Tuesday, July 27, 2010


For the last wine club of the season before I take off for California on Sunday (yay!!) and Italy shuts down until September, we ended on a particularly delicious note. We had another big group (19 people were expected) so the budget allowed for us to spend a little bit more. That usually mean I'll take advantage of the chance to taste wine from France, as it is all too easy to get too used to the taste of Italian wine. When we only taste one kind of wine, we can start to think that all wine is supposed to taste that way, which is never a good thing for a wine lover.
 I had thought of trying a few different white Burgundies, but in the end I decided to showcase just Chablis, a subzone in the most northern vineyards of Burgundy. It is so far north, in fact, that it is much closer to Champagne than the rest of Burgundy, and indeed shares the same often extreme climate with that region. All fine white Burgundy comes from the Chardonnay grape, and Chablis is no exception. The cold climate and most of all the soils make these wines quite unique to their cousins from farther south. The best wines come from Kimmeridgean soils, a mixture of limestone and clay with tiny fossilized oyster shells. The lesser vineyards (and in a controversial move, some of the higher appellations were expanded to include these areas) are made up of Portlandien soil, which is very similar to the former but is generally believed to make wines of less finesse.  Chablis is famous for its steely, sometimes austere quality with its high acidity and gunflint, mineral flavors. It is also the one fine wine region for Chardonnay to not commonly employ the use of oak.  While it is not uncommon for an aged Chablis to take on a nutty flavor reminiscent of wine that has been aged in oak, generally speaking oak is not a component in these wines.
There are four different levels of quality to Chablis, here in ascending order: Petit Chablis, on mostly Portlandien soil, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, constituting 40 vineyards,  and Chablis Grand Cru, all on Kimmeridge, and composed of seven plots. We tasted mostly Chablis, basic versions of which can be quite austere, with one Petit Chablis and one Premier Cru. (Though the Vau de Vey has only been at this quality level since the vineyard expansion.) For the most part these wines were typical of their kind with very high acidity and very crisp citrus fruit flavors with a mineral note as well. The surprises were the 4th and the 6th, which had very noticeable oak influence. The 4th was pleasant, but the winemaker had perhaps been a bit heavy-handed with the oak, while the last wine presented with lovely subtle oak flavors well balanced by fruit and acidity.
The first three wines were three different versions from one producer, a Petit Chablis, and two different Chablis. The first, far from being too austere had a nice lemon and mineral quality to it. The first Chablis was one of the clear favorites of the evening, sharing those citrus qualities but with a medium body and much more concentration of fruit. The third offering, also a Chablis, comes from old vines and spends nine months in stainless steel. It was very lemony, floral and quite steely on the palate with high, refreshing acidity. The fourth was our surprise of the evening with lots of butter, cedar, hints of clove on top of a bit of pear and citrus. Next we had two wines from the same winery, their basic Chablis and their premier cru. Both were very enjoyable, the first with creamy, yeasty nose from the 12 months it spent on its lees, and a lovely apricot, honey flavor on the palate.  The next spent wine had similar flavors but with the added buttery, vanilla, slightly spicy flavors from its 12 months aging in partial oak and partial steel. The combination added a subtle oak flavor that didn't overwhelm the fruit. It was my favorite, along with our second wine.
The line-up:
1. Petit Chablis Blancs Caillouc 2009 Pascal Bouchard
2. Chablis Le Classique 2009 Pascal Bouchard
3. Chablis Les Vielles Vignes 2008 Pascal Bouchard
4. Chablis Vielle Vigne 2007 Domaine Bernard Defaix
5. Chablis Le Grand Bois 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume
6. Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French Rosè

Rosè again? Well yes, not just because it's that time of year. When we tasted rosès the last time, I was planning on comparing French and Italian wines. Unfortunately a couple of people had to cancel, so I held on to the two French wines I had for another tasting.  This time we had  14 people, so with plenty of money in the budget left over, I picked up a pink Champagne as well, just because.......well, do you really need a reason? We looked at 9 still rosès, and we ended, in celebration of a tour de force tasting, with the bubbly.

As I mentioned in the last post on pink wines, quality still rosès are usually made by a limited maceration (skin contact) time, to absorb color and flavor, but generally not tannin. Good sparklers, on the other hand, blend white and red wines together, sometimes at the very end of the process. Rosès are commonly made with the classic grape varieties of a given area. The south of France is most well-known for their rosès, and the wines are based on the predominant grape varieties in each place, mostly grenace, cinsault, and mouvedre, but increasingly more far-flung grapes as well in the Vin de Pays wines which allow for more flexibility.

We had four wines from the Cote de Provence, one Bandol, one Cabernet d'Anjou, one Gigondas, one Vin de Pays d'Oc, and finally one Champagne. Interestingly, we also had a couple of distinct offerings from two producers, so we were able to look at the different directions producers can take. Even with a wine some dismiss as simple, such as rosè, there is incredible potential for variety. 

From Domaine Houchart, we had three wines, two Cote de Provence, both of which are based mainly on grenache, syrah, cinsault, and mouvedre, and one Gigondas, which is grenache, syrah, and cinsault. Their Sainte Victoire spent four months on its lees and was a step up in complexity from their basic offering with a lovely mineral quality to it, along with bright red fruit. The Gigondas had amazing notes of wild strawberries and a lovely smooth texture.

We also looked at two wines from Domaine Ott, their Bandol and their Cote de Provence from their Les Domaniers estate. The latter had lots of fresh fruit, apricots and peaches, and refreshing acidity, while the former was our most complex wine of the evening, though by far also the most expensive. Coming in at 30 euros, it was more than twice as expensive as the other wines. Grenache, cinsault, and mouvedre are fermented in tanks and then aged for six to eight months in a combination of oak and tank. The resulting wine has very complex notes of stone fruit, grapefruit, and hints of tobacco and spice.

The one exception to the southern rule was our Cabernet d'Anjou, from the Loire in central France. There are three appellations here for rosè, and the Cabernet d'Anjou is of the highest quality. It is made from a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, and is always medium sweet. Ours was well-balanced by its acidity and lots of ripe red fruit.

To cap off the evening we ended with a pink Champagne, based on pinot noir. It was just the thing to wake us up after nine still rosès, brightly acidic with a persistent mousse, fine bubbles, and fantastic toasty, fruity flavors. It was the perfect way to end an interesting evening.

The line-up:
1. Collioure 2009 Les Clos de Paulilles
2. Vin de Pays D'Oc Rosè de Syrah 2009 Beauvignac
3. Cote de Provence 2009 Chateau de la Galiniere
4. Cote de Provence 2009 Domaine Houchart
5. Cote de Provence Sainte Victoire 2009 Domaine Houchart
6. Gigondas 2008 Chateau du Trignon
7. Cote de Provence Les Domaniers 2007 Ott Selection
8. Bandol 2008 Chateau Romassan Domaine Ott
9. Cabernet d'Anjou 2009 Chateau Pierre-Bise
10. Champagne NV Jacques Picard 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Interviewed by Inthemo

The website Inthemo has finally launched, to much anticipation. Geared to be the next best thing to search for the most cutting-edge, insider tips to all the great cities of the world. Sign in to get started and check me out as a city host in Rome and leading the Inthemo crew around Casa Bleve, one of Rome's best wine bars.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Context Newsletter

Check out the latest Context Newsletter for insider tips on Venetian food, Paris culinary trends, foodie destinations in New York and Philly, and my article on wines for the summer. Let me know about your favorite summer wines!