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Seeking Pleasure in Bordeaux

August 16, 2018 5 comments
Cotes de Bordeaux map

Source: Cotes de Bordeaux website

Let me take a safe guess: if you consider yourself a wine lover (oenophile, wine aficionado – you can choose your own designation), the word “Bordeaux” is sacred for you. Even if you hadn’t had a glass of Bordeaux in five years, I would safely bet that there was a period in your oenophile’s life when Bordeaux was “it”, the wine to admire and worship, and you would never pass a glass of a good Bordeaux if an opportunity will present itself – and if you ever had that “glass of a good Bordeaux”, you will happily attest to that.

Of course, the clout of Bordeaux is often linked to the so-called First Growth chateaux, 5 of the most famous producers in Bordeaux and in the world, and a few others having a similar level of influence, such as Chateau Petrus. However, for the most of oenophiles, First Growth and other wines of the same caliber are mostly a dream – you can never find them, and even if you will find them, you can’t afford them. However, Bordeaux, being one of the largest wine regions in France, both in terms of the size of vineyards and a volume of wine production, is so much more than just the First Growth – there are lots and lots of Bordeaux wines worth seeking.

Case in point – Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – approximately 1/10th of the Bordeaux appellation, both in size of vineyards and wine production. In exact terms, Côtes de Bordeaux consists of 6 sub-appellations (Côtes de Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux and Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux). However, based on the old adage of “rising tide floats all boats”, the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux was created in 2007 and it united all sub-appellations under the single AOC Côtes de Bordeaux, which was launched in 2009. The individual sub-appellations are still indicated on the label under their names (Blaye, Cadillac and so on) to signify differences in the terroir, but we all know the power of the brand marketing…

Leaving all the technical details aside, the beauty of the Côtes de Bordeaux is in its artisanal wine producers, many of whom are certified organic and biodynamic, and more and more producers embracing sustainable methods – which all translates into the quality of the wines. Also, considering that most of the producers don’t have big brands to support, the wines also deliver great QPR.

Let’s move from the theory to practice – yes, you got me right – let’s taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste 2 white and 2 red wines from the region and was literally blown away by these beautiful wines and the value they delivered. As usual, I also played a bit with the wines to see how they will evolve – you will see it below in the notes.

2015 Château Puyanché Blanc Sec Francs Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $14, 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillon, 7 months in 30% new oak)
Light golden color
Ripe white stone fruit, vanilla, touch of butter.
Ripe white fruit, minerality, round, mellow, touch of butter, beautiful
8+, lots of pleasure

2016 Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (13%, $20, 50% Sauvignon, 50% Sémillon, Vin Demeter)
Light golden color
White stone fruit, apricot, tropical fruit notes
Beautiful ripe white fruit, vanilla, apples, butter, clean acidity, can be easily mistaken for Chardonnay
8+/9-, superb, just wow. Lots of pleasure.

2014 Château Cap de Faugères Castillo Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $17, 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark Garnet, almost black
Mint, eucalyptus, green bell pepper, touch of underripe berries
Underripe blackberries, tart, crisp, firm, mouthwatering acidity. Finish extends mostly into mouthwatering acidity with a touch of tannins and slight alcohol burn.
7, needs time. Might work well with food, but on the first day, not tremendously enjoyable on its own.
Day 2: 8-, cassis, ripe fruit, good power good balance
Day 3: 8-/8, soft, layered, full body, great aromatics on the nose, voluptuous and generous. Great transition.

2015 Château Peybrun Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (13% ABV, $18, 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in thermo-regulated tanks)
Dark garnet
Green bell pepper, baking spices, intense, distant hint of barnyard, touch of nutmeg
Pepper, tart cherries, noticeable acidity, medium-light body, well noticeable tannins on the medium-long finish.
7, needs time.
Day 2: 8-, dark fruit, soft, round
Day 3: 8-, great aromatics, touch of roasted meat, licorice, sweet cherries. Eucalyptus and cherries on the palate, touch of iodine, soft, well integrated, good balance.

As you can tell, the reds were excellent, and the whites were stunning (which is great considering that only 3% of the total wine production in the region are whites – 97% are red). If you will take into account the prices, these wines represent simply some solid and unbeatable deals (yep, a case buy, if you will).

Côtes de Bordeaux common message is Bordeaux, Heart & Soul – after tasting these wines, I have to agree. If you are seeking pleasure in Bordeaux wines, maybe you don’t need to look any further. Cheers!

Sequel in Reverse – More About Wines of Southwest France

May 18, 2018 3 comments

What’s up with the “sequel in reverse”, you ask? Easy. All we need to do is flip the timeline. This post is a continuation of the previous post about wines of Southwest France – however, the tasting I want to share with you took place almost 6 months ago, at the end of the last year 2017, hence the “reverse” notion.

Outside of the sequence of the events, the two tastings are perfectly aligned – they are both squarely dedicated to the wines of one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world – Southwest France.

I can’t explain why, but I feel that I need to make a confession. If you look through the pages of this blog – and there are a few here – I’m sure you will come to a conclusion that I primarily drink wines from California, Spain, and Italy, with an occasional sprinkle of everything else. And you will not be wrong. However, truth be told, my true love to wine started from French wines. I read the most about French wine and French wine regions. I was obsessed with trying to find an amazing Bordeaux for less than $10. Côtes du Rhône wines were a staple at the house. I spent countless hours in the France aisles of the wine stores (luckily, I was working in a close proximity of the Bottle King in New Jersey), looking for the next great experience with the wines from the Loire, Rhône, Bordeaux, Chablis, and others. French wines were “it” – unquestionably, a sacred territory. As the time was going by, and Bordeaux and Burgundy prices were going up faster than the weeds growing after the rain, the French wines moved mostly into a category of a rare encounter.

Wines of Southwest France

Last December was not the first time I participated in the virtual tasting about the French wines – but somehow, when I opened the box with these wines, something warm and fuzzy came over, and my first reaction was “ahh, I really, really want to drink these wines!”. There is nothing special about this particular set – no big names (I don’t believe Southwest France has much of “big names” anyway), no flashy, ultra-modern labels – and nevertheless, there was a promise of a great time in their simplicity and authenticity. These wines also perfectly played to my other “wine obsession” – the love to obscure and lesser-known wines, so altogether, I took a great pleasure in anticipation of the tasting.

As this was a virtual tasting, I had both the wines and time at my disposal, so unlike the previous post, here are my detailed notes in the usual format:

2016 Chateau Laulerie Bergerac AOC (12% ABV, $12, 85% Sayvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon)
C: Light gold
N: beautiful, fresh, medium+ intesnsity, honeysuckle, white flowers, peach
P: fresh, crisp, excelllent lemony acidity, white stone fruit, restrained
V: 8-, delicious, will be great with food and without, great QPR

2015 Domaine Elian Da Ros Abouriou Côtes du Marmandais AOC (12% ABV, $23.99, 90% Abouriou, 10% Merlot)
C: dark ruby
N: freshly chrushed berries, leafy notes, cherries, anis
P: ripe plums, sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, medium long sweet tobacco finish
V: 8-, would love to try it with an actual cigar. Needs a bit of time. And a new grape – Abouriou

2015 Domaine du Cros Marcillac AOP (12.5% ABV, $15.99, 100% Fer Servadou)
C: Ruby
N: earthy notes, mint, some medicinal notes (iodine?)
P: beautiful fresh pepper on the palate, tobacco, cherries – that pepper is delicious, love the wines like that
V: 8/8+, delicious, excellent QPR

2014 Château Lamartine Prestige du Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, $17.99, 100% Cot (Malbec))
C: dark garnet
N: vegetative, tobacco, a touch of cherries
P: bright acidity, dark fruit, tart cherries and cherry pit, noticeable tannins.
V: 8-, pleasant, will work great with the steak, but needs time

2011 Château Bouscassé Grand Vin de Madiran (14.5% ABV, $17.95, 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, forest floor, a touch of eucalyptus,
P: initial tannins attach, pepper, dark round fruit, excellent extraction, layers of flavor, firm structure
V: 8+, outstanding, powerful, balanced, needs time!

The Southwest France wines are a treasure trove for the wine lovers – they capitalize on tremendous history, experience, unique terroir and unique grapes, offering oenophiles lots of pleasure in every sip. Look for the wines of Southwest France – and you can thank me later.

The Region Which Started It All

May 15, 2018 8 comments

The wine had been made in the Southwest of France ( Sud-Ouest in French) almost forever – in terms of human life, 2,000+ years well classified as “forever”. The region is considered one of the “cradles of winemaking” in Europe, and it maintains its uniqueness and diversity today – for example, out of 300 grape varieties used in the winemaking in the region, 120 are not found anywhere else.

Of course, we know that winemaking started about 8,000 years ago, and not in the Southwest of France. So what’s up with “started it all” claim? Glad you asked! Let me explain.

We live in the times when the wine is a part of daily life of many. Drinking wine is a norm and normal, simply a part of the daily routine for many, not a luxury or a weird exception anymore. Yes, that’s how it was in Europe forever – but now I’m talking about the rest of the world, countries such the USA, and even China now heading that way. The demand for wine had been constantly increasing since the late 1990s, and even Great Recession of 2008 didn’t kill it (just shifted the “acceptable” price ranges). Is it all just a normal course of events? We can, of course, settle for this. However, I believe that on a deeper level, there are exact reasons, “tip the scale” moments for many things which seem to happen just on its own – however, sometimes it is not easy to identify those “reasons”.

Remember the impact of the movie Sideways on consumption and production of the Merlot in the USA? That movie was the reason for a huge slump after 2004, and production and interest to Merlot are still in the recovery mode even now, 14 years later.

Late in the 1980s, the world started talking about The French Paradox – French eat cheese and foie gras, cook with butter and duck fat daily, and nevertheless, the coronary disease rates are much less than in the countries with comparable living standards and much lesser fat consumption. Possible explanation? Red wine. French consume lots of red wine, and resveratrol, one of the prominent substances found in seeds and skins of the red grapes, acts as a defense against clogging of the arteries. That was the outcome of the extensive medical research study conducted in France, which became known in the world as French Paradox.

In 1991, CBS in the USA dedicated one of their popular programs, 60 Minutes, to the French Paradox, and you know how Americans are, right? We are always looking for an easy way out, so wine sounded like an easy enough cure, and I believe this became a pivotal moment which triggered a renewed interest in the wine. Almost 40 years later, it seems that the wine successfully keeps the momentum. And before you will attack me with all the facts from the latest research – yes, I’m aware of many articles pointing to the issues with the study. Whether French Paradox study conclusions were medically solid I have to leave to professionals to debate and decide on. But it was still that pivotal “tip the scale” moment which changed the perception of the wine for many in the world.

At this point, I’m sure you want to see the connection between the title, the Southwest of France, and the story of the French Paradox, right? Here it is. While attending the tasting of the wines of Southwest France, I was listening to the presentation by sommelier André Compeyre, who mentioned that Southwest France has the biggest number of centenarians in France and it was one of the main regions where the French Paradox study was conducted – here we go, now everything is connected and explained. Is it time for a glass of wine?

The tasting took place at the little store in New York called the French Cheese Board – what can be better than wine with a little cheese, right? Especially if both come from the same region, where they trained to live together for a few thousand years…

We started tasting with the sparkling wine, moved to the white and then red. As usual in such events, there was not enough time (and desire) for the formal notes, so below is the best I can offer. However, overall, the word is “outstanding” – the wines of Southwest France are well worth seeking – and you will not be disappointed.

NV Domaine du Moulin Mauzac Méthode Ancestrale Gaillac AOP (12% ABV, $15, 100% Mauzac) – very nice and simple. 7+

2017 Domaine du Tariquet Premières Grives Côtes de Gascogne IGP (11.5% ABV, $14, 100% Gros Manseng) – semi-sweet wine. It appears to be a traditional wine in the Southwest of France, which people are accustomed to drinking. It is possible that the wine was not cold enough when I tasted it, but I really didn’t appreciate it. If you like sweeter wines – this might be the one for you.

2016 Héritage Blanc Saint-Mont AOP (13% ABV, blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Arrufiac) – excellent, bright, crisp, but very complex and thought-provoking. A touch of grass, vanilla, ta ouch of honey on the palate, green apples, wow. Excellent acidity. Great complexity. 8. And let’s not forget 2 new grapes – Petit Courbu and Arrufiac

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

2012 Château de Haute Serre Cahors AOP (13.5% ABV, $22) – superb, ripe berries, blueberries, round, delicious, acidity, vanilla, the backbone of minerality. 8+

2012 Château Montus Madiran AOP (15% ABV, $32.99, blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon) – smoke, campfire, tobacco, great concentration, powerful, excellent, great acidity, outstanding. 8

2011 Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors AOP (14.5% ABV, $40, 85% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 5% Tannat, 12 months in oak) – touch of barnyard on the nose, delicious fruit, ta ouch of funkiness on the palate, great acidity. 8

2015 Domaine de Terrisses Terre Originelle Gaillac AOP (13% ABV, $16, blend of Braucol (Fer) and Prunelart) – beautiful Cabernet nose, crisp, cassis, Bordeaux style -outstanding. 8. and a new grape – Prunelart

2015 Réserve Bélingard Côtes de Bergerac AOP ($15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot) – beautiful, warm nose, vanilla, cassis, beautiful, soft. 8

2013 Chateau Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran AOP (13% ABV, $18, 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc) – excellent, soft. 8-

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

In addition tot he wines, we had an opportunity to indulge on the local cheeses of Southwest France – Ossau Iraty, Buche de Lucay, Bethmale Chèvre, Chabichou, Valencay, and Comté. Sorry, I’m not going to give you any individual notes, but all the cheese were superb. If you are like me and accustomed to the Comté cheese from Costco – that Comté in the tasting was the whole different game (go visit the store and taste, you don’t have to believe me).

There you go, my friends. Have you had wines of Southwest France lately? Any favorites you want to mention? Let’s raise the glass to many happy wine discoveries – and some red wine as a solution to all our problems. Cheers!

From Lodi And Provence, With Love

May 12, 2018 3 comments

Provence RoséWe drink wine because it gives us pleasure. Yes, it is that simple (and I didn’t come up with this – I learned it from Kevin Zraly, maybe the best wine educator in the world). We are looking for pure and simple sensual pleasure in every sip of that white, pink or red colored liquid in the glass, and, of course, it makes us happy when we find it.

When it comes to giving pleasure, I have to state that Rosé has an unfair advantage. We start drinking with our eyes, and while white and red have to compete for our attention with creative labels or sometimes even bottle shapes, Rosé takes a lot more simplistic approach – it just stands in front of us – naked. Clear bottle, nothing to hide – here I am, and I know I’m beautiful, so yes, do look at me and feel free to admire.

I don’t know if colors have universal meaning around the world – for instance, red is typically associated with danger or daring in the Western world – and red is the color of luck in China. So the pink color is usually associated with love and happiness in the Western world, and this is why the bottle of Rosé is so good at driving our emotions, no matter what shade of pink it actually boasts.

Acceptance, appreciation, and demand for Rosé stand at all times high today – and it continues climbing to the new “high” every year. Rosé still has a stigma of “summer wine”, but this is slowly changing as people start recognizing how much pleasure every sip of good Rosé packs, and how versatile it is with food – I would dare to say that in its food pairing versatility, it can well compete with Champagne, which is very hard to beat in its pairing range of cuisines from traditional Chinese to fiery Indian, sublime French, or big and bold Texas BBQ.

Today, Rosé is made everywhere – literally everywhere in the world. It is hard to find a winery which didn’t add Rosé to its repertoire. But before Rosé became so fashionable, there was Provence. More than 90% of the wines made in Provence are Rosé, and then they’ve been practicing for about thousand years, so Rosé is really a way of life in Provence, which is easy to see once you take a sip from the glass. I might surprise you with a choice of a close contender to the dominance of Provence – and they are not at all if you will think about the production volume – but when it comes to the taste, Rosé from Lodi in California will easily give Provence a run for the money.

Just look at these colors! Don’t they scream “pleasure”? The Provence Rosé in this picture is only for the color reference purpose, was not part of the tasting

Ever since visiting Lodi in 2016 for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I use every opportunity to confess my love to the region. Lodi might be one of the best-kept secrets in California wine. While a lot of wineries and regions are contemplating their approach to sustainability, Lodi grape growers already developed so-called Lodi Rules (now being analyzed and copied in many regions) for sustainable viticulture, and they have the certification program in place to ascertain that rules don’t just stay theoretical. What starts in the vineyards, continues in the wineries, and the result is simply better wines.

Most of the times Lodi is associated with Zinfandel. Of course, Zinfandel is one of the best known and important grapes in Lodi, but on a big scale, Lodi is a home of the Mediterranean grape varieties – Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and many others, made into delicious, perfectly restrained wines. Lodi goes beyond just the grapes – we need to talk ancient grapes here. lodi is home to some of the oldest in the world plantings of Carignan and Cinsaut (Cinsault), original Mediterranean varieties, also planted on its own rootstock (phylloxera doesn’t survive in Lodi’s sandy soils). Definitely another level – and should be a subject of a separate post.

I had a pleasure of tasting 5 different Rosé for this post – two from Lodi and 3 from Provence. One of the Lodi Rosé is coming from Markus Bokisch, truly a master of Spanish (yes, Mediterranean) grape varieties. Second Lodi wine is produced by Estate Crush from ancient vines Cinsaut, from 130 years old vineyard. Provence wines are coming from two estates owned by Provence Rosé Group – two wines from the Château de Berne, the estate tracing its origins back to the 12th century. The last Provence Rosé is from the Ultimate Provence, the experimental estate which combines traditional Provence with urban design. Before we talk about the wines, just look at those Provence bottles – each one is practically the work of art, uniquely appealing beyond just the color.

Here are my notes:

2017 Bokisch Bokisch Vineyards Terra Alta Vineyard Rosado Clements Hill – Lodi (13.6% ABV, $18, 80& Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo)
Beautiful salmon pink color, very delicate
Fresh tart strawberries on the nose, medium intensity, touch of Meyer lemon
Strawberries all the way on the palate, the wine is definitely more present on the palate than any from Provence, a touch of sweetness, medium body, good acidity, very good balance. Refreshing and quaffable. Sweetness significantly subsided on the second day. Outstanding.
Drinkability: 8-, will be perfect with any spicy food.

2016 Estate Crush Rosé of Cinsaut Bechthold Vineyard Lodi (12.5% ABV, $21, 100% Cinsaut, 130 years old vineyard)
Bright strawberry pink
Strawberries and caramel on the nose, even the toffee flavor, sweet condensed milk. Caramel and toffee are mostly gone after first swirl and sip 😦
Nicely restrained palate, a touch of strawberry with very high lemon acidity and Long, acidity-driven finish – I keep salivating for about 30 seconds already. This will compete neck in neck with any Provence wine
Drinkability: 8, excellent. This wine also perfectly passes room temperature test.

2017 Château de Berne Emotion Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $16, 50% Grenache Noir, 25% Cinsault, 25% Syrah)
Light salmon pink/onion peel
Strawberries on the nose, ripe strawberries on the palate, excellent balance, clean, fresh, easy to drink.
Drinkability: 8, excellent, delicious from the get go (as one would expect from Rosé). Was also excellent with food!

2017 Château de Berne Inspiration Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $19.99, 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault, 10% Syrah)
Salmon pink
Delicate nose, lemon notes, minerality, a touch of funk
Pretty rough edges on the palate initially, interesting vegetative undertones.
Drinkability: 7+, might be a food wine.
3 days later, the palate is better integrated, clean and balanced. Totally unexpected. Drinkability: 8-/8

2017 Ultimate Provence Urban Provence Côtes de Provence AOP (12.5% ABV, $22.99, 45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah, 5% Rolle)
Delicate light baby pink
Complex nose, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, a touch of flowers, a cheese note (light, disappeared after some breathing time)
Clean, bright, fresh palate, strawberries and strawberry compote, crisp acidity, very refreshing – but all the fruit quicky fading, and the wine doesn’t appear balanced.
Drinkability: 7+, unique and unusual nose. Palate might be too dry after all.
3 days later – 8-/8, round, strawberries and raspberries with white stone fruit undertones, clean, totally different level of pleasure. Another surprise.

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Here you are, my friends – 5 very interesting Rosé to brighten up any day, summer, winter, holiday, and not.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, so you still have time to surprise Mom with your good taste in wine. And if you are a mom reading this – Happy Mother’s Day to you and thank you for everything you do!

 

 

Where In The World is Gigondas?

May 5, 2018 1 comment

Do you think I’m dumbing it down way out of proportion? Do you think every wine consumer is perfectly familiar with whereabouts of Gigondas and its wines, and thus taking offense in the title of this post? Well, if this is the case, please share your anger in the comments section below and click the “x” in the corner. And if you are still here, let’s talk about the tiny speck of land in the southern part of the Rhone appellation in France.

Size matters, but probably not in this case. Gigondas has only about 3,000 acres of vineyards for the whole appellation  (for comparison, E.& J. Gallo in California owns 20,000 acres of vineyards). Nobody knows where Gigondas name came from, but it is known that the wine was consumed in the Gigondas region more than 2,000 years ago. First records of Gigondas vineyard go all the way back to the 12th century. I guess the wine in Gigondas was really good even in the early days, as in 1591 there were first laws enacted, particularly prohibiting the sales of the wine to foreigners. In 1971, Gigondas became the first appellation in Côtes du Rhône-Villages to receive its own AOC status.

Gigondas is the land of Red and Rosé (just Red, mostly). Yep, that’s right – no white wines are produced and no white grapes are grown – at least for the wines produced under the Gigondas designation. The wines of Gigondas stylistically similar to the wines made in the neighboring – also much larger and a lot more famous – appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – despite vignerons mostly working with 4 grapes in Gigondas (out of 8 varieties officially permitted), while folks in Châteauneuf-du-Pape allowed to use 18 in production of their red wines, 9 of which are white. At the end of the day, it is not for nothing both Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are often classified as “GSM” – which stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre – these are the main three grapes, with Grenache typically been a workhorse here (up to 80% allowed in Gigondas wines).

Now, the time has come for an ugly truth. I’m actually not familiar with Gigondas wines. I know and had many of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but I usually would pass by one or two bottles of Gigondas which most of the stores would offer, and go to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the same price range. Thus when I was offered to try 3 different Gigondas wines, my “yes, please!” was very enthusiastic.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I’m going to play with err, taste a few of the Gigondas wines, I got back an instant outpour of love – and not only to the wines, but to the place. Take a look at these tweets:

It is time to talk about the wines I was able to taste. I had three wines, two from the 2015 vintage and one from 2014. Let’s take a look at the producers first.

The Domaine des Bosquets traces its history back to 14th century. Today, Domaine des Bosquets farms 64 acres of vineyards (50 years old vines), primarily growing Grenache and small amounts of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault.

The Famille Perrin needs no introduction to the wine lovers. It takes roots in the same 14th century, with its historic Château de Beaucastel. In the 1950s, Famille Perrin became a pioneer of the organic farming, later on extending into the Biodynamic. The Famille Perrin also involved in the multiple projects in France and around the world, and the wine I tasted comes from their La Gille property in Gigondas.

Unlike the two wineries we just talked about, the Guigal Estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village Côte-Rôtie appellation. From there on, however, E. Guigal moved to the great prominence, with its so-called “La La” bottlings from Côte-Rôtie (La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne) becoming an object of desire and obsession for the wine lovers around the world. Guigal Estate produces the wines in multiple appellations throughout both Northern and Southern Rhone, and “Guigal” name on the bottle is typically associated with quality.

I have to honestly tell you – with the exception of E.Guigal, this was not the love at first sight. However, all three wines perfectly evolved on the second day. Here are my notes:

2015 Famille Perrin La Gille Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $38, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah)
Garnet
Beet juice, mocha, raspberries, medium intensity, minerally undertones
Dense, chewy, blueberries and blueberry compote, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, medium to full body. Long finish.
7+, I would like a bit more balance.
8- second day, the wine is a lot tighter, has firm structure, shows hint of white pepper and by all means a lot more enjoyable. Apparently will improve with time.

2015 Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas AOC (15% ABV, $35, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and Cinsault, total 30 month aging in oak and concrete)
Dark garnet, almost black
Intense nose of freshly cut berries, vanilla, eucalyptus. Noticeable alcohol as well.
The palate is very intense but also astringent at the same time, black pepper, surprisingly medium body (was expecting bigger body). After 30 minutes in the decanter, the aggressive alcohol is gone. Still, feels that the wine needs time – not ready to drink now. Putting aside for a day.
Day 2 – cherries, mocha, and coffee on the nose. No alcohol, all nice and integrated. The palate shows tart cherries, pepper, vanilla, cut through acidity, medium plus body. Nicely drinkable. 8-/8, very good.

2014 E. Guigal Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $36, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre)
Intense garnet
Open and inviting nose, black pepper, raspberries, mint, cassis
Fresh raspberries and blackberries, hint of mushrooms, nice minerality, a touch of vanilla and pepper, firm structure, good acidity, good balance
8-, a very pleasant and nicely drinkable wine from the get-go.
Day 2: 8+, sweet vanilla, dark chocolate and blueberries on the nose, extremely inviting. The palate evolved dramatically – pepper, raspberries, graphite, nutmeg, violets, firm structure, superb.

Here you are, my friends – my first serious encounter with Gigondas. Looking at the pictures, I would really love to visit Gigondas, and I will be happy to drink the Gigondas wine – just need to fiorget them in the cellar for a while. What is your eperience with Gigondas? Cheers!

 

Discover Wines Of Loire Valley

April 23, 2018 5 comments

What do you think of the wines from the Loire Valley? Why, you say you are not sure? Come on, give yourself a credit – there is a good chance you had Loire Valley wines, but maybe you simply didn’t associate those wines with the Loire Valley? Let me help you – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé), Muscadet, Vouvray, Touraine, Anjou, Saumur, Chinon – had any of the wines with these words on the label? Ah, of course, you are saying? Then now you know – those are all the wines from the Loire Valley in France.

Loire Valley appellations map. Source: http://www.loirevalleywinetour.com/

The Loire Valley is not the most famous winemaking region in France, but it deserves the utmost respect. Here are some facts for you. Number one region in France for production of the white wines. The largest producer of the sparkling wines in France outside of Champagne. Number two producer of Rosè wines in France after Provence. The largest in France vineyard declared UNESCO World Heritage site. 79 sub-appellations and denominations and more than 2,000 years of winemaking history. These numbers speak for themselves. And to round up the stats – five grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgeois, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir) comprise most of the Loire wines, but a total of 24 grapes are used there.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to attend the “Spring To Loire” trade tasting in New York City, alongside the inimitable, one and only JvB Uncorked – we definitely had lots of fun tasting through the Loire wines together. It was also literally the first tasting this year which I managed to attend, so “happy” is the right word. Besides, I love Loire wines, with Chinon and Saumur been personal pet peeves, as producers of delicious Cabernet Franc.

The tasting was unquestionably interesting. First, it had a couple of curious moments. There was a seminar which offered an excellent introduction to the region, tasting all major styles and varieties. Two of the reds in the tasting were rather green and aggressive. At the end of the tasting, I asked a lady sitting next to me how did she liked the wines, and she told me that she didn’t like the red wines individually, but she mixed them (!?!?) and they became more palatable – truly a wow moment in the professional tasting. And then it was another lady who (accidentally or not) dumped what seemed like a whole bottle of perfume on herself – trying to smell nuances of the wine standing next to her was beyond mission impossible. Some memorable moments…

Okay, let’s talk about the wines. I have a few favorites which I will be happy to mention, but first, let me give you my broad stroke impressions.

  1. Sancerre had a much lesser amount of fresh cut grass than I was expecting. Okay, I’m not an expert on Sancerre evolution, as I rarely drink them. However, based on what I remember from my education and some of the previous experiences, classic Sancerre is supposed to have pronounced grass and cat pee notes – didn’t find much of the Sancerre like that. Touraine Sauvignons, on another hand, were delicious across the board with an abundance of the freshly cut grass.
  2. Many of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine wines were lacking the characteristic acidity. When going for Muscadet, I’m expecting acidity which will plucker my mouth and make the cheeks to go meet each other. Many Muscadet in the tasting were nice white wines, but they were lacking their prized quality.
  3. The Chenin Blanc was a star. We had a number of delicious Vouvray and not only wines, which offered bright acidity, sometimes a touch of sweetness, a round mouthfeel – all which you would expect from a nicely done old world Chenin.
  4. Many of the Chinon and Saumur Reds were too tannic. This was a total surprise – the wines were fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, nevertheless, the mouth was drying up almost as much as if you would be tasting the young Barolo. I was told that the whole cluster fermentation and aging was a culprit, but this was not a pleasant surprise. I really expect much more elegant and approachable wines to come from those regions. Nevertheless, we managed to find a few of the superb reds.

Done with my general impressions – here are some limited notes on my favorite wines.

Sparkling:

Crémant de Loire:
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Brut (SRP: $16.99, 65% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 15% Cabernet Franc) – nice, refreshing, yeasty
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Rosé (SRP: $16.99, 100% Cabernet Franc) – toasted bread and strawberries, nice, refreshing, great mouthfeel
NV Ackerman Crémant de Loire Brut (70% Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc for the rest) – this wine was presented in the seminar, so I had a bit more time to spend with it – great nose, toasted bread, fresh, a touch on a sweeter side but still very nice

White:

Melon de Bourgogne:
2017 Sauvion Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (SRP $13.99) – crisp, fresh, great acidity
2014 Château de la Cormerais Monnieres-Saint Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – outstanding. fresh, clean
2012 Domaine de Colombier-Mouzillon-Tillières Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – great complexity

Sauvignon Blanc:
2016 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Les Caillottes Sancerre AOC (SRP: $38) – steely acidity, crisp, a touch of grass.
2015 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Sauvage Sancerre AOC (SRP: $73) – this wine was just ok. The only reason to include it – this was probably the most expensive wine in the tasting, and it really didn’t deliver.
2016 Domaine Michel Vatan Calcaire Sancerre AOC – presented at the seminar – on the nose, minerality, lemon, distant touch of the grass, crisp, fresh. Excellent acidity on the palate, very nice overall.
2017 Raphael Midoir De Silex et Tuffeau Touraine AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Classic nose, delicious.
2016 Pierre Prieuré & Fils Domaine de Saint-Pierre Sancerre AOC (SRP $19.99) – excellent, fresh
2016 Raphael Midoir La Plaine des Cailloux Touraine-Oisly AOC (SRP $19.99) – outstanding, great complexity.

Chenin Blanc:
2016 Château de la Mulonnière M De Mulonnière Anjou – presented at the seminar – delicious. White stone fruit, peaches on the nose. A touch of sweetness and perfect balance on the palate. Outstanding.
2017 La Croix des Loges Anjou White AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Clean, fresh, touch of sweetness.
2014 La Croix des Loges Trois Failles Anjou AOC (SRP $22.99) – outstanding, gunflint on the nose, clean, balanced palate.
1977 La Croix des Loges Bonnezeaux AOC – yes, 1977, this is not a typo – this was an off the list, off the charts treat – a Chenin Blanc dessert wine, still elegant and complex.

Other:
2017 Domaine du Colombier Vla de Loire IGP ($14.99, 100% Sauvignon Gris) – excellent, fresh, complex.

Reds:

Cabernet Franc:
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $20) – amazing similarity with Lodi wines on the palate – soft, aromatic, touch of cinnamon, ripe blueberries and raspberries, hint of blueberry compote. The similarity with Lodi is mind-boggling. Let’s not forget that this is Cabernet Franc wine, so there must be something there which can explain it. Need to dig deeper into this, I’m really curious.
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Laurintale Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $24) – muted nose, and practically identical on the palate to the previous wine from the same domain. I will look into it… But two superb wines by all means – the wine are coming from the old world, but clearly, are screaming “new world”.
2017 Domaine du Raifault Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.95) – wow! Cassis on the nose, cassis on the palate – spectacular. This was my best of tasting red wine. This wine is not available in the US yes (we tasted one of only two bottles brought in for tasting) – in the process of being imported. Once it arrives, do yourself a favor – go find it and buy a case, or two. You can thank me later.
2016 Sauvion Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.99) – interesting dense nose, great palate, sandalwood, smoke, fresh, present. Tannins are still aggressive, but not as much as others.

Pinot Noir:
2014 Xavier Flouret Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon AOC (SRP: $20.95) – great Pinot Noir – excellent fresh nose, great balance of dark fruit on the palate, outstanding. 15 generations of vignerons know what they are doing. Definitely one of the highlights of the tasting.
2015 Domaine Gérard Millet Sancerre Red (SRP: $25) – fresh, crisp, herbs, spices, light.

Blends:
2014 Domaine de la Chaise Touraine-Chenonceaux AOC ($22, 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Côt) – fresh, delicious, cassis and tobacco, excellent balance

The Spring is finally here (or at least it seems so in New York), so go on, find some Loire wines to explore on your own. Cheers!

Daily Glass: The Beauty of Aged Wine

March 30, 2018 3 comments

Many wine critics and professionals alike insist that majority of the wines should be drunk while young, and only a few, less than 5% of all the wines produced, can be successfully aged. Well, I can’t speak about the percentages here – I’m a wine consumer, not a wine statistician – but I do like the majority of my wines aged.

Why do people age the wines? There are many reasons. Collectors age wines because they might (and many definitely will, if you pick right) increase in price. Well, that is not the type of wine aging which is worth our attention here, so let’s leave it aside. Many people age wine because they have a special memory attached to those bottles – birth year, memory of the trip, given by a special friend, signed by the winemaker – the OTBN was invented specifically for those people (I’m one of “those people” too, never sure if the moment is already right, or if it can become “righter”). And then there are those who believe that the wine might will improve with age, and therefore, willing to put some bottles aside and wait for the right moment, which we often refer to as “wine at its peak”.

When we finally open that aged bottle of wine, we enjoy it more often than not. There are many reasons and many ways in which we enjoy that aged wine – some of those are purely related to the taste, which we expect to change for the better; some of those reasons are purely emotional. Drinking 50 your old wine at your 50th birthday is definitely a moving experience – the wine might not be perfect, but hey, it is as old you are, give it some respect! Drinking the wine brought from the trip to Italy 20 years ago is guaranteed to send you down the memory lane, letting you re-live those special moments and recreate its pleasure. The wine might not even taste that great (yeah, I knew I should’ve spent another $50), but who cares – those were the times! But the best of all is when, after the aging, we actually get to drink the wine which evolved and got to its peak.

Very often we praise the aged wine for how youthful it tastes (it is especially true of the wines under the screwtop, which pretty much don’t age at all while closed). Assuming the wine was tasty from the very beginning, this is great and deserves full respect, but this is not really what we want when we are tasting the aged wine. We are looking for the next level of taste, for the wine at its peak, for the wine which evolved. We want the wine to deliver a truly special tasting experience, we are looking for the whole bouquet instead of just individual aromas, we are looking for the interplay of complexity which young wine can rarely offer. We are looking for the wine which can possibly become a life-changing experience. We are looking for the wine which can be pondered at, which can stop the conversation and just let the wine lovers be.

A few days ago, a friend was coming over, and it was right before her birthday. Of course, when someone is coming to the house for a dinner, my worry is always to have the right wine for the occasion. So I asked my wife what year our friend was born, and when I heard “1986”, my immediate thought was – “hmmm, I think I have a bottle”. Memory served me right, and the desired bottle was retrieved.

So the bottle at hand was 1986 Chateau Cordeillan-Bages Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV, $54.97). After inspecting the cork, I decided to try the regular corkscrew first, before getting out the two-prong opener. It actually worked fine, as you can see. Next was the sigh of relief after a quick sniff – no sign of any faults, and off the wine went into the decanter, both to avoid the sediment and to add to the aesthetics (the wine simply looks grander in the decanter, isn’t it?).

Once in the glass, the first sniff simply extorted the “OMG”. The complexity of the aromas was mind-boggling. Rutherford dust, smoke, roasted meat, cassis, minerality, baking spices, graphite, an incredible bouquet. The palate showed soft dark fruit, clean acidity, fresh, vibrant, graphite, well-integrated tannins, pencil shavings, all with the super-sexy, velvety texture. The 32 years old wine – incredible, and it was a conversation stopper. (Drinkability: 9+).

Trying to understand how and where I got this bottle, I figured that I have to thank PJWine, one of my favorite wine stores in New York, for that. The wine is produced at the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a tiny property of only 5 acres in Pauillac, planted with 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% of Merlot. The property is owned by the Cazes family of the Chateau Lynch-Bages fame (5th growth in the 1855 classification), and it also hosts a 2 Michelin star restaurant and a Relais & Chateaux hotel. The Chateau Coreillan-Bages wine is typically only offered at the restaurant, but the Cazes family decided to make a library release to the public, and PJWine buyers were at the right time in the right place – the rest was a history.

Here you are, my friends – a beautiful wine and a special experience. Do you have the aged wine stories of your own? Share them below. Cheers!

One on One With Winemakers: Tasting The Stars

January 14, 2018 2 comments

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – whether Dom Perignon said these words or not is not really important – but if you thought that we will be talking about the Champagne, you got it right! Also, plural mention of “winemakers” in the title is not a mistake – today’s “one on one” post is actually a double-feature.

The story of Duval-Leroy Champagne goes almost 160 years back, to 1859, when Edouard Leroy, wine négociant, met Jules Duval, grape grower – the rest is a history which you can read for yourself here. Today Duval-Leroy farms 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of vines, mostly in Premier and Grand Cru appellations, also using sustainable viticulture – Duval-Leroy is known as a pioneer of the sustainable grapegrowing in Champagne.

In 1785, “Heidsieck & Cie” company was founded with one dream – to create a Champagne worthy of a queen. After tasting the stars, Queen Marie Antoinette became the first “brand ambassador” for the Heidsieck Champagne. I don’t want to try to regurgitate here the rich history of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, you would be far better of reading it for yourself, but for all these years, Piper-Heidsieck story always included royal families, fashion designers, and movies. The bottle of Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne to ever appear in the movie in 1933. Since 1993, Piper-Heidsieck is an official supplier of Cannes Film Festival, and many actors and producers were recognized with the special Piper-Heidsieck Award at film festivals around the world.

Now, let’s get to that double-feature interview I promised. I’m running this “one-on-one” series of the interviews for about 3 years now. Until now, there was always a unique set of questions, prepared specifically for the particular winery and the winemaker. This time, I decided to play it a bit differently – ask the same set of questions of two winemakers – however, in this case, there is a great “common space” between the subjects of the interview – they both make Champagne!

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck, and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: What is your approach to the blending of Vins Clairs? How many Vins Clairs are typically comprising your most standard NV house blend?

[DL]: It is necessary to first think about the flavor profile you would like to achieve: the aromatic notes with its intensity and its descriptors, its mouthfeel, its volume, its angles, its power and persistence as well as the volume: number of bottles to produce, volume of reserve wines to use and volume of wine to save for future ‘liqueur d’expédition’. The vins clairs are tasted several times (at least twice) after the malolactic fermentation to familiarize ourselves with their characteristics. The first approach to blending is always a minimal concept; which is what I call it my ‘accounting idea’. It is tasted, assessed and compared to our first and last blends of this wine made in previous years. The vins clairs are then improved by modifying only one character at a time. The same improvement is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the best result. We use about 45 to 55 vins clairs to produce our Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve.

[PH]: We blend over 100 crus to make Piper-Heidsieck’s NV cuvée: the Cuvée Brut. I think of the vins clairs (base wines) as spices stored in little boxes in her mind and I know exactly which boxes/spices (and proportions) I need to add to create the same taste every year.

[TaV]: Can you describe your “house style”?

[DL]: Our goal is to maintain the quality of our Brut  Réserve NV vintage after vintage:

  • A complex aromatic profile showing fruity notes of yellow peach, damson and subtle red berries along with notes of cocoa powder and toasted bread
  • An integrated, round and generous mouthfeel but yet elegant and fresh.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s wine style is fruity, structured and complex, with lots of deepness. It’s a champagne to treat yourself and to share with your loved ones. Champagne serves as a bridge between people. It triggers and enhances moments of sharing, complicity and joy. And we are the ones who strive to create memorable experiences. It is all truly wonderful!

[TaV]: Somewhat of a continuation of the previous question: I don’t know if you ever experimented with this, but I wonder if a panel of wine consumers (non-experts) would be able to identify your standard NV offering in a blind tasting?

[DL]: We have worked with a panel of French consumers who tasted our Brut Réserve NV. This panel was able to detect the fruity nose without going into details and recognize the roundness of the mouthfeel and the integrated acidity.

[PH]: The goal of our Cellar Masters is to maintain Piper-Heidsieck’s style, and make it recognizable. Our wines are fruity, structured and profound but also well balanced, straight and bright. In the case of the Cuvée Brut, it’s a seductive champagne that you can recognize on your palate right away. What gives it away is its notes of almond and fresh hazelnut that are very lively, subtle and light. It’s a very smooth an pure champagne with notes of fresh pear and apple with a delicate hint of citrus fruits (pomelo). You can also taste the blonde grapes and juicy white fruits that create the lightness of the champagne.

[TaV]: Similar question to the second one, only now for the vintage Champagne – can you describe your house style?

[DL]: Our vintage “house style” is given by the characteristics of that specific year which varies according to the weather, therefore, the quality of the grapes (acid-sugar balance – fruit richness). We do not look for our vintage cuvées to be identical year after year. We make the best vintage with what nature has to offer.

[PH]: The Cellar Masters’ goal when creating a vintage champagne is to put a special year in a bottle. They want to take a snapshot of this particularly great year to keep it as a memory and reward the hard work of our vineyard team without forgetting about the Piper-Heidsieck style. Every vintage is different but they all answer to the Piper-Heidsieck style: wines that are fruity, structured with great depth. Our Cellar Masters took the best grapes from 2008 to put it in our current vintage: Vintage 2008 is a precise, elegant and free-spirit wine that showcases the greatest wines 2008 had to offer.

[TaV]: I would assume all (many?) of the Champagne houses have their “secret stash” of Champagnes which had not been disgorged yet – and the wines are disgorged on one by one basis, maybe for the special clients. Do you have such a “secret stash”? What are the oldest, not yet disgorged wines you have in your cellars?

[DL]: Of course, Duval-Leroy has its secret reserve Champagnes that are not disgorged and waiting in the cellar for that special request. Vintages such as 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 … are kept in bottles and magnums (not systematically in each cuvée).

[PH]: We do have old cuvées in our Cellars, our “secret library” contains old NV from 1980 to now and different vintages from 1982 and on.

[TaV]: Are the Champagne styles changing to address the consumer demand? For instance, I would expect that people would like to drink more of Brut Nature/zero dosage and Rosé Champagne. What do you think?

[DL]: The Champagnes’ style may slightly vary depending on consumers demand, but not fundamentally change. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which defines production rules and style objectives of quality.
We have seen a greater demand for Champagne Rosé and 5 to 10% sales increase over the past 10 years.
Rosé Champagne is an accessible Champagne, more obvious in terms of taste, festive by its color and more enticing.
The growing demand is also linked to the fact that Rosé Champagne has more personality and a specific identity. It is definitely easier to produce due to warmer weather in recent years.
We find an equally interesting demand for low dosage Champagnes. These low dosages are made possible because of a better integrated acidity naturally due to the wines richness and roundness.

[PH]: We do see some trends in the industry, people tend to be more knowledgeable about what they consume and younger generations like to be more informed. They become more and more wine experts so they ask to question about dosage, disgorgement dates … We have our cuvée Essentiel that works really well with wine experts since they have all the information they need on the label (disgorgement date, bottling date, lot number…) and it’s an extra brut. At Piper-Heidsieck we have a wide range of champagnes to please everyone, we have Rosé Sauvage, Essentiel (extra brut) for wine experts and connoisseurs, our Cuvée Brut, a vintage and Cuvée Sublime (a demi-sec). Our range satisfies all consumers, from non-experts to wine lovers and our entire range has complimentary food pairings.

[TaV]: Champagne seems to enjoy higher popularity overall over the last few years. Do you expect that trend to continue? Are the challenges for Champagne which need to be overcome?

[DL]: Of course we want this trend to continue and Champagne to remain the leader sparkling wine out there. In order to overcome any challenges, the Champagne region needs to continue improving.

[PH]: This trend will continue for sure. As mentioned before, the younger generation tends to be more and more knowledgeable about what they consume, especially for wines. They gain interest and want to develop their palate and their knowledge about wine. With more educated consumers that know the quality of champagne and tend to pair champagne with food more and more often we will keep seeing an increasing popularity in champagne consumption in the upcoming years.

The biggest challenge we will be facing is climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and the climate is changing making it even more difficult for us to ensure the quality of grapes as the years go on. With the unpredictable weather, our vineyard team will have to work even harder to protect our vines and ensure a high quality. At Piper-Heidsieck we already took measures to protect the environment as much as we can with recycling measures, reducing our water consumption and gas emissions. It’s a global concern and a challenge that will affect all industries in one way or another.

Another challenge would be the increasing sales of other sparkling wine, but it’s not too concerning as sparkling wines and champagne are very different products consumed for different reasons. As the consumers are getting more knowledgeable they can tell the difference between sparkling wines and champagne and they consume one of the other at different occasions.

[TaV]: What is your most favorite Champagne you personally or your house overall ever produced and why?

[DL]: My favorite is our Femme de Champagne tête de cuvée and specifically the 1995 and 1996 vintages. Very great vintages with beautiful and precise balance and a great aging potential.

[PH]: I actually don’t have a favorite champagne! It all depends on the moment, when I will open it and with whom! I will choose the Cuvée Brut for a festive aperitif with friends. I love the Vintage 2008 for an intimate dinner and the Rosé Sauvage in the summer with a barbecue.

[TaV]: Champagne rules allow using 7 different grape varieties, yet absolute majority only uses 3 from that list. Have you ever experimented with using any of those 4 leftover grapes? If yes, did you get any interesting results?

[DL]: Since 1998, we regularly vinify one of the old grape varietal of Champagne called ‘petit meslier and produce a specific cuvée: Précieuses Parcelles. Petit Meslier is a white grape varietal that grows well in soils rich in clay (a natural cross between Gouais and Savagnin) in the right bank of Vallée de la Marne.
It is a varietal that struggles to ripen, therefore has a mouthfeel marked by sharp acidity and aromatic notes of rhubarb.
I chose to vinify it in barrels to add some fine oak and spicy notes. Currently, we are working on the 2007 vintage with a low dosage of 4 g / l.
It is a cuvée of curiosity, interesting for its rusticity and for an unusual “Taste” of Champagne.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s Cellar Masters never experienced with the other grapes, because they only focused on those 3 grapes and developed an expertise in those grapes.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are produced absolutely everywhere in the world today. Have you tried any of the Methode Classique sparkling wines produced outside of France (Italy, Spain, South Africa, USA,…), and if yes, did you find anything you liked? You don’t have to love them, but maybe you liked just a little, tiny bit? 🙂

[DL]: Fifteen years ago, the Duval-Leroy family contemplated purchasing vineyards in England but decided otherwise. They’d rather stay focused on the terroirs of Champagne.

[PH]: Today sparkling wines are developing, but  Champagne stays the luxurious sparkling wine of reference.
It’s always interesting to discover other regions – for example, I tasted high quality sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and Hungary and even if we are in the sparkling wine category they all had they own style and authenticity!

Time top drink some Champagne, isn’t it?

First, I wanted to try NV Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend) and NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay) side by side, as both are Rosé Champagne. There was a dramatic difference in appearance and taste profile. Duval-Leroy, in a word, was sublime. Delicate pinkish color, just a light salmon pink, whiff of the toasted bread, vibrant acidity on the palate, touch of lemon – seductive, and yes, sublime. Sauvage, on another hand, means “wild” in French – and that exactly how the Piper-Heidsieck was. Strawberry pink in the glass, fresh tart strawberries and a touch of yeast on the nose, and then generous toasted bread, granny smith apples and strawberries on the palate. Truly different and delicious in its own right.

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay, 10-20% reserve wines) was, in a word, classic – generous, voluptuous, touch of toasted bread and yeast, full mouthfeel, golden delicious apple sweetness, good minerality, very present and excellent overall.

Three Champagnes, three different wines, each delicious in its own right, each worthy to be a star of a special celebratory dinner or a quiet evening for two. And two conversations about the wines, the passion, the style, the stars. We spoke enough today; if you are still reading this, thank you and cheers!

Sauternes – Sweet, Versatile, Delicious, And Perfect for Every Day

November 20, 2017 7 comments

Sauternes - corksToday we are going to talk about sweet and delicious wines, but I feel compelled to start with a little rant.

What is wrong with you, people?

No, I’m not trying to better humankind with this pathetic opening, but nevertheless, I would like to repeat my question – what is wrong with you, people, when you proudly state “hmm, you said sweet? I don’t drink sweet wines!!” (add proud grin and posture to this statement). Sweet or dry, when it comes to wine, there is only one quality worth inquiring about – balance. “Is this wine balanced?” is a perfect question to ask, but sweet, dry, semi-sweet, semi-dry – those are all relative characteristics which often mean different things to different people.

Deep inside, we like sweet. We don’t always admit it as our well established societal shaming machine works perfectly, it creates an absolute truth like “sweet = bad”. Sweet is one of the easiest flavors to recognize, and we usually start our acquaintance with taste with sweet, later discovering sour, salty and bitter. Growing up, we learn that “sugar is bad for you” – which is true for anything taken out of moderation – and then we subconsciously extend “sugar = bad” rule to the most of the things we do, or rather, eat.

Now, I’m asking you to put these extreme views of sweet aside, at least for the next few minutes you will spend reading this post. I know, you can do it for me. Let’s go, let’s talk about it – yes, sweet wines.

Sauternes Selection

Historically, sweet wines had been around for as long as humans known to make wine. Sweet wines are typically easier for our palate to fall in love with, but keep that love going strong might be a challenge, as people change their taste quite often. Today, sweet wines are made everywhere – but in most of the cases, sweet wines are an addition to the winery’s repertoire, to all those white, Rosé and red which winery is generally producing – and not The Wine. Except in few places, it really is The Wine. One such place is located in the world’s capital of red wines – Bordeaux, and yes, it is called Sauternes.

Sauternes region is located about 40 miles south of the city of Bordeaux, and predominantly produces sweet wines (there are some notable exceptions like d’Yquem Y, which is a dry wine, but those are truly the exceptions). History of Sauternes goes back to the beginning of 17th century, but it is hard to tell what led to the appearance of the Sauternes wines as we know them.

You see, Sauternes wines are made with some special assistance from mother nature. This appearance comes in somewhat of a strange form – a fungus. The climate conditions in Sauternes are favorable for the specific form of mildew to set on the grapes, so the grapes essentially rot on the vine. It is manifested with the grapes starting to shrivel while they are still hanging in the cluster – however, outside of visually unappealing sight (for the rest of us, not for the vintners in Sauternes), that also leads to the shriveled grapes greatly increasing concentration of the sugar, which perfectly lends itself to creating some of the very best sweet wines in the world – yes, the Sauternes.

The fungus, which has a scientific name of Botrytis cinerea, is also called a Noble Rot, just to stress that unlike any other rot, which is generally bad, the Noble Rot is good and useful, and thus has such a distinguished name. The legend has it that monks who were the first to produce sweet Sauternes, were keeping information about the rot outside of the public knowledge, as whether you will call it Noble or not, it is not easy to explain to people that wine is delicious because the grapes had time to rot before been made into the wine.

Production of Sauternes is labor intense, even today. Not only all the grapes are harvested by hand – they also harvested multiple times. The workers can only pick individual grapes from the vine, those which are ready (read: rotted shriveled enough). Then they have to come back again to pick the new “ready” grapes – and this can repeat 6-7 times. So yes, talk about labor intense process.

All this pain with the harvest is well worth it, as it translates into the delicious wines. What is very interesting about Sauternes, which is typically well underappreciated, is that Sauternes are amazingly versatile when it comes to food. You can pair the whole dinner with Sauternes, but while this might be a bit challenging, they definitely beat most of the wines, maybe with the exception of Champagne/Sparkling, as a perfect accompaniment to any appetizers and cheese course. The Foie Gras and Sauternes is a classic combination, but it pairs spot on with any salumi, prosciutto, Jamon or any other cured meat. Salty, spicy, sour, bitter  – bring it on, all the flavor profiles will find their match with Sauternes.

A few weeks ago we had an opportunity to deep dive into the world of Sauternes with the virtual tasting run on Snooth – if you are interested in following the conversation, you can check out this post on Snooth. To prepare for the discussion, I had a pre-gaming session, pairing our selection of Sauternes with cheeses and Foie Gras, as you can see in the pictures above. I have to honestly say that I liked some wines better than the others, which you will see in the notes – but when it comes to complementing the food, they all performed really well.

There are plenty of sources for you to learn the particular details about the Sauternes wines and the region so I will spare you from my regurgitating of the known facts. Just as a quick reference, I can tell you that Sauternes wines predominantly made from Sémillon grapes, with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle playing the supporting roles. Our tasting included wines from 2009, 2014 and 2015 vintages, which are all considered excellent.

Without further ado, here are my notes:

2015 Château Manos Cadillac AOC (14% ABV, $12.99, 98% Semillon, 2% Muscadelle, 50% of wine aged in barrels for 6 months)
C: golden
N: apricots, herbs
P: nice sweetness, apricots, touch of peach
V: 7+

2015 Château Haut Charmes Sauternes AOC (14% ABV, $20, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, aged in barrels)
C: light golden
N: touch of petrol, apricot, honeysuckle,
P: white fruit, honey, good acidity, appears light
V: 7+

2014 Château Lauvignac Sauternes AOC (% ABV, $18.99/375 ml, 85% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle, 5% Sauvignon)
C: straw pale
N: Classic bortrized fruit, touch of honeysuckle
P: clean acidity, orange, bitter orange on the finish
V: 7

2014 Château La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont AOC (13.2% ABV, $20, 100% Sémillon, 50 yo vines, 30% aged in oak batrrels)
C: golden
N: rich, opulent, honey, bortrized notes, very inviting, touch of petrol
P: beautiful, round, honey, apricot, peach, intense, perfect acidity
V: 8, best of tasting

2014 Château du Cros Loupiac AOC (14% ABV, $15, 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon, 5% Muscadelle, 12 months in barrique)
C: golden
N: intense honey
P: mostly honey, needs more acidity
V: 7

2014 Château Lapinesse Sauternes AOC (% ABV, $39.99, 100% Sémillon, 12 months in stainless steel)
C: light golden
N: dry, white stone fruit
P: sweet, mostly single note
V: 7

2009 Château FILHOT Sauternes AOC (13.5% ABV, $40, aged for 22 months including 12 months in oak barrels)
C: very light golden
N: honeysuckle, delicious, very promising
P: honey, candied orange, nice, touch more of acidity would be nice
V: 7+

2009 Château Dauphiné Rondillon Loupiac AOC (% ABV, $28, 70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc)
C: light golden
N: muted, touch of honeysuckle
P: touch of candied orange, good acidity, but overall is just ok
V: 7

Sauternes Selection

The holiday season is upon us. While I’m not asking you to pair your Thanksgiving turkey with the Sauternes (albeit it might work very well – and I will actually try it), I definitely suggest you will give Sauternes a chance to brighten up your friends and family get together – that “wine and cheese” fun is generally overrated and underestimated at the same time, as majority of the wines don’t pair that easily with the cheese – but try it with Sauternes, and you might discover a new love in your life. Cheers!

Three Beautiful Rosé To Fit Any Budget

July 13, 2017 6 comments

Can I give you a small piece of wine advice? I promise it will be short and simple. Here it goes: if you are looking for an excellent value wine, look for the wines of Domaines Paul Mas from France. That’s it. End of the advice. And I can pretty much finish the post right here as this was my main point for today.

Paul Mas Rose

I discovered the wines of Paul Mas 4-5 years ago, and ever since, they were my perennial favorites. Red, White, Rosé, Sparkling – I tried many of the wines (here are a few links – reds, sparkling) and they always delivered – at a great QPR, whether you are buying them at a store or at a restaurant. “Affordable luxury” is a perfect definition for Paul Mas wines, as these wines deliver a great value – without the need to rob the bank or borrow from 401k.

The story of Domaines Paul Mas started in 1892 in the small town of Pézenas in Languedoc (Pézenas’s fame is usually associated with the famous French playwright Molière). The modern part of the history of Domaines Paul Mas, however, is associated with Jean-Claude Mas, who fell in love with winemaking at the age of 3 (yep, and if you want the whole story, you can read it here). Jean-Claude Mas is often credited as a pioneer who is working hard to change the winemaking in Languedoc from the focus on the quantity to the focus on the quality, to bring Languedoc to the old glory of 2000 years of winemaking. 

The wines I want to talk about today are happened to be all … Rosé. I don’t know if this is an effect of summer, but it seems that the pages of this blog are lately nicely colored in pink. Nevertheless, the wines below are well worthy of your attention and deliver a great value which is really hard to beat. Here we go:

 

2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 1L, 30% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache Noir)
C: beautiful pale pink, light salmon
N: touch of fresh strawberries, gentle, medium intensity.
P: strawberries all the way, perfect balance, nice, refreshing, clean.
V: 8, outstanding, just perfect.

2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé Lily Pad Pink Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 100% Syrah)
C: bright pink, intense but without getting into reddish hues
N: strawberries, medium intensity.
P: strawberries with touch of lime, good acidity, good balance.
V: 7+, perfect everyday Rosé

NV Coté Mas Rosé Brut Crémant de Limoux (12% ABV, $15, 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir)
C: beautiful bright pink
N: toasted bread notes, crisp, fresh
P: fresh, clean, lemon, tart strawberries
V: 8, outstanding Rosé sparkling, will compete with any Champagne

Have you had any of these wines? Are they a great value or what? Let me know! Cheers!