Tag Archives: French

Cavern Diving – 2007 Francois Cazin Cour -Cheverny

Cour-Cheverny is a little known appellation in the Loire Valley, whose wines are made exclusively from Romorantin*. The very original grape variety is only found in this AOC, although my favorite example remains Henri Marrionet’s “Provignage” Romorantin, grown outside of Cour-Cheverny as a Vin de Pays, sourced from original pre-phylloxera* vines planted in the mid 1800s! I was truly impressed, intrigued even, when I tasted this wine last year, and to this day, it remains one of my benchmarks for crystal clear whites. But back to this evening’s bottle: a 2007 by François Cazin, the principal grower from the tiny Cour-Cheverny appellation.

I picked this wine up at a random merchant on my way to the French supermarket -yes, I drove almost an hour to the border to shop for groceries- and decided to open it that same evening to drink with all the shellfish we brought back. I had recently read an old manga called Oishimbou -the gourmet- from the 80s, in which a character claimed that sake would always work better than white wine for strong flavored seafood such as oysters and uni -sea urchin-, because of some compound in wine which supposedly brings out the fishiness.

I must admit that I have on occasion found this to be true, such as when I recently paired a Jo Landron Muscadet with smoked salmon. It was as if I had been knocked over by a wave and gotten a mouthful of sea water! Not so pleasant, despite quite enjoying his wines in other contexts. The Cour-Cheverny on the other hand was impeccable with my oysters, complementing the sea flavors rather than exaggerating them. I pictured myself exploring a water cavern, clinging to the wine’s wet stone walls as the seawater remained perfectly still on my palate, the two elements echoing off of each other in the dark, empty space.

salmon-978664_640

The sea urchin brought another dimension to the experience, its buttery texture like a smooth clay at the bottom of the water as I jumped in. Yet underneath, the wine’s rocky bottom again kept my head above the water level to marvel at my solemn surroundings. Halfway into the bottle however, I got a little cold and had to climb back out. Cour-Cheverny wines are really quite fresh, with a high acidity, and can be a bit much at the end of a long day!

NOTES:
*Romorantin is a very local grape variety, and was once widely planted in the Loire Valley. Over time it was replaced by the more popular Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc for which the Loire is now famous for. It appears to be some distant relative of Chardonnay, though the wines tend to be much lighter.

**Phylloxera is a small insect which destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards in the late 1800s. As a result, practically all new vines since that time are grafted onto resistant roots which were brought over from America. Some vineyards however, managed to survive the infestation, for various reasons such as very sandy soils, cold temperatures at high altitudes, or simply the fact that the insect hasn’t made it to those parts (yet?) such as in Chile.

Germany send-off Pt. 1 – From Pontet-Canet to Riesling

After a busy week of formalities and paperwork, punctuated by multiple vinous send-offs, I am now slowly settling back in my hometown of Saint-Claude in France’s Jura region (near Switzerland). Looking through pictures and tasting notes for the wines we had over the last week, I must say that everyone in Frankfurt went all out in making sure that my final impression of Germany was a great one! Thanks everybody!

With my bags packed and a last minute dinner planned to empty the fridge (and the wine cabinet), I invited my buddy Alex who stayed true to his Blind Tasting Club wine blog theme by presenting a couple anonymous bottles, as well as a few other interesting wines to send me off in style.

Check out Alex’s take on the evening. Towards the 6th or 7th bottle, we decided we would create a diaBlog (as in a dialog via our blogs), so check out his vimpressions in italics below!

Memories

We started the evening off with a couple old bottles: a 1959 Inglenook from Napa Valley RIESLING, which Alex had found on Ebay for a bargain price, and a 1986 Lacoste-Borie, the second wine from Pauillac’s Grand Puy-Lacoste, a well regarded Bordeaux Grand Cru estate.

Old Vintage 1959 INGLENOOK - Napa Valley RIESLING - WINE LABEL

1959 INGLENOOK – Napa Valley RIESLING – WINE LABEL

The ancient Riesling from a legendary vintage was still alive, with fresh pineapple and some apricot notes underneath a very distinct aroma of…. what is that?! It was something I knew, and yet could not place. Alex mentioned shoe polish, and it may have been along those lines, but I just couldn’t figure out where I had experienced it myself (my shoes not necessarily being the most shiny).

I completely agree with Alex that the wine was still very drinkable and “fresh” for its age. He’s definitely an expert at digging up these unexpected gems!

El Coto Rioja Crianza 2011

El Coto Rioja Crianza 2011

The Crianza was everything I expected from this often overlooked vintage: mature aromas (leather, dead leaves..) with a hint of fruit and a soft, almost soothing feel which put me at ease.  It wasn’t too full, but not thin either, although it was definitely time to open this bottle. Overall, I was pleased that the wine was still alive, and enjoyed the classic mature Crianza experience at a relatively low price (around 30 euros at a small wine shop in Mannheim).

While I didn’t necessarily find it as stinky as Alex did, I was equally impressed with the wine‘s longevity considering it is only a second wine.

Both wines showed that it’s possible to reveal memories of a distant past without spending a fortune, while creating new memories for the future.

The (Bio)dynamic duo

The next two red wines were served blind (with a quick Riesling break in between), and it turns out that both are the product of biodynamics, showing both the ups and downs of this natural farming method.

Santa Cristina Toscana 2013

Santa Cristina Toscana 2013

On the up-side, there was the Santa Cristina Toscana 2013, from the first vintage where the vineyards were conducted entirely in biodymamics. It seems that they cracked in 2007 under pressure of rot, but that they have since gone back to the natural methods.  This is an extremely acclaimed wine, which has gained a lot of attention in the past few years, propelling the estate to the top of the unofficial Bordeaux hierarchy.

The wine was full of ripe fruit, with sweet banana/coconut aromas from the oak aging (?) which still requires some time to integrate, even though this bottle was decanted earlier. While the nose had me thinking of a new world Toscana, the impression of freshness which it left and the impressive structure was, on second thought, clearly old world, although not necessarily “classic” Bordeaux. In any case, this wine needs time, although it was already quite enjoyable; a trademark of the ’05 vintage.

I tend to agree with Alex that the ripe banana, which is usually something I associate with American oak in Bourbon for example, is probably a product of the aging process, but the very youthful fruit almost had me thinking of Nouveau wine… hence the insolent question mark In any case, I’d love to try another bottle in another decade or so!!

The Les Balisiers 2008 “Lune Rousse”, a Gamaret* from the Swiss Geneva region, was clearly a disappointment however. The barnyard smell and rustic texture was quite unpleasant and we only ended up having the one glass each. The wine was partially aged in clay amphora, and I’ve had marvelous wines made in this way before, but I’m just not sure the Gamaret grape is really all that great on its own.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try this Gamaret the next day. Alex says it completely opened up and gained in silkiness and fruit.

Riesling!

We finished the night with a series of German Riesling from well regarded producers in the Nahe and Rheingau regions. I’ve definitely enjoyed learning more about these  fabulous wines during my year in Germany, and tasting some phenomenal whites by authentic, passionate winemakers. Unfortunately, they can be hard to find in the rest of Europe, particularly in France, but that just means I’ll have to make trips back and enjoy the beautiful scenery along with the wines.

Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer

Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red)

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red) 750ml

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red) 750ml

All three wines were Prädikatswein**, with some remaining natural sweetness, but they exhibited their sugars very differently. While the Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer was supposedly at the “lower” Kabinett level, it was the roundest, most charming wine with a definite off-dry feel. The more mature Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé, had already integrated its sweetness, showing instead a more elegant profile, perhaps even slightly lacking in fullness (maybe because of the average vintage?). But the 2006 Schäfer-Fröhlich was probably the wine of the night for me. It had the intense fruit explosion of the Künstler, while providing a mouth watering acidity which balanced out the sugar and just kept me wanting for more… and to me, that’s what German Riesling is all about! Good thing I brought back a couple souvenirs…

I think Alex says it best when he describes the Diel as lacking in personality, mostly because of the overly-soft acidity. His assessment of the “exotic” Künstler is right on, but I suppose that I was hoping for a more chiseled acidity rather than the more “elegant style”. But that’s just my own masochistic preferences influencing my expectations We definitely saw eye to eye on the Schäfer-Fröhlich though, even if he preferred the red of the night: Pontet-Canet. I think I was more touched by the fact that my “German chapter” was coming to an end.. and the fact that I was possibly more enthusiastic, it being the last bottle of a long night of drinking!

NOTES:
*Gamaret is a grape which was engineered in Switzerland by crossing the Gamay variety with Rechensteiner, which is itself a little grown German crossbreed. Gamaret was  primarily developed to add color to the Swiss Pinot Noir or Gamay wines, although more and more, it is bottled as a monovarietal.

**Prädikatswein is a German wine classification which is based on the amount of natural sugar present in the grape at the time of harvest. From least to highest, these categories are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. While the first three can be made into a dry or off-dry style, the dry wines will usually be labeled as trocken.

Duck sauce – Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

I really don’t consider myself a foodie. I mean, I enjoy good food, but I don’t have the curiosity and passion behind what’s on my plate as I do for the wine in my glass. In general, I consider the dish to be secondary and my wife prepares meals according to the bottle I plan on opening. Last night, however, was food night!

Since we’ve come to the South of France, we’ve been firing up the barbecue practically everyday, and this time, we decided to go all out and try our favorite meat: duck. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, as I haven’t acquired the food porn reflex, but this magret (duck breast) was absolutely magnificent! I won’t try to describe it either. So why do I even bring it up? Because of the wine (of course!) and the incredible food pairing that resulted.

Domaine Rimbert

Domaine Rimbert is situated in Berlou with about 30 hectares of old-vine parcels spread across the slopes of the Languedoc’s Saint-Chinian AOC. From what I could read on the French website, the bon-vivant Jean-Marie Rimbert [video] runs his 28ha estate since 1996 in good humor (francophones, check out the very funny lettres on the home page), specializing in terroirs of schiste, or slate. In fact, the first time I encountered his wines was the very elegant and rose scented “Mas aux schistes“. You may chuckle, the pun is intended.

2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it's with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Despite the cute bunny on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.

Impression (+)

The Comocolo is blend of the southern varietals (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) and is the more accessible bottling by the estate. As such, it does not offer the complexity of the Mas, but is more fruit forward and youthful. In fact, this is a straight up fruit bomb. The ripe crème de cassis aromas explode, covering the entire palate with a juicy coating of sheer pleasure, while the smooth tannins do their best to scrub it off so that the wine doesn’t feel heavy and finishes in style.

Food and Wine Pairing: Duck Magret (++)

Although I would normally pair duck with a classic Pinot Noir, I was really itching to try the remainder of this Saint-Chinian with the magret (I also didn’t have any Burgundy on hand). I figured the incredible fruit would pair nicely with the bloody red meat, while the extra southern power could provide balance with the char-grilled skin. I had no idea it would be this good though!

My wife didn’t prepare the usual red wine and balsamic reduction to go with the duck, since we wanted the simple grilled experience. The wine replaced the sauce however, and our meal was transformed into a magret au cassis with every sip, while retaining the character of the tender meat and crispy skin.  My favorite part is that the wine delivered tons of fruit without the sweetness of a sauce or reduction. When you think about it, what better to serve duck “sauce” than in a glass?

A Muscat Aged in Outdoor Glass Jugs!

I mentioned earlier that I had moved back to the Languedoc, just outside of Frontignan. On my Twitter account, I jokingly said that I wouldn’t be reviewing any Muscat wine, the local specialty, but it turns out that I found a pretty interesting bottle from Domaine de la Plaine aged outdoors in glass jugs! Skip the next section if you’re already familiar with Muscat.

Muscat de Frontignan

Muscat is one of the few grape varieties which is consumed as both a table grape and a wine. It is also one of the only grapes which retains its distinct aromas after fermentation. We say that the wines literally smell “muscaté” and it is an intensely fruity scent. The closest thing I can think of is cantaloop melon, but that’s probably because it is usually served with a glass of muscat in the area (whereas other parts of France sometimes prefer Port wine).

Frontignan is a Languedoc AOC which is limited to sweet fortified whites from the Muscat grape. The wines are immediately seductive, and I’m probably not the only one to have first lost my sobriety to this charming apéritif as a teenager. With age and knowledge however, Muscat wines tend to lose their appeal, as they can be a bit simplistic and heavy.

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Mil’Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil'Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil’Or

Impression (+)

While I tend to prefer the late harvest Vin de Pays Muscat wines, which are not fortified and present less residual sugar, this Mil’Or bottling is in fact a proper fortified Frontignan Muscat AOC. What makes it unique is that it ages an entire year outdoors, in the sun, stored in big glass jugs of various sizes.

This exposes the wine to a slight oxidation, which in turn gives the wine interesting sherry-like aromas of walnuts. The intense, juicy muscat fruit is still in the foreground, but the added complexity from this original maturation technique gives the wine terrific length. I was still tasting it on my drive home from the estate! It would be a shame to serve this as an apéritif. Domaine de la Plaine estate only makes about 5,000 bottles each year.

Wine totem pole

Wine totem pole

They also tried a new experiment, which is to replace the big jugs of wine with regular 75cl bottles on a “wine totem“. Apparently, it hasn’t proven very successful, other than as an original garden ornament. The wine’s color hasn’t evolved a bit in a year, and the they told me that the taste is slightly off, but they are just gonna keep waiting and see what happens.

Wines of Pézenas in the Languedoc: la Garance & la Grangette

Local market at Pezenas

Local market at Pezenas

Old streets in the town of Pézenas.

Last week I drove out to Pézenas (between Montpellier and Béziers), and while I didn’t have time to stop at any estates, I insisted on checking out a local wine shop so that I may try a couple reds from an area which I am not very familiar with. The town is lovely by the way, and I definitely recommend a stroll in the small streets protected from the strong afternoon sun.

Domaine la Grangette 2008 “Rouge Franc”

Our plans were to have some asparagus pasta at a friend’s apartment for lunch, prepared by Paola, his Italian friend. My initial reaction was to go for a Sauvignon Blanc or Rolle based wine to match the green notes of the asparagus, but one of the guests did not drink whites (urgh). As a backup, I picked out this relatively inexpensive Cabernet Franc, a rare grape variety here in the South, from the Domaine la Grangette.

Impression (+)

Immediately, I was surprised by this wine’s aromas. Because the climate in the Languedoc is much warmer than the cool Loire Valley or even Bordeaux, where this grape is primarily grown, I was expecting a riper version with only subtle herbal notes. What stood out however, was an intense tobacco spiciness, combined with the luscious fruit. The website makes no mention of oak aging, so my guess is that this is a varietal expression, and a very original one at that! The beauty of this wine though, is that despite its intense character, the medium body and smooth texture kept it very easy to drink, especially with the asparagus which brought out a floral element in this lovely red.

Domaine de la Garance 2007 “les Armières”

Pierre Quinonéro took over the Domaine de la Garance with his wife in 1998 after recovering from a serious accident. Although he releases his wines under the Vin de Pays d’Oc label, the estate is considered one of the flagships of the Pézenas/Caux area. The Les Armières bottling is made from old-vine Carignan and aged for 27 months in large oak barrels.

Impression (++)

“What an amazing wine!!!” From the moment I dove into the very deep fruit and noble oak aromas, that’s all I could say (making me very poor company). What really got me was this red’s amazing texture and energy on the palate. Difficult to put into words, it’s as if this cactus shaped wine had been crafted from solid steel and satin needles. The edgy tannins and acidity provided contrast and excitement, while the intense fruit polished this sculpture and made it pleasant, no.. presentable. What character! It felt as if the wine’s different elements were branching out in every direction, but the whole remained in a fragile state of balance in which a sense of tension prevailed. A masterpiece!

Playing favorites with wine

Favorite. A very strong word and difficult claim to make, especially when it comes to wine and its wonderful diversity. Sure, I love plenty of wines, like one might love their friends, or ice cream, or drinking rosé in the sun. But picking a favorite wine is like choosing your best friend, or worse: a lifetime partner! I’ve found that the way we choose our favorite wine is very much like finding that special someone.

Caveau de Bacchus (Lucien Aviet & Fils)

Recently, on my @JuraWine twitter account, I declared my flame for Caveau de Bacchus (aka. Lucien Aviet & Fils), my favorite Jura wine producer. Having enjoyed a couple of the reds just last week, namely the Poulsard and Trousseau 2009, I could talk about the gorgeous fruit, the purity of expression of both grape and soil, with the beautiful minerality and an endless depth emerging on the finish. I could wax lyrical on just how these intense little berries etch a path across the palate, crashing into my pleasure center as my frontal lobe watches on in awe. But that is only part of the explanation.

Playing favorites with wine - caveau_de_bacchus

Playing favorites with wine – caveau_de_bacchus

Just look at that cheeky little Bacchus!

Playing Favorites

First and foremost, it is important to draw the distinction between favorite and best. By definition, my favorite wine refers to MY preference. Is Aviet the “best” producer in the Jura? No. There is no such thing. But he is my favorite. That is not to say that I don’t greatly appreciate the wines of Tissot, Puffeney, Macle, etc.. They put out amazing wines and I’ve been to all these estates and drink their wines regularly. So what gives Aviet the extra edge when prompted to pick a favorite? Subjectivity of course!

Personality

To me, Aviet represents everything I believe Jura wine to be: Character, Authenticity and Tradition. I remember the first time I saw the bottle at a local shop, I asked myself how such a crappy looking label could sell over 10 euro. Now, it makes perfect sense to me. What the packaging lacks in taste, the wine makes up for, and getting past that first impression to discover what’s inside is like getting past a person’s faults and learning to know them a little better. It’s rewarding and that feels pretty good.

Insider Tip

While Aviet may be a local legend in Arbois, you won’t find the wines in the US, and only the most specialized European importers will have even heard the name. Heck, I wouldn’t even know where to get a bottle outside of the Jura, which makes me feel like I’m in the know, and that feels pretty good too. Anyone can fall in love with a George Clooney, but having someone to yourself makes it more personal.

Comfort

Finally, my favorite wines offer a sense of comfort. While a Rayas or Selosse can tickle me with excitement, there’s just something about the Aviet wines which put me at ease. After a rough day, I want to go to that cheeky little Bacchus, looking back at me with his little smirk, before I break the wax seal, pull the cork and finish off the bottle in my underwear (well, maybe not, but you get the point). No intimidation, no restraint, no guilt. But that kind of familiarity comes only with time. And getting to that point, that feels great!

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that my favorite wines are the ones which make me feel the best! Taste, while essential, is only one aspect of this.

The Entrance – Domaine du Vissoux 2009 Fleurie “Poncié”

Having almost gone through my last Internet order all too quickly (I only really had two red wines for immediate consumption) I placed another all-red order on Friday which was promptly delivered yesterday. Without skipping a beat, I opened one of the highlights: a 2009 cru Beaujolais from a respected producer which I had been wanting to try in this fabulous vintage!

Pierre-Marie Chermette

Located in the southern part of Beaujolais, Pierre-Marie Chermette and his wife Martine have been in charge of the Domaine du Vissoux since 1982. The estate comprises a total of 27 hectares from their AOC Beaujolais vineyard in the town of Saint-Véran to smaller vineyards further north in the top Beaujolais cru appellations of Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent as well as Fleurie. The Poncié vineyard in Fleurie is situated at the top of a slope which requires that all work be done by hand, and this is where the quality Gamay grapes for today’s bottle are grown.

the entrance Fleurie

The Entrance Fleurie

Domaine du Vissoux 2009 Fleurie “Poncié”

Impression (++)

Wow. I was expecting a lot of fruit from this lauded Beaujolais vintage, but this is insane! The best part is that while keeping its youthful charm, the fruit shows a deep character which prevented it from falling into caricature. The fresh acidity extends the wine in length, while the fruit expands across the width of my palate, and I am simply left speechless as this beauty walks past.

Turning heads

This Fleurie reminded me of a precise moment many years ago, a moment in which time stopped and a single girl captured the attention of an entire restaurant. My buddy’s new girlfriend had made her entrance in a casual outfit, a lollipop in her mouth, her youthful strut paralyzing every man in her path. Every head turned, servers stopped in their tracks and one could almost see tiny hearts forming in their eyes.

There was no extravagance, nor anything easy or revealing about her outfit. It was all about the entrance, the context, the way everything fell into place perfectly so that an otherwise pretty girl had ascended to the status of goddess. Sure, I enjoy a nice Beaujolais from time to time, but this bottle blew me away. Nothing extravagant, nor anything easy or revealing… but what an entrance!!

photo by Al S

Beaujolais Trilogy: Brun, Lapierre, P-U-R Nouveau

Beaujolais has had an interesting evolution over the past few decades. I get the impression that our perception of this region’s wines have come full circle, in particular with regard to the Nouveau phenomenon. So I bunched together three Beaujolais reds which I’ve recently tasted on separate occasions, and tried to retrace the many makeovers undergone by these provocative, innovative, and simply delicious Gamay wines.

Beaujolais Nouveau

When the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon first exploded on the international wine scene, in the 80s and 90s, these fruity banana bomb primeur wines had an undeniable appeal to new consumers in North America and Asia, who were only just beginning to get serious about wine. Beaujolais Nouveau was hip, and only the true connoisseurs were unimpressed, decrying the event as a marketing gimmick to sell off large stocks of relatively basic, industrially made wines.

Beaujolais l’Ancien, Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais

At the time, these connoisseurs would redirect their friends to real Beaujolais: crus* made the old-fashioned way, without the use of those commercial yeasts which inflict the wines with artificial banana and candy aromas. And unlike Nouveau, these wines were capable of aging! The word got around that Nouveau was pretty much crap, but the second part about the other quality Beaujolais behind the spotlights was lost somewhere along the way, leaving local producers with a slight image problem.

The Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais is a simple Beaujolais AOC, but made the old-fashioned way, as its name -ancien- tries to convey. The wine has very deep, yet juicy fruit feel, with strong floral notes reminiscent of violets. Although this entry-level bottling doesn’t have a tannic structure to age as long as Jean Paul Brun’s cru level wines (last month, his Morgon required a couple hours before it even started to express itself!), it is an immensely pleasurable wine which shows that serious Beaujolais is more than an alcoholic fruit juice.

Beaujolais Nature, Marcel Lapierre 2009 Morgon

marcel-lapierre-2009-morgon-label-460

The Beaujolais region would find its second wind in the late Marcel Lapierre, who passed away just last month. He was the most vocal defender of vin nature, natural wines made with absolutely no intervention in the cellar, and he convinced a new generation of winemakers throughout France to make fresh, easy-drinking wines with no added sulfites and to emphasize wine’s strongest assets: pleasure and drinkability. Along with the Loire Valley, Beaujolais has been a leader in the natural wine movement, and has been getting a lot of positive press in recent years, particularly from bloggers on the net.

The Marcel Lapiere 2009 Morgon had a stunning nose, which started off with very deep and explosive berry fruit, and evolved over time to incorporate aromas of orange peel, dried herbs and a subtle earthiness. The lively acidity of the wine kept me longing for more, even after the bottle was empty. Overall, I was most impressed with the wine’s freshness and purity of fruit. Luckily, Marcel’s son has been gradually taking over in the cellar over the past five years, and plans to continue in his father’s footsteps.

Beaujolais Re-nouveau?

Lately, I’ve been noticing that the same connoisseurs (or is it a new generation of connoisseurs by now?) defending Beaujolais Nouveau. Is it the influence of the easy-drinking attitude of the natural wine movement? A general trend towards more fruit-forward, less oaky wines? The appearance of better quality Nouveau wines from producers with a quality driven philosophy? Or maybe a return to a more festive and convivial approach to wine? Probably a little bit of each, but in any case, I’m glad that Beaujolais is bouncing back, and that we can celebrate the first wines of the vintage without feeling ashamed. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they need to get with the program!

No, this is not Coca-Cola.. quite the contrary: an all natural, no sulfites added Beaujolais Nouveau!

I celebrated Beaujolais day this year with the P-U-R 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau, which I found at a wine merchant in Beaune. The Coca-Cola style label is actually quite tongue-in-cheek, as this original Nouveau is an artisanal product made in very small quantities. It is a natural wine, with no added sulfites (or sugar as the label jokingly indicates -sans sucre ajouté-), and my first impression was that… well, it doesn’t taste anything like a Nouveau!

The wine was completely closed at first, with crushed berries and sandalwood aromas slowly emerging with time. It never did reach a full-blown fruitiness however, and reminded me more of a Pierre Overnoy Jura (also a natural wine) than a Beaujolais! Like the Lapierre, the acidity was also quite brilliant, and the wine went beautifully with a Jambon persillé, though it’s strong character is definitely not for everyone. When you think about it, this Nouveau was the antithesis of Nouveau: artisanal, unapproachable, and thought provoking. Could this be the next wave of Beaujolais?
NOTES:
*Beaujolais cru comes from one of 10 specific sub-zones of the Beaujolais appellation. While they are made from the same Gamay grape variety, the nuances in soil and micro-climate produce wines with more character, which are generally more structured and age-worthy. The ten Beaujolais crus are (from North to South) : Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

Back in the Languedoc – Mas Jullien 2009 Rosé

After a year in Germany followed by a few months in my Jura hometown, I have returned to the south, the midi as we say in French, where nearly 2 years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was meant as an exercise in wine writing, a different approach to tasting, but what I hadn’t expected was how important the interactions would become. Not just here, but on the FB page, comments on other blogs, and more recently Twitter. I guess what I’m saying is that blogging isn’t as lonely as I thought it would be.

So what have I accomplished? Not much! I’m still broke, still obsessed, and still splurging on wines when I should be looking for my next job. Well, I suppose fatherhood is working out well, and I’m savoring every single moment with my little girl. Can’t wait for her first swim in the Mediterranean this summer! And so, in the honor of the sunny Languedoc, which I will be calling home for a while, I splurged (again) on a serious rosé by one of the leading Languedoc estates: Mas Jullien.

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Rather than following in his father’s footsteps and selling grapes to the local co-op, Olivier Jullien decided to go out and bottle his own wine, from vineyards he purchased in the Terrasses du Larzac sector, also home to some of the other great Languedoc wines, such as Daumas Gassac or la Grange des Pères.

He has quickly risen to the top of the appellation, and even the entire region,  but the prices at the estate have remained very reasonable. Both times I’ve been there however, the white and both reds were completely sold out. In fact, there is a 6 to 12 bottle maximum even when buying the wines in advance.

I did find his wines at a small shop in Pézenas last week however, and while I was very tempted to pick up the white, considered by some as the best white of the entire South of France, I settled for the rosé for half the price at 12 Euros.

My first impression was that of the little fruit yogurts I grew up on: Petits Gervais., strawberry flavor. I actually carafed the wine, because it initially had a slight reduction on the nose, but this blew off very quickly and the wine presented its clean fruit aromas in a brightly decorated package, still wrapped, but hardly discreet.

The wine, much like myself, felt a bit out of place, unsettled. It clearly displayed its affection for red wine drinkers, offering its dark hair and voluptuous curves, teasing our palates like a flamenco dancer expertly lifting her dress as her bare hip disappears from sight. This wine lived and breathed the south, and yet with all the seductive charms it conveyed, it was little more than a hollow game which played itself out in front of me. A dance with no outcome.

Perhaps I expected a more convincing performance, a burst of energy which would lift me from my seat. But no. I remained a spectator, silent and all too anchored in my reality. Perhaps the stage was not ideal, or the expectation too high. Or perhaps I too felt that I was not living up to my potential, like this youthful rosé which falls short of the ambitious red it could have been.

A fortified red from…. the Beaujolais?!

My uncle came to visit for a couple days, and in addition to some of my favorite Jura reds, he also brought along this very original bottle of fortified wine from the Beaujolais.

Domaine des Terres Vivantes

From the little I could find online, the Domaine des Terres Vivantes -Living Soils Estate- is a relatively recent organic estate in southern Beaujolais run by Marie and Ludovic Gros. Before setting off on this new adventure, she was a baker and he was a sommelier, and so they not only craft wines in the Beaujolais AOC, but also bake and sell their own artisanal bread.

Fortified Gamay: Volutes

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this bottle, since my uncle didn’t really know what it was, just that it was sweet. Also, the Volutes is labeled as a “spiritueux” (spirit) and contained 18% alc/vol, so my first thought was a Pineau des Charentes type drink, which is made by adding distilled spirits to grape must (ie. unfermented juice).

After contacting the winery, I found out that Burgundy/Beaujolais does have such a product called riquiqui., but it turns out that this bottle is actually a fortified red wine similar to a Banyuls or Porto. The estate first made the experiment in 2003, the year of the heat wave which provided many over-ripe grapes. They were able to repeat the process in 2006 and 2010 by harvesting part of their Gamay 15 to 20 days later and adding a neutral spirit to halt the fermentation at around 40g of residual sugar.

Ripe aromas of dark fruit and griotte cherry reminded me of some of the more exuberant Uruguay wines which I had very much enjoyed in South America, though with noticeably more alcohol. On the palate, soft tannins confirmed this impression, but the sweetness gives the wine a more mellow feel, while the surprisingly racy acidity keeps it composed and relatively fresh on the delicious finish, with lingering pomegranate notes.

I think it is this freshness that sets this Beaujolais apart from the more southern Banyuls or Porto, and I very much enjoyed the wine, though the alcohol can be a bit too present without some food to balance it out.

Ludovic Gros also mentioned that they are currently working on a proper “cooked” wine, which is reduced to only a third of its initial volume and reaches 19.5% alc/vol. Interesting, but probably not for me…