Friday, May 22, 2015

(VDNs = Vins Doux Naturels)

I fully admit that until recently, in my tiny Wineau mind, VDNs seemed the poor man's Sauternes or Madeiras—sweet dessert wines with little identifying character, fine in a pinch on a sparse wine list.

And now, my tiny Wineau mind IS BLOWN.

"Aha," you ask, "is this another article about how technology and advances in winemaking techniques have re-shaped a wine region?" Nope. The Roussillon in southern France (where VDNs are made) is a very old, historic region, with little-to-no modern innovation.

"Then is this about the discovery of a 'new' wine variety that truly shines in the locale?" Nope. There are over 20 classic red and white grapes used in making VDN, always have been.

"So what's the big deal?" You ask in exasperation. Calmez-vous, my dear Wineaux, and read on.

Like the Purloined Letter (except without the Poe-ian mystery,) Vins Doux Naturels are kind of hiding in plain sight. These are fortified sweet wines with such complexity of character, acidic balance, and relatively low alcohol that they are a revelation, especially when paired with food. And boy, do they pair with all kinds of food: from ceviche to Beef Bourguignon to a fig and hazelnut poundcake.

At a recent tasting led by Caleb Ganzer, sommelier at Compagnie de Vins Surnaturels in NYC, I got to taste six very different VDNs paired with a range of dishes at Corkbuzz Wine Studio. The entire experience left me gobsmacked, which doesn't happen very often. I rushed home to start writing, for as Caleb said, "No one's probably going to stumble on these by themselves—they need to be introduced to VDNs by someone in the know." So, as someone now in the know, here you go!

2009 AOP VDN Banyuls, Domaine de la Rectoire, Cuvee Léon Parcé: Very dark cherry/ruby color. Crushed raspberries, spice, rose petal perfume on the nose. Very tasty! Black cherry, raspberry, cigar leaf, sage, loooong finish. You sense the elevated alcohol, but it's integrated and smooth. Fresh and cheeky, with good acidity and minerality. 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Grenache Gris, 10% Carignan, from 50+ year old vines. ~$45/500ml

2012 AOP VDN Muscat de Rivesaltes, Château Les Pins: Medium gold color. Nose of litchi, honeysuckle, orange marmalade, and pear; those notes with peach, chamomile, and spice (white pepper, cinnamon,) on the palate. Delish! Noticeable sugar but good acidic balance. Verrrry spicy. 50% Muscat des Petit Grains, 50% Muscat d'Alexandria ~$18

2005 AOP VDN Rivesaltes Ambré, Domaine Singla, Heritage Du Temps: "Ambré" = started as a white wine and allowed to oxidize. Medium marmalade/copper color. Brittle and taffy on the nose, brown butter, liquid caramel, bit of spice, dark honey, carrot cake. Romantic and luxurious. The "sweetest" so far, but again, the acidity elevates it. 100% Macabeu. ~$N/A but around 45-50.

2000 AOP VDN Banyuls Grand Cru, L'Etolie: Medium-plus tawny brick color. Raisin, fig, prune elements, with a smoked meat/iodine savoriness. Pairs incredibly well with savory foods. Great balance of fruit/structure/sweetness. Finessed and complex. A fave. 75% Grenache Noir, 15% Grenache Gris, 10% Carignan, aged 10 years in old oak. ~$45

AOP VDN Maury, Domaine Pouderoux, Hors d'Age: Medium maroon-brown color. Light dried fruit, minerals, florals. Part oxidized, part reduced. Outrageous combination of flavors, smooth, pairs wonderfully with an array of foods, long finish and rich character. 100% Grenache Noir, aged 15 years. ~$40

1974 AOP VDN Rivesaltes Ambré, Constance et Terrassous: Medium brownish dark copper with red highlights. Very sherry-like nose, bit of bourbon, mountain florals, toasted nuts, caramel, toffee, dried fig. Whisky feel. Zingy acidity, but smooth and luxurious. Outrageously long finish. Somewhat Madeira-like. My notes say, "This is my boyfriend. I love him." 50% Grenache Blanc, 50% Grenache Gris. ~$150.

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Pique your interest? I hope so. How amazing to sip wines that are fortified and sweet—but are not necessarily "dessert" wines. They also blend well in a range of cocktails! VDNs will last quite a while after opening, so you can sample them with multiple dishes over time. And considering what you get in return, they are excellent values. So seek out some VDNs, and you will definitely impress your friends.


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