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On renegade wines

Updated: May 16

We talk a lot about “typicity” in wine (or typicité if you want to get Gallic about it). When reviewers assess the quality of a given wine, or connoisseurs decide whether they want to invest in a couple cases, they’ll often ask whether it conforms to the standard of identity they’ve come to expect from a grape variety or a specific region.

But sometimes typicity isn’t quite enough to turn a great wine into a legend.

Some of the wines that we find most iconic today started out as deviations from the norm. They were made by renegades, iconoclasts, and risk takers who didn’t mind breaking the rules.

At a recent event––a milestone birthday party for one of our clients, a renegade in his own right!––we served a few shining examples.

We kicked off the evening with Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs, a tight, racy, citrusy Champagne that recalls tart white peaches and lemon-flecked brioche. (In case you were wondering, blanc de blancs just means “100% Chardonnay” (white made of white grapes). In addition to being delicious, Ruinart deserves some serious street cred … it’s the oldest champagne house that’s still running, dating back to 1729!

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ... always gets a crowd going!


Today Ruinart is about as classic as it gets, but that wasn’t always the case. Champagne, back then, wasn’t supposed to be bubbly. And most of it was red. The bubbles were an accident, caused by temperature shifts during transport that caused dormant yeast hibernating in the cold to wake back up. Dom Nicholas de Ruinart (the “Dom” we don’t hear about as much in champagne history) became fascinated by this new and vaunted “wine that bubbles”––the latest beverage trend to be gossiped about at the French court (not unlike CBD-infused things, or barrel-aged cocktails). Then Dom Ruinart decided to make his own at home.

Ruinart service at our event... nothing to see here; just business as usual


For the next course, we served Didier Dagueneau’s 2018 Silex, a sauvignon blanc so complex, subtle, and intensely focused that it’s like nothing you ever tried. Think a centripetal whirlwind of passionfruit, fig, and apricot converging into a concentrated mineral core. (Fun fact: “silex” is a type of soil famous in the area, which gives the wine a flinty, smoky character). The Silex is the brainchild of another industry renegade, the late, great Didier Daguenueu: motocross racer, dog-sledder, and all around iconoclast with a flaming mane of red hair. While wine-making ran in his family––they had an estate in Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire Valley, a region famous for sauvignon blanc––Dagueneau himself had no formal training in wine.

Dagueneau believed that sauvignon blanc was a miracle grape, but hard to get quite right. A few wrong turns, and the wine could taste like grass clippings and cat pee. When Didier released his first few vintages, he got slammed for using oak barrels and different types of yeast, which deviated from the region’s SOPs. But his wines soon achieved a cult following––and are tough to get your hands on today!

Game-changing sauvignon blanc


But perhaps the evening’s showstopper was the 2016 Sassicaia––the original Super Tuscan––and the gold standard, we think, in renegade wine. Back in the 1940s, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido decided to plant his vineyard with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc … the vineyard’s soil reminded him of the gravelly stuff you’d find on the left bank in Bordeaux. (Sassicaia, in case you were wondering, means “soil with many stones.”)

Sassicaia-rama


This was a no-no in Tuscany. Sangiovese was king in this part of the world, and wine made with these foreign varieties meant that you couldn’t get a prestigious government-designated label. Mario decided to roll the dice, and threw caution to the wind. When the wine was commercially released in 1968, wine lovers couldn’t get enough of it. Today, Sassicaia is one of the most sought after wines in the world.

That was a fun party … and a truly delicious one. Great wines that come with great stories can turn an already excellent party into a timeless occasion. If you’ve got an event coming up––a birthday, anniversary, graduation, retreat, or simply a gathering of friends––we’re here to help! Give us a shout at cotebruneandblonde@gmail.com

A happy client at the end of the night!


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