Archive for the ‘France’ Category

You Bet I’ll Have the $11 Bottle of Merlot!

February 20, 2012

Why not?  It is one of the most planted grapes in the world because it freakin rules!

2009 Domaine de la Patience Merlot Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Pont du Gard. $11.  Imported by Jenny & Francois Selections.

Forget Château Petrus and the rest of Pomerol, the real action is down near Costières de Nîmes where the Languedoc and the Côtes du Rhône meet.  Among rolling hills and olive trees, lavender fields and the Mediterranean sun sits Domaine de la Patience, an estate that is a reborn baby.  Re-established, replanted and modernized in 1994 by Christophe Aguilar whose grandfather before farmed the land and sold the grapes to the local coop, it took Christophe six years to bottle his own wines under the  Domain’s new name.

This dark, plummy Merlot falls under France’s Vin de Pays category which is basically elevated table wine that has a geographical context, in this case the area is Coteaux du Pont du Gard, a smaller area within Vin de Pays d’Oc (which covers all of the Languedoc and Roussillon). Vin de Pays wines are allowed to use a wide variety of locally approved varietals and require minimum alcohol and acidity levels along with a cap on permitted yields.  Does this mean a Merlot from Coteaux du Pont du Gard is better than Merlot from Anywhere France?  Not really but an Estate bottled wine (where the same guy grew and bottled the fruit ) might be. This Merlot comes from young 10 year old vines and after fermentation it sits in concrete vats for 3 short months retaining its freshness and stiff power.  It is full and rich and great with all sorts of cuisine, try it next to you grill.

The Pont du Gard!  Where the Romans used to pee.

Also this wine happens to be imported by Jenny & Francois Selections which specializes in organic, naturally made, honest wines.  Look at the back label, and look for others like it.  A search on their website and you will find that Jenny & Francois Selections comes to Virginia through Downey Selections.  If you see their name on the back of a wine label it probably means that it too will be a thoughtful, honest wine..

Did You Know That There is Old Wine Available in Richmond?

December 8, 2011

Old wine, mature wine, ancient wine from erstwhile 1999.

Dreams of a bygone era gave us Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant’s love affair in the picture show “Notting Hill” , new world Ford acquired old world Volvo and writer Stephen King was hit by a mini-van, but the most important occurrence of this departed year was a wine harvested from the lost realm of Bandol.

The Bandol wine region of Provence sits on the coastal mountain ranges above the Mediterranean.  The best vineyards are situated north of the charming seaside town of Bandol in the communes of Le Castellet, Evenos and La Cadière d’Azur.  The terraced plots of silicon and limestone heavy soils are planted with mostly the Mourvèdre grape and it is one of the only places in the world where it will fully ripen thanks to the combination of hot sunshine and cool northern Mistral winds.  The wines are spicy, animalistic and wild.  In their youth the reds are stiff and tannic and need years to mellow to display their full range of meaty weight and Provencal herbal aromas.

1999 Domaine du Gros’ Noré Bandol Rouge.  $45. Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.  

There once was a gentleman named Honoré Pascal (called Noré by his friends) that farmed 16 hectares of vines and sold his fruit to some of the most famous producers in the area including Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon.   After his death in 1997 his son Alain took over and began estate bottling the wines under the name Gros’ Noré after his father (gros’ means “fat”).  1999 was a cherished year producing ripe fruit balanced with strong substance and a plucky bouquet.  It is only the third vintage of this wine and there is loads of it available in Richmond at a reasonable price considering how expensive the more famous Bandols from Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pradeaux can be.

Nice lookin 12 year old cork.   Most people won’t hesitate to spend $50 on bottle of wine at a restaurant.  Wouldn’t it be nice to prepare a leg of lamb at home with some rosemary and garlic and drink this beauty alongside it?  Maybe take this wine to Bistro Bobette on free corkage night Monday and have the chef’s beef tenderloin, or show up to Enoteca Sogno on free corkage night Tuesday and have pork chops?
Don’t let Bandol become just another footnote in history.

Hautes-Côtes de Bargain

November 22, 2011

I forget what guy said it, I forget if he remembered what restaurant he ate at, I forget if he remembered the girl he was with, but I do remember he drank Montrachet.  I have never drunk any Montrachet, I doubt I ever will, the little that is out there is really expensive.  Much like a lot of Burgundy, it is pricey, Burgundy is maddening and Burgundy happens to be one of the most fascinating wine regions in the whole wine world.

2000 years ago some monks along with some grape growers began playing around in some dirt and noticed subtle differences in how soil types and subtle climate conditions affected grape growing.  These differences varied from village to village, from vineyard to vineyard, even varied within vineyards themselves.  These mapped out areas lead to thousands of different sites, each one expressing a unique personality upon two noble Burgundian grape varieties that were planted there.  The immense mapping of vineyards  made it necessary for a complicated labeling system.  It is easy for a wine drinker to be confused when buying Burgundy, all the labels kind of look the same and you need a geography lesson to know what you’re getting.

Burgundy can be the most rewarding and disappointing wine you will ever come across.  You have to consider the place it was grown, who grew it, who bottled it, what vintage?  Some Burgundy takes years to mature before it becomes magical, some Burgundy is meant to be drunk young.   Most Burgundy is expensive and some of it is stupid, outrageously expensive!  One thing all Burgundies have in common is it fragile.  It does not like to travel.  It needs to be kept in constant cool storage to keep its delicate bouquet.

It is no wonder many Richmond restaurants stay away from the special, vast, yet complicated wines of Burgundy and tend to offer only the simplified, mass produced, easy to recognize brands.

Not all Burgundy wines are expensive.  There are many  honest, hand made examples to be found that are grown by people intent on carrying on tradition and expressing a true sense of place.  It can still be complicated though.

Domaine Billard based in la Rochepot produces wine from 12.5 hectares of vineyards located in Saint Aubin, Saint Romain, Auxey Duresses and Beaune.  Their biggest production comes from sites within the Hautes-Côtes, a hilly plateau above the Côte de Beaune.  ‘Haute’ means high.

The Green areas map out the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.  Billard has a lot of prestigious area neighbors.  That red area parallel to Saint Aubin is the Montrachet vineyard.

Jérôme Billard is the fifth generation to run the Domaine. When he took over he began the conversion to organic farming and began estate bottling the entire production.  Before he inherited the place his father sold all the grapes to the local wine cooperative.

2009 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Rouge.  Jérôme still uses his feet to lightly press this low yield Pinot Noir.  The wine is matured for ten months in barrel and is completely unpretentious and pure.  Great for everyday drinking alongside pigeon stew or a delicately seasoned poached chicken.  And it is only $17!

2009 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc “La Justice”.  Named after a 3 hectare vineyard made up of chalk heavy soils this barrel fermented Chardonnay matures on its lees (dead yeast cells) for 10 months before bottling giving it a rich and robust, creamy body.  Drink this elegant and ballsy wine with shellfish, truite au bleu or Reblochon and Epoisses cheeses.  And it is only $17.

I’m not suggesting this wine is a stand in for Montrachet or even a ghetto ass Puligny.  It is its own thing and a great representation of how diverse Burgundy is and hopefully it will make you curious to what all those different town names and vineyard sites can deliver.

imported by Wine Traditions.

Got Caught in the Blades

August 23, 2011

Playing around the windmill, she’s alright now though.  

Moulin-à-Vent is one of ten important villages in the central-north area of Beaujolais.  The area has more hills than the Côte-d’Or with some vineyards even situated on the Beaujolais mountains.  The dramatic shifts in landscape and soil types make for expressive variations of the Gamay grape.   Moulin-à-Vent and the other nine Cru Beaujolais are nothing like the unfortunate mass-marketed Beaujolais Nouveau and really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.  Moulin-à-Vent is often considered the richest and darkest, most long lived of all the crus, often being compared to fine Burgundy.  The soils here are abundant in iron and manganese which put extra stress on vines.  Too much of these elements will be toxic for grapes (just like too much manganese in the human body will cause neurological disorders) but just the right amount  will naturally lower yields and produce grapes of great concentration and character.

2009 Domain Gerard Charvet Moulin-à-Vent “La Reserve au Amelie”, $18.  Imported by Wine Traditions.

Most examples of Moulin-à-Vent can come with a price tag, Charvet’s is a great value and a great example of what the village can produce.  It is plump and mineral and smells like sex.  The press refers to the 09 vintage as perfect, plenty of sunshine, just the right amount of rain and dry enough to make a bountiful, ripe harvest producing wines of great body and immediate pleasure. “La Reserve au Amelie” is tasting great now, I would be curious to sock away a few bottles to taste what happens in a few years.

Here are The Smothers Brothers singing about their favorite wine.

What’s Wrong With Bordeaux? part 39

May 27, 2011

We all know Bordeaux has a lot of stupid problems, thanks to the English it is France’s largest and most fruitful wine region cranking out  70 million cases a year.  Catering mostly to douchebags in silk suits and small cocks, Bordeaux tries to outdo itself every decade by declaring about every other vintage “the vintage of the century!” It happened in 2000, it REALLY happened in 2005, 2009 and now REALLY, REALLY 2010!   Every new batch of juice invites critics to come and taste en primeur (tasting out of the barrel) before anything has been blended and put into bottle.  Then after a bunch of back scratching and masturbation all the First Growths (and Second Growths) get to declare how great their wine is and then proceed to ask ridiculous prices for their bottles (at least you get a cool wood case with the purchase of 12!).  Does this practice really indicate what the finished wine will represent?  Can these critics really get a sense of how the wine will age?

Eric Asimov of the New York Times just featured a tale of two exhatled critics disagreeing on the 2010 en primeur tasting of the famous Château Pavie of St.-Émilion.  Basically Robert Parker blew his wad on it and said something like “It is hedonistic and monumental! Two Gazillion points!”  John Gilman said something akin to “It sucks and I would not rinse shit out of my mouth with it!”.  Which critic is right?  Whose taste palette do you trust most?  How will you know if you should spend $200 bucks on a bottle of Château Pavie?  I think all of this arm chair wine rallying can be nonsense.  Don’t let these crusty old historic estates ruin your perception of France’s most famous wine region.  There are better ways to spend your hard earned inheritance.  Bordeaux has plenty of little guys making honest and true wine that won’t rape your bank account.

Here we have a classic right bank Bordeaux with rich, dark fruit and fat, structured round tannin.  The 2005 Château Villars of Fronsac.  The town of Fronsac is made up of mostly hillside vineyards on top of well draining soil with large amounts of clay-limestone on top of large amounts of chalk.  The Merlot grape is rightfully at home here producing tough guy and full bodied wines.  Château Villars is a 7th generation family estate growing pristine fruit and vinifying clean, delicious Bordeaux.  I had it with some Camembert and Gruyère cheeses on a Flour Garden baguette purchased from Belmont Butchery … and some roasted turnips tossed in brown butter, garlic, sage and thyme.  Perfect for a Wednesday evening.  There are many other great examples of thoughtful, hand made, traditional Bordeaux available to you right here in Richmond.  Leave the Latours and the Lafite-Rothschilds to the trophy hunters.

2005 Château Villars-Fronsac.

Imported by Wine Traditions

$24 at J.Emerson Fine Wine

All Natural Bargain

April 4, 2011

Heads up: If you have $9 or $14 or all together $23 then here is one bottle or another bottle or two bottles that you should not pass up this month…  Got that?

2008 Château d’Oupia Les Hérétiques Vin de Pays de Herault, $9.  Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

2009 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords, $14.  Louis/Dressner Selections.

Château d’Oupia is located in Minervois, a wine region that is part of the larger Languedoc-Roussillon located in the south of France.  Château d’Oupia is situated much higher than most of the flat, mass-producing wasteland of the Languedoc.  The higher elevation and cool winds from the Mediterranean helps give their wines a freshness that backs up the big style fruit most associated with the area at large. André Iché of the Family Iché (it says so on the bottle) has always bottled wine that he grew himself from old vines.  He used to sell his finished wine to a local négociant who would in return slap his own label on it and sell it off in bulk.  Back in the 80’s André was convinced to start selling his own wine under his own label and has since become one of the leading wine growers of Minervois.

Les Hérétiques (named after some part of the Crusades) is the perfect any night of the week wine.  On the table is it extremely versatile but shows best next to olive oil, tomato sauces, wild aromatic herbs and grilled meats.  Try it with boeuf à la gardiane.  Comprised mostly of Carignan and Syrah, the wine is full bodied, earthy and rustic.

You can find it at J. Emerson Fine Wines for $9.  A steal.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine is located in the Loire Valley of western, central France.  The Loire river that runs east and west through the valley splits off into two tributaries, one is called Sèvre Nantaise and the other La Maine, that is where this wine comes from.  Clos des Briords comes from a patch of vines that were planted in 1930.  The soil is deeper than most of the other vinyard sites and is composed of well draining clay and silica over a subsoil of granite.  The Muscadet area as a whole sees a lot of rain which can bring on rot, so unless you want to employ fungicide spray against mildew, good drainage is critical for grapes to reach optimal ripeness.   The vinification happens two hours after harvest in cool, stainless steel tanks.  The wine then ages on its lees (residual yeasts, leftover yeasts, spent yeasts, what Sur Lie means) for eight months before being bottled.  Drunk young it is very mineral and tight but with a few years aging it can really blossom, gaining power, weight and a floral bouquet.  It is showing lovely now. Of course Muscadet is the choice wine for oysters and all kinds of sea food.  The crisp, bright acidity also matches up nice with cream and butter based dishes.

You can find it at J. Emerson Fine Wines for $14.  Also a steal.

Check out the back labels, a sign of quality, if you are into that kind of thing.

Wine of the Week-Drink This Wine!

March 9, 2011

Marcillac! “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” Domaine du Cros 2006

Here is a wine that tastes like no other and cannot be imitated.

Tougher than a cowboy and just as polite.  

Marcillac is the name of the place and lies in Southwest France a little bit below Bordeaux and west of the Cotes du Rhone.  The soil is red clay heavy in iron oxide, and boy you can taste it.  The predominant grape that is planted here is  Fer Servadou, or known locally as Mansois.  Fer translates into iron, did I mention you can taste it?  The summers are long and hot thanks to the Mediterranean influence, the winters though can be brutally cold.  The best sites for grapes come from sloping and terraced hillsides that look south.  The area gained AOC status in 1990 and only allows red and pink wines.

Domaine du Cros led by Philippe Teulier has been producing wine for four generations and has grown to become one of the largest independent growers in the region.  By largest meaning 25 hectares, about 60 acres, bottle production is around 7000 cases.  Pretty small compared to the local wine cooperative.  The Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (which means old vines, 80 year old vines!) is aged a year and half in old large chestnut barrels before release to soften its animal character.  It has big, bloody structure, ripe red, savory, peppery fruit and a beautiful balance.  Recommended to be drunk within 3-5 years but supposedly can last up to 10.  I say if you have a bottle, drink it now, if you have 2 bottles, drink one now and one tomorrow.  It is gorgeous.

I had it with a simple meal of Italian sausage from Belmont Butchery (so it is Italian sausage, still works, actually it is Italian style sausage made right here in Richmond from Virginia pigs so it can be called Richmond sausage) browned with a little butter, onion, garlic, rosemary, beans and some reduced red wine.  

$16, imported by Wine Traditions

Marcel Lapierre

March 3, 2011

May he rest in peace.  He helped rescue  Beaujolais from the candied banana flavored concoctions of  George Duboeuf and other releasers of Beaujolais nouveau.  His wines are seriously structured and beautifully haunting.  If they are not sold out by now you should be able to find these wines at River City Cellars, Elwood Thompsons and J Emerson Fine Wine and Cheese.

07 Morgon “Cuvée Lapierre” , $42

09 Morgon, $23

09 Vin de Pays des Gaules, $15

imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Welcome to Richmond Wine Culture

February 27, 2011

There are a lot of ways to make wine.

The number of methods makes it seem like wine can be made anywhere in the world. One can easily create a vineyard on a plot of land (away from trees) with well-prepared soil (through tilling, weeding and composting) that has good drainage and a steady flow of water (either by rain or irrigation) ample sun (from Spring through Fall) and enough dry air (or chemical spray) to keep rot and mold away.

If owning and maintaining a vineyard is too costly or labor intensive, one can easily source grapes from differnet growers and have the fruit delivered
to his/her newly constructed, state of the art winery. There, one can fill the mechanical hopper and crusher-destemmer (to separate leaves and twigs and such) to prepare the grapes for a brief, chilly stay in a heat exchanger.  After this, the grapes will get blasted with sulphur dioxide (to prevent fermentation and to slow down oxidation) then move on to a full-on mechanical stomp in a pneumatic press to produce the juice. The juice is then pump pump pumped into settling tanks (add some carbon dioxide in gas form) and then pumped again into the fermentation tanks.

Added here are some specially selected yeast strains intended to impart special characteristics into the finished wine.

The colder the fermentation, the fruitier and more aromatic the wine; the hotter the fermentation, the quicker the tanks can be refilled with the next batch. From there, the wine can be refined in new, more costly oak barrels, or, to keep it cheap, oak chips and saw dust can be thrown into the fermenting wine. After a run through the sheet filtration system the wine is ready to be bottled and slapped with a label!

These are generalized steps of course. One can easily buy the juice already crushed to ferment at will, or buy finished wine and manipulate anyway wanted. The easiest way to make wine, though, is to hire a consulting oenologist to do it all…

There are ways to grow wine, as well.
Wine is an agricultural product and comes from longstanding cultural traditions. Many Artisan growers uphold responsible farming and reflect a sense of place through their wines. When wine is grown rather than constructed, the process honors the land, natural growing cycles, and the integrity of heritage. And, it often tastes better, offering more complex and fresh flavors.

Richmond has access to all kinds of beautiful, real wines. Richmond Wine Culture will let you know where to find these special wines in local shops and restaurants. Join us online for discussions with wine distributors, restraunteurs, and wine shop owners to explore our city’s wine culture. Here, you will find information about noteworthy wine events around town (and notes on which tastings to avoid.)  To thoughtfully think about wine, Richmond Wine Culture will not provide unclear tasting notes like “Stewed gooseberries” or “Asian-spice box” or “Peruivan tree bark” or other ultimately senseless descriptors.  Instead, we’ll talk about how a wine is used to complement cuisine. Richmond Wine Culture will explore off the beaten path wine regions and direct you to wines that celebrate those regions.  We’ll cover the best ways to enjoy these special wines.

We look forward to tasting with you!