Cheers To You

An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.
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Archive for the ‘French Wine’ Category

Weekly Wine Defined – Chateauneuf du Pape

Monday, February 24th, 2014

This is the most important and well-known appellation of the southern Rhone.

Thirteen different grape varieties are permitted in any southern Rhone wine region whether Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyas, or Cotes de Ventoux. But in practice it will be mostly Grenache with Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre and perhaps a touch of Viognier.

The place name literally translates to Pope’s new castle. In the 14th century, Pope Clement, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papal court to Avignon, France.

Estate bottled wines are entitled to be marketed in a bottle which is embossed with the papal coat of arms featuring a mitre and crossed keys.


What to Drink – Chateau Lagarosse Premiers Cotes de Bordeaux

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Breezy, wet, chilly weather this time of year, dictate a hearty stew, crusty bread and a bottle of red wine.

I have an abundant fondness for Bordeaux, that wine region in western France where Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc rule. Bordeaux is the world’s largest producer of quality, age worthy wines, of which about 75% are dry red.

Bordeaux grapes are the Sauvignons, Cabernet and Blanc, and their traditional blending partners, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and for the whites, Sémillon and to a lesser degree, Muscadelle.

Bordeaux is part of the 1855 Classification System where Chateaux were categorized as First Growth, Second Growth and so on down to a Fifth Growth.

If a chateau wasn’t selected for one of those growths, they were classified as Bordeaux Appellation Contrôlée or AC. Bordeaux Cotes is the name for appellations on the outer fringes of the region. These wines tend to have more personality than Bordeaux AC and provide some of the best wine values from the region.

Highly recommended – Chateau Lagarosse, Premiers Cotes de Bordeaux 2009. It’s a blend of 80% Merlot, 10 Cab Franc and 10 Cabernet. It sells for under $10 and is imported by Canon Wines, SFO.


Wine with Quiche

Friday, December 6th, 2013

You’ve probably read somewhere about egg dishes and wine being a tough match.

But if you look at eggs as a vehicle for other wine friendly ingredients, therein lies the key to matching egg dishes with egg friendly wines.

Another good rule to remember: Keep the tannin level to a minimum and the fruit level balanced.

Cheese and wine have such a natural affinity and so does wine with meats and most vegetables. With Ann Vogel’s quiche recipes, we’ll focus on pairing with the turkey, broccoli and Swiss cheese; ham, cheddar, and onions; or brussel sprouts, crispy bacon, and smoky cheese.

The first wine that comes to mind is from an area in France that cooks up some of the best dishes in all of France. Alsace is in the north east corner of France. Because this region borders Germany and those borders have moved several times, the wines have a strong Germanic influence. For the most part, the wines are made from white grapes, much like in Germany and the grape names are listed on the label, unusual for a French wine.

The Pinot Blanc grape is a wonderful alternative to Chardonnay. The way it’s fermented here produces a similar medium to full-bodied style of wine with good acidity even though it is aged in stainless-steel tanks.

Pierre Sparr 2011 Pinot Blanc is traditionally made with no skin contact and no malolactic fermentation but it does spend 6 months on the lees. The resulting effort is medium bodied with aromas of pears and lemon peel with flavors of sweet pear, spice and minerals balanced by crisp acidity. The alcohol is low at 12% and this delightful wine ranges between $12 and $15.

Another unusual but splendid pairing would be a Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape. Yep, it’s a red wine and this is an egg dish, but trust me, it works! And the reason is the wine has wonderful fruit and very low tannins.

There are two distinct types of Beaujolais, Cru and Nouveau. Cru Beaujolais are from a specific commune in Beaujolais such as Morgon, Fleurie, or Bouilly. Cru Beaujolais can be aged, although for a shorter period. These are elegant, medium bodied reds with black fruits flavors and an affinity to smoked meats and cheeses.

The 3rd Thursday in November is when Beaujolais Nouveau is released. This style of Beaujolais is very fruity due to the way it’s produced. It’s the fastest wine on the planet, taking only two months from vineyard to your glass. You can expect a fruit bowl on the nose and palate and a smooth finish. This is a red wine with training wheels.

The two biggest producers of Beaujolais Nouveau are DuBoeuf and Drohin. Both sell for around $15. For a Cru Beaujolais producer, look for Château Thivin or Hubert LaPierre for about $15 apiece.


What We Drank with Thanksgiving Dinner

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Champagne is the perfect way to start off any celebration. So, Veuve Clicquot Brut it was. It turned the peeling, chopping and cooking into a party. For the grand entrée, we chose Frédéric Magnien 2003 Bourgogne Graviers. This special bottle had been waiting patiently in the cellar and we like nothing better than a Pinot Noir that has some age.

Burgundy or as they say in France, Bourgogne, is hard to understand. You have to know the vineyards which there are many and some are only a quarter acre. And you have to know the producers. This is tough since many of them have the same last name because inherited vineyards are split. If there were 10 kids, each gets a row from the quarter acre of vines. Yeah, Burgundy is hard to understand.

magnienBourgogne Rouge is made from only one grape – Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir’s charms are elusive. Whether grown in its homeland in Burgundy or from vineyards in Germany, South Africa, Australia or, more notably, California, Oregon and New Zealand, Pinot Noir is just plain elusive.

And it‘s notoriously finicky, it takes great skill to make Pinot Noir into the richest, most intensely perfumed wines. I had one a while back. It’s still my favorite all time wine.

Magnien is a Burgundy producer who creates wonderful wines from purchased fruit. He has no estates or vineyards. Just a man who can make a darkly colored wine -hard to do with Pinot- with Asian spiced, floral aromas and flavors that are full bodied with age and sweet with dark cherry, cassis and minerals with a smooth and silky texture. A special wine for a special dinner. This special wine was an affordable $25, and worth the wait.


Weekly wine defined: Bourgogne

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Mary writes:

A recent tasting with the Blind Wine Group featured Pinot Noir. Tasters bring a bottle with Pinot Noir in it. On three of the labels, “Appellation Bourgogne” appeared. (Pronouced boor-gon-yuh.)  We all know what appellation means, but Bourgogne?

Well, it just so happens that Bourgogne is French for Burgundy. The Bourgogne region is comprised of four departments, Chablis, Côtes d’Or, Saône-et-Loire and Beaujolais.

But not all of the wines produced in these departments are allowed to use the name Bourgogne. French law reserves this name for wines made from certain grape varieties grown in very well defined townships.

Remember, the more real estate on a label, the better the wine, e.g., Bourgogne, Côtes d’Or, Chassagne Montrachet, Morgeot.


Weekly wind defined: Sparkling wine

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Mary writes:

Notice how we’ve been on a sparkling wine kick as of late? It seems we just can’t quite get those bubbles out of our heads.

This week’s definition is quite simple: Sparkling Wine.

Sparkling wines have significant levels of carbon dioxide which translates to those tiny bubbles that tickle your tongue. A second natural fermentation in a bottle, called méthode champenoise, produces sparkling wines.

Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. Every other French sparkling wine made outside the borders of Champagne is a Mousseux or Crémant.

The more common Crémants are from Burgundy where the same grapes that grow in Champagne are grown in Burgundy. Other areas that produce Crémant from other grapes are Bordeaux (Semilion), Alsace (Pinot Gris), Loire (Chenin Blanc) and  Limoux (Mauzac).


What we’re drinking: Jaillance Crémant de Bordeaux Cuvée de l’Abbaye NV Sémillon

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Mary writes:

Well this week’s wine is quite a mouthful. Cremant de Bordeaux is the regional appellation for sparkling wines in the Bordeaux region of France. More famous for their classic, and at times very expensive, blends of Cab and Merlot, or Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, a sparkling wine appellation was made official in 1990.

This Crémant de Bordeaux is made from 100 percent Sémillon and has small perlage and a balanced, nutty, honeyed nose. There is a required period of lees contact in Cremant de Bordeaux wines and they spend at least nine months in the bottle before disgorgement.

The occasion for popping the cork on this wine was the grand opening celebration of the Orthopaedic Center at Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale earlier this month. Glasses of this bubbly were served to guests entering the new wing.

From a distance I could see the color was different than the usual sparkling wine. It was a pale gold color. And the first sip surprised me with its elegance. It had a floral bouquet, creamy mousse and nice balance. A wonderful celebratory wine for a splendid community event.

Jaillance is imported by Vinum Wine Importers in Redmond.


Weekly wine defined: Négociant

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

We used this term last week in our review of the Contempo Petite Sirah.

A négociant is a wine merchant who gathers the grapes and juice from grower and winemakers and then sells the product under its own company name.

It can be hard to tell by looking at a label if the wine you’re drinking came from a winery, or if the grapes were grown and harvested, then sent to someone else to bottle and release. Look for terms like “cellared” on the label to determine if this has happened. If a label says estate grown and bottled you can be certain the wine is coming from a winemaker that has been involved in the process from the ground up.

Négociants can buy everything from grapes and grape must to wines in various states of completion. If buying grapes or must, the négociant performs almost all of the winemaking. There are some though who buy fermented wine in barrels or in bulk, and either age it, blend it with other wines or bottle the wine and sell it as is. They sell this product under their name, not where the wine came from.

While some in the industry might turn their noses up at négociants, they were relatively common until as recently as 25 years ago. They’re still around, although more and more you’re seeing labels touting a wine’s origins.

Négociants came to be because historically vineyard owners and the winemakers didn’t have access to buyers, so they needed a middleman to sell their product. It also was a cost-saving measure — wine presses and bottling machines are not cheap and often growers couldn’t afford this investment.

There still are many négociants in France, where they own their own vineyards. You probably even know some of their names, or have seen them on labels. Some better-known négociants include Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy and George DuBoeuf in Beaujolais.


What we’re drinking: Pump House Pinot Noir

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Mary writes:

Reading the label on this bargain bottle of wine gives a little information about what’s inside.

It was cellared and bottled by Our Cellars out of Healdsburg, Calif. and is a product of France with  12.5 percent alcohol.

So what does that mean? I’ll translate: The pinot noir grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in France. The juice was shipped to California, where it was cellared and bottled.

Further investigation leads me to the conclusion it’s a private label for TJ’s (aka Trader Joe’s). Seems we just can’t stay away from this grocer when it comes to looking for bargain wines (although I bought this at Grocery Outlet).

About the wine. It’s French in style, meaning the fruit is understated and the mineral flavors more prominent. Because of this, it did not show well when first opened. But when aired, it showed tangy red cherry, some raspberry, a hint of orange peel, a nice mineral note, and a slightly tannic finish.

It’s nicely structured and a great everyday red. Another bargain find from Grocery Outlet that will only set you back $6. Grill up some salmon and enjoy with friends. It’s a great match.


Weekly wine defined: Bonarda

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Mary writes:

Originally a widely planted French varietal, Bonarda now is hard to find except in the Jura and Savoie regions.
Bonarda is the second-most widely planted grape in Argentina, with more that 46,000 acres planted mostly in the Mendoza wine region. Rarely will you find a bottle of 100 percent Bonarda, as it is more of a blending wine, usually with Malbec and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.
You can also find it planted in California where it goes by the name of Charbono.

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