Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Terroirist Report

Wine Whiz Pierre Seillan Weighs In

Ah, the difference a letter can make, I reflect to myself as I sit, bemused, across the table from French winemaker Pierre Seillan.

A true flying winemaker in every sense of the term, Seillan is the man behind brooding, Bordeaux-inspired reds produced in no fewer than three countries. He has just explained his philosophy on “micro crus,” sub-plots within the best vineyard sites that yield small lots of wine that powerfully transmit the essence of the land, or terroir (ter-WAHR), as it’s often referred to in wine circles.

Seillan has just concluded his explanation by declaring, with aplomb, that he is “a terroirist.” He pauses after dropping the terroirist bomb and looks at me with a twinkle in his eye.

I sense I am supposed to laugh, so I do. It comes easily thanks to the fact that I have nine tempting glasses of the affable Frenchman’s wines fanned out in front of me, winking up from inside pristine Riedel stems. Just five minutes after meeting the man I am already perfectly at ease, a chuckle on my lips, and the tasting hasn’t even begun.

A man of many terroirs
Seillan began his wine adventure some 40 years ago at his family’s vineyard near Bordeaux in France. Their history in all things wine-related runs deep, with sometimes ironic twists that have shaped Seillan’s philosophical approach to viticulture.

One of these twists is the family’s recurring connection to the California wine industry. Seillan’s family first brought rootstock from American vines to France to combat the deadly vine disease Phylloxera, which attacks the roots of native French vines. About a hundred years later, a member of his family sent this same stock back to the US when vines planted here with French rootstock became infected with the same disease (grafting the French vines onto American rootstock was the solution in both cases).

Today, Seillan is as captivated with the terroir of Sonoma as he is with that near St. Émilion in France, where he produces wines under the label “Lassègue.” He is a partner in the Sonoma-area winery Vérité, a boutique producer of Bordeaux-style reds. To this impressive resume he adds an interest in the Tuscan estate Tenuta di Arcena, where he produces SuperTuscan-style blends under the name “Arcanum.”

Servant of the soil
A self-proclaimed “servant of the soil,” Seillan only makes wine from estate-grown fruit (meaning the land is owned by him and his partners), which he says allows him maximum control over the finished product. Which is a very good thing if you’re as obsessed as Seillan with capturing the nuances of a particular place in your glass. Read on for highlights from this very special tasting with a terroirist.

My Seillan favorites
Sonoma – 2003 Vérité “La Joie” Sonoma County, $150
This classy Cabernet Sauvignon-driven blend is modeled in the style of reds from the Bordeaux appellation Pauillac, where the celebrated wines of Château Latour and Château Lafite are crafted. Full-bodied with taut tannins, it offers up notes of raspberry-spiked brownies, fresh earth, tobacco and bell pepper. Drink now or hold.
specs: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

Bordeaux – 2003 Lassègue Saint Émilion Grand Cru, $50
Made just a stone’s throw from renowned St. Émilion producers including Château Cheval Blanc, this wine is wonderfully brooding and shows what Merlot is capable of in the right hands. Complex notes of dark plums, blackberries, cocoa and caramel are backed by essences of tobacco and pencil box. Good now but even better in 4-12 years.
specs: 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Tuscany – 2003 Arcanum II IGT Toscana, $96
A powerful but suave wine built to last, the Arcanum II marries notes of black pie cherries, cocoa and earth with flavors of nuts and toast imparted by the top-quality French oak Seillan uses. Appealing hints of spice and licorice linger underneath. An impressive red that drinks well with decanting but will reward those who lay it down.
specs: 68% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Sangiovese

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