Suggestions for a “Frugal Cellar” from Becky Wasserman-Hone.
By Louis Marmon
Washington DC Examiner January 1, 2009
I love wine. I love expensive wine and I love value-oriented wine. Unfortunately, the latter does not always garner the attention it deserves. But given the economic challenges facing us for at least the immediate future, my New Year’s resolution is to readjust my wine expectations.
The pursuit of trophy wines and dreams of first-growth Bordeaux must take a back seat to stocking my cellar with well-made wines at reasonable prices. There are numerous delicious, good-value wines being made, but they take a bit of effort to and, because the best examples are often from unfamiliar producers or are created from unheralded varietals.
Rebecca Wasserman-Hone has been a tireless advocate of lesser-known wines for decades. Becky moved from the U.S. to France in 1968, where she quickly made friends with such Burgundy luminaries as Romanee-Conte’s Aubert de Villaine and Rene Mugneret from Vosne Romanee. In the 1970s she started selling French oak barrels to the burgeoning California wine trade, and this eventually morphed into a wine exporting business, Le Serbet, focusing on smaller estates.
Le Serbet has a team of seven including her husband, Russell Hone, as “company father, chef and grand allocator,” along with her son Peter as “consultant and traveling evangelist.” The wines Le Serbet will export are often chosen over lunch with their motto as “Non vendimus quod non bibimus”: “We don’t sell what we don’t drink.” Becky has famously said that selling wine requires “the zeal of a missionary, the stubbornness of a mule, a large sense of humor and the ability to change clothes in a telephone booth.”
Besides Burgundy, Le Serbet’s current portfolio includes high-quality, reasonably priced wines from Champagne, Rhone, Languedoc, Loire, Alsace and Provence. Becky is so well-regarded in the wine trade that many will buy her wines based nothing more than her name as the exporter on the back label.
Becky first suggested the concept of a “frugal cellar” years ago during a smaller economic turndown. “There are so many excellent and inexpensive French wines to drink,” she said recently. “Some are out of fashion, others seem almost too cheap to drink but are still domaine bottled. Perhaps these next months will open the door for them.” Her first suggestion is a white wine made from the Aligote grape in the Bouzeron district located in the northern aspect of Burgundy’s Cote Chalonnaise. The Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2006 ($24) is terrific with apple and floral aromas that lead into softly textured green apple and pear favors with lovely balanced acidity. Minerals and a hint of saltiness at the end make this perfect to pair with seafood.
Becky also recommends a “top Muscadet,” which is another marvelous seafood wine that has fallen out of favor. Produced at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean in the Loire Valley, the best are allowed to rest “sur lie” before bottling to round out the wine and enhance the aromas of sea breeze and citrus. An excellent example is the organically farmed, lime-and-pear-scented Michel Delhommeau Muscadet de Serve et Maine Sur Lie Cuvee Harmonie 2007 ($14), which has rich apple and pear notes along with the characteristic ocean saltiness of the varietal.
For a less expensive alternative to Champagne, she suggests a Cremant de Bourgogne produced by Maison Parigot et Richard. Located in the heart of Burgundy within Savigny-les-Beaune, it produces a number of delightful sparkling wines including the Maison Parigot et Richard Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc NV ($20), a blend of Chardonnay and Aligote with spicy citrus and biscuit flavors. Its other value-priced, well-made offerings include the lovely Maison Parigot et Richard Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc NV ($20) made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligote as well as the 100 percent Pinot Noir Maison Parigot et Richard Cremant de Bourgogne Rose NV ($22) which is softer and more delicate than the champagne version with red berry and strawberry notes.
Her final proposals are perennial bargains. Cru Beaujolais are fruit-forward, food-friendly wines produced from the Gamay grape that are consistently overlooked by American consumers. These are not the thin, one-dimensional “Nouveaux Beaujolais” travesties that are released each November as a marketing ploy. The Cru Beaujolais refer to 10 specific locations along the base of the Beaujolais mountains that produce profoundly more flavorful and longer lasting wines that often do not have the word “Beaujolais” on the label.
Each Cru’s characteristics are different, with distinct favors and body. The lighter ones (such as Broully and Regnie) match nicely with pasta and chicken while the more full-bodied Crus (Morgon, Juliena and Moulin-a-Vent) work well with hamburgers, brisket and lamb. The first-rate Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jeans Descombes 2007 ($15) has gorgeous floral aromas, blackberry and blueberry flavors, and a lingering rich finish. Blueberry and plum notes predominate in the tasty Georges Duboeuf Brouilly 2007 ($15), while the Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Flower Label 2007 ($14), is silky smooth with cassis and red berry flavors.
As you can see, drinking well does not have to cost a lot of money; it just requires a little assistance. With Becky’s help, my New Year’s resolution will be easy to keep …this year.
Happy New Year.