Okay, so it’s not often that I find myself laughing out loud in a liquor store, but when I do, it’s because a producer has found a spectacular pun. This one also ties to their history, which is even better.
… Charles’s young son Jason accidentally left the gate open to the paddock, and so the little group happily roamed among the vineyards, showing rare discernment by selecting some of the ripest berries from the vines – their adventures being the inspiration behind our Goats Do Roam range.
And of course, as the site description says, I love myself a good pun (plus winemakers not taking themselves too seriously!). Seeing Côtes du Rhône so perfectly mimicked (in name, if not necessarily in wine) is just brilliant. Absolutely adore it.
The wine itself is a classic blend–viognier, roussane, and grenache blanc. I say classic, because the latter two are often the only thing that prevents viognier from becoming wickedly overpowered (and have been paired for centuries in the Rhône valley). An overview:
Voted, ‘most likely to be described using sexy terms’ in high school, viognier is a, “Headily aromatic variety making particularly full bodied whites” (GGG), that is now found in vineyards across the globe–despite going nearly extinct in 1960. Its aromas are also often described in savory-sweet ways, such as, “… apricots, honeysuckle, May blossom, gingerbread …” (ibid.).
The book also describes viognier as ‘increasingly fashionable’ in South Africa. Additionally, in one of the first mentions in the GGG that I’ve seen, Fairview is mentioned by name as producing, “credible varietal wines”! Admittedly, this isn’t a varietal wine, but still!
Roussane, like viognier, hails from the northern Rhône Valley (remember when I said this was a classic blend? There’s a reason!). It’s often blended with a close sibling, marsanne, though marsanne tends to be more prevalent as it’s easier to grow.
In another first, I saw the book having trouble placing the aroma of roussane: … often with a refreshing perfume akin to herbal tea (verbena?) reminiscent of spring blossom, and tends to have higher acidity … It’s found in fairly limited quantities in South Africa, but Paarl (where Fairview is located) has a chunk of the plantings.
Unsurprisingly, a variant of garnacha, here going by its French name. There’s not much to say; it’s a full-bodied white, similar to its red sibling. Here used to provide structure and underlay the power of viognier.
The Western Cape (where Paarl, and by extension, Fairview, is located) is broadly considered to have a Mediterranean climate–which is to say, cool, wet winters, and warm, dry summers. Not bad for vines, by any stretch. Microclimes abound, though.
Okay, on to the actual wine!
Full name: Fairview, Goats Do Roam, Western Cape, 2015. Grape(s): Viognier (61%), roussane (20%), grenache blanc (19%). ABV: 13.5%. Price (to the nearest $5): $10. Vinter: Charles Back. Winemaker: Anthony de Jager.
Nose & Color
– Even-bodied pale straw yellow.
– Clean, savory nose. Like wheat fields on the coast.
Approach – Smooth, so clean and lovely. Just a hint of yellow fruit and honey coming forward.
– Silky. That’s the viognier speaking. Reminiscent of a chard, honestly.
– Long, lingering, with sufficient acid to balance out the roundness of the blend. Excellent.
What I’d like a viognier blend to be. Full-bodied without being overwhelming, some fruit–can’t complain!
We’ve had some excellent bottles at these price points. I may start heading further down just to see if there’s something that I don’t like. Though I do know I have a doozy coming up soon …
Thanks for reading–may your glass be ever full!
Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.
First (real) field report is here! I was fortunate enough to be able to swing by Wildman and Sons‘ Burgundy tasting earlier today–and try a great number of wines that I will likely be unable to afford a bottle of for several years.
Quick review of Burgundy (very very terse, honestly–I’m quickly realizing that there are very very few regions in wine that are straightforward or simple): almost exclusively chardonnay and pinot noir. There is a third grape, aligoté, but that’s mostly used in the southern region for easy-drinking quaffing wines of no particular distinction. And, also, I suppose technically, Beaujolais, but that is separated from the rest of Burgundy by both grape (gamay) and fermentation process (carbonic maceration), so while technically Beaujolais is Burgundian wine, it’s rare for it to be described as such on the bottle.
The region is almost as far north as Champagne (in fact, the chardonnay-only section of Burgundy, Chablis, is about twenty miles away), meaning a difficult, unpredictable climate prevails. This means that different vintages from Burgundy can vary wildly–grapes and vines having been subject to lesser or greater degrees of alarming things such as storms, heatwaves, hail …
The seasonal weather is a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
Burgundy, as a whole, is broadly considered to be the most ‘terroir-conscious’ of the wine regions of France–”… in a thoroughly holistic way, they reflect the individual site and unique environment–from sun and soil to shade and slope–in which the vines grew. In fact, the very idea of terroir is a kind of mental construct that, at least in Burgundy, is inescapable” (MacNeil, 188). Even though the region itself is not large at all, the sheer variety that of wines produced there is staggered–as is the number of separate AOCs, with almost 150 different sections, all with different requirements for the Appellation. Furthermore, those are separated even more finely at higher levels; with the village-level distinctions (called lieux-dits, or, roughly, ‘called places’), the number of ‘AOCs’ jumps to upwards of 500. Yee-ha.
Moreover, these AOCs are categroized by tier–in ascending order: Burgundy Red and White (wine made anywhere in Burgundy), Village Wine (wine made exclusively from grapes surrounding a given village), Premier Cru (wines from a specific vineyard), and finally, Grand Cru, which is wine made from the best vines in the best vineyards of Burgundy. Staggeringly good, staggeringly expensive (for reference, a 2016 Montrachet Grand Cru is running around $1,000 a bottle).
In short, all this to say: even though all I tasted today were chardonnays and pinot noirs, every bottle was distinct; that’s just how Burgundy is.
The tasting itself was pretty enjoyable. One of the best things about them is that you get the opportunity to sip, at least, some wines you’ll likely never get a full glass of. While proper tasting behavior is to spit every sip you take, I couldn’t help but swallow more than a few times–I’ve long held it’s really the only way to get a full experience of the wine. And when you’re tasting ten Grand Crus … well, gosh, it’s almost disrespectful of the wine itself.
The event was hosted in the Park Avenue Winter restaurant, which after reviewing their menu (looks delicious!), I realize is also out of my price range for the foreseeable future. However, they also had a quote on their sidebar: “Copious amounts of wine with dinner is always in season”, and damn, if that doesn’t sound like a restaurant that I’d love to go to. As hosting places go for wine tastings, this seems pretty standard; though I would note that it seemed a touch snug at times simply due to the floor plan.
Now, I don’t necessarily consider myself an expert on wine if I’m surrounded by people who have been doing wine for longer than I’ve been alive, but I know … more than average. I also reviewed The Wine Bible chapter on Burgundy, so I wouldn’t be totally out of my depth. There was a lot to review; it honestly felt a bit like a test. However, that’s not to say that people were actually asking me questions about my qualifications–that’s a lovely thing about many wine tastings; once you get through the door, everyone is assumed to be roughly as qualified as the next until proven otherwise. “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt” jumps to mind.
Moreover, given that I am not the oldest-looking fella around, and that most of the wine-tasting demographic seems to be in the 30+ range, I do stick out just a little. I can often tell that the people pouring (who can be anyone from workers with the importer, to employees of the producer, to les vignerons themselves) seem a little bit dubious about my presence there, and will fail to explain things as much as they do to older-looking folk. C’est la vie, I guess.~~~I wish I could give a more authoritative run-down of the wines I tried; I mostly was walking through various producers and trying their entire table–which is an excellent method of understanding that producer’s style.
Among the producers I tried:
Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils–Chablis, so all chardonnay. Exceptional wines–my favorite was the Chablis Grand Cru “Clos des Hospices Dans Les Clos” Monopole. monopole here means a single vineyard that is owned by the same producer, namely, Christian Moreau Père et Fils. Simply due to the fractured ownership of Burgundy (something that, hah, stems back to the original cultivation of vines in the regions by what I can only assume were quite tipsy monks), this is relatively uncommon. Grand cru, as you’ll remember, is the highest tier in Burgundy. For a case of six, this is likely going to run you $600-$700.
Domaine Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet–Couldn’t find a link to a site of theirs; but, regardless, they make wine in the Côte-de-Nuits, the most well-regarded section of Burgundy. Incidentally, my favorite was also theirs–Gevrey Chambertin “Mes Favorites” Vielles Vignes. I’m still unclear about what qualifies vines as ‘old’ but certainly this was a delicious example.
Stéphane Aviron–I am already familiar with their Beaujolais-Villages (minor note, ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ is the second tier of Beaujolais, the most basic being simply ‘Beaujolais’ right beneath it). That Beaujolais was and remains lovely, and his entire range showed an impressive depth. I was particularly struck by his Chénas Vielles Vignes, which was particularly spicy. I was informed that the red granite in Chénas tends to lend the grapes a characteristic spiciness, even in pinot.
I tried several others, though their names escape me now (even with the list in front of me). I was struck in particular by some of the producers’ tendency to stand behind the table and speak to each other in French while paying minimal attention to those in front of them. Like I said, likely a function of my age; nevertheless, it did not serve as a recommendation for the wine to me.
Overall, the tasting was a really fun experience. I wish I had more time; even though one’s palette can get exhausted after a while, it’s always nice to be able to touch on as many producers as one can.I really appreciated this tasting for hammering home just how specific and important terroir can be. As I was saying above, Burgundy may be among the most meticulous about their designations of AOCs, but I think it really shows in the sheer variety of wines I tasted today. If you step back and say, ‘okay, it was one region, two grapes–how different could these wines be?’–well, the answer is shockingly different. While some are certainly comparable, none was as similar to the next as to be called indistinguishable. Such an excellent real-world demonstration of the concept of terroir.
A superb outing for the day, I’d say. Many thanks to Frederick Wildman and Sons for hosting.
Macneil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd edition. Workman Publishing Company, October 13, 2015.
Wikipedia contributors. “Burgundy wine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Dec. 2017. Web. 8 Feb. 2018.
‘Hey, wait, that’s two weeks!’, you say. Yes, well, I forgot my notebook at work last Tuesday so here I am. Fun stuff.
Anyhoo, some lovely wines (and a tasting!) in the past weeks, let’s dive right in.
Wednesday, January 17th.
All right, starting out with a fun one–a pinot noir the Casablanca Valley in Chile, of all places. Forgot to take a picture, so alas, none here, but some pertinent info? 100% Pinot, 13.5% ABV, full name: Villard, Expressión Reserve, 2016. Wish I could tell you the price, but this bottle had been dropped off by a rep earlier that day; roughly $10 would be my guess.
Color was almost cherry, a bit of pink around the edges. Light body (it’s a pinot, go figure).
The nose was possibly the most bizarre aspect of the bottle. Almost … manure-like? Barnyard, some savory flavor I couldn’t place. I had a customer describe it as ‘wet stuff on soil’, which seemed apt. Really strange, pretty off-putting smell.
The approach was fairly tight, with the earthiness seemingly concentrated. Though there were some spots of bright fruit.
Midpalette was fairly innocuous, thought the fruit was really starting to bloom.
By the time it got to the finish, all the fruit appeared! Tart cherries, some darker stuff, too–blackberries? They were lovely, really sat at the back of your throat. Not the longest finish I’ve ever expereinced, but not bad either.
Final thoughts could basically be summed with, ‘good, but unusual’. I have to be clear, I was really struggling with the front end. ‘manure-like’ is not the ideal adjective to describe a wine with. The finish was good, though, and it was likely the first pinot I’ve had from Chile!
Thursday, January 18th.
An Entre-Deux-Mers from Bordeaux (it’s a white).
My thoughts on that bottle (and the first Thrifty Thursday!) can be found here!
… Saturday, January 20th.
Sparkling wine this time around. This one is coming from the AOC Crémant de Loire, in the Loire Valley, shockingly. As you’ll remember from my bit about sparklers, a crémant is a French sparkling that’s not from Champagne, but still uses the champagne method. The Loire Valley crémants tend to be a touch less clean and brioche-y than champagne proper, but nevertheless possess their own distinct charm.
Full name: Cyrille Seuin, Crémant de Loire BrutNon Dose, Crémant de Loire, 2016. It’s 100% chardonnay (i.e., a blanc de blancs). 12.5% ABV. $25.
Very crisp on the nose. There are actually some of those classic toasty champagne notes, though it’s cut through with lemon. Cool.
Lovely fine bubbles on the approach, relatively subtle flavor.
The bubbles sit nicely on the mid-palette, neither overwhelming or too little.
It finishes a bit boozy, though still quite clean–and the lemon notes do continue to shine.
It’s a perfectly acceptable substitute for champagne on a budget, though I do wish the alcohol was slightly less pronounced on the finish.
Sunday, January 21st.
You can tell my normal pen ran out of ink (fountain pens, even refillable, run out of ink fast) because my script switches from thicker, unreadable strokes, to thinner, unreadable strokes.
This guy is a white Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, essentially across the river. Since that description is about as specific as ‘The Empty Bottle reviewed a wine’, some specifics:
Full name: Marc Deschamps, Les Porcheronnes, Pouilly-Fumé, 2014. 100% sauvignon blanc. $20.
Pale straw color, with a richness, at the bottom of the glass.
Clean, fresh, floral on the nose. Like honey over apples.
Smooth mineral flavors come through on the mid-palette. The ‘gunflint’ becoming more pronounced.
The finish is well-balanced acidity. Just a subtle hint of yellow fruitiness. Excellcent acidity. ‘Short but sweet’ finish.
‘A broader, more expressive Sancerre’ certainly seems apt. More nuance and breadth of flavor than a clear, straightforward Sancerre. That being said, it nevertheless remains a characteristically French sauvignon blanc.
I think I prefer aTouraine overall, but this is a lovely change of pace.
Monday, January 22nd.
Oh, man! This is cool! I managed to get to a tasting for an all-too-short hour that Monday. The importer was Domaine Select, who import wine and spirits from all over the place–and who I’ve a fair bit of exeprience with, given that both of my shops use them as an importer.
While I’m certainly more familar with their wine selection, I was able to wander over to their spirits side for a quick peek at a few. Alas, I didn’t have the time to take extensive notes on … anything, but here are some of the things I tasted, in no particular order:
– Cowbell Cellars, Pinot Noir, 2016 (?).
– Jax Cellars, from the Napa Valley. I tried their Single Vineyard Chardonnay, and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both 2016, I believe.
– Basically the entire selection of Champagne Philippe Gonet. Delicious.
– And this was a cool one–Famille Dupont Pays D’Auge Cask Finish Islay Whiskey. It was a Calvados aged in Islay Whiskey barrels. Enchanting apples, with a hit of peatiness. So delicious.
I gotta say, tastings are wild. Even almost six months in, it’s still kind of surreal that I can just wander in to one, with all of a ‘yeah, I work at a few stores’–and I’m in! While I’m sure there are a few unscrupulous people who pretend to be workers, it’s neat that it essentially works on the honor system.
It was also, you know, good wine, too. I was there with an industry friend who reps for a rum that I sell, and we had a brilliant time working through the wines–and just those few touches of liquor!
Definitely need to make it out to more of those.
[I’m thinking I didn’t exactly make the effort to try new wines most of the past new week, so the next wine would be on the Frappato on the 25th.]
… Sunday, January 28th.
Fun grape, often used as an accompaniment to oysters: jacquere. Also a great mouth-feel kind-of name.
This one in particular is: Philippe Ravier, Les Abymes, Vin de Savoie, 2016. 100% Jacquere. 11.5% ABV. $15.
The grapes are grown in the Alps (so not as luxuriously soaked in sun and rain as, say, Bordeaux), but grown on South facing slopes. So what little sun there is to be had in Savoie, these grapes get.
Nose and color are both quite delicate, with a noticeably pale yellow, and perhaps the slightest hints of flowers and … pear?
Approach is delicate and subtle.
Mid-palette is well-balanced and smooth. Polite.
The finish is short, with just a tiny, tiny touch of sweetness (honey-like). Lovely acid.
Quiet, lovely wine. It’s not the most expressive wine I’ve ever drank, but it’s good in the glass, and makes you want to take another bite (that’ll be the acid at work). ‘Polite’ I think is the best descriptor.
… Tuesday, January 31st.
Largely because of one bottle of Etna Bianco I had months ago, I have this perception of white Italian wine as being particularly savory and salty. Turns out, that’s not universally the case (‘However …’), but with this one it definitely is.
Popolo di Indie, Bianco del Popolo, 2016. 100% Cortese. 12.5% ABV. $20.
Even-bodied, full yellow. Savory, fleshy fruit and a touch of sea salt on the nose.
The approach has a touch of subtle plushiness.
The mid-palette is very fleshy, muscular, and full. Saltiness and just a touch of piquancy.
The finish is salty. Savory, plush fruit.
It’s a muscular, characteristic white. Would be absolutely stellar with seafood dishes–a shrimp scampi springs to mind.
Wines that I probably drank but have no distinct memory of because I didn’t write them down.
Petit Canet, syrah/carignan/grenache blend. A bit more aggressive and punchy than that blend usually is, which is a classic Côtes-du-Rhône blend.
Several cans of Underwood–The Bubbles, which is a perfectly agreeable sparkling chardonnay coming out of Oregon. A bit ham-fisted with the ‘we’re better than other wine-makers because we put our wine in cans’, but otherwise mostly harmless.
I tried a Gamay (using carbonic maceration, no less!) from Touraine called Terres Blondes. I was … unimpressed. It was perfectly fine, but I wasn’t stunned by its quality. Very fruit forward (shocker!) and somewhat grapey. Fresh and fruit-foward. Who knows, maybe I just wasn’t feeling it that day.
There was bit of a rushed tone to my post last Thrifty Thursday, due to making a full meal for seven or so people. But I also ordered in (another) bottle of the Chenonceaux, as well as the Moillard chardonnay which I unfortunately failed to take a picture of. Lovely, crisp, mineral chardonnay from France. Great stuff. Also that night was a bottle of the Orenia, a viogner/grenache blanc/roussane blend, which is wonderfully full and round in the mouth.
The picture up at front has a bottle of what may very well be one of my favorite bottles overall in the two stores–Cru Haut Valoir. It’s the classic Rhône blend I mentioned above, but with the subtle addition of mourvèrdre. It adds an entirely new dimension–as does the extra decade in-bottle. A 2005 for $25? Yes, please! Ridicuously good, complex-but-approachable, dangerously drinkable, beautiful stunning label French red wine. Nothing I can complain about. One of the first wines I’ve seriously considered getting a full case of. For the main course, we had the Birichino old-vine cinsault out of California. In a similar vein to the Haut-Valoir, stunning clarity and expression of terroir out of Lodi. A lovely accopaniment to Chicken with Forty Cloves, which is one of my absolute favorite chicken preparations–couple hours of marinanting with garlic and herbs, toss in an earthenware casserole, at 300° for an hour and forty-five or so … jaw-droppingly tender chicken and garlic that spreads like butter. Mmm …
I think that about wraps it up for this week–keep your eyes up for Thrifty Thursday tomorrow, I’m excited to see what I can find.
When someone says, “Bordeaux”, what do you think of? Is it the shockingly well-structured cabernets, or the lush merlots that have the same mouth feel as the word ‘Bordeaux’–or perhaps the ‘iron fist wrapped in velvet’ that its pinot noirs embody?
Regardless of your particular favorite red Bordeaux–and whether or not you can drop $35,000 on a case of Château Pétrus–one does not think of white Bordeaux.
But this is the inaugural post of a weekly series, Thrifty Thursdays! Thrifties are going to focus on wine that can generously be described as ‘inexpensive’; bottles that cost under $10 each, as much I can manage. The purpose is twofold: one, to remind myself that bottles above $30 are not normal for most people, and two, to show how to find good (well, drinkable) wine when the budget is tight!
The bottle in question:
The pertinent info:
Full Name: Château Allégret, Entre-Deux-Mers, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2013. Grape(s): Sémillon (90%), sauvignon blanc (10%). ABV: 12%. Price (to the nearest $5): $5. And I want to clarify here, this wasn’t $6.5, or $7. This bottle was five dollars.
That’s the shocking thing about this bottle. Seriously. Five dollars. That’s absolutely fluffernutters. Just guessing here, if the warehouse I bought these from put a 30% markup on, which is fairly low for wine, you’re looking at a $25-30 case of wine. That’s ridiculous.
How can you get a French white for $5, in New York City? That’s actually a great question, and I assume it was because the store got a good deal with their importer. But! There are also historical reasons why white Bordeaux is cheaper than its darker siblings.
The first thing to know Bordeaux wine is that its classification is incredibly complicated. There are people who can label every cru and sub-cru, who know why Château Palmer is pronounced ‘Pall-MER’, instead of ‘pall-MAY’ (named after a British general under Wellington), and can name the fourteen preeminent châteaus–point is, it’s really complicated and would take an ungodly amount of time to explain. That being said, Entre-Deux-Mers is a large forested AOC between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne. Its soil is largely alluvial, or a mix between sand and dirt. This is not the most ideal soil for growing wine in, and thus the AOC does not have as vaunted reputation as the other more-well-known Bordeaux AOCs.
Incidentally, though Entre-Deux-Mers does make red wine, it is classified as ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’–the most generic, and least specific classification of Bordeaux. Wines labelled Entre-Deux-Mers (such as the one above) are always dry white wines. In fact, you cannot make sweet wine in E-D-M; all white bearing that label must have less four grams of residual sugar per liter (that’s another thing about Bordeaux, to be able to use the name of a given appellation, you must follow extremely strict guidelines for your wine).
I’ll draw a bit on The Wine Bible here:
Although it is a large wine region and a picturesque one, the wines are generally very simple and never as high-quality as the wines of the Médoc, Graves, Pomerol, or St.-Émillon(MacNeil).
That’s a succinct way of putting it. The wines of Entre-Deux-Mers are often simply la plupart du temps inoffensifs.
This particular wine caught my eye because it was in the ‘bargain’ section–always a chance at finding a diamond in the rough. I tend to stay away from wines that are always cheap, because that means that they are necessarily produced cheaply.
Additionally, I tend to stay away from grapes that I don’t know, or sound like off-brands of more common grapes. For instance, at the store today, I saw several bottles that were made entirely from ‘pinot blanc’. It turns out, per the Great Grape Grimoire, it’s actually a perfectly respectable member of the pinot family, primarily known in Alsace, Germany and Austria (in the latter, it is especially respected as a good grape for trockenbeerenauslesen, the legendary sweet wine). Regardless of me actually doing my research, you’ll see grapes like ugni blanc, which is largely used for flabby, uninteresting jug wines.
One of the many qualities of really well-known grapes such as cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay is that they have a cultural character–’this is what this wine is supposed to taste like’, which discourages winemakers who are making inexpensive wines from experimenting too much. Thus, inexpensive wine tends to be predictable–which I would argue is its best quality. As with the bottle I’m drinking right now, I wasn’t expecting it to be amazingly innovative–and it wasn’t. But that is vastly preferable to a wine that attempts to be interesting and ends up … simply bad. With inexpensive wines, my bar for success is, ‘drinkable and predictable’. That is the ideal space for inexpensive wines to occupy.
With that said, I’d say this bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers absolutely qualifies. I was actually shocked at how good this wine is. It’s not incredibly complex, but it embodies the character of the grapes, and is more than drinkable.
I would like to reiterate that $5 for a decent bottle of wine is crazy prices pretty much … anywhere. Honestly, especially in the city. That is shockingly cheap for more-than-okay wine.
– Quite subtle. Fresh. Very quiet yellow fruit.
– A bit tart–green apples, perhaps?
– The tartness evens out–definitely green apple, maybe a hint of pineapple/citrus?
– Long, tart fruit. Good acid. Very dry and mineral.
– That is a shockingly good wine for the price. Like, I’m shocked that it’s this good, and not mind-numbingly boring. Capital job.
I was a bit taken aback at the quality-to-price ratio when I was tasting, thus the tone.
Seriously. Search your bargain bins. Sometimes it’s just the last few bottles of expensive wine that need to go, but sometimes it’s a bottle that the owner got a great deal on and can drop the price by a solid 25%. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. There’s value at looking at the bargain bin even if you don’t need to buy at that price point. It’s always such a joy to find a good wine at a great price.
Macneil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd edition. Workman Publishing Company, October 13, 2015.
Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.
Wikipedia contributors. “Entre-Deux-Mers.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 Jan. 2018.
Hey hey! Long time no see. Sorry about the hiatus–I had headed up to Vermont for a week or so, and was mostly collecting cuddles from cats and other fuzzy creatures.
But! Fortunately for us all, there is also wine in Vermont. Here’s a few of them!
This one was cool–the folks and I were at dinner with some old family friends, and they, being extremely experienced wine drinkers (and generous besides) brought out a bottle of this! As you can see, it’s definitely been sitting for a bit, and it was seriously delicious. The age had really given this Cahors (southwest France, known well for its malbecs (which I’m fairly sure this was?)) a nuance and depth to it that was really just incomparable. I didn’t take notes, unforunately, since I was several glasses of the previous few in, but nevertheless–just a joy to drink.
This last one is very cool. We had headed over to the old friend’s house early in the afternoon to begin food prep, and I had a bit of time to kill. They live just outside of Shelburne, Vermont, and Shelburne has (as I discovered) an exceptionally lovely wine shop called Village Wine and Coffee. Always a good combo.
I was lucky enough to make it while the owner, Kevin, was there, and we had a wonderful discussion about the industry, and the differences between NY and VT, and some of the wines he’s had in. This was one–full disclosure, Kevin gave it me because he specifically wanted me to try it! It’s a white blend, grenache blanc (60%) and roussane (40%), from a small AOC in the Rhône valley called Costières de Nîmes. While originally these wines had characteristics more akin to Languedocs (it used to be a part of that very region!), these have embraced the characteristics of the Rhône valley.
These wines are produced by a NYC/French-based winemaker and importer, Michele D’Aprix. They most certainly reflect her self-stated passion for both the wines outside of the norms of Bordeaux, and for making wine that reflects the care and effort put into it.
What I also particularly like is the writing on the back of the label, which I’ll quote a small bit here:
Caz translates to ‘crazy in a good way’, a sentiment I have come to embrace as I branch out from Bordeaux to bring wines from new terroirs …. It totally complimented [sic] the food and good, honest farmers grew the grapes. Maz Caz is fermented in steel and left unoaked. The grapes hail from the tippy-toes of the southwestern Rhône Valley where the attitude and exposistion are truly Mediterranean …. it’s the moment you taste it: with great friends, alongside great food, with no clock ticking. This project seeks to deliver the simple wine: fresh, young, uncorrupted and pure.
Lovely imagery. Hard to say I disagree, and I’m all for informative back labels. Some pertinent info:
Full name: Pentimento Wine, Maz Caz Blanc, Costières de Nîmes, 2016. Grape(s): Grenache blanc (60%), roussane (40%). ABV: 12.5% Price (to the nearest $5): $10.
– Clean, mineral. Tart yellow fruit. Some apples?
– Subtle, though I feel as if the tartness is becoming slightly more pronounced.
Mid-palette – Smooth, with the notes of the roussane becoming more pronounced. Very even.
– Clean. Dry, but not bone-dry. Good acid.
– It’s a steal at $10. Costières is a cool region. Great description on the back of the bottle–and cred for actually crediting the artist.
All in all, a really lovely trip. Both for wine, but also, y’know, to see all the lovely people in Vermont. I will forever love that state.
Hey all! Happy New Year! Hope you had a lovely (and warm–it was about 10º over here in Brooklyn!) New Year’s Eve.
Since the days immediately following New Year’s (and to a lesser extent, Christmas) are very very quiet, I figured I could spend some time this afternoon discussing everyone’s favorite wine to bash on: pinot grigio.
Why does everyone like to make fun of pinot grigio? In short, like malbec, it’s kind of the uninteresting background noise of wine. Every country does a little bit of it, and while some Italian vineyards are terribly proud of their pinot grigio, it’s not too much to guess that a pinot grigio will likely be some variant of, “crisp, slightly fruity, mineral and generally dry”. And while I’m broadly pretty down with consistency, the consistency of pinot grigio is like the consistency of a coffeeshop that rhymes with ‘jar’s stuck’: you don’t go there to get your socks blown off, you go there because you know exactly what you’re getting.
Pinot grigio’s strength is also its downfall.
As much as I want to write a trite post mercilessly making fun of the grape, I’ll actually pull the best bottle of pinot grigio I can find, and then we’ll go into the Great Grape Grimoire and see what we can’t find.
So, a couple of choice quotes from the entry (which is actually on pinot gris, which is the French name for the grape) and then I’ll do a bit of synopsizing:
“Full-bodied and aromatic at its best but much usually encountered enjoying international fame if not glory as anodyne [“not likely to offend or arouse tensions”] Pinot Grigio.”
“… in the mass-market arena, the name Pinot Grigio seems enough to guarantee sales of even a tart, neutral, almost colourless and flavourless white wine.”
“Italy’s Pinot Grigio has been the somewhat unfathomable success story of the early twenty-first century.”
Minor tangent: it was at this point I started questioning myself about the capitalization of grape varieties, and stumbled upon this terribly geeky (and funny!) article about that very subject.
It’s a relatively old French Grape (thus the gris as opposed to grigio in the entry), with debatable references appearing as early as 1238, and the first confirmed reference to the grape specifically being in 1711. Almost every wine-making region has some acreage of pinot gris; it’s one of those grapes that can grow in a huge number of agricultural regions, and tends towards a high degree of return-on-investment.
But, as the book makes clear, it’s not a terribly ‘prestigious’ grape. There’s not much glory to be found in a grape described as anodyne. And that, I think, is the root of pinot gris’ less-than-stellar reputation among snooty (well, and not snooty) wine people. There are so many examples of merely ‘okay’ pinot grises that sometimes it’s hard to remember that the wine can have a very distinct and lovely flavor profile. I would certainly argue against it in a risotto, or being drunk anytime between the months of October and April, but nevertheless, a well-executed pinot gris brings more to the table than grape-flavored alcohol.
Why the ice cubes, though?
Well, simply put, ice cubes dilute things, right? It makes it a bit colder, and a bit easier to sip–whiskey on the rocks is a thing, because many whiskeys struggle with being drunk neat.
However, if you take a wine best described as ‘innocuous’ and then add the dilution of ice, you’ve got a perfect storm of cold, alcoholic, totally-inoffensive liquid. The objection that most wine snobs make to this is that if you’re going to drink wine, it better well be actually interesting. And that one should never put ice cubes in wine. Essentially, it’s insulting to wine as a whole that you would a) drink a wine that’s uninteresting in the first place, and b) worsen that by putting ice cubes in it.
I would argue that it does have a place, however. It would definitely be an unusual choice for me, personally, to grab a pinot grigio off the shelf. Buuut, like perhaps a Grüner, it has a certain fruitiness-mixed-with-mineralness that can be quite charming. As for the ‘$9 bottle with ice cubes in a punch bowl’ variant … sometimes you just need something to cool off.
But yeah. If you’ve a wine friend who needs to take the snobbery down a bit, or just want to have a bit of fun at their expense, stop by their shop, browse a bit, and casually ask: ‘hey, do you have like, a cheap pinot grigio? And do you guys sell ice?’
And because I simply couldn’t show a wine without at least touching on it:
Yup, that is in fact a pinot grigio–brighter fruit and a touch of slateiness on the nose. Tart, bright fruit on the approach, mellowing out to yellow fruit in the mid-palette. Dry, mineral finish with good acidity. Not the most interesting wine I’ve had–and certainly not at this price point. But hey, that’s Pinot Grigio, right?
Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.
So, it’s 8:45 on the 31st, you’ve been sent to fetch a bottle of ‘champagne’ for New Years. You’re standing in front of the shelves of the wine shop, wondering why some labels are in Spanish, why some of the bottles proudly proclaim, ‘blanc de blancs’, why are those French ones $15 and those $95?
Well, let’s start with the most basic clarification, and a misconception I run into a huge amount:
All Champagne is white sparkling wine, not all white sparkling wine is Champagne.
In the same way that ‘Kleenex’ has become another term for ’tissue’, Champagne has become the catchall term for white sparkling wine.
This is not actually the case, of course. Champagne is a region in France–in fact, an AOC. Which, in short, means that any wine labelled ‘Champagne’ must come from Champagne, France. You will occasionally see ‘méthode Champenoise’, or ‘méthode champagne’, which is a reference to how the wine itself is made–not where it’s from.
The reason that this distinction is important is that les viogniers Champenoise have–not without reason–capitalized on the region’s reputation, and will charge accordingly. One can find perfectly lovely sparkling wine for mimosas and such at $15. But most people balk a touch at the price of Champagne proper, which generally starts around $40.
Is that price difference worth it? I mean, you’re asking a wine person. I’d say yes, course–if it’s a special occasion, nothing really does fit the bill like bona-fide champagne. We’re playing into the cultural perception of champagne being the ‘proper’ thing to do at a celebration (like the New Year), but the reputation of Champagne as the preeminent sparkling white wine is not wholly undeserved.
Champagne, as a region, draws on hundreds of years of winemaking experience, as well as soil that is ideally suited to, as the Wikipedia article rather eloquently puts it, ‘making wines of a incomparable finesse and lightness’. Chalky and mineral soil absorbs heat and lets it out slowly over the course of the evening, as well as encouraging good drainage. This results in grapes that create sparkling whites that are hard to compete with. Sometimes, when the situation calls for Champagne, there’s simply no substitute.
That is not to say that other regions don’t make good sparkling wines, though.
Other French sparkling whites.
Most regions in France generally have at least one example of a sparkling white–or a sparkling rosé! Some regions even enjoy making sparkling ciders (such as Normandy), which are an essential competent of any fall wedding.
They often can be found to be of comparable quality to the lower half of champagnes, though some of the truly exceptional examples can command similar prices to champagne. Should they be, they will boast of being blanc de blancs or méthode champagne–these are good ways to get ‘something Champagne-ish’ at half the price.
Perhaps the second-best-known sparkling white wine, prosecco is another AOC, located in the far North of Italy. Surprisingly, it produces sparkling (‘spumante‘), semi-sparkling (‘frizzante‘), and still (‘tranquillo‘) wine. Of course, when someone says ‘prosecco’, one’s mind goes immediately to the fully sparkling version.
In contrast to Mimosas, which generally specify champagne, prosecco is the wine specified in Bellinis. They generally have ‘sharper’ bubbles to better cut through the heavier peach purée.
That’s not to say that it can’t be drunk on its own–and it would make an admirable (and much less expensive!) substitute for champagne at any celebration.
Keep in mind they tend to be just a touch sweeter than champagnes as a whole–but there are exceptions to every rule, as always.
The Spanish throwing their hat in the ring, cava originally hails from the Penedès area in Catalonia–though several other regions in Spain make it in much smaller amounts.
To be a true cava, the wine must be made using the méthode champenoise. Interestingly, this led to the wine running afoul of champagne’s AOC–it used to be referred to as ‘Spanish champagne’ before the producers in Champagne made sure that practice stopped. It’s still colloquially referred to as such in Catalonia, however.
Cava also makes use of different grapes than champagne: Macabeu, Perellada, and Xarel-lo are numbered among the key varieties. Incidentally, since those grapes are all white grapes, cava made from them can correctly be labelled blanc de blancs.
It can be either white (BdB or BdN) or rosé–and either dry or semi-sweet. Like its cousin prosecco (and originator champagne) lovely examples can be found at just about any price point.
New World sparkling whites.
Many wine-making regions of California, Washington, as well as some (limited) sections of South America make sparkling whites. Simply because the tradition has not had as much time to develop, they often lack the distinct regional characteristics that their European counterparts have cultivated. That’s not to say there aren’t fabulous examples from those regions–I recently had an excellent sparkling Muscatel from Brazil, of all places–but they lack an identity as distinct as champagne, prosecco, and cava.
Blanc de blancs is white sparkling wine made exclusively from white grapes.
While I stand by the idea that ‘blends are friends’, there is a certain cachet in a varietal wine (for clarification, a ‘varietal wine’ is any wine made from only one type of grape). Some people would argue it gives sparkling wine especially a certain specific clarity and flavor profile only achievable with a pure white wine. It also allows for a slightly higher margin, as the wine is considered a more selective distillation of true white sparkling.
Blanc de blancs is compared with much-less-well-known term blanc de noirs, which, predictably, is a white sparkling wine made with a mix of white grapes and ‘black’ (i.e., red) grapes.
The three primary grapes that make up Blanc de noirs (and the only grapes allowed to be included in true champagne), are chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir. The two pinots serve to give a champagne (or whatever sparkling white they happen to be in) a softer, ‘plushier’ fell, as well as adding some fruity notes and aromatics.
Should you care? It’s hard to say. If you’re drinking sparkling once a year, I would be hard-pressed to argue that one needs to drink a blanc de blancs. As with many of the distinctions in wine, they’re there for people who often drink exclusively that type of wine. Unless you were to sit down with a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs from the same region, and compare notes, there’s not much reason to lose much sleep over it.
Unless someone explicitly specifies blanc de blancs, or really, really hates chardonnay (at which point you’re better off with a sparkling that excludes it entirely), blanc de blancs versus blanc de noirs is not something I’m going to let my decision making affect too too much. It’s nice, I guess, but hardly a deal-breaker.
You can find good sparkling for $15. Good champagne starts at $40. How much is ‘real’ champagne worth to you?
Admittedly, my locale (NYC) may increase these prices a bit, but unless someone clearly states that they want champagne, and isn’t too too picky about their sparkling wine, I would definitely just try to find a solid bottle of sparkling at a more reasonable price point.
If I were going to a fancy party and they asked me to bring a bottle of champagne, I probably wouldn’t skimp out–or I might just get a decent bottle of another French sparkling and sell it a bit. I would argue that there is no situation where champagne proper cannot be substituted for; it’s merely how much you enjoy the specific taste of champagne.
That being said, the New Year is a special occasion (and it will be nice to see the incredibly awful 2017 go), so maybe just grab a step up from your normal Sunday-brunch-sparkling? You can justify spending $25 on a nicer bottle once a year!
Regardless of your sparkling choice, I wish you and yours all the best in the coming year–may it be better than our last!
Right! So, I’m not going to hassle you all with a review of yet another French sau blanc, but! I wanted to mention this one in particular because I find this bottle totally neat (besides it being good wine–that’s my first glass up there).
The reason that the wine caught my eye (besides being a French sau blanc, I know, I have a type) is the ‘Chenonceaux’ on the label. My brain threw up a little flag there, and said, ‘hey, you recognize that!’
After some searching, I realized that I had actually been to Chenonceaux, the tiny little village in the Loire Valley in 2013. The reason, alas, was not for wine, but to see the spectacular Château de Chenonceau. The reason that got me excited was to compare one of the photos on the Wikipedia page:
And my own photo from the day I visited:
Honestly, this wine really kind of clarified for me why place is so important. I immediately felt a connection to this wine because I had (presumably) been near its vineyards, once. Can you imagine how important having the rum from the right island–the island you grew up on–is?
Hell, just this afternoon, I was looking for a certain gin from Vermont (I’m from Vermont)–I apologize if this seems like a really basic understanding, but, man, place is super important. Having alcohol stuff that’s from where you stuff is from makes a huge difference.
Now, I couldn’t possibly post a wine and say nothing about it–but very quickly:
La Renaudie really reminds me of the other Touraine I reviewed (with a touch more fruitiness reminscent of the Moulin des Dames), if a bit more well-executed. However, it’s a little different (which is really why I would draw a comparison to Moulin): really good fruit and honestly almost a touch of sweetness. Still though, that fruitiness is balanced out by some perfectly-pitched acid. Mouth feel is really lovely and silky smooth. But it’s got a touch of that grassiness that I’m beginning to think is characteristic of Touraines. And don’t let me get you wrong–still pretty aggressively dry. Remind me to write an article about the difference between dryness and fruitiness.
Regardless, very happy with this bottle.
If I don’t get around to it (lots of work this week), I do wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a spectacular New Year.
Thanks for reading–and may your glasses always be full!
Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, this wine did not exactly knock my socks off. But I think that’s more a function of I’m–really broadly speaking–not a huge California chardonnay drinker. I often find that the makers will fetishize the oak, resulting in a wine that is simply that. Chardonnay, as one of the ‘classic’ white wine grapes, deserves more and better than being drowned in oak.
Auspicion doesn’t do that, fortunately. While certainly it doesn’t shy away from the oak, it’s not all the wine has to offer.
Some pertinent information:
Full name: Auspicion Vineyards, Auspicion Chardonnay, Napa, 2016. Grape(s): Chardonnay (100%). ABV: 13.5%. Price (to the nearest $5): $15.
– Even, medium yellow. Ears of corn, perhaps?
– Oaky, round … toasted meringue? Definitely a Cali chardonnay …
Approach – Pretty straightforward. Smooth, un-challenging. Lots of oak, surprise!
Mid-palette – Silky, smooth. Coats the tongue. You need some serious food to cut through this wine.
– It’s pretty balanced, honestly. Like not bad acidity. And the oakiness, while definitely upfront, isn’t overwhelming, per se.
– Vanilla (almost creamy), though can almost discern some of the grape through the oak notes!
Yeah, I mean … it’s not an actively bad wine. It’s fine. If you like oak, you like chardonnay, you’ll like this wine. It’s pretty typical, honestly. It doesn’t shatter my world, but it’s drinkable. Maybe the right food pairing would help it shine a bit more.
Hah, okay, I promise that the next wine I do will not be French. I’m not about to go re-branding this place as La Bouteille Vide. But, I mentioned this AOC in my discussion of the Bergerac Moulin des Dames, so it seemed remiss not to have at least a bottle up on the site. It also serves another informing purpose:
Touraines are essentially why I have such a love affair with both French wine and Sauvignon Blancs.
It’s just … they’re really just what I look for. I’m not gonna make you read the tasting notes twice, so check down below for me waxing poetic over this wine.
The Loire Valley is a lovely place in Central France, low-lying and mild in climate. It covers a fairly large region, about 300 square miles, along the central corridor of France. The vineyards and Chateaus in particular gather around the Loire River (surprise!), where the drainage and moisture is best.
Its climate is, as I mentioned, quite mild–with winter lows rarely dipping below freezing and summer highs rarely breaking 80º. It can be a bit rainy during the summer, but otherwise, the precipitation is neither too much or too little. The river brings the average temperature up a few degrees, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
In short, it’s what you want for growing grapes and making wine.
I’ll let the notes speak for themselves, but here’s some pertinent information:
Full name: Caves de la Tourangelle, Touraine, 2016. Appellation Touraine Contrôlée. Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc (100%). ABV: 12%. Price (to the nearest $5): $15.
– Like its cousin Moulin des Dames, a pale straw color. I want to say there’s a hint of green, but that may be me looking a touch too hard.
– Fresh sort of grassiness on the nose; not overwhelming or overpowering by any means, but certainly lovely and fresh.
– Subtle yellow fruit, apples and perhaps apricots? Maybe even a touch of pear. But they take a back seat to the grassiness regardless.
– So beautifully subtle. Like … silk on the tongue. A bit of grassiness, a bit of fruit–wonderful wonderful integration. Lovely balanced acidity.
– Again, lingering fruit, just those very subtle apples and pears. Like the last faint breath of apple blossoms on the wind. Just delightful.
Yeah, I mean. This bottle–and bottles like it–are why I love French Sauvignon Blancs. It’s just this intensely drinkable experience. Because everything is so lovely and balanced, I never have to worry about, ‘do I need some cheese to balance this out?’, or, ‘is it so dry that I’m going to evolve gills just to take in enough water to keep from being parched?’. And that’s the thing–it is certainly a dry French Sauvignon, but it’s not a wine that is dry and nothing else. While I harbor no great affection for sweet wines, there are cases where a wine is simply too dry. With this Touraine, the complementary grassiness, freshness, and dryness all work in harmony. On top of Sauv Blanc being one of my favorite grapes, the terroir of the Loire Valley (or should I say, terloire?) produces a superbly balanced, wonderfully integrated, alarmingly drinkable bottle.
This is pretty close to one of my favorite white wines, overall. The only one I can think of giving the edge over this is, in fact, another Touraine. When I get my hands on Vallée des Rois again, perhaps we’ll do a comparison post! That could be super fun.
I also feel as if it’s worth noting that there is a much-better-known sibling of Touraine: Sancerre, which is another AOC famously known for its Sauvignon Blancs. The reason I went for Touraine, besides the ‘obscurity’-cred, is that I actually (broadly speaking) prefer Touraines over Sancerres. I find Touraine produces consistently more interesting SBs than Sancerre–if only because Sancerres tend to be very heavily invested in making sure that the wines are as stony, dry, and mineral as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Sancerres, but for me, there’s just something about Touraine that I really fell in love with.