French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

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

French Wine 101

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

Old World vs New World

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

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

French wine names

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

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

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

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

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

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

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

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

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

Muscadet

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

Chenin Blanc

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

Sauvignon Blanc

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

Cabernet Franc

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

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

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

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

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

For more…

Alsace

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

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

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

For more…

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

Chablis

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

Chardonnay

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

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

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

Pinot Noir

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

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

Chardonnay

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

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

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

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

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

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

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

The Rhone Valley

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

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

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

Syrah

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

Viognier

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

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

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

Red Rhône Blends

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

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

White Rhône Blends

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

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

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

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

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

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

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

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

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

Sweet wines of Sauternes

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

For more…

Provence

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

Rosé

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

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

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

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

For more…

Other regions

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

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

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

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

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

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

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

The Multiple Expressions of Vouvray! #Winophiles

Corks from the Styles of Vouvray

Vouvray….it’s a lovely word to say. A french wine, it is named for a region, not a variety. It comes from the Loire Valley. That’s the Val de Loire on the map below.

Map of French Wine Regions

The Loire Valley wine region spans 300 miles along the Loire River from Sancerre to Nantes and is broken into 4 very distinct regions from west to east:

  • The Pays Nantais – closest to the Atlantic that has a maritime influence.
  • Anjou-Saumur – a little further inland
  • Touraine – even further east
  • The Upper Loire – this area furthest east and inland has a more continental climate and follows the Loire River as it begins to curve south.
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

The region historically was known as the Valley of the Kings and the river is dotted with tremendous chateaus that are show stoppers. We will focus on the Touraine region which is sometime called the “Garden of France”.

The Touraine

When we speak about the Touraine, there are two primary grapes that come to mind:

  • Cabernet Franc which you find in Chinon, Bourgueil and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil.
  • Chenin Blanc well known in Montlouis-sur-Loire and probably the most well known region in the Touraine, Vouvray.

Vouvray

You have likely seen a Vouvray on a shelf at a wine shop.  It is perhaps the best known of the Touraine appellations.  It sits just north of the Loire River East of the city of Tours. 

Vouvray was one of France’s first Appellations, in 1936.

The area in the “Garden of France” has many Chateaus and gardens. Here is a quick visual trip…

  • Vines and church at Vouvray France - August 2016 - The bell tower of the church of Notre Dame et Saint Jean Baptist surrounded by vines above Vouvray  in the Indre et Loire region of France
  • Chateau Valmer in Vouvray France
  • Les jardins du château Valmer. (The Gardens at Château Valmer) in Vouvray
  • Vines and grapes at Vouvray France - August 2016 -  Vines and bunches of white grapes above Vouvray  in the Indre et Loire region of France

Chateau Valmer (pictured above) does make a Vouvray, but sadly, I was not able to find a bottle. Perhaps a trip to the beautiful Château, built at the beginning of the 16th century is in order.

Styles of Vouvray

Vouvray is a wine of many variations.  It is made of Chenin Blanc, which sometimes in the region is call Pineau de la Loire.  You will find it both Sparkling and Still.

Sparkling Vouvray

Sparkling wines, known here as “fines bulles”, may be made in the Methode Traditionelle – which is the method used in Champagne.   You might find these called Cremant de Loire.  It can also be made Pétillant (Pét Nat), just slightly bubbly in the Method Ancestral. 

In style it can be Brut or dry, or Demi-Sec, which is sweet.

They like their fines bulles here, with sparkling being 60% of the production.  And, they like to keep it here, only 1 in every 20 bottles of Loire Bubbles make it out of the country, as opposed to the still wines, where 1 of every 3 is sold out of France. 

Still Vouvray

In the still wines you have a variety of sweetness levels from Dry, called Sec through Tendre or Sec-Tendre (off dry) to Demi-Sec which is definitely sweet to Moelleux which is a sweet dessert wine.

It can be difficult to tell which sweetness level you are getting. The residual sugar level is not written on the bottle. Sometimes, a wine will specify sec or demi-sec, but it’s easy to be fooled, as I was.

Choosing a variety of Vouvrays

I went shopping for Vouvrays. The sparkling was simple…it was the only one available. Then for the stills I wanted a Sec and a Demi-Sec. I found a house that had both. But I wanted to expand and choose more than one house, so I chose another that I believed was Sec, but was not labeled. I ended up with a wine that was actually sweeter than the Demi-Sec I chose! Lesson learned, and now I share that lesson with you! On to the Wines

Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Sparkling Vouvray

Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Brut from Vouvray
Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Brut from Vouvray

This wine is made in the Methode Traditionelle. They age on the yeast for 24 months. I noted that they age “sur lattes” which means stacked on their sides. The wine is 12.5% abv and it runs a reasonable $19.99 SRP.

Famille Bougrier “V” Vouvray Grande Réserve 2018

Famille Bougrier 2018 "V" Vouvray Grande Réserve
Famille Bougrier 2018 “V” Vouvray Grande Réserve

This wine, the Grande Réserve “V” Vouvray from Famille Bougrier, is aged for several months in wood. This makes the wine fuller and richer than the regular Bougrier “V” which is made in stainless steel. This wine is 11% abv and I picked it up for $14.99.

Clos Chapon Vourvray Demi-Sec

Clos Chapon 2017 Vouvray Demi-Sec
Clos Chapon 2017 Vouvray Demi-Sec

This Demi-Sec wine does have thermometer graphic on the back of the bottle to indicate the sweetness level. Of course I knew I was getting a sweeter wine as it listed Demi-Sec on the label. The Clos Chapon Vouvray is 13% abv and runs $14.99.

How sweet is this Vouvray?

Tasting and Pairing

Vouvray tasting profile collage
Vouvray tasting profile

I shopped in the afternoon, looking to find things to pair with all the styles. Across the board, I knew the basic flavor profiles would include: lemon, apricot, pear, apple, honey and camomile.

I settled on a cheese plate to cover all the styles with fontina, camembert, goat cheese, dried apricots, honey, apple, pear, prosciutto, and salami.

Cheese and charcuterie to pair with Vouvrays

I made a crab salad to pair with the dry wine, which turned out to be the sparkling. We tested some Thai green curry and Indian Palak Paneer with Rajmah Dal as well as pork chops with apples.

  • Crab salad and pork chops with apples
  • Thai Green Curry
  • Palak Paneer & Rajmah Dal

All of the food paired beautifully. Michael was very happy. He tends to avoid sparkling wines, as he doesn’t find them very flavorful. All of these wines were great for his palate. All of these wines are extremely sipable on their own in addition to being great with the food.

A couple of standouts. The crab salad (which was just olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper), went best with the sparkling. You want to go dry with this pairing. The Thai Green Curry was best with the Bougrier Reserve, due to the sugar level. This dish was a tad spicy and the sweetness balanced that. The Palak Paneer, went best again with the sparkling. Oh and dessert! We had lemon bars which were genius with the Pure Loire Brut!

Lemon bars with sparkling Loire

The French #Winophiles on Vouvray

The French Winophiles will gather on December 21st on Twitter at 8:00 am Pacific (that’s 11 am Eastern Standard time, so if you are on the East coast you can sleep in a little!) to talk about Vouvray. Just follow the #Winophiles hashtag. You can always join the chat, even if you don’t have a blog.

Check out all the great articles on Vouvray and different ways to pair it!

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

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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Shopping for wine…..

I spent the afternoon at Total Wine.  I know…it’s a big corporate wine store.  But I find I am lacking on small wine shops on my side of the valley.  Khoury’s, you know I love you, but you are on the other side of the planet.  And Marche Bacchus..well, I wasn’t planning on lunch and I can’t resist that if I stop by.

So, I’m wandering the aisle at Total Wine.  This is because I need a bottle of wine to enjoy tonight.  Michael is working and I can’t just pop a bottle from the cellar!  That wouldn’t be fair.  So I am off to find something else, something meaningful, but not so expensive that I feel guilty drinking it without Michael.  I find myself drawn to the domestic wines.  I really want to be a “buy local” kind of girl!  So I stroll though and find myself only looking at the top shelfs.  Well, there are two things about this.  First, those are the more expensive wines.  But second, that is where you find the smaller vineyards and wineries. I’m looking to avoid the giant consumer conglomerate wines.  No Constellation or even Terlato for me!  I look for names that I know or recognize as smaller vineyards.  I found a Tablas Creek wine over in the Alternative reds today!  I was drawn to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay today, because of my current infatuation with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  There was a Sanford Chard and Pinot, but…they are owned by Terlato.  I found a Grgich Hills Chardonnay and Fume Blanc (the Fume Blanc came close to hitting my basket!).  On the Pinot Noir aisle I look longingly at a Trisae Pinot Noir, as well as a Monkey House from Argyle, both vineyards I love in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

I was looking for a smaller winery.  Who I support is important to me.  I must admit a little disappointment in the recent Wine Enthusiasts Awards.  Barbara Banke, Rodney Strong and Paso Robles….well, this is a little establishment based.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy Kendall-Jacksons wines as well as Rodney Strong and I have spent quite a bit of time in Paso.  But this seems extraordinarily mainstream.  There is so much more out there!  My current infatuation is with Sta. Rita Hills and the entire amazing Santa Barbara County.  And I do love Paso…the Adelaida district has my heart….But I’m looking for more.  Yes, I am a sucker for the story.  I am not a wine reviewer.  I don’t need blind tasting.  For me the experience is part of the tasting, the atmosphere, be it restaurant, winery or home, has alot to do with how I enjoy the wine.  I return to my favorite wine quote:  “I like drinking wine made by people I like!”  (this fabulous quote I got from John Hilliard, as he repeated a comment by a winemaker he met at a major tasting…forgive me for not remembering her name…I’m sure she is very well known and I should!).  This is the bottom line.  I don’t like or dislike varieties or wines by their alcohol percentage, they just need to be balanced.  But I do like wines better when I like the people who make them.  If I have a bad experience in the tasting room, the wines won’t taste as good (keep this in mind when you hire tasting room staff!) and an educated winemaker who is passionate about what he or she is doing will always make the wines taste better to me.  I cannot separate these things.

I left with a Chenin-Blanc Viognier blend from Pine Ridge in Napa.  They were the last vineyard we tasted at on our trip that way and a favorite of my friend Kathy. I remember pulling up at the end of the day and strolling through their demo gardens out front, then wandering in to the lovely tasting room and having a pleasant tasting.  Not the best ever, but quite pleasant and knowing how much my friend Kathy and her husband love this place has warmed my memories of it.   I had a pasta with shellfish blend in a red sauce planned to curl up with for dinner with a side salad, so this should be perfect.  I ended up with Orecchette with the shellfish blend in a marinara sauce with a little lemon zest and some chipotle dusting to kick in a little spice.  This went beautifully with the wine.  I ended up skipping the salad…no one was home to see me enjoy two bowls of just the pasta, and you won’t tell, right?

 

 

The Joy of Vouvray!

I had the best Secret Santa this year!  I got Yoga Socks, a beautiful plant, an exceptional healthy dinner and…two bottles of wine.  One of those bottles I popped on my own while Michael was working and enjoyed with a solo dinner, snuggled in a blanket on the couch.  The other, I saved to enjoy with Michael.  It was a 2010 Les Trois Argiles Vouvray.

Vouvray is a region in the Loire Valley in France and is east of the city of Tours.  Vouvray  is typically 100% Chenin Blanc, but the grape Arbois is also permitted, though rarely seen.  Vouvray itself is versatile in that it can be made in multiple styles from dry to sweet.  Sec is dry with less than .4% residual sugar, from there you move to Demi-Sec, Moelleux and finally Doux which is the sweetest with 4.5% residual sugar.  It can also be made into a sparkling wine.  Traditionally  Vouvray is made with neutral barrels or stainless steel and does not go into malolactic fermentation.  This wine is bottled early and ages in the bottle.  Many fine Vouvray’s especially those that are Moelleux or Doux can age for decades.  The Sec or Demi-Sec have potential to age for 15-20 years.

This region is actually very cool and harvests are often late here, sometimes the latest in all of France falling into November. If a year is very cool more sparkling wine will be made as there is higher acid in the grapes, whereas in warmer years they will lean toward making more Vouvray.  The finest Vouvray’s are the product of Noble Rot much as Sautermes are.

Besides the cool temperatures, this area is also known for vineyards on cliff tops. The limestone cliffs below were often used for the harvesting of tuffeau rocks used to build Chateaux.  These caves that were created were then turned into cellars.  The entire area is situated on a plateau and most vineyards  face the river.

This is a food friendly wine, like Riesling and goes well with chicken, seafood, pork, soft cheeses, fruit and almonds.  The reviews of the 2010 Le Trois Argiles specifically recommended shrimp, crab or lobster…so…

I threw together a quick Scampi.  When I say quick, I mean take all the shortcuts because Michael just got home and is really hungry!  He tossed some langoustine ragoons in the oven along with the Par baked Ciabatta I had picked up.  I whipped up a salad with herb greens and pine nuts, threw on a pot to boil some linguine and got some butter into a pan on the stove.  We cheated and picked up frozen precooked shrimp, which we defrosted under cold running water and then tossed in olive oil with garlic and salt.  This was a quick cook when the butter was done and then we added a little of the Vouvray as well as fresh parsley.  This was a 15 minute meal.  As a result, the shrimp missed out on picking up lots of the flavors, but all in all it was a good match.  Next time it will be better.

The Vouvray was suggested to drink at 47 degrees, but we found that we enjoyed it more and more as it warmed over the course of the evening.  For me the nose was the spray as you cut into a fresh green apple.  It had beautiful acid that was not overpowering and made you want to go back for more and more.

It is my understanding that it goes beautifully with Turkey or Ham, sooo if your Christmas dinner has either on the menu, I suggest picking up a bottle.  Many very good Vouvray’s can be found between $15 and $20, so they are very affordable.

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Wilson Creek, so much more than Almond champagne

Wilson Creek Sign Art in Oil

I will admit to a bit of snobbery.  I really had no desire to go to Wilson Creek in Temecula. I mean you find bottles of their Almond champagne in Long’s Drug Stores (well you did when they were around).  I figured how could they be creating wine I would like to drink?  Well… there is a lot more to them then the Almond champagne.

Wilson Creek is located at the far east end of Rancho California Road and it is rare that you will get there and find the parking lot not full.  While the grounds are huge and beautiful, a favorite for weddings and the buildings and event center large and impressive, this is still a family affair at heart.

Wilson Creek View

Wilson Creek View

Gerry and Rosie Wilson acquired the 20 acre vineyard in 1996 with the simple intent of running a fun family business and making great wine. With the entire family, children and grand children as well as 5 golden retrievers who can be seen often on property, they have succeeded in making this a family affair.

The Lower Garden is open to parties of 10 or less for picnicing. They just ask that you don’t come to camp!  No tents or shade covers, ice chests or animals and no outside alcoholic beverages.

The Creekside Restaurant offers a menu for lunch that can be enjoyed around the grounds.  You place your order at the Concert Stage and it will be delivered to you in the upper garden.  You can enjoy this in the lower garden also, but you will need to pick up your order.  The menu includes a variety of lunch items as well as a full wine list, beer and other beverages.

With their Event Center Wilson Creek stays busy with Corporate Events and private parties.  The Event Center includes 3 spaces that can accommodate 50-300 people each with a dance floor.  In addition they have two stages that can accommodate up to 400 guests.  Really this place can be party central for 6 or 7 large parties at time!

Bill Wilson is the son and owner.  He works with his Mom & Dad, Brother & Sister, Wife, brother in law & sister in law.  (Did I mention that this was a family affair?) Bill’s Mom and Dad can often be seen on the grounds with their two golden retrievers. They have 92 acres and grow 12 varieties on the estate and then source some grapes.  The varieties used in their wines include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel.  They also . When you listen to Bill you know that you are not dealing with a corporation, this is a joyful family affair.  They incorporated what they loved about the wineries they visited when they created Wilson Creek.  And it’s not just about their winery, they want to promote Temecula and encourage people to come and taste, enjoy and learn.  Listen to the great interview with him at http://www.temeculawines.org/videos/ and see exactly what I mean.

I didn’t think it was possible that Wilson Creek used Methode Champenois for their almond champagne, and I was right. There is no way they could do that and sell it at that price!  What I was surprised by, was that they do use the Charmat method which is fermenting the wine in bulk in stainless steel tanks!  The final method they actually refer to as “cheating” on their site.  In this method CO2 is injected into the wine.  Typically this method causes very large bubble that can cause Huge headaches!  They do not cheat at Wilson Creek.  They do, by the way have a wonderful section of their website on wine education called Wine 101 that Mick Wilson put together with fascinating information on Barrels, Port, Champagne, Wine Varietals and much more.  http://www.wilsoncreekwinery.com/Wine-101/Default.aspx

Wilson Creek Picnic View

Wilson Creek Picnic View

The next time you are in Temecula, drive all the way out Rancho California to Wilson Creek, taste some wine, stroll the grounds and say hello to the Wilson’s.  You will know them by the golden retrievers at their sides!