Domaine Alain Gras St.-Romain Rouge 2009
Available at Mt. Kisco Wines and Spirits
Approximate retail cost: $35
French Wines: The Art of the Struggle
It may surprise you to learn that the most intriguing and distinctive French wines are produced from vines that have “struggled” to produce their fruit. Perhaps they endured a period of drought or had to eek out an existence in a marginal planting site (picture a vineyard meeting up against imposing geological structures like steep slopes that drop off to rocky edges, and you’ll get the idea). While these stressful spots offer obvious challenges in terms of vineyard maintenance, they also represent interesting opportunities for les vignerons. Take, for example, Alain Gras, one of Burgundy’s top growers, whose St.-Romain vineyards, at 400 meters (about 1,312 feet) above sea level, have mastered the art of the struggle. Alain’s vines have to contend not only with a higher altitude but also with limestone cliffs as their terrain, which forces their root systems to negotiate and penetrate the rock to extract the requisite amount of moisture and minerals in order to reproduce.
The miraculous part isn’t that they find a way to survive in the limestone cliffs but that they actually thrive in their edgy environment. This sort of struggle encourages the vines to concentrate their energy on fruit production rather than leaves and shoots, and, moreover, as many experts will swear, it is the struggle that gives the grapes their character. Alain Gras’s St.-Romain pinot is distinctive, even within the Côte de Beaune, for its cool minerality, very pretty perfume and ripe fruit, none of which happened by accident.
His 2009 vintage is garnet to violet in color and has a nose of fresh red raspberries and sweet cedar, with a burst of acidity on the palate both focusing the fruit and supporting it with lots of limestone-y minerality. There is little if any taste of oak, but the texture of the wine suggests a seamless integration of neutral oak with just a hint of new oak. Since all the components of the wine are harmonious and the resulting purity so refreshing, this St.-Romain is an excellent food-friendly Burgundy.
Domaine Alain Gras is delicious proof that vines that struggle make more interesting wines. From the chilly northern reaches of Alsace to the fierce mistral tearing through the southern Rhône—what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
Enjoy this St.-Romain with oeufs en meurette, salmon, roasted chicken, pheasant or quail.
Editor’s note: Food and wine lovers heading to Paris might want to try one of the Girls’ Guide’s favorite cooking classes.