Best Wine of the Month Downtown Memphis

Your Monthly Wine Recommendation from Sommelier, Jake Smith

This month’s wine feature is a 2019 Chateau Le Puy "Duc des Nauves" from France.

When I was a child, my father – who was (and in many ways, still is) my greatest teacher in wine – once explained to me that the right bottle was just as good as traveling to another land. You didn’t need a ticket to ride or a travel guide – the right bottle of wine would transport you to another place and time just as surely as an airplane or a time machine.

It took me years to understand what he meant, but it also took a little bit of travel as well. Standing in a vineyard, or tasting a ripe berry from the vine – these were smells and tastes I had experienced thousands of times in bottles of wine, but it wasn’t until I was actually there that I understand how one-to-one and uncomplicated the concept of terroir really was. If a wine is well-made – if it is handled properly and allowed to express itself without being covered in additives and manipulation – then the smells and flavors of a plot of land in South Australia, or Monterey, or Tuscany were yours to enjoy. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but every once in a while, I do find myself transported by a bottle, and I can’t think of a better example than this month’s wine.

The Amoreaux family has been farming in Bordeaux for generations, but the estate that they manage – Chateau Le Puy – has been a working winery since the 17th century. Located on the “right bank” of the Gironde river – nearby famous communes such as Pomerol and St.-Émilion – Chateau Le Puy has defined the future of winemaking by staying firmly rooted in the past. There have never been any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides used on the property. They were among the first and most passionate defenders in Bordeaux of biodynamic practices – a weird-until-you-understand-it blend of organic farming and folk magic that is now considered the gold standard in viticulture. They also still utilize horse and plow to till their rows between the vines as a way to help maintain the lightness of the soil, allowing the roots of the vines to reach deep into the earth and draw water from the limestone bedrock.

In so many ways, Chateau Le Puy seems antiquated – perhaps even backwards. But their techniques and philosophy have caught fire in the world of winemaking, and the best part of all is that these are choices you can taste. No arbitrary decisions or moral victories here – just incredible, unmistakable aromas and flavors.

As a category, Bordeaux is defined by intensity – especially since the 1980’s, when Robert Parker came to prominence at the Wine Advocate and winemakers changed their styles and choice to enhance their ratings. This also came at a time when better and cheaper technology and more widespread information revolutionized the toolkit that the average vigneron had at their disposal. The result was higher alcohols, more ripeness, more extraction, more oak, more oxygen, more tannin, more everything. The trade-off, of course, was subtlety and terroir – and what a terroir to lose! Bordeaux is defined by estuarial soils – gravel, clay, and limestone working in unison to create an aroma that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. That aroma is on full display in the Duc des Nauves, a Merlot-based red wine that smells equally of cherry pits, dried rose potpourri, saddle leather, and rock quarry. The wine is also remarkably light on its feet, underscoring its ethereal acidity with a pervasive savoriness and soft tannins that would pair it equally well with a hearty olive-oil poached fish or a perfectly grilled rack of lamb.

In short, this wine is alive in a way that very few wines are. Tasting it and interacting with it is such a unique experience that – just for a moment – I can close my eyes and imagine that I am in my boots, a glass of wine in my hand, smelling the high tide in the nearby Gironde and the warmth of the evening sun on the gravel and the grape vines. I am reminded of my father’s words and of a wine’s power to transport us. I am content.

About Jake

Jake Smith is a Certified Sommelier (Level II) from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas and a Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educators, and serves as the Director of Operations for 117 Prime. As a hospitality professional, Jake’s highest priority is honing in on the details that help provide memorable experiences for our guests. Jake is a passionate lover of music, reading, travel, trying new techniques and recipes in his kitchen at home, and enjoying the company of his friends – often around a bottle (or two!) of wine.

*A 20% gratuity will be applied for reservations of six (6) or more guests. Offerings subject to change without notice. Printed menus may not always reflect accurate pricing, composition, or availability of all items. Proteins ordered at temperatures above “medium” (145° F) cannot be guaranteed for exact accuracy. No outside food permitted, with the sole exception of dessert items such as wedding or birthday cakes, confections, or pastries. There is a $2.50 fee per guest for cutting, serving, or plating any outside desserts. 117 Prime reserves the right to waive any policies, fees, or gratuities at management’s discretion.
**A $25 corkage fee will be applied per 750 mL of any wine brought in by guests and not purchased from the 117 Prime Wine List. Wines brought in by guests must not be available for purchase on the 117 Prime Wine List, with the exception of any wine that is at least ten (10) years older or younger than any vintage of the same wine currently printed on the 117 Prime Wine List. Any wines that fail to meet this exception are respectfully not permitted to be served on the premises unless their list prices are paid by the guest. 117 Prime reserves the right to waive any policies, fees, or gratuities at management’s discretion.

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