A Sparkling Rosé by any other name…just might be a Crémant – #Winophiles

Crémant Rosé pairings

‘Tis the season for a little celebrating and nothing gets a celebration started better than bubbles. Something about how the bubble sparkle in the glass, or how they tickle your nose when you head in for a sip.

Bubbles are great for atmosphere, they set the mood. They are also perfect with those delicious salty, fatty treats we like to have around. From popcorn to caviar, they make a great match. And beyond just appetizers or snacks, they are great with a meal. The acid and bubbles clean your palate between each bite, making every bite taste as good as the first.

Now, bubbles come in many forms. There is Cava and Prosecco, sparkling wine, Champagne…and then there is Crémant.  Crémant is the topic for the French #Winophiles this month and we will be taking to twitter on Saturday November 17th at 11 am EST to discuss Crémant.  Join us by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Crémant

What is Crémant? Well it’s bubbles made in the “methode champenoise” from outside of the Champagne region in France. (So secondary fermentation in the bottle)

The word Crémant means “Creamy”. The term was originally used for a Champagne that was slightly less sparkly, the bubbles were creamier, with a little less pressure in the bottle.

Some of the areas that you will find Crémant in France include: Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace), Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Limoux (Languedoc-Roussillon), Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Savoie and Crémant de Die.

One of the best things about Crémant is the variety of grapes that you might get to try in them. We were only able to easily locate Crémants from Alsace, Burgundy & the Loire.  Below is a list of these Crémant regions with the grapes that can be included in them (variety, my friends, is the spice of life!)

Crémant Regions and grape varieties allowed

Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace)

If it’s a rose, it will be 100% pinot noir, if it is not, it can include pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay, auxerrois or pinot noir.  (1/2 of the Crémant in France is made here)

http://www.winesofalsace.com/wines/varieties/cremant-dalsace

Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy)

Most Crémants here use pinot noir and chardonnay (it is Burgundy after all), but they may also use gamay, aligoté, sacy & melon

https://www.bourgogne-wines.com/our-wines-our-terroir/the-bourgogne-winegrowing-region-and-its-appellations/cremant-de-bourgogne,2458,9253.html?&args=Y29tcF9pZD0yMjc4JmFjdGlvbj12aWV3RmljaGUmaWQ9MzAxJnw%3D

Crémant de Loire

Primarily these Crémants use chenin blanc, cabernet franc and pinot noir. But the allowed grape varieties include: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pineaus d’aunis, and grolleau (looking some of those up!)

http://loirevalleywine.com/appellation/cremant-de-loire-touraine/

Rules for Crémant

Each of the AOCs for Crémant have individual rules but they do have a few that they all adhere to:

  • Hand Harvesting
  • Not over 100 liters of juice for 150 kg of grapes
  • Secondary fermentation in bottle
  • Finished wines cannot have a dosage (added sweetness for secondary fermentation) that is over 50g per liter of sugar
  • Age 9 months on the lees before being disgorged and held an additional 3 months before going to market

So with all these different grapes from different regions how does it affect how the wine tastes? Well, we rounded up a couple of Crémants and tasted through to see. With 3 Cremant d’Alsace, a Cremant de Loire and a Cremant de Bourgogne we had a little variety.

The Crémant Rosés

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé

This wine was received as a sample

This wine from Lucien Albrecht is 100% Pinot Noir and comes from the house that was one of the three founding members of the Crémant d’Alsace AOC.

Made from free run juice, this wine ages on the lees for 14-16 months.  It sits at 12% alcohol and runs around $22.

You can read more about this wine in a previous bit we did on Alsace.

 

Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé Millésime 2013

This is one of the oldest properties in Burgundy.  You will notice the “depuis 1595” on the label.  The estate is in the Mercurey appellation in Côte Chalonnaise.

The 2013 Vintage was 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. (so while I didn’t celebrate Beaujolais day in the normal fashion…I did drink some Gamay!)  It spends 24 months on the Lees.  It too sits at 12% alcohol and runs around $18.

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire bottle shot

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire

Deligeroy Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire Cave De Vignerons de Saumur

This wine comes from a cooperative formed back in 1957 in the Loire.  They are located in the Saumur appellation on the top of the hill in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg.

The Deligeroy Brut Rosé is 100% Cabernet Franc grown in soils that include the tufa limestone from which many of the famous Loire castles are built.  Vines here are 20-30 years old.  This wine sits 12 months in racks before disgorging.  Alcohol is 12% and it runs around $18

Tasting and pairing

For this tasting we really wanted to look at the differences in the wines.  These are rosés which means you get a bit more “grape” in them from the skin contact.  The wines are from different regions and different grape varieties, so we expected there to be significant differences.

When I poured the glasses, the color was the first thing that struck me.  The Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne was significantly lighter in color than the other two, that light onion skin color.  As we went on to taste, that appeared in the glass.  This wine had less skin contact and as such was lighter with less distinguishable fruit on the nose or the palate. It did however seem to have a little more acid to it.  It ended up being Michael’s favorite in the pairings.

The other two wines, were influenced by their grapes.  The Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace had red berry notes as did the Deligeroy Crémant de Loire, but the notes in the Deligeroy were a little deeper, the Cabernet Franc showing through.

Pairings

As the holiday season is here, we went with a crowd pleasing cheese platter to pair with.  We are geeky and tend to one by one, taste and pair each element to see which pairing we like best.  Below, you will see the results.

Cheese plate with vegetables

Brie, blackberries, lobster pate, cherry preserves, smoked salmon, raw vegetables, salmon spread, strawberries, almonds, cashews, prosciutto

Brie: Any double or triple crème cheese is brilliant with crémant.  I stacked a bit of the brie on a cracker and smeared a little of the cherry preserve on top and found this went really well with the Crémant d’Alsace and the Crémant de Loire with their berry notes.

Lobster Paté:  I had this lobster paté with Cognac in the cupboard and popped it out to try.  I found that the extra richness in the Crémant de Loire really stood up to the richness in the paté and made this an exceptional bite.

Strawberries:  The red berry notes in the Crémant d’Alsace really blossomed here.

Blackberries: Again paired best with the Crémant d’Alsace

Proscuitto:  This brought out the fruit in all the wines.

Smoked salmon:  This salmon was thicker cut and applewood smoked.  The smoky flavor was a bit much for most of the wines, but it paired best with the Loire.  I think had this been a slightly lighter salmon the pairing would have been better.

Raw vegetables with dip:  A suggestions from Wines of Alsace.  This is also typical holiday fare with a veggie platter, so we thought this would be a good test!  We went with a salmon dip and it was perfect with the wines.

Popcorn in a bowl

Popcorn

Popcorn: Bubbles and buttery popcorn are always a good bet.  (potato chips too!) And they are great affordable snacks to keep everybody happy.  This went well, but we also did a pairing with some white Crémant d’Alsace and found the popcorn went better there (more on that later).

Crémant Rosé and lobster tails

Crémant Rosé and lobster tails

Lobster:  Well…pink with pink and lobster with butter screams for bubbles.  This is maybe a little more decadent than snacks for a holiday party, but…when the guests have gone, treat yourself.  Here was where the lack of berry notes in the Crémant de Borgogne came in handy.  This wine really sang with the lobster.  The other wines were fine, but I found the berry notes a bit of a distraction.

Apple and cranberry tart.

Apple and cranberry tart.

We finished out our evening with apple and cranberry tarts.  I always like fruit deserts and the berry and bread notes in all three of the wines paired wonderfully here.

Hopefully you now have some ideas for things to pair with sparkling wines this holiday, whether you are curled up for a quiet evening or feeding a crowd.  And reach for a Crémant!

We also did a piece on the two beautiful Crémant d’Alsace white wines that we paired with a simple dinner the night before! You can read up on Crémant d’Alsace perfect for a country picnic (maybe in the living room).

The French #Winophiles

So there is this wonderful group of wine writers who gather monthly to discuss French Wine.  We pick a topic and we all taste and pair and write a piece and then we get up (early for me) on the 3rd Saturday of the month to discuss. This month is it Crémant and here are all the amazing pieces that the French #Winophiles have written on the subject this month!  Check them all out!

Liz Barrett from What’s In That Bottle is writing “Affordalicious Alsace: Best Bubbles for the Buck”

Jill Barth from L’Occasion will show us “A Festival of French Crémant”

Camilla Mann will talk about a tasting pairing, Lingcod, Legumes, and Domaine Mittnacht Frères Crémant d’Alsace on her blog Culinary Adventures with Cam.

Susannah Gold from avivinare.com will share her post “French Cremant – Perfect Sparklers for the Holiday Season” Susannah is also on Twitter @vignetocomm and Insta: @vignetocomms)

Martin Redmond will be “Elevating Weeknight Fare with Cremant d’Alsace” at the Enofylz Wine Blog

Nicole Ruiz Hudson’s post on SommsTable.com will be “Crémants for Going Out and Staying In”

Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on the Farm is writing “Rustic Elegance; Fall Vegetable Soup paired with Cremant” which sounds perfect for Thanksgiving!

Jane Niemeyer will teach us “How to Pair Crémant d’Alsace and Food” at alwaysravenous.com

Payal Vora’s post at Keep the Peas will be called “Crémant d’Alsace: More Than Just A Sparkling Wine”

Lauren Walsh from The Swirling Dervish will “Add a Little Sparkle to Your Holiday with Crémant d’Alsace”.

Jeff Burrows will be pairing “Elegant Crémant de Bourgogne Served with Lobster Two Ways” at foodwineclick.com

Gwendolyn Alley from winepredator.com is going to be looking at Crémant Rose: 4 Affordable Food Friendly Beauties for #Winophiles

David Crowley from cookingchatfood.com will be discussing the “Best Food Pairings for Crémant d’Alsace”

Rupal Shankar the Syrah Queen will be giving us “Five Reasons to Drink Crémant d’Alsace this Holiday Season”

Neil will be joining us from Eat, Live, Travel, Write with a post entitled “Champagne taste but not a Champagne budget? An exploration of France’s Crémant wines”

Kat Wisnosky of Bacchus Travel and Tours, who was our fearless leader and host for the month shares with us Crémant – The Perfect Style of Wine for A Festive Meal

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wines from around the world and closer to home. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Crémant d’Alsace perfect for a country picnic (maybe in the living room)

Crémant d'Alsace pairings

Okay, I know, it’s not really picnic season right now, at least not in North America, but sometimes you just want to curl up by the coffee table and have an indoor picnic and that’s just what we did with these two beautiful Crémant d’Alsace wines.

We were focusing on Crémant Rosé for our post with the French #Winophiles, but we had a couple of beautiful sparkling white Crémant d’Alsace wines come in that we thought you should be on the lookout!  They would be perfect for holiday parties, or for a simple relaxing dinner after a day of holiday shopping.

Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Réserve

Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace

Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace

This Crémant comes from the heart of the Haut-Rhin where Maison Pierre Sparr has been making wine since 1680!  80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Auxerrois the wines are whole cluster pressed separately and undergo their first fermentation in stainless steel. They are then blended and head into secondary fermentation in bottle.  They sit on the lees for 12 to 16 months. The soils here are granite, limestone, gneiss and chalky-clay.  Alcohol is at 12.25% and you can find this wine for around $19 per bottle.

The tasting notes on their site mentioned “dried mango and hints of nuts”, so I picked up dried mango and cashews to see if they would pair well.

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Cremant d’Alsace Brut

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Crémant d'Alsace Brut

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut

The oldest wine cooperative still operating in France, Cave de Ribeauville produces 72 different wines.   Like the Pierre Sparr, this wine sits at 80/20 with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois.  It sits in bottle for at least 9 months. Alcohol sits at 12% and I had trouble finding the SRP for this particular wine.  The closest I found was in euros at 8.95 which would make this a bargain at around $10.25 US.

These are tasty and affordable sparking wines. If you want to understand the term “crémant” take a sip of one of these wines and swish it around in your mouth. The creamy delightful texture is the essence of “crémant”

We asked for some suggestions and had some great options!  Casey of Travelling Corkscrew mentioned popcorn, oysters and anything with soy.  Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog suggested potato chips, popcorn and triple creme cheese.  We opted to pair these with popcorn, pot stickers (another shout out to Casey for the pairing with soy inspiration), brie (we had to settle for double creme), dried mango, cashews and ….Fried Chicken! (that came from the Wines of Alsace site) The acid and bubbles with the fat are perfect!

I recommend takeout.  Life is busy enough during the holidays.  Then park yourself on the floor at the coffee table, turn on your favorite Netflix and pop a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace!  You can thank me later.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wines from around the world and closer to home. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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 Provençe through Rosé filled glasses #Winophiles

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe feature shot

Provençe …

Even the word itself sounds like a sigh, an exhalation. Your mind drifts to summer breezes, the fragrance of lavender in the air, warm sun on your skin, sunflowers, olive trees, elegant beaches and Provençe rosé.

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This month the French #Winophiles are tackling French Rosé.  Rosé, the wine of summer, can be made anywhere, from almost any red wine grape.  The styles across the world vary and even within the borders of France you will find many expressions of “rosé” from Tavel to Alsace, sparkling rosés from Champagne and crémants from other regions. Even with all those rosés out there, when you first think of rosé, you probably think of Provençe. It is the largest wine region in the world that specializes in rosé. The French now drink more rosé than white wine, and the love of rosé from Provençe is global. There is a bit of history with this.

Quick Provençe history

Le Vallon des Auffes, Marseille

Le Vallon des Auffes, Marseille

It was somewhere around 600 BC when the ancient Greeks founded the city of Marseille and brought vines to southern France. Most of the wines made at this time were lightly colored. The Romans came in 125 BC and claimed the region “Provincia Romana”  giving it it’s current name. While the Romans brought red wines of a deeper note to the region, the quality and reputation of the lighter colored rosé from this region held. Today 88% of the region’s wine production is rosé.

Making Rosé

So there are 4 basic ways to make a rosé.

Blending: You can mix red and white wine to get the desired color, but this method is not highly regarded, and is not used in Provençe. Back in 2009 there was a proposal to allow this method and French wine producers protested so vehemently, that the proposal was withdrawn.

Saignée: Saignée means “to bleed” and wines made in this style are a byproduct of red wine making. As a red wine is fermenting part of the juice is drained off. This juice will be pink, because it has not had much skin contact. This concentrates the juice left in the tank allowing in a higher skin to juice ratio giving you a fuller red wine.

Limited Skin Maceration: This method leaves the juice on the skins to “mascerate” for a short time (at least compared to red wines), typically 6 hours to 48 hours although in Provençe that time is more in the range of 2 to 20 hours.

Direct Pressing: To make a really light colored rose, the grapes may be gently pressed and the juice taken immediately away to ferment, not left to sit on the skins at all. This will give you a light pink color, just a little bit from the skins, which is inevitable if they are red grapes.

The last two methods are the most well regarded and there is one big reason for this. The grapes used in these methods are typically grown specifically to make rosé. The saignée method is using grapes that were grown to make red wine. They may be very good, but the vintner is focused mostly on the red wine and the rosé is a byproduct. With the limited skin masceration and direct pressing methods the grapes are picked with the acid to sugar ratio perfect for making a rosé not a red, and these can be very different things.  Grapes for rosé will typically be harvested earlier than for red wines.  This keeps the sugar low and the acid high.

In Provençe that delicate light pink color is due to the majority of producers using the Direct Pressing method. Rosé in this region is typically made dry, that is with no residual sugar.

Provençe: the region

 

a map of the wine regions in Provençe

Vinoble de Provençe, a map of the wine regions in Provençe

The region of Provençe is large, it spans the south east corner of France with the Italian border to the east, the Mediterranean sea to the south, Occitanie to the west and Rhône and the Alps to the North. It includes the City of Marseille and on the coast encompasses St. Tropez, Cannes and Nice. North up the Rhône it takes in Arles where Vincent Van Gogh was inspired to paint his famous sunflowers.

Overall the regions warm days and cool nights due to the Mediterranean Sea makes Provençe a perfect place to grow wine grapes. The area is also gifted with the “Mistral” a wind off the Alps that keeps the grapes dry, so there is no worry of mold on the bunches late in the season.

Côtes de Provençe

There are multiple appellations in the Provençe region, the largest being Côtes de Provence. Within this large region, there are many differences in the areas subregions, which you may see named on labels.  These include: Saint-Victoire, La Londe, Fréjus and Pierrefeu.  I recently had a friend mention Pierrefeu and I look forward to diving more deeply into this area.

The Côtes de Provençe encompasses 49,000 acres and produces 123 million bottles of wine, 89% of which are Rosé. There are some rules within the AOC. Residual sugar is restricted to 4 grams per liter and the minimum alcohol level is 11%.

Grapes in Côtes de Provençe

There are 5 primary grapes and 6 secondary grapes that are allowed to be planted:

Primary Grapes:

Cinsault, Grenaches, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Tibouren

Secondary Grapes:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Clairette, Semillon, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino (or Rolle)

The wines we tasted through are from the Côtes de Provençe AOC. Two are from the Château de Berne and the third from Ultimate Provençe. These wines were provided to us by Teuwen Communication and the Provençe Rosé Group, but all opinions are our own. The wine maker for all of these wines is Alexis Cornu of the Provençe Rosé Group. The Provençe Rose group has 4 estates; Château de Berne, Ultimate Provence, Châteaux St. Roux, Château de Bertrands.

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Château de Berne

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The Romans planted grapes here and the vineyard was a trading post along the Aurelian Way (the Roman Road from Italy to Spain). The Château site is on the Triassic Plateau, sheltered by forests, atop a Jurassic limestone bed.

(The Triassic Plateau…little super simple geology here…The Triassic period sat just before the Jurassic period at the beginning of the Mesozoic era or the age of the dinosaurs)

In addition to the vineyard the Château is home to a 5 star resort.  The vineyard is 330 acres and they also source from other growers. The vineyards sit between 820 and 1082 feet in limestone and clay soils.

Harvest here is done in the middle of the night to keep the grapes cool, which allows for more control in extracting color and flavor.

Both of the following wines; Emotion and Inspiration do a 2-3 hour cold soak and are fermented in stainless steel.

Emotion

Emotion Rosé from Château de Berne

Emotion Rosé from Château de Berne

This wine is 50% Grenache, 25% Cinsault and 25% Syrah. Released in February of 2018 this 2017 Vintage sits at 12.5% alcohol and retails for around $16.

This wine was the lightest in color and aroma.  The scent of stone fruit pits and minerals first hit my nose.  In my mouth, it’s tart with a hint of pink grapefruit and light notes of strawberries in the back.  It went nicely with the goat cheese and I enjoyed the prosciutto and melon with this.

Suggested pairings from the winery include: Waldorf salad, tomato-basil bruschetta or fresh goat cheese. (We did some fresh goat cheese with our pairing)

Inspiration

Inspiration Rosé from Château de Berne Côtes de Provençe

Inspiration Rosé from Château de Berne Côtes de Provençe

70% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault & 10 % Syrah. This 2017 vitage sits at 12.5% alcohol and retails for around $19.99.

The color was slightly deeper on this wine and the nose a bit more prominent.  I caught strawberries and slate, and then deeper red fruit like pomegranate.  It was tart, and all that grenache in the blend loved the strawberries.

Suggested pairings from the winery include: arugula and watermelon salad (which we had to make and try…we added crumbled goat cheese to ours) or shrimp cocktail.

Ultimate Provence

Just 30 minutes drive from Saint-Tropez this 100 acre estate is located near the village of La Garde-Freinet. The vineyard is in an area of oak forest and the soil is shallow with a subsoil of a sandstone slab.

They have an amphitheatre where they hold movie screening and concerts and a restaurant with family style dishes.  They make but one wine, Urban Provence.

Urban Provence

Urban Provençe Côtes de Provençe Rosé from Ultimate Provençe

Urban Provençe Côtes de Provençe Rosé from Ultimate Provençe

45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah and 5% Rolle (known elsewhere as Vermentino) it sits at 12.5% alcohol and retails around $22.99.

This was the biggest of the wines, richer on the nose and the palate, with more complexity than the other wines.  It was our favorite of the evening.

Suggested pairings from the winery include: charcuterie spread, grilled shrimp or a fresh fruit tart.

A little news on the region

The 2017 vintage had a heat wave in the spring and then a late frost, with a dry summer leading to less fruit. It has been reported that rosé production in Provençe was down almost 11% in 2017 due to the late frosts. (http://www.harpers.co.uk/news/fullstory.php/aid/23442/Provence_2017_wine_production_slumps_12_25_as_quality_rises.html)

Our Pairings

The truth is, rosé is a forgiving wine, it’s terribly polite with food, adjusting and melding to go with almost anything.  It can pair with Asian, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Thai, Chinese, Sushi, burgers, BBQ, Steak, Lobster…you name it.  A couple of things to avoid are butter and creme sauces, bleu cheese and game, and quite honestly, bleu cheese and game could work if you were pairing with a deeper rosé, like a Tavel, or a Mourvedré rosé.

I was really into the whole idea of Provençe, so we stayed for the most part with foods from the region, or things you might readily eat at a café or restaurant in the area.  These are also pretty simple dishes that you can whip up easily, like we did, at home, without too much work.  It’s Provençe right?  We want to keep the relaxed feel going.  Close your eyes, picture the lavender, sunflowers, olive trees, beaches..or scroll back to the top and soak those in again.

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We began with a cheese and charcuterie plate with sausage, brie, goat cheese, radishes, strawberries and olives, as well as melon wrapped in proscuitto and a watermelon, arugula and goat cheese salad.  I definitely recommend the goat cheese, as well as anything with fresh strawberries or watermelon, which paired nicely, pulling forward the Grenache in each of the blends.  With the melon and prosciutto you really can’t go wrong, the sweet and salty paired with the rosé and made the melon seem extra juicy.

a Traditional Salade Nicoise with shrimp on the sideI wanted to do a traditional Salade Niçoise and we did a little shrimp on the side.  I did not have all the ingredients to create Herbs de Provençe so we improvised with fennel and orange seasoning, crushed dried lavender and dried sage on the shrimp.

The salade Niçoise was fresh spinach topped with red potatoes (that had been sliced, cooked and drizzled with a dry white wine), green beans, radishes, tuna in oil, capers, olives, sliced cherry tomatoes and a dressing of shallot, olive oil, thyme, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

By the time we arrived at this part of the meal, the wine had loosened our tongues and conversation was flowing and we were eating, drinking and enjoying company, which is really what these wines were meant for.

Provençe is on my list of places to visit, but it is amazing how just by pouring a glass and closing your eyes, you can transport yourself to this perfect summer region. Grab a bottle and take a virtual trip.

The French #Winophiles Rosé Party!

You can join the French #Winophiles who will take to Twitter on Saturday morning July 21st to talk about all the amazing French rosés that they tasted!  Just head to Twitter at 11 am EST or 8 am PST and type in #Winophiles to follow along and join in!

And then grab a glass, pour some rosé and read the pieces below from some fifteen great wine writers on a variety of French rosés and wonderful things to pair with them!

Mardi from Eat Live Travel Write goes From Rosé? No Way! To # RoséAllDay.
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Warm Weather Rosé and Cheese Pairings.
Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog will be Celebrating the Provençal Lifestyle with Three Rosés.
Lynn from Savor the Harvest cues up Obscure French Rosé Wines – Drink Now.
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator gives us a two-part treat: #RoséAllDay with Grilled Cheese Gourmet for #Winophiles and It’s Summer! Time for Rosé Wine from Provence, France and Seafood Pasta.
Nicole from Somm’s Table adds Cooking to the Wine: Ultimate Provence Urban Rosé with Herbed Sous-Vide Chicken Breasts and Roasted Eggplant Sheet Pan.

Jane from Always Ravenous offers up a Summer Cheese Board with Rosé.
David from Cooking Chat says it’s Always a Good Time to Sip Provence Rosé.
Jill from L’Occasion explains Why Rosé Matters, According to French Culture.
Liz from What’s In That Bottle advises us to Live a More Rosé Life.
Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog discusses The Pleasures of Provençal Rosé #Winophiles.
Payal from Keep the Peas will share Rosé: The Original Red Wine.
Julia from JuliaConey.com talks about Rosé: Not from Provence but Just as Delicious!
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm tempts us with Soupe au Pistou Paired with Rosé.
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares Celebrating Our New Home with an Old Favorite: French Rosé.

We’ve explored rosé before.  If you want to learn more about rosé from France and beyond your can check out some other things we’ve written:

Rosé

Presqu’ile Rosé of Pinot Noir and a Strawberry, Citrus and Avocado Salad.

Is a Rosé just a Rosé

Rosé Season Rosé basics

Of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 


A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

What comes to mind with you think of “Pinot”? Do you think of a ruby-red pinot noir from Burgundy or a rich deep pinot from Sonoma? Is it the pale straw of a pinot grigio from Italy? Whatever color variation of this grape you thought of, you probably were not thinking of Alsace when you thought of it. I’m here to tell you why you should, because #AlsaceRocks.

The Shades of Pinot

First lets talk about pinot. We begin with pinot noir, a grape with a thin skin that can be notoriously fickle. It has tight bunches (that are shaped like pine cones, hence the name) that are prone to rot.  It wants lots of sun, but doesn’t want to be too hot. Luckily, the Cistercian monks in Burgundy found their penance in the hard work of coddling this grape to it’s greatness.

From here we get the mutations: pinot blanc and pinot gris. Simply enough, pinot blanc is a white grape mutation and pinot gris is a “grey” grape. While not truly grey, pinot gris sits in the in between hue ranging from bluish gray to pinkish brown. Of course pinot gris is the French term for this grape, in Italy they call it pinot grigio.

Beyond this we get Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine that can be made from any of the pinots, (and upon occasion some “not pinots” like chardonnay) but all Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must be made from pinot noir, in the method traditionelle.

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Alsace

This region is perfect for these wines as they thrive in the dry climate created by the Vosges Mountains. Alsace is a thin strip on the North eastern edge of France. This area has gone back and forth between Germany and France for centuries and the style of houses and names of towns attest to that fact.  It’s a fairytale land with charming villages with half-timbered buildings, dotted with flower boxes. You can explore these delightful towns on the oldest wine route in France, that travels 106 miles from Marlenheim to Thann, stopping to taste the wines and the food as you explore this beautiful region.

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

Then there is the soil.  We did say #AlsaceRocks right?  This area at the foot of the Vosges Mountains is a patchwork of soils.  You find granite, and sandstone, limestone, schist and volcanic soils. Once, fifty million years ago, the Black Forest and the Vosges were a single mountain range, pushed up by the plates.  When this collapsed it formed the Rhine River.  All that shifting around will geologically mix up some soil, and hence you get all these varied pockets of soil that add fascinating diversity to the vineyards.

The Wines & Pairings

Pinots from Alsace; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Crémant d'Alsace

A range of pinots from Alsace from Teuwen Communications (and Loki)

Now lets dive into the hues of pinots. @DrinkAlsace was kind enough to provide us a variety of pinots to taste through. (All opinions are my own) We begin with a 2017 Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, followed by a 2012 Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to a 2015 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir and finishing with a Crémant d’Alscace Rosé from Domaine Zinck. All but one of these wines come from the village of Eguisheim. The Pinot Gris is the exception coming from Riquewirh.

Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Traditional 2017

Emile Beyer is a 43 acre family estate just outside of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. This wine comes from younger vineyards on the estate.  The soil here is clay, sandstone & chalky marl, and the grapes are mostly Pinot Blanc with a little Auxerrois. Alcohol sits at about 13%. $15

Cheeses

I searched for cheeses to pair with this wine and went off to look for a Saint-Nectaire and a Chaource.

Chaource is a named for the village of Chaource in France. It is a very soft ripened cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is soft and buttery. My Murray’s guy found me a domestic equivalent that did not disappoint. Murray’s Delice is a lovely soft ripened cheese that really and truly melted in your mouth. It went nicely with the wine.

Delice from Murray's

Delice from Murray’s Cheese shop, similar to a Chaource

Saint-Nectaire is a Tomme style cheese again from cow’s milk. It is a semi soft washed rind cheese. It specifically comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from the mild of cows that feed in rich volcanic pastures. It matures 6-8 weeks on rye straw mats, which causes a pungent smell.

My Murray’s guy pointed me toward a Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese which was similar to an Alpine raclette. This gave us a different texture to compare with the Delice. Michael found it too pungent, but I enjoyed it.

 

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese similar to a Saint-Nectaire cheese from France

Appetizer

I had envied a fellow blogger his grilled peaches the other day, and planned on making some myself. I got running behind on dinner and instead sliced my peach and plopped a little goat cheese on it, a leaf of basil and wrapped it in prosciutto. This was definitely the right decision, both time wise and pairing wise. The fresh peach was still a little firm and with the goat cheese was really nice with the wine, picking up on those unripe stone fruit notes. It was also cool and easy to eat. I suggest these bites for all summer!.

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and proscuitto

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and prosciutto

Frittata

I knew the minute I saw the suggestion of an egg dish with this wine, that I would go that direction. I looked through quiche recipes and then settled on the simplicity of a Frittata. This wine loves spring vegetables so a spring green salad would go along side. I quick pickled some small golden beets and radishes in honey and white wine vinegar to add to the top with some pine nuts.

The frittata I filled with broccoli, peas and green beans that I quickly blanched, then I sautéed golden beets, radishes and zucchini and let them develop a little crunch. I added a cup of ricotta to add a creamy cheese to the mix that would not be too heavy. Red onions were sautéed before dropping in the egg mixture. And it cooked to perfection in my rod iron skillet.

Sprint salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Spring salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Gris 2012

René Dopff took over Dopff & Irion in 1945 as he joined forces with the Widow Madame Irion, taking over the Château de Riquewirh. The Château was built in 1549 by the Princes of Württemberg who ruled this area for 5 centuries.

The village of Riquewihr in Alsace France

The Village of Riquewirh in Alsace. Home of Dopff and Irion

This wine is 100% Pinot Gris with soil in marl, limestone, gypsum, clay and sandstone. This cuveé comes from 200 selected vine-growers. It is stored on lees for 4 weeks before maturing in tank for four months. Like the Pinot Blanc it sits at 13% alcohol. $21.

Exotic and Strange Pairings

Dopff & Irion suggestioned “Pair with oriental and exotic cuisine like prawns with Thai Sauce, chicken curry or cottage cheese with pepper.  “Cottage cheese with pepper? It seemed strange to me, but I was definitely going to try this! Other suggestions included mushrooms and cream sauces, triple crème cheeses, green beans, and tikka masala.

So our pairings included a triple crème cheese with mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, apricot compote, cottage cheese with pepper, green beans, mushroom risotto, tikka masala, chicken in a thai curry sauce and fettuccine with chicken and a crème sauce. It gave a wide variety of styles of food to pair with.

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This wine was full and warm on the palate with baked apples and warm apricots. It was lush with a viognier like quality. Golden in color it opened into white flowers and the stones of stone fruit.

It spiked the flavor in the hazelnuts, blended nicely with the cottage cheese and pepper and brightened the spice in the Tikka Masala without adding heat.

With the mushrooms it leaned into the depth of forest floor. My favorite bite was the triple crème with mushrooms with the apricot compote. This was glorious in my mouth.

This wine was exceptional. So much depth! While I enjoyed all the wines, this was my favorite.

Route-des-vinsd'Alsace

Route-des-vinsd’Alsace

House of Leon Beyer 2015 Pinot Noir

This wine is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates. Founded in 1580 this winery is now run by Marc Beyer and his son, who along with a team of 21 others farm 173 acres.

The soils are limestone and clay with grapes from vines that are 25 to 30 years old. This wine was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks. It sits at 13%. $28.

This wine is light with warm berries and bright exotic spice. The nose reminded me of a savory strawberry tart with warm strawberries and rosemary and thyme.

I found this wine to be much more interesting when paired with food, than on it’s own.

Domaine Zinck Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

Paul Zinck created the winery in 1964, it is now run by his son Philippe and Philippe’s wife Pascale.

This winery is also located in Eguisheim, with vineyards with soils of silk, chalk with clay-silt and volcanic ash.

This Non Vintage crémant is 100% Pinot Noir and sits at 12.5% alcohol. $25

The color on this wine is rich and warm as it also is on the palate.

Pairings for Both

Both of these wines we paired with a cheese and meat platter. We pulled up a variety of cheeses including a local cheddar from Utah coated in Earl Grey as well as prosciutto and sopresso, pistachios, pine nuts, sliced apples, apricots and salt and pepper popcorn.

Crémant d'Alsace & Pinot Noir from Alsace and a cheese platter

Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Zinck and a Leon Beyer Pinot Noir paired with cheese, fruit, charcuterie and salt and pepper popcorn.

These two wines were lovely to enjoy on an afternoon with the pinot noir going nicely with the Earl Grey cheddar, the sopresso and the salt and pepper popcorn most especially. The crémant went well with everything and had a great depth of flavor.

All of these wines were exceptional values and provided flavors that were not quite “typical” for the varieties.

And remember I mentioned the hues?  The colors, the aromas, the flavors on the palate, they all brought a range of depth.  From the faintest color of straw in the Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, to the rich gold of the Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to the warm rich golden salmon tones of the Crémant d’Alsace from Zinck and into the vivid rich red of the Pinot Noir from Leon Beyer,  the range of expression in these wines was beautiful.  It was a trip through the seasons; spring with Pinot Blanc and the brightness that went so well with the spring vegetables in the frittata; summer with the warmer exotic flavors pairing with the vivid Pinot Gris, that brought in a little of humid lazy summer days with it’s brooding side; fall with the rich warm tones of the Crémant d’Alsace, which did really look like fall in the glass; and then the richer warmer red of the Pinot Noir for Winter, that still keeps things a little light, I picture snow sparkling in moonlight amidst the festive streets of Eguisheim.

These wines brought something a little extra. Perhaps it is the soils? I mean it is true that #AlsaceRocks

If you enjoyed this, and want to dig a little deeper into Alsace, please join our chat on Twitter We love visitors and happily chat and answer questions. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of great Alsace wine suggestions from our Winophiles

You can check out another piece we did “Dipping my toe in Crémant d’Alsace“.  And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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)

Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

Picpoul or Piquepoul is a grape of the South of France. While it is used as a blending grape in the Rhône, when you travel to Occitanie on the Mediterranean Sea you find it made as a single varietal wine. It is a wine of place, pairing perfectly with the briny oysters and other seafood of the coast. Picpoul translates to “lip stinger”, is named for it’s bright and tingly acid.  It is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Occitanie Region of France.

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

While we have been diving into Rhone grapes lately, and picpoul is a grape of the Southern Rhone, it is more well know in Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region in the south of France that is west of the French Riviera and runs around the Mediterranean Sea to the border with Spain.

Until 2016 the Occitanie region was referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. The new name for the region comes from the Occitan cross which was the coat of arms used by the Counts of Toulouse and used in the 12th and 13th centuries. This new larger region encompasses the area they ruled.

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

Within this region you find Picpoul-de-Pinet. This area around the Étang de Thau has moderate daytime temperatures due to the sea breezes and being close to the lagoon keeps the night time temps from dropping too much.

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

The lagoon (étang) itself is 7,500 hectares and spans an area along the Mediterranean that runs 21 km along the coast and is 8 km wide. It is one of the largest lagoons off of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a spectacular place to see flamingos, who stop in to eat in the lagoon around the village of Frontignan. You will also find many oyster and mussel farms in the region.

Picpoul-de-Pinet

Pinet is a commune in the Héralt department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. The small community gives it’s name to Picpoul-de-Pinet.  The vineyards here are among the oldest on the Mediterranean and grow on the edge of the Thau Lagoon.

The Grape

Picpoul vines grow well and are early to bud out in the spring, which does make it a little susceptible to frost. It also ripens late and it has a tendency toward mildew. The grapes themselves are oval and tend to drop off easily. I have heard that vineyards used to lay pans out under the vines to catch the grapes as they fell.

Picpoul comes to America

I first discovered this variety at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, the winery noted for bringing this variety to the US. This is one of the 13 varieties of grape allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Tablas Creek did not bring this grape in initially with the first 8 varieties that they brought from the Rhône, but after seeing how well suited the land and climate were to this grape imported it and planted an acre in 2000. Since then they have added another acre, grafting some roussanne vines over to picpoul blanc. As in the Southern Rhone, they use picpoul as a blending grape in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc. About every other year they do a varietal bottling. Sadly, I did not have a bottle for this tasting.

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

When we were traveling and tasting last year and stopped by Bonny Doon, we found that they also had a picpoul. Randall Grahm, the winemaker, sources the grapes from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. We  shared a little about this area and vineyard last year in our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres. Find out more about this region at http://www.arroyosecowinegrowers.com/

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of pinot noir, grenache blanc, roussanne and picpoul blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

I had an opportunity to speak with Randall Grahm the infamous winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards about picpoul.  He was gracious enough to take a few moments out of his busy morning for a chat on the phone.

Randall told me they originally brought picpoul in to add to their Cigare Blanc which is a white Rhône blend. The blend for the Cigare Blanc with the roussanne and grenache blanc was becoming more alcoholic and the acid was dropping. They grafted over some of the roussanne to picpoul hoping to add some of the acid that picpoul is known for, to the blend. “It seemed like a good idea, and we used it for one vintage, but found it did not play well with the roussanne and grenache blanc”, Randall said. It did, however make a great wine on it’s own, and has been well received. 2017 makes their 6th bottling of this variety.

We spoke about Beeswax Vineyard, the vineyard in Arroyo Seco where they source the grapes for this wine. They have had a good relationship with this grower and were involved in the layout and planning for the vineyard 14 years ago.  As I mentioned, they grafted over some of the original roussanne in this vineyard to picpoul which is where we get this wine. Randall also mentioned to me when we spoke that they have recently grafted some of the Beeswax vineyard roussanne over to clairette blanche, so watch for that from Bonny Doon in the future.

As to the wine making behind the Bonny Doon Picpoul,  “It’s a pretty low tech wine, whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and batonnage post fermentation for texture”.  Randall says the 2017 Vintage is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has riper aromatics and is more articulated. In this vintage you get floral notes where you normally find only flinty minerality. Randall only made 1500 cases of the 2017 Picpoul, so you should hurry and get some.

Picpoul in California

It is estimated (and only estimated because there is so little of it) that as of 2016 there were only 30 acres of picpoul in California. In addition to Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, I found a few other California wineries that have produced picpoul blanc including Forlorn Hope (Napa), Broc Cellars (Berkley), TH Estates, Adelaida (Paso Robles), and Acquiesce (Lodi). If you are aware of other US wineries producing picpoul, let us know in the comments!

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

The Mouline de Gassac Picpoul-de-Pinet we chose, grows in limestone soils on a 5 hectare vineyard that is organically farmed. The soil here is clay and limestone close to the Thau Lagoon.  This is an unoaked picpoul.  40,000 bottles were made and the alcohol sits at 12.5%.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

We had two bottles of this wine.  The first we indulged in last September when we did our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)” post.  As I posted then..

“This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.”

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

It is worth mentioning the beautiful art on the label of the Bonny Doon Picpoul.  The artist is by Wendy Cook a calligrapher in San Francisco.  She has also done the labels for the Bonny Doon Viognier and roussanne and you can see more of her work at www.bellocchio.com

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

We did our initial tasting with the 2016 Bonny Doon Picpoul and had a bottle of the 2017 in route.  While it didn’t arrive in time for our pairing.  We did taste it after to see if we could pick up on the differences in the vintage that Randall mentioned.

This wine opened with sweet honeysuckle on the nose with lighter minerals in the back that grew to slate as it opened.  The nose was enchanting.  As with the other picpoul we found notes of beeswax also, but the sweet floral notes were the star.  We ended up pairing this will some linguine and clam sauce for dinner which was a great pairing.

This 6th vintage of Picpoul has an alcohol level a little lower than it’s predecessor, coming in at 12%

We have to thank Bonny Doon for including us in their food pairing notes for this wine! I went to check suggested pairings on their site and this is what I found.

“This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab. Other ideas include Grilled Octopus with Lemon, Moussaka, Sardines a la Plancha, Grilled Sardines with Frisée & Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing. We also love these more doon-to-earth ideas from our friends over at CrushedGrapeChronicles.com: Iberico or Manchego cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked oysters, anchovies, capers, olive tapenade, calamari.”

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

The last time we tried a pairing, we didn’t prepare very well, although it did lead to some amazing discoveries that were noted in the pairing notes above. This time, I planned ahead. We found briney oysters and Dungeness crab as Randall suggested and made Croquettes de brandade, which is a popular pairing in Provence and Languedoc. The croquettes are made with potatoes and salt cod.  We rounded things out with a salad of frisee with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

If you are interested in making Croquettes de brandade (they were delicious), we did a separate post on how to make them along with a little video.

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

Michael poured a glass of each of the wines and the first thing you noticed was the difference in color.  The Picpoul-de-Pinet was a deeper golden color and on pouring, produced tiny bubbles on the bottom of the glass.  The effervescence dissipated when you swirled the glass.  The Bonny Doon Picpoul was much lighter in color, just tinted with a bit of light straw that had a touch of green.

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On the nose the  Picpoul-de-Pinet smelled instantly of the sea, followed by citrus and lemon.  The Bonny Doon opened with slate and was a bit more mouth filling, and I never know if it is just my brain playing tricks on me, since I know that this wine comes from Beeswax vineyard, but I get beeswax on the nose.

Picpoul is a wine of place.  Sip it on it’s own and it’s fine, but it is truly meant to pair with food.  With the oysters, Dungeness crab and the croquettes, it paired perfectly.  Close your eyes and picture the Etang de Thau, or the California coast in Davenport, across the street from the Bonny Doon tasting room.  Smell the sea, taste the oysters, sip the wine.  That is the experience.

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

You can find more information on all things wine, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The #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 Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st 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 picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

You can find more information on all things Grapes, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram