Spandex Surprise: Finding Exceptional Champagne (and wines) by bike

In a few reviews out there on Claude Alexander wines (Fredericksburg, Texas), one of the first things you’ll read about it is the enticing sign posted in front of a trailer (not even a double wide), “Our tasting room may suck, but our wines don’t.”  I had to go in, if nothing else but to mock the audacity of bold Texans.

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The sign didn’t lie.  Owner (from Montreal, not Hill Country, Tx) Claude poured the entire line up of wines himself, humoring my cycling entourage as we tasted French varietals in the shade. After a week of turbulent weather, bold bbq, and sharing the good ol’ Hotel 6 with three other people, the delicacy of a wide spectrum of delicate and complex wines was a treat.

Seamus Heaney wrote “The fact of the matter is that the most unexpected and miraculous thing in my life was the arrival in it of poetry itself.” I would slightly slow Heaney’s assertion and say the arrival of the unexpected is sometimes poetry itself. In life, in wine and in friends.  This wine was one of those times; as are dear friends.

One such friend–a co-worker in MN–was about to jet off to another life, and I brought the Alexander Valley Extra Brut Grand Cru Champagne by Robert Moncuit to a private dinner.

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Delicate, complex and balanced, as is my friend, the wine paired well with a mix of gratitude, sadness, celebration and crisp Minnesota night.  The wine was dry, light fruit flavors of pear and green apple, but has the signature taste of lees–which translates to brioche in the most delicious ways.

You’re right, this wine is not from Texas (conjuring some Lyle Lovett), but it is from the Champagne region in France, having undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, and so it can sport the label of “Champagne”–(trust me, I asked a few times).

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I would give up a morning workout for this wine–and another night with now relocated friends.  If you have the ability, try out this wine; order it (it’s a great deal in the $50s) from Claude Alexander wines, but better yet–roll up on a bike and try out the entire line of wines from the unassuming wine tasting room.

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The Gold Standard-Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004

Like a symphony orchestra that gave me the chills with notes of lingering melancholia; or a poem I strain my ears to hear so that I might remember the words as I do old friends; or a sunset I dared not blink through in case I missed the next hue that would top what came before,  this Meursault (White Burgandy, Chardonnay) rivaled all great moments that have caused me to painfully concentrate on its moments of joy.

I know–that’s a lot of expectation to bestow upon a wine, but like all great and welcome surprises, I wasn’t prepared to be enamored.

The setting: I could wane about a terrible trip I had had leading up to this wine, but I prefer to recall the spectacular August night of Minnesota, with a well-cooked filet mignon and quiet company, this wine was a great point of punctuation to what rivals perfection.

The wine:  Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004-Nicolas Patel hails from Nuit-Sant-Georges, the northern part of the Cote d’Or (“slope of gold”) in France’s Burgandy region, and as I already set the expectation earlier in this post, it was the perfect wine for the perfect night.

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Served chilled, but not overly cold, the wine was full-bodied, rich in texture and taste.  The wine was at first subdued butter, but surrendered to mineral tones that lingered on the pallet, and marked a delicate balance with it’s citrus and almond notes that came through the medium plus acidity.  While I could have had the wine on it’s own, it held its own in body against filet mignon (cooked in butter) and its acid and fruit flavors played well off of the steamed and season cabbage, of all things!

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The wine was a suspended note of gold wrapping that made me want to linger in the moment longer that what was possible.  Yet, as Robert Frost wrote of gold, it is the hardest hue to hold and ultimately, cannot stay.  But, the good news is the wine is still on the shelf, and will hopefully bring future good memories to bear.

The good (or bad?) bottom line: You can find this in Minnesota.  I found mine at Haskell’s, Maple Grove (Retail: $30-50, depending on sale).

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