Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Joe Appel
You get a twofer today. I want to introduce more people to an importer of exceptional French wines, Cynthia Hurley, and it's time to think of wines for Thanksgiving. Happily, several of Hurley's wines I've recently drunk are not only remarkable in their own right, they also will make a splendid show at a Thanksgiving table.
Not so much because of specific Thanksgiving flavors, because what are those? Or what are they not? Thanksgiving, the most hotly anticipated food and wine event in the American calendar, is this: Everything. The traditional foods range freely over the flavor map, from fatty/meaty to acidulated green to sweet-savory. Then add internationalist takes on cranberries and squash to various alternatives that begin with "non-" (dairy, gluten, animal, etc.). And it's a rare Thanksgiving meal where all the dishes are even very good. Also, truly great wine pairings are quite rare, and the most we should hope for is absence of conflict.
With meals such as these -- copious, catholic, happily imprecise -- the key traits in compatible wines are more attitudinal than characterological. The appropriate enological attitude includes a preference for delicacy over power, adulation of balance rather than concentration, relatively high acidity and low alcohol.
And so, to France with Cynthia Hurley. She began importing wines from France roughly 30 years ago, focusing on very small estates (to this day, Hurley will bring in a wine even if only a few cases are available), and writing beautifully and passionately about them in a newsletter and blog.
Sadly, after a long bout with cancer, Cynthia passed away earlier this year. The business carries on, though, thanks to the hard work of her husband, Bob, and their daughter Margot, who clearly has inherited her mother's knack for writing along with a discerning palate.
Exceedingly rare among U.S. importers, Hurley imports exclusively grower-produced wines from family-run estates that hand-harvest and hand-vinify. No co-op wineries, no negociants (brokers of grapes and juice). I don't believe that co-ops and negociants are incapable of bringing about great wine, but I still admire Hurley's commitment to direct dealing with small, grower-focused estates. And all of these vignerons actively practice sustainable farming, much of it with organic viticulture.
The Hurley portfolio is extensive, and Mariner Beverages offers an impressive selection, only a few of which I have room to mention here. I urge you -- as always -- to shop according to a wine bottle's back label, where the importer is listed. Remember Hurley's name, for instance, next spring when you start to crave Muscadet (La Touche) and Sancerre (Laporte Chavignol).
Paul Kubler Pinot Blanc 2010, $20. Classic Pinot Blanc, quintessentially Alsatian in its richness and soft, stylish poise. Inattentively made Pinot Blanc suffers from a sagging, half-empty quality as well as meek acidity, so when you taste the inverse you recognize immediately a product of privileged soil, diligence and heart. The unoaked Kubler drives with determination, combining a subtly smoky quality with golden raisin and pineapple fruit, sea salt at the end.
Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray "Cuvee Silex" 2010, $23. It's relatively easy to say that Riesling is the ideal wine for Thanksgiving. Here's a vote for Vouvray instead. "Silex" means flint, and this cuvee (which pulls Chenin Blanc from 30 separate vineyard parcels, and rests on the lees for several months) expresses powerfully edgy flint and mineral gleam. The Loire's seashell-born bedrock shines through this extraordinarily pure, glistening, terroir-true wine, dry but super friendly. There's the classic Vouvray rich honey aspect too, and lemons and quiet peach. It will fascinate any Chenin nut, but just in case you'll be dining with family members or friends who aren't Chenin nuts, they'll love it too.
Domaine Clos Lumiere Cotes du Rhone 2010, $15. I love CdR for Thanksgiving because it appeals to the diner who always wants a certain red-wine savoriness and heft no matter what's on the table, while paying equal respect to the meal's need for balance and permeability. This wine, from 30 percent Syrah and the rest Grenache, much of it from 60-plus-year-old vines, is a terrific little everyday CdR, whose agrodolce mix of black-olive-y tang and sweet/deep jam leads straight to delight.
Couly-Dutheil, a spectacular Loire Valley estate, produces a crazy-rare Chinon blanc ($26) that I'd forgive you for running red lights without a seatbelt to get your hands on. It's Vouvray with the needles on 11. They also make a full-figured Chinon rose, and seven different red Chinons.
Their "Clos Autumnal" 2009 ($21) is a terrific reminder of just how good Cabernet Franc can be, especially in this unoaked, relatively light but still oozingly ripe iteration. Late-picked grapes ensure that the green-pepper aspect is tamed, while this varietal's naturally high acidity and natural flavors of violets and Oolong present a scrumptious, tantalizing wine. The legendary bon vivant Rabelais made his home in Chinon, and on Nov. 22, when Americans will be at their most Rabelaisian, they ought to be drinking this.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: