Escape the winter doldrums with wines with history

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Complain if you must about winter's lingering grip. But, with a little imagination, enjoying a bottle of wine offers a terrific escape from the doldrums.

Selecting wines with special personalities and stories opens gateways to the pleasures of new aromas and flavors. Such wines can evoke the distant landscapes and vineyards where hard-working, proud winegrowers produced the fruit behind the wines.

The wines need not carry high numerical scores. Instead, they only have to offer unaffected reflections of terroir, that is, unique places of origin. A simple bottle of wine then becomes a passport to a wider world far away in time from the immediate conditions.

Consider, for example, France's Jura region. It lies just East of France's famed Burgundy wine region; yet, most American wine consumers have little or no knowledge of Jura's stylish, utterly exceptional white wines. The 2007 Domaine de Montbourgeau l'Etoile “En Banode,” France (Luxury 48181; $33.99, Waterworks Store only) provides a terrific introduction.

The domaine nestles in rolling hills high up in the Jura Mountains. Predominant limestone and marl soils provide ideal conditions for producing white wines with rich mineral flavors and freshness.

When traveling in springtime through the little village of L'Etoile to visit Domaine de Montbourgeau, all appears quiet and turning green. The name “l'etoile” or “star” most likely refers to the plentiful starfish fossils found throughout the area's vineyards.

Montbourgeau's modest, yet comfortable, winegrower's house and cellars lie at the end of a long driveway flanked by tall trees and meadows. Mottled brown and white Montbéliard cows graze peacefully nearby against a backdrop of the Jura Mountains' peaks.

The engaging Nicole Deriaux manages the domaine with assistance from three sons. Deriaux's grandfather first planted the vines that today produce the marvelous blend of Chardonnay and the local savagnin grapes used for this wine.

After hand-harvesting, the fruit ferments in stainless steel to preserve freshness. Resting the wine on its residual lees — spent yeast — for 30 to 36 months in a combination of large oak foudres and smaller barrels adds complex creaminess. Notwithstanding slow evaporation, Deriaux never tops off the barrels.

The resulting, mildly oxidized wine offers enticingly complex aromas of nuts, green fruits and apples. Rich, round and ripe fruit flavors mingle with subtle creaminess, zesty mineral flavors and uplifting acidity. The wine's elegant, dry finish lingers pleasantly on the palate. Pair it with roasted chicken and mushrooms in a cream and white-wine sauce. Highly recommended.

The Loire River's placid, flat waters near the cities of Tours and Saumur suggest timeless calm. Not far away at the Château du Petit Thouars, the family makes terrific wines in a peaceful setting. But the family history encompasses a more adventurous and martial maritime bent.

Aristide du Petit Thouars served in the French Navy while fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Later, as ship captain in the Battle of the Nile, he lost both his arms and a leg to cannon fire. Before he died, he ordered the famous French tri-color flag nailed to the mast to prevent surrender.

His brother Aubert, a botanist in the royal nursery, helped establish the French protectorate in Tahiti. His nephew, Abel-Nicolas Bergasse du Petit Thouars, became an admiral and saw action in Peru and Japan.

Today Sébastien du Petit Thouars carries on the water-oriented tradition albeit in more peaceful fashion. He conducts wine-tasting river cruises in a traditional wooden, flat-bottom boat dubbed “L'Harrasay.” Selections include tasty wines such as the NV Château du Petit Thouars Crémant Brut Rosé, France (Luxury 46316; $19.99).

The wine comes from cabernet franc vines planted in 1975 by Yves and Marguerite du Petit Thouars. At the same time, they undertook the renovation of the elegant manor house complete with a traditional octagonal tower made from the local “tuffeau” limestone. That same limestone enables the cabernet franc grapes to ripen with lovely, juicy fruit balanced by refreshing acidity and elegant tannins.

This delightful sparkling rosé has a deep salmon-orange color flecked with persistent beads of fine bubbles. The aromas offer enticing floral and berry notes with light yeasty accents. Frothy berry flavors layer easily through the dry, elegant finish. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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