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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!

Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 9 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, New Life at Mayacamas, Few Reminders and more

August 7, 2013 19 comments
Field Recordings Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard

Field Recordings Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #68, grape trivia – Chenin Blanc. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Chenin Blanc grape.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: True or false: South Africa grows (area-wise) twice as much Chenin Blanc as France

A1: True. Chenin Blanc plantings in South Africa take a bit less than 25% of all grape plantings in the country, and it exceeds plantings in France by at least two times.

Q2: Do you know how Chenin Blanc is typically called in South Africa?

A2: Steen. Chenin Blanc is South Africa was traditionally called Steen, but as many wineries are improving quality of their Chenin Blanc wines, they also use the traditional “Chenin Blanc” name on the labels more and more.

Q3: Based on DNA research, Chenin Blanc might be a parent of:

a. Pinot Blanc, b. Sauvignon Blanc, c. Marsanne, d. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)

A3: Sauvignon Blanc.

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Chenin Blanc wines with Classic rating.

A4: False. While there are only 14 Classic Chenin Blanc wines to the date (all from Vouvray region in France), Domaine Huët Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1997 scored even perfect 100 points.

Q5: One of my all time favorite Chenin Blanc wines is made by the company called Field Recordings in California. It is a single-vineyard wine, coming from the vineyard which has the same name as one of the blockbuster movies of the 90s. Do you know how this vineyard is called?

A5: Jurassic Park! I’m really curious what would give such a name to the vineyard, but hey, this is how it is called. And Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc I had was spectacular.

I’m glad to report that we have lots of winners this time! Emil, SheWinesSometimes, VinoinLove and TheDrunkenCyclist answered all 5 questions correctly, and they get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights!

Now, to the interesting stuff around vine and web!

I have a few interesting things for you to read. First, an article by New York Times‘ Eric Asimov, talking about new life of Mayacamas Vineyards in Napa. Mayacamas is one of the historical vineyards in the region, originally built in 1889, and owned by Bob Travers and his wife since 1968. I experienced Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon only once, and it was a spectacular wine, done in very restrained and elegant style. Now the winery is acquired by Charles Banks, who owned Screaming Eagle in the past, and he brought in Andy Erickson, a past Screaming Eagle’s winemaker, to make wine at the Mayacamas. How Mayacamas will change is a big question for all of its fans,  so you should read the article to learn more.

Here is an interesting read for you from W. Blake Gray, on the subject of [yeah, here we go again] wine tasting notes. Before you read the article, test yourself – do you know what gunflint is? You do? Great, do you know how does it taste like? My personal answer is “no” for both questions, but you go read the article to learn something new and get entertained.

The last article for today on the subject of Georgian wines, talking about new and interesting wines coming from the “cradle of winemaking”, as Georgia often is referred to. Go find the bottle of Georgian wine to enjoy while you will be reading the article.

We are getting closer to the few important dates (deadlines, rather) so here are your reminders:

August 14th – Wine Blogging Wednesday event, #WBW80 – Dry Rosé. All you need to do is to write a blog post pertinent to the subject, and submit it to the host. For all the details please click here. Let’s make it a success!

August 16th – deadline for submission for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #2, with the theme called Trouble. You can find all the rules here. I finally made my submission, so I sleep much better now. There is still time, get your trouble under control and write! Side note – if you are using twitter, I recommend using #MWWC hash tag for all submissions and discussions.

August 29th – Annual Cabernet Day 2013. Grab the bottle of your favorite Cab and join the festivities – here is the link to the invitation I received for this Cabernet Day, in case you want to state your participation officially.

That is all I have for you, folks. The glass is empty -but the refill is coming. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #68: Grape Trivia – Chenin Blanc

August 3, 2013 20 comments
Chenin Blanc grapes, as pictured in Wikipedia

Chenin Blanc grapes, as pictured in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Today we are continuing our grape trivia with the next white grape – Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is one of the oldest known grapes in the world, with the first mentions tracing back to 9th century in Loire in France. In about 17th century it made it to South Africa, where it became one of the most popular grapes, and it continued spreading around the world. In France, it is mostly growing in the Loire valley, with probably the best wines coming from Anjou and Vouvray regions.

According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, Chenin Blanc is probably one of the most versatile white grapes in the world. It has very high level of natural acidity, and also capable of accumulating very high level of sugars, making it equally suitable for production Sparkling wines and luscious dessert wines. At the time, Chenin Blanc requires a lot of attention in the vineyard, as it has a tendency to overgrow. If harvested too early, its high level of acidity makes the resulting wines simply insipid, and if it overgrows, the resulting wine tends to lose it character making dull and uninteresting wines.

Traditionally, the best Chenin Blanc wines were made in France, with off-dry Vouvray being probably some of the very best examples (if you ever experienced a “wow” Vouvray wine, raise you hand – I personally have, and at about $15/bottle, it doesn’t require you to break the bank). Overall, as winemaking techniques improve all over the world, there are more and more interesting Chenin Blanc wines coming from South Africa, California, Washington, Texas and many other places.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: True or false: South Africa grows (area -wise) twice as much Chenin Blanc as France

Q2: Do you know how Chenin Blanc is typically called in South Africa?

Q3: Based on DNA research, Chenin Blanc might be a parent of:

a. Pinot Blanc

b. Sauvignon Blanc

c. Marsanne

d. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Chenin Blanc wines with Classic rating.

Q5: One of my all time favorite Chenin Blanc wines is made by the company called Field Recordings in California. It is a single-vineyard wine, coming from the vineyard which has the same name as one of the blockbuster movies of the 90s. Do you know how this vineyard is called?

Side note: Google is your friend. It is impossible to know everything, and when you research, you learn…

Good luck, have fun and cheers!

Sometimes One “Wow” Is Not Enough

June 24, 2013 15 comments

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you perfectly know by now that I have a tendency to get overly excited in my reviews (and if you are not a regular reader and just came across accidentally, you know it now). It is entirely possible that you also noticed that I have a soft spot towards Field Recordings wines. Based on this preamble, you probably figured out that I plan to talk about a wine from Field Recordings.

The wine which had me completely blown away a few days ago was 2011 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (13.1% ABV). Opened the bottle, poured in the glass, sucked the air – and was blown away. Complex, multi-layered aromatics, which each smell showing slightly differently, and my emotional response (or rather, vocal), rotating between “wow” and “omg” with each and every breath. White stone fruit, apricots, fresh flowers, endless meadows – all coming separately, but together. Andrew Jones, the winemaker at Fields Recordings, is clearly the master of aromatics with his wines. Pretty much any of his wines I tried, have mind-boggling,  intense aromatics – here is my post about red wine call Fiction by Field Recordings, read it for yourself.

The palate didn’t disappoint as well. Bright, open, succulent white fruit, more continuing that an apricot theme, with the touch of vanilla and apple, no sweetness whatsoever. Definitely a Chardonnay-like experience, except it is not chardonnay at all! Firm structure, refreshing acidity – each sip of the wine is begging not to stop – just one more sip, pleeease? Drinkability: 8+

The words don’t do this wine enough justice. Your best bet is to find this wine and to taste it. And yes, it is okay to repetitively “wow” all the way through. Cheers!