Browsing the archives for the Chardonnay tag

2007 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse

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Tasting Note

When you hear the word “Burgundy”, you might think of red wine or pinot noir.  But what many people do not know is that Burgundy can also be synonymous with white wine, in particular, chardonnay.  From Chablis to the Côte de Beaune to the Mâconnais you’ll find a wide variety of white-burgundies at an even wider range of price points.  Examples of the world’s best and most expensive chardonnays come from these regions as well as many outstanding wines with affordable price tags!

The vineyards within the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé (pronounced Poo-yee Fwee-say) are scattered about the craggy hillsides and valleys found in the southern half of France’s Mâconnais district.  The soils here are well suited to chardonnay being composed mostly of limestone, slate, and clay.  Despite the fragmented geography of the area the appellation still manages to produce around 500,000 cases per year and is the source for many affordable Burgundian chardonnays.  Maison Louis Jadot has cultivated relationships with many growers in the region, providing equipment, barrels, and winemaking expertise. The wine that these growers produce is destined to be bottled under the Jadot label.  Maison Louis Jadot receives wines from the individual producers and carefully blends them together to create a style of wine that reflects the essence of Pouilly-Fuisse.

Tasting Notes

The Louis Jadot’s 2007 Pouilly-Fuisse ($22) has a light golden tone with vibrant aromas of grapefruit, lemon and toasty almonds.  Zesty citrus flavors intertwined with a firm backbone of minerality are supported by the structure of careful oak fermentation and aging.  Its medium body and clean, silky finish makes this a good partner for seafood and poultry.

L’Ecole No.41 – 2007 Columbia Valley Chardonnay

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Tasting Note

You’ll find the L’Ecole No.41 Winery in a restored schoolhouse in the historic Walla Walla community of Frenchtown.  L’Ecole No.41 is a family run operation started by Jean and Baker Ferguson.  It now belongs to their daughter, Megan and her husband Martin Clubb.

The winery may be in Walla Walla, but the fruit for L’Ecole No.41′s Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($19) comes from several vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley appellation.  This part of the state lies near the 46th parallel giving it a similar amount of sunlight to the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Combine the climate and volcanic soils with good drainage and poor nutrients, and you have ideal conditions for growing grapes.  The French winemaking traditions brought by French-Canadian pioneers that settled this region are echoed in this Burgundian-style chardonnay.

Tasting Notes

Barrel fermented with a backbone of nevry acidity and complex mineral notes, this wine reminded me of the fine white burgundies from Meursault. Pronounced aromas of apple and pear are layered with the slightest hints of pineapple.  Seven month of sur lie aging in French oak barrels gives this elegant wine a rich creamy texture and a long nutty finish.

We paired this one with a great recipe Sue found in Real Simple Magazine.  This chardonnay with the Potato, Leek and Feta Tart is fantastic!

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 7

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Rendell Thomas led the seventh class of the WSET Intermediate Level course,   The topic for this session – Sparkling wines and sweet dessert wines!  Admittedly, I have a weak spot for Champagne and sparkling wine so this was a particularly fun class for me.  The addition of the sweet dessert wines made for a fun night!

Rendell started the evening with a brief rundown on the history of sparkling wine and its origin, now believed to be from southern France (What? It wasn’t invented in Champagne?!). We also received a primer on the proper terminology with regards to sparkling wine and its production.

Many times we hear the terms Champagne and sparkling wine used interchangeably.  This has always been a point of contention, especially for the French who guard the term Champagne like it was their first born child, and rightfully so.  For centuries, France has pioneered and perfected the methods used to make Champagne.  From the vineyard to the cellar, painstaking and labor intensive process are used to make the so called “drink of kings.” They have the right to protect what they have worked so hard for.  Just to be clear, if it’s not from the Champagne region of France it is a sparkling wine.  There are many alternate terms used around the world.  In Spain, they call it Cava.  In Germany they call it Deutscher Sekt (or just plain Sekt in rest of the European Union).  In Italy you’ll hear it called Proseco or Asti. Within France it’s called Crémant when it comes from outside of the Champagne region.  In the US and most of the English speaking countries it’s called sparkling wine with just a few legal exceptions.

The primary grapes used to make sparkling wines are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, especially in France.  However there are variations, such as, muscat, riesling, macabeo or shiraz, just to name a few.

The labor intensive process used to make Champagne and top quality sparkling wines is called the méthode champenoise (“Champagne method”) or méthode traditionnelle (“traditional method”). Even this terminology is closely protected by the French AOC laws and can only be used sparingly.  There are other processes that are less labor intensive, such as the tank method or transfer method, that create lower quality sparkling wines, but the upside is that they are more affordable for the average consumer.

The last part of the evening was spent discovering sweet wines, such as Eiswein and Sauternes, just to name a few.  There are so many different types of sweet wines (and I’m not talking about white zinfandel) it’s hard to describe them all.  To make things simple, Rendell broke them down into three broad categories:

  • Interrupting the fermentation process (Vin Doux Naturels, etc.)
  • Adding a sweet component to the blend like unfermented grape juice (Oloroso sherries, etc.)
  • Concentrate the sugars in the grapes, either through drying or noble rot (Tokaji Aszú, Sauternes, etc.).

The styles vary greatly but you can guarantee they are all very rich and decadent.  Like Champagne, the processes used to create many of these liquid treasures are laborious and expensive.  Luckily many sweet wines, like late harvest rieslings and gewürztraminers, are affordable and easy to enjoy as or with any number of desserts.

Jessica Bell returns next week for our final class…Fortified wines & spirits!

Wines Tasted (Class 7):

  1. Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV (New Mexico)
  2. Jaillance Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Burgundy, France)
  3. Marqués de Gelida Cave (Catalunya, Spain)
  4. Taittinger Brut NV (Champagne, France)
  5. Robertson Winery Special Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2008 (Breede River Valley, South Africa)
  6. Château Haut Mayne Sauternes 2006 (Bordeaux, France)

Good Things Come In 3′s – A Sparkling New Year!

Tasting Note

With 2009 being a year full of ups and downs, Sue an I were determined to start 2010 off right.  And what better way to start the new year than with Champagne and sparkling wine!  For this year we selected three very different wines from three very different places, each with it’s own unique style.  One with a distinguished pedigree; one from a small, rural producer; and one from an up-and-coming estate in a place you would not expect to find great sparkling wines.

The first sparkler of the evening was from Point Reyes Winery in Point Reyes Station, California, one of the few wineries in Marin County. This non-vintage blanc de blanc is made according to the traditional methods pioneered in Champagne, France.  The winemakers and owners, Steve and Sharon Doughty make their sparkling wines from all estate-grown fruit, and it shows.  Their location on the Pacific coast is well suited to growing chardonnay, where ocean breezes keep the grapes from ripening too quickly, allowing the fruit to retain its fresh acidity.  As the name implies, blanc de blancs are 100% chardonnay and this one exploded with all of the fresh, crisp flavors you might expect from a young, cool weather chardonnay.  The appley, citrus flavors were quite refreshing with prickly acidity delivered by a froth of fine bubbles.  This sparkler didn’t have the biscuity undertones that you would normally expect and the finish is short and clean, making it little one-dimensional, but still very delicious, especially for $25!  If you are looking to buy a bottle, your best bet is to contact the winery directly or stop in and visit their tasting room.

The next bottle of bubbly was a fantastic Champagne produced by Gonet-Medeville.  “Tradition,” as it is called, is a brut style, premier cru Champagne from the village of Bisseuil, France. Sue and I were fortunate enough to try this one at a Champagne tasting hosted by the Waterford Wine Company two days earlier, so we had a good idea what to expect. What we didn’t expect was how much better it was going to get! “Tradition” is a blend of the three grapes normally associated with fine champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and an obscure grape called pinot menuier.  The winemaker, Xavier Gonet, has blended these three grapes (70% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 5% pinot meunier) into a fine cuvée that evokes romantic images of rustic French villages on the chalky hillsides of Champagne.  Complex flavors and aromas of ripe apples, zesty citrus and fresh baked brioche meld seamlessly with the creamy, almond infused mousse.  The lengthy finish leaves you wanting more long after the bottle is empty!  Pricey ($52) but well worth it!

Last, and certainly not least, we finished our New Year’s celebration with an elegant vintage sparkling wine from the east coast.  The 2004 Kluge Estate Blanc de Blanc comes to us from Albemarle County in the state of Virginia, a location you would not normally associate with great sparkling wines. Kluge Estate Winery is a relatively new winery (1999) nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia and is doing some great things with sparkling wines.  Winemaker Charles Gendrot and wine consultant Laurent Champs (owner of Vilmart et Cie in Champagne, France) painstakingly crafted this blanc de blanc from Kluge’s best chardonnay. The end result is a vibrant wine with finely focused apple and pear flavors and complex hints of warm toast and roasted almonds. It has a creamy mouthfeel with tight bubbles and a clean, zesty finish.  As an American sparkling wine, I found this blanc de blanc to be just as thought provoking and delicious as the Gonet-Medeville at fraction of the price ($32)!

This might be a good time to make a New Year’s resolution – Try one new Champagne or sparkling wine each month throughout the year.  There are so many great wines out there it seems a shame to relegate sparkling wines to only holidays or special events. Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we drank champagne just for the fun of it?

Here’s to a bright and promising new year. Cheers!

Varietal Voyage No.11 – 2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier

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Varietal Voyage

The next wine on the list is from France’s southern Rhône valley.  Domaine de Gournier is a very small winery located near Cévennes, between Avignon to the east and Nîmes to the west. Gournier’s Viognier is classified as a vin de pays, or country wine. According to France’s classification of wines, this one is somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.  For this leg of our journey this wine is a little unusual, because it is not 100% Viognier.  It is a blend of primarily Viognier with a little Sauvginon Blanc and Chardonnay added to round things out.

Maurice Barnouin and his family started Domaine de Gournier as a nursery, growing and cloning vine stock for other vineyards. Several years ago they decided to start making their own unique style of wines.  Gournier now produces several wines including: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The 200 hectare estate (about 500 acres) is situated on a plateau of limestone rich soil with little vegetation to prevent the warm Mediterranean sun from ripening the fruit to its fullest.

The 2008 Viognier is a good example of a simple country wine. If you are expecting a big, fruit-forward expression of the Rhône valley, think again. This is a very simple, everyday wine that doesn’t overpower your palette or your pocket book.  It has pleasing, but delicate floral and peach aromas that work together with light, herbaceous apricot flavors.  The addition of Sauvignon Blanc brings a pleasing balance of mineral flavors and fresh acidity that seems to dance around on your tongue. Serve this one slightly chilled for a great summer refreshment.

2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier ($11)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.9 – 2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault

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Varietal Voyage

The last Chardonnay on our list comes from the Burgundy region of France, or more specifically, Meursault, in the Côte de Beaune. Burgundy is typically associated with Pinot Noir, but it is equally known for Chardonnay. With the exception of Gamay and a little Aligoté, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the only two varietals allowed to grow here.

Meursault is the heart of white Burgundy (aka Chardonnay). The vineyards here grow in a great diversity of soil types. Everything from stony chalk, to gravely clay is present giving these wines great richness and complexity. The cool temperatures here keep the grapes from getting too ripe which helps the winemakers capture the natural flavors and acidity of the fruit.

In 1731 Michael Bourchard left his home in the French Alps and moved Volnay where he established himself as a cloth merchant. In 1751 Michael’s son, Joseph, began his own business. Joseph, also a cloth merchant, sold Burgundian wines as well. It wasn’t until 1775, when Joseph purchased the family’s first vineyards in Volnay that they started to grow their own grapes and produce their own wine. After that, the rest is a very interesting history lesson. Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils now owns many properties in Burgundy, including vineyards in the Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits, Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnaise.

This complex wine had Sue and me scrambling to understand everything we had tasted. This surprisingly pale yellow Chardonnay provided many different layers to discover as it opened up throughout the evening. The fruit aromas and flavors are more discreet than the other Chardonnays. Peaches and honey were the most obvious flavors but there is a definite underpinning of fresh herbs and minerals. This puzzle of flavors balances nicely with the toasty notes imparted by oak fermentation and aging, and finishes off with a lingering dose tropical fruits.

2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault ($54)

  • 100% Chardonnay
  • Meursault, Côte de Beaune, France

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.8 – 2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

The next Chardonnay on our list comes from Australia’s Barossa Valley (pronounced “Bar-ah-sa”). The Barossa Valley is located in southern Australia about 30 miles northeast of Adelaide, this is Aussies’ version of the Napa Valley. This region produces almost half of all the Australian wines. Trevor Jones Winery, part of Kellermeister Wines, is in the town of Lyndoch at the southern tip of the Barossa Valley. The valley’s hot, dry climate is perfect for growing intensely ripe Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache, but it also produces some very good Semillon and Chardonnay.

The 2007 Virgin Chardonnay is unlike many traditional Chardonnays. As the name suggests, this “virgin” chardonnay is made completely without the influence of any oak. Many Chardonnays are fermented in oak tanks and or aged in oak barrels. For some people the use of too much oak overwhelms the natural fruit flavors of the grapes with strong overtones of toasty vanilla. In response, many producers are making wines that limit the amount of oak they use or forego its use completely.

This Virgin vintage was thoroughly enjoyable. For its young age it has a surprising golden yellow color tinted slightly green. The absence of oak is immediately evident, which allows the natural fruit character to shine through. Aromas and flavors of stone fruits (peaches and apricots) permeate the wine with some tropical fruits mixed in for good measure. Nutty, herbal notes may be a sign of some time spent on it lees. It has a rich buttery mouth feel that comes along with the judicious use of malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart-tasting malic acid (think green apples) to lactic acid (think milk or butter), not uncommon for Chardonnay. With all of this complexity it ends with a clean finish that begs you to take another sip!

2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay ($18)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.7 – 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

This week we leave behind our final chenin blanc and move on to the next varietal on the list: Chardonnay! For this particular wine we are travelling south from Mendocino to the Grgich Hills Estate near the southern tip of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills Estate is an interesting venture that began in 1977 between master winemaker, Mike Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee conglomerate. Today they own 366 acres spanning across five top quality vineyards. To keep quality high, they concentrate on just six different types of wines (Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Violetta). Another interesting fact is that all of the Grgich Hills vineyards are sustainable and “biodynamically” farmed. Think “organic” on steroids! Biodynamic farming is a philosophy that treats the Earth as a living organism. Only natural preparations, cosmic rhythms, and nature’s own basic elements are used to create a harmonious balance between vineyard and Earth.

If you have ever heard of the “Judgment of Paris” then you probably have heard of Mike Grgich. He is the winemaker (then working for Chateau Montelena), that was responsible for creating the award winning chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) that beat out all of the French wines in a 1976 blind tasting. This was arguably the watershed event that put California on the map as force to be reckoned with in the wine making world. One could go on talking about this event for hours. If you want to know more, I would suggest reading George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay is created from grapes grown at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Carneros and American Canyon vineyards. These two properties are nestled in the valley near the San Pablo Bay where the cool ocean breezes and fog help maintain the grapes’ natural fruit character and crisp acidity. 2006 also happens to be the first vintage from these vineyards that was certified as “biodynamic.”

This Chardonnay was quite different from many of the other’s we have tried over the years. In the past, many were over oaked and many saw some malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines were usually very buttery, masking much of the natural fruit character of the grapes. The 2006 NV was nothing like those earlier wines. It was clear from the first taste that the winemakers chose not to use any malolactic fermentation, allowing the bright acidity and complex flavors of apples, lemon, and pineapples to shine through. The winemakers also chose to ferment and age the wine carefully in a mix of old and new oak barrels, imparting very pleasant toasty, vanilla flavors. A little pricey at $40, but worth every penny!

Knowing that we’ll never be able to afford a ’73 Chateau Montelena, I wonder how this one compares?

2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Wine Selection Tips for Thanksgiving

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News and Events
The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time for friends and family break bread together. The traditional Thanksgiving feast has a large selection of foods, all with their own unique flavors and textures. Selecting a wine or wines to go with this wide variation of dishes can be a daunting task. One thing is certain; there is no right or wrong answer. If you and your guests enjoy the meal (and the wine), that is all that really matters!

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are a popular choice for most holiday meals. Crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and yeasty undertones help make these wines extremely food-friendly. A good Blanc de Noir (a sparkling wine or Champagne containing Pinot Noir) pairs well with many courses, from cheeses to salads to turkey and potatoes. The bubbles, combined with the natural acidity, work to cleanse the palate for each course.

White Wines

Fruity white wines with lively acidity work well with any number of dishes. Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, apples and pear compliment everything from butternut squash to the turkey and stuffing. Chardonnay, on the other hand, with its richer flavors and fuller body, goes better with creamy dishes. Gewürztraminer has an inherent spiciness that begs to be paired with cranberries or spicy pumpkin or squash soups.

Red Wines

Pinot Noir is probably one of the most versatile wines for the Thanksgiving meal. Flavors of tart cherries and strawberries, along with a nice balance of acidity and tannins, supports most courses without overpowering them. If dark meat is on the menu, consider a Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend from the Côtes du Rhône. Their ripe, dark fruit flavors and rich tannins work well with fat in the meats.

Dessert Wines

Selecting a dessert wine can be a little problematic. Depending on the level of sweetness in the dessert, some wines may or may not work. If the dessert is not too sweet, consider a sweet wine like Muscat or an effervescent Moscato d’Asti. If your dessert is very sweet, look for a Port (ruby or tawny) or a late-harvest Riesling. These wines are very sweet and rich and will stand up to the sugar in the dessert. Of course all of these wines could be considered “dessert” just by themselves.

These are just a few hints and suggestions to help select a wine (or wines) that will compliment your Thanksgiving meal. The best part is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes time to choosing a wine. If you like the wine, and it enhances your dining experience, that’s all that matters! The important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is about friends and family. They are the ones that truly make Thanksgiving great!

Varietal Voyage – The Beginning

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Varietal Voyage
For sometime now, I have wanted to expand my knowledge of the vast viticultural world of wine. I have tasted a fair share of wines, but always seem to gravitate to the same familiar varieties. Not that there is anything wrong with liking a few good wines, but there is so much more to experience!

I recently read in Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” about a plan for expanding your knowledge of wine. She spoke of a systematic plan, sampling different wines over a six month time frame. This was exactly what I was looking for. With a little research and some consultation with Sue, the plan was hatched!

Over the next six months, Sue and I will partake in a voyage of varietal discovery. The first three months focuses purely on white wines. The following three months are devoted to reds. Throughout each trimester we will explore four varieties and three different regions for each.

Month 1-3: The Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc (US, New Zealand, France) – VV1, VV2, VV3
  • Chenin Blanc (US, France, South Africa) – VV4, VV5, VV6
  • Chardonnay (US, France, Australia) – VV7, VV8, VV9
  • Viognier (US, France, Australia) – VV10, VV11, VV12

Month 4-6: The Reds

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (US, France, South America) – VV13, VV14, VV15
  • Merlot (US, France, South America) – VV16, VV17, VV18
  • Syrah/Shiraz (US, Australia, France) – VV19, VV20, VV21
  • Petite Sirah (US, France, Australia)

So that’s the grand plan – twenty-four wines over the next six months. Stay tuned. This blog will be the travelogue of our adventure!