Category Archives: En Vino Veritas

Fermented fruit juice with an alcohol percentage less than 18.

I visited Château d’Yquem!!

The “Stairway to Heaven” leads to a cave filled with gold…

Hey, remember when I started this blog I thumbed my nose at the social media accounts that flaunted their access to the deluxe lifestyle? You know how I promised to “keep it real” about the everyday products that I try and not get too fancy? Yeah, well screw that – I visited Château d’Yquem, suckers!

I was invited by my good friend, Gwennaelle Brieu. When she asked if I’d be interested in joining her for a professional visit, I tried to play it cool, but I had golden unicorns in my eyes. Gwen is in charge of the tours at another iconic estate (Château Figeac, Saint Emilion Premiere Grand Cru Classé B), but she admitted to me later that even she couldn’t help from geeking out. Yquem has only very recently begun giving tours and only to those willing to reach deep into their pockets, so as pro guests, we were honored to be led around the property by a member of the technical team.

Château d’Yquem is mythic. It is the golden unicorn of the fine wine world and considered to be the reigning top dessert wine (with a price-tag to match). Surprisingly polyvalent, thanks to its fresh acidity, it can accompany more than just dessert.  Serving it with pork roast and candied peaches can induce euphoria, but the pairing that blew me away – salted popcorn!

Pairing Sauternes with salty snacks can get interesting 😉

So what makes it special? Would you believe me if I told you it has taken me more than a month to write this damn article for the simple fact that it’s impossible to express why people fall all over themselves for this wine?

In my first draft, I started by giving a history of the estate’s ties to the French monarchy (one of the Louis-es, who cares which one?) and how the luxury company LVMH – Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton is now the majority owner, but that only explains the bankroll and doesn’t really have anything to do with the wine itself, now does it?

Next, I attempted to explain how the estate’s geographical situation (atop three rolling hills, between the Garonne River and its tributary, le Ciron) is the perfect placement to encourage heavy morning fog that burns off in the afternoon…

OK. Wait. Timeout. I do have to get a tad technical here, because for the unbaptised, the concept of purposefully choosing rotten grapes may seem bizarre.

After the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes have fully developed, the vignerons of the region open their shutters in the morning hoping to see that dense fog settled into the rows. This will encourage botrytis cinerea to form. That’s a freakin’ fungus,

Grapes attacked by Botrytis cinerea. Photo credit: Pinterest

a spore that attacks individual berries and creates a rotting, semi-permeability in the skins.  Yay? Yep. If Bacchus is in a good mood, the temperatures start heating up and that fog burns off and the water inside those moldy grapes can evaporate, leaving a syrupy concentration of sugars and acids that cannot be created any other way.

I tried writing an article about the laborious conditions under which the harvesters pick the bunches individually, by hand. They have to determine if the progression of the rot is perfect. The team at Château d’Yquem makes up to six passes in the 100+ hectares! It requires a delicate touch and an experienced eye, so unlike most chateaux, Yquem employs a permanent team. The selection is so intense that an entire vine will produce only one glass of golden vin liquoreux. 

But what happens if the vineyards are not blessed with perfect conditions? Another reason this wine could be considered precious – the wine won’t get made. Period. The entire vintage will be declassified and there will be a hole in the vertical. Tant pis (translation: tough shhizzz). This occured as recently as 2012 when the levels of concentration were deemed insufficient. It could have been a decent year, but it was not perfect, so… no go. It’s not often we see a commercialized, agricultural endeavor write off an enitre crop because it wasn’t up to kingly standards – insurance companies don’t like that.

That’s not a large quantity of juice. Quality>Quantity, ya’ll.

But if the harvest is validated the wine can be made – or really multiple wines will be made. Each vineyard parcel is kept seperate from the others to preserve the characteristics of each terroir. The juice rests in new, french oak barrels for six to eight months before a pre-blending session takes place to determine qualities of the vintage (read: another hard nosed selection). The chosen barrels then rest an additional 14 months in the underground cave. This makes the wine making process a much longer period than dry whites and reds. It’s different than any of the other appellations in Bordeaux, so maybe that piques our interest too.

So what? All of these vigorous conditions and attention to detail result in what when we talk about the wine itself? Aren’t there other Sauternes properties that produce botrytisized wines?

The simple, but elegant technical tasting salon where the spittoons are always empty.
Full circle: the first time I tried Ch d’Yquem was the en primeur barrel sample of 2010. Six years later, I had the finished product in the château’s tasting salon.

Yes, several, and a large portion of my cellar has always been dedicated to these. My bank account keeps  trying  to convince me that buying a six bottle/case selection instead of one bottle of Yquem is a wise investment and that there really isn’t much difference.
But then someone pours me a taste of this royal nectar and I realize I’m kidding myself.

There is no substitute for perfect balance, freshness, and the layer after layer of flavors that resonnate from that glass. The written word – even (24 drafts of) technical tasting notes – cannot communicate what is revealed when that juice rolls around on your tongue. Same way nobody, if they ever get the chance to see one, will be able to describe the majesty of a golden unicorn.

 

Sunday Market Treats

Sundays are for the market. We select our fruits and veggies for the week, a rotisserie chicken or a selction of charcuterie for lunch, and maybe an eclair or two for dessert (OK, always). If the weather is behaving and I if I have quelque sous (a little money) left over, we grab a spot in the sun and have a little noon-time whistle quencher.

Except it’s not exactly warm enough to sit outside yet; gotta find somewhere indoors. Good thing L’Epicerie du Zinc is open Sunday afternoons for just such an occasion.

Today was my first visit to the cavist / epicerie fine situated behind the covered market in Libourne. We were greeted by the owner, whom we know already from his wine bar/ restaurant in town, Le Zinc Authentique. As we rested our market basket on the ground, he asked what mood we were in. I don’t know if there is a hardcopy wine list here, but it would be superfluous because

1) What you see along the walls is the selection – mention what you want and he’ll open it

2) ALWAYS TRUST YOUR CAVIST!!!

We asked for a dry white and he opened up…

Villa des Croix Chardonnay / Viognier 2015 Les Grandes Côtes, Pays d’Oc.

It was perfect for an apéritif. It had sufficient roundness and tropical fruit cocktail flavors. It was fresh, with an acidity that didn’t pucker. I decided to take a bottle home.

And that’s where he ‘got’ me. Looking around the shop, I saw that he had a diverse selection with prices that are correct. I didn’t feel guilty about picking out a handful of bottles for the week. My cave at home has nothing that wouldn’t have to be decanted for hours, which is not acceptable come six o’clock.

Thinking about the coquelet in my fridge that I plan to prepare this week, I began looking for a decent pinot noir – if it ain’t pinot noir, it ain’t coq au vin. I spied…

Terrasses de Perret, Pays d’Oc, Pinot Noir, 2015

 …sitting all alone in the corner and added it to my selection. I may oblige myself to short my recipe a glass for direct consumption – I’m expecting kirch-y cherry flavors and not a lot of tannin. I’ll let ya know.

Halfway through my glass, I noticed a wine that I’d sold in Texas,

Bodegas Luzon Verde Organic, Jumilla, Monastrell, 2013.

Jumilla is the Spanish desert and the monastrell (known in France as Mourvèdre), produces some juicy, berry-driven, high alcohol viños. We’d picked up a couple faux filet for lunch and I thought this would be great for braising and to accompany. It had just enough age to show some briary undertones, but this stainless steel production had loads of fruit in the blackberry, boysenberry range. The tannin was supple, thanks to that desert heat. I can safely say that this is still a great value wine – especially if you’re searching for organic farming.

Since I’ve been leaning toward white wines lately and since my son hadn’t yet finished his morsel of baguette (which he stole from the counter – my little Jean Valjean), I wanted to look for one more vin blanc. I got a little excited when I saw…

VECCHIA TORRE, Salento Bianco, Vermintino, 2015

… because, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s not much international selection when you live in Bordeaux – especially whites. Vermentino is a lively Italian variety with grassy and citrus characteristics. This one is from the Puglia region and I can’t wait to pull it out next time we have fruits de mer or oysters!

Adding all these bottles to the two glasses, my leftover sous wasn’t going to be enough. My bank card didn’t take too much of a hit, though, because my total was less than €50! As we were leaving, Yannick mentioned sideways that this place could quickly become dangerous. I agreed, but don’t think that’ll stop me.

Still had the coins jingling in my Levi’s, so we walked to a stand that we’ve passed several times at the marché, but never stopped. It’s occupied by a jovial guy that sells beers from Flanders.

No, not Ned.  The Dutch/French region along the border of Southern Belgium / Northern France is known for heavily hopped ales of high alcohol content. And nothing else, because, well, there’s not much else interesting in the area. Sorry, but it’s true. I tried researching extra info about the city this beer is made and… see for yourself – google Blaringhem, France and see what you come up with.

So, Yannick picked out…

 Brasserie Anosteke Cuvée d’Hiver

…to test while we watch France play against Norway in the Handball World Cup. The guy told us it wasn’t going to be a typical winter brew that over-does it on the spices and ends up tasting like your aunt’s potpourri jar. He promised a more caramel / citrus vibe. I can agree with that. It reminded me of a chocolate cream soda and caramalized grapefruit. The body was medium and there was a clean freshness. Better than I expected!

Can’t wait to see what we find next week at the market!! Yannick told me he’s holding my credit card though.

 

Le Bourru est arrivé!

Autumn is here. Can’t deny it. Wanna know how I know? The bourru is here.

It’s the moment when the people of wine regions can officially declare that summer is over. Cozied into the fruit and vegetable markets, among the vendors of gourds,  appears a stand of wine bottles filled with “fizzy-lifting-drinks” otherwise known as Le Bourru.

Bourru literally translates to surly or gruff, and describes perfectly the texture and finesse of this juice. Bourru is the first fermented grape juice after harvest. For whatever reason, the winemaker didn’t want a particular batch to make it into their final blend, so they bottle it up and send it to the nearest markets. The problem and novelty comes from the juice still being in an unstable state of fermentation. And since-

yeast
Sugar + yeast = alcohol+CO2+heat

– the juice is in a state of active carbonation, the bottle can’t be sealed with a cork. Or, it can, but it’s gonna expode once the pressure builds up!

They slap a capsule with tiny holes on the bottle and hope it doesn’t make too much of a mess in the back of the truck. This is a fact, I swear to Bacchus, I forget EVERY SINGLE YEAR. I have ended up with sticky juice (not all those sugars are eaten up yet) all over my jeans or shoes or trunk of the car because I forgot to handle the bottle gingerly and keep it in an upright position. So now I carry it home like this:

"I promise, Officer, I only spilled it all over myself. I swear I didn't take a drink!"
“I promise, Officer, I only spilled it all over myself. I swear I didn’t take a drink!”

This year I bought my Bourru from a Medocain producer (50 kilometers away). The juice was Sauvignon Blanc with an approximate alcohol content of 11 – 13 percent. The tannins were gripping and the flavor was in the overly sweetened pineapple juice range. It was actually not a bad little apéritif.

Nothing high brow about it, just a good ol’ harvest refreshment. My favorite way to benefit from the full aromas of this once a year treat? Serve it in recycled holiday edition mustard jars! haha.14517396_891007764365046_6706962556003264982_n

 

My Summer Superstars of 2016

In the world of professional winos I will be the first to admit that I was a lightweight this summer. I went to the dentist recently and when he told me to spit, I actually dribbled a little. Sure, I could blame it on the anesthesia, but my skills are slipping, ya’ll!

Nevertheless, I managed to enjoy several impressive bottles in my personal life. Here are the superstars of my summer libations:

Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge Vielles Vignes, 2012 (<€40)

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Two years ago when I saw this pinot noir at my local wine shop I geeked out. I wanted to hold it another two, but I cracked. I couldn’t wait to test out this semi-rare selection from a top rated vintage. So I brought it over to a friend’s house for dinner.

The Burgundian region of Chassagne-Montrachet is typically known for their whites; lovely, oak-aged, mineral driven chardonnays. Only one-third of the cru vineyards (fewer than 360 acres to begin with) are designated to pinot noir production. To put it another way, I never saw one stateside.

When I pulled the cork, there wasn’t much to smell, so we let it breathe in the bottle -the decanter was already being used – while Nico barbequed the duck magrets. (I love eating at his place).

By the time we were ready for the repa, the bouquet smelled of candied violettes and strawberry juice on toast. On the pinot scale the body was medium with delicate tannins and flavors of earth, morello cherries and black plums.  The finish was about five seconds – I shoulda kept it the extra two years. If this is the “entry level” Chassagne-Montrechet for Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils, I understand why their 1ere crus start hitting triple digit prices.

Domaine Les Creisses Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014 (<€20)

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Apparently, I’m the last wine geek in France to find out about Les Creisses. The viticultrual region this comes from is sometimes (unjustly) put into a “…and Others” section in wine shops because they can’t be put into any one category except being “non traditonal.” This Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon is juicy, rich, full bodied and clean with aromas of grilled meat, mixed berries, stewed plums, and vanilla. It went great with the my bacon wrapped, chicken cordon bleu à la mexicaine. I went out and bought another bottle to see how it ages.

Château La Grave à Pomerol Trigant de Boisset, Pomerol, 1998      (>€450)

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This right here, folks, is why we age wine. In my opinion, this 18 year old wine was at its peak. One of the benefits of living in the Bordeaux region – you get invited to dinner at a friend’s house and, on a whim, he pulls out un petit tresor from the cave.

I drive past this vineyard everyday. It’s on the western side of the Pomerol plateau and in contrast to the mostly clay driven soil of the region, the merlot and cabernet franc vines push up from the gravel terrior that is reflected in the chateau’s name. For that reason, it’s considered one of the lighter styled Pomerol wines.

A highly perfumed nose of sweet blackberries and cocoa. En bouche there were notes of ripe cherry, licorice, fine leather, and mineral. The mouthfeel offered ripe tannins that felt like silk. The balance and elegance this wine showed was outstanding. It had another 10-12 years to go, easy. It was served poolside with grilled pork sausages! I pretty much ignored the rest of the guests and made out with my glass!

Vignerons de Buxy Montagny 1er Cru “Les Chaniots” 2013 (<€25)

Let me explain something about Burgundy real quick: ancient heritage laws (I won’t bore you) resulted in vineyard properties being broken up amonst family members evenly instead of an entire estate passing to a first born. It’s common that Cousin Jean-Pierre owns one and a half rows and Tante Marie-Claude controls three rows. 10492167_877992635666559_3764779332977701427_nSince it’s not financially interesting to produce and sell a wine from such a little parcel, Burgundy uses a co-operative system. They are allowed to grow chardonnay or pinot noir. This is why the concept of terrior is vital. In exceptional cases, where the terrior is so pronounced it merits being set apart, a wine will come from a single vineyard plot, or climat.

Such was the case with this premiere cru from Montagny, in the Cote Chalonnaise. Chardonnay vines push up out of brittle limestone and clay with a gravel subsoil base; and I could taste it. There was a strong mineral edge to accompany the honeysuckle and green apple notes. The slight sensation of oak on my gums was in perfect balance with the acidity. This is a wine that, while enjoyable now, will be amazing in about 5 years.

Yes, white wines can be aged – especially in Burgundy, and – gasp – be paired with red meat! However, pairing this guy with our habitual marche rotisserie chicken was a lovely way to cap off the summer!

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Paired perfectly with the rotisserie chicken and garlic pommes de terre for Sunday dinner.

 

Yes, I take pictures of food now.

I’ve become one of those ridiculous people that takes iphone photos of  food – and I’m not even good at it! I’m sure at least a few of you have noticed the crumbs on the tablecloth or the stack of bills sitting in the background, but I’m showing what I imbibe IRL and frankly I don’t want to spend hours staging a photo.  Ok, that’s a lie; I’m kinda diggin’ staging these photos, but let’s not go overboard. Problem is, it takes up a lot of my memory and then when I’m trying to take an adorable photo of my kid I get a message that I have no more space.

So here are a bunch of my random photos from the last few months that didn’t exactly fit another blog post. Let’s see how many times my reflection shows up on the bottle or the glass! Hopefully I was wearing something other than pyjamas at the time.

Bon, ok, je suis maintenant une de ces personnes ridicule qui prennent des photos de leurs bouffes. Même si je ne suis pas douée – on vois mes miettes sur la table et les traces sur les verres – je vous simplement vous montrer “ce que je bois” In Real Life <dans la vraie vie> quoi.

Je commence a n’avoir plus de place de stockage et il me faut de la place pour capturer mon adorable gamin, donc voici quelques photos qui ne correspondes a aucun article déjà écris. Allez! On vas compter combien de fois on meut voie dans le reflet de la bouteille – en espérant que je suis habillée!

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BODEGAS ANGOSTO LA TRIBU, Garnacha, Monestrell, Syrah 2014 – Valencia, Spain [< 12€]

An easy, everyday red that blends three grapes normally seen in the Rhone region of France. Stewed plum, spice, violets, bacon, and black peppercorns. Perfect for a cool spring evening and a bowl of lamb couscous.

3 1/2 stars.

Un ‘tit vin rouge du quotidien. Typiquement on voient ces trois cépage dans le Rhône. Prunes confites, cinq épices, violettes, viande grillée, poivre noire. Parfait pour accompagner un couscous d’agneau.

 

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This was the last jar of the foie gras that we made ourselves! So good!

ANTOINE BARRIER Brouilly 2014 – Beaujolais, France [< 6€]

Normally, I love gamay Beaujolais- especially for a Sunday lunch of fruit, cheese, charcuterie, and homemade foie gras! This one tasted like they did not do a selection of the fruit and probably left the stems and seeds (we all know how annoying stems and seeds can be).

1 star

J’adore le Beaujolais – normalement – surtout le dimanche (A.près M.arche) avec fruits, fromage, charcuterie et foie gras fais maison! Mais il me semble qu’ils ne font pas une sélection pour celui-ci et qu’il est vinifié avec la grappe et les graines (et on sais tous a quel point les tiges et les graines sont embêtantes). Berk.

 

L.A. CETTO Petite Sirah 2013 – Baja Califorina, Mexico [< 6€]

I never thought I’d have to come all the way to France to get my hands on a wine from Mexico.  Petite Sirah is a variety that originated in France as a cross-pollination of two other varieties, but has pretty much disappeared from the region. The Pacific coast of North America seems to be a good home though. This one offered blueberry jam and blackberry notes and slight hints of cocao powder. I served it chilled to smooth out the jammy mouthfeel. Really surprising!

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Le cépage Durif (dit Petite Sirah) a ses origines dans le Dauphiné. C’est une croisement spontanée  de peloursin et de syrah qui a presque disparu de France pendant le ravages du phylloxéra . On le trouve maintenant sur la côte Pacifique d’Amérique du Nord.  Celui-ci nous offre des notes de confiture de myrtille,  de mûre, et de cacao en poudre. Je le bois légèrement froid pour mieux apprécier sa rondeur. Une belle surprise!

Bertrand & Vincent Marchesseau Bourgueil “Funambule” 2014 – Bourgueil, France [< 12€]

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A faux filet (sirloin) from the BBQ with rosemary pommes dauphin. Garnished with radishes sliced all fancylike.

Funambule is french for tightrope walker – a task that requires tremendous balance. Balance is the quality that every winemaker aspires to manifest in their wines. These guys attained that goal for this vintage of 100% Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, but it didn’t go “over the bigtop” so to speak. A little fruity in the cranberry range, a little bit of baking spice, and just a touch fleshy.

Tiramisu cake with a coffee mascarpone glaçage.
Tiramisu cake with a coffee mascarpone glaçage.

I liked it better with dessert when the blueberry tones came out of hiding.

2 1/2 stars.13177595_806988852766938_2483401692736717387_n

Ils ont bien trouvé leur équilibre pour ce vin. Un peu de fruit dans la gamme cranberry, un peu d’épices, et un peu de charnu.  Je l’ai préféré en dessert quand il a fait ressortir ses notes de myrtilles.

Some randoms:

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Noir 2014 - Alsace, France.
Wolfberger Signature Pinot Noir 2014 – Alsace, France.

 

This was a pinot noir from the Mâcon region of Burgundy. Not worth mentioning the name. The pork roast was great.
This was a pinot noir from the Mâcon region of Burgundy. Not worth mentioning the name. The pork roast was great.
Domaine des Clos Godeaux Les Maupas 2014 - Chinon, France.
Domaine des Clos Godeaux Les Maupas 2014 – Chinon, France. Cabernet Franc

Empties Report

I’m a little behind on my dead soldiers recap. So, let’s get started.

Dauvergne Ranvier Crozes-Hermitage 2013 vin gourmand.

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DR Crozes-Hermitage 2013 paired with grilled tuna and a cashew broccoli/cauliflower medly.

I first became familiar with Dauvergne Ranvier around 2009. They were exporting pretty little Côtes du Rhone and Gigondas selections that surprised me for the price point.

The viticultural region (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – AOC) of Crozes-Hermitage is known mostly for light, early drinking syrah wines. The 2013 vintage was turbulant around harvest time and François Dauvergne & Jean-François Ranvier decided to stick with this style. However, thanks to their concentrated parcel selection, 2013 surpassed my expectations of the overall region.

The color is a dark purple with ruby reflects and a pretty high alcohol aréole (sometimes called “legs”). The nose offers black fruits and a hint of saddle. The flavors are on target, black plum and black peppercorn, with a finish that seems a bit hot (alcoholic), but that’s my fault for opening it too young and not allowing it to breathe long enough. I’d keep it in the cave another 4-5 years.

3 1/2 stars out of 5.

Bodegas Etchart Privado Torrontes 2015

Valle de Cafayate-Salta, Argentina

13521980_830687697063720_7534880941977455295_nI love torrontes. They are incredible food wines that pair with the hardest to pair cuisine. One of the years that I judged for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Uncorked! competition, nobody wanted to be on the torrontes panel because the varietal was just entering the market and some mediocre references were being pushed. I volunteered and there were some flabby, uninspiring selections, but when this unique, Argentine white is done well, it is amazing! I tasted several that day that made me fall hard in love.

The 2015 Etchart Privado comes from a cool climate and has clean freshness. The green color dances with life. The nose is characteristically aromatic in the sweet grapefruit, rose range. The mouthfeel is light and offers a bright, crisp finish. The flavors are lemon-lime, white peach and geranium. Check it out: we had this for lunch with oven baked salmon and sesame broccoli. 13439204_830687663730390_129799340225387011_nThen we finished the bottle with our first cantelope of the season and the flavors changed to lychee and baking spice. So versatile.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

Gassies Margaux 2009 – – Superstar of the Week

I’m not going to spend too much time telling you about this estate. Gassies is the second wine of Château Rauzan Gassies 2éme Cru Margaux (here, let me translate that: classified in 1855 as a second tier quality level from the Margaux AOC or, in other words – a heavy hitter). The classified growths of Bordeaux are allowed two wines – their namesake and then a second wine. The second wine is made from the younger vines on the estate and are often considered an early quality indicator for the big brother’s potential in any given vintage. When purchasing for my own cellar I have a tendancy to prefer second wines.

I found this bottle at a supermarket last year on sale for under 20€ – a steal, especially for the highly rated 2009 vintage.

Transporting my super wine find back home.
Transporting my super wine find back home.

I had the impression that it hadn’t been selling well. This was the first vintage after the Quié family changed the name of the second wine from Le Chevalier de Rauzan-Gassies and it didn’t have too much recognition yet. Too bad, so sad! My intention was to keep it for another 5-6 years, but I got impatient and opened it to go with lamb chops and rosemary, garlic potatoes.  We finished it with Lindt dark chocolate – the textures were amazing together.

The blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc was outstanding. The color is purple-black and the nose gives dark cherry, forest floor, and pencil shavings. 13435533_828641840601639_1942302604889642766_nThe flavors are of ripe cherry, raspberry, red & black currants, rock dust, and cedar. The tannins are F-I-N-E and elegant, but deeply concentrated. I am kicking myself for not snatching more bottles because it has a cellar potential of at least 12 more years and it will be gorgeous in 8.

4 stars out of 5.

 

 

Sangaetano Primitivo do Manduria 2013

Wrapping up the week with PIZZA NIGHT!

Don't laugh at my Halloween goblet! I don't have to worry about it breaking.
Don’t laugh at my Halloween goblet! I don’t have to worry about it breaking.

<If you ask any of my friends and neighbors what wine to pair with pizza, the answer is going to be “Bordeaux.” But then again, that’s their answer to any pairing question…. I happen to think Italian wine pairs well with pizza, but hey, when in Rome… er… you know what I mean.>

The end of a long week deserves to be celebrated even if you don’t feel like going ‘ all-out.’ There’s a newish wine shop in town that I wanted to visit, so we placed a pizza order and went to pick out a wine while it baked.

Listen, folks, as much as I love the idea of you hanging on every word I have to say about wine I am not the consultant in your local wine shop. Nothing can replace the advice the curator of a wine shop’s selection has to offer. They know their stock and have, hopefully, tasted it recently. Always ask for advice – which is what I did.

I told him I wanted:

1) Something ready to drink that evening,

2) Italian (so difficult to find in Bordeaux for the reason I mention above), and

3) Under 12€.

He gave me two different options and I picked the Primitivo.

Primitivo is the old world cousin of red Zinfandel [clarification: all Zinfandel is red, but I know you’re thinking about that pink wine, so don’t.] The Italian versions are a little less jammy and much lower in alcohol than what we find in the California selections, but even this one nudged up to 14.5%.

13450985_828641877268302_6314535127641960281_nIt displayed a deep purple color with aromas of black currants. The flavors were complex notes of dark chocolate, briar, black plums, maduro tobacco, and white pepper. The body was medium with a balanced tannic structure. Dessert were some cupcakes from the new “American” pastry shop next door to the wine cave. I can’t wait to go back and tell this cavist guy he was spot on.  Those cupcakes, notsomuch.

Du Jardin

I’ve successfully grown one whole cucumber in my garden this year.

Well, there were more than that, but our dog, Roxiegirl, has a vegetable addiction. One summer, we left her overnight and this is what happened to my broccoli plants.

Before Roxie found my broccoli.
Before Roxie found my broccoli…
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…and after she found my broccoli.

Anyway, I snatched the one cucumber she was kind enough to leave on the vine and harvested some basil leaves for this summery, garden cocktail.

DU JARDIN [from the garden]

In a glass:

  • One inch grated cucumber
  • 4-5 leaves basil, rinsed

Muddle to release the basil oils

  • One and a half ounces Martini Bianco

Fill with tonic water and ice cubes.

Garnish with a cucumber slice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocwh7w4rGk8

^^Oh, look!^^An amateur video of me making a mess!^^

Its freshness is perfect for a hot, late afternoon aperitif and invigorates the palate for the upcoming dinner. The crispness of the cucumber mingles with the savory basil and the bitter citrus & vanilla notes of the Martini Bianco vermouth rounds it out.

In the States, we would never think to use a vermouth as the base of the cocktail. Before I moved to Europe, if someone had suggested drinking a straight vermouth, I would have gagged a little. On one of my visits home I was relieving a buffalo wings craving and asked for a Rosso vermouth on ice. It took the bartender and the bar manager and the general manager about twenty minutes to figure out how to charge me for it because it’s never more than a garnish in most American cocktails.6a00e553b3da20883401b7c7915b89970b

Vermouth is a fortified wine – a wine base that has been (with endless proprietary blends)  flavored with fruits, herbs, or spices (aka botanicals) and then distilled and sweetened. Since the wine has gone through a distillation process, it stops evolving, allowing it to be kept for longer periods of time.

It’s a shame that it’s almost always found on the bottom shelf in the gin section. Thanks to Bond, James Bond the martini drinkers in America seem to be the only ones buying it and just the extra-dry versions. A touch is poured into a glass, swished around, and then dumped out adding a hint of the herbal flavors to the vodka or gin. The original purpose of this spirit was to make a medicinal tonic more palatable – that whole “spoon full of sugar” concept. The various botanicals that flavor the spirit were prescribed by European doctors to calm the ailments of their patients.

If you hesitate to purchase a bottle of vermouth because you know it’ll collect dust in the back of the cabinet, fear not! Many brands sell 375ml sizes. Be aware, though, the smaller the bottle, the less value for your money. A regular 750ml bottle is not going to be expensive and there are endless ways you can use it – add a splash to your next pasta sauce, your tomatoes du jardin will thank you.

 

 

Ce que j’ai dans le porte-bouteille pour le bac de recyclage

Quelqu’un (je ne sais pas qui, si c’était vous, dite le moi – et autrement, merci) a apporté cette bouteille lors d’une soirée. Elle n’a pas était ouverte cette nuit-là , je l’ai donc stockai dans ma cave pour une autre occasion. Normalement, ce sont des vins qui sont consommés très jeune et généralement à l’apéritif. Eh bien, cette bouteille est resté dans ma cave 9 mois de plus que ce que j’aurai voulue, vue l’abstinence due a ma grossesse. Pour cette raison, au moment de déboucher la bouteille, qui devais accompagner une coquilles saint jacques aux risotto champignons, je ne m’attendais pas a grand chose.13255970_816570711808752_8988243240556868206_n
Oh Bacchus, je me trompais! Le sauvignon blanc était encore très aromatique dans la gamme de pamplemousse & citron vert, sa couleur était d’un or pâle fané, et d’une  légère acidité agréablement fraîche. La maturité du colombard nous offrais des notes minérales et des saveur de pommes au four. Pour un vin de ce style et de cet âge, c’est incroyable qu’il n’y eu qu’un simple soupçon de soufre. Il est évident, pour moi, que ce vin a été fermenté à froid pour maintenir la fraîcheur et éviter la nécessité d’utiliser trop de stabilisateurs. Il n’y avait pas de contre étiquette, je dirais qu’il devais se situer aux environs de 11 -11.5% d’alcool. Si je pourrais savoir où acheter ce vin, je n’hésiterais absolument pas a en stocker.

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Château Petit Gravet Ainé, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2007

J’ai récemment découvert ce château lors d’un weekend portes ouvertes à Saint Emilion. Cette propriété ainsi que deux autres à Saint Emilion sont détenue par Madame Catherine PAPON-NOUVELLE. Madame PAPON-NOUVELLE a acquis sa passion pour la viticulture au près de son père. Quand elle a hérité du domaine familiale, elle a rapidement pris partie pour une conversion à l’agriculture biologique.  Ch. PGA se compose de deux hectares sableux où généralement domine des sols alliant argile et calcaire. Pour cette raison, l’encépagement est principalement cabernet franc avec une touche de merlot allant a l’encontre des us et coutumes de la Rive Droite.

Elle a obtenue d’excellentes critiques pour ses millésimes 2009, 2010, et 2012 en restant dans une gamme de  prix raisonnables. Tout en sachent  que ces millésimes sont connus comme des années exceptionnelles, mais sont pas encore prêt a boire.  C’est pour cela que mon choix c’est orienté sur le millésime 2007.  Ce millésime <<classique>>qui ce boit très bien en ce moment me permet juger le caractère et le travaille d’une année typique. J’ai pas été déçu.13256504_816570745142082_4645535287763485664_n

Les premières arômes mon fait penser à la Rive Gauche, un témoignage de concentration plus élevée en cabernet franc, puis l’odeur de terroir typique de St Em s’échappa hors du verre. La bouche est velouté, ronde et emballée avec des arômes de cerises, framboises, et de mûres – toute la richesse d’une vigne sur le côté sud – le tout trempé de soleil. Une légère note cacao et florale, un gout de terroir bien prononcé. Il avait une forte présence de dépôt. A boire dans les 2 ans.  Il a certainement bonifié un steak accompagné d’un brocoli sésame.

Je pense a accorder une attention plus particulière à cette pionnière dans les années à venir.

Domaine de la Perruche Saumur-Champigny Vielles Vignes 2014

Pizza Night! Pas envie de penser ni de faire la vaisselle, alors j’ai jeté une pizza congelée dans le four et choisi une bouteille trouvée au Tours (Val de Loire). Je savais que cela était un sage pari vue que les vins sont plutôt destinés à être consommés jeunes; ils sont en grande partie “acheter maintenant, boire maintenant.” Pour garder un tanin plus léger leurs macérations est plus courte et leurs temps en barrique est minimisé (voir absent).13310590_819823978150092_4672036003200771987_n

Après avoir couché le gamin, nous avons aussi mis ce 100% cabernet franc au lit. Il nous a offert des arômes de confiture de framboise et de violettes . Sa couleur était d’un rubis intense avec des reflets violets . Le corps, d’une texture soyeuse avec une saveur en bouche de fruits des bois et de copeaux de crayon. Un vin très harmonieux avec un potentiel de garde de 3-5 ans .

This week’s empties

Time to take the empty bottles to the recycling bin!

Vintus Blanc sec Gascogne 2013
Someone (I don’t remember who, if it was you, let me know) brought this bottle over when we were having a party. It didn’t get opened that night and I put it in my cellar for another occassion. Normally, these are wines that are consumed very young and usually as an aperitif.  Well, this bottle stayed in my cellar 9 months longer than I wanted it to as I was abstaining from consumption during my pregnancy. I wasn’t expecting much when we popped the cork to accompany scallops with mushroom risotto.

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Oh Bacchus, was I wrong! The sauvignon blanc was still highly aromatic in the grapefruit, lime range. The color was a muted, pale gold. The acidity had calmed to be pleasingly fresh. The colombard‘s maturity offered baked apple and mineral notes. There was only a hint of sulpher, which is incredible for a wine of this style, at this age. It’s obvious, to me, that this wine was cold fermented to maintain the freshness and avoid the need to use too many stabilizers. There wasn’t a back ticket, but if I had to guess, I’d say this was around 11 -11.5% alcohol. If I can figure out where to buy this wine, I would absolutely stock up on it.

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High quality cork from Ch. Petit Gravet Ainé, St Emilion Grand Cru,2007.

Chateau Petit Gravet Ainé, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2007 SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK

I recently discovered this chateau during an open house weekend in Saint Emilion. The property, as well as two other St Em properties, is owned by Madame Catherine Papon-Nouvelle. Madame Papon-Nouvelle accquired her passion for viticulture alongside her father. When she inherited the family domain, she quickly set about converting them all to organic agriculture.  PGA consists of two sandy hectares where generally we have clay and limestone. For this reason, the vineyard is planted predominately to cabernet franc with a remainder of merlot where the tradition is opposite on the Right Bank.

She’s been given outstanding reviews for 2009, 2010, and 2012 and has been able to keep the prices reasonable. These vintages are known as exceptional years, but are nowhere near ready to drink. That’s why I chose to take home a 2007, which is a classic vintage and drinking well right now, and which would allow me to judge the character that is there during a typical year. I was not disappointed.13256504_816570745142082_4645535287763485664_n

The first aromas made me think of something from the Left Bank, a testament to the higher concentration of cab franc, but then the telltale minerality of Saint Emilion mingled its way out of the glass. The palate was velvety, full-bodied and packed with flavors of the ripe cherries, raspberries, and blackberries we get from the vines on the sun drenched south side of town. There were slight floral and cacao notes and that Saint Emilion mineral that grips at your tongue and holds you captive.  There was considerable sediment. Cellar potential is another 2-3 years. It definitely classed up a simple steak and sesame broccoli dinner.

I’m going to be paying much closer attention to this pioneering lady in coming years.

 

Domaine de la Perruche Saumur-Champigny Vielles Vignes 2014

Pizza night! Didn’t feel like thinking or cleaning the dishes, so I popped a frozen pizza in the oven and selected a bottle I found in Tours (Loire Valley). I knew that this was a sage bet because the wines of this region are are typically intended to be consumed young; they are largely “buy now, drink now” wines. That means that they’ve not been macerated very long or left in oak barrels for more than a few months (if at all). This keeps the tannin from becoming too powerful.13310590_819823978150092_4672036003200771987_n

After the kid went down for the night, so did this 100% cabernet franc.  It offered aromas of raspberry jam and violettes. The color was an intense ruby with violet reflects.  The body, medium with a silky texture and a palate of fruit des bois (berries found on vines) and pencil shavings. The finish was 4 seconds. A very harmonious wine with a cellar potential of 3-5 years.

 

Loire Valley Sparklers for the Summer

 

There are few beverages that personify celebration like Champagne. We love the texure of fireworks on the palate and the tickle in the nose as the froth of bubbles overflows a fluted glass. And don’t you just love throwing down $230 (retail) for a bottle of Cristal? Erh… no. Or… not always. Some champagnes are meant for aging and do have a higher price point because they were crafted as a long term investment, not for pouring on the honeys in your rap video. But  that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money to find some good fizz.

The first step is to look outside of the Champagne region. True Champagne can only come from the viticultural area known as Champagne, but the same process that gets those bulles in the bottle can be reproduced elsewhere, but with more leniency.

In 1811, Jean-Baptiste Ackerman founded the oldest continuously producing méthode traditionnel sparkling wine house of the Loire River Valley.

Loire Valley vineyards with caves tunneled into the limestone cliff. Credit: ridingfortheirlives.blogspot.com
Loire Valley vineyards with caves tunneled into the limestone cliff. Credit: ridingfortheirlives.blogspot.com

The cool Loire limestone is a perfect terrior for cabernet franc, chenin blanc, and chardonnay. Today, Ackerman’s co-operative vineyards are certified by the International Food Standard and are 100% traceable with a heavy concentration on bio-sustainability.

Ackerman Saumer 1811 Brut Rosé – Under 6€ / $9-18

Crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc (a red grape), this bubbly has a salmon pink color. The nose is yeast roll and peach. The palate is light with red berry notes and a medium fizz with a finish that lags a bit. I served this as an apéritif (no harm adding a few berries) with shrimp cocktail, but finished the bottle with grilled mackerel and curried Basmati.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Brut Rosé with grilled mackerel.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Brut Rosé with grilled mackerel.

2 1/2 Stars out of 5

 

Ackerman Saumer 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec – Under 6€ / $9-18

This is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Demi-sec translates to “half-dry” and that means that this is a wine halfway between sweet and dry. I often suggest this type of wine to people that are looking to develop their palates beyond moscato. The color is a pale gold with green reflects. The nose is of apple blossom and honey and the palate is sweet mirabelle and honeydew melon. The finish has a fuji apple crisp acidity. The bubbles were tight and delicate. I had this with grilled salmon and green cauliflower.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec with salmon & green cauliflower.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec with salmon & green cauliflower.

The last glass of the bottle was

accompanied by honey citrus tarts with a speculoos crust and the apple acidity really refreshed the palate. I think this one would be excellent with a spicy tikka masala.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec paired with honey citrus tart with speculoos crust.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec paired with honey citrus tart with speculoos crust.

3 stars out of 5

Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut Under $15 (available at Spec’s)

Built by Charles VII in the 4th century, Chateau Moncontour has been admired for its views and its viticultural terroir.

Since 1994, the Feray Family have become masters of the chenin blanc variétal. Their focus has rested with the cremant style, Chateau Moncontour Magnum Brut Non vintage being the most widely distributed of their selections.

Once upon a time, I was hosting a crawfish boil which included some “I only drink beer, because I’m macho” types. I served them this wine in red Solo cups and waited until after they’d quenched the crab boil spiciness to tell them that they were enjoying sparkling wine (…and…gasp…French)! I got myself two new clients that day and one of them ended up drinking esoteric Rhone whites by the end of the year.

Ch Moncontour is a good beer substitute because the carbonation is tight. The body is medium, similar to a well-made blonde lager. The aromas and flavors remind me of fresh apricot kolaches with a green apple crisp on the finish.

It easily pairs with a wide range of cuisine

Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut paired with pineapple cilantro chicken salad on croissant.
Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut paired with pineapple cilantro chicken salad on croissant.

without being pretentious, making it one of my favorite ‘throw-downs’ for pizza night, take-out sushi, and most recently, Sunday’s left-over rotisserie chicken salad sandwiches.

4 stars out of 5

Variations of Loire Valley sparklers are available all over the States and cost a tad more than the swill they call “California Champagne,” but much higher quality. Remember these terms:

Brut = dry or more acid than sugar, leaving a clean finish

Demi-sec = half dry or balance between acid and sugar

Doux = sweet or a high residual sugar / low alcohol content.

So next time you’re organizing a rap video pool party, skip the Cristal and Dom Perignon and grab a bottle of Loire bubbles. Use the money you save for your Jesus chain instead.  R.I.P. Biggie.