Where does it come from:
The origin of Altesse has been the subject of some debate. It has been suggested that it's identical to Furmint, the noble Hungarian variety used to make the great sweet wine Tokaij. However others suspect that it is indigenous to the hills of Savoie. Today there are fewer than 1,000 acres under cultivation, mostly in France, though there is a small quantity in Switzerland.
What's it like for the farmer:
Altesse needs gentle care, as it is quite to susceptible to the most common forms of grape rot.
Edmunds St. John, Gamay Noir, "Bone-Jolly,"
El Dorado Country, California, 2012
Distributor: David Bowler Wines, 119 W. 23rd Street, Suite 703,
New York, NY 10011
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At Blue Ribbon, we have met a lot of growers and a lot of winemakers over the years. It's important to us to have that connection with the person playing the conduit from vine to glass. Over 22 years, we have met few that we like more than Steve Edmunds, veteran urban-winemaker extraordinaire. Steve has been producing wine from a series of Berkeley warehouses since the mid-1980s and is one of the original Rhone Rangers, a group of California vintners who dedicated themselves to producing Old World-style wines from Rhone Varieties when most of the state was worshipping at the altar of Cabernet and Chardonnay. But most importantly, he is one of the nicest people one will ever meet, generous and endlessly curious.
While Steve still produces some of the most classic, elegant Syrah anywhere in California, this week we are focusing on something that has become his calling card in the late era of his career: his Gamay project known as "Bone-Jolly." Steve has long been a Beaujolais acolyte and always suspected that the ancient granite soils that produced some of the fine Syrah that he was accustomed to working with might produce equally fine Gamay. So in 1999 he found a friend willing to plant some for him up in the Sierra Foothills and set about making a wine that has become a benchmark for the variety in the US, let alone the state and has given rise to several other bottlings.
Steve likes this wine every year and so do we, but it's very clear from the moment one puts nose to glass that the 2012 is something special. It seems bright and fun at first glance, with plenty of red fruit up front. But sit with it a moment and it starts to become something more serious and elegant, as herbal notes come forward. The classic varietal acidity and a mineral character reminiscent of chalk dust keep your palate from wearing out and will likely age well.
A great deal has been written about all the exciting developments in recent years in California viticulture (some of it here on this very page). Steve Edmunds' Gamay Noir is a major milestone in that progression, a signal sent up to the next generation that there is life beyond what is usual. They owe him a debt of gratitude and for a wine like this, so do we. Come by this week and check it out. We think you'll be very glad you did.
Wine Director, Blue Ribbon Restaurants