrapped in Granny Smith apples, but ripe ones. On the palate, it’s got an interestingly waxy mouthfeel, reminding me of Chenin, but with more lemon and ripe apple taste than the Loire’s grape. As it breathes, more lemons and some almonds show up to drift in the air above the wine, and similar aspects appear on the palate. The acidity was a bit shrill, but the riper notes kept it in check, and the finish was somewhat long. Not bad, an interesting experiment.

Then, being in FL and right by the ocean, I picked up some fantastic-looking (and eventually tasting) scallops. I also happened upon a bottle of 2004 de Villaine Rully Les Saint Jacques. OK, so it’s a cheap tongue-in-cheek play on words. Apparently de Villaine seems to have flooded FL with his wines, and I have had the good fortune to find them all. Anyway, all you French-speakers are nodding, all you others are asking yourselves WTF is he talking about. Well, scallops in French is Saint Jacques, so I had scallops with a wine named after scallops. Sadly, that’s about as clever as I get, folks. Shows over.

So, on to the wine. On the nose, beautiful notes of ripe scallops (do those exist? Would I want to taste or smell them if they did? Whatever, it smelled like that), with lemon zest and some red apples, and a slight herbal note. The palate was lean but well-rounded, with sparkling acidity (it felt like little stars going off in my mouth, really neat and definitely interesting). Very Chablis-like, but at the same time not. Very cool.

As this past week has wound down, I’ve taken to opening anything except for my last Digoine, so now came the Rhône varieties. First up was a bottle of 2004 Domaine Gauby Le Soula Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. Interesting, to say the least. Ripe but not-too-ripe pineapple, bananas, lemons and some spicy hints on the nose. Some fat almonds showed up later as it breathed, adding some dimension and depth. The palate was not as fat as expected, surprisingly so considering where it’s from (near the border with Spain on the Mediterranean side). That pineapple carried through, as did the other aspects, but they were all presented on a mineral platter that helped balance the fruitier side of the wine. Very pleasant, though I would have liked a bit more acidity (then again, I am an acid freak).

Next came the 2004 Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes. Ooooh… This is a bruiser right from the get-go, but in that pleasant way that Chateauneuf can be in the right hands. Kirsch liqueur, brambles, cassis, some meaty notes and tons of dark cherries fill your nose, with just a hint of heat. It’s a medium-bodied wine despite this, with those aspects carried through onto the tongue in a slightly sweet/ripe envelope and ending with a coffee-esque finish that lasted a while. Again, there was a light hint of heat at the back, which was a bit disconcerting, but still, this was nice. As it sat in the glass, more of the meaty notes came out, as did a harissa, Middle-Eastern spice note, reminiscent of a lamb tagine’s smell right from the oven. Yum!

Overall, despite this being a pretty crappy 10 days, I have managed to reconnect with family from far afield, done some business, and tasted some pretty darn good wines. We toasted my aunt, who lived a wonderful life and was the epitome of elegance, both inner and outer. I smile as I write these words, knowing that she was always happy when surrounded by her family and friends. We are here now, surrounding her in memory.

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