Category Archives: French Wine

The Wines Created by Popes

Once upon a time, Mary had a little lamb. This has stuck with me through the years. Much like my favorite Gary Larson cartoon that has the bespectacled shepherdess sitting down to dinner with the drapes closed, her shepherd’s crook propped in the corner and the caption, “Mary had a little lamb, carrots and potatoes.”

One of my top ten matches of all time would be that very dinner with a ch ndpChateauneuf du Pape. Châteauneuf du Pape’s wide array of aromas and flavors could include herbes de Provence, spice box, tobacco, raspberries, olives, blackcurrant, licorice, thyme, plum, coffee, cinnamon, blueberries, lavender, and black cherry. As you can read, there is a lot going on in a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape and here’s why….

With more than 8,000 acres, Châteauneuf du Pape is the largest appellation in the Rhône Valley. This region makes two wines, a red which produces the bulk of the appellation’s production and a white. Eight red grapes are allowed and five whites.

Châteauneuf du Pape AOC permits thirteen different grapes in red wine but the blend must be predominantly Grenache. The other reds permitted are Syrah, Mourvèdre with minute quantities of Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir. The permitted white varietals include Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clarette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne. Chateau Beaucastel is the only one that includes all thirteen, both red and white, in its red wine.

Châteauneuf du Pape is located in southern France, in the southern half of the Rhône, on a hot, alluvial plain that’s covered with round stones. Sitting on the surface of the soil, the stones’ duty is to insulate the vines from both the cold and the heat, and provide drainage for the roots.

The area of the Rhône is in the path of the fierce, cold wind known as Le Mistral. This wind keeps things cool and also stresses the vines in a different way than the hot rocks.

Because of this wind, it’s not unusual to see mature vines untrellissed and low growing. Because of the abundant sunshine and frequent Le Mistral, the use of herbicides or pesticides in the vineyards isn’t needed. The wines benefit from this. They are clean with flavors rarely touched by new oak.

Châteauneuf du Pape takes its name, translated new castle of the pope, from the relocation of the papal court in the 14th century. French Pope Clement V arrived in 1309 and ordered more vines be planted to have more wine on hand for the visitors to court. His successor John XXII is the man who really developed the papal vineyards around Châteauneuf du Pape.

These wines were relatively light in style and unremarkable. After the court moved back to Italy, the bulk of the production was shipped north to cooperatives to be combined into indifferent blends that were sold in bulk.

Modern day Châteauneuf du Pape has its roots in the 1923 precursor appellation system created by Baron Le Roy, proprietor of the renowned Chateau Fortia. Forty years later with the establishment of the AOC, there were only a few making top quality wines.

These would be Chateau de Beaucastel, Clos du Mont-Olivet, Clos des Papes, Mont Redon, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, and Rayas. Today, there are over 60 estates producing wines that are as good as, if not better than these six top chateaux.

Many of these wines are made by a new generation of winemakers and are near term drinkers – generally to be consumed within five to seven years of the vintage, although a handful can age far longer. The finest are concentrated enough to evolve for 15 to 25 years.

The most celebrated cru of the region is Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. The Brunier family has been part of the plateau known as “La Crau” for over a hundred years. They began in 1898 with Hippolyte Brunier. His small vineyard was at one of the highest points near town on a stony plateau called “La Crau”. The elevation was the perfect place to construct in the late 18th century to transmit telegraph messages between Marseilles and Paris.

This was unfriendly terrain where only the toughest vigneron planted, although the legendary mistral wind prevented rot. Hippolyte gradually increased his vineyard holdings.

Over the years, the Brunier family weathered many storms including phylloxera. Hippolyte’s grandson, Henri, replanted the vineyards, constructed a new winery designed to better control temperature during fermentation, and launched the Chateau’s first bottling with the Vieux Télégraphe label.

The wines are classic, displaying rustic strength, earthiness, and tremendous longevity. The old vines of La Crau are all used for the final assemblage. The grapes from the newer vines (all over twenty years old) are used for the wines of Télégramme.

Châteauneuf du Pape is a remarkably food-friendly with all kinds of dishes, partly because it suits so much of today’s style of cooking – grilled red meats (like lamb) – with herbs and olive oil. And because of the lack of new oak in many of these wines, they can be enjoyed alongside lighter dishes such as grilled fish and poultry.

Châteauneuf du Pape would make a wonderful gift this holiday season. Chateau la Nerthe and Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, will be on my wish list.

A Steely Wine for Scallops

For Ann Vogel’s Sea Scallops with Asparagus and Bacon, a Chardonnay is just the ticket. But not your ordinary everyday Chardonnay. You need a cool climate Chardonnay that has a steely purity and a limestoney, mineral quality that pairs with seafood in a beautiful way. You need a Chablis.

True Chablis is from the northern most vineyards of Burgundy, France. Just two hours from Paris, the appellation is actually much closer to Champagne than Burgundy.

Like most of the vineyards in France, it was the Romans who first planted vines in the area. Later under the guidance of the medieval Cistercian monks, winemaking flourished up and down the banks of the Yonne River, conveniently close to the best means of transport to the thirsty Parisians.

With Chablis, you don’t expect something rich, it’s a different kind of complexity. The effects of terroir are clearly demonstrated in Chablis with its cooler climate and limestone soils that contribute significantly to its singular style of Chardonnay.

Chablis is loaded with raciness and minerality that makes it a perfect pair for seafood. The wines can make your mouth water from the acidity and the mineral flavors, which can range from wet stone to flint. The fruit flavors are typically lean and vary on the citrus side with some green apple.

Unlike its Burgundian cousins, Chablis is usually free of oak. Oak is definitely not used in the Petit Chablis and Chablis, resulting in wines that are very clean and straightforward. Upper classification Chablis may see some oak, but the wines would never be oaky. After all, it’s Chablis, not a Chardonnay.

Chablis vineyards are divided into four classifications. The bottom tier, Petit Chablis, is usually found at higher elevations where the soils are considered less than ideal.

Then there is Chablis, which accounts for about two-thirds of the vineyards, Chablis Premier Cru, scattered throughout the area and Chablis Grand Cru with only seven designated vineyards. Wines in the Chablis appellation may claim the classification on their label held by the vineyard where they were grown.

The key difference within the Chablis tiers lies in the soil. Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis soils contain greater levels of mineral rich clay, as well as significant lime content; the source of the trademark minerality. In contrast, Petit Chablis soils are not as rich in clay, and produce less complex, slightly fruitier wines with a bit of minerality.

Chablis Premier Cru is not really a distinct appellation like the other three classifications, but rather a subdivision of quality from the standard AOC Chablis title. The cost is around $30-$50.

Chablis Grand Cru is more expensive, with Les Clos, the top Grand Cru vineyard, fetching the highest price. Grand Cru wines are produced from just 250 acres planted on southwest facing slopes. Chablis Grand Cru can be cellared for 10 and 15 years for a wonderfully aromatic wine with lots of complexity.

Many of the wines you’ll see on the market now are from the 2011 and 2012 vintages with a couple of Grand Cru 2009s. Wines from 2009 have good ripeness along with ample acidity. 2011 was more variable. And 2012 and 2013 produced very small crops. After two short years in a row, supplies are a bit tight.

As you can guess, anything with a Premier Cru or Grand Cru on the label are more expensive, but basic Chablis can represent a good value, considering its quality. Most will be in the $20-$30 range. A few producers that have good availability are William Fevre, Jean-Marc Brocard, Domaine Chenevieres and Drouhin.

Tasting Wines Blind

The focus of a blind wine tasting is on the aromas, flavors and colors. Rather than blindfolding everyone, which gets very messy, all the bottles are brown bagged, numbered and corks removed before presenting to the tasting party.brown bags

The Blind Wine Group hosted a tasting recently of French red wines. Participants each bring a bottle of wine and appetizers for 12. Or in this case, hor d’ouvres for 12. The wines are brown bagged by the host who also buys two of the same wine and puts them into the line up.  The object is to find the duplicate wine in the line up. We have a vote at the end to determine that and our personal favorite.
French red is a broad category. There were 5 regions represented but Bordeaux was the most popular with 4 out of the 9 wines presented.  Bordeaux is a very prolific wine region in south-west France. Anyone with an interest in wine knows this is an influential (think Meritage) and famous (Margaux, Rothschild) wine region.
I love Bordeaux, from the $10 price range to the glad-I-bought-it-when-it-was-affordable variety.  It’s a dry, medium-bodied red that can be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Each chateau’s vineyard is planted with the permitted varietals they’ll use.
Depending on which side of the Gironde your wine is from, it could be either left bank or right bank. Left bank (Paulliac, Ste Estephe, St. Julien, Margaux, Medoc) is Cabernet dominate and right bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Cote de Castillion) is a Merlot dominated blend. This fact never makes it on the label, that’s one of those facts you have to memorize.
Cabernet and Merlot vines grow at different times and rates, which spreads the risk posed by poor weather conditions at flowering or harvest. In years when the autumn is wet, the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest suffers from rot and water-logging, but the earlier-ripening Merlot provides a back-up. When the spring is wet, the Merlot flowers poorly, leaving the Cabernet Sauvignon to take up the responsibility of providing a good harvest.
Thousands of producers ferment a vast quantity of wine each year.  Every producer is classified as a First Growth, Second Growth, and so on down to Fifth Growth. If it’s not a classified growth then it would be a Bordeaux AC which produces about 40% of the red wines of Bordeaux.  
Bordeaux prices range from truly affordable to first growth chateaux that produce some of the world’s most expensive wine. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2010 will set you back about $800 – per bottle. And that is fairly reasonable compared to Chateau Petrus 2010 which sells for around $3,500 per bottle.
The Blind Wine Group’s Bordeaux offering were all Bordeaux AC, the affordable side of the region. Save one, a 1989 Chateau Clerc Milon from Paulliac, a Fifth Growth and property of Mouton Rothschild. Clerc Milon comprises 100 acres of vineyards around the village of  Milon in northeastern Paulliac planted to 60% Cab, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and  2% Petite Verdot.
It was tasted first as is done with all older wines. The nose was gorgeous with the classic cigar box aroma opening up to leather, dried herbs, and coffee. A mineral quality added more complexity. The flavors were tight at first and then opened to wonderful concentration and balance. The vintage was an excellent one and the reason why this 24 year old wine aged so gracefully. One famous wine writer said “the difference between the Clerc Milon and the Mouton Rothschild is negligible.” Considering the price, that says a lot.
Other wines tasted were 2010 Haut-Sorillon Bordeaux Supérieur, a rich, full bodied wine with dark ruby color. I loved it. It has a wonderful nose, plummy and woodsy, with a bit of the cigar box. Although a Bordeaux AC, the vineyards are only 5 km from Saint-Emilion. This wine received a silver medal from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. $10
The 2009 Chateau Moulin de Mallet also received a medal, a gold one from the 2010 Concourse de Boudreaux.  Also a Bordeaux AC, it probably comes from the right bank with its telltale blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cab. It had really nice upfront fruit which was surprising for a wine of this age, beautiful weight to the mouthfeel and a long silky finish. $11.
2010 Chateau Haut-Mouleyre Bordeaux AC was another silver medal winner this time from Concourse des Grands Vins de France. With its signature Bordeaux nose, ruby color and aromas of Provence herbs and blackberries, this wine is another everyday wine at $7.
The winner with 6 out of ten votes was the Domaine les Grands Bois 2010 Cote du Rhone Villages with a dense purple robe, grapey, cassis aromas and grapey flavors that were rich and powerful. It’s a good thing it turned up last in the line up or it would have overpowered the other wines. Expect to spend about $14.
Of the eleven tasters, only two found the match, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Cotes du Rousillon. The Tessellae Old Vines 2010 sells for around $14.
For the appetizers, the grilled lamb with garlic and basil, the strong cheeses and, of course the homemade bread were the best match.

Weekly Wine Defined – Chateauneuf du Pape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.