Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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A Loire rosé, a Bordeaux from Pommerol and…..cheese #winophiles

The Cheese Counter at Cured & Whey

A while back the French #Winophiles decided that June would be about French wine and cheese.  This is a traditional pairing made in heaven that can go in so many different directions!  You can join us to see the wide range and variety of wines and cheeses explored on Saturday June 15th at 8 am Pacific time on twitter.  Just follow the hashtag #Winophiles to jump in on the conversation!

For this month’s pairing I received two sample wines courtesy of VinConnexion this month.  One was from Chateau de Sales in Pomerol and second from Cave du Vendômois in the Loire Valley. While grateful for the opportunity to taste these wines, rest assured, all opinions are my own.

Le Cocagne Gris 2018

Le Cocagne Rosé of Pineau d'Aunis from Coteaux du Vendômois 2018
Le Cocagne Rosé of Pineau d’Aunis from Coteaux du Vendômois 2018

This rosé of 100% Pineau d’Aunis is from Coteaux du Vendômois.  You don’t see too much Pineau d’Aunis, at least not exported, so I was excited to try this variety. 

This grape is also known as Chenin Noir (makes sense in the Loire, right?).  It is a red grape found primarily in Touraine and Anjou.  Ours came from Touraine, in the Coteaux du Vendômois and is made by the Cave Cooperative du Vendômois.  The soil here is clay and the wine is fermented in stainless steel with a few months on the lees.

Cave Coopérative des Vignerons du Vendômois

An an old Favorite…

This is grape is an old favorite.  How old?  Well Henry Plantagenet (Henry III) really liked it and had it brought to England back in 1249! Sadly, it fell out of favor and is now not widely grown. (get more details on this from https://fringewine.blogspot.com/2012/01/pineau-daunis-coteaux-du-vendomois.html )

Tasting the Le Cocagne Gris

The Le Cocagne Gris 2018 was pale salmon in color and clear. It had raspberry, strawberry and bright light florals on the nose.  I caught a little dried hibiscus, like for tea and bright fresh herbs like fresh thyme, with a bit of white pepper and dried thyme in the background.  The nose opened up to ripe raspberries. On the palate it was tart with light notes of raspberry, with spice and pepper notes in the back. It sits at 14% abv and has a medium finish.

Chateau de Sales 2010 Pomerol

Château de Sales Pomerol 2010
Château de Sales Pomerol 2010

This wine is from Bordeaux from the Right Bank in Pomerol, the smallest of the Bordeaux appellations.  The area is on a plateau with terraces into the valley.  Soil here is layered, compact gravel of sandy-clay atop an oxidized iron base that is unique to Pomerol called “crasse de fer”.

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

Château de Sales has been in the same family since the 15th century.  It is now jointly owned by 14 cousins.  The estate has 47.6 hectares of vineyard.

Savor the Harvest has a beautiful piece on this vineyard that is well worth the read.

Château De Sales Vineyard in Pomerol, Bordeaux France
Château De Sales Vineyard in Pomerol

This wine is 82.5% Merlot, 12.5% Cab Franc and 5% Cab Sav. The wine is fermented in concrete vats, aged in barrel (5% new oak) for 12 months.

Tasting the Château de Sales 2010 Pomerol

The Château de Sales 2010 Pomerol we decanted for 30 minutes while it warmed to just under room temperature. There was a bit of sediment in the bottle (this is a 2010).

The wine was opaque and had only a slight rim. It was a deep ruby color.  On the nose I got red and black currant, eucalyptus, mint, pepper, white pepper, cedar, cigar box and spices.  It had a medium mouthfeel and was lighter on the palate than I expected, in a good way.  The inky dark color had me convince that my palate was about to be overwhelmed it was not. It was a thoughtful wine that allowed me to explore it’s depths without hitting me over the head.

The Cheeses

Many of you have seen a wine aroma wheel and we often use those for our wine tasting notes.  As I was researching the cheese I came across a cheese aroma and flavor wheel from Cheese Science!

I reached out to Château de Sales for suggestions on pairing.  They suggested Comté (as well as steak and chocolate lava cake…and yes, after our cheese pairing we did indulge in those also)

So… Comté, but what else.  I reached out to one of my favorite cheese shops in town for some suggestions. 

Cured & Whey

Diana Brier is the new cheesemonger/cheese consultant at Cured and Whey here in Las Vegas and was kind enough to suggest a Valencay to pair with the rosé, when I asked her online.  I headed down to peruse their cheese counter and walked into find Diane gloved up with hands in 180 degree water just getting ready to pull mozzarella.

I had time, so I enjoyed the show and we chatted.  She had just relocated from Oregon and gave me some tips for wine and cheese for our upcoming trip that would take us to Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, where she used to make cheese.  Michael, the owner also came out to consult with us and we settled on 4 cheeses.

MountainTop

This is a cheese from FireFly Farms located in Maryland. These guys are big on the ethical treatment of not just goats, but also the farmers.  It’s worth a visit to their site to see the standards they set.

While not a French Cheese this Maryland cheese is made in a French style.  Valencay is a typical goat milk cheese from the Loire Valley, that is set in pyramid shaped molds.

This cheese is “surface-ripened” with blue and white molds.  You get a bit of that blue cheese flavor.  When you cut it is oozes, and almost runs.

Morbier – Montboissie du Haut Livradois

This cheese that Michael suggested, Diane went to the back to get from the chiller.  She brought forth a box, cut it open and gently whispered a hello to the beautiful wheel inside.  (She didn’t think I heard, but I did, and now she is my favorite cheese monger ever).

This is a Morbier-style cheese that comes from the Jura Mountains.  Made of Cow’s milk, it has a vein of vegetable ash down the middle.  This came from a tradition where you separate the milk from the morning and afternoon milking.  So morning milk on the bottom, a layer of vegetable ash, and afternoon milking on top.  This is a washed rind cheese.

Société Roquefort

This cheese has a legend. 

Ages ago, at the base of the Combalou Mountain, an ardent shepherd spotted a beautiful young woman. He ran after her leaving behind his flock and forgetting his meal, composed of bread and ewe’s milk curds, in a cave. As he couldn’t find the beautiful shepherdess after days of searching, the shepherd came back to his flock and the cave where he found his less than appealing meal. The ewe’s milk curd was now marbled with green veins and the bread had molded. Starving, he tasted the cheese: the Penicillium Roqueforti had worked its magic transforming his cheese into Roquefort…So says the legend!

 http://societeroquefort.com/
Societe Roquefort Cheese
Societe Roquefort Cheese

The milk for this cheese comes from a special breed of ewes called “Lacaunes”.  They give just 16 gallons of milk per season making this a rare milk, that goes into a really special and delicious cheese.  Roquefort is made with Penicillium roqueforti which is found in damp caves.  This cheese is aged for at least 90 days in natural limestone caves.

Comté

For our last cheese, we return to the Jura for another cow’s milk cheese. It is one of the first French cheeses to have AOC status (1958).

It has been noted that comté has 83 flavors that can be detected!  You can tell what season the cheese is from by the color; Golden is summer cheese (from the carotin), a lighter white is a winter cheese.  A younger comté will be creamier and softer, as it ages it will firm up and be more crumbly.   It also gains crystals as it ages.  It will smell different depending on the cow’s diet or the cave it was aged in!  To really smell it, squish it between your fingers to test the texture and warm it releasing the scent.

The Tasting and Pairing

With the Rosé

We paired the Le Cocagne Gris 2018 with the MountainTop and I pulled out the cheese aroma/flavor wheel.  I got blue molds, with some spice, it was milky and musty with bitter and pepper notes.  As I continued and paired it with the wine more floral notes were evident.

I found I really enjoyed this with just a dab of apricot preserve.  That with a sip of the wine, brought the whole bite together.

We moved on to the Morbier, which had a lovely smooth texture.  The cheese had a bitter note, but was soft and creamy, with those bits of ash and vegetal notes from the vein in the center.

On pairing, the rosé cut the bitter notes in the cheese. Again, this was great with the apricot preserves, the bitter notes in the cheeses were rounded even further.  This preserve also had sage in it and a bite with the preserve brought out flavors in the cheese that I had not noticed before.

With the Pomerol

Chàteau de Sales Pomerol 2010 with Cheese
Chàteau de Sales Pomerol 2010 with Morbier, Comté and Roquefort

We paired this with the Roquefort superior, which was salty with lovely florals from the mold.  It was smooth, creamy and wet enough to be spreadable.  We added a bit of cherry preserves and it was amazing!  This cheese is so good I could eat it with a spoon.

We then tried the comté.  The cheese was firm, but still creamy, this was a younger comet and more yellow in color, so probably a summer comet and it had no noticeable crystals.  It smelled of butter salt and flowers on the nose and was perfect with the wine.

There are so many cheeses and so many wines to try. While there are basic rules for pairings, I encourage you to just try things! You might check out the pieces below for more ideas for pairings!

The #Winophiles

Are you drooling yet? So much wine and cheese…so little time!

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Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Faults in wine

Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins

We’ve all had wines that we didn’t like. Perhaps it smelled a little funny, or was just bland. Sometimes, that’s a wine that is just not for us, or is poorly made, but sometimes it is the result of a wine fault.

Now wine faults can arise from poor wine making, but they can also come from sources that are out, or at least somewhat out, of the control of the winemaker. We will dive into a few of these in this post.

We discussed the chemical makeup of wine in the last post. Some of those chemical reactions we mentioned can happen at a level that is not so good in wine.

Sulfur and it’s potential faults

Sulfur is often used in wine making to preserve the wine. Adding sulfur keeps wine from oxidizing and it’s rare for a wine to be completely sulfur free. Even when sulfur isn’t added small bits are produced during the fermentation process.

A little sulfur is not typically an issue, but… if there is too much, or if it starts to combine with other chemicals in the wine, it can get stinky.

Hydrogen Sulfide

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is that rotten egg smell that you might smell at a volcano or a swamp. If you have lots of sulfur in a wine and then it sits without oxygen you can get this smell. It can happen with screw caps where there is no oxygen exchange like you get with corks or if you are aging on the lees or yeast too long.

Sulfur Dioxide

burnt match
burnt match

Matches tipped with sulfur, when struck combine with the oxygen and you get that burnt match smell. In wine, you might smell this if there is too much sulfur or you might just notice it as a burning sensation in your throat. The way that you notice this is connected to the acidity of the wine. The more acid, the more SO2 you will notice.

Mercaptan

garlic
garlic

We know that the alcohol in wine is ethanol. Well, ethanol can combine with sulfur to create “ethyl mercaptan”. This is the odor that they add to natural gas so you can smell a gas leak. I know, we said that hydrogen sulfide it the rotten egg smell, and if you are like me, that’s the smell I associate with natural gas. While I hope I do not have occasion to smell a natural gas leak, that is “ethyl mercaptan” which smells like garlic or onions. And sadly for winemakers, if you get ethyl mercaptan in your wine, there is very little you can do to fix it.

TCA or cork taint

We’ve all heard of corked wines. Perhaps you thought that was the reason that at restaurants they will hand you the cork? (It’s not, actually, they show you the cork to prove the wine is from the winery. There have been times when scandalous tricksters would re-bottle a cheap wine in a fancy bottle and try to pass it off as the higher end wine. The cork, if the wine was legit, would be stamped with the winery name.)

TCA is a mold. It actually has a much longer name: 2, 4, 6 Trichloroanisole. It is typically shortened to TCA for obvious reasons. While we think of it as “cork taint”, and indeed it can grow on cork trees, it can also grow in boxes, barrels or even winery walls. Once it gets in, it’s tough to get out. If it gets into a winery it can be transferred into the wine.

What does it smell like?

Underground Wet cave
Underground Wet cave

TCA can smell like a dark, dank, musty basement, or in lighter cases might just make a wine bland or muted. It’s not harmful, luckily and cases have decreased. The estimates on wines affected by TCA vary pretty dramatically from 1% to 8% of bottles. Distributors will typically refund clients for corked wines and at the table, if a customer says a wine is corked, it is unlikely that the restaurant will argue. Hence the differences in estimates.

Bacteria that make things stinky

So most bacteria can’t survive in wine. I mean, that’s how wine got started right? Water wasn’t always safe, but fermented beverages with their high alcohol killed off most bacteria.

Well there are a couple of bacteria that can survive in wine, one we like much of the time but the other….

Acetobacter

vinegar
vinegar

This bacteria grows when ever wine is exposed to oxygen. This little bugger converts alcohol into acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Acetic acid smells like vinegar. Ethyl acetate, which can smell like florals in small quantities, can smell like fingernail polish remover when at greater quantities.

Beyond that, when ethyl acetate and acetic acid combine it’s called ascensence.

Lactic Bacteria

This bacteria is sometimes useful! Malolactic fermentation is often used to round a wine and make it less acidic. Malic acid is often found in cool climate grapes or under-ripe grapes and is like tart green apple. Lactic bacteria eat the malic acid and produce lactic acid, which is much rounder in your mouth and less acidic. It can also produce a buttery aroma.

butter
butter
Homemade sauerkraut with cumin in a glass jar, closeup
Homemade sauerkraut with cumin in a glass jar, closeup

Too much of a good thing and you get more lactic acid than you want which smells like sauerkraut. You can also get butyric acid which smells like rancid butter. Butyric acid can come from an over-vigorous malolactic fermentation, or it might be from a bacteria before pressing.

geranium
geranium

There is also the smell of crushed geranium leaves that is either caused by an incomplete malolactic fermentation or if sorbic acid has been used as a preservative, it can be from an improper breakdown of that.

Other stinky stuff

There are other stinky things caused by stuff in wine. (There, that’s scientific isn’t it!?) Some of these things people like in small portions and sometimes the style of wine means that you will create one of these situations. Let’s start with those first.

Oxidization

nuts unshelled
nuts unshelled

Oxygen will dissolve into wine and when it reacts with the phenolic compounds (from the skins) it creates acetaldehyde, which smells like caramel or nuts and can cause browning. Some liken the smell to jackfruit (yuk) or bruised beat up apples. Oxidation can cause a wine to lose most of it’s fruit character. However…they use oxidation to make fino Sherry. So in that case, it’s a plus!

jackfruit
jackfruit

Maderization

A step beyond oxidation is maderization. You might recognize the word from Madeira. This is what happens when a wine is exposed to lots of heat or oxygen. You get a cooked or baked odor. When you get this in Madeira, it’s on purpose. When you get this from the wine you left in the back seat of your car that you parked outside in a parking lot in the Vegas sun…not so much. So generally this is considered a fault.

Brettanomyces

This one is tricky. Brett (it’s nickname) is a wild yeast. It shows up in wineries and can smell sweaty or horsey and will ferment right alongside the wine yeast.. Some people like a little brett, (I do). It gives that barnyard smell to red wines. Some people believe it to be a fault regardless of the level. It can smell medicinal or like band-aids or it might just deaden the flavors in the wine.

UV Damage

Wet Lamb
Wet wool (in it’s most natural form)

Sometimes this is called Light Strike. This happens in light white wines if they are exposed to light or UV rays. It will make the wine smell like wet wool. (don’t store your wine near a window!)

Other smells and causes

  • Moldy – that could be from actual mold in the winery or barrels
  • Green – using grapes that are not yet ripe can smell like leaves
  • Rubbery – this can pop up if there is too much sulfur or wines that are low in acid
  • Stemmy – underripe (unlignified) grape stems in a wine can have a green bitter smell.
  • Wet cardboard – Could be TCA (cork taint) or might be from filter pads that are not being used properly in the winery.
  • Leesy or yeasty – When you get overpowering yeast smell, that can come from too much time sitting on the lees (dead yeast cells). While this is good in Champagne and some sparkling wines, it’s not always good in other wines.

All in all if you get a bottle of wine and you think it has a fault, you should send it back. Too often people get a faulted wine, and will write off the region or the type of wine, thinking they don’t like the region. If you know these faults, you can tell the cause and distinguish from from the region or area. It would be horrible to write off an entire region over one bad bottle!

We will be continuing our series of educational posts on wine in all it’s complexity! Join us to explore and learn more about this fantastic and fascinating liquid.

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

The chemistry of wine

Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Wine. It’s simply crushed and fermented grapes.

Yep, that was me.

That’s the first line in our Crushed Grape Chronicles trailer that we put together….years ago. And it’s true…mostly. (whole berry ferments do happen, but eventually the weight of the grapes on the grapes causes them to be crushed.)

So wine is made of 5 major components that go through some chemical changes, fermenting and such and create the tasty libation that we have all grown to love in all of it’s many forms.

5 major components of wine

Yes, there are other things you might find in your wine, but for the most part it’s these:

So wine is made of 5 major components that go through some chemical changes, fermenting and such and create the tasty libation that we have all grown to love in all of it's many forms.
So wine is made of 5 major components that go through some chemical changes, fermenting and such and create the tasty libation that we have all grown to love in all of it’s many forms.
  • Water
  • Alcohol
  • Acid
  • Sugar
  • Phenolic compounds
So wine's a liquid, right? So as you would expect wine is a good portion (80-90%) good old H2O. This is mostly the water that came in the grapes (thank you mother nature), but upon occasion a winemaker might water down the initial grape juice or add water if the alcohol or phenolic compounds are too high for them.

So as you would expect wine is a good portion (80-90%) good old H2O.

So wine’s a liquid, right? So as you would expect wine is a good portion (80-90%) good old H2O. This is mostly the water that came in the grapes (thank you mother nature), but upon occasion a winemaker might water down the initial grape juice or add water if the alcohol or phenolic compounds are too high for them.


Alcohol

Alcohol makes up 8 - 15% of the volume of wine. On the label you will see the abv (alcohol by volume). 8 % might be a cool climate white wine and 15% a warm climate red.

This is one of the things we love about this beverage, the slight (or maybe not slight, depending on your style of drinking. We encourage moderation.) intoxication that comes with drinking it. That comes from the ethanol which is created in the alcoholic fermentation and is the main alcohol in wine (you will find glycerol, methanol and fusel alcohols in smaller amounts). The ethanol induces feelings of pleasure. As you drink, it is absorbed into your bloodstream and travels to the brain and relaxes you.

Of course too much…and you get drunk, which is rarely fun for the people around you.

Alcohol makes up 8 – 15% of the volume of wine. On the label you will see the abv (alcohol by volume). 8 % might be a cool climate white wine and 15% a warm climate red.

Ethanol is also a volatile compound, so it evaporates really easily and it helpful in getting all of those aromas to your nose.

Alcohol also with affect the “body” of a wine. You know how water and milk feel different in your mouth? Well higher alcohol takes the feeling in your mouth, closer to the milk end of the spectrum. You can see this when you swirl in big thick “legs” or “tears” running down the sides of the glass.


Acid

Acids make up just a bit of wine .5% to .75% by volume and there are two ways of measuring it.Acid keeps wines from tasting flabby. It gives wines that tart zing. Like a bright NZ Sav Blanc that is tart and tangy and so refreshing.

Acids make up just a bit of wine .5% to .75% by volume and there are two ways of measuring it.

  • TA – Total Acidity: which is the total amount of acid by volume
  • pH – the combined strength of the acids present

Keep in mind that some acids are stronger than others so TA is just the amount, and doesn’t give you the strength. So these are typically used together.

When you measure a wine’s pH keep in mind that the lower the pH, the stronger the acid. Wine typically lands between 2.9 and 3.9 on the pH scale, and a wine at 2.9 will be more acidic than a wine at 3.9.

When you measure a wine's pH keep in mind that the lower the pH, the stronger the acid. Wine typically lands between 2.9 and 3.9 on the pH scale, and a wine at 2.9 will be more acidic than a wine at 3.9.

More than one type of acid

There are 6 main acids that can be found in wine. Some of them are found in the grapes themselves and some are created during the fermentation process. A couple straddle that line.

  • Tartaric acid – This is an acid found in both grapes and wine, and it is the most prevalent. It is the strongest acid in wine when you talk pH. If you have ever seen “wine diamonds” little crystals on a cork, that comes from this acid. While not a fault in a wine, winemakers can avoid these forming by using “cold stabalization” or cooling down the wine before bottling.
green apples
green apples
  • Malic Acid – This is a grape acid. It’s sharp taste is like that of green apples. This acid decreases as grapes ripen, so cool climate white grapes and underripe grapes will have high levels of this acid. (Later we will discuss malolactic fermentation, which is used to lower the malic acid in a wine)
oranges
oranges
  • Citric Acid – Yes the acid that you find in citrus fruit. It’s not normally thought of in grapes because the quantities are so small that you can only find it with super specialized fancy equipment. However…sometimes it’s added to pump up the TA in a wine (just not in good wine).
  • Lactic Acid – You don’t find this acid in the grapes, but…remember I mentioned malolactic fermentation? Well…lactic acid bacteria munch on the malic acid and turn it into lactic acid, which is smoother, rounder and less acidic. This malolactic fermentation can be on purpose or not, but it is often used by winemakers to soften a wine. You also might get a buttery aroma and a creamy texture (think some chardonnays)
vinegar

vinegar

Acetic Acid – You will recognize this acid from vinegar (well, most vinegars). This is a fermentation acid, so you won’t find it in grapes on the vine. It can contribute to a wine’s bouquet as it evaporates quickly, but sometimes there is another pesky bacteria, this time acetobacter that can cause a reaction between the ethonol and oxygen that can ruin a wine.

  • Succinic Acid – This guy can be found in grapes and can also be created during fermentation. It’s found in small quantities in either case and is sharp as well as slightly both bitter and salty.

Sugar

There are two main sugars that you find in grapes

One of the measurements winemakers take to determine if a grape is ready to harvest is measuring it’s brix or sugar levels. Typically this will be 15% to 28%.

There are two main sugars that you find in grapes

  • Glucose
  • Fructose

These are both monosaccharides or simple sugars and are, lucky for us, highly fermentable! Those beautiful yeasts convert the sugar to ethanol. If they finish the job, eating up all the sugar, you get a dry wine. If not, you get a little residual sugar, leaving a little sugar in the wine and thus, a little sweetness. Typical detection of sweetness in a wine is at 1% rs, but some people can detect is at lower levels up to .5%.

In some cases, the winemaker might want a little sugar left in the wine to perhaps balance a high acid level. In some cases they are looking to make a sweet wine and in that case they can leave up to 24% rs in the wine (think late harvests, ice wines or Sauternes). Sometimes…in less lovely wines, the sugar might be there to cover up a sucky wine. We are suckers for sugar.


Phenolic Compounds

Okay, here's where the real flavor comes in. Phenolic compounds come mostly from the skins and seeds and stems in the wine. They are also accountable for the color in a wine. These molecules are wide and varied and might be small compared to the other components, but they have a large impact on the taste, smell and texture of a wine.Okay, here’s where the real flavor comes in. Phenolic compounds come mostly from the skins and seeds and stems in the wine. They are also accountable for the color in a wine. These molecules are wide and varied and might be small compared to the other components, but they have a large impact on the taste, smell and texture of a wine.

  • Anthocyanins – Say that one 3 times fast! These guys give red wine it’s color, from red to purple to blue. Acids do play into this also, the higher the acid, the redder the wine, the lower the more blue.
  • Flavonols – Here’s where white wines get there golden tones. They increase with sun and ripeness. Hence, a wine that is very pale, is likely either from a cooler climate or less ripe, while a golden yellow color might indicate more flavonols (I really love that word) and might be from a warmer, sunny climate and have been more ripe at harvest.
  • Resveratrol – Okay another tricky pronouciation. This compound is thought to have health benefits. You’ve seen those posts on facebook about how red wine is good for you. Well…many studies have attributed this compound to anti-aging, cancer-fighting and disease prevention. (again…remember, all things in moderation)
  • Tannins – When it comes to phenolic compounds, this is probably the one you have heard of. They, like the others are found in the skin, seeds and stems of grapes, but you can also find them in oak. These are the bitter compounds you taste when you bite into a grape seed. They will dry your teeth if you swish them in your mouth, that’s astringency. They have a natural preservative that protects wines from oxidizing. Think about cabernet, a young one is sometimes so bitter and astringent that you almost can’t drink it. But…it can age a long time and gradually round. That’s those hard working tannins that cabernet is full of. This is also a reason for aging in oak barrels as the barrels themselves can help prevent the wine from oxidizing.
  • Vanillin – sound like vanilla right? Yep, vanillin is found in vanilla beans and in oak. That’s why you get that vanilla scent in wines or whiskeys aged in oak barrels!

You can get sediment from phenolic compounds. So you buy a nice bottle of red wine and cellar it for a while (quite a while). You go back and pull it from the cellar and notice, that it looks lighter in color and that you have sediment in the bottom. This is the tannins and pigments (which are phenolics) that have polymerized (they combine into longer molecule chains and get too heavy) and dropped out of the liquid to settle at the bottom of the bottle. With a cabernet again, this is good, it will mean the wine will be less astringent.


Other stuff

There’s more in there. We are just going to talk about a few.

  • Aldehydes – When wine is exposed to air the oxidation produces aldehydes. Sometimes you want that, like when you are making Sherry or Madeira, but most of the time you don’t. If you have ever left a bottle in the heat or just on the counter open too long and come back to find it undrinkable, that would be aldehydes.
  • Dissolved Gases – CO2 in a sparkling wine is a clear example. You might see that in small quantities in a Pet Nat or even in other wines. It will make a wine feel fresh and helps to release the aromas. There are always dissolved gases in a wine, just often not in big enough quantities to notice. We talked above about oxidation, that would be dissolved oxygen. It’s the reason that winemakers add sulfur to wines. Sulfur absorbs those free roaming oxygen molecules to keep the wine from oxidizing.
  • Esters – They create all those wonderful smells in wine. Odiferous compounds that are the result of a little coupling of an acid and an alcohol. Most of the time we like these odors, but at high concentrations, they might not be as pleasant. Take ethyl alcohol, a little bit smells fruity and flowery, truly lovely, but high quantities smell like nail polish remover.
  • Sulfites – Small bits of sulfur are produced during fermentation, but just small bits. But remember I said that they protect a wine from oxidizing? Sulfur is widely used by winemakers out of necessity to protect wines from oxidation. Deal is, some people are really sensitive to sulfurs (not nearly as many as think they are, but a significant enough amount). As a result, here in the US wines with more than 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide, must be labeled “Contains Sulfites”.

We will be continuing our series of educational posts on wine in all it’s complexity! Join us to explore and learn more about this fantastic and fascinating liquid.

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

Exploring the Grand Terroir of Gérard Bertrand with Tautavel and La Clape

Gérard Bertrand wines of Limoux, Tautavel & La Clape

Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses - courtesy Gérard Bertrand

Even if you are not an expert on French Wine, you are sure to have heard of Gérard Bertrand. He produces that stunning bottle of rosé Côte des Roses. You know, the bottle with the rose embossed on the bottom. It’s hard to miss! And…it’s a lovely wine, that actually comes from the Côte des Roses, an area near Gruissan in Languedoc in the South of France. But Gérard Bertrand is much more than simply rosé….

Gérard Bertrand – the man

Gérard’s family had an estate vineyard. He learned alongside his father. Of course he went off on his own and found a passion for Rugby, which he played professionally for many years. But he always had a passion for wine. When his father passed in 1987 he returned to take over the family’s Villemajou Estate and later created the Gérard Bertrand wine company.

Languedoc -Roussillon

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France
The Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region in France

Even if you enjoy French wines, Languedoc is rarely one of the first regions you will encounter. This region is in the south of France to the West of the famous Provence. It is the region that wraps around the mediterranean sea from Nîmes to the border with Spain.

The red grape varieties here include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, all of which can be beautifully blended. We will explore two of these blends below, as well as dipping our toes into a bit of Crémant from Limoux.

Gérard Bertrand – Expressing the Terroir

At Gérard Bertrand they are dedicated to biodiversity and to the area of Languedoc-Roussillon. They expanded from the original Villemajou vineyard to purchase Cigalus Estate, Château Laville Bertrou and the Aigle Estate. Beyond that they now include Château la Sauvageonne, Château la Soujeole, Clos d’Ora, Clos du Temple, Château les Karantes, Château Aigues-Vives, Cap Insula winery, Château des Deux Rocs, Château de Tarailhan and the Estagnère Estate, in their portfolio.

Biodynamic practices

After becoming interested in homeopathic medicine in the early 2000’s, Gérard became interested in Biodynamics and in 2002 started farming the Cigalus Estate biodynamically. They have since converted all their estates to biodynamic practices.

Many of the pieces you will see below will focus on the Biodynamic Cigalus Blanc, the wine that Gérard Bertrand provided as samples to many of the French #Winophiles. With many people interested the list had to be limited. Late to the party we did not receive the samples, but we were able to find several other bottles of Gérard Bertrand wines that peaked our interest!

The Grand Terroir range of wines they produce allow you discover each unique region. In addition they produce a Crémant de Limoux, claimed to be the region where sparkling wine originated. I mean how could we pass that up?!

Limoux

Map of Limoux courtesy Gérard Bertrand

So we have all probably heard the story of the famous monk Benedictine Dom Pérignon who lived in Hautvillers in the Champagne region of France, discovering bubbles and tasting the stars! Dom has, in legend, often been credited with inventing Champagne. He lived from 1638 to 1715. Well… in Limoux they say that in 1531, the monks of Saint Hilaire were the first to discover the bubbles and begin using the “traditional methode” to produce sparkling wines. I’ll let them duke it out, you can pour me a glass of either and I will be happy to watch them debate while I simply enjoy the delicious wine.

Limoux sits in the cool foothills of the Pyranees, an area perfect for growing grapes for sparkling wine. For more on this area, I highly recommend visiting the Limoux AOC page on Languedoc Wine site!

Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016

Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016 Bottle shot
Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016

Crémant de Limoux is said to be the only sparkling wine that Thomas Jefferson kept in his cellar. I like to picture him receiving the sparkling bottles from the chilly basement through his wine elevator…leave it to Thom to invent this stuff. (We visited Monticello a few years ago, hence the photos).

This particular wine is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Chenin, and 15% Pinot Noir.

The Grapes are harvested when their acid-sugar balance reach their best. The fruit is transferred to the winery and immediately pressed in a pneumatic pressing machine. In addition to reinforce the perception of freshness and balance, the dosage is very precise. The Pinot Noir grapes are not macerated, in order to preserve their colour. The must is transferred to the vats for alcoholic fermentation using the same process used for still wine. After malolactic fermentation in the vats, the wine is blended together and then transferred to the barrels to mature for 8 months.

From Gérard-Bertrand.com

La Clape

During the Roman era, this area was actually an island. No longer an island, La Clape is bordered to the east by the sea, to the west by the low-lying alluvial plains of the Aude and to the south by the lagoons. The soils here are loose limestone.

  • Map of La Clape in Languedoc courtesy Gérard Bertrand
  • Photo of La Clape courtesy Gérard Bertrand

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape 2015

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape 2015 bottle shot Languedoc
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape 2015

The wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Carignan and 15% Mourvèdre. It sits at 13.5% abv

A slow ripening process and a late harvest (end of September to mid-October) are the key ingredients for producing grapes that are ripe, healthy and concentrated and also aids the extraction of colour and aromas during fermentation and maceration. The grapes are harvested by hand when they have reached peak ripeness and transported to the winery in special bins. They are then de-stemmed before being transferred to the stainless steel vats for maceration, lasting 20 to 25 days. The wine is then decanted into barrels for 8 months of ageing.

From Gérard-Bertrand.com

Tautavel

Tautavel is a village in the Roussillon region, located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. This region lays claim to some of the oldest hominid remains in Europe. In 1971, the remains of Tautavel Man were discovered. These remains date to 450,000 years ago, and the area is thought to be one of the cradles of civilization.

  • Map of Tautavel courtesy Gérard Bertrand
  • Photo of Tautavel courtesy Gérard Bertrand

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel 2015

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel 2015 bottle shot Languedoc
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel 2015

This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah & Carignan and sits a 15% abv

Work in the vineyard starts by selecting the most suitable plots of land for each variety. The grapes are harvested once they have reached peak maturity, determined by regular tasting, and are sorted twice: once in the vineyard and again in the winery. The fruit is vinified in the traditional manner, the grapes are de-stemmed and then undergo maceration for 3 to 4 weeks. The must is then pressed before malolactic fermentation begins. 33% of the wine is transferred to barrels and matured for 9 months, while the rest matures in the vats.

From Gérard-Bertrand.com

The Pairings

I sat with the tech sheets for each of these wines and prepared a menu, which began and ended with the Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose.

Salmon Crostini

  • Salmon Crostini with raspberry jam or caviar
  • Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux with Salmon Crostini

The salmon crostini was simple, just crostini, (sliced baguette, brushed with olive oil and baked 8-10 minutes) topped with smoked salmon, a dot of creme fraiche and then either a dab of raspberry jam or a dab of caviar.

The Crémant was beautiful in the glass, clear with fine bubbles and a light salmon color, that looked gorgeous next to our salmon crostini. The nose hit you first with tart fruit followed by whiffs of toast.

This was beautiful with the salmon, the acid and bubbles cutting through the fat. The creme fraiche mirrored the tartness in the wine and the crostini brought in those toasty elements. It was interesting to see how the difference of salt or sweet on the top affected the experience. I enjoyed the jam matching the fruit in the wine and balancing it with that hint of sweetness, but the crostini with the caviar was my favorite. The caviar contrasted beautifully, pulling forward the fruit notes in the wine. This was a delicious bite and pairing.

Cheese & charcuterie

Cheese and Chacuterie platter Gouda, triple creme, manchego, berries, nuts, honey, sopresso
Cheese and Charcuterie platter

We opened the two red wines and put together a cheese & charcuterie platter, which included gouda, manchego and a St. Angel triple creme cheese. I added some sopresso, honey & walnuts, as well as an assortment of berries; strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.

I found that the triple creme cheese went beautifully with both wines, with the wine pulling forth some beautiful floral notes in the cheese. The Tautavel was surprisingly nice with the salmon crostini with caviar, brightening and highlighting the food.

As expected the sopresso was wonderful with the La Clape with the mouvedre in the blend. The La Clape was also very nice with the crostini with the jam. Together both the jam and the wine felt brighter in my mouth.

Sous vide pork in caramel sauce & Roasted fennel & Peppers

  • Pork in Caramel sauce to pair with the Gérard Bertrand 2015 Tautavel
  • Sous Vide pork w/caramel sauce & roasted fennel and peppers

Gérard Bertrand’s suggested pairings for the Tautavel included “grilled peppers, pork in caramel sauce and rabbit with prunes and fine cheeses”. The tasting notes also listed red fruit and raspberry aromas underpinned by spicy notes…delicate notes of scrubland and spices on the palate”. In addition they noted “Ripe black fruits, chocolate, licorice and smoked herbs…”

Intrigued by the pork in caramel sauce, I found a recipe for sous vide pork to riff on. The pork went into the sous vide with a rub of salt, pepper, paprika (for those subtle spices on the palate) and rosemary (for the scrubland herb notes). 2 hours later, we seared the chops and drizzled with a caramel sauce with salt pepper and rosemary. This plated with roasted fennel (pulling forward those licorice notes) and peppers with a bit of rubbed sage (more scrubland). We garnished with fresh fennel and sage leaves and blackberries to tie in the “ripe black fruit”.

Roasted Chicken on a bed of cous cous with arugula and cranberries

Roasted chicken on a bed of cous cous with rosemary, cranberries and arugula
Roasted chicken on a bed of cous cous with rosemary, cranberries and arugula

The La Clape suggestions included roasted poulty and creamy cheeses. We had already enjoyed this with the triple creme, so now it was onto tasting it with the roast chicken. I served this on a bed of cous cous with cranberries to pull those fruit notes and arugula to pull some of the peppery notes, as well as add a bit of green.

Both of the wines paired well with the food. These wines are lovely on the nose, but feel lighter on the palate, so that they were beautiful to pair with these lighter meats without overpowering the flavors of the dishes.

Dessert – Deconstructed Berry tart

Deconstructed berry tart with the Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016
Deconstructed berry tart with the Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016

With a Brut Rosé you can rarely go wrong with a red fruit desert, and this was no exception. I created a simple deconstructed berry tart, with crumbled shortbread, raspberry jam, a puree of raspberries an strawberries, fresh blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, mint and a raspberry sorbet.

We poured another glass of the Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016 (which we had stoppered, pressurized returned to the fridge to preserve the bubbles while we enjoyed the rest of the meal). This pairing did not disappoint and was the perfect end to an evening of delicious wines.

This was a beautiful exploration into this region and this winery for me. I encourage you to search for Gérard Bertrand wines, beyond that beautiful rosé and taste a bit of Languedoc.

The French #Winophiles

Read on for more great pieces on the wines of Gérard Bertrand. As I mentioned before, many of these will focus on the wonderful 2018 Cigalus Blanc, an exceptional white blend that I look forward to tasting in the future.

And join us on Saturday May 18th at 11 am EST on twitter to discuss these wines! Just follow #Winophiles to find us!

Michelle Williams – Rockin Red Blog: “Celebrating Biodynamic Viticulture And The Beauty Of The Languedoc With Gérard Bertrand #Winophiles

Lynn Gowdy – Savor the Harvest: This Biodynamic Wine Is a Summer Pleaser + Saturday Culinary Concoction.

Wendy Klik- A Day in the Life on a Farm :  ” New Wine Paired with an Old Favorite.”

Camilla Mann – Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Lemon-Caper Halibut + Gérard Bertrand 2018 Cigalus Blanc

Linda Whipple, My Full Wine Glass : “Languedoc Wine Meets Lebanese Cuisine” 

David Crowley – Cooking Chat: “Savoring a Special White Wine from Souther France

Pinny Tam – Chinese Food and Wine Pairings: “Exploring Languedoc-Roussillon with Chateau Millegrand Minervois Mourral Grand Reserve + Chinese Charcuterie Board #Winophiles

Jeff Burrows – Food, Wine, Click: “Butter Roasted Fish with Gérard Bertrand’s Cigalus Blanc”

Jane Niemeyer – Always Ravenous: Chicken Korma with Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc

Cindy Lowe Rynning – Grape Experiences: “The Wines of Gerard Bertrand: Expect Joie de Vivre with Every Sip

Susannah Gold – Avvinare: “A Wine from Gerard Bertrand: A Larger than Life Figure

Deanna Kang – Asian Test Kitchen:  “Gerard Bertrand Rose Paired with Subtly Spiced Shrimp”

Cynthia  Howson & Pierre Ly – Traveling Wine Profs:Comfort Food and Sunny Red: Gérard Bertrand Côtes des Roses with Senegalese Mafé and Fonio

Jill Barth – L’Occasion:A Name To Know: Gérard Bertrand

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley – Wine Predator:”Bertrand’s Biodynamic Cigalus Paired with French Sausage

Liz Barrett – What’s in that Bottle: “Get to Know the Winning Wines from Languedoc Icon Gérard Bertrand

Nicole Ruiz Hudson –  SommsTable: “Cooking to the Wine: Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel Grenache-Syrah-Carignan with Saucy Lamb Loin Chops

Rupal Desai Shankar – Syrah Queen:A Commitment To Languedoc – The Biodynamic Wines Of Gerard Bertrand

Payal Vora, Keep the Peas:Aude: Alive in More Ways Than Wine

L.M. Archer:The Hedonistic Taster: Gérard Bertrand 2018 Cigalus Blanc

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

It’s Oregon Wine Month

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

It’s no secret that I’m kinda infatuated with Oregon wines. More than just the wines…it’s the people behind them. That whole “Keep Portland Weird” thing, kinda speaks for much of Oregon. But then again, with all the delicious weirdness, there is a simple, elegant classy side also. I love it so much, let’s delve in a little.

Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama
Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama

The Oregon Wine Trailblazers

This is a relatively new region for wine. The first winery, post prohibition, appeared in southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley back in 1961, thanks to Richard Sommer who refused to listen to the UC Davis folks who told him it wouldn’t work. There were a couple of other UC Davis grads who bucked the trends in the mid to late 60’s and headed North including David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Dick Erath (yep, you guessed it, Erath) and Charles Coury (which is now David Hill Winery). If you have been into a wine store (or a grocery store) you will recognize Erath. Obviously growing grapes here worked.

My Introduction to Oregon Wine – At Home in the Vineyard

I’ll admit that my knowledge of early Oregon wine history came from reading Susan Sokol Blosser’s book “At Home in the Vineyard”. this memoir is her personal story of the struggle to build the Sokol Blosser Winery in the Dundee Hills. These were not people with money looking to invest and have a retreat in a vineyard. They were idealists and they struggled with the weather and the soils as they figured our this new area for wine. This was the way for many of the early vineyard owners and winemakers and it’s still that way for many today. (I had a wonderful conversation with Annedria Beckham of Beckham vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains that I will share with you soon, about the continuing struggles of planting and growing their vineyard and winery).

I encourage you to visit the fantastic site of the Oregon Wine Board and read all about the history of this great region.

Early visit circa 2011

My introduction to Oregon wine came with a visit back in 2011. We came to spend 3 or 4 days, visit wine country and catch up with an old friend of mine. We stayed at the cottage at Winter Hill. Winter Hill Winery is in the Dundee Hills, the cottage was over the hill with a separate entrance. There were chickens running about and an amazing view of the area and the stars from the porch.

On this visit we took in, Winter Hill Winery, Erath, Youngberg Hill, Stoller Family Estate, Lange Estate, Argyle, Cana’s Feast, Willakenzie, Rex Hill, Trisaetum, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Sokol Blosser, Torii Mor, Vidon & Vista Hills. It’s a list, I know!

I remember them all. Here are a few of the stories…

Winter Hill

Winter Hill at the time was tasting in the middle of the working winery on a folding table. It was a humble for a tasting room, but warm and friendly, and we got a first hand look at the wines with the people who were putting their heart and soul into the endeavor.

Youngberg Hill

Michael was driving to get to us Youngberg Hill and Adam (my friend who had been married there just a year before) was giving directions. Adam and I got busy talking and we missed a turn, and then another. We arrived to views and VIP treatment thanks to Adam. The views here are wedding worthy that’s for sure!

Stoller

The view from Stoller Winery Dundee HIlls Oregon 2011
The view from Stoller 2011

At Stoller, Adam was also a member, and he was doing a pick up, so we got a little extra special treatment. I remember a Tempranillo they had that I wish we would have taken home with us. And I remember a story about the honey that they were hoping to get from hives in a black berry patch part way up the hill.

Lange

Up on the hill at Lange, we were greeted by Jack, the vineyard cat and stepped into the tiny tasting room where they were boxing up their wine club shipment. I remember a moving experience tasting their Pinot Noir (if I close my eyes, I can still taste it).

Argyle

Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011
Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011

At Argyle we enjoyed some bubbles and I got hooked on their Black Brut. This was back when Rollin Soles the pioneering vintner was still the winemaker. I remember thinking how cool it was that Lyle Lovett was his friend from college. They are two unique and iconic individuals in their own right.

Vidon

When we visited Vidon, we met Don the owner, when he came in off the tractor. Don was still busy in the vineyard back then. He was a particle physicist by training and worked with NASA before he purchased the property in the Chehalem Mountains in 1999. We also visited Vista Hills. It was late in the day, and close to the cottage and they snuck us in as their last tasting. The views are stunning and the wines delicious. We returned to them on our last trip again, just before the announcement that they had been purchased by Coppola.

We’ve waxed poetic on some of this before…

You can read a little about the Stoller Tempranillo, the Lange Pinot Noir and the Argyle Black Brut in our piece Wines I can’t forget Part 1

Or about that Trisaetum Coastal Riesling in Wines I Can’t forget Part 3.

And in our piece on Gravity flow wineries, we talk a bit about Willakenzie.

Returning to Oregon in 2018

Last year we returned to this region that had so enchanted us. We spent 5 days exploring AVA’s within the Willamette Valley. Actually trying to visit each of the AVA’s and the proposed AVA’s. We gathered so much content, that we are still putting out pieces! We also were able to enjoy the last “Uncommon Wine Festival” at Vista Hills, where we spent a day tasting and talking with up and coming wine makers.

  • Winemakers setting up for the Uncommon wine Festival at Vista Hills
  • Deven & Calli with Joyful Noise
  • Vista Hills Uncommon Wine Festival Ryan Pickens
  • Libertine Wines, Alex Neely
  • Libertine Bottle Shots
  • Libertine Pouring Botrytis Reisling
  • a Cheerful Note, Ariel Eberle
  • A Cheerful Note with Ariel Eberle, the story behind the label
  • Ross & Bee Maloof
  • Maloof 2017 Where ya Pjs at?
  • Leah Jørgensen Wine - inspired by the Loire Valley
  • 2016 Oregon "Tour Rain" Vin Rouge
  • Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

You can see Mega Mix Video and read about the day at Vista Hills Vineyard and the Uncommom Wine Festival.

Willamette Valley AVAs

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association
Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

We did a Primer on this that you can read here. We managed to visit most of the AVAs.

Current Willamette Valley AVAs

We managed to visit a winery or tasting room representing each of the current AVAs

  • Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards
  • Trisaetum Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA
  • Vista Hills Sunset Dundee Hills-
  • View of Yamhill-Carlton from Fairsing vineyard
  • Johan Vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA
  • McMinnville AVA
  • Brittan Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA
  • The Eola Amity Hills
  • Chehalem Mountains AVA – est 2006 where we visited Beckham Vineyards and met both Annedria and Andrew.
  • Dundee Hills AVA – est 2005 where we visited Vista Hills to taste their wine as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Uncommon Wine Festival
  • Eola-Amity Hills AVA – est 2006. We visited the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee and then drove to see the vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.
  • McMinnville AVA – est 2005. We visited Brittan Vineyards tasting room and then did a drive by of the McMinnville vineyard on the way to the coast.
  • Ribbon Ridge AVA – est 2005, where we revisited Trisaetum.
  • Van Duzer Corridor AVA – est 2019, actually established after we visited! We visited Johan here and fell in love.
  • Yamhill-Carlton AVA – est 2005. We spent a wonderful evening enjoy the sunset view at Fairsing Vineyard (along with smores!)

Proposed Willamette Valley AVAs

In addition there are 4 more proposed AVAs, which include:

  • Illahe Panorama
  • Lowell Ford, Illahe Vineyards
  • Montinore Vineyards sign
  • Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate
  • Panorama from Ponzi
  • Mt Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Located near Salem, we spent 1/2 a day with Lowell Ford owner of Illahe Vineyard.
  • Laurelwood AVA. We visited Ponzi Vineyards in this proposed AVA which is the Northern facing slopes of the Chehalem Mountains.
  • Tualatin Hills AVA. Located North of Yamhill-Carlton and West of Chehalem Mountians, we visited with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate.
  • Lower Long Tom AVA. Okay…we didn’t make it here. It is far south between Corvalis and Eugene and there was just not enough time.

Do it!

Our trailer on Willamette Valley AVAs and proposed AVAs

Get yourself to Oregon. You won’t regret it. Be it the Willamette Valley or further south in the Umpqua, Applegate or Rogue Valleys. Or maybe you head to some of those border areas that share AVAs with Washington. (they are good about sharing in Oregon)

You can find great information on Oregon from the Oregon Wine Board, Willamette Valley Wineries and the Southern Oregon Winery Association to get you started!

And don’t forget to check back here! We have loads of posts on our last trip and there will be more as we head back again this July!

More on Oregon wine Country

Here are a few you might want to check out:

And there are more, check the bottom of each page for other related pieces.

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

Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills

Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley

We finished our breakfast and morning flyover seminar, courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley.  With caffeine ingested and a little more information to give us a some perspective on the Yakima Valley, we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

This is a super nested AVA, inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is itself nested within the Columbia Valley AVA. (It is the darker region north of 82 to the West side of the map).

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

Located on the North Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was established in 2006 with vineyards dating back to 1968.  It’s about four miles south east of the city of Yakima, where we were staying.  The AVA spans over 74,000 acres with around 1,800 under vine.

Rattlesnake Hills take in the hills running east to west, that are north of the Yakima River.  Elevations for here are high, starting at 850 feet and going to over 3,000 feet, with most vineyards planted in the lower elevations.

Want to get really geeky on this area?  Visit the washingtonwine.org page for Rattlesnake Hills  https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas/rattlesnake-hills

Elephant Mountain Vineyard

It was October and harvest as we drove into Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We passed bins filled with fruit harvested that morning and had to stop and take grape glamour shots. 

We climbed up the mountain through the vineyards surrounded by high desert landscape.  I will admit to it feeling a little odd.  We are from Vegas and to see a vineyard in the midst of this landscape was a little disconcerting.  We climbed the hill to the picnic area on top, where picnic tables were set out with bottles of wine and plates of wine grapes.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Elephant Mountain Vineyard, in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnack Hills AVA

The Vineyard itself is located on the southern slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge which sits at the base of Elephant Mountain.  The ridge sits above the Missoula Flood plain.  Elevations here sit from 1320-1460 feet.The high elevation here means that they have about 30 more frost free days than the rest of the Yakima Valley.

Varieties Grown at Elephant Mountain

First planted in 1998 with Merlot and Cabernet, the vineyard has expanded to almost 120 acres which now includes Cab Franc, Mourvédre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Counoise, Barbera and Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne. 

I mentioned the grapes on the table.  It was a gorgeous line-up for tasting the ripe grapes of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouvédre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne.

  • Cinsault grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Marsanne & Counoise grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Co got started giving us a little background on the area and then, Joe Hattrup, the owner of the vineyard met us to speak about the vineyard. 

Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Joe has been a farmer all of his life, but when they started this vineyard, he was new to wine grapes. So they set up a test block to see what worked and learn about the grapes before planting them in the commercial blocks.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard map
Elephant Mountain Vineyard map

They began as I said with Cab & Merlot and quickly got into Syrah. From there they found tat this site with it’s high elevation was good for many of the Rhône varieties. Most Rhônes are late ripening and the elevation here gives them those 30 additional days frost free, as well a great southern exposure late in the year to help with ripening.

They do have a second vineyard, Sugarloaf, also in the Rattlesnake Hills. He mentioned that they had pulled out the Viognier here at Elephant Mountain to plant Grenache which is in high demand and grows better with the protection this site provides.

A little on the Geography

We mentioned the elevation here, but Co put this into perspective with a few stats. At this point in the Yakima Valley, the river sits at 900 feet, and we were standing at about 1450 feet. When you head east to Red Mountain, the river there sits at around 400 feet. So you can see the valley is much lower there.

  • Desert, Vineyard and basalt. In Yakima Valley's Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Basalt at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

We were standing in a ring of basalt lava rocks which informs the soils. Up on the ridge behind us, if you look closely, you can see a tree line. A band of trees sites at about 1600 feet, right at the line for moisture, fog and snow.

The views

Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • View of Mount Adams from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley
  • Vineyard View Elephant Mountain.

The wines

The lineup of wines on the table, all from wineries who source from this vineyard, was diverse and impressive!  The grapes are concentrated and the wines from these grapes tend to be really inky.

We tasted a wide sampling of Rhône varieties and blends from an assortment of wineries, all with fruit from this vineyard. It was really interesting to see the reflection of the fruit with it’s similarities and then the expression of the various winemakers on top of this.

  • Wines made with Elephant Mountain fruit WBC18

We were treated to a great lunch following this tasting. A food truck with Authentic Mexican food arrived to fill our bellies. I felt even more at home, with food truck the desert sage brush. Once full, we climbed back into our vans and headed to Walla Walla for the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference. But along the way, we took in some spectacular views and our driver filled us in on the history of the area, ancient as well as recent.

I’ll do yet another shout out to Barbara Glover at Wine Yakima Valley. This visit that she planned for us was entertaining, informative and beautifully paced. Thanks also to Co Dinn and Joe Hattrup for taking the time to give us these great insights into the Yakima Valley Wine Region. And of course to WBC18, without which we might not have visited this beautiful region.

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

Yakima Valley Seminar

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

We spent a glorious evening at Owen Roe Winery, tasting wines and meeting winemakers from all over the Yakima Valley.  Now it was time to get into the nitty gritty geeky stuff.

Wine Yakima Valley,  set us up with a morning seminar for a video flyover of the Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels to orient us on the layout of the valley.

Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels talk Yakima Valley Wine
Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels

Co Dinn

Co Dinn Cellars

I had met Co Dinn on the first evening in Yakima.  As the party was winding down, and the table emptying out, he came to my end of the table and introduced himself.  We spoke for quite awhile in the shadows, my shot of the wine I tasted with him, with attest to that.

Co has been a winemaker in Washington for over 20 years.  A UC Davis master’s grad, he worked in Napa and then came to Washington in 1996.  Since then he has worked with vineyards all over the state to make his wines.

He spent 12 years working with Côte Bonneville before diving into his own label Co Dinn Cellars, where he makes wines of the Yakima Valley and is devoted to learning everything about this areas soils and climates.  His knowledge is expansive as you will see as he speaks with us.

Kerry Shiels

Côte Bonneville

We mentioned that Co had spent time working with Côte Bonneville.  The Côte Bonneville estate vineyard is Du Brul Vineyard.  It was planted by Hugh and Kathy Shiels back in 1992 with the winery founded in 2001.  Kerry Shiels, daughter of Hugh and Kathy and the current winemaker at Côte Bonneville joined us for this conversation.

DuBrul Vineyard

Did I mention that Co was devoted to learning about the climates of the area.  Yes, that was plural climates.  When you talk about DuBrul vineyard, they have multiple microclimates within their 45 acre site. 

“In distance measured by hundreds of feet or less, we observe different growing conditions and tailor our farming practices to provide for the individual needs of the vine.

Quote courtesy the Cote Bonneville website https://www.cotebonneville.com/vineyard

This vineyard is recognized as one of the top in the state.

Part 1 – Overview and comparisons

In Part 1 below, we begin with Barbara Glover, the Executive Director of Wine Yakima Valley giving us an overview of the Yakima Valley AVA, it’s sub AVA’s and some of the surrounding area.  She then turns it over to Co Dinn. Co gives us a little perspective on the size of the wine region here compared to other regions. He and Kerry move on to a comparison of Washington to Burgundy and then moving on to talk about the soils and geology within this region.

Part 2 – Soil overview and Union Gap to DuBrul Vineyard

Part 2 continues with details on the soils and top soils.  They don’t have clay here, the soils here are gravel or sand.  As they don’t have clay, they don’t have phylloxera.  They are also in a rain shadow.  We zoom in and begin our flyover where Kerry details some of the vineyards that we will be driving by shortly on our way first to Elephant Mountain and then on to Walla Walla.

Kerry mentions the world class vineyard research happening here in the Yakima Valley.  She also tells us about the Red Willow Vineyard.  They focus on Syrah here and have a replica of the Chapel at Hermitage on the hill at the vineyard.  They also are looking deeply into the nuances of the different microclimates of the vines on different sides of their hill. Red Willow is a vineyard and at least 18 wineries source fruit from this iconic vineyard.  Our flyover takes us from Union Gap on the western end of the valley discussing areas and vineyards as we travel east.  We get to DuBrul Vineyard in Rattlesnack Hills AVA, where Kerry takes over speaking of their vineyard.

Kerry gives us a great quote from Bob Betz, Master of Wine

“Every grape would be red if it could.  Every grape would be cabernet if it could, and the best cabernet in the state of Washington is DuBrul Vineyard merlot.”

Part 3 – DuBrul to Red Mountain

 In Part 3 Co continues us east from DuBrul ending in Red Mountain.  This hill is an extension of Rattlesnake Ridge.  Red Mountain provides excellent structure and tannins and is used often in blends.  This is a southwest facing slope, not an entire mountain.  It is one of the warmest grape growing region in the state, so the cabernet grown there always ripens fully. 

We had a little time for questions which got into climate change. Kerry says the hillsides help to protect them according to most projections, but they are working on water management.  (She goes into some great details on why this is so)

Thanks to the Wine Media Conference https://www.winemediaconference.org/ (then known as the Wine Bloggers Conference) and Wine Yakima Valley https://wineyakimavalley.org/  for setting us the enjoyable and informative Pre-Conference tour.

Next up – Elephant Mountain Vineyard

From here we head out to Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the middle of the Yakima Valley

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Mont de Milieu Premier Cru Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre and Pôchouse #Winophiles

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

Pôchouse. What is that you ask? That was my response when I was researching what to pair with the Chablis I had picked up for this tasting. Quick answer…

pôchouse
La pôchouse, or pauchouse, is a recipe of French cuisine based on river fish, cut into pieces, and cooked with a white wine sauce, traditional Burgundy and Franche-Comté cuisine.

https://educalingo.com/en/dic-fr/pochouse

How did we get to pôchouse? Let’s start with the Wine.

Chablis with the French #Winophiles

Panoramic view of countryside and vineyards in Chablis
Panoramic view of countryside and vineyards in Chablis area, Burgundy, France

This month the French Winophiles are dipping our toes into Chablis. (scroll down to see all the stories by the Winophiles on the subject this month! AND… you can follow the conversation on Twitter using #Winophiles).

I found my wine, a Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Chablis from Mont de Milieu.

But lets back up a little more. I suppose we should start with a little breakdown of the region.

Chablis

Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis is part of Burgundy. Although if you look at a map , you might find that surprising. It sits 80 miles Northwest of the rest of Burgundy and is actually closer to Champagne than Burgundy. (take a look at the small inset map to see what I mean). In Chablis, one grape rules them all and that grape is Chardonnay. In fact, it is the only permitted grape in the region.

Chardonnay in Chablis
Chardonnay in Chablis

Kimmeridgian soils and a bit better sun

This region is has cool summers and cold winters, much like Champagne, but being further south and planted on South facing slopes it is protected from North winds and gets more sun exposure than they do in Champagne, allowing for better ripening. It is perhaps best known for it’s Kimmeridgian soils. Those south facing slopes are on an outcrop of Kimmeridgian marl, which provides great mineral nutrients for these grapes.

Breaking down the region

Chablis has but one Grand Cru. The Chablis Grand Cru is a 254 acre vineyard that is made up of 7 parcels. Then there are 40 premier cru vineyards, 17 of which are considered “principal” premiers. Mont de Milieu is one of these 17.

After that you have “Chablis” (you can see that in the brightest yellow on the map below), and finally the “Petit Chablis” which are tucked in and around the other vineyards and typically have less ideal slopes for sun and lesser soils.

Map of Chablis and it's vineyards, courtesy Pure Chablis
Map of Chablis and it’s vineyards, courtesy Pure Chablis

Mont de Milieu

So the wine we chose came from Mont de Milieu, and as I mentioned above, this is one of the 17 “Principal” premier crus. It sits on the right bank, on the east side of the Serein river. It is often compared to the Grand Cru site because it has similar sun exposure, which is important for ripening the grapes (remember it’s chilly up here in Chablis). The climate here is one of the warmest in Chablis which creates a rich wine.

The Kimmeridgian marl with clay and limestone rich soil is not as stony here. The soils make the vines struggle and they tend to produce fewer leaves. This again, helps with sun exposure to the berries for ripening.

A Border between Dukedoms

The area gets it’s name, which translates to “middle hill” from the fact that it marked the border between the dukedoms of Burgundy and Champagne.

Simonnet-Febvre

Founded in 1840, this is among the oldest wineries in the area. It has undergone several name changes over the years and specialized in Sparkling Chablis before Crémant de Bourgogne was even a thing. Here is a great story of their sparkling wines and current owner Latour…

Simonnet-Febvre is the only one in Chablis to perpetuate since its origin the production of sparkling wines from the traditional method – now called Crémant de Bourgogne. The grapes still come from the slopes of the Grand Auxerrois area, located a few kilometers away from the famous Chablis vineyards. Ironically, Louis Latour from the 4th generation had celebrated the purchase of the Château Corton with bottles of Sparkling Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre. These bottles were ordered on December 8th, 1891, which was 112 years before Louis Latour finally purchased Simonnet-Febvre. 

Courtesy https://www.simonnet-febvre.com

Alas…we are not talking about crémant, but rather their Chablis. But I did think that was a fun story.

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu 2013

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu
Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu

This wine comes from vines that average about 35 years old, fermented and then aged for 12 months in stainless steel on the lees.

This wine was clear and golden in the glass. On the nose I got slate and warm golden fruit. On my first taste I got tart fruit, rich like golden raisins. As it opened minerals and chalk became more present. As it continued to open and warm it flooded into warm blossoms, the rich fragrance of flowers on a hot humid afternoon.

We did taste a Chablis a little while back that I loved also. The difference between that wine and this were pronounced. The other Chablis was young, vibrant and full of mineral. The Mont de Milieu, an older wine and age worthy wine, was richer and fuller, less bright, less mineral driven, but rounder with greater depth. You could see this in color in the glass.

Pôchouse

The finished Pôchouse - non rustic version.
The finished Pôchouse – non rustic version.

Okay, back to the Pôchouse. So I was looking for a pairing for the Chablis and searching different sites. One of my go to sites is Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food and Wine. Fiona had lots of suggestions, broken down into the different styles and ages of Chablis’. Of course when I see something that I’m not familiar with, I’m intrigued. “Pôchouse” caught my attention. What was that?

So I googled it. Some of the fish stew recipes, looked delicious but humble. I was looking for something a bit fancier. Then I came across a recipe that looked so elegant and delicious… Gourmet Traveler’s version of Pôchouse was so pretty, I was determined to make it. Of course I couldn’t find perch, eel, sandre or hapuku all of which they offer as options in the recipe. So we went with rainbow trout for our river fish, which I love anyway. Also, no sorrel or watercress were to be found, so I substituted spinach and arugula. Oh…and I never have Bay leaves in the house when I need them, so I used dry thyme. The dish was fairly easy to make and the sauce…OMG it was heaven!

I’ll let you check the link for the full recipe, but here is the quick version.

Making Pôchouse

Cook sliced onions, mushrooms, bacon, garlic and your dried herb in grape seed oil and butter. Do this in a roasting pan you can then pop in the oven. Lay the fish fillets on top, bake a few minutes then pour about a half of a bottle of chard over it and cook a bit more. (I didn’t use the Chablis…I wasn’t cooking with a half a bottle of that! It was reserved for drinking.)

Pop it out of the oven, put the fish aside and drain the liquid to make the sauce. You will put that delicious blend of bacon, onions and mushrooms to the side for plating also.

Add some more butter to the liquid, plus olive oil and lemon juice and whisk. (This golden elixir is truly amazing).

Now take the sorrel (or spinach like me) and cook it until it wilts in butter.

Okay, now make it pretty! Mushrooms etc spooned in the bottom, top with the fish, then the sorrel butter, a dollop of sour creme, spoon the sauce over (and let it puddle on the bottom) and finish with the fresh arugula (or watercress, if you are lucky enough to have it).

The elegant pôchouse. Rainbow trout, on a base of mushrooms, onions and bacon, in a white wine sauce topped with spinach butter, sour creme & arugula

Our pôchouse made with rainbow trout on a bed of mushrooms, bacon & onions, with a white wine sauce, topped with butter sauteed spinach, sour creme and arugula.

How was the pairing you ask?

The dish was heaven and sang with the wine. The roundness of the wine paired beautifully with the sauce. The mushrooms and sour creme along with the mineral notes in the wine, the tang from the spinach and the peppery arugula all made for a delicious bite that was so well paired. Yep it was a close your eyes while you eat moment. That bit of Zen when deliciousness all comes together in your mouth.

The French #Winophiles on Chablis

On Saturday, April 20, we are convening on Twitter at 10 a.m. CST for a Chablis chat. If you like Chardonnay, ahem, Chablis, join in! Just use #winophiles and you’ll find us. We’ve got a fantastic group of bloggers posting about Chablis. We’ll talk about the region, the wines, food pairings and travel! Here’s a peek at all the posts you’ll be able to explore:

Cam at Culinary Adventures with Camilla Brings Us “Cracked Crab, Cheesy Ravioli, and Chablis

Gwendolyn at Wine Predator Shares “Chablis is … Chardonnay? Comparing 2 from France, 1 from SoCal Paired with Seafood Lasagna”

Liz at What’s in That Bottle Shares Chablis: the Secret Chardonnay

Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen Writes about “Top Chablis Pairings with Japanese Food”

Jennifer at Beyond the Cork Screw Has “French Companions: Chablis and Fromage Pavé

Payal at Keep the Peas writes about “Chablis: A Tale of Two Soils”

Jane at Always Ravenous has “Pairing Chablis with Marinated Shrimp Salad”

Jeff at Food Wine Click shares “All the Best Food Pairings with Clos Beru Chablis”

Jill at L’Occasion writes about “Metal Giants: Windfarms and the Chablis Landscape”

Susannah at Avvinare writes “Celebrating France with Chablis and Toasting Notre Dame”

David at Cooking Chat writes about “Sipping Chablis with Easter Dinner or Your Next Seafood Meal”

Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings writes about “A Delicate Pair: Jean Claude Courtault Chablis and Sichuan Peppercorn-Cured Salmon

Nicole at Somm’s Table writes about Domaine Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes with Scallops and Brussels Sprouts Two Ways

Kat at Bacchus Travel & Tours shares “The Delicate Face of Chardonnay: Chablis”

Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm Brings Us “Chardonnay? White Burgundy? Chablis!

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

Yakima Valley Hops with Nicholi Pitra

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

While in the Yakima Valley for WBC18, we were treated to “Flavor Camp” by Wine Yakima Valley.  This allowed us to explore 3 of the tasty libations that have roots here.  We of course discussed wine, but then also moved on to learn about two other major crops in the area, cider apples (check out our video with Marcus Robert of Tieton Cider Works), and hops!

Hops for Beer with Nicholi Pitra, Hop Geneticist with Hopsteiner.

Hopsteiner is a company that grows and breeds hops.  That’s the stuff that makes your beer so tasty.

What is a hop? 

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

Hops are cultivated flowers used as a preservative, and flavoring in beer. The bitterness of a hop is used to balance the sweetness of the malt. The hop’s essential oils add a unique flavor and aroma to the beer that cannot be achieved by using any other plant in the world. The hop plant is a spiraling perennial vine that grows in regions with slightly acidic soil, ample water and a lot of sunlight. Hops can climb strings, or poles and reach heights of 40 feet. A hop’s flowers are called a Cone, and most commonly dried before use, but can also be used “wet,” right off the vine (or “bine”, since this the technical term used for plants that climb).

Courtesy https://www.hopsteiner.com/faq/

So a Hop Geneticist?  What do they do?

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.

Nicholi Pitra is a Hop Geneticist, with Hopsteiner, who has a background in biochemistry, biotechnology, and bioinformatics.  He breeds and then tests hops, which is a minimum of a 10 year process.  He is looking to find desirable qualities in the hops, which includes growing healthy plants as well as finding those qualities that brewers are looking for.

The Yakima Valley and hops

Hops Growing In Yakima Valley

75% of the US grown hops come from the Yakima Valley.  You can see it when you are driving through.  Hops farms are all along the valley floor. 

The smells

Nicholi had a table filled with containers of different hop cones as well as the beers that each were used it, so we could do a comparison.  We rubbed the buds between our hands, releasing the fragrance and coating our hands with sticky resin. 

He talked us through some of the Hop varieties that Hopsteiner has, and the different flavor profiles (I mean, this is “flavor camp” right?)

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities

The range is wide from Apollo which has lime, grapefruit and pine to Calipso with tropical fruit, pear, apple and mint to Eureka!  With black currant, dark fruits, strong hers and pine to Lemondrop with lots of lemon and a little orange, green tea and melon.  So now you know…it’s not just adding orange to make that microbrew (although some brewers might do that), these flavors can come straight from the hop.  Just like you get blackberries in a syrah, which comes from the grape, you can get lemon from hops.

It’s all pretty cool and fascinating.

If you want to know more go to Hopsteiner or HopResearchCouncil

  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, a view of Hops in a Bin.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

You can also check out our post on the whole of Flavor Camp.

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