Lirac – Castles, Keeps, Wolves & Divas in the Southern Rhône

 

 

I’ve written about Lirac before. The wine I tasted then was sublime and was paired with a day of exquisite movies, so you didn’t have to twist my arm to join the #Winophiles in diving deeper into these wines. If you are reading this soon enough, consider joining us on Saturday October 20th (8am Pacific, 11 am Eastern) on Twitter by following the hashtag #Winophiles as we discuss this region and it’s wines. And…if you scroll to the bottom of the post you will find more great pieces on Lirac and it’s wines from the perspective of multiple wine writers!

Lirac AOC

Lirac (pronounce it LEE rock) is in the Southern Rhône and sits west of the Rhône River. Wine grapes have been grown here since the middle ages. While they make reds, whites and rosé in the region, you will primarily find red wines made here (87%).

Map of LIrac

Lirac is in the southern Rhône across the river from the more famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape (map Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Lirac is the southernmost cru within the Rhône and has been an appellation since 1947. They have some of the most stringent specifications in the region. The area sits in the Gard department and is out of the way from the traffic in the Rhône Valley. Off the beaten path, and across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it has remained out of the spotlight in the Rhone and a bit of a secret.

Soils & Terroir

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones”

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” in the vineyards of Lirac (Photo Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Plateaus of clay covered in Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” are where you will find the grapes for Lirac Rouge, the intense red wines of the region. Sandy soils typically grow reds for Lirac Rosé and then the scrubland is where you will find the white grape varieties for Lirac Blanc grown.

The vineyards here are set within 4 districts, or communes; Lirac, Roquemaure, Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres and Saint-Geniès-de-Comolas. The vineyards cover a total of about 1,760 acres and annual production is under 2 million bottles which is 0.5% of the total production within the Rhône Valley.

Home of the Côtes du Rhône

Lirac is the place that the “Côtes du Rhône” labeling began, with barrels in the 16th century labeled with CDR. Now you will find the bottles with an embossed logo of the region. This symbol on the bottle indicates a wine set to strict standards. In addition the new bottle strives to be environmentally friendly using recycled glass.

The Keep

The logo seems to me to pull influence from the ancient castle keep in Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres, the Tour Jacques-Deuze. The lower level of the this tower dates from the 12th century and the upper levels were added in the 14th century. As I wondered the internet researching, images of castles and keeps came up again and again.

The wines you will find are a balance of structure and strength with freshness and elegance. We also find many great stories…I haven’t gotten to the rest of that title yet have I? Read on.

The wines we tasted were provided as samples from Rhone Valley Vineyards, all opinions are our own.

Domaine Maby “Casta Diva” Lirac Blanc 2017

 

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

The Diva

Okay…here’s a wine with a story behind the name. “Casta Diva” refers to the aria in the Opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini. While the opera is a tragedy, this song is Norma’s prayer for peace.

Maria Callas version is thought to be the definitive interpretation of the song.

 

Norma the Opera

The opera…well it’s an opera, the reason “soap-operas” are called “Soap-Operas” is because they are all the drama while selling soap! Here’s the synopsis: Druids are being invaded by those Romans. A Roman proconsul, fell in love with a Druid priestess and she ran off and married him and had two kids. Norma’s people ask her to help them fight the Romans. She sings the song “Casta Diva” to pray for peace so her people and her love will all be okay. Roman dude, is planning to run off with another Druid chick. Of course, the chick confesses (sort of) to Norma, that she is betraying her people by falling for a Roman dude, little do either know that it is THE Roman dude, well that is until he walks in.

Norma gets mad and calls for war with the Romans. Roman dude trashes the temple and the Druids plan to kill him, but Norma stalls. She offers him his freedom if he gives up the other chick. He says no. In desperation, she confesses her sins to her father and the Druids and offers herself as sacrifice. Dude suddenly realizes he loves her as she is about to fry and jumps on the pyre with her and the show ends as they both go up in flames. Enough drama for you?

Domaine Maby

The Maby family started as a shoemaking family in the early 19th century, with a few plots of grapes they made wine with and sold locally. Today the vineyards cover 148 acres in Côtes due Rhône, Tavel and Lirac.

And the wine…

This is the one white wine in our sampling group. A blend of 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier,

“Grapes are gently pressed and then fermented in new oak barrels with frequent bâtonnage. During an additional three to four months aging in oak, malolactic fermentation is avoided.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

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Château de Montfaucon

The castle of Monfaucon was part of a line of fortresses on the Rhone River, but even before the castle was built, long before even the Greeks and the Romans, early prehistoric inhabitants found this site on the hill about the Rhône a refuge. The tower was built in the 11th century to guard against the Roman German Empire, and later to tax ships with goods coming down the Rhône. They added on to the castle in 1420 and it gained it’s triangular shape that remains to today. The first wines were made here in 1530. Wars in the 16th century damaged the castle and in 1880 Baron Louis restored the castle with a decidedly Scottish influence (that came from his mother). In 1995 Rodolphe de Pins took over the estate and today the estate has over 45 hectares of vines. (information from Château de Monfaucon)

The soils

The grapes for this blend grow in limestone and sandy loam.

The wine & the Castle

A tribute to the Baron Louis de Montfaucon, who restored the castle in the 19th century this is a Grenache driven blend with 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 10% Carignan and 10% Mourvedre.

“all hand-harvested and destemmed. Co-fermentation lasted seven days followed by an additional two weeks of extended skin maceration. 70% of the blend was aged in oak barrels for 12 months and bottle aged for an additional eight months before release.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 bottle shot

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

The Wolves

(Okay…this is where the wolves come in.)

Domaine La Lôyane

Domaine La Lôyane is named for the region in which it is built which translated in ancient times to “territory occupied by wolves” (I am feeling all GoT on this, picturing packs of Dire Wolves roaming the vineyards).

Portrait of a gray wolf of Europe (canis lupus lupus) in the woods looking straight ahead.

 

 

The Domaine is located in the Rochefort du Gard and has vineyards there as well as Saint Laurent des Arbres and Saze. I found a lovely (translated) quote on their site.

“If we think that wine is hymn to Nature, that is wine grower’s work: master the alchemy between Soil and Plant.”

An old vine vineyard

This particular wine comes from “Les Theys” a site holding the oldest Grenache vines in all of Lirac at 150 years old. The wine is Grenache driven again with 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. A single vineyard Lirac

“Yields are very low at 20 hl/hectare—almost half the appellation norm at 34 hl/hectare. Fermentation and aging takes place in stainless steel with a small portion of each wine is raised in their collection of their ten neutral 60 hl demi-muid barrels.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013 bottleshot

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

First, this wine is Syrah driven and age worthy. It comes from 40 year old vines grown in clay and sand. It is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mouvedre, so a fairly classic GSM, but…. “Grapes are destemmed and undergo a 25 day fermentation in temperature controlled tanks. Wine is then blended and aged for 4 months in concrete vats that are buried 16.5 feet underground. The wine is then transferred to large oak barrels for 18 months.”

In 1961 Jean-Claude Assemat’s mother Marie Pons-Mure purchased Castel Oualou after returning from Northern Africa. Jean-François took over following his father’s death in 1988. They have 52 Hectares with Domaine Castel Oualou and have two other domaines under Vignobles Assemat.

The label

Castel Oualou label

Castel Oualou label with the Castel crossed out

You will notice that the castle on the label has an “X” through it. Here’s the story:

“Jean-François’ grandmother planted selected vines – Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre – those vines peculiarly suited to the region. Then came the first harvest, the first bottling … and the first label with its fairytable castle. However, as legislation does not allow anything to appear on the label which does not actually exist, it was decided to cross out the picture of the castle.
This is how the name CASTLE OUALOU came into being, with its logo – a castle crossed out.”

(Information from http://www.chateauneuf.dk/Lirac/en/lien31.htm)

I suppose Marie Pons-Mure, might also be considered a “Diva” for not just removing the picture of the castle, but defiantly crossing it out. (Go Girl!)

Did we actually taste the wines?

Why yes, yes we did. These beautiful samples were sent our way by Rhone Valley Vineyards and we did dive in for a tasting and a little pairing.

Domaine Maby tasting and pairing

Just to recap this wine is 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier and is fermented in new oak.

I searched through tasting notes and pairing suggestions to find pairing ideas. We started with the Domaine Maby. Suggested pairings were charcuterie and grilled fish. Our season has changed and while we got to 71 degrees today, the light has changed and you can see and feel fall in the air. Grilled fish spoke to me of summer and I needed to make this dish a little warmer. I settled on making packets of cod and pototoes. A simple preparation with olive oil, butter, Lemon, sliced almonds, salt & pepper will do us for dinner. I also wanted to set up a cheese plate to taste with ahead of time. One of the tasting notes I read suggested decanting this wine as the oak was very prominant. Tasting notes mentioned: lemon rind, pear, apricot, vanila, almond, verbena, white flowers, exotic fruit, spearmint, toast and mango-guava jelly. So in anticipation I picked up a lemon, some sliced almonds, a fuji apple, and some mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. The Vin-Lirac suggestion for cheeses was a hard goat cheese. At the market asking for a hard goat cheese the Murray’s Cheese counter did not let me down and pointed me to a Cypress Grove – Midnight Moon. This is a version of the Dutch aged goat Gouda.

As the cork came out of the bottle the aromas swept into the room, hitting my nose with freshly sliced apple. This wine is LARGE when opened. I determined I would taste it immediately in all it’s glory. This Diva makes an entrance. In addition to the freshly sliced apple there is something a little more exotic and tropical. I stuck my nose in the mango-guava jelly…yep there is this bit of guava, it’s the scent of an exotic perfume on the air as a beautiful woman passes by. On my palate she was lighter than I expected, walking on point shoes across my tongue.

The wine and the fuji apple, were like to peas in a pod, mirroring each other. The cheese was salty & tangy & deep, the philosopher friend that the Diva is enamored with. They play off each other and are stunning together. I decided to decant part of this wine and sequester the rest in the bottle so we could compare the two later. We found that while the decanting took the edge off, it took more off than we would like. (Thank goodness I only decanted a little). The wine went beautifully with our fish and potato packets, the acidity cut through the potatoes and butter and the lemon zest on top highlighted the wine. I will admit that my favorite pairing bite of the night was the Midnight Moon with a bit of mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. It made the wine sing! (Sing Diva Sing!)

On to the Reds!

With the red wines, we opened them mid day to taste and then went on to pair with them in the evening with some friends. Pairing suggestions for these wines ranged from beef or lamb, to roast game or stew to grilled game, stew, pigeon or cheeses. We headed for the common denominator and went with a beef stew then put together a cheese plate with some complimentary flavors.

Our selection of cheeses was contained within semi hard cheeses and included Pecorino Romano, a Beehive Apple Smoked Walnut Cheese, Grand Queso Sole and a Beehive Promotory. We added strawberries to pair with the grenache in these blends as well as blackberries and cherries for the syrah and some blueberries and raspberries for good measure. Walnuts, pecans, honey, some tomato marmalade, summer sausage, crackers and bread rounded out our plate. And…I made a little dish of dried lavender to see if I really was finding this on the nose of the La Lôyane.

Cheese plate to pair with the red wines of Lirac

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 tasting

This was the first bottle that we opened to taste through. As a reminder, this is a 60/40 Grenache/Syrah blend and the Grenache comes from 150 yr old vines.

I loved the nose on this, getting crushed pepper and black fruit followed by cocoa and an air of saltiness, black currants and cooked blackberries, then subtle floral notes, yes…lavender with it’s pepperiness. There was a little Syrah funk that came and went and later a bit of violets snuck out. And maybe it’s just me, my brain suggesting it, but I get something ancient on the nose, and a little wild forest (I’m picturing wolves again).

The tannins on this wine hit my teeth like a fine powder. As we tasted this wine, we were having a bite of lunch (lasagna, not what I would have paired with it, but…) and the wine was lovely with our lunch. While great on it’s own (someone called it a meditation wine) it is really good with food pairings. This wine by the way runs just $16. I will admit that I was really sucked in by the depth of the nose on this wine. It was a deep dark wine with some purple to the color.

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

On to our second wine. This was a blend of 55% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 15% Syrah 10% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre.

It is a 2014 which you could tell by the rim. The color was more to the ruby tones. I got cocoa first on the nose followed by red fruit.

It reminded me of dessert, a chocolate mousse dusted with cocoa and topped with a raspberry.

As it opened up I got more floral notes and pepper after a while. This wine runs $24. And it was our friend Renae’s favorite wine of the evening.

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

As we opened the third wine, the first thing I got when I opened the bottle was sweet pickle relish. Perhaps a little Volatile Acid? It dissapated fairly quickly. This wine was 50% Grenach 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. The palate was lighter on this wine and you could tell it was a little older by the color, and the rim. I got caramel on the palate here. I went back to the La Lôyane briefly and when I put my nose back into this wine it hit me as sweet by comparison, which I found really interesting. This wine runs $20.  This was Michael’s favorite he felt it was the most balanced of these wines.

All in all these were really wonderful wines, most especially at this price point! And they all paired well with the stew as well as the cheese plate and the company.

If you would like more information on the wines of this region visit rhone-wines.com or more specifically rhone-wines.com/en/appellation/lirac

Many of my fellow #Winophiles will have additional pairing suggestions and great information on these and other wines from Lirac and the Southern Rhone.  Check out their posts below!  And join us Saturday October 20th (9am Pacific time) for a conversation about this region and it’s wines on twitter.  Just follow #Winophiles!

Cahors – Malbec from along the winding river Lot

Three Malbecs from Cahors France

We’ve all heard of Malbec.  First thought that popped in your head?  Big bold Argentinian Malbec.  Right?  This month with the French Winophiles we are exploring Cahors, France the original home of Malbec.

History of Cahors

This region sits in the south west of France about 100 miles east of Bordeaux in the Midi-Pyranees and is divided by the Lot river that does a half a dozen or more “S” curves through the area.  The original home of Malbec, here it is often known as Côt or Auxerrois.   First planted by the Romans, the Englishmen named the wine from this area “The Black Wine of Cahors”.  It is said that if you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not from Cahors.  At one time widely known throughout the wine world, the 100 years war and later phylloxera dampened it’s growth.

The city of Cahors from Mont Saint Cyrin along the river Lot in France

The city of Cahors from Mont Saint Cyrin along the river Lot in France

Cahors is also the name of the city at the eastern end of the area that sits on the last of those hairpin turns of the river Lot.  The Pont Valentré has become the symbol of the town.  It is a 14th-century stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River on the west side of Cahors.

The Pont Valentré in Cahors France

The Pont Valentré in Cahors France

 

The AOC and the wine region

Map of the South West of France

Cahors is located in the South West of France North of Toulouse

The AOC was founded in 1971 and produces only red wine.  The terroirs here are divided into the Vallée – the valley that runs near the river; the Coteaux – the terraces up the sides of the cliffs and the Plateau, which sits at around 980 feet and has limestone soils.  The wines of the Vallée and Coteaux tend to be more fruit forward, where as the wines from the Plateau have a bit more finesse due to the wide diurnal shifts (day to night temps) which make for slower ripening and a later harvest.

Countryside and local cuisine

The country side here is out of a storybook with villages perfect for biking, boating on the river and hot air ballooning.  It is also home to many Michelin starred chefs, due in no small part to the abundance of truffles in the region.  The annual truffle festival early each year brings people from far and near to bid on truffles from vendors walking the street. The region is also noted for chestnuts, wild mushrooms, foie gras, goose, duck and walnuts.  All of these things play beautifully with the local wine.

The wines

While I was doing that fabulous Grower Champagne tasting last month at Valley Cheese and Wine, I was thinking about this month and our Cahors tasting.  So…before I left, I picked up a bottle of Cahors and a cheese that Kristin suggested to pair with it.  We later picked up two other wines to compare, of the 3 we ended up with 3 different vintages.

 

Château du Cèdre – Cèdre Heritage 2014

Cedrè Heritage 2014 Malbec from Cahors

Cedrè Heritage 2014 Malbec from Cahors

This wine is 95% Malbec and 5% Merlot

This family estate is run by Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe.  They have 27 hectares of vienyards growing 90% Malbec with 5% each of Merlot and Tannat.  They do have a little bit of white grapes growning with a hectare of Viognier and then a little bit of Sémillon, Muscadelle and Savignon Blanc.  Vines here are between 10 and 60 years old.

Verhaeghe might not sound French to you.  Well that would be because the name is Flemish.  Charles Verhaeghe started a farm in the area in 1958.  His father Léon had left Flanders for south west France in the early 20th century. They planted some vines and added to the plots each year.  Charles bottled his first wine in 1973.  His sons Jean-Marc and Pascal now run the estate.

The vineyard was certified Organic in 2012.  The vineyard is divided into three parts.  The largest section sits on lime stone soils, it has a southwest orientation and produces wines with very fine tannins.  The other 2 plots face south.  The soil here is red sands and pebbles with clay below.  These wines have a bit more power.

Maison Georges Vigouroux

This Maison spans four generations since 1887 with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux now at the helm as winemaker.  In 1971 they replanted Haute-Serre, the first vineyard replanted in Cahors after the phylloxera.  They increased the density of planting to reduce the yield and stress those grapes.  They find that this increases the delicacy of their wines.  They now own around 150 hectares of vineyards and are considered to be the premiere producers of Malbec in the region.  They have 4 wineries and produce a variety of styles of Malbec.

Wine/Agro-tourism is also a focus for Georges Vigouroux.  They have “La Table de Haute-Serre” a restaurant at the Château de Haute-Serre winery and are devoted to promoting the local products that enhance and pair perfectly with the  wine.  They do tours, workshops and cooking classes.  The Château de Mercuès is a luxury Winery Hotel in Occitanie that immerses it’s guests in a high end wine country experience.

We found 2 wines locally from this producer:

Antisto Cahors 2013

Antisto 2013 Malbec from Cahors

Antisto 2013 Malbec from Cahors

This wine from Georges Vigouroux is 100% Malbec and comes from slope vineyards in Cahors (that would be the Coteaux vineyards we spoke of above).  These are clay-limestone or gravel and silt on terraces overlooking the Lot Valley.  They list the winemaking method as short maceration and long fermentation.  This wine can age for 5-8 years.

They also do an Antisto Mendoza, the idea is to have the ability to compare Malbec from France and Argentina, done in the style of the region.

Atrium Malbec Cahors 2016

Atrium 2016 Malbec from Cahors

Atrium 2016 Malbec from Cahors

Another wine from Maison Georges Vigouroux.  Their website speaks of the name of this wine in this way

“Place of convergence in the Roman house, the atrium is also the centerpiece of castles, the forecourt of cathedrals … Another theory also suggests that the word atrium is derived from the adjective “ater”, which means “black”: a a haven of choice for Malbec.”

The grapes for this wine are again grown on hillsides.  It is a Cuvée from multiple vineyards and is aged on oak for 6 months.  This wine is a blend, of the region’s 3 main varieties, Malbec, Merlot and Tannat.

The Atrium name is also the overall name for the group of boutique wineries that highlight the wines from Southwest France.  They continue this local focus with wine/agro-tourism, promoting local products that pair perfectly with their wines.

Tasting and Pairing

When I picked up the bottle of Cèdre Heritage at Valley Cheese and Wine, I asked Kristen for a recommendation for a good cheese to pair.  She set me up with a raw cows milk cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/

in Tennesee called Coppinger http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/index/#/candice-whitman/

This is a semi-soft washed rind cheese with a layer of decorative vegetable ash down the center.  This cheese is not a flavor bomb, rather it is comfortable, like the quiet but really interesting person sitting by the window.

In addition we picked up bleu cheese (gorgonzola), some prosciutto, sliced strawberries, fig jam, raw honey and walnuts.

Cheese platter

Cheese platter with Sequatchie Cove Creamery’s Coppinger cheese, gorgonzola, prosciutto, walnuts, fig jam, honey and strawberries

For dinner we paired beef barbeque, herbed potatoes and a salad.

Beef barbeque with herbed potatoes to pair with three Malbecs from Cahors

Beef barbeque with herbed potatoes to pair with three Malbecs from Cahors

Impressions

The wines spanned a few years and we tasted them youngest to oldest.

The 2016 Atrium had black plum and tobacco and unsurprisingly, as it was the youngest, seemed the brightest.  I really enjoyed this with the gorgonzola.

The 2014 Cèdre Heritage gave black cherry and ground cinnamon.  It had tart acid and opened up to give off more leather and barnyard.

The 2013 Antisto felt like the most complex on the nose with leather, black plum, fresh eucalyptus leaves.  It was a little less complex on the palate, but I had a hint of black olive that appeared later as it opened.  This went beautifully with the fig jam.

I will admit that all of these wines were purchased for under $20.  I enjoyed them, but didn’t have my socks blown off.  They all disappated fairly quickly on my palate.   I look forward to locating and exploring more wines from Cahors and noting the differences in wine styles and vineyard locations.  Perhaps a Malbec comparison with French and Argentinian wines is in order!

I look forward to hearing about the other Malbecs my fellow French #Winophiles tried, as well as their pairings and finding more wines from this region to search for!

The French #Winophiles

This group of writers monthly take up a French wine or region to taste, pair and discuss!  If you want to join us for the discussion, it will happen on Twitter on Saturday September 15th at 8 am Pacific Time, 11 am Eastern Standard Time.  Just jump on and follow #Winophiles!

Here are the other great pieces on Cahors!

Rob from Odd Bacchus tells the real deal on Cahors: A LOT to Love

Liz from What’s In That Bottle paints the place Red Wine & Black All Over

Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm tempts the crowd with Basque Chicken Stew paired with Black Wine

Payal from Keep the Peas gives us a bit of everything we want with White Wine, Red Wine, Black Wine, Cahors!

Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla gets the party going with Grilled Lamb Sirloin with Cedre Heritage 2015

Rupal from Journeys Of A Syrah Queen inspires and delights with Crocus Wines – Exploring Cahors With Paul Hobbs

Jeff from Food Wine Click may be getting us in trouble with Forbidden Foods and Stinky Cahors

Jill from L’Occasion, will share Cahors: Your Favorite Wine For Fall

Break open a bottle of French Malbec and enjoy a selection of great reads!

And don’t forget to follow us at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Farmer Fizz? An exploration of Grower Champagne with the French #Winophiles

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

Grower Champagne, Farmer Fizz it’s been called. Why do we want to drink it? Why would I prefer “a dirt to glass story” to go with my bubbly? Who wouldn’t?

Quick breakdown on Champagne

You are probably already aware that just because it is fizzy wine, doesn’t mean you can call it Champagne. That title is reserved for sparkling wines made in the Methode Champenois in the Champagne region of France. (for more on what makes Champagne different dive into our piece “Sparkling Wine or Champagne“.)In the US in California they labeled bubbly as Champagne for a bit, (something to do we us not ratifying the Treaty of Versailles, back in 1919. When we then signed the wine trade agreement with France in 2006, Korbel was grandfathered in to be allowed to use the name Champagne) and France put the kibosh on that.

So to be called Champagne you must come from the Champagne Region in France. Now within that there are more distinctions and here is where “Grower Champagne” comes in.

Most Champagnes come from large Champagne Houses or Maisons.  These houses may have estate vineyards, but they also source from all over the region, pulling grapes from small growers.  They then blend the juice and often blend in some previous vintages.  The goal?  To create a uniform wine NV (non vintage) that will have consistent flavor and quality from year to year.  A noble pursuit!  And many fine Champagnes come from these houses.

 

The Champagne AOC is one of the largest in France covering 340,000 hectares with over 300 Villages. 

80% of the wine coming out of this AOC is produced by Négociants and Coopératives.

They can pull from anywhere in the AOC AND they can purchase not only grapes, but pressed juice or in some cases sur-lattes (that is pre-made sparkling wine).

 

Grower Champagne

Picture the small winery, one that has maybe been in the family for generations, growing grapes and now, rather than selling those grapes to someone else to blend, they keep those grapes and make their own wine.  This is a wine that speaks of their land, their soil and their style.  We love this in wineries, don’t we?  It’s tougher to do in Champagne, because the bubbly, well… the equipment is expensive and the process is time consuming.

For those who don’t have the money to invest in the equipment you find Cooperatives, places where smaller vineyard owners can get together and make a Champagne from a village. These vineyards bring their grapes together and one winemaker will often make a cuvée.  These are often vintage Champagnes. These are noted on the bottle with “CM” for Coopérative Manipulant.

True Grower Champagne comes from a Vigneron.  Someone who owns the land, farms the land, harvests the grapes and makes the wine.  They are typically vintage Champagnes and the best part about this (IMHO) is that they taste different from year to year.  As with good still wines, you are able to taste the terroir.  It makes tasting much more exciting in my opinion.

Types of Champagne Producers

So a quick breakdown on the one set of codes that you will find in fine print on the Champagne Bottle that can help you determine the origin of your Champagne.

ND Négociant Distributeur

  • These guys are the labeler/marketers.  They buy a Champagne, label it and sell it.

MA Marque d’Acheteur

  • Kinda like ND’s, they just buy a wine and private label it with their brand.

(So I don’t have alot of use for these top two.  If you need to buy a whole bunch of Champagne for a celebration and no one is going to notice quality…well maybe then.  I mean bubbles are bubbles, but if you have a choice…look for the codes below)

NM Négociant Manipulant

  • They may buy all or some of their grapes from others.  Deal is that anything under 94% estate fruit puts you in this category.  While big houses are typically in this class, it’s easy for others other to get lopped in also.

CM Coopérative Manipulant

  • These are the Co-ops we talked about above.  This is a group of growers that work together to make a single wine or brand.

RC Récoltant Coopérateur

  • This is a small grower, who rather that purchasing their own equipment, has it made at a co-op facility (we see lots of this style of co-op popping up in California for wineries)

SR Sociéty de Récolants

  • This is a group of growers who get together to buy the equipment to share and then each produce their own wine.  (These spots are popping up in California too for still wines.  The Buellton Bodegas that Michael Larner started is a great example, they have separate warehouses for each winery, but they share the larger more expensive equipment)

RM Récolant Manipulant

  • This is where it’s at in my book.  They grow the grapes (a minimum of 95% must be estate)

Where do you find this on the label?  Well, it varies, but typically it is in small print on the back label.

RM Récolant Manipulant

RM Récolant Manipulant

Vintage Champagne

Just because you are a grower, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are making “Vintage” Champagne.  You can be a grower and still blend previous vintages and make a cuvée.  And truth be told, if you want to sell a Vintage Champagne, there are a few more hoops for you to jump through regulation wise.  Vintage Champagnes must spend a minimum of 3 years aging on the lees in bottle, where as non-vintage only need 15 months.

Some Growers choose to put the vintage on the label.  Others, while adhering to the standards for a vintage, prefer to focus on the vineyard and site.  You will see this below with the Chartogne-Taillet I tasted.

Regions within the Champagne AOC

Within the Champagne AOC there are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Bars.

Map of the regions within the Champagne AOC

Map of the regions within the Champagne AOC

Overall, the Paris Basin is Jurassic sediment covered in Cretaceous Chalk and the Chalk is the key to the terroir in this region.  Chalk can hold water, so the roots struggle to dig down up to 30 meters to tap into this moisture.  The average precipitation in the Champagne region is just 26 inches each year, so this moisture stored in the soil is critical to keeping the vines going.

Each of the regions within the Champagne AOC have slightly different soil breakdowns and each grow a slightly different mix of wine grapes.

Montagne de Reims

This region in the Northwest of Champagne has cretaceous chalk with clay and sand for soil.  The breakdown for grapes in the region is 56% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Meunier.  You might see village names on the label also.  The Grand Cru Villages include: Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, Puisieulx, Sillery, Verzenay and Verzy.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bezzanes, Billy-la-Grand, Chamery, Chigny-les-Roses, Eceuil, Jouy les Reims, Les Mesneux, Ludes, Montebré, Pargny les Reims, Rilly-la-Montagne, Sacy,Taissy, Tauxières-Mutry, Trépail, Troi Puits, Vaudemanges, Villiers-Allernad, Villier-aux-Noeuds, Ville-Dommange and Villiers Marmery.  Vineyards here face multiple directions (northeast, southeast, southwest and west). The tops of the hills have deposits of lignite that nourishes the chalk soils below.

Vallée de la Marne

South West of Montagne de Reims along the Marne River you find the Vallée de la Marne region.  Here Pinot Meunier is king, with 63% of the grapes grown.  Pinot Noir comes in at 27% and Chardonnay at 10%.  The sub soil is Cretaceous chalk with a top soil mix of clay, flint, limestone, marl and sand.  There are 2 Grand Cru Villages: Aÿ, and Tours-sur Marne.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bisseuil, Champillon, Cumières, Dizy, Huatvillers, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Mutigny.  The best vineayrds here face south.

Côte des Blancs

South of the Vallé de la Marne you find the Côte des Blancs.  There is a reason for the name, 96% of the grapes grown here are Chardonnay with a mere 3% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Meunier.  The soil here is Cretaceous Chalk.  There is a bit of clay and sand, but really it is overwhelmingly chalk.  Vineyards are typically east or southeast facing.  Grand Cru Villages include: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Oiry.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bergèrese-les-Vertus, Coligny, Cuis, Etréchy, Vertus, Villeneuve-Renneville and Voipreux.

Côte des Sézzane

Step a little further south of Côte des Blancs and you find Côte des Sézzane.  Like Côte des Blancs, it is mostly Chardonnay that is grown here.  The vineyards here are about 64% Chardonnay and tend to face southeast which allows them to get a little riper than the grapes of the Côte des Blancs. The soils here are clay and clay silk with pockets of chalk.

Côte des Bars or The Aube

The furthest south you find The Aube or Côte des Bars.  Here the grapes are primarily Pinot Noir (83%) and the soil is marl. Almost half of the PInot Noir grown in the Champagne AOC is grown in this region. While not as well known, this area has some of the prettiest country side.  It includes the 3 communes that make up Les Riceys; Ricey-Bas, Ricey-Haut and Ricey-Haut-Rive.

How does this all affect the flavor?

For the most part you will notice the wines of Côtes des Sézzane and Côte de Bars are more aromatic and have less acidity.  The wines of the Vallée de la Marne are unctuous and fruity (due to the pinot meunier) and the Côtes des Blancs are higher in acidity and racy.

As I was researching I found that the big wine mega shops don’t typically have staff that will recognize the term “Grower Champagne”.  I had a couple of less than pleasant phone and face to face conversations that left me frustrated.  I reached out to the smaller wine shops that, sadly, are all the way on the other side of the valley from me (45 minute to an hour one way trip).  Incredibly, I missed out on a tasting event with Jean-Remy Rapeneau, who’s family owns Chateau Bligny at Khoury’s.  I found out about it too late to manage to go.  I did also contact Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson.  They had over 20 different grower Champagnes in stock.  We went to look and picked up one bottle and found that they were doing a Champagne Class.  So…you will get to hear about that at the bottom of this piece.

When in Vegas…my go to wine shops are Khoury’s and Valley Cheese and Wine.

From our trek across the valley to Valley Cheese and Wine we picked up a bottle of Grower Champagne from Pierre Péters.  This was their Rosé for Albane Brut NV.  This comes through the Terry Thiese Estate Selection.

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

A little about Pierre Péters

So Gaspar Péters, was from Luxembourg.  In 1858 he married Miss Doué who owned vineyards in Le Mesnil.  They started their operation with about 2 hectares. Their son Louis Joseph continued the business.  Louis’ son Camille, was one of the first growers in 1919 to sell bottles under his name.  In 1930 Camille acquired “Le Chétillons” which was 2.5 hectares.  Pierre was Camille’s oldest son.  At the ripe old age of 12 they had him out traveling on his own developing sales.  He evidently took the branding to heart and when his father passed he took over operations and released the first vintage under Pierre Péters.  In 1967 the estate passed to François, his second son who ran the estate until 2008.  In 2007 Rodolphe Péters joined the family estate.  He came with 12 years of experience as an oenologist/winemaker in the wine world. (information from http://champagne-peters.com/en/historical)

This Champagne is from the Côte des Blancs region and within that Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  This is a 20 hectare vineyard, so around 50 acres and produces 14,000 cases annually.  Soils here are Cretaceous Chalk and they grow 100% Chardonnay.  They are known for their Blanc de Blancs.  So…hmmm how do they make a rosé?  Well, they moved into the rosé market in 2007 adding this “Rosé for Albane” which adds some saignée Pinot Meunier to Chardonnay.  This wine is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Meunier.

Champagne & Sushi

Sushi with Grower Champagne

Sushi with Grower Champagne

We paired this first with some takeout sushi, we were hungry and it was what was for lunch!  And really, you can’t go wrong with sushi and Champagne.  Rosé Champagne is great against melt in your mouth fish and soy.  We always talk about salt and fat with Champagne (popcorn, potato chips, caviar & créme fraiche) you get that same fat from the fish and salt from the soy.  And for me, the festive atmosphere a sushi platter creates goes great with bubbles.

A selection of cheeses with Grower Champagne

A selection of cheeses with Grower Champagne

I did dive deeper into pairings and later we paired the Champagne with a selection of cheeses.  We visited our friendly Murray’s Cheese counter and picked up a couple cheeses to pair.

Swiss Emmentaler

Swiss Emmentaler cheese

Swiss Emmentaler cheese

I was hoping to pair the buttery and nutty notes of this wine with the Champagne.  It was okay, but I honestly liked the cheese better on it’s own.  This is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Emmental region of Switzerland.  When you say swiss cheese, this is what you mean.

Grand Margaux

Grand Margaux cheese

Grand Margaux cheese

Brie and Champagne.  No brainer right?  This cheese is double creme and is similar to Brie and leans towards buttery flavors.  It paired as perfectly as expected.

Comte

Comte cheese

Comte cheese

Alpine cheese is a great pairing for Champagne.  We waffled between Comte and Gruyere and thought we were picking up the Gruyere.  No worries, this cheese went very well.  As firm as this cheese can be on it’s own, the Champagne makes it seem lighter in your mouth.  This cheese is cut from 90 pound wheels from the France’s Jura.  It is made from raw, mountain pasture fed cow milk.

Fourme d’Ambert

Fourme d'Ambert cheese

Fourme d’Ambert cheese

Typically I would have chosen this to go with a sweeter wine, but I wanted to see how it would do.  Topped with a bit of honey, it was heaven.  Without the honey, Meh.  Made from pasteurized cows milk in Auvergne, this cheese is made from unpressed curds inoculated with a blue mold.  They start a bit crumbly, but then after 4 months in cave you get a smoother softer blue with notes sweet cream and mushrooms.

We garnished with champagne grapes.  No they are not really the grapes that you make champagne from, but they are cute sweet little grapes that are tasty and look adorable on the cheese plate.  That sweetness was a great offset to the savory cheeses.

We also paired with a fresh cheese bread and quite honestly that was one of my favorite pairing.  All the yeastiness was happy to play together in my mouth.  Bread and Champagne….yeah, I could happily try to live on that.

Bread with Champagne

Bread with Champagne, yeast and more yeast

Now for a brief rundown of my Champagne Class at Valley Cheese and Wine.

A Champagne Tasting

So I spent an evening around a table with a dozen or so people at, Valley Cheese and Wine, tasting through some Champagnes with Bob, who focus’ on the wine here.  We were tasting through 6 Champagnes all but one were Grower Champagnes.

They did provide us pairings for the tasting (after all they are a cheese shop also and Kristin brings in an amazing array of cheeses)  The platter of cheeses included Cremèux de Diteaux with truffle (a cow’s milk cheese from France), Clochette (goat’s milk cheese from France) and Regal de Bourgogne with raisins (cow’s milk from France).  There were blueberries, strawberries, dried apricots, raspberries and bread, plus Jamon Serrano from Spain, Chorizo from Spain and Speck from Italy.  Later in the evening, hot fries and baked macaroni and cheese with crumb topping were served.  The salt the fat the richness, was perfect for the Champagne to cut through.

Duval-Leroy

Run by a family team of mother Carol and her 3 sons Julien, Charles and Louis, this is a Champagne House, not a Grower Champagne. They produce about 4.5 million bottles annually.  The Duval-Leroy Champagne house was formed in 1859 between two families; the Duval family of Vertus in the Côtes des Blancs and the Leroy family, merchants from Reims.  It has been passed down father to son for 6 generations.  Carol Duval-Leroy took over the company in 1991, when her husband unexpectedly passed at just 39 years of age.

2006 Duval Leroy Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

2006 Duval Leroy Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

Duval-Leroy Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2006 Prestige

100% Chardonnay, 2,000 cases produced.  This is made from grapes from the Grand Cru Villages that include: Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, le Mesnil sur Oger and Oiry in the Côte des Blancs.   This goes under malolactic ferementation to give it a smoothness and that bit of bready yeastiness on the nose.  These wines age in chalk cellars for a minimum of 6 years.  This wine ages on the lees for 6 years.

This was a good Champagne, but it sat as our control.  It was a bright Blanc de Blanc.  Each of the wines we tasted after this were much more intense both in the nose and in flavor on the palate.

Champagne Doyard

Located in Vertus in the Côte des Blancs, this is a family farm. Champagne Doyard has 10 hectares of Chardonnay spread over Vertus, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Cramant and Avize.  They also have 1 hectare of Pinot Noir in Vertus and Aÿ.  The vineyards average 40 years in age.  They can trace their family roots in Champagne to the 17th century. They farm biodynamically and the vineyards are worked by horse rather than tractor to keep the ground in the vineyards from compacting.

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de l'Abbaye Grower Champagne

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de l’Abbaye

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de L’Abbaye Premier Cru Extra Dry

“Clos” indicates wall, and this wine is made from a little walled vineyard behind the winery that was planted in 1956.  It spent 4 years on the lees. This is a vintage champagne and it is 100% Chardonnay.

I found this wine to be more fragrant than the first.  There were fruits and florals on the nose and the flavors floated in my mouth and had a lovely length.

Marc Hébrart

Located in the Vallée de la Marne, Jean-Paul Hébrart took over the reins from his father in 1997. With 15.5 hectares of vineyard they produce 8,750 cases annually.  Calculated in acres that is 37 acres, which is made up of 70 different parcels in 10 villages.  They do 6 or 7 cuvées here.  The soil here is chalk and they grow 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  Jean-Paul is experimenting with indigenous yeast and barrel fermentation.  Everything here is organic and sustainable and they hand riddle the bottles.

2010 Marc Hébrart Rive Gauche Rive Droite Grower Champagne Extra Brut

2010 Marc Hébrart Rive Gauche Rive Droite Champagne Extra Brut

Rive Gauch Rive Droite 2010 Grand Cru Champagne Hébrart Extra Dry

This wine is named for the vineyards that comprise this blend which sit on both the left and right sides of the Marne River.  This wine is 50% chardonnay and 50% pinot noir, natural yeast, unfiltered and made in barrels. This wine is part of the Skurnik Portfolio.  This aged 6 years on the lees and the pinot noir is old vine.

As we went through the tasting I felt like the aromas in each wine became more intense.  The nose on this wine is intense.  It hit me with notes of apple cider, that type of sweetness, that is tangy on the nose.  This wine was served with the baked macaroni and cheese with a crumb topping.

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet

From the Montagne de Reims region.  This winery has 11.5 hectares of vineyards and produces 7,500 cases of wine annually.  They grow 40% chardonnay, 38% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier and 2% arbanne.  They are located in the village of Merfy and have been growing wine there for over 500 years.  Alexandre Chartogne now runs things and is delving into biodynamics.  He uses stainless steel, neutral barrique and concrete eggs and allows for natural malolactic fermentation. Another from the Skurnik Portfolio, you can find more information here.

The vines in this vineyard go deep to look for water, some digging down as much as 65 feet.  They are also ungrafted vines (which is risky for phylloxera, an aphid which in the early 1900’s took out over 70% of the vines in France.  Since then most French vines are grafted to American root stock which those little aphids evidently don’t like to eat).  They believe that the ungrafted vines pull more terroir and varietal character into the wines.

We tasted 2 wines from this producer, which were made from a single vintage, but they chose not to label them as vintage Champagnes, but rather to focus on the single vineyards each came from.

*Bob did a follow up to confirm the reasoning for Chartogne-Taillet not releasing as vintage.  The answer was “Chartogne wants to have flexibility and to release them as he wants rather than by regulation. The vintage in which the wines were harvested is on the back label.”

NV Chartogne Taillet Les Barres GrowerChampagne

NV Chartogne Taillet Les Barres

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres Extra Dry

This wine is made from grapes from the 2012 vintage, but they chose not to label it by vintage. The first vintage of this wine was produced in 2010. It is 100% Pinot Meunier.

This wine was fragrant and unctuous. I got an herbal-bramble note lightly on the nose.  This wine felt a little more wild to me.  I had not had a 100% Pinot Meunier Champagne before, and it was exotic to me and I liked it!

NV Chartogne Taillet Couarres Château Grower Champagne

NV Chartogne Taillet Couarres Château

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Couarres Chateau Extra Dry

They make a Couarres Champagne also, but this is the Couarres Château Champagne, a distinction that indicates the specific vineyard.  This is a single parcel wine with vines planted in 1987.

This wine is 100% Pinot Noir.  It was a lovely wine, but quite honestly, I was so enamoured by the Les Barres….

Champagne Geoffroy

Located in the Vallée de la Marne in Cumières the Champagne Geoffroy vineyards span 14 hectares (just over 34 acres) and they produce 10,400 cases anually.  Soils here are calcareous, sandstone and clay.  The family has been rooted in Cumières since the 17th century, but it was in the 1950’s when Roger and Julienne Geoffroy decided to start making their own wine.  René Geoffroy took the reins when his father passes all to soon and together with his wine Bernadette they continued the brand.  Today, Jean Baptiste Geoffroy runs the estate and they have moved the winemaking facilities to Aÿ.  The vineyards are made up of 35 plots of 24% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Meunier and 42% Pinot Noir.

NV Geoffroy Rosé Saignée of Pinot Noir Grower Champagne

NV Geoffroy Rosé Saignée

Champagne Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée

The Rosé de Saignée Brut is hand harvested and sorted and they avoid malolactic fermentation.  This wine is 100% Pinot Noir and you get that Pinot funk the minute you dip your nose in the glass.  This is a Saignée, and we have talked about this in terms of rosé before, where a winemaker will bleed off some of the juice of a red wine to intensify the flavors and then use this bled off juice to make a rosé.  In this case they let the juice sit on the skins for about 4 hrs to get this vivid color and intensity and then bled off all of the juice to use to make this Champagne.  It spends 3 years on lees.

You get bright BRIGHT red fruit on this and some savory notes.  It is cheerful in color and intense with flavor.  (Think Tavel intensity with bubbles)

The Grower Champagne Community

As Bob talked about the winemakers, most of whom he has met.  He talked about what a small community they are and how they help each other out.  The Pinot Meunier that is used in the Pierre Péters Rosé that we started with comes from either Geoffroy or Hébrart.  These growers all know each other and work together, sharing knowledge.  It was heartwarming to know that the type of wine community that we have seen in Oregon and Santa Barbara, winemakers working together and supporting each other, exists across the pond.

And I mentioned hand riddling, horses plowing fields, organic and sustainable farming and really all of these producers are doing that.  Most in fact are gravity flow in their winemaking.  They differ in sites, and in styles, but overall growing philosophies are similar.

Global Warming as it impacts Champagne

They are seeing the signs of Global Warming on  a very locale scale.  They and other Champagne makers are finding each year that they are cutting back on the dosage (the sweetness added to the bottle after disgogement that determines the sweetness of the Champagne).  This is because the grapes are getting riper earlier.  Within their lifetime they are watching tremendous change in the climate and ripening times in the vineyards. Bob mentioned that one wine maker had said “If they tell you Global Warming is not happening, send them to my vineyard, they can see.”

How Much?

Now if you are heading out to buy a bottle of Grower Champagne, be aware that these wines are not cheap.  They run from $85 to $175 retail and there are many in the shop that run $200-$300 each.  You can find Grower Champagnes that are less expensive, and you may find a great deal, but keep in mind, that Grower Champagne is all the rage these days, and many people are jumping into the market without proper experience.  Do a tasting if you can, before settling on splurging on a bottle.

The French Winophiles on Grower Champagne

We are lucky enough to get to associate with some wonderful people in the French # Winophiles group and this month we all dove into Grower Champagne.  So if this has wet your whistle, you can dive into more great information and pairings for Grower Champagne.  And…join us on Twitter on Saturday Morning 11 am EST or 8 am PST!  Just follow #Winophiles to join in the conversation!  And it’s Saturday morning, pop a bottle of Grower Champagne while you join us!

Here are the links to all the other great articles the #winophiles have out there on the subject!

 

And don’t forget to check back here with us  at Crushed Grape Chronicles , you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

We will be continuing our journey through Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the winemakers we met there and…next month with the French #Winophiles we will be diving into Cahors!


Côtes de Bordeaux pairings through Blaye, Cadillac & Castillon with #Winophiles

Côtes de Bordeaux from Cadillac and Castillon

For many people, when they think of French Wine regions, Bordeaux is the first to come to mind.   Big, bold, age-worthy red wines driven by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot dominate the region. These can seem like rarified, expensive wines that are slightly beyond reach. Finding Côtes de Bordeaux is an opportunity to dive into this region in a new way, with many lovely affordable wines that are perfect for weeknight dinners.

Côtes de Bordeaux AOC

The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC is made up of 5 separate regions all on the right bank of the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. The regions from North to South include:

 

Vignoble de Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux

We tasted and did pairings with wines from Blaye, Cadillac and Castillon. I will be searching for wines from Francs and Saint-Foy to try in the future.  Let’s start with a little background on the 3 regions from which we tasted wines.

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

Citadelle de Vauban

Citadelle de Vauban

This region is the northern most of the Côtes de Bordeaux regions. Vines here were planted even before those in the well known Medoc across the Gironde river. Planted originally by the Greeks and Romans the vines thrived into the middle ages and, as the area was easily accessible via the Gironde, these wines traveled.  Louis XIV built the Citadelle de Vauban here, now often known as the Citadelle de Blaye.  The fortified structure is now a museum.

The vines of Blaye overlook the Gironde estuary and have varied terroir. Most are grown on the slopes, and the soils are clay limestone from ancient ocean sediment.

Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux

France the renaissance castle of Cadillac in Gironde

France the renaissance castle of Cadillac in Gironde

The Cadillac region sits on hillsides overlooking the Garonne river. A region originally planted by the Romans the name travelled with the knight Lamothe-Cadillac to Louisiana where he was governor. He of course brought with him the wines of Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux. It is his name that becomes the name of the luxury car dealer.

This area, previously known as Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, is filled with historic Castles (such as the Castle of Cadillac) as well as many Romanesque churches.  There are several walking routes, where you can discover the sites and stop for a wine tasting.

The soils here from top to bottom: limestone covered in pebbly gravel, limestone, and fine gravel with silica. You will find over half the vines here are Merlot with a quarter Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Castillon La Bataille

Castillon La Bataille

This region sits just north of the Dordogne river and just east of Saint-Emilion with whom they share the limestone plateau. The slopes here span 100 meters in elevation. Most of the estates are small, sitting at an average of 10 hectares. Soils run from sandy gravel or sandy clay to clay limestone. 70 percent of the grapes grown here are Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and the remaining is Cabernet Sauvignon. The slopes get southern exposure and the winemakers here are devoted to the environment with at least a quarter farming biodynamically.

The famous Battle of Castillon was held here in 1453 putting an end to the hundred years war and reclaiming the area from 300 years of English rule.

The Pairings

Cadillac & Castillon

We did a side-by-side tasting of 2 wines, one from Cadillac & one from Castillon and we paired them with a cheese and charcuterie plate and a Mediterranean twist on a stir-fry.

Rosemary Balsamic Steak stir-fry with peppers, snap peas and carrots

Rosemary Balsamic Stir Fry with Côtes de Bordeaux

Rosemary Balsamic Stir Fry with Côtes de Bordeaux

The steak tips were marinated in a combination of balsamic, soy, rosemary, olive oil, sea salt, garlic, & black pepper. We stir fried the meat and then added thinly sliced rainbow carrots, slice red, yellow and orange peppers and snap peas.  We served it on a bed of brown rice and quinoa with olive oil and garlic.

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

The wine from Castillon was dark and deep with brambles and dried herbs on the nose. On the palate there were peppers and spice and a hint of licorice and cherry cola. This was great with the stir fry and the charcuterrie. This wine sat at 12.9% alc.

This wine is primarily Merlot from vineyards bordering St. Emilion.

2014 Château de Paillet-Quancard

Cadillac- Côtes de Bordeaux

2014 Château de Paillet-Quancard Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux

The Cadillac was was bright and more translucent than the Castillon. On the nose I got warm curry spices. In my mouth it was tart with light to medium tannins, like eating just barely sweetened cranberries. This wine is a great easy drinking red for summer It paired with the peppers in the stir fry and was good with the bright snap peas and goat cheese. It is 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Sav and 5% Cab Franc.

This wine is grown on slopes above the Garonne River and made by Château de Paillet-Quancard, a Château that dates back to the 16th centruy.  The Paillet vineyard is clay-limestone and clay-gravel and these vines are about 25 years old.

Blaye

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Rosemary

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

I was searching for recipes and found this one on the Le Vins de Saint-Emilion site https://en.vins-saint-emilion.com/braised-chicken-zucchini-and-rosemary

I paired the recipe down and adjusted just a bit to make dinner for Michael and I. The recipe is simple and you can cook en papillot, in grease proof paper if you have it, or foil. The parchment I had wasn’t grease proof, so I made 2 individual foil packets. This worked perfectly as Michael was running late, so I could wait and put his packet in the oven when he left work.

The chicken breast lays on a bed of thinly sliced small zucchinis, you top with salt, pepper, chopped garlic and thyme add 2 medallions of goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil and top with a sprig of rosemary, seal the packet and bake.

2015 Château la Valade

Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux

2015 Château la Valade Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

2015 Château la Valade Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon

Part of the Alfio Moriconi Selection, there were not many details to be found on this wine.  We found it for $13.99 at Total Wine.

I will admit that I was a little concerned that with the goat cheese and chicken, I had chosen a recipe that was more in line with the regions white wine (sauvignon blanc), but it paired surprisingly well. The nose on this wine was bright with undertones of exotic spices and was tart but light on the palate, making it work well with the chicken and not overpower it.

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux and a cheese platter

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux and a cheese platter

I did also have a cheese plate laid out with Parmesean, almonds, honey, blue cheese, honey and black berries. This wine went really nicely with the blue cheese and was amazing with the black berries making the floral notes explode in my mouth.

Return to Castillon

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Duck Breast with black berries and leeks, baked macaroni and cheese and an Italian melon salad

This was my “all in” pairing. Duck breast are not easy to find here in Vegas, and what I picked up from the local butcher shop was the larger Moulard Duck Magret Breast. I was dipping into the recipes again on the Le Vins de Saint-Emilion site and found a recipe for Duck Breasts with figs that I riffed on, rendering the duck breasts then adding sliced leeks and black berries when deglazing the pan with a little balsamic and some of the wine.

I did individual servings of baked mac and cheese, an idea gained from Fiona Beckett, who suggests cheddar cheese or macaroni and cheese with “full-bodied Merlot dominated bordeaux”

Then I returned to the Saint-Emilion site for a vegetable or another side or appetizer and I found an Italian Melon Salad. I again riffed on the recipe with a bed of rocket (arugula) mixed with roasted pine nuts, chunks of gorgonzola, thin slices of parmesean, olive oil, lemon juice and salt a pepper all topped with cantaloupe, thin slices of prosciutto and basil.

2011 Château Moya

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2011 Château Moya Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2011 Château Moya Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

93% Merlot 7% Cabernet Sauvignon

https://www.chateaumoya.com/

This is an organic wine from Cotes de Castillon. This region is known for is sustainable practices, with a large portion of the growers using biodynamic and organic farming practices.

This wine immediately dried my teeth. It had warm savory notes on the nose with bright cranberry fruit and it continued to evolve in the glass. It paired nicely with everything.

I will admit to being most enchanted by the wines from Castillon. These wines were great food wines, but were also really intriguing on their own. This is a region I will use as a go to for wines and I will continue to search out wines from all over the Côtes de Bordeaux.

Music pairings

In addition to pairing with food, wine is great to pair with music. I paired the Chateau Moya with some Nina Simone and if you head to the Vins de Bordeux https://www.bordeaux.com/us/

site they have some great wine pairing playlists for you! Try this Mindful Wine tasting playlist https://www.bordeaux.com/us/Wine-Tunes/Moods/Mindful-winetasting

The French #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Côtes de Bordeaux region hosted by Michelle of Rockin’ Red Blog

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, May 19th at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on the Côtes de Bordeaux and it’s wines!

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla offers “Exploring the Côtes de Bordeaux with Simple, Salty, Spicy Nibbles

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Celebrating the Warm Weather with Bordeaux

David from Cooking Chat brings us “Cheesy Beef Casserole with Wine from Côtes de Bordeaux

Nicole from Somm’s Table explores “2 oz Pours: 5 Nights of BDX

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog offers “Côtes de Bordeaux: Your Go-To For Affordable, Approachable Bordeaux

Gwen from Wine Predator shares “Affordable French: Bordeaux and Burgers for #Winophiles

Rupal the Syrah Queen gives us “5 Reasons You Should Be Drinking Côtes de Bordeaux

Jill of L’Occasion offers a “Guide to the Wines of Côtes de Bordeaux

Lynn of Savor the Harvest shares “Côtes de Bordeaux: A Chateau Carsin Surprise

Jeff at FoodWineClick! shares “Drinking Tuesday Night Bordeaux

Liz Barrett of What’s In That Bottle helps us with “Get to Know Côtes de Bordeaux #Winophiles

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish offers “Côtes de Bordeaux: Why It Should Be on Your Wine Shopping List

Amber of Wine Travel Eats gives us “Salmanazar – Côtes de Bordeaux

Michelle Williams of The Rockin’ Red Blog shares “Drinking Bordeaux in Blue Jeans”

Please join the #winophiles Côtes de Bordeaux chat on Saturday, May 19 at 11am EST on Twitter. We will discuss wine, food pairings, culture, and the region. All are welcome and encouraged to participate in the chat.

And don’t forget to check back here for more great information on wine, wine regions and the people behind the grapes on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Côtes deBordeaux (1)

An Evening in Burgundy – at home

Burgundy dinner pairing

I have been researching a trip to France for Michael and I and have started looking into a few days in Burgundy. So…Michael and I, who have a supply of beautiful California wines, set out to find a couple of wines from Burgundy. We picked up a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres and a 2011 Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour.

Dinner

So what to pair with them? Well both of these wines are great food wines. I had a Delicato Squash from the Downtown 3rd farmers market as well as 2 ears of sweet corn and we picked up some Wild Salmon and scallops.

The squash, Stu had told me could be cooked just like summer squash, “slice and sauté it like you would a zucchini” he said! I love the color and markings on it and was excited to try this! Then…I tried to cut it. I think I was confused by what Stu meant. So after a little online research, I discovered that I needed to peel and seed the squash then cube it for roasting, steaming or microwaving. So… treat it much more like a butternut. We went the microwave route and Michael added an herbed ice cube (olive oil and chives). We nuked the corn also and Stu was completely right on this one…this corn was soooo sweet. Michael grilled the salmon, skin side down on the stove with a little salt and some of the Spanish blend of spices from Spicy Camel Trading Company. He did the same with the scallops. We also had some Spanish cheeses to munch on while things cooked.

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

The pairings

The Puilly-Fusse was bright and made my mouth tingle a little. It was heavier in viscosity reminding us of a Viognier, one review of the wines of this region called the texture “opulent”.  With the cheese it was beautiful, as well as with the scallops. The Pinot was lovely, light and elegant with great flavor and it was perfect with the salmon.

So it was not a typical dinner from Burgundy…being as we had so much seafood with it, but none the less we enjoyed the pairings and the wines and now I am ready to dig further into this area and learn some more.

The Wines – some background

I will admit that I find it very hard to find information on French wines.  I suppose mostly, it is because I look for information like I do with US wines.  I want the story behind the vineyard and winemaker, I want to know what the terroir is like and the climate.  French winemakers don’t market their wines in the same way that American winemakers do, so it’s hard to find this info.  So…here’s a little information.

Burgundy Wines

2011 Pouilly-Fussé and 2011 Bourgogne

Pouilly-Fussé Les Galopieres 2011

The Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres is a White Burgundy or Bourgogne…which translates to Chardonnay. This wine comes from the Maconnais subregion in Burgundy which is in the Southern part of Burgundy just above Beaujolais. The soil here is clay and limestone.  The appellation was instituted in 1936. The area takes in the four villages of Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré.  In Solutré and Vergisson you can see the rocky outcrops of hard fossil corals which have resisted erosion.

2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour

The 2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour was labeled – A Beaune – Cote-D’Or – France. It is 100% Pinot Noir from Bourgogne and is aged 10-12 months in stainless steel. The soil here is clay and limestone and the average vine age is 25 years, all grapes are handpicked. Not much cellaring potential…it says 2 to 3 years. This wine is considered by importers to be a classic reliable Burgundian Pinot Noir.

If you find yourself interested in the wines of Burgundy, but like me are having a hard time finding information you can connect with, I suggest renting the movie “A Year in Burgundy”.  This movie allowed me to get to know some of the Burgundian wine makers and their individual styles and gives me a starting point that I can identify with.  So head to your local wine store and take a trip to Burgundy right in your living room.  It’s a great way to travel without having to pack!

Superb Owl Snacks, Chardonnay and Popcorn

Game Day Pairings

Game Day Pairings

It’s Game Day and I’m off.  This is a rare thing for me, typically I would be working on a Sunday, but in Vegas….the only show that goes on today is the Superb Owl!  Michael is working so I have the day to myself.  So game day snacks and a wine pairing seemed in order!  I had a couple of inspirations today.  First was an article by Mark Oldman on Game day snacks and wine pairings 7-pairings-to-supersize-your-big-game-wine-experience.  The second was an article on WineFolly (love her!) on How to Improve your wine smarts in one month.

So…I have been delving into French wines this month, researching and learning more about them and I love popcorn.  I don’t often indulge, but Mark convinced me.  And inspired by Madeline, I will compare a couple wines.  And…to up the ante a little (it is game day) we are inspired by the Judgement of Paris.  If you haven’t seen Bottleshock, you should rent it.  Any way…I am off to find a Chablis from Burgundy and…a Chardonnay from Grgich Hills.  In addition to the popcorn…I’ll search for some other lovely Chardonnay Pairings.

Alright…back from shopping. Here’s what we have.  a 2012 Pascal Bouchard Chablis Le Classique,  a 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay, and a 2010 Chateau de Rully.  My favorite guy at the wine store was in, so while it was crazy, I managed to pick his brain for a moment.  He gave a nod to my Chateau de Rully pick and suggested the Pascal Bouchard Chablis.  While it is unoaked, it has gone through secondary fermentation so it has a richer mouthfeel while still keeping the acid.  I was eyeing the Montrachet, but mentioned that I didn’t think I should invest in that without Michael home and he agreed.  So…Montrachet for another day.

Game Day Chardonnays

Game Day Chardonnays

I headed to the store and picked up some brie, some fontina cheese, peppered goat cheese, green beans almondine, lobster macaroni, popcorn & butter.

So a little about the Wines…where they come from etc and the pairings.

When Michael and I first visited Napa, Grgich Hills was the second winery we visited.  They were warm and friendly and open to educating wine novices, which we were at the time.  If you have not yet seen Bottleshock, and want the suspense, you might skip reading this next part.  Mike Grgich worked at Chateau Montelena as the winemaker in 1973 when that famous Chardonnay was made that beat out the French whites at the Paris tasting.  At 91 he is still active at the winery and in Napa and can be seen sporting his signature beret.

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

The Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Chardonnay; ($33)  Certified Organic and Biodynamically farmed, the 2010 vintage has good acidity with a definite butteriness from 10 month in French Oak (40% new).  This sits on the high side at 14.1% alcohol.  The butteriness of the wine lent itself to pair nicely with all of the cheeses, adding a depth of richness to the Fontina and Brie and unexpectedly taming the pepper in the peppered goat cheese.  It brought out the richness in the sauce in the green beans almondine.  But the Piece de resistance was pairing it with the buttered popcorn!  Heavenly!

Buttered Popcorn

Buttered Popcorn

Chablis is the northernmost area in Burgundy and they grow Chardonnay almost exclusively here.  Chardonnay’s here you will find unbaked. The soil here is Kimmeridge Clay which is a mixture of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells.  Chablis is so well known for it’s Chardonnay that when vintners in California fist began growing Chardonnay, they actually called it Chablis.

Pascal Bouchard is a family run winery with an Estate that sits in 4 appellations in Chablis : Chablis Grand Gru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablish and Petit Chablis.  They use no new oak here and only the Grand Crus are aged in 100% oak.  The Petit Chablis and Chablis (like the Le Classique that we tasted) are 100% stainless steel.

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

The Pascal Bouchard 2012 Chablis; ($23) This wine is clean and bright with pear and fresh cut apple on the nose as well a a bit of chalk and dust.  This made for a bright clean pairing with all of the cheeses, making them feel lighter.  The acid was perfect to cut through the fat.  This wine would allow you to enjoy brie outside on a hot summer day and not have it be too heavy.  This paired nicely with the beans and  with the Lobster macaroni made for a lovely contrast.  The alcohol on this sits at 12.5%.

Chateau de Rully is a 12th century medieval fortress located in Cote Chalonnaise.  The vineyards here are maintained by Antonin Rodet, who sells these wines all over the world.  Cote Chalonnaise is south of Cote d’Or and Cote de Beaune.  The wines here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2010 ($25) 11-14% alcohol; This wine had acid on the nose than the Grgich with a little effervescence.  I got butter and creme on the nose and a little dust that was not chalky.  Round and mellow on the palate, but with great acid for a wonderful palate cleanser.  This wine brought out the nutty character in the Brie and gave me interesting nuances when paired with the Fontina.  With the goat cheese?  Not so much.  But this was my favorite pairing with the Lobster Mac.  It compliments nicely the dish nicely making everything more aromatic in my mouth.

These three Chardonnays were all very different.  The Chablis was crisp and clean and lighter in color.  The Chateau de Rully has a little butter with good acid and lots of nuance and the Grgich Hills was by far the biggest wine in the bunch and really was a piece of heaven with the buttered popcorn.

Oh..and I did watch a little of the game and some of the commercials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring France, the Loire Valley, beginning with Sancerre & Touraine

I will admit that I typically drink domestic wines.  I like to buy local and so I support California Wineries as they are the closest.  I am finding that I want to expand a little and find out how my beloved California varieties compare with the same varieties from their country of origin.  The amazing variety of fragrances and textures that can come from the same variety of grape grown in different soils and climates, then the differences in the winemaking style that can be completely individual or as influenced by an area and the palate of that area’s people.

Today we are exploring Sauvignon Blanc and how the variety expresses itself in the place it is said to express itself best and that is Sancerre in the Loire Valley in France.

The Loire Valley is located in the North West part of France along the Loire River.  It has a cool northern climate similar to Champagne, but is one of the most diverse growing regions in France. The area is known for making straightforward wines that express the terroir.  You will find pure expressions of the grape here.  You can divide the region into 3 broad sections, the west near the Atlantic where you will find Muscadet; the middle where you will find Vouvray; and the east end, which home to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

Our journey with the white wines of the Loire begins here, on the east end of the valley in Sancerre, and then drift a little back toward the middle to Touraine.

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume come from the eastern end of the Loire.  Sancerre sits on the west side of the river and the vineyards here are on a cone shaped hill with white chalk slopes.  On the other side of the river you will find Pouilly-sur-Loire where Pouilly-Fume is made.  I have heard many tales about the origin of the name Pouilly-Fume; some say the name comes from the morning mists, some say the flint like character in the wine, some for the bloom on the grapes that looks smoky.  While many say that you do get a smokey, flinty character from the Pouilly-Fume wines, most experts cannot tell the wines of Sancerre from the wines of Pouilly-Fume, so when choosing a wine, I went with a Sancerre and then ventured a little further to choose another wine to set it against.

The Sav Blancs from Touraine are decidedly less expensive than those of Sancerre and so one of these went into my basket.

Touraine is located on the east end of the middle part of the Loire Valley.  This area around the city of Tours is known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc but a good portion of their wine is Sauvignon Blanc.  This area is where the tributaries the Cher and the Indre enter the Loire River.

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domain Guenault is owned by the Bougrier family and is located on the steep slopes over the Cher river.  They are 5th generation negotiants in the Loire Valley.  In addition to this property they have domaine and winery holdings in Anjou and Muscadet.

Sancerre while now thought of as Sauvignon Blanc, also produces Pinot Noir.  In fact before the phlloxera outbreak in the 1860’s, the vineyards here were planted mostly with Pinot Noir and Gamay.  As they replanted the new white Sancerres were considered the counterpart to the simple uncomplicated Beaujolais.  The area of ‘Sancerre’ includes the city of Sancerre and 14 other parishes on the left bank of the Loire.

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Domaine Christian Salmon has been growing grapes in Sancerre for 6 generations.  The vineyards are located on the finest slopes in Bue, the parish just west of Sancerre.

As to what to pair with these wines?  Sancerre is noted for standing up to bolder flavors and over and over I read that it went well with grilled salmon with mango salsa, so…we picked up some Atlantic salmon and mangos and as it was cold out, I pan seared it.  Also suggested were salad greens and sharp flavors like vinaigrettes and capers, so we had a side salad with those items.   Sancerre and goat cheese was noted as a match made in heaven.  Specifically if you can find Crottin de Chavignol to pair with it.  I could not, but found a trio of goat cheese Crottin.  We popped open the garlic & herb and the Natural cheeses and spread them on Brioche crisps.  These were incredibly tasty with both of the wines.  We were also hungry enough that we added some Thai lime shrimp skewers and vegetable goyza.  Both went fine with both wines.

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Now to the wines.  In the glass the Sancerre was lighter, almost clear and had a little touch of effervescence.  It was crisp clear and bright with terrific citrus notes.  The Touraine was much more golden in the glass.  It also had a weightier mouthfeel and you immediately got citrus and petrol on the nose.  Petrol, I know…but in a really great way.  Both wines were lovely, each in their own way.  You could tell that they were both Sauvignon Blancs but they still were very different from each other.  I love that the same variety of grape grown just 141 miles away, can be so different in a wine.  Both of these wines are much more subtle than the big brassy Sauvignon Blancs that you get from Australia and I also found them more nuanced than many California Sav Blancs that I know.

Next we will venture further west and enjoy some Chenin Blancs from Vouvray and Savennieres!