An Excellent Evening with Ansonia Wines & Friends

26 Mar

I’m a very happy person by disposition, though I’ve been known to have my emo moments.  However, one thing I have learned about myself is that I very rarely like the place I am until it’s time to leave.

For instance, I spent four and a half years in Berkeley, and it wasn’t until my last year that I truly started to enjoy it.  Suddenly, its wonders started presenting themselves to me like a blossom of gastronomic joy.  Where the hell was Gregoire all my life?  Why didn’t I go to Kermit Lynch before?

I am also a native of the Los Angeles region–Alhambra and South Pasadena, to be exact–but I can’t say I truly loved LA until I left for law school here in DC.  Now I love LA; every moment I spend there on break is a little blessing.

You might have heard me railing on DC.  I’ve always had the feeling that it’s trying to be like many different cities but failing.  I hate the crazy humidity of the summer, and I don’t like the absolute lack of tall buildings.  I hate how the Metro closes early–or at all–and how the bars close early.  I also don’t consider myself a very political person, which considering the town is not such a good thing.

However, DC has begun to grow on me.  There are little pockets of DC, a coffee shop here or a restaurant there, an alleyway here or a circle there, that I love.  Of course, one can choose to explain this cynically by pointing out that every city has its charms.  Still, I think I’ll be missing Amsterdam Falafelshop a lot once I leave DC.

There are other places, too.  Last Saturday Ansonia Wines was having a special open house where they were pouring old favorites and new selections they had picked up on their recent trip to Southern France.

The center island at Ansonia Wines.

Ansonia Wines is a boutique wine shop that specializes in French wines, putting a particular emphasis on Burgundy though they do have a good Southern Rhone selection, as well as a few offerings from Bordeaux, Alsace, and Italy.  It’s a family-run affair, with the father Mark (a Philadelphia lawyer for over twenty years) having run a successful wine importing business for years and years, providing wines to such high-end DC restaurants as Komi, CityZen, and Citronelle, and the son Tom (recently graduated from college) opening up the retail location just this past December.

They import wines from small but renowned producers like Michel Gros and Roger Belland, who produce red and white Burgundies that will take your breath away.  Two of their wines were recently reviewed quite favorably by The Washington Post, and I personally have had the opportunity to try many of their wines because I am now their manager-on-retainer (this being a one-person retail store, I fill in whenever Tom needs to take time off).  But I was looking forward to the open house because they were pouring some new wines from their buying trip.

My law school friend Giri–a oenophile who besides working as an engineer in Detroit’s automobile industry worked in wine retail for man years–and I met up at Ansonia where, among teeming throngs of people, we were served a new Cremant d’Alsace made from Chardonnay.  Delicious, rich, and full–a Champagne masquerading as a Cremant.  We were then served a number of other wines, such as the excellent 2004 Chateau Destieux, a Grand-Cru Bordeaux that offered seducing notes of plum, cedar, and graphite, a simple but refreshing Chardonnay from Domaine Albert Sounit, and the 2007 Domaine les Goubert Sablet, a pure, mid-bodied red that went down smooth.

However, the big standouts from the open house were two Gigondas from the same domaine.  Honestly, I love Domaine les Goubert–their L’Inedit (the “unedited” or “original”), described by the winemaker as a “man’s wine,” really is, with assertive dark fruits, flannel, strong yet balanced tannins, and warm spreading finish–and its offerings.  Goubert has two different styles of Gigondas, one made traditionally with no oak (no oak!) and the other, its “Cuvee Florence” (named after the winemaker’s daughter), seeing upwards of 24 months in 50% new French oak.

Ansonia offers a number of different vintages in both.  I had picked up the ’89 Gigondas ($42) to try on a special occasion but managed to get a little taste of it.  Intriguing, with a funky umami.  They were also serving the ’94 Cuvee Florence ($69), which had the same qualities but seemed brighter.  By this point Giri and I were joined by my friend Waiching and her friend Mark, not to mention the dozens of people who cycled in and out of the store.

Sufficiently soused up, we purchased quite a few bottles: a 2007 Domaine Annie Claire Forest Pouilly-Fuisse (one of my “Wines of the Week”), two bottles of a new Cotes-du-Rhone Village from Domaine Coulange, two bottles of Cremant, and–gasp!–a bottle of the ’94 Cuvee Florence.

We had already had a big evening, but the evening was about to get better.  The four of us stumbled back to my place, where my roommate Alex was recovering from a half-marathon he had run that morning.  I whipped together a relatively quick meal of mushroom cream chicken, cooked in my new enameled ceramic covered casserole, roasted brussels sprouts, and rice.  During the hour cooking and prep time, as well as during the meal and after, we had wine and more wine.

We downed the Pouilly-Fuisse–pretty as ever.  The Domaine Coulange Cotes-du-Rhone Village (around $15) was juicy, fruity, and gave the impression of sweetness.  Altogether a solid wine, especially for those who don’t like their wines too brooding.  But I was waiting impatiently for the Gigondas.  Both Gigondas.  Hell, if I wasn’t going to drink the ’89 now, I would never drink it.

So that was opened and poured into our glasses.  Swirl, swirl, and sniff.  Dark stewed prune on the nose.  Swirl, swirl, sip.  Prune, umami, baking spices, Japanese red bean jelly.  The color was almost brick-red.  I’ve seen older wines described as faded and brown around the edges, but I had never seen it before.  The ’89 definitely fit this description.  Altogether a pleasant wine but one that should be drunk now–I think it has reached its peak.

The ’94 was awaiting us.  Pour, swirl, swirl, sniff.  More of the same as the ’89.  Swirl, swirl, sip.  It had the same general qualities of the unoaked ’89, but this was simply brighter, juicier, and more vibrant.  There was a strong backbone as well from the oak.  There was a good undercurrent of acidity to it that kept things lively.  Very, very, very good and worth every penny.

I couldn’t tell whether I liked the ’94 better because it was younger, oaked, or just qualitatively different than the ’89.  I would like to try Goubert’s Gigondas from the same vintage to make sure.  However, I will stake a claim at this time and say that I would prefer the Cuvee Florence style versus the more traditional style.  Of course, this might change upon further examination.

The rest of the evening?  More wine, followed by glasses of German brandy and hand-rolled cigarettes on the roof courtesy of Mark.  I might not like DC as much as Berkeley or LA, but after a night like that it’s certainly growing on me.

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3 Responses to “An Excellent Evening with Ansonia Wines & Friends”

  1. Shea March 27, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    Great post Joon. And the store and wines sound fantastic. I’ll be in DC for my best friend’s wedding in October so any recos for wine stores and bars to check out. Ansonia is on my list.

    • vinicultured March 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

      The store is pretty fantastic. For someone who knows his wine–such as yourself–it’s the equivalent of a circa-80s record store for the audiophile.

      If you have some extra time in October, hit me up. I’ve got a nice little wine crew going here and we always like to find more people to drink with!

  2. Shea March 29, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Sounds good – I’ll let you know. It’d be nice to finally meet!

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