A Wine of Note: Domaine du Centaure

Pinot Gris 2015, Domaine du Centaure, Dardagny, Geneva

Every once in a while a pinot gris comes along that, at least for a moment, revives my flagging interest in this exasperating variety. Such is the epic dilution and diminution of this pinot mutant.

In Italy where it’s known as pinot grigio it’s blandness is nearly writ into law. In Alsace, where it’s most celebrated, it manages to walk the high wire between dry and sweet with barely enough aplomb to stay upright and relevant. In Oregon, with a few exceptions, the cost of marginally interesting wine is measured in degrees of bland sweetness. A few outliers in New Zealand and Germany are straddling the great divide but not consistently so.

Perhaps it’s time we turn to Switzerland. This past year alone has brought many excellent examples to my attention—from Adank, Pircher, Wegelin, Cru de l’Hôpital and von Tscharner. All of them with enough body, flavor and aroma to be of mainstream interest and possessed of the wherewithal to be dry.

Not to be outdone is Claude Ramu’s skin-influenced, hot fermentation, orange wine look-a-like from his outpost of neglected cultivars in Dardagny outside of Geneva. This is a man who numbers kerner, müller-thurgau, scheurebe, aligoté and cabernet dorsa among his roster of orphans but his pinot gris is one of the cool kids.

To be real many of Ramu’s whites tend to be too sweet. That doesn’t mean they’re not well made—they are. It’s a taste thing. But in 2015 he has hit a home run. His pinot gris has orange wine street cred without the baroque cider and overly volatile extravagances. It’s appropriately bitter giving context to its lurid stew of fruit. It’s a wine that after several consecutive bottles continues to dazzle and, I believe, will continue to do so. At 13.50 CHF a bottle it’s an unbelievable steal.

The Wine: Ruddy, coppery, orange in color. Endlessly fascinating aroma of dried fruit, mandarin peel, nuts, butter and green tea. Yes, all of that and more with the insinuation of Christmas spices of particular note. The palate is broad and textured with buttered pear and fruit confit flavors. Real power with a suggestion of sweetness but ultimately dry. This seems so precariously balanced that any one element that goes rogue could throw the whole thing off kilter. This gives many an Alsatian example a lesson or two in what I would call extreme balance. So much packed into 70 cl of 13% alcohol wine. Amazing.

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