Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Pardon my French--I met with my local language group last night, Les Francophones. And speaking of language, I'd love to have the inconsistency in Sirah and Syrah explained. But onto the wine. I had tried Petite Syrah before and remembered that I was struck by its intense berry elements, and this bottle confirmed my impression of the varietal. I had a 2005 Petite Sirah Paso Robles from Courtney Benham (as the label says, "a member of the Martin Ray Family of Fine Wines.") This young, sassy pour was, in a word, BERRYLICIOUS. A smidgeon of tannin helped balance out the huge blackberry fruit. This bottle came in well south of $20 and was quite enjoyable. I had a pork casserole (much better than it sounds) and the huge fruit did dominate a bit. Despite this mis-match, I really enjoyed the wine. I've been drinking a lot of Bordeaux lately, and it was fun to mix things up with something completely different. Thanks for the topic; it was great to drink PS again.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Here's my first foray into the WBW world. I was already pretty familiar with the whites of the Macon, so I decided to try a red Burgundy from the area. No small feat! My local wine shop, Total Wine, has a nice red Burgundy selection, but not outside that golden slope. (I was happily surprised by their extensive Beaujolais choices). After nearly giving up, I spied one that fit the bill. I took home a 2005 Chateau de la Tour de L'Ange, a Bourgogne Pinot Noir, for $13.99. It was bottled at the chateau in Charnay les Macon, and is Appellation Bourgogne - Pinot Controlee. It's a 2005, very light, high acid, fruit forward. On the nose, I got a lot of strawberry. No finish to speak of, but it was a nice quaffable bottle I enjoyed with mild cheese. On their bilingual web site I learned that the wine can be drunk young or aged ten years. That's my report--cheers to all the other WBW bloggers...
Thursday, October 25, 2007
As a traveler who normally shies away from group tours, I’m happy to report that this weekend was a resounding success:
Day One—We assemble for a morning lesson & tasting at the Bordeaux Wine School taught by the cheerful and articulate Jane Anson, a writer for Decanter. Our small group includes a writer and photographer from the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph , adding to the glamour of the trip.
We spend the day in the vineyards of Sauternes, learning about the noble rot that turns plump grapes into shriveled gems of sweetness. After a hearty three course lunch in a charming village restaurant, we tour another vineyard. Then we head home to briefly rest before an alfresco dinner in the stone-paved courtyard of Bordeaux’s elegant Museum of Decorative Arts. There we enjoy a little bites of cheese, meat, seafood, and dessert, all paired expertly with Bordeaux wines. The weather is fine, the food and wine are heaven, and the company is delightful.
Day Two—We rise early to ride through the mists of the Medoc while being entertained by our driver, Henri, a former sommelier to the French prime minister. We meet Marie Lurton, a member of the world-famous Lurton wine family, who challenges us to: Guess the Bordeaux Blend! I wrongly estimate that there is more Cab in a 2006 that turned out to be dominated by Merlot. It’s fun, educational, and alcoholic—what more could you ask of a game?
En route to the next stop, we have our first sighting of the harvest. The air is festive and the pickers include dreadlocked youths pitching grape bunches good-naturedly at each other. Then it’s on to Chateau Paloumey, where winemaker and owner Martine Cazeneuve takes us into the vines to show us how to read the sugar content of grapes with a refractometer.
We lunch at her beautiful, art-filled chateau (the building is more modern California than old world, but is called a chateau nonetheless). The scene: a high-ceiling room with stark white walls, unique china, custom printed menus that detail all the wines we drink, conversations in French, English, and a lot of franglais.
Full of blanquet de veau plus multiple glasses of rose, red, and white wine, we head back to the city of Bordeaux, sated and happy. So, cheers to the Lucien Gabillaud and Cornelia Blume of Vitivinitour for a wonderful weekend.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Bordeaux encompasses a vast area in southwest France. The wide Garonne river separates this region into a right bank, where the wines tend to be dominated by Merlot, and a left bank, where they’re heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon. A world-class destination for any wine lover, Chateau Mouton Rothschild is located in Pauillac, a left bank town.
The Chateau welcomes visitors with tours in both French and English. I was thrilled to get a last minute spot on an English tour, but I’d recommend reserving a spot at least a month in advance, especially in the summer.
The Chateau is tucked away from the main road, and I overshot it before spying the discreet sign, and following the directions for “visites”. About a dozen Yanks & Brits congregated in the modern lobby before being ushered into a small theater. We watched a short film detailing the history of Mouton and the family’s wine empire, which includes holdings in California and South America. The film was narrated by none other than the Baroness, who runs the whole show. We spied her elegant home on the property and got a peek at her two private wine cellars, where she has more than 200,000 bottles at her disposal. Oh, to be a guest at her parties!
Bordeaux has been making wine for centuries, and, many would say the world’s best wines are made here. To understand the significance of these chateau, you need a little history. In the world’s fair of 1855, Napoleon called upon wine makers of France to classify their wines according to quality so he could present his nation’s finest offerings. The winemakers of Burgundy and Champagne declined, unable to agree upon a ranking. But in Bordeaux, the winemakers classified their wines purely according to price. The result is the historic classification of 1855, a ranking of the top 57 wines, broken into five categories, from “first growth” (the best) to “fifth growth” (still pretty darned good). The ranking stood firm until 1973, when then minister of culture Jacques Chirac agreed to elevate Chateau Mouton Rothschild from a second to a first growth.
In addition to this distinction, Mouton Rothschild is known for its beautiful labels. Each year an artist is invited to create the label for the wine. Picasso is among the famous painters who have left their mark on the bottle.
Our charming guide Audrey Castelmerac, led us on the tour through the cellars, the impressive art museum (a gift from the Baron to his wife for her birthday!), and outside among sample vineyards. Then we happily followed her into the tasting room.
What is it like to taste a wine that will be great in 20 years? It’s like meeting a stranger and knowing you can be happy together for decades. Who can see the future of a young wine and divine the greatness within? Well, that’s what the Robert Parkers of the world can do….As for me, as I tasted the 2006 Mouton Rothschild, I enjoyed its rich fruit, its full aroma. But, could I tell by my tastebuds that we were enjoying a wine that would sell for 430 euros? Sadly, no. I’d love to come back in 20 years and taste the ‘06 again, enjoying all the complexity, the lovely layering of flavors that would have developed.
Monday, August 20, 2007
If you happen to be on Fire Island over the summer, look out for this event on the Ocean Beach Marina. For the past two years, the tasting has raised money to support the annual Golden Wagon Film Festival.
While the event previously featured only Long Island wines, this time half were Italian. I enjoyed two refreshing proseccos and a full-bodied Montepulciano, among less successful offerings. The Long Island wineries featured were Borghese, Paumanok, and Pindar. The Paumanok stood out. They had a good, light-bodied Chardonnay, as well as a rich and earthy 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon--the best wine of the tasting.
In addition to wine, there was an assortment of interesting cheeses, including brie, St. Andre, goat cheese, layered cheddars and more. Live guitar music was a nice touch.
While I think the event should include more Long Island wine and the pourers should have information about what they’re offering, the event is a nice departure from the usual weekend activities at the shore. The two hour tasting drew a large, amiable crowd of casual imbibers and wine lovers.
As my friend and I sat on the marina, we savored the Paumonok cab and some pungent cheese as we watched the ferry sail by. It was a lovely evening all around.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Welcome friends & loyal readers (Joli) to the second version of my wine blog, now with a URL that's easier to type.
Spring was my France fling, off to the gorgeous countryside of Burgundy. It was amazing, a veritable wine mecca. In the wine capital of Beaune it's easier to find a wine shop than an ATM. Beaune is a well-preserved town with a hodge-podge of buildings dating from the early to late middle ages and into the 19th century. It's also the site of a world-renowned wine auction, a bustling affair that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for good causes. The event takes place at the Hospice de Beaune. Created in 1443 by a naughty chancellor looking to set things right with his maker, the Hospice de Beaune is basically a cathedral, complete with elaborate altar, but with hospital beds lining the walls. All of this posh luxury was reserved for the poorest of the poor, who would spend their final days attended by loving nuns. Taking a tour of the hospice, we saw the well-preserved apothecary, where tall shelves were packed with strange powders and dried herbs that were used to create healing brews and poultices. In the courtyard, you can see the second main building of the complex, which is topped by a roof of breathtaking Flemish tiles.
But on to the wine. From Paris, our first stop was Chablis. Now, those of us around in the 70s remember Chablis as a jug wine you could buy from Ernest & Julio Gallo. I have fond memories of a friend's mother enjoying a few glasses each night before tucking off for bed. IT'S NOT THAT CHABLIS! The true, original and only Chablis comes from this tiny French town. It's a crisp dry chardonnay with a good balance of fruit and acidity. Looking on the hilly terraine, I saw large white rocks resting under the vines. Wandering around the town on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, I nearly despaired of tasting any wine. Then I spied an old man out in his courtyard. In French, I told him we were American tourists hoping to taste some wine. Never underestimate speaking some of the native tongue! He beckoned us into his stone house to his first-floor tasting room. There he poured four Chablis, including a Grand Cru, and told me (in French) about the limestone rocks and fossilized snail shells as big as melons that add the mineral flavor to the wine, making it taste different than the Chardonnay of the Macon region in southern Burgundy.
After the tasting, he let us wander around in his corkscrew museum, with an amazing assortment of "tire-bouchons." Some were huge mechanical contraptions, many were whimsical, and some were, uh, anatomically interesting: an array of monks, little boys, and other carved males with the screw strategically placed.
More Burgundy tales anon....