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Friday, September 30, 2011

Guild of Sommeliers Tasting - Southwest France

This week I had the pleasure of attending my first Guild of Sommeliers wine tasting, and the wines featured were from Sud-Ouest, or Southwest France.  The tasting was particularly enjoyable and informative thanks to the presenters, Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, with Master Sommelier Scott Carney.  I was pleasantly surprised by the very good quality of the wines, and upon hearing the price range of the twelve wines we tasted, I was even more impressed, and will be sure to make an effort to locate more Southwest France wines.  In addition, it was an opportunity to be exposed to some grape varieties I’ve never tasted before, and they were truly fascinating.

The first wine we tasted was the Gaillac Blanc, Domaine des Terrisses 2010, a blend of 50% Len del Lel, 30% Mauzac, and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine was reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, with its pale color and characteristics of citrus, some orchard fruit, green apple, a bit of tropical notes, some what blossoms, and very bright acidity, and clean feel, yet had something unique about it, separating it from Sauvignon Blanc but leaving it in the “food friendly” category and finding much favor with my palate.
Next was the Saint Mont "Les Vignes Retrouvees" Plaim' Arques 2009, another wine with bright acidity and a blend of 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Petit Courbu, and 10% Arrufiac.  This wine was also relatively pale but slightly riper in characteristics than the first wine, it still had citrus and orchard fruit notes and lots of bright acidity but was longer in its finish - another food friendly wine.
The last white of the first flight was the Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Sec, Chateau Montus 2008 - this was a blend of 90% Petit Courbu and 10% Petit Manseng and based upon its rich golden color, its contact with new barrels was easy to identify.  Also based upon the golden color it was easy to guess that the wine would be more dense than the first two, and would possess characteristics of baked orchard fruit and baking spices with a bit of citrus, blossoms, honeysuckle, and plenty of oak.  Still, the wine showed enough acidity and a clean feel, and seemed that it would pair well with somewhat heavier dishes including poultry and pork.  I was fascinated by this wine as it was quite oaky but not offensively so, and the acidity came through nicely.
We then moved on to the reds, and began with the Marcillac, “Lo Sang del Pais” Domaine du Cros 2010, 100% Mansois - a bright wine with notes of cherry and berry, a hint of herb and a wild characteristic, a bit of earthiness, and bright acidity with lots of texture with a long finish.  For me, this wine showed characteristics of both Languedoc-Roussillon and Beaujolais wines and was an interesting introduction to Southwest reds.
Next was the Gaillac Rouge "Rroix d'Azal" Domaine Philemon 2009 which I liked very much - 100% Braucol.  The wine is very aromatic with characteristics of fruit with herb and a bit of earth, lots of leather, black pepper, and a characteristic on the nose almost like cologne and incense - I really liked the aromas of this wine.  And the flavors did not disappoint, confirming the aromas and showing nice acidity with a soft texture.  This was one of my favorite reds of the tasting.
The last red of the first flight was the Fronton, "Ce Vin" Chateau Bellevue La Foret 2008, 100% Negrette and fantastic.  The wine has a dark color and is beginning to show a bit of age with a hint of rust color in its rim.  The characteristics are both red and dark fruit with some baking spice and some chocolate and a bit of earth.  The balance of acidity and tannin is excellent, and the wine finished a bit thinner than the nose would indicate.
The second flight began with the Madiran "Cuvee Moutoue Fardet" Clos Fardet 2005, a blend of 98% Tannat and 2% Cabernet Franc.  The wine is fairly dark in color with a bit of brick on the rim indicating its age, and has characteristics of some cooked fruit, earth, and ash, the aromas are bold, and the wine is acidic with lots of texture, and a long finish.  This red was among my favorites of the tasting.
Next was the Madiran, Chateau Montus 2006, a blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc.  This wine is good for transitioning from summer into the cooler months - it has notes of soft fruit and spice and earth and an “outdoor” sort of characteristic, a smooth texture, and a lengthy finish.  I actually liked the aroma better than the flavor of this wine.
The next red was the Madiran, Chateau Bouscasse 2007, a blend of 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This fairly dark wine has characteristics of soft yet very present fruit, spice, and a green, herbal note that I could also detect on the finish.  The wine is nicely balanced and the finish is long.
The last of the Madiran wines was the "Charles de Batz" Domaine Berthoumieu 2007, a blend of 90% Tannat and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This “stoic” red is almost purplish with a hint of pink on the rim, indicating its youth.  The wine has notes of more dark fruit than red fruit, it is a bit spicy and dense with big aromas and lots of texture.
The final red was the Irouleguy, "Ohitza" Domaine Brana, 2008, a blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc.  This was a fascinating wine, with a purplish red color and characteristics of red fruit and a bit of green pepper (presumably as a result of the Cabernet Franc), a bit of spice, a nice aroma and a somewhat light, cool feel, reflecting its Atlantic influence.  This was perhaps the most elegant red of the tasting.
The last wine of the tasting (and probably my favorite) was the Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Doux "Brumaire" Chateau Bouscasse 2007, a sweet wine made of 100% Petit Manseng.  The wine is golden in color, with characteristics of honey, apricot, peach, candied fruits, and baking spice, a very smooth feel and a long finish.  The wine has enough acidity and the perfect flavor to pair ideally with foie gras, a staple in the region.  The wine has similar characteristics to Sauternes, except it is not botrytized - it is harvested in November, raisinated, and then fermented.  I must admit this wine was not spit into the cup - I drank it.  I liked it that much.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Transitioning Into Wine Appreciation

Often I’m asked how I transitioned into loving wine.  For me, it wasn’t just about flavor or how well wine accompanied food, even though that was a large part of it.  But I enjoy researching topics that begin to fascinate me, and that’s a big part of what attracted me to wine.  I didn’t know back then that I’d be asked so often how it started.  So it’s fun for me to watch others transition into wine appreciation when they hadn’t previously taken much interest in wine.
I’m asked really often by the people around me for wine recommendations, both for sipping and for pairing (as I’m always giving out my recipes and consequently my suggested pairings), but I find it’s easier to suggest wines to family and friends who already enjoy wine, so I can compare regions or varietals and make recommendations based upon what the person usually enjoys.  For me, the challenge is converting a non-wine drinker and figuring out how to make the experience fun and interesting for the person.

I think perhaps I was a bit of an exception when I transitioned into wine appreciation - my first love among wines was an Alsace Gewurztraminer and when I began to enjoy reds, it was with a Spanish Carignan blend.  So it’s interesting to me to observe others learning which wines are right for them, at least in the early stages of wine appreciation.
A friend of mine has been experimenting with wine over the past few months and I like recommending wines to him, especially since he seems open minded about it, and since he’s not pairing the wine with food, it’s a little easier to make recommendations.  So far, it seems New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Italian Pinot Grigio, and lightly oaked American Chardonnays are his favorites.  What’s really interesting to me is that most new wine drinkers seem to transition in with Riesling as the slightly sweeter characteristics make the wine’s acidity more palatable.  Yet so far my friend isn’t particularly fond of Riesling.  Now with the cooler months approaching, I’ve suggested a few reds to him, so I’m looking forward to hearing how he enjoys them.

I’m just very happy when someone trusts my judgment and takes my suggestions on wines to try - especially new wine drinkers - and I’m even happier when I hear their reactions to these wines.  Thank goodness for open mindedness and willingness to try new things!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sud de France Languedoc-Roussillon Tasting

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Sud de France Languedoc-Roussillon tasting here in New York.  After enjoying a few bottles from Languedoc-Roussillon this summer, I was happy to try some more, and while I tasted many wines at this event, I will be focusing mainly on my favorites.

The 2010 Gilles Louvet Element Terre Sauvignon Blanc is very pale in color, with big aromas of bright citrus, a bit of tropical fruit, blossoms, and plenty of herbal notes.  On the palate, the citrus flavors were dominant with some of those green characteristics as well - the wine is very bright with a long finish and would be very food friendly and easy to pair, and I think this is an ideal summer wine.
Another white from Gilles Louvet which I enjoyed was the 2010 “O” Chardonnay, which is a nice example of a Chardonnay that balances fruit and spice very well, with notes of tangerine, lemon, apple, and baking spices and honey.  It has those buttery and toasted characteristics indicative of a nice Chardonnay, a smooth texture with just enough brightness to make it food friendly, and a respectable finish.  A white like this is a good way to transition from the summer menu to the cooler months.
My favorite Rose of the tasting was the 2010 Val d’Orbieu Les Deux Rives, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, with a lovely pinkish color and characteristics of somewhat ripe berries including strawberry and raspberry, a bit of blossom, and just a hint of cherry to finish.  The wine starts off very elegant, light, soft, and smooth, and finishes with a bit of bright tartness.
The first of my two favorite reds of the tasting was the 2005 Prieure de Saint-Jean de Bebian blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.  The wine has characteristics of darker fruits and berries, somewhat bold spice, and a hint of chocolate, with a big presence yet a very smooth texture and nice balance of acidity and tannin.  I’d say this is a wine best for cooler months and for pairing with hearty dishes.
The other red that I felt really stood out was the 2008 Mas de Soleilla Les Bartelles, a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  A very dark wine with many layers, I thoroughly enjoyed its complexity with its ripe fruit, bold spice, wood and earth notes, and excellent structure and lengthy finish.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Lot To Learn

I don’t have any kids of my own who would be starting school this week, and it’s been quite some time since I was in school of any kind, yet for some reason I still think of September as the turning of the year, rather than January.  I hear plenty of people say that they miss going back to school (and for the life of me I can’t understand that) - I don’t miss commuting at some unearthly hour to attend classes.  I don’t miss doing homework into the wee hours of the morning.  And I certainly don’t miss things like physics and calculus.  But just because a person is no longer attending classes doesn’t mean he or she should stop learning.
I started teaching myself about wine while I was in law school, and while I had some time for wine self-education while studying law, I wasn’t able to self-educate nearly as much as I can now, since I’m no longer reading case books and writing term papers.  While the things we learn in school at any level are often interesting and important, there are lots of things we can teach ourselves.  And among the many things I’ve taught myself outside of school over the years, wine is by far my favorite topic.
So many people have asked me how I got so “into” wine.  And the answer isn’t all that simple.  But ever since I was really young, I’ve enjoyed research of any kind, and so when I began experimenting with a few wines several years back, I decided it was a topic worth researching, worth learning more about it - the grape varieties, regions, production methods, history, etc.  And the research was addictive; wine seemed to be far more interesting to me than anything I was learning in law school at the time.  I didn’t know it back then, but I was discovering my passion for wine.  And it was a perfect accompaniment to my favorite pastime - cooking.
It’s important to me to keep on learning every day - not just about wine of course.  And even though school is pretty far back in my rear view mirror, sitting for the Level 1 Court of Master Sommeliers course and exam several months back reminded me just how important it is to keep on learning.  There’s so much to know, and for me, that’s one of the most exciting things about learning - that there will always be more.

Friday, September 2, 2011

“Riedels in the Dark"

It’s been almost a week since Hurricane Irene hit us here on Long Island and so many others along the east coast.  And we were without power for quite some time.  The Yankees/Red Sox series was only available over the radio and there really isn’t a lot to do in the dark while listening to the ball game and playing poker, except for drinking wine.  I couldn’t have any white wine at home either - since there wasn’t any power to run the refrigerator - so I’ve been trying lots of reds that I haven’t had before, from some of my favorite regions - and a few regular favorite wines as well.

Perhaps you are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, particularly the chapter where Bilbo Baggins is finding his way through the darkness, which was the tunnel where the creature Gollum lived.  While making his way through the dark, he came upon a treasure - the One Ring.  Had Bilbo not been making his way through this dark area, he would not have found this treasure.  This chapter is called “Riddles in the Dark.”
Each night I’ve been trying these new (and relatively inexpensive) reds - and I call this part of the evening “Riedels in the Dark.”  I can never emphasize enough the difference a proper glass makes, and my glass of choice is Riedel of course.  And during “Riedels in the Dark” I found my own treasures.
For our first night in darkness and while the weather was still miserable, the wine was the 2009 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone, a blend of Grenache and Syrah.  This Rhone has lots of fruit characteristics, mainly red fruit and intense cherry and berry, with gentle spice and pepper, and has a relatively soft feel.

2009 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone

I gave some thought to what the next evening in the dark should bring, in terms of wine - Pinot Noir has been my “consolation wine” choice for some time.  It’s soft, velvety, and yet bright and uplifting.  And after seeing so many trees lost and so much damage in our community, including the loss of one of the most beautiful trees at home, I was feeling pretty sad and knew exactly which Pinot I wanted.  I chose the 2007 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir.  This wine is modest in alcohol and has a very smooth yet bright texture with lovely structure, and characteristics of mostly red fruit, berry, some cherry, and soft spices, with a touch of wood, and plenty of earthiness (which is one of my favorite characteristics in a wine, particularly those of Burgundy).  It’s safe to say that Pinot Noir is a great remedy after a day of hurricane cleanup.

2007 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir

Lately I seem to be giving a great deal of attention to Malbec - I appreciate its big presence and dark characteristics of stewed berries and bold fruit, floral aromas, spices, and warmth.  The Malbec I chose for “Riedels in the Dark” was the 2008 Proyecto Mas Ave Premium Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.  This wine, a bit high in alcohol, made for a fun night.  With just a few candles to help me pour, I was unable to see the wine’s color - but I didn’t need light to determine how dark and deep this wine is.  On the nose, both dark and red fruits rush from the glass, followed by some bold spice and purple flowers, particularly violet and lilac.  On the palate, dark berry, plum, and vanilla are present, and the wine feels soft and nicely structured with a lasting finish.  I was happy to find yet another Malbec to add to my list - and this was a treasure in the dark for sure.

2008 Proyecto Mas Ave Premium Malbec

The next installment of “Riedels in the Dark” brought with it the 2005 Colinas de Sao Lourenco, produced in Bairrada, in Beiras, Portugal.  The wine is a big, bold blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragonez (Tempranillo), and Baga.  The characteristics include lots of fruit, particularly dark cherry and raspberry, gentle spice, wood, and a cool stony finish unlike any finish of any wine I’ve tried before.  I really liked this wine - it softened as I allowed it to breathe, and the stony, earthy characteristics became more apparent to accompany the big fruit characteristics.

2005 Colinas de Sao Lourenco

In the spirit of trying those somewhat “off the beaten path” wines, the next night in the dark featured the 2008 Chateau de Gaudou Cahors, a blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Tannat.  I’ve tasted this wine before and enjoyed it once again - fairly dark in color with characteristics of plenty of fruit, more red than dark, some spice, mineral, and lots of earthiness - which makes this a more rustic style wine and very much to my liking.  While I tend to enjoy oaky wines very much, sometimes I’m just looking for a wine that leans more toward earthiness over oak.  And a relatively simple, rustic wine such as this Cahors is a good example of that, at a very reasonable price.  The texture is smooth and I think the wine would be pretty food friendly.

2008 Chateau de Gaudou Cahors

And then came Cabernet Day - and I was ready with my 2004 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma - and after a rough day near the end of a rough week, I came home to my Cabernet to prepare for the “taste and tweet” - and my lights were on!  Power had been restored to our area after what was beginning to feel like eternity.  And, corkscrew in hand, I approached my long-anticipated bottle of Chalk Hill Cabernet, grabbed my newest Riedel Bordeaux glass, and poured myself some wine in the early evening light.  The 2004 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is a soft yet deep ruby color with fairly high viscosity.  Aromas include red and dark fruits, mostly stewed, with lots of wild berry, raspberry, and hints of blueberry and blackberry, plum, lots of oak and baking spices, dried flowers, earth, dark chocolate, coffee, and leather.  On the palate, most of these characteristics are confirmed, with bold fruit, baking spices, and leading up to a beautiful blend of raspberry and chocolate.  The wine is very well balanced with good acidity and a clean feel and supple tannins, a soft and smooth sensation indicating there is still plenty of time left for the 2004 to age.  The alcohol is present and the wine feels a bit warm, but still feels lower than the label would indicate, at 14.9%.  This wine is bold, deep, complex, and beautiful, and as I let it breathe for a while, I enjoyed it even more.  Next time I have a bottle of the 2004, I think I’ll pair it with steak - it is such a big wine with tremendous presence, yet so smooth and elegant - and very much the kind of wine I needed to round out the week.  The finish is long and full of fruit with gentle spices, and kept me coming back for more.  And as soon as possible I’ll be going back for another bottle; the 2004 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is wonderful.

2004 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

My week of “Riedels in the Dark” became sort of a celebration of new and exciting red wines but I’m ready to go back to life with electricity again, and the first thing I intend to do is chill some whites before the summer ends.