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

Vineyard, Jurancon, France

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

Map of the South West of France
South West of France


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

Tour de France Time Trial in Pau in the Jurançon

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

Vineyard, Jurancon, France
Vineyard, Jurancon, France

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

Petit Manseng – historically a great seducer

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Petit Manseng

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

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

Domaine Cauhapé

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

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

2015 Symphonie de Novembre Jurançon

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

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

Pairing the Jurançon

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

Cured & Whey to the Rescue!

Cured & Whey sign
Cured & Whey

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

Ewe's Blue Cheese
Ewe’s Blue Cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine – taste the Jurançon

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

To Match or Contrast

Jurançon and pairings
Jurançon and pairings

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

Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate

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

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

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

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Wine and chocolate bark pairing ideas

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

I was searching for a nut mix recipe for the holidays and came across a “no recipe” recipe for chocolate bark (so easy it’s not really a recipe, but just a little bit of direction to get you going). I’ve always loved chocolate bark and had just seen an article on pairing wine with chocolate, and not just “a dark red wine with dark chocolate” kinda article but one with some variety. Then I started to think about cheese plates and the nut and dried fruit pairings you could do with each wine, and my imagination took off. So now I am putting together some “toss together” ideas for perfect wine and chocolate bark recipes.

Basics to start with

Typically you want your wine as sweet as your chocolate. Dark chocolates seem to be much more forgiving of this with big red wines. And Sparkling wines pull up the celebratory mood and that mood more than anything is very forgiving with pairings. Champagne goes with anything and if it doesn’t people are unlikely to notice. The bubbles will have them too happy to care.

White chocolate

white chocolate

white chocolate

Yes, yes, I know it’s not chocolate, it is cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.  But butter, is fat so you can see how you can pair this with Champagne or sparkling wines.  Rieslings, or Gewürtraminer work also, as long as they lean to the sweet side. Try Muscats, a fruit forward Chardonnay, or a late harvest white wine.

Milk Chocolate

milk chocolate

milk chocolate

Look to Ports and Sherrys and maybe a Pinot Noir. You can really go with most red wines as long as they are not too dry. Also a Sparkling Moscato works nice.

Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate

dark chocolate

Well big reds love dark chocolate, think Merlot, Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah or Mourvedre. Or take it the dessert route with a Ruby or Tawny Port. The lighter the chocolate the sweeter the wine should be, so 60% dark chocolates with Ports, 70% with the darker reds.


Now when you start to toss on those toppings…

The first thing that came to mind for me was bacon. I know….but dark chocolate and bacon with a Syrah? Yum. Maybe some dried cranberries to pull out the fruit in the wine. Are you feelin’ me here?

Nuts and dried fruits

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Add some dried apricots and orange zest to a white chocolate and pair with a Tokaji or a late harvest white wine.

Add almonds or chestnuts to dark chocolate to pair with a Merlot

Dried cherries and walnuts to milk chocolate for a Pinot Noir.

Hazelnuts to white chocolate to pair with a toasty sparkling wine.

Caramel with Madeira…

Herbs & other flavors

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And then don’t forget the herbs and other flavors.

Lavender in a white or milk chocolate with a sweet Riesling.

Or take it spicy with some chili flakes or chili powder.

Coffee, or espresso powder with a rich Pinot Noir or Shiraz.

Salty potato chips in white chocolate with sparkling wine.

Rosemary and salt with a dark chocolate and a Carignan, Zin or Shiraz.

Try a little coriander in dark chocolate with a Mourvedre.

Or a little cumin in a dark chocolate with a Cabernet or Bordeaux blend.

Finishing salts are great and often are infused…I have a Stumptown coffee infused salt that I love!

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients & possibilities

Wines to Avoid

Typically you want to avoid:

white wines as they are high in acid

cold wines that will change the texture of the chocolate in your mouth (you want it to melt right?)

and wines that are high in tannins (so check those big reds before diving in)

Of course in the end it all depends on personal taste. So make a mix and let people taste, or just put out the chocolate and let them pair with the extras on their own! I suggest having a nice sparkling wine on the side as a palate cleanser for those who make unfortunate pairings and need to get the taste out of their mouth!

How to put it together?

I love that this part is so easy.


overhead cutting chocolate for chocolate bark

Chop or shave some chocolate

Throw it in a double boiler over low (or like me just a pot of simmering water with a glass bowl on top) and stir constantly until it melts.

adding rosemary to chocolate Bark

Sprinkle on your toppings of choice!

Toss it in the fridge (okay, this might be the toughest part at this time of the year, finding room in the fridge for a sheet pan).

Once it has set, break it up and pair!

Our Pairings

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

Dark chocolate with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and coffee infused finishing salt. white chocolate with dried apricots, orange zest and pistachios, and a bonus dark chocoalte with cranberries and pistachios.

We settled on two pairings.  We had a bottle of 2012 Reserve Syrah from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA.  The Tasting notes for this wine included: “Black fruit, cedar, licorice, smoked meat and leather with silky tannins.”  This Larner Syrah is the 4 best barrels of Syrah from 2012.  It spends 36 months on 50% New French Oak. There were only 97 cases of this wine produced.

We opted to do a dark chocolate bark with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and a coffee infused finishing salt.

Larner Reserve Syrah with choclate Bark ingredients, rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

Larner Reserve Syrah with chocolate bark ingredients: rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

And to go with dessert, a limited release 2013 late harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven Cellars (again Santa Barbara).

Cold Heaven only produces a late harvest Viognier in years when the conditions are just right.  200 cases of this wine were produced.  It was 50% barrel aged for 4 months in 2 year old French Hermitage barrels.

For this wine we went with a white chocolate bark with dried apricot, orange zest and pistachios.

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate Bark

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate bark with orange zest and dried apricots

Explore!  Pick your favorite wines then choose complimenting or contrasting flavors.  An easy go to, is to find the tasting notes for the wine and choose ingredients from that list!  Have fun and let us know what amazing combinations for pairings that you come up with!

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