(the series finally gets serious)
So now we're down to brass tacks. We have Keith Levenberg's list of Vitis vinifera rooted vineyards. And we know Thomas Jefferson loved Bordeaux. We're so close to the goal line you can almost taste the freshly cut grass, loamy soil and chalky, graphitic elements of the limestone (for our slower readers, that's a little tasting note joke; the bouquet of endzone). So, of course, it would be at this juncture where we hit a snag.
No one from Bordeaux makes the list.
There are a few vineyards that have proved immune to our pesky little invader. But many of the vineyards on Levenberg's list are an experimental race against time. It turns out, you can plant vines on their own roots, and grow perfectly good grapes even with Phylloxera already present in the soil. It's only after about 25 years, give or take a decade, that the infestation become life-threatening. Unfortunately, this is right about the time when the grapes start getting really good. So some vintners are willing to roll the dice, see how far they can stretch production. Others play a rotation game, re-planting in cycles. But if you have dirt as preciously over-valued as Bordeaux, you aren't playing games with it.
So what are we to do?
Come on. It's a thought-experiment. How hard could it be to think our way around this dilemma? Bordeaux is a blend of (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And there's plenty of Cabernet Franc on Levenberg's list. We'll start there. Fill in the other grapes as we go.
For anyone who thinks this is cheating. Get over it. Wines made from ungrafted vines are enormously interesting. And neglected by collectors and connoisseurs. Which means you can find some amazing bargains. The Carl Schmitt-Wagner Riesling grown on ungrafted vines planted in the 19th century is $20. Twenty bucks!! The own-rooted Pierre & Catherine Breton, Bourgueil Franc de Pied is only a few bucks more. And both are sensational. Morever, as we can't be more precise, we'll just have to try to drink as many of these wines as we can. Then seek a calculus of varied experience that trend toward an answer.
That in mind, the Lab has chosen as its first "Jefferson bottle" a 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon, Les Varennes du Grand Clos Franc de Pied (K&L Wines, $43). According to the winemaker's website, "the production methods used to make this experimental cuvée, born with the 1986 vintage are still kept secret." Which is simultaneously sexy and lame. But the Joguet house employs organic and sustainable farming, picks by hand and produces only single-vineyard wines. Jefferson would have been down.
Our Lab notes: We probably opened this 10 years too early. It's a deep garnet color, almost indigo, and iridescent on the fringe. A tight, green nose of plum jam, dusty coriander and fresh turned earth. A impeccably balanced wine, even with the sour bite of young tannins. Fruit and stones turn a tight, harmonious... (given context, gotta be a) Virginia Reel. It's impossible to extricate fruit from mineral. Is it chalky cherry or plummy granite? Perhaps it's mere projection, but this wine has a discernible purity and a racing vitality. It is a subtly beautiful wine.
Jefferson would definitely have been down.
We'll be doing this again.
(antique claret image: © Mikko Pitkänen | Dreamstime.com )