This is part of an ongoing series on wine-in-context, stemming from the belief that not only does every bottle have a story to tell, but every winery and wine merchant.
Greetings from Savannah, Georgia, y’all! I’m here for a couple of weeks visiting dear, recently-transplanted friends from the Bay Area. At their recommendation, I made a stop at their local wine shop and was blown away by the brilliant concept behind it and the selection of wines on display. It was a no-brainer that June’s wine-of-the-month had to come from Le Chai - Galerie du Vin.
To highlight proprietor Christian Depken’s eclectic taste in wine, we opted for a unique, crisp white wine hailing from southern France that works just as well on Savannah porches on a balmy summer’s eve.
THE WINE MERCHANT: Le Chai | Savannah, Georgia
It’s fitting that since last month’s featured wine was made by an artist-winemaker, this month’s is recommended by the owner of a gallery of wine. Le Chai - Galerie Du Vin in Savannah, Georgia is a concept wine shop and tasting bar by Christian Depken, a born-and-raised Georgian. His passion for wine was a slow-building one, appreciating beer and bourbon before becoming a wine director, at the age of 24, for a hip restaurant in Savannah. In 2001, he had an epiphany while tasting French wines, and, overnight, became a proponent for the balanced and complex wines of the Old World. After suffering from extreme burnout from the restaurant scene, Christian decided to open his own shop fully dedicated to European wines. When colleagues in the industry told him he was crazy to snub American wines and that it would never work, he responded, “You just got a front row seat.”
A few years later, he opened for business in a 288-square-foot space, which eventually allowed him to move into his current digs at the foot of Forsyth Park in Savannah’s charming historic district. The wine is displayed liked the prized work of art each hand-picked bottle is: just one bottle per wine is presented, while the others remain in a climate-controlled storage room. Each industrial-chic table is dedicated to a different European country or regions of a country, with France, Italy, Germany and Spain being the most represented. Always wanting to teach a man to fish, rather than sell him some fish (which they could easily get from the local coastal fishermen anyway), Christian takes a humble yet educational approach to his wine selling. For every trip he takes to a wine region, he brings back bags of the soil to show customers where their wine comes. The two-year-old wine bar is another way he is able to introduce his clientele to unknown regions and challenge their preconceived notions. His running score for people he has convinced that they actually do like Riesling is countless to none.
THE WINERY: Clos Guirouilh
In the extreme southwest of France lies the wine appellation Jurançon, and in the extreme southwest of Jurançon, lies the village Lasseube, where Clos Guirouilh is found. The estate has been in the Guirouilh family since the 16th Century, and today it is run by Jean Guirouilh, a fourth-generation winemaker. Their vineyards are the fortunate recipients of a dry, foehn wind that protects the grapes from mildews and rot, and allows the winery to make late-harvest wines. Thanks to Lasseube’s cooler climate and high elevation, as well as the clay-calcareous and compacted sandy soils, their wines have an important acidic component and complexity.
THE WINE: Jurançon Sec 2015
Though you won’t find many French wines on my site, I had to make an exception this month to showcase the fun, obscure wines that one can find at Le Chai. Made from 85 percent Gros Manseng and 15 percent Courbu fermented in stainless steel, this Jurançon Sec is all about the intense freshness, minerality and a crisp melange of apricot, lemon, honey. Its persistence will surprise your palate. Pair it with a grilled chicken, corn on the cob and a orange-arugula salad on a warm summer’s evening.
Christian is a huge soccer fan, and on the day I met him, he hosted a Women’s World Cup viewing party at his wine bar: USA vs. France. (The US won!) We toasted, in true Le Chai fashion, with a Austian riesling.
Here are some photos of the viewing party.