French Poets, Philandering Kings and little sweetness from Jurançon #Winophiles

Vineyard, Jurancon, France

This month the French Winophiles are heading to the Sud Ouest of France.  That south west corner that seems rather quiet. You don’t hear much about it. Within it you will find French Basque Country and Jurançon.    On the coast is the Pays Basque with it’s wine region of Irouleguy.  When you continue east you arrive at the Jurançon, which is our destination today. 

Map of the South West of France
South West of France

Jurançon

If you watched the Tour de France you might have seen the time trials in this region on July 19th in Pau which is just 15 miles east of this region.  (If you want to see a bit of the scenery… here you go…

Tour de France Time Trial in Pau in the Jurançon

Vineyards here sit in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The area is hilly with steep rolling hills, lush with trees and amazing views against a backdrop of the Pyrenees. There is a beautiful piece on Pau and this region on Wine Chic Travel.

Vineyard, Jurancon, France
Vineyard, Jurancon, France

The landscape is dotted with small vineyards and farms. If you put all the acreage under vine together, it would add up to about 5 square miles.

Petit Manseng – historically a great seducer

The area is best known for their sweet wines.  These wines were a favorite of the French poet Colette.  (If you do not know her…she wrote the novella “Gigi” which was turned into a movie with Maurice Chevalier singng the iconic song “Thank heaven for little girls”. I remember watching this movie when I was a little girl myself, I find myself not remembering it clearly. Perhaps it is time to find and watch it again.)

Colette called the Jurançon wines of Petit Manseng “seduction du vert galant”.  She was quoted saying

“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous as all great seducers are”. 

Colette

Her comments inspired winemakers to advertising “Manseng means Jurançon means sex”. 

Colette also said “Time spent with a cat is never wasted”. How can you not love this wise woman.

Evidently, this wine is also given credit for giving King Henry the IV of France, the strength to keep up his philandering! Born in Pau, Good King Henry  “…also became notorious for his sexual exploits, taking on many lovers and earning the nickname “Le Vert Gallant” (The Gay Old Spark).” biography.com

Grapes of the Jurancon
Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes are grown for Jurancon wine in Southwest France.

While Petit Manseng is well known and loved here, Gros Manseng is actually more widely grown. You will also find Camaralet de Lasseube. According to Madeline over at WineFolly Camaralet de Lasseube is very rare and Jancis Robinson in Wine Grapes called it endangered. This grape only produces female flowers. It also is prone to oxidation and has really low yields.

Petit Manseng

Indigenous to this region Petit Manseng is similar to Gros Manseng, but it has smaller berries and produces significantly different wine. Petit Manseng is aromatic with peach and citrus rounded out by tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.

This grape concentrates sugar in the berries during ripening and still maintains high acidity.  The sweet wines made here rival Sauternes, but can be found at a much more reasonable price.

Domaine Cauhapé

Henry Ramonteu, the owner and producer at Domaine Cauhapé is known to wait until January to harvest the last of his grapes for his sweet wines.

Many consider this to be the finest estate in Jurançon. The estate is 45 hectares on clay and siliceous soil. They grow Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Camaralet, Lauzet and Courbu.

2015 Symphonie de Novembre Jurançon

Domaine Cauhapé Symphonie de Novembre
Domaine Cauhapé Symphonie de Novembre from the Jurançon

This is one of the first picks for this Domaine’s sweet wines, picked in November. It is 100% Petit Manseng and sits at 13.5% abv. This golden elixir comes from vines that are about 500 m (wait, perspective for those of us in the US…1,640 feet!) on steep vineyards.

Pairing the Jurançon

The classic pairing for this wine is Foie Gras. Baked fruit desserts and Roquefort cheese, as well as poultry dishes are suggested. We settled that we might as well go in for the Foie Gras. I know…I am typically against this. I’m feeling the guilt, but …it was delicious.

Cured & Whey to the Rescue!

Cured & Whey sign
Cured & Whey

I called Cured & Whey and they said they had it foie gras in stock, so we headed across town to see them. Michael the owner came out to talk with us about the foie gras. They have convenient little 2 oz packets of foie, and Michael suggested this was our best bet for two single portions. I asked Diana about a Roquefort, and while she had one, she suggested the Ewe’s Blue.

Ewe's Blue Cheese
Ewe’s Blue Cheese

This award winning cheese is from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Old Chatham, New York. It is a rindless cheese made from fresh sheep’s milk that is similar to Roquefort, and delicious!

On the way home, I found a recipe to riff on…here we go.

Pan-seared Fois Gras with apple puree and orange reduction.

Pan seared foie gras
Pan-seared Fois Gras with apple puree and orange reduction

Remember…this is just a riff on a recipe. I started with the puree. It was just butter, thinly slice apple, a little jam (I used mango passion fruit) and a little wine (think dry white, although I actually used the rose in my glass). Toss in a pan until soft then toss in the blender.

Cut a couple of circles of brioche and toast them in the oven.

Carefully score the two pieces of fois gras, add salt and pepper and put them in a pre-warmed pan at medium heat. 2 minutes per side, then on a plate to rest.

Lastly, use a bit of the drippings, add fresh squeezed orange juice and a little bit of wine (I used the Sauternes I had on hand and open), a little orange zest and some finely chopped rosemary. Reduce, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate the crunchy bits.

Ewe's Blue, apples, pecans & baby dried pineapple
Ewe’s Blue, apples, pecans & baby dried pineapple

We also put together a board of the Ewe’s Blue, sliced apple, dried baby pineapple and roasted salted pecans.

The Wine – taste the Jurançon

This wine was lush with great acid as well as that sweetness. It was definitely a food wine and is my kind of sweet wine, not cloying. I got tart apple, and pineapple on the nose and palate.

To Match or Contrast

Jurançon and pairings
Jurançon and pairings

With pairings, often we try to either match flavors or contrast them. The foie gras was delicious and both the apple puree and the orange sauce matched the wine perfectly with their acid and flavor profile. The Ewe’s Blue did the opposite, the tang and salt contrasting with the wine. Quite honestly, as delicious as the foie gras was, the pairing with the Ewe’s Blue was our favorite of the two.

Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate

A surprising pairing was with dark chocolate, which Domaine Cauhapé suggested. Michael grabbed a bar and I was really skeptical. This turned out to be a surprisingly delicious pairing.

The wines of Jurançon are certainly worth searching for and exploring. I will look for some of the Jurançon dry white wines to explore in the future. For now…if you are searching for a sweet wine, expand a little further than Sauternes and try the sweet wines of the Jurançon. You won’t be disappointed and your wallet will be happy!

Read on for other great pieces on the French Basque Country and the Sud Ouest by the French #Winophiles!

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

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

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

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

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

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

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

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

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

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

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

Picpoul-de-Pinet

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

The Grape

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

Picpoul comes to America

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

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

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

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

Arroyo Seco

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

Beeswax Vineyards

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

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

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

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

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

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

Picpoul in California

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

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

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

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

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

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

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

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

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

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

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

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

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

The #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

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

 

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!