Posts Tagged ‘crozes-hermitage’

Daily Glass: Red with Dessert

September 12, 2015 11 comments

When ordering wine with dinner, especially eating by myself, I practically never think of wine and food together. I usually look for the wine which would be interesting and affordable, without regard to the color or style. As last night was probably my 4th dinner of the trip at the same hotel restaurant, I knew that my choices were limited – I already had some (didn’t want to repeat), and some where just out of my price range. After scanning the list back and forth multiple times, I finally settled on 2013 M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage AOC (€7.20 per glass at the restaurant).

That choice combined together a few of the favorites. First, Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation which encircles the famous, but tiny Hermitage, and the wines in both areas are made from the same grape – Syrah, one of my absolute favorites – with Crozes-Hermitage been a lot more affordable. Second, this wine was made by Michel Chapoutier, one of my favorite producers, who I had a pleasure of meeting (and still have a blog post about it in the works 😦 ). The wine was just absolutely delicious – expressive nose of lavender and red fresh berries, touch of smoke, luscious, velvety palate with perfect black pepper and red fruit core, clean acidity and perfectly balanced.

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage

I was very happy with the wine just by itself, but it also perfectly matched the main course, which I was contemplating for almost the whole trip, somehow not finding the right moment for – Steak Tartar. I don’t know when and how it became one of my favorites – I still like to recount the story of my horror when I ordered it for the first time at one of the Paris restaurants (8 years ago), and the plate with simply chopped raw beef appeared in front of me. After mixing the beef up with all the condiments, I found it absolutely delicious, and I do ever since. You can find steak tartar in US restaurants, but for some strange reason served already mixed, so I was definitely happy to have the classic version where I’m in control. And yes, the wine was working with the dish just fine.

Steak Tartar at Cafe Novotel

As I loved the wine very much, I was in the mood for another glass, which quickly appeared on the table. Now it was the dessert time, and all of a sudden I was on the mission to find a good pairing. Desserts and dry wines are a tricky combination – more often than not you can end up having sweetness fighting with structure and tannins of the wine. I didn’t feel like cheese (also pairing of cheese and wine is greatly overrated – it is actually very difficult to create matching combination). My only option seemed to be a chocolate cake, but with that I was a bit concerned that chocolate might overpower the wine which was luscious, but quite light. Thus I decided to ask for the advice of my waiter. I found his recommendation a bit surprising – a modern dessert which combines fresh raspberries with almond tartlets and vanilla cream. However, he had a point, suggesting that the fruity core of the wine (same raspberries) would match well with the fruit in the dessert. Well, why not?

Raspberry Dessert at Cafe Novotel

The dessert arrived, I took the first bite and the sip of wine – and couldn’t hold a smile. The dish and wine worked together like a charm, perfectly complementing each other and blending together, with the peppery notes of wine adding an interesting twist.

There you have it – a story of successful red wine and dessert pairing, something I would be skeptical of before – but now I know. Love all this learning opportunities the world of wine holds for us – and may your glass never be empty. Cheers!


Re-post: Affordable Luxuries of the Wine World: Crozes-Hermitage versus Hermitage

February 7, 2013 5 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed and even web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Affordable Luxuries” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

MChapoutier Hermitage 2004Let’s once again put aside the “secrets” series (we’ve explored a lot just recently – South Africa, Georgia, Amarone…), and let’s take a look at the “affordable luxuries” of the wine world. I have to admit that I’m not absolutely sure that “affordable luxuries” is such a great name for the series (of course it will be more than one post), so if you will come up with the better name, please let me know!

And to make it clear, here is what I want to talk about. Let’s start from analogy using cars as an example. There are a number of cars which commonly referred to as “luxury”. Looking at Japanese cars, we have Lexus, Acura and Infinity as main luxury brands in US. These three brands listed above are off-shoots of Toyota, Honda and Nissan respectively. Now, talking about “affordable luxuries”, you can buy Toyota Camry instead of Lexus ES, and spend about $10,000 less. Similarly, you can buy Toyota Avalon instead of Lexus GS, and again spend about $10,000 less. Will you know you are driving Toyota instead of a Lexus? Of course you will. Will it bother you all the time? Chances are, it will not – as one of the main traits, reliability, is shared between both brands, in a long run you will most likely be happy with your choice and all the money you saved.

Taking this analogy to the wine world (we are done talking about cars), we can find lots of similar situations – and this is what we will be talking about in this series. When it comes to wine, some of the “affordable luxuries” will be based on the similarities of the “place”, and some of them might be based on the similarities of the “style”. To illustrate “place”-based comparison, we can look for instance, at Chateau Petrus. One of the most coveted wineries in Pomerol area in Bordeaux, France makes Merlot-based wine, which typically costs about $3000 per bottle, of course if you can get one. Alternatively, you can look, for instance, at Chateau Hosanna (Number 5 in my Top Dozen wines of 2010), which borders Chateau Petrus property in Pomerol. Chateau Hosanna is also made of out of Merlot (remember, from the neighboring vineyard) and retails for about $100. Is it going to taste the same – I’m sure it will not (while I loved Chateau Hosanna, I didn’t have a chance to try Chateau Petrus yet). Does it make sense to spend 30-fold to drink Chateau Petrus and not Chateau Hosanna? Unless you live in China, or otherwise financially set for life, I believe it does not.

For the “style” comparison, we can look at the wines made from the same grape, but in the different places, like late harvest wines and BA or TBA Rieslings and/or Sauternes. There are many different “affordable luxuries” for us to explore and enjoy the differences and similarities – so let’s start.

I don’t know if you heard of Hermitage – it is one of the most famous appellations in Northern Rhone area in France. The wines had being produced there since the 10th century, and in 17th-18th centuries,  Hermitage wines had being a favorite of Russian Tsar. Hermitage wines are produced from the Syrah grape (small addition of white grapes Marsanne and Roussane is allowed), and known to age extremely well, lasting 50 years or even longer.

If we will look at some basic facts (here is the link), Hermitage is a tiny area of 345 acres, producing less than 800,000 bottles a year of mostly red wines. It is almost impossible to buy Hermitage wines for under $70.

Hermitage appellation is essentially surrounded from all sides by another appellation called Crozes-Hermitage, which uses exact same grape combinations (Syrah + possibly Marsanne and Roussane) and essentially has the same type of soil and very similar climate. Interestingly enough, Crozes-Hermitage appellation is about 10 times bigger (3200 acres), and produces about 10 times more wine (8 million bottles per year). If you want to see more basic facts, you can use this link. Crozes-Hermitage wine prices usually start at about $12 and go up from there.

So here is our pair for comparison – similar soil and climate, the same grapes – does it make sense to spend 5 times more on a bottle of Hermitage than on a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage? Let our palates be the judge. Let’s compare 2004 M. Chapoutier La Sizeranne Hermitage with 1992 Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. Both wines are made by very reputable producers (M. Chapoutier and Paul Jaboulet), which is a good start.

Looking at 2004 La Sizeranne Hermitage, the wine appears very dense and concentrated on the palate, with very clear expression of black pepper profile of Syrah grape, with lots of dark red fruit (but the wine is not fruit forward at all). The wine also shows very good balance of tannins and acidity. It needs time to really shine – it would probably taste much better in 10 years or so. You can buy this wine for about $90.

Crozes_Hermitage_1992_label1992 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage already has some good age on it, and it showed outstanding in the tasting. Very playful, soft with lots of good fruit and refreshing acidity. This wine will probably continue aging well for another 5 years or so, but it is perfectly enjoyable right now. I was able to get it for $20 now, not ten years ago – but it is not easy to find it.

So, what can we conclude from this? Of course tasting just two bottles can’t be really used as a solid basis for comparison, but I would gladly drink that Crozes-Hermitage now, instead of waiting for Hermitage to mature, especially considering that you can get 4 bottles instead of one. Does it mean that Hermitage doesn’t worth the price? I wouldn’t squarely put it like this – probably the next experiment will need to include Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage from the same year – then we will be in a better shape to conclude on something.

But – it is time to conclude this post, and if I can make a recommendation, go find the bottle of either wine, and be the judge yourself – and please don’t forget to share your thoughts. Cheers!

Wine, Aged Beautifully

July 12, 2011 4 comments

Let’s talk about aging. No, that’s not what you think – not people aging and not the world problems with the aging populations. Let’s talk about the aging of the wine. By the way, it appears that second time in the row I’m taking upon the popular subject – in the previous post we were comparing the wine glasses (post can be found here), and now the wine aging.

With all due respect (based on this phrase, my friend Kfir would tell you right away that I’m about to blast something), I completely disagree with the majority of the popular opinion on the subject of wine aging. Open a wine book, read a wine blog, or ask a question on Quora, and for the most part, you will get an answer that 95% of the wines are not supposed to be aged and should be consumed within a year or two from the release date.

Based on my personal experience, I disagree with this viewpoint. I can’t put a percentage or a quantity on it, but I believe that well in excess of half of the wines produced in the world (not by the volume, but by the variety of the actual wines) can age very well for 5 to 10 years – and “age well”  means “to improve with age”. My biggest problem with the aging of the wines is … space. If you want to drink aged wine, you either need a lot of space, or you need [typically] lots of money, as most of the aged wines increase in price. If you have a cool and dark area with constant humidity, you can buy wines as they are released.  store them and enjoy them later as they evolve and mature. Otherwise, you need to have money and a reputable source of the aged wines (improper storage conditions will ruin any wine in no time). Once you solved your space problem, the rest is easy.

How easy is that? How can we know if that bottle of wine will age well – read: improve with age? There are way too many factors affecting the aging of the wine, and being able to predict age-worthiness of the wine (age-worthiness means that wine will evolve and taste better in the future) is more art than science. As an example, Matt Kramer, one of my favorite wine writers identifies age-worthy wines using characteristic of the mouth-feel, a mid-palate weight of the wine in the mouth. Here is my take on the subject. First, yes, of course, some of the wines are meant to be aged – for instance, Beaujolais Noveau is released in November and should be consumed by May of next year. Outside of the wines which are designated by winemakers as “do not age”, the majority has some aging potential. I believe the biggest dependency here is on the winemaker and what she or he wants to achieve with particular wine – if wine is well made,  there is a good chance that it will also age well.

Some wines are helped by their “DNA” – under which I mean from what grape and where in the world the wine is made (of course good/bad year matters too). California Cabernet Sauvignon expected to [typically] reach maturity at around 13 years. Bordeaux easily ages for 30-50 years. Syrah-based wines, whether from Australia or France, can live for 50 years. Many 50-years old Riojas are fresh and vibrant as being just made. But “DNA” alone is not enough – wine should be well made in order to age well.

If you are still reading this post, I guess you might be tired by now by this prolonged escapade into the wine aging, and you might be wondering why, why is all that wine aging might be important? Well, I can’t answer this question. At least not before you will find the wine with a little age on it, which will blow you away. Yes, it is an acquired taste. But once you will actually acquire that “mature wine” taste, this is what you are going to crave, I guarantee you.

Let me share some recent and exciting discoveries. Let’s start with 1995 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley. This wine is made out of 100% Chardonnay. While the nose was not very expressive, the level of complexity of this wine is unimaginable. Yes, considering dark golden color, this wine might well be past prime, and without that “acquired taste” for the aged white wine, you might be even upset after the first sip. This wine was exhibiting notes of vanilla which almost moved up to some sort of the almond paste, still showing some acidity. Next are savory notes, almost to the level of saltiness, which was increasing the complexity even further. The wine was in a very stable shape as it tasted the same on the second day as well. Will this wine evolve further? Who knows – but I would be very happy to taste this wine again in five or maybe ten years. Drinkability: 8

The next wine is 1992 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage from France. Crozes-Hermitage wines are made primarily out of Syrah, typically with a very small addition of Marsanne and Rousanne grapes. As we mentioned before, Syrah wines age quite well, and this was an excellent example of the well-aged Syrah wine. This wine was very playful and soft, with lots of red fruit on the nose and on the palate, very good acidity and a good level of tannins. This wine probably will continue evolving for the next five to ten years, and again I will be glad to help you share the bottle later on – if you will have one. Drinkability: 8-


Going back to California, 2001 Lolonis Petite Sirah Redwood Valley. In short – outstanding. This 10 years old wine was completely fresh and beautiful. It is made from organically grown Petite Sirah grape. The wine showed perfect dark fruit, good acidity, full body, excellent tannins, and perfect overall balance. This wine might be evolving for the next 10-20 years – again, the trick will be to find it.

Drinkability: 8+.


Last, but not least, 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County. This was the “wow” wine, that exact mind-blowing one. First, while I like Cabernet Franc wines, I had no idea they can age so well. I can literally guarantee that in the blind tasting format, very very few people would be able to guess the age of this wine. Deep garnet color, not a hint of age (no brownish overtones at all). Perfect fresh fruit, soft and luscious, a perfect balance of tannins and acidity. This wine was the oldest in the tasting, and it was definitely the best of tasting. Considering how good it was now, I can’t even guess how much time it has left – but I would be very glad to find a few more bottles to be “wowed” again in the future. Drinkability: 9-

One note before we conclude – this was a rare case of someone doing all the hard work, and me enjoying the results – I got all wines from Benchmark Wine Company and each one of them had been less than $20.

Don’t know if you got the desire to seek well-aged wines – I hope you will one day. For now, I can only wish upon myself, my family, all my friends and all of you, my readers, to age as beautifully as this Justin Cabernet Franc does. Cheers!


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