French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101.  It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs.  (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!

French Wine 101

I’m here to rally for French wine.  If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.

Old World vs New World

To be sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French wines.  But what does “Old World” mean?  From a scholastic point of view: Old world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place.  Typically these wines are more restrained and elegant.  New World wines, on the other hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit forward and bold.

That is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true, but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.

French wine names

In France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of grape as we do in the new world.  This takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil, and climate.  So rather than speaking about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy.  Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay, but the wine is named for the region.

When we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds.  These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based, depending on which bank of the river the region sits.  And you will notice that I said “based”. These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in this region.

There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety.  This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.

Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

I love maps.  It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region.  I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101!  So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

This is white wine country!  You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.

Muscadet

On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine

Chenin Blanc

Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).

Cabernet Franc

Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

Well you know what Champagne is!  This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.

There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.

For more…

Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France
Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.

These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.

For more…

There are a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into them.

Chablis

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse
Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse

Chardonnay

This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink.  These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy.  Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.

Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.

Chardonnay

The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.

There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais.  This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from.  Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November.  These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.

Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.

These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.

The Rhone Valley

M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl' Hermitage Rhone valley France
M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl’ Hermitage Rhone valley France

I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.

The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.

Syrah

The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.

Viognier

Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.

There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.

The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties.  The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.

Red Rhône Blends

These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.

These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).

White Rhône Blends

Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.

Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.

The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.

Sweet wines of Sauternes

Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.

For more…

Provence

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

Rosé

This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.

In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.

Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.

Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.

For more…

Other regions

Is there more to French Wine?  Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!

Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!

Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Remember I said I would include more about those potential tariffs.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Jim & Jenny – Fossil and Fawn at Uncommon Wine Festival

Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

Jim Fischer II and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn

These two…they finish each others sentences.  Case in point

Jim & Jenny

This is our 2017 White wine blend (they say in almost stereo)

Jenny

our field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards

Patron

Wow that was really in sync!

Jim

I’m like, wait, do we really both need to say this in stereo, it’s too weird.

Jenny

Ummm..

Jim

You go, you go

Jenny

No you

Jim

No, no no

Jenny

No you

Patron

It would be better if you went back and forth

Jim

Oh my gosh

Jenny

Well that’s kinda how it goes

Jim

You take the first line of the script…

LOL!  They are a team and they bounce comments and ideas off each other in rapid fire.  As entertaining as they are…they also are making some “stand up and take notice” wines.  Wine Enthusiast just put them in the 40 Under 40 lineup.  Check out their photo from the Wine Enthusiast Photo Shoot, it really sums them up.

Fossil & Fawn – the origin story

A little background on Fossil & Fawn.  Jim grew up on a vineyard in the Eola Hills, that would be the vineyard he and his father manage together to this day, Silvershot Vineyard.  Jim’s father, Jim Fischer Sr. and his brother Bill started a nursery in 1999 with cuttings from neighboring vineyards, they planted in 2000.  They originally named the vineyard Crowley Station Vineyards for the historic railroad station at the foot of Holmes Hill, but renamed in 2016 for the family horse who had roamed the vineyard before the vines were planted.  The vineyard soil, is old ocean floor littered with fossils which is the “Fossil” part of the name.  The fawn part comes from the deer who roam the oak savanna that surround the property.

Jim speaks of his father as always needing a project. When Jim was a child it was roses.

“in the summertime it was my job to take care of the roses.  He had 100 rose plants.  And so I’d have to go outside and dead head 100 different rose bushes all summer long, so if I never have a rose again I’m happy, it’s okay with me.”

“That being said, now we just replaced 100 roses with 1000 grape vines.  So it’s a different thing.”

They started making wine in 2011.  The idea was a vineyard specific wine from the family vineyard, to show to potential fruit buyers. Soon they figured they might as well make it an official label and then it had a life of it’s own.  They culture yeast from the vineyard and make wines with as little input as possible.  This is not to make a big stand for natural wines, it’s just because this makes wines they like to drink.

The Wines

So with a table lined with people bearing empty glasses at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyard back in July, they began to pour and dive into their “Uncommon Wines”.

Kooky Varieties

Kooky Varieties

Fossil and Fawn 2017 White Wine Blend

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The first wine was their 2017 White Wine Blend.  As Jenny mentioned above, it is a field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards.  Jim calls it their nod to a style of wine from Austria, specifically Vienna called Germischter Satz.

Jim

So this is predominantly from one vineyard here where they have what I would call a bunch of kooky varieties, very uncommon white wine varieties, for example…

Jenny

A very technical term…(Kooky)

Jim

For example, in the Willamette Valley to my knowledge there are 14 plants of Kerner, which is a German grape and that makes up 3% of that wine.  All 14 plants of Kerner are in there.  And so there is a collection of unusual things, Also a collection of not so unusual things. 50% is Riesling which is fermented in an egg shape vessel.  And the next is 20% Savagnin Rose, which is a relative to Gewürztraminer.

Jenny

Which is also in there

Jim

Which, Gewürztraminer is in there at 15%.  It is 6% Fruilano, 6% Melon de Bourgogne and 3% Kerner, those 14 plants.  So the Riesling as I mentioned is fermented in egg the other 50% was fermented on it’s skins for about 4 days and we pressed off and then it went into a mix of Acacia wood barrels and French oak barrels, totally unfiltered native yeast fermented, we use that yeast that exists naturally on the skins of the grapes to carry out the fermentation.  We wanted to make something that was dry but rich and textural but aromatic, something kind of fun, food friendly, very summery.

This wine on their website, they give they name “aka Gewürvigtocloninger”.  It comes from 3 vineyards, from 3 different areas of the Willamette Valley.  This was the first wine that they sourced from outside their home vineyard at Silvershot. On a map these three vineyards form a triangle of sorts with 30 to 40 mile drives between them, so they span a pretty large area. Beckenridge Vineyard is located just outside Dallas, Hanson is east of Gervais and Omero is outside Newburg in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Beckenridge is probably best known for Weddings. In fact when you visit their site, that is all that you find.  But…that beautiful venue is surrounded by vines and they do actually produce grapes, which would be the Gewürztraminer in this blend.  At Hanson they are cultivating an eccentric bunch of grapes.  In addition to Pinots Noir, Gris and Blanc, they have Gamay, Auxerrois, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, yeah, yeah you say, so exotic, but wait there’s more, they are also cultivating Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Golubok!  10 points for any of those varieties you are familiar with!  They provide the Riesling for the blend.  The Omero vineyard in Ribbon Ridge provides the remaining oddities, the Savagnin Rose, Fruilano, Melon de Bourgogne and Kerner.

They produced 110 cases of the White Blend and the suggested retail price is $20.  Yep, you read that right…$20.  I happily own a bottle.  Some day later this year you will get a pairing note.  I will say that his description is on the nose, summery is the perfect description.

2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The Rosé is 1005 Pinot Noir and comes from a small portion of the vineyard that was planted in 2003.

” It specifically comes from one small portion of the vineyard that my friend Greg helped us plant back in 2003.  Greg loved cats.  He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, so it’s a bit of a tip of the hat to Greg being that this is the first wine that came from just that one portion of the vineyard.  We put some kitties on the label as a little thank you for Greg for helping us out with it. And like the white wine, native yeast fermented in barrel.  This is a very different style of rosé than others that you might try.  This a little bit richer a little bit fuller. There’s this little kind of very very slight bit of effervescence to it.  It is very rocky and chalky and mineraly, that I attribute to growing into this very very harsh material.”

These vines are own rooted Pommard and Dijon 777.  On their site they talk about picking the fruit on a perfect autumn day — cool and damp in the morning with sun slowly burning off the clouds. ”  (how glorious is that)? They destemmed and soaked the grapes on skins for 24 hours then gently pressed, racked into neutral oak and fermented with native yeast.  Malolactic fermentation completed in the barrel, so this wine has a richer mouth feel.  They just made 89 cases of the Rosé.  And again…it retails at $20.  You can watch for a future pairing with this wine also.

 

2017 Do Nothing

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Do Nothing started in 2016, the idea being that they would be as hands off as possible.  The 2017 is 100% Mondeuse Noir from the Omero Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.

“I mentioned native yeast and lack of filtration? This is the apex of that very hands off approach.

This is a nod to the very traditional way wine has been made for eons, specifically in places like Georgia.  The country, not the state.”

They believe this is the first time Mondeuse has been released as a single variety in the Willamette Valley.  The grape itself is native to the Savoie in France.

“we call this “Do Nothing” because the fruit we pick full cluster stem on the whole bunch, throw it into a bin, seal it, put on the lid, seal it, and then walk away.  We don’t do any punch downs we don’t even check on the fruit, we don’t look at it for 3 weeks.  At the end of 3 weeks we take off the lid dig out the fruit with a shovel into the press and then squeeze it.  The juice comes out, we take that juice, it goes into mix of older Oregon and French oak barrels where it ferments very slowly.  So at that point our cellar is probably the high 40’s temperature wise, so it ferments over the next 5 months, in our very cool cellar.  And then we bottle it without any filtration or fining and this is designed to answer that riddle of “what do you do when it’s warm out and you want a chilled red wine?  Well this is a red wine that is designed to be chilled.  So very low alcohol it’s 11% alcohol, it’s tannic so it has some nice structure to it, it’s a great food wine it’s just really something super totally different.”

So that 3 weeks that it sits on the skins is called “carbonic maceration”.  You might have heard of this with the wines of Beaujolais.  This kind of fermentation starts without the yeast, inside each grape, then the grapes burst and they yeast takes over for the remaining fermentation.  Now typically the maceration process short, this is an extended maceration…I’m getting really geeky…if you are interested in this fascinating subject there is a great article on VinePair you should check out.

The Do Nothing they kindly made a bit more of, with 215 cases.  It’s still incredibly $20 a bottle, that is, while it lasts.

 

2017 Pinot Noir

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

 

This is their flagship wine.  In 2011 they produced just 2 barrels and now 8 years in they make 191 cases.  The wine comes from Silvershot Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the vineyard that Jim grew up on.  This is own-rooted Pommard, Dijon 114 & 115, Espiguette 374 as well as some mystery clones.  This is a mix of their Pinot parcels.  70% of the fruit is destemmed and then fermented in open top fermenters.  The rest is whole cluster fermented.  They ferment with the pied-du-cuve of wild yeast from the vineyard.  Since they do not yet have their own winery, they make their wine at a shared facility in a tricked out 100 year old barn.  This wine does contain a little Chardonnay from 30 plants that were mistakenly planted in with the Pinot.  They co-ferment, and did some foot stomping until fermentation was complete. They barreled in neutral French Oak for 9 months.  It is unfiltered and unfined.

This wine was made to honor the work that Jim’s dad does in the vineyard.  This was the start.

They made 191 cases their Pinot Noir this year and it will set you back $30 a bottle.

They also do a Pinot Gris that is from Silvershot.  Sadly they were not tasting it on this day.  That wine is an orange wine, (a white wine made in the style of a red wine).  Follow the link and read about it.  I would be tempted to order a bottle, but…they do not, as yet, sell online.  But you can find them locally in Oregon! And there are a few distributors carrying them in their portfolios.  If you are going to get some, I suggest you do it fast.  I expect that they will be selling out quickly.

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery and Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars. We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

 

Wine pairings for Chinese takeout

Chinese Takeout and gewürztraminer.

It was Valentines Day and I was trapped at home, waiting for a wine shipment that needed my signature. Michael was working so he suggested Chinese Takeout for dinner. This brilliant move allowed us to order when he was heading home so dinner could be ready upon his arrival! (Good thing too, because I was hungry!) So Valentine’s Day evening curled up on the couch with Chinese Takeout, my husband maybe some winter Olympics? Yeah, that sounds pretty heavenly to me. But what to drink with our takeout? I thought I would research some options and see what we had to match in the cellar.

Luckily with Chinese New Year being Friday (February 16th), it is easy to find suggestions this time of year.

A little bit on Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog

Living in Vegas, I am well aware of Chinese New Year. The town is covered in Billboards announcing, sometimes in English, sometimes Chinese, that we are welcoming the Year of the Dog.

So…in the Chinese Zodiac, the dog is the eleventh animal. Dogs as everyone knows are honest and loyal and so it goes for those born in the year of the dog. Sadly the year of your Zodiac sign is traditionally an unlucky year, so if you were born in 1910, 1922, 1034, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006, it’s time to pull up your big girl panties and prepare for a challenging year. Don’t worry the rest of us have your back!

Back to wine pairing

Typically when you think of Chinese or Asian style foods reisling or gewürztraminer, the sweetness in these wines can be great for complimenting the spiciness or sweetness in the food. But when you get into sweet and sour dishes you will find they go well with high acid wines, so a sauvignon blanc, an albariño or un-oaked chardonnay would work. Of course sparkling wines and rosés are a good bet too, pairing with a range of flavors and sparkling wine is exceptional with fatty dishes, cutting the fat and cleaning your palate for the next bite. If we were diving into some duck or pork I would probably think about a pinot noir, and with beef…I might lean toward a Rhône style blend or even something deeper like a syrah or malbec. Remember that to keep the spice down in a dish you want to pair it with a wine that is not too dry, one that has a bit of sweetness.

chicken lettuce cups

chicken lettuce cups

vegetable lo mein

vegetable lo mein

Chinese Sesame chicken

Sesame chicken

But for this night we settled on crab rangoons & chicken lettuce wraps, I had some hot & sour soup (it’s a weakness) and then Vegetable Lo Mein while Michael enjoyed some sesame chicken. I searched for a lambrusco for Michael to pair with the sesame chicken. I know lambrusco fell out of favor in the 80’s, but it can pair very well with dishes that are a little sweet with some soy. Sadly…I could not find a store near by that had a lambrusco. So that pairing will have to wait for our next Chinese takeout day.

Balleto gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

Balletto 2016 Gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

We ended up popping open the gewürztraminer from Balletto Vineyards and enjoying that with dinner. This wine has a hint of sweetness and a little spice on the finish. It was really lovely with both the chicken lettuce cups and my vegetable lo mein. This is a great wine for pairing with lighter vegetable dishes, because it doesn’t overpower them. I do admit to having a little trouble pulling my nose out of the glass to take a bite of food. This gewürztraminer from Balletto is so beautifully fragrant, it had me captivated. (If you would like a virtual visit to this Sonoma Country Winery, check out our video!)

With Chinese New Year and all the dumplings right around the corner, I do have a couple of suggestions. With dumplings, keep in mind that you are pairing with the fillings or the sauces. A traditional pork and cabbage dumpling would be very nice with a chardonnay that has good acid and a little oak. If you have some fresh ginger with your dish, you might go with a Sauvignon Blanc. If you really want a red, by all means do it! Pinot Noir is that great crossover wine and it’s lovely with pork. It is also light enough that it won’t overpower your dumpling.

So…I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day and here’s to a great Year of the Dog!  Pick up some Chinese take out grab a bottle or two of wine and have your own celebration!

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Avant Tapas and Wine Bar. I have found my Nirvana.

Avant Wine & Tapas from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Vimeo.

So…after our first day of tasting on our trip.  Hitting Santa Barbara and then a stop in Los Olivos, we checked into the hotel and headed out for dinner.  With my pre-planning we had picked up a Groupon for Avant Tapas and Wine Bar in Buellton, which gave us $40 in wine for $20 as well as 20% off of any Tapas we ordered.  When we checked into the Hamlet Inn (which is fabulous!) the person at the desk suggested Avant for dinner and highly recommended the “Yuppie Crack”.  So after settling into our room at the extremely adorable Hamlet Inn we set out.

Avant is in Buellton.  If you have seen “Sideways” you remember the town with “The Hitching Post”?  Yep!  Just across the Highway from “The Hitching Post” and down a long drive into a small industrial park you will find the Terravant Wine Company Wine Center.  This 40,000 foot Wine Center is a full service wine industry support facility.  They have a state of the art analysis lab as well as refrigerated, controlled warehouse storage. They also provide distribution and direct to consumer wine services.  As well as office space for wine makers and industry professionals.  It has become an incubator to support many Santa Ynez wineries.  They provide custom crush and alternating proprietor space.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Front Entrance

When you arrive you drive to the back of the facility to the Avant entrance.  The two-story entrance leads you upstairs to the Tapas and Wine Bar.  The space has a wine wall with a wine dispensing system.  You purchase a card and load it up with the amount you would like to spend.  Michael and I had our $40 card to share.  Each wine is listed by price for a taste, a half glass or a glass and there are 52 wines to choose from.  You look out from the second floor through glass windows onto the tank room.

Michael and I were in heaven.  We chose several tapas dishes and then went to town each getting a taste of a wine and then sharing to see how they paired with the food.  Really I would eat here every day and do this if I could.

We tasted through at least 16 different wines.

  • Beginning with roses from Dragonette and Fiddlehead
  • Riesling from Code Quest
  • Lucas and Llewelyn Gewurztraminer
  • Zotovich 2009 Syrah
  • Reeves Ranch 2008 Syrah
  • Longoria 2010 Albarino that was perfect with the shrimp
  • Open Field 2010 Chardonnay
  • Brander 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Baehner V3 Cab Blend
  • Ground Effect 2010
  • Chennin Blanc Blend
  • Insomnia White Blend
  • Ken Brown 2010 Chardonnay
  • Sort This Out Muscat…that’s all I can remember.

To eat we had the,

  • Wood Fired Shrimp (which I mentioned was perfect with the Longoria Albarino!)
  • The Mac’N’Cheese
  • the “Yuppie Crack” which is Apple-wood smoked bacon, dates, goat cheese, balsamic reduction and basil oil drizzle.  This stuff is REALLY amazing!
  • We did the Rosemary Chicken Skewers
  • Seared Scallops with Madeira, dijon, thyme and micro greens.

We finished with the chocolate cinnamon bread pudding which we paired with the Sort Out Cellars Muscat.  Turns out the muscat and the bread pudding were great on their own, not so good together.  We found the Insomnia White Blend went pretty well with everything!  The Ken Brown 2010 Chard was really good (and I’m picky about my Chards) and I really enjoyed it paired with the Mac’N’Cheese.  I also really enjoyed the Brander 2009 Cab with the Lamb Meatballs (brown rice, mint, rosemary, lemon zest and white wine).  The cab seemed to have a little eucalyptus on the nose and that melded perfectly with the mint in the meatballs.  The Yuppie crack was good with the syrahs, but really shone with the Gewurztraminer!

In addition there was music on the night we were there.  The Trio was playing and singing from the corner was lovely.  Really we could not have asked for a better end to our first day.

They have since change their Restaurant name from  Avante to Terravant Winery Restaurant

Adventures at Van Roekel

Van Roekel Sign

Van Roekel is the sister property to Maurice Car’rie.  It sits on the hill overlooking Maurice Car’rie and is where their winemaker Gus produces his more refined wines.  The winery complex is on a drive that includes the Van Roekel winery, a small wine country art gallery, the Temecula Wine Makers Association offices and the Van Roekel tasting room.  The tasting room has a sparkling wine menu and a regular menu.

Van Roekel tasting room

Van Roekel tasting room

The pourers in the tasting room were friendly and we had great conversation while we tasted the wines.  We began with the Gewurztraminer which was crisp and not overly sweet and is a great buy at $12.95.  All the wines here are very reasonably priced.  We also tasted their White Zin , and the Chardonnay which was very crisp and slightly sweet and very un Chard like to me, but fascinating enough that I took a bottle home.  On to the reds.  The 2011 Merlot had a bit of oak and spice and a light mouth feel with butter on the end and only a slight hint of tannins.  The Syrah was medium bodied with light silky tannings and pepper with a cooling bit of eucalyptus on the nose.  This felt very finessed for a syrah, not your big fruit bomb or barnyard style syrah.  The 2008 Grenache was full of plums and had higher tannins.  The Papa Red is a non vintage blend that gave you cooked berries on the nose and a variety of fragrances that my nose could not pick out. They were very well rounded and blended.  Bright tannins fill your mouth and there is a little hint of oxidations which is actually very pleasant and provides a depth of flavor.  There is a little bit of barnyard/wet dog on this that is very nice.  This wine is extremely unique.

Our afternoon here was very nice.  The wines, while not what I typically think of for the varieties were very enjoyable as well as cost effective.  These wines are an adventure and one that caught me by surprise and I enjoyed.