Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wine Tasting & Dinner Party: France - From Burgundy to the Atlantic Coast

In early December, a group of friends gathered for what has become a semi-regular wine and food pairing dinner of several courses to explore in depth a particular wine region, learning about its history and wine culture, and sharing thoughts and conversation in a relaxed and convivial setting.

The theme for this occasion was  French wines from the Atlantic coast to the geographical heart of France, in particular the Beaujolais appellation.  You can read more about these regions further below in this post.  As an indication of the value and appeal of these wines, every wine in this tasting was a "winner" such that no single one stood head and shoulders above the other, each incorporating delightful tasting profiles and reflecting its particular terroir.

I encourage you to seek out wines from these regions at your favorite wine shop, especially the Cru Beaujolais for you red wine lovers. They offer excellent value and quality, and can pair with a wide variety of foods.  All wines in this tasting are available at Wine Works in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

1. Domaine de la Pepière Muscadet 2014 (about $14, plus tax)


Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne)

 Appellation Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie Contrôlée

Production/Tasting Notes: 
40 year old vines; organic grapes; natural yeast fermentation; extended lees contact; deep, vibrant bouquet eliciting aromas of lime, green apple; crisp, dry, lemon-tinged; floral & briny scents; tangy citrus and oyster mineral notes across palate; full- bodied for a Muscadet.

Food pairings: quintessential shellfish wine- oysters, clams, mussels; fish, risotto; cheese

12 % Alcohol

  1. Apud Sariacum Sancerre Domaine Philippe Raimbault 2014 (about $20, plus tax)

Varietal: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Classification: Appellation Sancerre Contrôlée

Production/Tasting Notes: Terroir composed of limestone soil, fossilized shellfish; intense mineral flavors, citrus tones, tropical notes; vibrant acidity, crisp, complex. (One of Eric Asimov's “20 under $20” selections)

Food pairings: starters; seafood; sushi; cheese

12.5% Alcohol

3. Jean-Paul Brun "Terres Dorées" Morgon 2013 (about $19, plus tax)


Varietal: 100% Gamay

Classification: Appellation Morgon Contrôlée

Production/Tasting Notes: Natural yeast fermentation; aged in Burgundian barrels; granite soil; nose is nicely focused with bright red cherry and wild strawberry fruit; veins of orange zest and citrus lending more vigor; palate is medium-bodied with strong backbone; finish is long and persistent. (93 points, Wine Advocate)

Food Pairings: breast of duckling; poultry;charcuterie; pizza

      12.5% Alcohol

  1. Domaine Filliatreau “La Grande Vignolle” Saumur-Champigny 2012 (about $20, plus tax)

Varietals: 100% Cabernet Franc

Classification: Appellation Saumur-Champigny Contrôlée

Production/Tasting Notes: Organic; terroir is tuffeau (tufa-stone) outcrop, limestone; fermentation in stainless steel; unfiltered; rich, mouth-filling with ripe flavors of red fruit laced with an undercurrent of minerality; touch of tobacco, earth; excellent aging potential

Food pairings: burgers, salmon; artisan pizza, savory crepes

12.5% Alcohol

  1. Bernard Baudry “Le Clos Guillot” Chinon 2012 (about $30, plus tax)

Varietal: 100% Cabernet Franc

Production/Tasting Notes: Terroir: limestone, clay (argilo-calcaire) with stones and underlying sand; no chemical pesticides or fertilizers.  Fermented 15 days in in wooden vats with regular pigeages (French term for "punching down or stomping" the grape/juice mixture). Aged in barrels that have seen 2 to 5 vintages for 12 months. Hand harvested; unfiltered; bright, energetic, sheer sap belies young vine; bittersweet floral notes; persistent ripe blackberry, walnut oil, savory minerality; good for aging up to 10 years.

Food Pairings: Roast chicken, roasted lamb; braised veal

12.5% Alcohol

Beaujolais: Misconstrued and Misunderstood

Overshadowed by its Burgundian cousins to the north, Beaujolais is often dismissed as “not serious” and lacking the gravitas of a great wine, and, in the US, it is generally misconstrued as “Beaujolais nouveau”, that frilly, frivolous, fruity wine which is produced, bottled and released just weeks after its harvest. “Serious” Beaujolais actually comes in three distinct types or classifications:

  • Beaujolais: the region's most basic, least expensive, light-bodied, fruity wine
  • Beaujolais-Villages: middle category that offers great value with a slightly fuller body and more fruit intensity, produced within 39 selected communes
  • Beaujolais cru: top category from 10 different villages that are also the appellations, including Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and St.-Amour

Other factoids about Beaujolais:

  • Only the Gamay grape is permitted to be used, and accounts for 98% of all plantings
  • The Gamay grape thrives in the stony, granite-based soil
  • Carbonic maceration is used to vinify grapes, that is, grapes are not pressed, but loaded on top of each other in full bunches and allowed to ferment inside their skins, reducing tannins and intensifying the fruit and perfume
  • The 10 Beaujolais crus have individual styles, are more perfumed, luscious, concentrated and more complete and complex

Factoids about Loire Valley and its Wines

  • Loire Valley wine producers are at the forefront of the natural or biodynamic movement which uses minimalist techniques to make wine.
  • The largest wine region in France, the Loire Valley extends from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in the Nantais to the central regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé through the heart of the famed Châteaux of the Loire
  • The Loire River runs 625 miles
  • If not for the River, vineyards could not likely grow well so far north
  • There are over 60 different appellations in the Loire Valley ranging in style from bone-dry to intensely sweet, including some excellent pétillants (sparkling wines)
  • Crémant de Loire and Vouvray pétillant are the sparkling wines of the region made from Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc
  • The Sancerrois is home to the best Sauvignon Blanc from villages such as Sancerre, Pouilly, Quincy, Menetou-salon and Reuilly

Common Grape Varieties of the Loire Valley


CHENIN BLANC – Vinified for wines ranging from dry to sweet, from still to bubbly. Predominant grape of Vouvray whites

SAUVIGNON BLANC – Principal grape of the famed Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé AOCs

MUSCADET (alias MELON de BOURGOGNE); THE grape of the Nantais region, renowned for its pairing with shellfish, especially oysters, and seafood.


CABERNET FRANC – The workhorse red grape of the Loire; if it's a red wine from the Loire, it's most likely Cabernet Franc.

Other reds grown in the Loire: Cot (Malbec), Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pineau d'Aunis, Grolleau

Friday, January 8, 2016

France vs. California (& Washington): A Comparative Tasting

This past November I had the pleasure of conducting a wine tasting with food pairings at a friend's home as the result of a silent auction for charity to benefit the Peasant Association of Fondwa in Fondwa, Haiti.  I donated the wine and my services; Dick and Julie "won" the wine tasting with the highest bid.  They hosted the event, and invited a small group of friends to partake in a delightful evening of fun, food and conversation about wine.

I decided to do a taste comparison of Old and New World wines, highlighting the differences between French wines and their analogues in California (and one from Washington state).  It's always important in these kinds of comparisons to choose wines of similar varietals and price points, so that no one wine has an unfair advantage over the other.  I did have some trouble finding a Bordeaux style blend from California at the same price point to put up against the Bordeaux selection, and in the end the best I could come up with was a Washington blend.  Apart from that, all paired wines were of the same varietal and price point.

Opinion seemed to be split between the Sauvignon Blancs, though both were enjoyed by all.  The Louis Jadot Pinot Noir turned out to be a disappointment, whereas the River Road Pinot Noir was a clear favorite and overall winner.  It should be said that Louis Jadot produces wines that run the gamut from everyday affordable quaffs to super deluxe gems that will break your bank account.  The upshot here is that for about $20 there are a lot of very good and interesting Pinot Noirs from around the world to choose from and that this particular Louis Jadot is not one of them.

The Bordeaux selection offered up the most complex and persistent bouquet testifying to the region's long tradition of high quality wines that have become the standard bearer among many wine connoisseurs. That said, I found it telling that no one in the group (besides myself, of course), had ever sampled a Bordeaux wine before.  What this says to me is that nowadays the wine consumer in the US enjoys such a wide variety of options in terms of price, origin and style, that there is no single dominant region or "brand" which said consumer aspires to.  Furthermore, American wine producers have made great inroads in the purchasing habits and tastes of the American consumer without compromising quality, as was shown by this tasting. Try such a comparison yourself and see if you don't agree!

  1. Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Varietal: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Classification/Region: Vin de Pays, Val de Loire, France

Production/Tasting Notes: Characteristic aromas of grapefruit and minerals; notes of lime on the palate supported by undertones of flint, apple blossoms, passion fruit;bright acidity; crisp, clean finish.


Food pairings: shellfish, poached seafood; goat cheese

12 % alcohol

2. Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc 2013

                              joel gott sauvignon blanc california 2011

Varietal: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Region: Monterey, Lake County, Napa Valley, Sonoma

ProductionTasting Notes: 100% stainless steel fermentation and aging; bright citrus notes complemented by tropical aromatics; refreshing flavors of melon, Meyer lemon on the mid-palate; long, clean finish


Food pairings: tapas; grilled fish; seafood; shellfish
13.9 % Alcohol

3. Louis Jadot Pinot Noir 2011


Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir

Classification: Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Bourgogne

Production/Tasting Notes: Fruit fro, Côte d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise; age in French oak for 9 months; aromas of plums, raspberries, cherries;fresh fruit on the palate; balanced acididty, smooth tannins on the finish

Food pairing: roast chicken, pork or grilled fish

12.5% Alcohol

  1. River Road Pinot Noir 2014


Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir

Region: Sonoma County

Production/Tasting Notes: Bright harmonious notes of cherry, wildberry, plum and spice; notes of dusty earth and sweet smoke; wisp of cardamom at end of bouquet; bright cherry fruit up front on the palate with sweet plums, soft oak and vanilla flavors long, soft, spicy finish w/ blackberry jam lingering.


Food pairings: roasted duck; swordfish

13.3% alcohol

  1. Montfort-Bellevue Médoc Cheval Quancard 2012


Varietals: 45% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Cabernet Franc (label);
40% Merlot, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc (website)

Region: A.O.C. Médoc (Bordeaux)

Production/Tasting Notes: Six months aging in oak barrels; aromas of cedar, spice, blackfruit, kirsch, cherry, burnt wood; elegant, ripe blackberry and soft creamy cassis laden fruit with ripe tannins; well-balanced, hint of toast; smooth, lengthy aromatic finish.

Food pairings: roast or grilled red meat, delicatessen and hard cheese.

13 % alcohol

  1. Kamiak Rock Lake Red 2012


Varietal: 53% Syrah, 44% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington

Production/Tasting Notes: 16 months aging in French and American oak barrels; aromas of smoked anise, violets, rose petals and cherry with hints of juniper berry; soft and silky with flavors of bright fruit with black pepper; firm tannins with a lingering plum finish with spicy oak notes


Food pairings: grilled red meats; hard cheeses

13.8% alcohol

The Five “S’s” of Tasting:

1) Seeing; 2) Swirling; 3) Sniffing; 4) Sipping; 5) Savoring

What Does “Well-Balanced” Mean? F-A-T-A:

Fruit; Acidity; Tannins; Alcohol

Wine Quote:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged, refined wines on the lees.”

Isaiah 25:6