French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

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

French Wine 101

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

Old World vs New World

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

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

French wine names

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

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

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

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

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

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

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

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

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

Muscadet

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

Chenin Blanc

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

Sauvignon Blanc

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

Cabernet Franc

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

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

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

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

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

For more…

Alsace

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

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

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

For more…

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

Chablis

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

Chardonnay

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

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

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

Pinot Noir

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

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

Chardonnay

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

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

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

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

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

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

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

The Rhone Valley

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

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

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

Syrah

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

Viognier

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

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

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

Red Rhône Blends

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

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

White Rhône Blends

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

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

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

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

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

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

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

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

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

Sweet wines of Sauternes

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

For more…

Provence

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

Rosé

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

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

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

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

For more…

Other regions

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

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

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

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

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

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

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

The Multiple Expressions of Vouvray! #Winophiles

Corks from the Styles of Vouvray

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

Map of French Wine Regions

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

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

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

The Touraine

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

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

Vouvray

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

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

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

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

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

Styles of Vouvray

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

Sparkling Vouvray

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

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

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

Still Vouvray

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

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

Choosing a variety of Vouvrays

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

Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Sparkling Vouvray

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

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

Famille Bougrier “V” Vouvray Grande Réserve 2018

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

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

Clos Chapon Vourvray Demi-Sec

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

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

How sweet is this Vouvray?

Tasting and Pairing

Vouvray tasting profile collage
Vouvray tasting profile

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

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

Cheese and charcuterie to pair with Vouvrays

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

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

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

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

Lemon bars with sparkling Loire

The French #Winophiles on Vouvray

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

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

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

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

The Cheese Counter at Cured & Whey

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

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

Le Cocagne Gris 2018

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

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

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

Cave Coopérative des Vignerons du Vendômois

An an old Favorite…

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

Tasting the Le Cocagne Gris

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

Chateau de Sales 2010 Pomerol

Château de Sales Pomerol 2010
Château de Sales Pomerol 2010

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

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

Tasting the Château de Sales 2010 Pomerol

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

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

The Cheeses

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

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

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

Cured & Whey

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

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

MountainTop

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

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

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

Morbier – Montboissie du Haut Livradois

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

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

Société Roquefort

This cheese has a legend. 

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

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

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

Comté

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

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

The Tasting and Pairing

With the Rosé

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

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

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

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

With the Pomerol

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

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

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

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

The #Winophiles

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

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.

The Joy of Vouvray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Adventures with Savignon Blancs

whitesaviog33120133I’ve been on a Savignon Blanc kick lately and it’s totally by accident.  I had a day off and Michael was working and I took myself to a movie and lunch.  I asked for a recommendation to pair with my lunch at The View Winebar and Joey  took the time to be sure to find something I would like.  After determining that we were going white and that I was having gnocchi au gratin she suggested a Sav Blanc.  I hesitated.  I am not usually a Sav Blanc girl, it’s a little too tart and often…I searched for the word and she replied “metallic”.  “Yes”.  “Wait” she said.  She popped open a new bottle and poured me a bit.  It was lovely.  Definitely a Sav Blanc and with the distinct grapefruit on the nose, but without that overly sharpness that I often get from a Sav Blanc.  So I enjoyed a glass or two of this lovely Savignon Blanc from Francois Chidaine Touraine Blanc 2010 from the Loire Valley.  It was perfect to cut through the fat in my luscious gnocchi au gratin and was really pleasant to just drink on it’s own.

Last night Michael and I went out to dinner at Grape Street Cafe.  It’s been awhile since we have had the opportunity to have dinner together with our schedules.  I ordered the Smoked Salmon pasta and asked for a recommendation for a flight to pair with it.  Our waiter suggested the Sav Blanc flight as the dish has a creme sauce.  This flight included Walnut Block “Collectibles” from New Zealand, Auntsfield Estate from New Zealand, Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc from Napa and Vogelzang 2009 from Napa.  Okay so not really Napa.  I came home and did my research today and found that the Vogelzang makes estate Savignon Blanc with fruit from their vineyards in Happy Canyon.  The winery itself is located in Santa Barbara.

So first my tasting notes on these wines.  Last night I snapped a shot of the flight menu, then put it away so that I could just taste the wines without being influenced by the winery or location.  The first wine (The Walnut Block) had a gorgeous nose!  There were lovely floral notes (it felt like more than one) lime leaf and zest and then subtle grapefruit.  I wanted to dab this wine behind my ears.  It was heavenly to smell.  On the palate it was aromatic with perfect acidity.  It was light and clean and was beautiful to balance the fried calamari we had as an appetizer.  The second wine (the Auntsfield Estate) was everything you expect from a Savignon Blanc.  It had big grapefruit on the nose and on the palate it was bold and tart.  The third wine (the Ferrari Carrano) was the Fume Blanc.  It reminded me of the Carhartt Savignon Blanc that I love so much.  The nose is a nuanced grapefruit and citrus but on the palate it is much more dimensional.  It is less tart and more balanced and rounded with a touch of sweetness.  The final wine was the  Vogelzang 2009 Savignon Blanc.  I was immediately surprised that the wine was more golden, but I didn’t look too closely in the dark light.  On the nose I immediately got oak.  On the palate I got the tartness of a Sav Blanc but then also a peat note that made me wonder if someone had scotch in this glass.  At the end of the night as I was getting to the bottom of my tasting glass, I noticed a squiggle of something burnt on the bottom of the glass.  Well, that would do it.  So my tasting on that wine has to be tossed out. But….after visiting the website I did find that this wine is aged in neutral chardonnay oak for 10 months.  So…maybe I did taste some in there?  Who knows.

Okay so now for my research on the wineries!

Francois Chidaine has been producing biodynamic wines for a while, but that’s not what he’s about.   As is typical of french wines this is not 100% Sav Blanc, it has a small percentage of Chardonnay.  His 40 to 80 year old  vines are trained low to hug the ground and by hand harvesting happens in mid October.  He does not encourage malolactic fermentation but lets the wines sit typically for a year on the lees.

Walnut Block in Marlborough New Zealand is named after the iconic walnut tree that is the regions oldest at over 100 years old.  The vineyard uses a three cane system and organic practices.  The Savignon Blanc is a wine that they say will cellar for up to 3 years.

Auntsfield Estate  is Marlborough’s first and oldest Vineyard.  The history page on their website is fascinating!  Filled with great stories!  My favorite….Bill Paynter who took over the property in 1905 and ran it until 1931 when the vines were removed and the land turned over to other farming had his final cask of wine hidden away and his sons were told it was only to be opened at his wake.  During shearing season while he lay ill his sons realize that the shearing shed was very quiet.  They found the shearers all asleep in the shed, having found and imbibed on the hidden cask the night before.  They now grow Savignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the property.

Ferrari-Carano is a winery that I go way back with.  I remember enjoying their wines at their Casino in Reno at the opening of the state of the art theatre with Smokey Joe’s Cafe.  So I have a fondness for them.  As to Fume Blanc, well that I fell in love with thanks to Mike Grgich and the fabulous pourer at his winery that suggested we take a split and pair it with the Tuna Burger at Gott’s Roadside.  So…here I bring together two loves.  And mind you last night, I had put the wineries out of my head as I tasted the wines, and this was one of my favorites.

Villa Fiore is Ferrai-Carano’s hospitality center.  They have tastings upstairs but I suggest setting up for  a reserve tasting in the Enoteca Lounge downstairs.  It is well worth it.  And allow yourself time to stroll the stunning Italian gardens on the property.  We enjoyed visiting a few years ago and long to return.  There is a coveted bottle of  their Tresor in my cellar.

Vogelzang Vineyard with it’s tasting room in Santa Barbara as I mentioned before grows it’s fruit in Happy Canyon, CA one of California’s newest appellations.  Located in the Santa Ynez valley (which has become one of my favorite areas) they  have a longer stretch of heat during the day because the morning fog burns off earlier than in the rest of the valley.  In addition to Savignon Blancs they grow Cabernet and Bordeaux Varietals.  Like most Santa Barbara County vineyards they don’t just grow grapes for themselves, they also supply grapes to well known wineries including Foxen, Dragonette, Fiddlehead and others.  I look forward to getting to Santa Barbara and doing a tasting here!

So…no longer afraid of Savignon Blancs I have a new appreciation for the range of this variety!