Navarra Wines, A Confluence of Cultures

dsc_1696Situated in northern Spain, Navarra’s history stretches back to the Romans and includes close links to France, both in terms of its proximity to the country and the fact that the Count of Champagne, Theobald I, also held the title of King of Navarra. The region maintained its independence as a separate kingdom until it finally succumbed to the Castilian empire in 1512.

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Dolias at Villa Romana de Arellano

Coupled with this lengthy history is evidence (vinous vessels, called dolias, unearthed at Villa Romana de Arellano) that Navarran wine has been an important product from the very beginning.

Moreover, given Navarra’s place along the Camino de Santiago, it has been at the crossroads of many cultures for centuries. From the earliest days, pilgrims came from England, France, Germany and elsewhere throughout Europe, bringing their customs and cuttings as they passed through.

dsc_1487This heritage has infused Navarra and its wines with an international outlook and openness to trying new things, while still retaining its traditions. During a visit to the region in 2011, we saw an innovation with new winemaking techniques and experiments with novel grape varieties joined with an equally strong commitment to indigenous varieties.

Navarra’s also wines speak to the lifestyle of the region. The town of Puente la Reina is bustling with activity as people sit outside at cafes and bars on a hot summer’s afternoon, perfect for ordering pinchos (tapas) and a bottle of rosé, which make up 25% of Navarra’s total production. The fresh and fruity wine is the perfect accompaniment to the heat of the day and the diversity of food on the table. Whites play a smaller role, but Chardonnay, Viura and, as of 2008, Sauvignon Blanc, can be found.

dsc_1553Bridging this duality of old and new, the well-worn and well-signed Pilgrim’s Path snakes its way past the medieval castle at Castillo Monjardin. With its eponymous winery, this family estate dates to the 12th century and is currently presided over by Sonia De La Lama and her husband, Victor. Planted to French as well as Spanish grape varieties, their vineyards underscore Navarra’s historical link to France, even though French varieties have only been permitted since the 1980s. dsc_1550

The region’s primary Spanish grapes include Tempranillo and Garnacha, the latter of which are often old vines, averaging 60 to 70 years old. The resulting wines are typically fresher and lighter than their Rhone Valley counterparts due to the area’s elevation and mountains, yet they have great concentration due to the vines’ age.

Another winery with deep roots in the region is Bodegas Nekeas, which traces its vineyards to the 17th century. However, the current configuration of the company dates to 1989 when the descendants of these original grape growers pooled their lands and replanted them, eventually building a winery in 1993.

With a much shorter tenure, Bodegas Príncipe de Viana was created in 1983, taking its cue from an historic Navarran title of Spanish royal succession dating to 1423. Despite its regal name, the winery was actually developed as a way to provide financial assistance to Navarra’s farming industry.

Overall, Navarran wines are easy to drink, food-friendly varietal wines with an emphasis on fruit character. Yet, what is most striking about these wines is their quality. In tasting one wine after another, there is concentration, complexity and beautiful balance in the glass. Even more amazing, most are priced under $20.00 and quite a few are under $15.00, with aged wines – those labeled as Crianza and Reserva – generally topping out at $30.00.

TASTING NOTES


Principe de Viana Chardonnay 2015, Navarra, Spain, $12.00

Although the label proudly acknowledges that the wine was barrel fermented, it is actually quite clean and fresh with only light oak/toothpick notes. Otherwise, it primarily displays aromas of melon, citrus and tropical fruit.

Principe de Viana Edicion Rosa 2015, Navarra, Spain, $15.00
This 100% Garnacha wine is refreshing with bright melon and peach fruit aromas and flavors, good acidity and long length.

Castillo de Monjardin La Cantera Garnacha 2015, Navarra, Spain, $11.00
A really lovely, light-bodied, fresh red with bright red fruits and long length.

Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Tempranillo 2015, Navarra, Spain, $10.00
Tart strawberry fruit aromas are joined by a slight woody note on the bright, medium-to-full bodied palate.

France and India, A Marriage Made in the Kitchen

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In an interesting twist to the typical press lunch, wine brand Vinadeis presented a subset of its portfolio alongside Indian cuisine at New York City’s Junoon restaurant.  Named for the Hindi word for passion, the Michelin-starred, fine dining establishment fuses together India’s culinary history and the Chef’s modern sensibility. Wine Director, Michael Dolinski carefully curated the restaurant’s existing menu to identify the best pairings to show off the selection of whites, rosés and reds.

Formerly known as Val d’Orbieu, Vinadeis was founded in Corbières back in 1967. The company has now expanded its purview beyond the borders of Languedoc and includes activities in the Rhone Valley as well as in Bordeaux. Today, there are approximately 20,000 hectares of vineyards under its management.

While many of its projects involve bulk wine, large brands and cooperatives, Vinadeis is especially proud of the estates and chateaux under its umbrella. Benoit Roussillon, Head of North America for Vinadeis (pictured above), was quick to point out that behind each estate, there is a family and a story. And, moreover, their aim is to respect the story of those families in pursuit of crafting the highest quality wines.

Held just the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when many consumers panic about the best wine(s) to serve with the cacophony of food on the bountiful table, the Vinadeis event was a unique illustration of how well the French wines lent themselves to an unlikely pairing of the diverse flavors and textures of Indian food. Presented family-style, attendees had the opportunity to sample several dishes with each course, matched with two or three wines.

The luncheon first kicked off with Butter Garlic Shrimp and Saloni Macchi, a salmon dish, served with pickled cucumber, onion relish. These two dishes were paired with the rosé and white.

The dry and fresh Château de Jonquières Rosé Cuvée Cersius 2015 AOP Languedoc, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, matched nicely with the shrimp with its cherry and herb aromas and flavors. Situated near Narbonne, the Château de Jonquières property was previously a Cistercian granary, which belonged to the Abbey of Fontfroide.

The 100% Chardonnay Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc, was unusually aged in Acacia wood, given it a woody and spicy, yet not oaky, flavor with lots of cloves, and married beautifully with the salmon. Owned by the Verdier family since 1713, Domaine de Cazelle Verdier is known for its chalky soils.

The Murg Roulade Korma – minced chicken with a purée of nuts – was served with two reds: Château Notre Dame du Quatourze Rouge Nautica 2014, AOP Languedoc and Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2014, AOP Minervois. Both wines are Rhone-style blends with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan.

Presently owned by Georges and Suzanne Ortola, the name Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze refers to a tax paid to the castle (formerly owned by the archdiocese) by the local farmers. This unoaked red is organic and biodynamic, with nice, bright red fruit.

From the same producer as the Chardonnay, the Domaine de Cazelles Verdier Minervois offers up intense, concentrated red and black fruit.

The third course consisted of Awadhi Raan, a leg of lamb with saffron and nuts; Nadru Matar Makhana with lotus root, English peas, and roasted tomato sauce; and Daal Makhni, black lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas in a tomato cream sauce, as well as sides of Pulao Rice and Butter Naan.

With this last set of savory dishes, we headed to Bordeaux for a trio of reds: Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012, AOP Saint-Émilion Grand Cru; Château Brown 2012, AOP Pessac-Léognan; and Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010, AOP Saint-Estèphe.

The Merlot-dominant (90%) Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012 was bright with red fruit and slight spice notes. The property has been in the family since 1878, with the current generation Paul and Lorette Valade at the helm for more than 30 years.

With an almost equal proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Château Brown 2012 displayed darker red fruit, with a plush texture and firmer tannins. The chateau dates to the medieval period but was named for the Scottish merchant John Lewis Brown, in the late 18th century.

Given its blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Petit Verdot, the Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010 was the most full-bodied and tannic of the three, with lots of black fruit, herbal, spice and cedar aromas and flavors. Originally built as a convent, the Château de Meyney property dates to 1662, placing it among the oldest in the Médoc.

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Moscato d’Asti: A sparkling wine for the times

2016-11-15-11-20-05Back in the day (1966), Dionne Warwick sang that, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” Such words are particularly true today. While not quite love in a bottle, Moscato d’Asti isn’t too far from it with its floral and fruit notes, effervescence and beautifully balanced sweetness. Plus, the Moscato grape has high levels of terpenes, including linalool, a naturally occurring chemical, which is widely used in aromatherapy to reduce stress.

The Moscato (aka Muscat) grape has become quite popular recently, but the denomination of Moscato d’Asti is more than just a grape name and has a history that significantly precedes the current craze. Produced exclusively from the Moscato Bianco de Canelli variety, this grape arrived in the region over 800 years ago. Here, in Piedmont, the same region known for Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, 52 municipalities are granted the right to craft these special wines.

First designated in 1932, the denomination is carefully controlled with only the best sites planted; planting on damp or shaded slopes is forbidden. Specifically, this means that the vines are grown on steep vineyards and picked by hand. Moreover, the area itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

High in terpenes, the Moscato Bianco grape results in wines with distinct floral and fruit aromas and flavors of apricot, peach and white flowers, tasting nearly the same on the vine as it does in the glass. Thanks to its low alcohol (~5% abv) and softer pressure (2 bars of pressure compared to 5 to 6 atmospheres of many other sparklers), its frothy creaminess lends itself to food pairing and second (and third) glasses.

Lightly sweet, these are the perfect companion to a wedding toast, especially when wedding cake is involved. Yet, due to the diurnal shift and fog, the grapes keep their acidity and freshness, resulting in balanced wines that pair equally well with savory and salty foods.

A recent seminar and tasting included representation from Michele Chiarlo, Saracco, Coppo, Marenco, Ceretto and Caudrina to highlight the characteristics of these wines. At retail, consumers should expect to pay $13.00-$25.00 per bottle for high quality Moscato d’Asti.

While all of the wines showed well, my favorite were:
Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
Pronounced apricot on the nose, with pear, apricot and slightly candied note on the palate, yet finishing cleanly

Coppo, Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
With distinct floral aromas, this wine displays great acidity, a creamy mousse and lovely flavors of apricot and white flowers. It culminates with a zingy sweetness throughout its long length.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy Intense floral, pear and cotton candy aromas greet the nose, giving way to citrus and lemon candy on the medium sweet palate. Good acidity and a nice mousse, with long length.

Alie Shaper asks and answers the question: What If?

2016-10-24-18-12-53 I first met Alie Shaper at a Women for Wine Sense event in February 2010. At the time, the President and Winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology, was four years into her Brooklyn-centric wine brand, which merges New York State agriculture with the vibrancy of New York City culture.

Now, as she celebrates Brooklyn Oenology’s tenth anniversary, she has ventured out with an additional range of wines: As If. The three wines that make up the new collection – a white, rosé and red – are respectively called Serendipity, Courage and Persistence and chart her foray into the wine industry. The Cornell alumna kicked off her career with an engineering degree and a military contract in San Jose, CA before returning to New York to start a life in wine.

This new wine line was conceived in 2014 when Alie received unexpected access to great grapes and saw the opportunity to tell her story – both past and present – through wine: from her serendipitous exposure to the world of wine; her courage to follow her passion; and the continued persistence to make her dreams come true.

Greeting me at the As If launch party, Alie explained that she wanted to, “Do something less about Brooklyn and more metaphysical,” this time around.

All the wines are labeled as New York State, likely for consistency, but the white and red are technically produced from Nork Fork of Long Island fruit and the grapes for the rosé were sourced from the Finger Lakes.

The As If Serendipity White 2014, New York State, (SRP $35.00) is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier, 30% Sauvignon Blanc. It is fresh with melon, citrus fruit and apple notes, bright acidity and long length.

As Alie pours the As If Courage Rosé 2014, New York State, (SRP $28.00), she quips, “This is literally liquid courage.” The wine brings together 50% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Petit Verdot. It is a deep-colored, dry wine with watermelon, spice and a meatiness/heartiness that make it a good autumn rosé.

Finally, the As If Persistence Red 2014, New York State (SRP $40.00), with 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite of the three, so I was not surprised when Alie revealed that the Cab Franc came from Macari, one of my favorite Franc producers. This stunning wine displayed complex aromas and flavors of toast, berries, and dried herbs, along with good acidity and long length.

The wines are available for purchase through Brooklyn Oenology.

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Getting ready for Morocco with an introduction to Domaine Ouled Thaleb

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

Morocco has a long and storied history, which includes being divvied up among France, Spain and the British until its independence in 1956. During France’s occupation, land was planted to wine grapes, which helped to quench the palates of thirsty Frenchmen. After their departure, many of the vineyards were abandoned, but today, the Moslem country still grows grapes and makes wine, although many Moroccans don’t indulge in alcohol.

Established in 1923, Domaine Ouled Thaleb is among the oldest Moroccan wineries in existence and helped lead the country’s renaissance in the 1990s. During this period, new vines were planted, with a continued emphasis on French grapes. Domaine Ouled Thaled currently practices organic farming and produces a range of wines, most of which are red, reflective of the country’s Mediterranean climate.

On the (relative) eve of our own departure for Morocco, we had the opportunity to taste two of their wines: Ouled Thaleb Signature 2013 (SRP $28.00) and Aït Souala 2012 (SRP $24.00). Both of these wines are blends, which bring together grapes from the AOG (Appellation of Origin Guaranteed) of Zenata, a coastal region that spans between the northeastern cities of Casablanca and Rabat.

We were very impressed with the Aït Souala, an interesting blend of Arinornoa, Tannat and Malbec. I had initially presumed that Arinornoa was Moroccan, but in fact, it is the result of a 1956 crossing of Merlot with Petit Verdot. So, not Moroccan, but created the same year as Moroccan independence and thus a fitting grape for its production there. This wine displayed aromas of candied cherry, slight herbs and slight wood notes, with the flavors of smoke and smoked meats – almost Syrah in nature – on the medium-bodied palate. It has low tannins, medium acidity and long length.

The Ouled Thaleb Signature brought together Carmenere, Marselan and Petit Verdot, aged for 14 months in barrel along with another 10 months aging in bottle. It has a pronounced nose with spices and dried herbs that persisted on the palate, along with medicinal and earthy notes, which we attributed to brett*. I don’t know if our displeasure with this wine was specific to this bottle or indicative of the wine and I was unable to find alternate reviews to see if our opinion had been shared.

In general, this winery garners praise for its wines, so if you come across them in your local store, I would suggest giving them a try. I was pleasantly surprised how well balanced and elegant the wines were; I expected a much more fruit-forward style given my pre-travel impressions of the country. It will be interesting to see what I think of the other Moroccan wines we encounter on our travels this month.

*Brett (or more correctly, brettanomyces) is a naturally occurring yeast that can add a complexity to the wines, but is controversial as to whether or not it is a flaw in the wine or not.

NB: These wines are distributed by Nomadic Distribution in California and also appear to be available through VOS Selections.

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Valdivieso and Chile’s land of wine opportunity

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Brett Jackson was born and raised in the north-central area of New Zealand’s North Island, but, as a teenager, had the opportunity to work at Stony Ridge Vineyards on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland. It was there, in the nascent New Zealand wine industry, that he got the desire to pursue a career in wine and subsequently studied horticulture since the local schools didn’t have viticulture programs yet.

Once he was trained, Brett began to get hands on experience, working in the Napa Valley and Stellenbosch before landing a contract to make wine in the South of France for the Lurton brothers. Pleased with his performance, the Lurtons sent him to Chile in 1994 to oversee one of their projects there.

It was in Chile that he finally found his viticultural home and stopped wandering from wine region to wine region. He saw an energy and focus; Chilean wine was just starting to boom and was very open to new ideas. At the time, there were approximately 50,000 hectares of vines planted – inappropriate vines in inappropriate places (as he notes) – but over the next ten years, the industry began to get serious – adding an additional 50,000 hectares and really starting to understand its climate and soils.

At this point in his life, he has a spouse, children and a mortgage, so he isn’t going anywhere, but even if he had the freedom to roam, he doesn’t want to. He says that there is still so much going on. For him, Chile still represents tremendous opportunity and is a great place to make wine in a small area.

More specifically, Brett sees Chile as a mosaic with numerous pieces (places) to craft quality wines. Moving from East to West, the two mountain ranges – the ancient coastal ranges at 1,000 m and the more famous Los Andes at 4,000m – significantly impact the various climates. At the western edges, a cool climate offers an ideal location for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others, while the warmer, eastern areas are good for reds.

His present employer – Valdivieso – was established as early as 1869 and cemented a reputation as a producer of high quality sparkling wines. Today, 50% of their current production still centers around sparkling wines; they produce both Traditional Method and Charmat style wines. The former focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the latter blends in Semillon for a fresher, more aromatic result.

Among the winery’s extensive portfolio, they offer a terroir series – wines made from single vineyards / particular lots in smaller productions (500 to 3,000 cases each). They are bringing two of these wines to the U.S.: a Chardonnay and, refreshingly, a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc. These two wines seem to usher in the next phase of Chilean wines; elegant expressions of grape variety combined with traits of terroir, at reasonable price points (in this case the SRPs are $25.00).

Valdivieso also prides itself on its Caballo Loco range. Named for Jorge Coderch (known by his nickname which translates as Crazy Horse), who was instrumental in expanding the winery’s focus to include still wine production, these wines include Grand Cru blends and an intriguing flagship referred to by its iteration number.

This latter wine was “the first great wine from Chile,” initially produced in 1994 with the aim of showcasing the maximum expression of what a blend can be. And, it is a blend in every sense. Not only does it bring together numerous grape varieties, but it also incorporates a percentage of wine from each of the previous vintages. In this respect, the wine is fractionally blended. The result is a serious wine that is both powerful and elegant.

Tasting Notes

Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs NV, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is a bit shy on the nose, but opens up to a complex palate with citrus, pear and slight yeast notes; creamy and rich, with long length.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
On the nose, this wine offers apple, stone fruit, citrus and smoke. It is full-bodied, yet very elegant, with good acidity, nice fruit and only a subtle hint of oak from its 9 months in barrel. Brett advises that the apricot aromas and flavors will continue to develop with age.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile, $25.00
Made from vines planted in the 1920s, this is one of the first varietal Cab Francs in Chile. Aromas of wet leaves, plum and mulberry greet the nose and persist on the savory palate, with gentle tannins and good freshness.

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $35.00
A blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is rich and ripe, with nice herbal notes. It comes from a warmer climate and is more New World in style than many of the other wines.

Caballo Loco No. 16 Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile, $70.00
Bringing together 50% of No. 15 and 50% from the 2011 vintage, this is a unique, non-vintage wine. This wine displays black and red fruit on both the nose and full-bodied palate, with power and elegance, culminating in long length.

Cave de Tain coming soon to a shelf or list near you

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The Rhône Valley is well known as a distinguished wine region, but perhaps less well known is the fact that the region actually lumps together the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. More importantly, there is a big distinction between the two, not exclusively, but especially, in terms of volume. The Northern Rhône represents only 5% of all Rhône Valley production, with all eight of its crus being equal in size to the production of the Southern Rhône’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But, in spite of its small size, it manages to produce big, bold, beautiful wines.

Within the Northern Rhône, leading producers, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Chave and Delas Freres, have made their mark on the American market, but Cave de Tain is only now turning its full attention to external markets. Established in 1933, the Cave de Tain cooperative currently has 359 members and is ready to hit the ground running now that they have signed with the U.S.-based Hand Picked Selections.

The winery is situated within Tain Hermitage, capital of the Northern Rhone and home to only 6,000 people. They produce wines within five of the crus along with a small production of IGP wines. All of the vineyards are intentionally no more than 15 km from the winery since the winery is Certified Sustainable, which means that everything they do is based on observation rather than according to a set plan. In this regard, they can carefully monitor the vineyards and only do things, such as spraying for mildew, when necessary.

Here, in the birthplace of Syrah, all of the reds they produce are 100% Syrah. Similarly, they have a mono-varietal focus when it comes to whites, championing Marsanne as their signature white grape. Both grapes play respective starring roles in Cave de Tain’s IGP Colline Rhodaniennes wines, which they hope will serve as an introduction to the Northern Rhône varieties. The company’s further philosophy is to use older and larger barrels, which accounts for the subtler oak influence in the resulting wines.

We tasted through a selection of seven wines beautifully paired with a family-style lunch at Rotisserie Georgette. Many of the wines hailed from 2015, which was a great vintage, one with balanced maturity and acidity, which is relatively rare to have high levels of both. The 2010 vintage was similar in nature, but 2015 is felt to be the better year. Today, the 2015s are drinking well now, but have sufficient fruit, acidity and tannins for aging. Of note, 2015 was a good vintage for both reds and whites. Admittedly, due to climate change, the last truly difficult vintage was 2008.

The IGP wines were very nice expressions of their respective grapes, displaying good fruit character and balance. The Marsanne 2015 (~$12.00) showed some complexity, with salty and nutty notes, along with pear and almond, while the Syrah 2015 (~$12.00) offered up blackberries, bright acidity and soft tannins.

Moving up the range to the Grand Classique wines from Crozes-Hermitage, the increased quality was immediately evident, while the price point remained reasonable. Presenting more noticeable fruit than its IGP counterpart, the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015 was beautifully rich, with aromas of peach and apricot, along with elegance and long length. Similarly, the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 had lush black fruit notes, with medium+ acidity and only a hint of oak influence.

The Grand Classique Hermitage wines are much pricier, which is to be expected given Hermitage’s reputation for long-lived wines of character and strength, but they deliver for the money and are worth the occasional splurge. The Grand Classique Hermitage Blanc 2010 was stunning! Rich and complex, it displayed a pronounced nuttiness, along with baking spices and dried stone fruit. Interestingly, we were advised that Marsanne takes only a few years to develop in bottle, but then will hold that development for some time. The Grand Classique Hermitage Rouge 2011 (~$76.00) is a gorgeous wine with spice, blackberry and dried herbs, silky tannins and lovely richness on the palate.

At the top of the range, the Gambert de Loche Hermitage Rouge 2011 – a plot selection named for the founder of the cooperative – offered more body and power than the straight Hermitage Rouge.

 

NB: Retail prices are noted when the wine appeared available in the U.S. market as per Wine Searcher. Since these wines are just hitting the U.S. trade now, it will take some time before they become widely available. We were advised that the wines were being priced fairly, yet assertively, so they will represent great value for the quality.

 

Make Mine A Malbec

2016-09-27-19-08-03Malbec is a grape variety better known for its time spent in Argentina, but the variety got its start in Southwest France, where it continues to not only survive, but also thrive. In fact, it presently accounts for nearly 9,000 acres in the southwest, making it one of the most planted grapes in the region.

Given the grape’s popularity in the market, these wines are making their way to the U.S. under the varietally-labeled option as well as its more traditional appellation of Cahors. Here are two wines to try.

Château Lagrézette Malbec 2010, France, $30.00
Château Lagrézette was built by Adhémar de Massaut in the 15th century on a hill overlooking the Lot River. Purchased by Alain Dominique Perrin in 1979, by 1982 the chateau was classified as a historical monument and a full restoration was completed. The property now boasts 90 hectares of vines. Deep purple in color, this wine offers up smoke, black and blueberry fruit with oak notes. Its dry, medium+ acid palate is full bodied with medium, fully ripe tannins, black and blue fruit, plum, smoke, oak, light heat, powerful yet balanced. Still young and fresh. Long length.

Domaine de Cause La Lande Cavagnac 2013 Cahors, France, $17.00
Owned by the Durou-Costes family, the care and management of Domaine de Cause was resumed by Serge and Martine Costes in 1994 in order to maintain Martine’s family’s legacy. Today, they utilize sustainable farming practices to craft the Malbec-based wines of Cahors. The La Lande Cavagnac is produced from a selection of the oldest vines on the estate. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry greet the nose and persist on the palate, along with vibrant acidity and firm tannins.

 

Champagne Fleury is a name to know

2016-09-20-12-59-20Representing the four generation of her family in the wine business, Morgane Fleury stopped by Racine’s to showcase her family’s portfolio of Champagnes for the wine press. Champagne Fleury’s market visit provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with this winery, which was new to me, despite its long history in the region

The boutique producer has racked up a lengthy list of noteworthy firsts: the first to graft Pinot Noir vines in the Côte des Bar area in 1894; the first Recolant-Manipulant (RM) in the Aube in 1929; and the first biodynamic producer in 1989 (presently certified by Demeter and Biodyvin). Situated in the village of Courteron, Champagne Fleury’s 15 hectares of vineyards are within the southernmost point of the Côte des Bar. Although this area is lesser known than others within Champagne, Fleury is showing that the microclimate and soils are very suitable for producing high quality Champagne.

Building on their ancestors’ pioneering spirit, the company is currently run by Jean-Sebastien Fleury in the cellar, Benoit Fleury in the vineyard and Morgane Fleury in Paris, who owns a wine shop in addition to establishing relationships with local restaurants and promoting the brand worldwide.

2016-09-20-12-08-15I was most impressed with the Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, which is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, a grape variety that does especially well in this area of Champagne. The wine offers up a pronounced nose of floral notes and bright, red fruit, with a lovely intensity on the palate.

The Notes Blanches Brut Nature was also quite interesting. This 100% Pinot Blanc, which has had some wood contact during the fermentation process, is very clean and bright, with high acidity, yeasty, bready, creamy notes and hints of citrus and floral on the palate.2016-09-20-12-56-15

Meanwhile, the Cepages Blancs 2006 Extra Brut, produced with 100% Chardonnay, was weightier with woody, yeasty and brioche aromas and flavors, culminating in long length.

Finally, the 100% Pinot Noir-based Bolero 2005 Extra Brut was essentially sex in a glass with its yeasty, sweaty and earthy aromas and flavors.

Not surprisingly, the Champagnes provided a nice range of food pairing possibilities during the seated lunch.