Fall, Thanksgiving and the flavors of Rasteau #Winophiles

The beautiful embossed Rasteau AOC Cru bottle Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

Rasteau. Perhaps it’s a name you are not familiar with. This region in the Southern Rhône has long been known for their sweet Vin Doux Naturel wines. It was just recently (2010) awarded Cru status for it’s dry red wines.

This post is a sponsored post. In conjunction with the French #Winophiles I recieved 4 bottles of wine from Rasteau as samples to taste and write about. The opinions provided are my own.

Rasteau

The name itself comes from the French word “râteau” meaning rake. The hills and valleys here look like the tines of a rake.

  • The Fortress in Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
  • Rolling vineyards showing the altitude in Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

The region is east of the famous Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Perspective…it is 21 miles from Avignon, at the very south of the Rhône River and 12.5 miles from Orange. Writing this out made me realize how small this area really is. This is a small medieval village with cobbled streets. Located in the Haut-Vaucluse, this little village faces south and looks to the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range.

Haut-Vaucluse

The name might not be familiar to you, but this is the region that inspired Cézanne and Chagall. Farmlands with orchards, olive groves and lavender fields cover this area of Provençe. Here you find ancient cities, including Rasteau.

Dentelles de Montmirail

This small mountain chain is just south of the village of Vaison-la-Romaine. Dentelles translated to English is “lace” as the mountains have a scalloped lace like feel as you look at them.

Geography, Climate & Soils

The Rasteau AOC Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
The Rasteau AOC Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

As I mentioned the village faces south. The soils differ depending on the altitude. Lower altitudes have pebble rich soils, a little further up you reach sandy marl (between 525 and 951 feet) and the highest vineyards have red and grey marl with galets, those pudding stones that the Rhône is so famous for.

  • Pudding stones in AOC Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
  • Old vines and galets or pudding stones AOC Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

As far south as they are you get loads of sunshine and it’s relatively dry. Plus the Mistral wind keeps the vines healthy. All that air keeps the vines dry and free from mold and disease. But…the vineyards on this south facing slope are arranged in a bowl or amphitheatre shape which keeps them safe from the most brutal of the winds. So they get the good breezes, not the damaging wind.

Red Rhône Blends with some rules

The wines here are made up of red Rhône varieties that you are likely familiar with, but with a couple of rules.

  • The blend must be at least 50% Grenache Noir
  • At least 20% of the wine must be Syrah & Mourvèdre (that’s 20% together)

We recieved 4 samples, each with a slightly different blend. Two of which were 2015 vintage and two that were the 2016 Vintage.

All of the wines were food friendly, made to bring to table, to share and enjoy with food and laughter.

2016 Rasteau wines from Domaine M. Boutin and Domaine La Fond de Notre Dame
2016 Rasteau wines from Domaine M. Boutin and Domaine La Fond de Notre Dame

Domaine La Font de Notre Dame 2016 Rasteau Le Chêne

This is an old family estate renamed by the sons in 2016. The Domaine has vineyards in several regions including Gigondas, Sablet and Lirac in addition to their vineyard in Rasteau.

The vineyard sits on the top of a hill at 350 meters between the Ouvèze and Aygue valleys with soil of brown marl and pebbles.Vines here average 80 years old, so they were the oldest of the samples we recieved.

The wine is Grenache driven at 80% with 10% Mourvèdre and 5% each of Syrah and Cinsault. The Grenache is grown in the gobelet style (bush style, untrellised)

The Domaine La Font de Notre Dame was the lightest bodied of the 4 Rasteau wines we tasted and was also the highest percentage of Grenache. It was bright and elegant.

Domaine M. Boutin 2016 Rasteau

Mikael Boutin, the winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker. Domaine M. Boutin is a small operation. His facility is the size of a two car garage size and he works mostly with concrete tanks. He has almost 5 acres of vines scattered over 8 parcels. The vines average 40 years old and are are varied soils and have different exposures. Regardless of the fact that they are scattered, they are all organically certified.

Mikael hand harvests and does wild yeast ferments in his concrete tanks. The wines are kept on the fine lees for 8 months (still in the concrete tanks). Wines are held in bottle for 12 months before release.

Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau

Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau
Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau

This property had been kept for generations as a traditional farm by the Roux family, who gradually turned the focus to vineyards. In 2007 the Quiot family purchased the property, 12 acres are with in the Rasteau AOC.

This is a 60/40 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre from vines that average 30 years in age. The grapes are de-stemed and after around 3 weeks of masceration do a 3 week indigenous yeast ferment. They age for a year in foudres and concrete.

Lavau 2015 Rasteau

2015 Lavau Rasteau bottle shot
2015 Lavau Rasteau

This wine comes from east facing stony hillsides. Harvests here are small and late. This blend in 50/50 Grenache and Syrah. Destemmed, 25 day masceration and a year of aging in mostly neutral oak.

A little on the 2015 vintage from Lavau

After a wet winter and spring, followed by a few showers in June, the vines were able to withstand the extreme summer droughts due to the water reserves. Ripening conditions were optimal with sunny days and cool nights, accompanied by a light Mistral wind. The harvested grapes showed exceptional concentration and balance.

Groupe Lavau Maucoil www.lavau.fr

Thanksgiving Pairing with Rasteau

With Thanksgiving right around the corner here in the US, I looked at these wines and determined that the flavor profiles would pair nicely with those fall foods we indulge in at Thanksgiving.

The menu

Thanksgiving flavors to pair with the wines of Rasteau
Thanksgiving flavors to pair with the wines of Rasteau

With just 2 of us, we took a simpler route than roasting an entire turkey. I found 2 turkey breast marinated and applewood smoked to cook like a pork loin, roasting it in the oven. This took my cooking time to a little over an hour, rather than the 3 or so for a full bird.

I looked to flavors that would match the wine. Herb de Provençe was a no brainer for this area of southern France and the berry notes of raspberry, blackberry and cherry noted in the wine…well I figured that adding some cranberry and making a sauce would be pretty perfect.

  • Smoked roasted turkey breast with a berry sauce, roasted mashed sweet potatoes with herbs de provençe and sauteed green beans with fried shallots, almonds & balsamic reduction.
  • Rasteau Rouge with turkey, sweet potatoes and seared brussel sprouts.
  • Thanksgiving and Rasteau

I roasted the sweet potatoes (a regular sweet potato and a purple sweet potato with sweet white flesh) in olive oil, herb de provençe, salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg and then mashed them with butter and a dash of stock. The nutmeg brought out that bit of spice in the wines.

For our green vegetables… we did fresh green beans, cooked in butter and a bit of stock, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and sprinkled with sea salt, as well as boiled brussel sprouts, that I then sliced and pan seared to pull out the sweetness. Both of course got a dash of the herbs de Provençe,

Cheese Pairing with the Rasteau Wines
Cheese Pairing with the Rasteau Wines

We did start with a cheese platter, with a decided feminine feel. I picked up “New Woman” cheese which has jerked spices in it, and Two Sisters Gouda. We rounded this out with dried cherries, blackberries, raspberries, apple and almonds.

Honestly, all the foods paired beautifully with all of these wines. Not a bad pairing in the bunch. Tying in the fruit notes as well as the herbs and spices really made these pairings sing.

Verdict

Michael found both of the 2015 wines to be more weighty and substantial. I would agree. There might be several components to this, the age, the vintage, which as we saw above was very warm and the blend. Both of these wines were simply Grenache and one other variety and the Mourvèdre and Syrah that they used can both be weighty. I did really enjoy the Domaine La Font de Notre Dame, for exactly the reason that it was not weighty. Perhaps I was in a very Grenachey mood. I was also really enamoured by the story of MB Boutin and his 2 car garage size set up and his scattered hand picked vineyards. Mikael’s story definitely influenced my tasting and I savored visualizing his harvest while sipping the wine.

All of these wines were delicious, but they are decidedly food wines. On their own, they were fine, but not wines to sit and deeply contemplate with your nose in a glass. They are wines to pop open and enjoy with people and food. They are not showy, they are complimentary, quietly, each in it’s own way, adding to the meal and elevating the food.

These wines are in the perfect price point. Running from $18 to $25 SRP, these are wines that you can easily bring to the table to enjoy without the pressure of needing to stop and take detailed tasting notes.

For more information on these wines on social media, check out

  • Twitter: @RhoneWine
  • Instagram: @rhonevalleyvineyards, @vinsderasteau
  • Facebook: @RhoneValleyVineyards, @aoc.rasteau
  • Or search for the hashtags: #rhone #rasteau #rasteauwine #rhonewine

Or visit Vins-Rhône.com for details on wines and vineyards throughout the Rhône region

The French #Winophiles

We will be gathering on twitter under the hashtage #Winophiles to talk about the wines of Rasteau on Saturday morning November 16th. It’s early at 8 am if you are in the Pacific time zone, a more reasonable 10 am in the midwest and a luxurious 11 am on the east coast. Join us to chat about these wines and the pairings we all found!

Here is a list of the other terrific articles written on the wines of Rasteau by the other #Winophiles!

Shout out to Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog who was terrific in helping secure samples from Rhône Valley Vineyards for some participants (one of which was me!). Thanks Michelle!

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.

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.

Fabulous French Biodynamic Wines and some Exquisite Pairings #Winophiles

Livienière 2011 Les Planels a biodynamic French Wine

biodynamic

adjective

bio·​dy·​nam·​ic | \ˌbī-(ˌ)ō-di-ˈna-mik,

Definition of biodynamic 

1 : of or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus biodynamic practices

2 : grown by or utilizing biodynamic farming biodynamic vegetables a biodynamic vineyard

Merriam Webster definition https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodynamic

Biodynamics and me

I grew up with a Mother Earth News on the coffee table, the Farmers Almanac from my dad’s shelf was referred to for the garden.  I do Yoga and believe in chakras.  You will find a stone or crystal in my pocket most days and essential oils in my drawer.  I have a dear friend who has a house in Hawaii, she and a friend put out gifts for Pele during the last expansion of Kilauea and I am sure that it protected her home.  Yet somehow, when I speak with winemakers or vineyard owners about biodynamics, the skeptic comes out in me.  I will talk with them about how it is probably the attention to detail in the vineyard that causes the results to be so good.  And they ARE good, of that I am sure. 

Michael and I had a discussion about this recently.  I value his perspective, as he tends to be analytical with these things.  We talked about the preparations, with cow manure in a cow horn buried in the ground.  Sounds like a “potion” right?  But you are creating something with the biology in the ground, the micro-organisms on the site.  That’s science.  We discussed the leaf days, which I have been really hesitant to buy into, but they are based on moon cycles.  I’m a woman, I believe in moon cycles.  Again…there is some science behind it.

Finally we came around to the founder, Rudolph Steiner, and I think I found my answer.  I don’t have enough depth of knowledge on him and I am skeptical of one guy coming up with all the answers.  (ie, I love Bikram Yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this style yoga…not so much)

What I will tell you, is that I have yet to meet a biodynamic wine that I didn’t like,  and when it comes to the people I have met on vineyards who are growing biodynamically, they are some of my very favorite people in the industry.  You can check out a couple of interviews we have done with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Rudy Marchesi of Montinore.

 But for now, lets get on to a quick explanation of biodynamics and then move on to the wines!

Biodynamics

As the definition at the top says, this is about a holistic approach to farming that looks at the farm as a self-sustaining system.  It takes organic a step further.  These farms work without chemicals and adhere to a lunar calendar. 

Biodynamics in Winemaking

Rudy Marchesi reminded me in our interview

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamic practices have been adapted to growing wine grapes and processing wine.  Demeter International is the most recognized organization for official biodynamic certification.  https://www.demeter-usa.org/

Certification is difficult, can be expensive and must be renewed annually. Biodyvin is another organization in Europe that certifies vineyards http://www.biodyvin.com/en/home.html

You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.

Biodynamic logos on labels
Biodynamic logos on labels

Finding Biodynamic wine

It’s tough!  If you are not out in wine country it can be hard to find!  In Las Vegas I could not find any biodynamic French wines at the “to be unnamed” wine store that claims to be “total” on the wines is carries.  The manager told me that 100% of the people buying wine do not care about biodynamics. After a sharp glance from me, he updated his statement to “only 1 out of 100 customers care”.  I did admonish him, that as people in the industry, it was our job to educate people on this subject.

So I searched and finally purchased wine online to be shipped to me.  I was lucky to have Jeremy at wine.com who was willing to do the research and provide me with multiple links to wines they had available to choose from.  I settled on the Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011 and the Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016.

The bottles arrived and I found them to be without Demeter labels.  But I had researched and each of the wineries said they grew biodynamically! Well they are.  My love/hate relationship with certifications comes out here.  Running a winery is a busy all-encompassing business.  Certification means extra time and money that many wineries may not have.  Also, it depends on when they were certified!  I checked my Tablas Creek bottles.  They were certified in October of 2017, so it won’t be until the 2018’s are released that they will be able to put the Demeter logo on their label.

They have a great piece on their blog about attending the International Biodynamic Wine Conference that makes for great reading.  https://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2018/05/consumers-dont-really-understand-the-difference-between-organic-and-biodynamic.html

So…while I won’t show you Demeter logos on the bottles I tasted, I will tell you about the vineyards and their biodynamic practices.  And then…we will get to the delicious pairings.

Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016

Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre

Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France  $29.99

About Domaine Fouassier

This domaine has been in the Fouassier family for 10 generations, with Benoit and Paul Fouassier at them helm. The domaine is 59 hectares of mostly Sauvignon Blanc.  Wines are vinified by parcel here to showcase the individuality of the sites.  They have members of Biodyvin since 2009.

Biodynamics to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing. 

“A wine domaine, just like any other agricultural concern, is considered to be a living entity. The soils that we work are not just there to support the vine but are a living environment and a source of energy for the plant, just as much as the air it breathes.

Biodynamics in Wine Growing from the Domaine Fouassier website http://www.fouassier.fr/la_biodynamie-en.html

The wine

The 2016 Les Chailloux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard with vines between 10 and 35 years old.  It spends 12 months in stainless steel.  The soil on this vineyard is clay, chalk and limestone and you get the minerality immediately on the nose.  Alcohol on this is 12.7%. 

The Pairing – Cod with Lemon Purée

Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée

On their site they suggested pairing with oysters, fish & chips or cod with lemon purée.  I went with the 3rd as I knew I had cod in the freezer, and searched for a recipe online for the lemon purée.  I found a recipe for Sea bass with Meyer lemon purée and zucchini salad on farm to plate and did a riff on it.  http://www.farmonplate.com/2013/09/15/sea-bass-with-meyer-lemon-puree-and-zucchini-salad/

My lemon puree came out looking decidedly different than theirs, but regardless, it was delicious and it was an absolutely perfect pairing with this wine.  The notes of mineral in the wine reflected in the cod, the lemon notes of the purée mirroring the wine.  It was truly blissful. 

Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad
Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad

Michael noted that after enjoying the pairing and then just sipping on the wine, that the wine was enhanced by the lingering flavors on his palate from the food.

This is a dish I will work to perfect.  This is one of those “Flavor Match” pairings.  You can learn more about different strategies of pairings with our Pairing with Bubbles – Gloria Ferrer And The Amazing Sarah Tracey https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/pairing-with-bubbles-gloria-ferrer-and-the-amazing-sarah-tracey/

Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011

Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels
Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels

Syrah/Shiraz from Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $31.99

About Château Maris

Wine spectator says that “Château Maris is one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world.”

Robert Eden and Kevin Parker bought this vineyard in 1997 with the idea of growing grapes and making wine, in harmony with nature. They knew they wanted to go chemical free, and decided to do a test with biodynamics. They set up two compost piles and treated one with a biodynamic preparation, while the other went without. Testing later, they found the compost treated with the biodynamic treatment had far more living organisms than the one without…and the path was set.

They have been Ecocert since 2002, and Biovin since 2004. In 2008 they became Demeter Certified and in 2016 set up as a BCorp. You can read more about their biodynamic philosophy here at http://www.chateaumaris.com/gb/about/a-biodynamic-philosophy/

The wine

This Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel with soil of clay-limestone and clay-sandstone. It sits at 14.5% alcohol. Tasting notes on this wine noted, tar and smoke on the nose with notes of black currants and black licorice.

The first thing I got on the nose was smoke, for Michael it was blueberries. When I dipped my nose back in I could find a little tar, but it was savory. There were nice tannins. This wine was big, but not too big, kind of a gentle giant. This wine did not feel like a 2011. It’s aging is really graceful. It has probably mellowed, but still is vibrant.

The Pairing – bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets

Chateau Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing
Château Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing with bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

I again went to the tasting notes and pulled from these for my pairing. I picked up a couple bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets and encrusted them with cumin and black pepper (both spices often found on the nose of syrah). These got seared on both sides and went into the oven to finish. While they were cooking I took some red currant jam, added fresh blackberries, a bit of worchestershire sauce and a bit of anise seeds and slowly cooked it down, to drizzle on top.

We did baby potatoes in butter and herbs de Provençe and a baby greens salad topped with fennel and green apple in a lemon vinaigrette with just a touch of lavender.

Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe
Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

The pairings all worked pretty well. The fennel in the salad pulling up those black licorice notes (although I would have lightened up on the amount of lemon). The umami from the tenderloins with the berry sauce went beautifully. This was a delicious and very comfortable pairing.

The wrap up – is it worth it to search out Biodynamic Wines?

That’s a pretty easy yes. Here’s my take on why. When I’m searching for a new wine the possibility exists that I may not like it. Even with scores etc…it’s often hard to be sure of the quality of the wine you are getting. I have never been disappointed with a Biodynamic wine. There may be many reasons for this, the farming is one, the attention to detail demanded by this type of farming is another and quite honestly the vineyard that is determined to do this is committed with time and resources to doing this and that may be one of the biggest reasons that it works so well.

Will it be difficult to find biodynamic wines? Probably to start, but if all of you go out and start asking about biodynamic wines in your local wine shops and restaurants, the market will follow! Businesses will add items that they hear people consistently asking for. So do us all a favor and start asking!

The French #Winophiles

The French #Winophiles are a group of wine writers that gather monthly to together, tackle a subject on French Wine. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this lovely group. This month, the topic was biodynamic French wines. You have seen my take on this, now you can read on, to see biodynamic French wines from a variety of points of view! There will be so many different wines and pairings! And…you can join us on twitter on Saturday morning January 19th as we spend an hour chatting about the wines we tasted and biodynamics and the impact on the wines (as well as the impact on the planet!). Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will be leading the discussion at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.

More great pieces from the French #Winophiles on Biodynamic French Wine

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

Un repas de Noël pour les fêtes de fin d’année (A Christmas Dinner for the end of the year celebrations)…with wine. #Winophiles

The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner

When the French #Winophiles mentioned that they were going to make a “French-Style Season” the theme for our December discussion and tasting, I was all on board.  I knew I wanted to pair these wines with authentic French holiday and winter foods, so…I went straight to my favorite Frenchman, Arnaud, to ask for suggestions.  He had a tête à tête with one of his foodie friends in France and they put together a list for me of their favorite holiday and winter foods for gatherings.  Thus began the planning for a party.  These are foods and wines that are meant to be shared.

Well, the food part began there.  The wines…ahhh…the wines were graciously sent from Vignobles & Signatures through Michèle Piron/Vinconnexion.  7 of their producers participated, and I received 3 wines.

I received the 3 wines as samples and  I was not paid for this post. The opinions expressed here are all my own.

The Wines

The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner
The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner

Château de Tracy 2017 Pouilly-Fumé

Château de Tracy has been run by the same family since the 14th century.  The Domaine is 33 hectares.  Soils here are limestone and flint.

This 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley comes from a vineyard overlooking the Loire.  This was a tough year with spring frost that came after budbreak and limited the crop. 

Quadratur Collioure Rouge 2015

This wine comes from Coume Del Mas in Banyuls/Collioure. This region is in Occitanies near the border with Spain.

Coume del Mas has only been around since 2001, when Philippe and Nathalie Gard created it.  They have about 15 hectares of vines mostly on the very steep slopes near Banyuls sur Mer.  Everything in the vineyard must be done by hand, you can’t get a tractor or even a horse up these steep slopes.

This wine is 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Carignan.  The soil is schist. Manually harvested, the berries get a cold soak and macerate for 3-5 weeks, then spend 12 months in barrel.

I was lucky enough to correspond with Andy Cook at Coume del Mas.  I was looking for cheese pairings.  He was a bit reserved on cheese with their red wines.  They typically pair cheeses with their white wines.  He suggested something creamy to smooth out the tannins.  He also recommended that I decant the wine for two hours prior to serving (a tip that was used and I was rewarded!)

Château Haut Selve Red 2015

This is the 20th anniversary vintage of this wine.  Yep, a new vineyard in Bordeaux.  They are the only vineyard created in Bordeaux int he 20th Century.  Château Haut Selve is located in the Graves appellation, they found a property that had been well known for grapes before the phylloxera epidemic.  The land had been lying fallow for 120 years and was now overgrown with pine.

They took care clearing the trees and planting the vines. Owners Arnaud and Denis Lesgourgues brought in a talented crew to create a sustainable winery that has state of the art technology.

This wine is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It spends 3 weeks in masceration and then is aged 12 months in French Oak, one third of it new.

A few other wines

Well…3 bottles was not going to do the entire party right?  We needed bubbles to start the party.  I referred to my Cremant post from last month and picked a few white, rather than rosé versions to start the night.  Michael had really enjoyed the Levert Frères Cremant de Bourgogne so I picked up a couple bottles of that as well as of course a Cremant d’Alsace, from Lucien Albrecht.

Our friend Jill brought a bottle of Côtes de Bordeaux from Château La Grange Clinet that was 68% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. This 2015 vintage was labeled Grande Reserve. It ferments  in stainless steel and then ages in oak for 12 months. The vineyard is sustainable.

We also needed a wine for with dessert so we went with a wine from Sauternes from Chateau Doisy-Védrines.

The menu!

So Arnaud came up with a quick list for me of suggestions that included: Oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, escargot, La dinde aux marrons, boudin blanc, boeuf bourguignon, pot au feu, tartiflette, raclette, mont d’Or chaud and Bûche de Noel.  We narrowed down the list by time, wine pairing issues and product availability. We couldn’t find boudin blanc locally even after I had a friend with connections call around for me (Thanks Roxanne).  So…here’s what we settled on.

The Cheese platter

  • Gouda
  • Comte
  • Haymarket aged goat cheese
  • a honey goat cheese
  • an herbed goat cheese
  • smoked salmon
  • proscuitto
  • grapes
  • blackberries
  • assorted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, filberts)
  • Lobster pate with cognac
  • Dijon mustard
  • cherry preserves
  • tomato marmalade

I’ll admit, this was for grazing and sadly we didn’t end up pairing these with the wines, just munching with the Crémant. If we had…I would expect that all of the goat cheeses would have been exceptional with the Pouilly-Fumé and the blackberries, prosciutto, gouda and compte would have played nicely with the red wines.

Butternut Squash Soup

Okay, I know this was no where on Arnaud’s list, but we needed a soup to start us out!  My french tie in for this is that I found the recipe on FrenchWomenDontGetFat.com

Butternut squash soup
Butternut squash soup

This soup went without the cream and was lovely with the Pouilly-Fumé. 

Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Ratatouille

Yes, I know…this is typically a summer dish, but it really is lovely in the fall also as a vegetable side.  It is so rich in flavor.  So this was our vegetable dish and it was delicious.

Escargot

Escargot with cheese
Escargot with cheese

Yep, that was on Arnaud’s list and I found a can at Cured & Whey (thanks again Roxanne).  I didn’t splurge for shells and I didn’t have it in my budget to buy multiple escargot pans, so I went with a South African Recipe I found which simply cooked the escargot in butter, garlic and lemon juice and then put them in a dish, covered them with mozzerella and stuck them under the broiler.  Michael has discovered that he likes escargot!

If you want to find the recipe…snails in butter on Food24

Tartiflette

Tartiflette
Tartiflette

I made two versions of this extremely decadent potatoe dish!  I had no idea what tartiflette was when Arnaud mentioned it.  Now that I have made it, I don’t know how I lived without it!

I had a friend who is Jewish and does not eat animals (with the exception of Thanksgiving), so I wanted to make a tartiflette that she could enjoy also (no one should go without tartiflette).  So I made one classic tartiflette and one with mushrooms rather than bacon. This was based on a BBC recipe for Tartiflette.

Bouef Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon
Boeuf Bourguignon

This was a slow cooker recipe based on Julia Childs recipe.  It was a bit of work, but it was well worth it.

Bûche de Noël

Okay, I was going to make a Bûche de Noël.  I mean I had just watched the Great British Baking Show – Holidays! So I should be good to go!  I chickened out and visited Patisserie Manon and ordered one (they have amazing desserts)

Patisserie Manon dessert counter
Patisserie Manon dessert counter

How the cooking went down

So the party was on Saturday, so I shopped on Wednesday, and started cooking on Thursday (thank goodness I’m on Vacation!).

It began with making the Butternut Squash soup on Thursday. It will sit in the fridge and the flavors will marry.  This way it will be even happier when I reheat it in the crock pot the day of the party.

Friday I began the boeuf bourguignon and the ratatouille.  After the initial prep the boeuf spent the day in the slow cooker and then went to the fridge to become even more flavorful.  I did this before the addition of the mushrooms and wine. 

Boeuf Bourguignon ingredients
Boeuf Bourguignon ingredients

The ratatouille, I was a little concerned about. What if it got soggy as it waited a day to be reheated?  As this was a savory fall inspired ratatouille I decided it was okay.  It smelled like heaven as it cooked.

Saturday I did the tartiflettes.  Roxanne at Cured & Whey had just posted a recipe using the Le délice du Jura cheese which is a Reblochon style cheese from Jura.  I put the two tartiflettes together (one bacon, one mushroom) and then stuck them in the fridge until I was ready to bake them.  Then I prepped the escargot in the same way, ready to have the mozzerella topping added and sit under the broiler.

Before guests arrived I laid out the cheese plates.  And when we were almost ready for soup, I popped the Tartiflette in the oven, followed by the escargot.

The Pairings

This was a feast, so we were drinking the wine, eating the food and enjoying the company.  We did have a few aha moments:

One of my guests who typically avoids white wine, was smitten by the Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé.  And we found it went nicely with the Butternut squash soup and the Ratatouille as expected.

I was enamoured by the Quadratur.  I am terrible at decanting, I am always paniced that it will lose to much.  This wine with the Rhone grapes that I love was huge, but opened beautifully as it decanted.  It was my favorite of the night and I enjoyed it most with the boeuf bourguignon, although it was nice with the bacon tartiflette also.

My Bordeaux loving guest, stopped dead in his tracks when he tasted the Haut Selve.  He spun and looked at me and said “That’s really good!”.  Again this wine was really happy with the Bouef Bourguignon.

The Bûche de Noël, beautiful as it was got lost in the fray. I presented it to a group of people in deep conversation.  But we did pour tiny glasses of the Sauternes and have a toast before everyone dug in to the cake as well as the macarons that Jill brought.

Bûche de Noël with macarons
Bûche de Noël with macarons

The Takeaway

This was a brilliant evening filled with great wine, food and conversation.  Everything was delicious and a good time was had by all.  That really seems to me exactly what a French Style Season should be.

And….it makes for outstanding leftovers which we enjoyed with the Crémant D’Alsace the next day!

French Style Season dishes
French Style Season dishes

Join Us to chat on Twitter

There were many other French #Winophiles taking part in this French Style Season. We will be gathering on Saturday December 15th, to discuss the wines and the foods on Twitter.We hope you’ll join– 8am PT, 11 am ET, and 5pm in France— and chat with us (I know 8 am is early Pacific time, but I’ll be up for it!) It’s easy to participate: just log in to Twitter at the times mentioned and follow #Winophiles. Feel free to chime in, making sure to append #Winophiles to your tweets so we can welcome you.

Here’s a preview of what each writer will contribute to the discussion – all articles will be live on Friday or Saturday, December 14 or 15th:

12 days of Wine

Here at Crushed Grape Chronicles we are counting down the days to Christmas with wine!  Join us as we taste great wines and pair them with winemaker suggestions.  Day One is here : On the First day of Christmas my true love gave to me a Gewürvignintocloniger!

Follow all 12 days on our 12 days of wine page

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

Lirac – Castles, Keeps, Wolves & Divas in the Southern Rhône

 

 

I’ve written about Lirac before. The wine I tasted then was sublime and was paired with a day of exquisite movies, so you didn’t have to twist my arm to join the #Winophiles in diving deeper into these wines. If you are reading this soon enough, consider joining us on Saturday October 20th (8am Pacific, 11 am Eastern) on Twitter by following the hashtag #Winophiles as we discuss this region and it’s wines. And…if you scroll to the bottom of the post you will find more great pieces on Lirac and it’s wines from the perspective of multiple wine writers!

Lirac AOC

Lirac (pronounce it LEE rock) is in the Southern Rhône and sits west of the Rhône River. Wine grapes have been grown here since the middle ages. While they make reds, whites and rosé in the region, you will primarily find red wines made here (87%).

Map of LIrac

Lirac is in the southern Rhône across the river from the more famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape (map Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Lirac is the southernmost cru within the Rhône and has been an appellation since 1947. They have some of the most stringent specifications in the region. The area sits in the Gard department and is out of the way from the traffic in the Rhône Valley. Off the beaten path, and across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it has remained out of the spotlight in the Rhone and a bit of a secret.

Soils & Terroir

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones”

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” in the vineyards of Lirac (Photo Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Plateaus of clay covered in Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” are where you will find the grapes for Lirac Rouge, the intense red wines of the region. Sandy soils typically grow reds for Lirac Rosé and then the scrubland is where you will find the white grape varieties for Lirac Blanc grown.

The vineyards here are set within 4 districts, or communes; Lirac, Roquemaure, Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres and Saint-Geniès-de-Comolas. The vineyards cover a total of about 1,760 acres and annual production is under 2 million bottles which is 0.5% of the total production within the Rhône Valley.

Home of the Côtes du Rhône

Lirac is the place that the “Côtes du Rhône” labeling began, with barrels in the 16th century labeled with CDR. Now you will find the bottles with an embossed logo of the region. This symbol on the bottle indicates a wine set to strict standards. In addition the new bottle strives to be environmentally friendly using recycled glass.

The Keep

The logo seems to me to pull influence from the ancient castle keep in Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres, the Tour Jacques-Deuze. The lower level of the this tower dates from the 12th century and the upper levels were added in the 14th century. As I wondered the internet researching, images of castles and keeps came up again and again.

The wines you will find are a balance of structure and strength with freshness and elegance. We also find many great stories…I haven’t gotten to the rest of that title yet have I? Read on.

The wines we tasted were provided as samples from Rhone Valley Vineyards, all opinions are our own.

Domaine Maby “Casta Diva” Lirac Blanc 2017

 

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

The Diva

Okay…here’s a wine with a story behind the name. “Casta Diva” refers to the aria in the Opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini. While the opera is a tragedy, this song is Norma’s prayer for peace.

Maria Callas version is thought to be the definitive interpretation of the song.

 

Norma the Opera

The opera…well it’s an opera, the reason “soap-operas” are called “Soap-Operas” is because they are all the drama while selling soap! Here’s the synopsis: Druids are being invaded by those Romans. A Roman proconsul, fell in love with a Druid priestess and she ran off and married him and had two kids. Norma’s people ask her to help them fight the Romans. She sings the song “Casta Diva” to pray for peace so her people and her love will all be okay. Roman dude, is planning to run off with another Druid chick. Of course, the chick confesses (sort of) to Norma, that she is betraying her people by falling for a Roman dude, little do either know that it is THE Roman dude, well that is until he walks in.

Norma gets mad and calls for war with the Romans. Roman dude trashes the temple and the Druids plan to kill him, but Norma stalls. She offers him his freedom if he gives up the other chick. He says no. In desperation, she confesses her sins to her father and the Druids and offers herself as sacrifice. Dude suddenly realizes he loves her as she is about to fry and jumps on the pyre with her and the show ends as they both go up in flames. Enough drama for you?

Domaine Maby

The Maby family started as a shoemaking family in the early 19th century, with a few plots of grapes they made wine with and sold locally. Today the vineyards cover 148 acres in Côtes due Rhône, Tavel and Lirac.

And the wine…

This is the one white wine in our sampling group. A blend of 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier,

“Grapes are gently pressed and then fermented in new oak barrels with frequent bâtonnage. During an additional three to four months aging in oak, malolactic fermentation is avoided.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

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Château de Montfaucon

The castle of Monfaucon was part of a line of fortresses on the Rhone River, but even before the castle was built, long before even the Greeks and the Romans, early prehistoric inhabitants found this site on the hill about the Rhône a refuge. The tower was built in the 11th century to guard against the Roman German Empire, and later to tax ships with goods coming down the Rhône. They added on to the castle in 1420 and it gained it’s triangular shape that remains to today. The first wines were made here in 1530. Wars in the 16th century damaged the castle and in 1880 Baron Louis restored the castle with a decidedly Scottish influence (that came from his mother). In 1995 Rodolphe de Pins took over the estate and today the estate has over 45 hectares of vines. (information from Château de Monfaucon)

The soils

The grapes for this blend grow in limestone and sandy loam.

The wine & the Castle

A tribute to the Baron Louis de Montfaucon, who restored the castle in the 19th century this is a Grenache driven blend with 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 10% Carignan and 10% Mourvedre.

“all hand-harvested and destemmed. Co-fermentation lasted seven days followed by an additional two weeks of extended skin maceration. 70% of the blend was aged in oak barrels for 12 months and bottle aged for an additional eight months before release.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 bottle shot

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

The Wolves

(Okay…this is where the wolves come in.)

Domaine La Lôyane

Domaine La Lôyane is named for the region in which it is built which translated in ancient times to “territory occupied by wolves” (I am feeling all GoT on this, picturing packs of Dire Wolves roaming the vineyards).

Portrait of a gray wolf of Europe (canis lupus lupus) in the woods looking straight ahead.

 

 

The Domaine is located in the Rochefort du Gard and has vineyards there as well as Saint Laurent des Arbres and Saze. I found a lovely (translated) quote on their site.

“If we think that wine is hymn to Nature, that is wine grower’s work: master the alchemy between Soil and Plant.”

An old vine vineyard

This particular wine comes from “Les Theys” a site holding the oldest Grenache vines in all of Lirac at 150 years old. The wine is Grenache driven again with 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. A single vineyard Lirac

“Yields are very low at 20 hl/hectare—almost half the appellation norm at 34 hl/hectare. Fermentation and aging takes place in stainless steel with a small portion of each wine is raised in their collection of their ten neutral 60 hl demi-muid barrels.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013 bottleshot

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

First, this wine is Syrah driven and age worthy. It comes from 40 year old vines grown in clay and sand. It is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mouvedre, so a fairly classic GSM, but…. “Grapes are destemmed and undergo a 25 day fermentation in temperature controlled tanks. Wine is then blended and aged for 4 months in concrete vats that are buried 16.5 feet underground. The wine is then transferred to large oak barrels for 18 months.”

In 1961 Jean-Claude Assemat’s mother Marie Pons-Mure purchased Castel Oualou after returning from Northern Africa. Jean-François took over following his father’s death in 1988. They have 52 Hectares with Domaine Castel Oualou and have two other domaines under Vignobles Assemat.

The label

Castel Oualou label

Castel Oualou label with the Castel crossed out

You will notice that the castle on the label has an “X” through it. Here’s the story:

“Jean-François’ grandmother planted selected vines – Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre – those vines peculiarly suited to the region. Then came the first harvest, the first bottling … and the first label with its fairytable castle. However, as legislation does not allow anything to appear on the label which does not actually exist, it was decided to cross out the picture of the castle.
This is how the name CASTLE OUALOU came into being, with its logo – a castle crossed out.”

(Information from http://www.chateauneuf.dk/Lirac/en/lien31.htm)

I suppose Marie Pons-Mure, might also be considered a “Diva” for not just removing the picture of the castle, but defiantly crossing it out. (Go Girl!)

Did we actually taste the wines?

Why yes, yes we did. These beautiful samples were sent our way by Rhone Valley Vineyards and we did dive in for a tasting and a little pairing.

Domaine Maby tasting and pairing

Just to recap this wine is 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier and is fermented in new oak.

I searched through tasting notes and pairing suggestions to find pairing ideas. We started with the Domaine Maby. Suggested pairings were charcuterie and grilled fish. Our season has changed and while we got to 71 degrees today, the light has changed and you can see and feel fall in the air. Grilled fish spoke to me of summer and I needed to make this dish a little warmer. I settled on making packets of cod and pototoes. A simple preparation with olive oil, butter, Lemon, sliced almonds, salt & pepper will do us for dinner. I also wanted to set up a cheese plate to taste with ahead of time. One of the tasting notes I read suggested decanting this wine as the oak was very prominant. Tasting notes mentioned: lemon rind, pear, apricot, vanila, almond, verbena, white flowers, exotic fruit, spearmint, toast and mango-guava jelly. So in anticipation I picked up a lemon, some sliced almonds, a fuji apple, and some mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. The Vin-Lirac suggestion for cheeses was a hard goat cheese. At the market asking for a hard goat cheese the Murray’s Cheese counter did not let me down and pointed me to a Cypress Grove – Midnight Moon. This is a version of the Dutch aged goat Gouda.

As the cork came out of the bottle the aromas swept into the room, hitting my nose with freshly sliced apple. This wine is LARGE when opened. I determined I would taste it immediately in all it’s glory. This Diva makes an entrance. In addition to the freshly sliced apple there is something a little more exotic and tropical. I stuck my nose in the mango-guava jelly…yep there is this bit of guava, it’s the scent of an exotic perfume on the air as a beautiful woman passes by. On my palate she was lighter than I expected, walking on point shoes across my tongue.

The wine and the fuji apple, were like to peas in a pod, mirroring each other. The cheese was salty & tangy & deep, the philosopher friend that the Diva is enamored with. They play off each other and are stunning together. I decided to decant part of this wine and sequester the rest in the bottle so we could compare the two later. We found that while the decanting took the edge off, it took more off than we would like. (Thank goodness I only decanted a little). The wine went beautifully with our fish and potato packets, the acidity cut through the potatoes and butter and the lemon zest on top highlighted the wine. I will admit that my favorite pairing bite of the night was the Midnight Moon with a bit of mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. It made the wine sing! (Sing Diva Sing!)

On to the Reds!

With the red wines, we opened them mid day to taste and then went on to pair with them in the evening with some friends. Pairing suggestions for these wines ranged from beef or lamb, to roast game or stew to grilled game, stew, pigeon or cheeses. We headed for the common denominator and went with a beef stew then put together a cheese plate with some complimentary flavors.

Our selection of cheeses was contained within semi hard cheeses and included Pecorino Romano, a Beehive Apple Smoked Walnut Cheese, Grand Queso Sole and a Beehive Promotory. We added strawberries to pair with the grenache in these blends as well as blackberries and cherries for the syrah and some blueberries and raspberries for good measure. Walnuts, pecans, honey, some tomato marmalade, summer sausage, crackers and bread rounded out our plate. And…I made a little dish of dried lavender to see if I really was finding this on the nose of the La Lôyane.

Cheese plate to pair with the red wines of Lirac

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 tasting

This was the first bottle that we opened to taste through. As a reminder, this is a 60/40 Grenache/Syrah blend and the Grenache comes from 150 yr old vines.

I loved the nose on this, getting crushed pepper and black fruit followed by cocoa and an air of saltiness, black currants and cooked blackberries, then subtle floral notes, yes…lavender with it’s pepperiness. There was a little Syrah funk that came and went and later a bit of violets snuck out. And maybe it’s just me, my brain suggesting it, but I get something ancient on the nose, and a little wild forest (I’m picturing wolves again).

The tannins on this wine hit my teeth like a fine powder. As we tasted this wine, we were having a bite of lunch (lasagna, not what I would have paired with it, but…) and the wine was lovely with our lunch. While great on it’s own (someone called it a meditation wine) it is really good with food pairings. This wine by the way runs just $16. I will admit that I was really sucked in by the depth of the nose on this wine. It was a deep dark wine with some purple to the color.

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

On to our second wine. This was a blend of 55% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 15% Syrah 10% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre.

It is a 2014 which you could tell by the rim. The color was more to the ruby tones. I got cocoa first on the nose followed by red fruit.

It reminded me of dessert, a chocolate mousse dusted with cocoa and topped with a raspberry.

As it opened up I got more floral notes and pepper after a while. This wine runs $24. And it was our friend Renae’s favorite wine of the evening.

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

As we opened the third wine, the first thing I got when I opened the bottle was sweet pickle relish. Perhaps a little Volatile Acid? It dissapated fairly quickly. This wine was 50% Grenach 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. The palate was lighter on this wine and you could tell it was a little older by the color, and the rim. I got caramel on the palate here. I went back to the La Lôyane briefly and when I put my nose back into this wine it hit me as sweet by comparison, which I found really interesting. This wine runs $20.  This was Michael’s favorite he felt it was the most balanced of these wines.

All in all these were really wonderful wines, most especially at this price point! And they all paired well with the stew as well as the cheese plate and the company.

If you would like more information on the wines of this region visit rhone-wines.com or more specifically rhone-wines.com/en/appellation/lirac

Many of my fellow #Winophiles will have additional pairing suggestions and great information on these and other wines from Lirac and the Southern Rhone.  Check out their posts below!  And join us Saturday October 20th (9am Pacific time) for a conversation about this region and it’s wines on twitter.  Just follow #Winophiles!

An Evening in Burgundy – at home

Burgundy dinner pairing

I have been researching a trip to France for Michael and I and have started looking into a few days in Burgundy. So…Michael and I, who have a supply of beautiful California wines, set out to find a couple of wines from Burgundy. We picked up a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres and a 2011 Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour.

Dinner

So what to pair with them? Well both of these wines are great food wines. I had a Delicato Squash from the Downtown 3rd farmers market as well as 2 ears of sweet corn and we picked up some Wild Salmon and scallops.

The squash, Stu had told me could be cooked just like summer squash, “slice and sauté it like you would a zucchini” he said! I love the color and markings on it and was excited to try this! Then…I tried to cut it. I think I was confused by what Stu meant. So after a little online research, I discovered that I needed to peel and seed the squash then cube it for roasting, steaming or microwaving. So… treat it much more like a butternut. We went the microwave route and Michael added an herbed ice cube (olive oil and chives). We nuked the corn also and Stu was completely right on this one…this corn was soooo sweet. Michael grilled the salmon, skin side down on the stove with a little salt and some of the Spanish blend of spices from Spicy Camel Trading Company. He did the same with the scallops. We also had some Spanish cheeses to munch on while things cooked.

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

The pairings

The Puilly-Fusse was bright and made my mouth tingle a little. It was heavier in viscosity reminding us of a Viognier, one review of the wines of this region called the texture “opulent”.  With the cheese it was beautiful, as well as with the scallops. The Pinot was lovely, light and elegant with great flavor and it was perfect with the salmon.

So it was not a typical dinner from Burgundy…being as we had so much seafood with it, but none the less we enjoyed the pairings and the wines and now I am ready to dig further into this area and learn some more.

The Wines – some background

I will admit that I find it very hard to find information on French wines.  I suppose mostly, it is because I look for information like I do with US wines.  I want the story behind the vineyard and winemaker, I want to know what the terroir is like and the climate.  French winemakers don’t market their wines in the same way that American winemakers do, so it’s hard to find this info.  So…here’s a little information.

Burgundy Wines

2011 Pouilly-Fussé and 2011 Bourgogne

Pouilly-Fussé Les Galopieres 2011

The Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres is a White Burgundy or Bourgogne…which translates to Chardonnay. This wine comes from the Maconnais subregion in Burgundy which is in the Southern part of Burgundy just above Beaujolais. The soil here is clay and limestone.  The appellation was instituted in 1936. The area takes in the four villages of Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré.  In Solutré and Vergisson you can see the rocky outcrops of hard fossil corals which have resisted erosion.

2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour

The 2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour was labeled – A Beaune – Cote-D’Or – France. It is 100% Pinot Noir from Bourgogne and is aged 10-12 months in stainless steel. The soil here is clay and limestone and the average vine age is 25 years, all grapes are handpicked. Not much cellaring potential…it says 2 to 3 years. This wine is considered by importers to be a classic reliable Burgundian Pinot Noir.

If you find yourself interested in the wines of Burgundy, but like me are having a hard time finding information you can connect with, I suggest renting the movie “A Year in Burgundy”.  This movie allowed me to get to know some of the Burgundian wine makers and their individual styles and gives me a starting point that I can identify with.  So head to your local wine store and take a trip to Burgundy right in your living room.  It’s a great way to travel without having to pack!

Exploring France, the Loire Valley, beginning with Sancerre & Touraine

I will admit that I typically drink domestic wines.  I like to buy local and so I support California Wineries as they are the closest.  I am finding that I want to expand a little and find out how my beloved California varieties compare with the same varieties from their country of origin.  The amazing variety of fragrances and textures that can come from the same variety of grape grown in different soils and climates, then the differences in the winemaking style that can be completely individual or as influenced by an area and the palate of that area’s people.

Today we are exploring Sauvignon Blanc and how the variety expresses itself in the place it is said to express itself best and that is Sancerre in the Loire Valley in France.

The Loire Valley is located in the North West part of France along the Loire River.  It has a cool northern climate similar to Champagne, but is one of the most diverse growing regions in France. The area is known for making straightforward wines that express the terroir.  You will find pure expressions of the grape here.  You can divide the region into 3 broad sections, the west near the Atlantic where you will find Muscadet; the middle where you will find Vouvray; and the east end, which home to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

Our journey with the white wines of the Loire begins here, on the east end of the valley in Sancerre, and then drift a little back toward the middle to Touraine.

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume come from the eastern end of the Loire.  Sancerre sits on the west side of the river and the vineyards here are on a cone shaped hill with white chalk slopes.  On the other side of the river you will find Pouilly-sur-Loire where Pouilly-Fume is made.  I have heard many tales about the origin of the name Pouilly-Fume; some say the name comes from the morning mists, some say the flint like character in the wine, some for the bloom on the grapes that looks smoky.  While many say that you do get a smokey, flinty character from the Pouilly-Fume wines, most experts cannot tell the wines of Sancerre from the wines of Pouilly-Fume, so when choosing a wine, I went with a Sancerre and then ventured a little further to choose another wine to set it against.

The Sav Blancs from Touraine are decidedly less expensive than those of Sancerre and so one of these went into my basket.

Touraine is located on the east end of the middle part of the Loire Valley.  This area around the city of Tours is known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc but a good portion of their wine is Sauvignon Blanc.  This area is where the tributaries the Cher and the Indre enter the Loire River.

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domain Guenault is owned by the Bougrier family and is located on the steep slopes over the Cher river.  They are 5th generation negotiants in the Loire Valley.  In addition to this property they have domaine and winery holdings in Anjou and Muscadet.

Sancerre while now thought of as Sauvignon Blanc, also produces Pinot Noir.  In fact before the phlloxera outbreak in the 1860’s, the vineyards here were planted mostly with Pinot Noir and Gamay.  As they replanted the new white Sancerres were considered the counterpart to the simple uncomplicated Beaujolais.  The area of ‘Sancerre’ includes the city of Sancerre and 14 other parishes on the left bank of the Loire.

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Domaine Christian Salmon has been growing grapes in Sancerre for 6 generations.  The vineyards are located on the finest slopes in Bue, the parish just west of Sancerre.

As to what to pair with these wines?  Sancerre is noted for standing up to bolder flavors and over and over I read that it went well with grilled salmon with mango salsa, so…we picked up some Atlantic salmon and mangos and as it was cold out, I pan seared it.  Also suggested were salad greens and sharp flavors like vinaigrettes and capers, so we had a side salad with those items.   Sancerre and goat cheese was noted as a match made in heaven.  Specifically if you can find Crottin de Chavignol to pair with it.  I could not, but found a trio of goat cheese Crottin.  We popped open the garlic & herb and the Natural cheeses and spread them on Brioche crisps.  These were incredibly tasty with both of the wines.  We were also hungry enough that we added some Thai lime shrimp skewers and vegetable goyza.  Both went fine with both wines.

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Now to the wines.  In the glass the Sancerre was lighter, almost clear and had a little touch of effervescence.  It was crisp clear and bright with terrific citrus notes.  The Touraine was much more golden in the glass.  It also had a weightier mouthfeel and you immediately got citrus and petrol on the nose.  Petrol, I know…but in a really great way.  Both wines were lovely, each in their own way.  You could tell that they were both Sauvignon Blancs but they still were very different from each other.  I love that the same variety of grape grown just 141 miles away, can be so different in a wine.  Both of these wines are much more subtle than the big brassy Sauvignon Blancs that you get from Australia and I also found them more nuanced than many California Sav Blancs that I know.

Next we will venture further west and enjoy some Chenin Blancs from Vouvray and Savennieres!

Beets Chard and Wine?

Beets, Chard and Peaches

I love farmers markets and I have a habit of overindulging when I go.  So my crisper ends up over flowing and then sadly rotting on the bottom.  This week I was determined to us the beautiful golden beets that I had purchased, but alas I left them in the crisper long enough for the beet greens to not look so appetizing.  So….rather than buying new beets for the greens for the recipe I wanted to make I picked up some fresh swiss chard.  If you have ever looked at beet greens they are very similar to chard, same family and similar flavor.  So I had my substitution and I was off to make one of my favorite recipes for pasta with roasted beets, beet greens and pine nuts.

I based last nights recipe on one from http://www.theitaliandishblog.com Then I needed to find a wine pairing!  I searched a little more online and found a recipe with a similar flavor profile on http://www.grouprecipes.com.  The recipe didn’t include pasta but was for roasted beets and beet greens with a balsamic vinegar.  It suggested pairing with a Zin or a Shiraz and there was a comment saying that the pairing was perfect.
I needed to pick up pine nuts and pancetta to finish the dish and run to the wine store.  It is sad to say that I don’t have a small family run wine store close by where I live.  There is a fantastic one on the other side of town, but that would have taken 45 minutes to get there.  So…I head to the giant wine store close by.  I love the selection mostly.  Often the more obscure varieties can’t be found there, but there is one wine guy that always has great advice for me.  The trouble I find with going there (or anywhere) to pick up wine is that in trying to be all crunchy granola I take my wine bag with me.  Well my wine bag holds 4 bottles and I feel the need to fill it.  I picked up 2 roses because it is summer and it’s hot in Vegas!  And then I search through the Syrah’s.  I love a smoky syrah.  If it has a little meat on the nose, all the better (yes I know that is bret!).  I settle on a Syrah from Chile, a 2009 Ona Anakena. I also pick up French Syrah-Mouvedre blend This is a 2010 Luc Pirlet Reserve.  Now back to get cooking!

Here is my adapted version of the ingredients

3 medium size golden beets

olive oil

1/4 cup of pine nuts (or more)

2 ounces of pancetta (You can be kind to the piggies and leave this out and go vegetarian. I admit to feeling guilty.)

1 med red onion (I actually had 3 very small ones from the garden)

2 cloves of minced garlic

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (I used balsamic)

4 ounces of pasta (I had great big macaroni from a local pasta shop! Shout out to Marc http://www.parmabychefmarc.com/ !)

1 small bunch of beet greens (or in my case swiss chard)

sea salt, ground pepper

fresh grated parmesan cheese (that wasn’t in the recipe, but….)

Roasted Golden beet with olive oil in aluminum foil

I had roasted my beets earlier in the day.  Take each beet, trim the greens off and the end of the root.  Wash and scrub them then rub them with olive oil and wrap each in aluminum foil.  Pop them into a 375 degree oven for 45 min to an hour.  If you have really big beets it could take them up to 1 1/2 hrs.  Take one out and open it and see if a knife will easily go in.  If so, they are ready.  To keep them warm I kept them on the stove while I cooked the rest of the meal.

Next you toast your pine nuts in a small frying pan over med heat stirring until they are lightly toasted.  I cheated and bought mine pre toasted at Trader Joe’s.

Chopped Swiss Chard leaves and stems

Next chop the beet greens or chard about 1 inch sections.  Keep the stems separate from the greens.

About now you would want to start the pasta water.

Now get a large skillet and toss in the pancetta.  Cook it until it is crispy then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Leave the grease!  Lower the heat to medium add a little olive oil and toss in the chopped onion.  After a few minutes add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the red wine or balsamic vinegar and cook another 2 minutes.  This will thicken the vinegar and give it that rich flavor.

Red onions garlic and balsamic in pancetta fat and olive oil

Now toss in your beet stems (just the stems) and 1/4 cup of water.  Cover and cook 10 minutes.

Chard & Crispy Pancetta

Add the greens and pancetta and cook another 10.  When you add the greens, it’s also time to add the pasta to the pasta water.

At this point with 10 minutes to wait I decided to peel

Peeling roasted beets

my beets.  I peeled them by hand.  The skins slid right off.  And…my beets were golden so my hands didn’t turn pink.  If you are using red beets, you might want gloves.  If the skins don’t slide off used a knife.  Then cut the beets in quarters or eighth’s and rewrap in the aluminum foil to keep them warm.

After the 10 minutes add 1/2 the pine nuts (I admit, I added the entire 1/4 cup, cause I like pine nuts). This is where you season to taste with salt and pepper.  To taste…means taste it!  Pancetta is salty so you will already be seasoned and you don’t want to over do it.

Add the pasta, mix and add parmesan cheese

Remove the pasta from the pasta water with a strainer and add to the pan with the sauce.  Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water to incorporate the sauce.  Then I grated parmesan cheese on top and mixed, and grated some more and mixed, and one last time for good measure.

Plate it on a large dish, pasta in the center, beets around the edge.  Sprinkle the beets with sea salt (I used pink himalayan salt) and top the pasta with a little more grated parmesan and some more pine nuts.  Voila!

The pairings were perfect.  The earthiness of the beets and greens works nicely with the syrah.  I preferred the Syrah Mouvedre blend because of it’s smoothness.  There was no heat from alcohol (it was at 13.5 %) and was really velvety and layered.