Browsing the archives for the France tag

Varietal Voyage No.21 – 2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage

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Varietal Voyage

The final syrah on the journey takes us back to France and the northern valleys of the Côtes du Rhône.

Crozes-Hermitage is the northern Rhône’s largest appellation covering almost 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of rolling hillsides surrounding Hermitage. The names may be similar, but Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage produce very different wines.  Hermitage produces some of the most sought after wines in the world, often long-lived, very tannic, and worthy of cellaring. On the other hand, the producers in Crozes-Hermitage create wines that are known for their consistent quality and approachability and intended to be consumed early.  The proximity to the Rhône River has given this region a wide range of soil types (loess, clay, alluvial sands and gravel) which vary dramatically depending if you are in the valley or on the hillsides.

For generations the Pochon family has farmed vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage, selling grapes to the local cooperative in Tain l’Hermitage.  In 1988 that all changed when Etienne Pochon began managing the domaine and started producing wine with the family’s own fruit.  Domaine Pochon produces wines that are painstakingly crafted, reflecting the terroir of Crozes-Hermitage. Unlike many producers in the region that focus on quantity over quality, Domaine Pochon creates separate wines from the best hillside plots and carefully blends them together to create this juicy and earthy syrah.

The first things we noticed about this wine were the heady aromas of blackcurrants, cherries and faint hints of earthy tobacco.  Its youthful ruby color carries prominent black and red fruit flavors with some prickly spice and the classic gamey or meaty signature of syrah.  Full-bodied and silky on the palate, it has young, aggressive tannins that build up through the lingering finish.  If you have a decanter (even a water pitcher will do), make sure to use it.  This wine will benefit from some exposure to oxygen to soften its tannic aspects.

2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($22)

  • 100% syrah
  • Crozes-Hermitage, Côtes du Rhône, France

Stay tuned for the final variety on the voyage…petite sirah!

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

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.

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 8

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Midwest Wine School Experience

The final class of the WSET Intermediate Level course was this past Wednesday.  After a short review of the past seven week’s, Jessica Bell led a lively discussion on the topic of fortified wines and spirits.

Fortified wines and spirits represent an extremely wide range of products so we could only cover a very small subset of this genre.  Jessica put together a variety of sherries, ports and spirits, including a French Armagnac and a Scottish whiskey to give us a broad base for comparison.

Fortified wines like sherries and ports are made by adding neutral grape spirits to the wine either before or after the wines fermentation is complete.  In the case of sherry, grape spirits are added after fermentation as stopped, so the wines are usually dry, but there are also numerous sweet versions.  Ports, on the other hand, are always sweet because the fermentation process is stopped before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol.  The grape spirits kill the yeast and boost the alcohol to around 20%.

Sherries are produced in the Spain, primarily in the regions of Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  The processes used to create this wines are deliberately oxidative, exposing the wine to air, giving the wines are wonderful nutty character.

Traditionally and legally, Ports must come from Portugal, around the city of Oporto.  However there are numerous examples being produced around the world in a similar manner.  Many of these fortified wines are called “port” so it can be a little confusing when navigating through your local wine shop.  To make matters more confusing, there are numerous types of port raging from ruby to tawny, vintage to late bottled vintage (LBV), traditional late bottled vintage to modern late bottled vintage.  Each of these wines has a very different flavor profile and should be served differently.

Spirits are completely different than fortified wines and are made in most parts of the world.  They are distilled rather than fermented and can be made from almost anything that contains sugar, so grapes are not necessary (except in the case of grape-based spirits like Cognac and Armagnac, to name a few).  Spirits have a higher alcohol content, usually in the range of 40%.  There are so many types of spirits that it would be impossible to list or discuss them all here.  The Armagnac that Jessica selected was a good example of a grape-based spirit from France made from grape varieties like ugni blanc, colombard, folle blanche, and baco.  The single malt scotch whiskey was an excellent example of a grain-based (barley) spirit from the Scottish highlands of Speyside.

Admittedly this was a very short introduction to fortified wines and spirits, but it gave us a good foundation for future study.

This brings us to the end of this course.  It was a great experience that reinforced many of the things I already new, but opened my eyes to how much more there is to learn!  If you want to learn about wine and and taste many examples from around the world, I would definitely recommend this course.  Our final exam is next week.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Wines and Spirits Tasted (Class 8):

  1. Pedro Romero Fino Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
  2. Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
  3. Smith Woodhouse 10-Year Tawny Port (Oporto, Portugal)
  4. Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (Southeast Australia)
  5. Château du Tariquet VSOP Armagnac (Armagnac, France)
  6. Balvenie Doublewood 12-Year Single Malt Scotch (Speyside, Highlands)

Varietal Voyage No.17 – 2005 Chateau Grand Destieu

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Varietal Voyage

The second merlot (in this case a merlot blend) on our journey comes from Saint Émilion on Bordeaux’s “right bank.” Château Grand Destieu is made by Jonathan Maltus, who also owns Château Teyssier, another highly regarded estate in Saint Emilion.  Maltus also has wineries and vineyards in Australia (Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley) and the U.S. (World’s End, Napa Valley) making a number of other top-rated wines.

This is the first time we have ventured into this part of France.  Saint Émilion, north of the Dordogne River, is roughly twenty-five miles (as the crow flies) from the city of Bordeaux.  Château Grand Destieu was established near the town of Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens over a century ago.  Jonathan Maltus acquired the property shortly after he took over the aging Château Teyssier in 1993.  This part of Saint Émilion is known for its gravelly, iron-rich soils known as crasse de fer.  The unique terroir and Maltus’ unique methods in the vineyards and in the winery have come together to create many highly rated and award winning wines, including Château Grand Destieu.

Click here to listen to a interview with Jonathan Maltus.

Unlike “left bank” wines where cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape in the blend with a handful of other grape varieties (merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot), “right bank” wines, like those from Saint Émilion are made mostly from merlot. Merlot based wines tend to be softer and rounder with more emphasis on fruit flavors, than their hard-edged cousins made from cabernet sauvignon. Château Grand Destieu is no exception with a blend of 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc.

The 2005 vintage of Château Grand Destieu is beautiful example of what the “right bank” has to offer.  This young Bordeaux blend has jewel tones of ruby and amethyst with aromas that remind you of  ripe blackberries and raspberries interlaced with fresh herbs.  It’s medium body is packed with ripe black fruit and spicy minerality.  Lively acidity keeps the flavor alive and dancing on the palate and well-rounded tannins with hints of licorice and bell pepper carry on through a medium length finish.  If you get a chance to pick up a bottle, do so.  But let it lay down for a few years to truly enjoy its full potential.


2005 Château Grand Destieu ($42)

  • Approx. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc
  • Saint Émilion, France

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2004 Chateau Siran

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Tasting Note

I originally intended to drink this bottle of Chateau Siran for Varietal Voyage No.15, but a funny thing happen on the way to the cellar…

Bordeaux is the source for some of the best cabernet sauvignon in the world, so this seemed the logical place to go for the last wine in this series.  With the exception of a few chateaux, red Bordeaux from the “left bank” (west side of the Gironde River) is typically a blend of several grapes with cabernet sauvignon being the dominant grape in the blend.  Chateau Siran just happens to be one of those exceptions, with merlot being the predominant grape (50%) and the rest being cabernet sauvignon (35%), and petite verdot (15%).  Of course, I didn’t realize this until I did a little more research about the chateau.  The Varietal Voyage was intended to explore the the subtle differences between many different grape varieties from all over the world.  Since this wine has more merlot that cabernet sauvignon, we felt that it didn’t fit into this flight.  With that said, we’ll defer the final wine in this series until next week.  C’est la vie!

Chateau Siran has been in existence since the 1420′s when the feudal lord, Guilhem de Siran was given control over the surrounding lands. For the next 430 years ownership of the lands changed hands several times over.  By the end of the 17th century Chateau Siran had developed a reputation for creating quality wines.  In 1859, four years after the famed 1855 Classification, the Miailhe family took ownership of Chateau Siran.  One hundred fifty years and five generations later the Miailhe family still owns Chateau Siran and continues to make top quality wines.

The vineyards of Chateau Siran lie in the gravely river beds of the Margaux appellation, just north of the city of Bordeaux.  Sharing much of the same soil and terroir of its first growth cousin, Chateau Margaux, it’s speculated that the quality of Siran’s wines are equal to, if not better than many of chateaux listed in the 1855 Classification. The soil, composed mostly of sand and gravel, has excellent drainage forcing the vines to grow deep to find water and nutrients.  The flat terrain and quality of the soil, combined with the time honored techniques of the winemakers create wines with the famed character and age worthiness found only in Bordeaux.

Tasting Notes:

Sue and I are relatively new to Bordeaux wines so this was a fun learning experience.  I found the ’04 Siran ($50) to be thoroughly enjoyable, but Sue was a little less impressed. One thing that Sue noticed was a faint odor of burnt rubber, a smell sometimes found in young wines due to the sulphur compounds created during in the wine making process.  Good thing is that this is almost always temporary and blows off quickly.  Thankfully the aromas of black raspberries and currants quickly took over, revealing themselves amongst flavors reminiscent of Chambord (minus the syrupy sweetness) with well-balanced acidity.  Throughout each sip was an underlying backbone of minerals and silky tannins, a classic trait of  Bordeaux wines.  Notes of vanilla and cinnamon carried over into a pleasant finish.

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!

2006 Clérotstein Crémant d'Alsace – Symphonie en "P"

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Tasting Note

I know you are probably looking at the title, shaking your head and saying – What??!!  In short, this is a tasty and affordable sparkling wine made in the Alsace region of France.  Clérotstein is the producer and “Crémant d’Alsace” says it is a sparkling wine from Alsace.   Crémants are sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method.  France’s strict wine and food laws (AOC) only allow sparkling wines made in the Champagne region to be called “Champagne.”  In terms of quality, the AOC laws are just as strict for crémant, but the producers are allowed to use different grapes along with some other variations. Real Champagne’s usually command a hefty price tag ($40-$100 or more).  Crémants offer a wide array of affordable wines from many different regions of France.

Tasting Notes:

Symphonie en “P” is made from a trio of grapes that are well adapted to the cool Alsatian climate: pinot noir, pinot gris, and pinot blanc.  The final result is an effervescent blend of floral and citrus aromas combined with flavors of minerals, lemon peel, and toasty biscuits.  The idea of toast and biscuits in a sparkling wine may seem strange, but it is quite common and desired in Champagne and crémant.  These yeasty flavors come from the time the finished wines spend resting on lees. The cool climate keeps the acidity in the grapes high and it shows in how the bubbles and flavors dance around in your mouth for a lengthy finish.  Although this wine is labeled as “brut” or a dry style of wine, it still carries a little sweetness, but not at all unpleasant. Very good for $28.

If you are looking to find this wine, your best bet is to try Cinega Imports (DeRose Vineyards). They have several other Clérotstein wines that you may find interesting. Due to our pesky and antiquated shipping laws, call ahead or check their website to make sure they can ship to your location.

1976 Maison Leroy Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru

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Tasting Note

 I’ve finally managed to pull myself away for from the office to enjoy some much needed vacation time.  I went to pick up my Christmas present at the Waterford Wine Company- 6 bottles of 2006 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve! Sue must really love me.  After I picked up the wine, Ben asked if I wished to sample a few wines he had open for his customers. Much to my surprise, one of the offerings was a bottle of 1976 Maison Leroy Vosne-Romanée, a Premier (1er) Cru Burgundy, from the Côte de Nuits!

This is the oldest, most prestigious (definitely the most expensive) wine I have tasted to date. With that in mind, I had no idea what to expect. Would tasting this wine be a life changing event or just another pricey pinot noir? Recognizing my limited experience in this arena, I have to say this is a really good wine.  It was not life changing, but still very good nonetheless.

Tasting Notes:

The ’76 Leroy has so many different layers of aromas and flavors it is hard to believe that there is only one grape variety in the bottle.  I was pleasantly surprised how vibrant the aromas and flavors were after almost 34 years.  In the glass, it has a gorgeous soft reddish-purple hue with a just a hint of garnet showing through on the edges.  Distinct aromas of tart cherries, smoke, and damp earth mingle together with sumptuous cherry flavors and a tart cranberry-like acidity. The finish seems to go on forever with wonderfully soft tannins that build towards the end.  I’ve tasted quite a few pinot noirs and many were very good, but this one has set a new standard!

What a great way to kick off the holidays.  Thanks Ben!

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…