Monday, September 28, 2009
I hadn’t had the opportunity to try that many Burgundies at once (there were six -- three red and three white) to get a sense of the variations in flavor and style. The experience was reminiscent of this May at the Vintner Select anniversary celebration when I had the chance to plow through flights of Barolo and Barbaresco. I’ll share my observations, but I’ll back up a bit and give a little background on the region first.
As I’ve mentioned before, understanding French wine can be notoriously tricky. (I’ve barely made a dent in what I feel like I need to know, honestly.) French wines are labeled by region of origin rather than by grape; each region may have a number of subregions, each of which can have its own blend of grapes; names can be very similar; quality can vary wildly by vintage for various reasons; and so on. Burgundy is one of the easiest wine regions in France to understand. Just remember this:
Reds are made from Pinot Noir. Whites are made from Chardonnay.
That’s all you need to know to start.
(Yes, like all rules – there are exceptions. The lovely light reds from the Beaujolais subregion are made from Gamay, and there are a few places that grow a couple of places that grow a couple of other varietals, but 90+% of the time anything with "Bourgogne" on the label is from one of those two grapes.)
The Burgundy region can be roughly divided into three parts. The northern part is known as the Côte d’Or, home of many of the highest quality Burgundies. The Côte d’Or is also subdivided into two regions – Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The former is known best for reds and the latter for whites, although each region produces both.
The middle third of the region is made up of the Côte Chalonnaise and Maconnais regions. This part produces many of the more inexpensive wines in Burgundy, including many that I’ve written about in other columns. Maconnais, especially, cranks out a huge percentage of the white table wine from Burgundy. The bottom third is the Beaujolais region, which is a whole other animal, making the light reds I referred to above. If you want to know more about those wines, go here.
About 60 miles northwest of the Côte d’Or, is the Chablis region, known (of course) for whites. Chablis, much like Burgundy, has a negative connotation in the minds of many, as these names were bastardized and stolen by California winemakers in the 70's, who cranked out jug after jug of plonk. The chardonnays produced in Chablis, France are...shall we say...a bit tastier.
There’s a classification system for wines in Burgundy, based on the quality of the terroir from which the grapes originate. This differs from the individual chateau classification in Bordeaux, which doesn’t follow regional terroir differences, in general. The classifications run, in descending order: Grand Cru (named by vineyard -- can cost in the thousands per bottle); Premier Cru (sometimes written “1er cru” – and named by vineyard and village); Village (named by…well…village); Subregional (from a slightly larger area – like Macon-Villages) and Regional (simply called “Bourgogne”). Chablis has its own measures of quality, but are still termed Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village. There’s also a “Petit Chablis” designation, which roughly relates to subregional.
The wines we had, as you'll see later, were mostly village level, with one regional and one 1er cru thrown in.
To dinner...The Phoenix is a beautifully designed former gentleman's club built in downtown Cincinnati in 1893. (Think scotch & cigars, not pasties & poles.) The Phoenix is now largely a banquet and reception center, but manager of 19 years Kent Vandersall has a fairly steady stream of special events, wine dinners, and the like in the restaurant. If you haven't seen the interior of this place, it's worth the price of admission to one of these events just to have a look. It's quite remarkable, both from an architectural perspective and from the "Wow!" factor. Kent runs a tight operation. The service was exceptional and he made us, as first-time guests, feel quite welcome.
This event featured the wines of Domaine Chanson Pere et Fils, one of the older continually operating producers in Burgundy. They've been making wine in this region for about 250 years. (According to Sophie Baldo, Chanson's export manager, who "emceed" the tasting -- they are one of the five original houses in the region.) They own vineyards across Burgundy, but they've got a fascinating storage system for their wines. The town of Beaune, the heart of the Côte du Beaune, where the winery lives, is a walled city. The walls range from 8-12 feet thick. This allows the storage of the wine within the old walls, and Chanson does exactly that. As a result -- they own one of the world's only wine cellars in which you walk upwards from the entrance. (Seriously, I must see this someday...)
Until recently, their wines have not been widely marketed in the States, but according to Ed Hernandez, their domestic marketing manager (who we had the pleasure of swapping stories with during dinner), this is about to change markedly.
So, aside from the incredible cuisine -- what made this meal stand out so much for me? Contrast. Even though only two grapes were used in all of the wines, the flavors were all over the map. I'll take this course by course to give you an idea (and maybe make you a little jealous):
Reception: Chanson Vire-Clesse 2006 ($18-27/bottle retail) -- Kicked off the evening with...not a bang, exactly, but certainly an appetite-whetting aperitif. Vire-Clesse is a town in the Maconnais, near Pouilly-Fuisse. I loved the nose on this wine. In my experience, chardonnays aren't usually quite this floral, and I thought it smelled of strawberries. The flavor was very crisp and lightly acidic, but with a nice spice and structure. An excellent palate preparation.
First Course: Honey Lime Shrimp, Capellini w/Chanson Chablis 2007 ($20-30)-- A classic example of good Chablis. Plenty of minerality and acidity, floral and citrus scents, and a long, crisp finish that absolutely screams for pairing with something light like shellfish. The shrimp and capellini that we had with it was actually one of our favorite courses. The flavors were very delicate, and they married wonderfully with the wine's citrus.
Second Course: Arctic Char with White Beans, Mushrooms, and Dried Tomatoes w/Chanson Meursault 2006 ($45-60) -- My inexperience with white Burgundy had me unprepared for this wine. This wine had an incredible amount of strength and depth for a white. I was interested to hear from Sophie that Chanson ages their wines in older casks, so as not to overoak and obscure the flavors of the grapes. In this case, what they created was an incredibly complex, melony, slightly smoky wine that was full-bodied without feeling overly heavy. Paired up with a fish that's a cross between trout and salmon and those earthier vegetables, the wine stood up nicely and was able to handle the oil in the fish, which was prepared to perfection. Delightful.
Third Course: Rosemary Dijon Lamb Chops with Swiss Chard w/Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006 -- This wine was the first of the reds. This is a regional-level wine, made from select grapes grown all across the Côte d'Or. It was a very "refreshing" red wine. Quite fruit forward, but with some very nice spice on the back end that made it very interesting. On its own, an excellent wine, but with the tiny lamb chops seasoned and roasted to a pinnacle of flavor, it made a wonderful compliment for the fairly delicate but numerous flavors of the lamb. In my opinion, as this is such an incredibly flexible wine, this was probably the best value of the night at $18-22 a bottle.
Fourth Course: Veal Marengo, Creamed Whipped Parsnips w/Chanson Beaune Clos des Mouches 1er Cru 2006 -- The showstopper. I tasted this wine and my eyes literally rolled back in my head. I'd never tasted a pinot noir this good, and I've tasted very few wines of this quality, period. (I can only imagine the state in which a grand cru might have left me. Descriptions might violate some blue laws.) Powerful, yet delicate, this wine wrapped my palate in layer after layer of smoke, spices, cherries, and other flavors that I couldn't even identify. Incredible balance. But tasting notes don't do this wine justice. The world got quiet when I tasted this wine. Alas, this was the one food pairing of the evening that didn't quite work for me. The richness of the veal stew that it was paired with overwhelmed all of the delicate flavor in the wine. I ended up drinking less than half the glass and putting the rest aside for later. The SPinC did not, but managed to sweet talk her way into another glass so she could do a side-by-side with the next course. This wine is only starting to become available in the states, and will set you back around $90. And yes, I bought a bottle to lay up for awhile. Even at this price, it was irresistible. It's apparently fine to age for 20-25 years, so this joins the "target date" wines in our cellar.
Fifth Course: Filet of Beef, Carrots Parisienne, Pinot Noir Demi w/Chanson Gevrey-Chambertin 2005 ($40-60) -- Of the grand cru pinot noir vineyards in the Côte d'Or, 24 of the 25 are in the Côte de Nuits. Tasting this back to back with the Clos des Mouches gave me a wonderful sense of the difference between the wines from the two parts of the Côte d'Or. The Côte de Beaune reds, as I learned, are traditionally much more delicate than the Côte de Nuits. The Gevrey-Chambertin was a lovely illustration of the power of the Côte de Nuits. This was a much more powerful wine. Lots of licorice and vanilla on the flavors, and a much deeper level of fruit, along with a great deal of tannin for a pinot noir. It's understandable why this wine would be set up next to a filet. I think this was the first time I'd had a pinot paired with a steak, and this one certainly had the heft to make a side dish, especially with the fabulous demiglace drizzled across the filet and carrots. While I preferred that pairing, the SPinC actually preferred the Clos des Mouches. Since the filet was roasted instead of grilled, she thought that the meat was delicate and light (or as delicate and light as beef can be) enough to stand up to the filet.
Sixth course: Fruit and Truffles. Exactly what it sounds like. Handmade chocolate yummies and some berries to nosh on while we finished the last of our wonderful wine, chatted a bit more, and eventually made our way out with smiles on our faces. For the record, the Gevrey-Chambertin went much better with the chocolate and dark fruits.
I'd definitely recommend checking out some of the special events at the Phoenix if you're looking for a good way to spend an evening. Many thanks to Ed, Sophie, and Stacey Meyer from Heidelberg Distributing for organizing the meal, to Kent for a wonderfully designed meal to complement these wonderful wines, and to the winemakers at Chanson for a slice of bliss.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
When I get a case of writer's block, I'll usually wander down to the wine store and make an aimless wander through the aisles to try to get inspiration. While facing down a blinking cursor is frustrating, it does give me a ready excuse to buy a few more bottles. (Isn't this why shoe shopping is supposed to be therapeutic for many women?)
In any case, I was amongst the whites when the Four Vines "Naked" 2007 Chardonnay caught my eye. There it was -- a perfect theme for an article: The Naked Vine does "naked wine." A minute and a half and a couple of impulse buys later, and away we go. This is where wine shopping clearly differs from shoe shopping -- I've never seen a decision made on a pair of shoes in under a minute. What can I say? I'm decisive. And influenceable.
(Pardon me while I prepare to duck the black slingback pump the SPinC is ready to throw at my head...)
Now, aside from being an easy trigger word for someone with my particular mental slant, "naked" for Four Vines actually refers to their winemaking process, specifically that their Chardonnay was produced unoaked. The wine started off with light notes of citrus and lavender on the nose. There's a strong lemony flavor and a lot of acidity for a California chard, which I think is a good thing.. As promised, there was no oak and only a little buttery flavor, which I found mostly at the "beginning of the finish." The finish is crisp, lemony, and lasting. It's a very pretty wine; more delicate than I expected in a Santa Barbara County chard and exceptionally balanced for a wine of this price. ($11-14)
Along came dinner -- a grilled citrus-and-herb marinated grouper over couscous and a diced red pepper from our garden. Unfortunately, the Four Vines ended up turning the flavor "fishy" (grouper is not a "fishy" fish in my experience ordinarily), so we called an audible and opened one of my other impulse purchases, the Washington State-grown Snoqualmie "Naked" 2007 Gewurztraminer.
For Snoqualmie, their "Naked" series of wines (they also make a naked Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Rosé) is produced "as close to au natural" as possible. These wines are grown from 100% organic grapes -- or, more accurately, grapes that are in the process of being certified organic. We decided to go with the second naked wine of the evening because...well...gewurztraminer goes with almost everything and we needed something that could handle an interesting pairing. It worked. Even with the mild gewurz sweetness, it had enough acidity to handle fish. Since the fish wasn't heavily peppered, the pepper on the wine's finish really came out and added a really nice balance to the food's flavor. When we tried it on its own, it started us with a lingering scent of herbs and apples. Its flavor is quite peppery with some honey and melons on the back end. The finish is tingly-peppery and fruity. ($11-13)
I hit a snag after that wine, though. I looked high and low and couldn't find another naked or nude-themed wine. (Well, except for Cycles Gladiator, but we've already discussed that, and see below...) So, I took some poetic license and went with the Charles Smith "Eve" 2007 Chardonnay ($12-15). Smith describes his wine as "sinfully tempting," so it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to think he was trying to design a wine that encourages people to drink in the buff.
Eve welcomes you into her garden with a light nose of melons and lemons. She tempts you with a very pleasant and extremely interesting flavor. She's got a crispness and creaminess that reminded me of a lemon crème turned into wine (without the overpowering sweetness, of course). Her finish is nicely balanced with some more lemon and just a touch of oak. She's great for sitting back and sharing, and she didn't back down from our citrus and chili powder marinated shark with an avocado-orange salsa. (OK, OK, I'll quit while I'm behind...)
On a separate, non-wine related note, I always enjoy sifting through some of the SiteMeter data that comes in about how people find the Vine. After I posted my article about the banning of Cycles Gladiator in Alabama, I had a ton of Google search hits from people looking for "naked gladiator." I'm interested to see if some of you get called into your boss' office at work, since we'll probably overload any content filters for "naked" out there...
Sunday, September 20, 2009
According to general manager Kent Vandersall, the menu and pairings go something like this:
- Chanson Vire-Clesse 2006 (passed upon arrival)
- Honey Lime Shrimp, Capellini w/Chanson Chablis 2007
- Arctic Char with White Beans, Mushrooms, and Dried Tomatoes w/Chanson Meursault 2006
- Rosemary Dijon Lamb Chops with Swiss Chard w/Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006
- Veal Marengo, Creamed Whipped Parsnips w/Chanson Beaune Clos des Mouches 1er Cru 2006
- Filet of Beef, Carrots Parisienne, Pinot Noir Demi w/Chanson Gevrey-Chambertin 2005
- Fruit and Truffles
If you decide to attend, please say hello. I'll be the bald guy.
Monday, September 14, 2009
There might be a little dust on the bottle,
Don't let it fool ya about what's inside.
-David Lee Murphy
Last night, my brother-in-hairstyle Danny Gold put together one of the more interesting wine tastings I've ever attended. He and a couple of his fellow Party Source pals decided they'd do a tasting of aged wine. Now, we're not talking 1967 Chateau d'Yquem here -- but it was a pretty impressive spread of wines. When I say "impressive," I mean...well...judge for yourself:
- Jean Laurent Millesime 1997 Champagne Brut
- Weingut Baumann Oppenheimer Sacktrager 1975 Riesling Auslese
- Domaine Marcel Deiss Engelgarten 1999 Alsace (white blend)
- Domaine Zind Humbrecht 1994 Grand Cru Pinot Gris
- Carmenet Winery 1995 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Sonoma)
- Azilia 1998 Barolo Bricco Fiasco
- Castillo Ygay 1989 Rioja Gran Reserva Especial
- Domaine Tempier 1996 Bandol
- Barossa Valley Estates 1997 Ebenezer Shiraz
- Corison Vineyard 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
- Hacienda Monasterio 1996 Ribera del Duero Crianza
- Ravenswood 1998 Old Hill Zinfandel (Sonoma)
- Beringer 1996 Private Reserve Cabernet (Napa)
- Montepeloso Val di Cornia 1999 Rosso
- L'Ecole 1999 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot
- Benjamin de Vieux Chateau Gaubert 2000 Graves (Bordeaux)
- Paradise Ranch 1998 Pinot Blanc Icewine (British Columbia)
For me, the highlights were the Riesling (which tasted like nectar with a wonderful spiciness); the Pinot Gris (a late harvest pinot gris -- not at all what I expected from Alsace); the Bandol (an earthy, smelly, yummy wine with a smoky finish that went on for ages); the Ribera del Duero (mammoth, sumptuous, and lush); the Montepeloso (an Italian wine with French funk); and the Bordeaux (2000 is a fantastic vintage).
None of them had gone to vinegar, although a few were clearly past their peak. The 1995 Sauv Blanc was certainly past its prime, as were the Corison (a bit flat) and the L'Ecole -- which tasted like a basic Merlot. Even so, how often do you get the opportunity to even taste a wine that's legitimately aged to that point?
Add in Riverside Restaurant's hosting and buffet for us, and we had quite an evening.
I'd certainly recommend getting on Danny's mailing list. He sends out fairly regular wine notes, announcements of these tastings, and information about wine dinners he does in conjunction with various local restaurants. For more information, you can email Danny here.
Friday, September 11, 2009
It's that time again. The 3rd Annual Wine Over Water wine tasting event on the Purple People Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati. Yours truly will be pouring at this event, so please come by to say hello.
If you'd like to order tickets in advance, you can click on the link above.
Hope to see you there!
A one-of-a-kind event, Wine Over Water is a wine tasting held over the Ohio River on the Southbank Purple People Bridge with stunning views of the Cincinnati skyline.
This annual charitable event is hosted by the Newport Citizens Advisory Council (NCAC), a citizen’s group dedicated to improving the community of Newport for residents and visitors alike. Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the repainting of the Southbank Purple People Bridge and ECHO Soup Kitchen.
Participants will enjoy sampling a selection of international wines as well as offerings from some of Greater Cincinnati’s preeminent boutique wineries. This delightful evening of wine, hors d'oeuvres and live music is designed to engage a diverse audience of residents from all around the area and build a sense of community while supporting a good cause.
Southbank Purple People Bridge
Newport, Kentucky (located on the East side of Newport on the Levee)
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door
Ticket price includes commemorative tasting glass.
Please bring your ID with you, as you must be 21 to be admitted to the event.
Local wineries will have bottles of wine for sale at the event, should you discover one you would like to take home.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Anyone who's been drinking wine for awhile has probably heard of Cabernet Franc, but it's usually just a blending grape -- often mentioned as the "third varietal" in most Bordeaux blends and meritages, backing up Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. (Petit Verdot and Malbec being numbers 4 and 5 of the five in Bordeaux, as you might remember.) It also gained a small degree of infamy by being the other grape dissed by Miles in Sideways, but without nearly the vitriol he reserved for Merlot.
So, what is it? Cabernet Franc is a red grape. It's chemically very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, and little over a decade ago, some grape taxonomists discovered that Cabernet Franc is one of the two parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon. (Sauvignon Blanc is the other.) I found this fascinating, since Cabernet Sauvignon usually produces heavy, tannic wines, while both its parents vinify in a much lighter, more acidic style.
While the grape hails from Bordeaux, the only French wine made exclusively from Cabernet Franc is Chinon from the Loire Valley. Cabernet Franc grows relatively well in cooler climates, so it can be found domestically in places like the Pacific Northwest, cooler areas of California, and more and more in New York. Canada has begun growing a fair bit of it as well.
Cabernet Franc yields a lighter, somewhat perfumier, more subtly flavored wine that often has an "herbal" character. Aside from its chemical similarities, it's easy to see after tasting it why it's blended so often with Cabernet Sauvignon. Its fruitiness and relative lack of tannin can be used to "round off" some of the harshness that exists in many Cabernet Sauvignons, especially young ones.
Foodwise, most cabernet francs aren't going to be the best pairing for big beefy meals with rich sauces. However, the herbal character and acidity make it one of the few red wines that can go with salads. It also generally pairs well with pork, chicken, and fish. You can also have it with Mediterranean foods, roasted vegetables, and it makes a nice alternative to Chianti for red sauces.
Since it's not still produced in huge quantities as a single varietal, these wines tend to be a little tougher to find and are a little more expensive. There aren't many Cab Franc dominant wines that have the high end price point of Cabernet Sauvignon (other than Chateau Cheval Blanc, Miles' "special bottle" in Sideways, which, ironically is about a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and his other favorite, Merlot) but there aren't very many on the low end of the scale either. I've rarely seen one for much under $15. There are some reasonably priced ones out there, like the following:
Domaine de Pallus "Les Pensées de Pallus" 2005 Chinon -- If you want to understand why Cabernet Franc done as a single varietal can be a stand-in for an Italian red, try this one. Again, Chinon is the only French 100% Cabernet Franc variety. Like most French reds, it's best with food, and definitely needs to be allowed to breathe for a minimum of half an hour after you uncork this pink-topped bottle. Once the fume and the funk clear, the fruit begins to open, and you start getting aromas of raspberries and smoke. As for the weight and flavor -- imagine a Beaujolais and a Chianti snuggling up and getting to know each other really well. It's got the chalky minerality of a Chianti, but the fruitiness of a Beaujolais -- and it's best served with a slight chill. It's heavier than either of those wines, and it's OK on its own. I tried it with a Spanish recipe for monkfish that called for a rosé. The Chinon worked just as well, and it played nicely off of the red pepper, onion, and almond puree that made up the sauce. (The whole thing was over couscous.) Also balanced well against the sautéed spinach we had as a side. $17-20.
Wit's End. "The Procrastinator" 2006 Cabernet Franc -- This Australian Cab Franc from McLaren Vale has a name after my own heart. What struck me first about this wine was the mouthfeel. It's got a slightly thick, velvety texture even though the body itself isn't all that heavy. A very "friendly" wine for starting an evening . It's smoky and seductive like a pinot noir, but has a bit more weight and tannin. The nose is a clean smell of cherries, which are the flavor we picked up the most. We had this with a mustard-covered, grilled pork loin chop with some roasted vegetables. This pairing was "absolutely heavenly," according to the SPinC. The roasted, grilled flavors brought out more of the tannin and smoke in the wine, which still keeps much of its fruity brightness with the food. Around $20.
Hahn 2006 Central Coast Cabernet Franc -- For a great contrast in styles of this grape, you'd be hard pressed to find a better one than this wine from California and the aforementioned Australian. This wine is initially quite "hot" tasting and really needs a little time to decant, like most any California cabernet. It's much more alcoholic and has considerably more weight and tannin than the Aussie entry. The nose again is cherries with a little bit of leather and smokiness. The wine is medium bodied, with some fruit, but a full, tannic finish with some chocolate flavors lingering. Mushroom burgers (beef burgers topped with sautéed mushrooms, not grilled portabellas) and bulgur with walnuts and chopped spinach were our pairing with this one, and the higher levels of tannin and alcohol allowed it to set up nicely next to earthy, meaty flavors. The acidity also held its own against the spinach. A "food" franc rather than one to drink on its own. About $15.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
I put it alongside an "Eggplant Pam-esan" -- one of my favorite meals to make for the Sweet Partner in Crim. Decided to break this one out to celebrate a successful test on my liver.
Turned out to be an absolutely wonderful pairing. I was so happy. So was she. The tannin and minerality went wonderfully with my marinara and the smokiness of the eggplant.
Since a Bordeaux blend, it also worked well with the evening's dark chocolate.