Fri 11 Jan 2008
What a relief to drink a nice, clean, fresh, crisp Saint-Véran after the California white wines I’ve been trying for the past week. I don’t mean just chardonnays, the dead horse that I flog relentlessly, because most white wines from California tend to be bigger, bolder and brighter than their European counterparts, and I’m talking about the examples that I like.
I was fortunate, for example, to taste more white Burgundies than usual last year, mainly from 2004 and 2005, and no matter how rich they were, no matter how deep and layered and textured, none of them was over-wrought, none of them was sodden with the excessive oak and tropical fruit and dessert-like flavors that make many chardonnays from California so cloying that they’re undrinkable. And those are the kinds of wines — at least some of them — that I tried last week, though there were also a few that were beautifully, impeccably made, by which I mean, naturally, that they displayed perfect balance among all elements: fruit, acid, oak; flavor, texture, structure. You can read reviews of 12 California white wines — ratings vary from Excellent to Avoid — here.
Anyway, as I was saying, after some of these hard-hitting white wines, it was almost thrilling to drink a bottle of the Domaine Perraud Saint-Véran Vieilles Vignes 2005 with a simple Italian chicken soup with pasta, spinach and Parmesan cheese and a beaten egg whipped into each bowl. I guess that qualifies as Italian egg-drop soup. The wine combined many elements of lemon — fresh lemon with touches of roasted lemon and lemon curd — along with a hint of jasmine, a touch of spice and loads of limestone that practically vibrated from the vigorous acid that kept the whole package taut and lively. I immediately want to take back the word “taut,” though, because that makes it sound as if the wine were not also dense and smooth and silky, which it certainly was, the point being that as with most enjoyable white wines the slight tug-of-war between crispness and density was exhilarating. This is the second bottle of the Perraud V.V. Saint-Veran ’05 that we’ve had in three months, and both times it was delightful. North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca. I rate it Very Good+. About $18-$20.
Here are two more wines from Saint-Véran that I tried last night.
The Saint-Véran 2006 from the Cave de Prissé delivers a bouquet that you want to swim in or dab behind your ears. Apple, pear and lemon, lime peel, limestone and jasmine and a touch of smoke combine for a boundlessly appealing beginning for this wine. It’s crisp and lively and notably earthy and minerally, with roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors set into a bracing and austere limestone and shale structure. In the mouth, actually, this Saint-Véran doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its bouquet, but it’s still an attractive and tasty accompaniment to grilled fish and fresh seafood. William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va. Very Good. About $16.
The venerable house of Joseph Drouhin offers a Saint-Véran 2005 that’s unusually bright and lively, with lemon, lime and pear scents and flavors etched with beguiling notes of clove and ginger. The wine is very dry and crisp, quite earthy and minerally, and so pure and intense that it feels crystalline. The finish is stony, steely and austere. Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co, New York. Very Good+. About $12.50-$16.
Saint-Véran, to touch on geographical matters, lies in the southernmost reaches of Burgundy, between Mâconnais and Beaujolais. Only the chardonnay grape is allowed. The wines are best consumed within one to three years of the vintage. Pouilly-Fuissé, which produces wines of greater character and longevity, is a separate appellation within Saint-Véran.