Tag Archives: France

Sauternes: How Sweet It Is

Château Doisy-Védrines, Barsac, SauternesWe spent a day in the sub-region of Sauternes, home of the greatest sweet wines in the world. We were welcomed at Château Doisy-Védrines by the owner Olivier Casteja for a tour the property and a lunch in his modest, 2-storey farmhouse. Doisy-Védrines is situated in Barsac, within the Sauternes appellation, and has been owned by the Casteja family for generations. Château Doisy-Védrines, Barsac, SauternesOlivier toured us through the vineyards, explaining the process with which they make their sweet wines. He highlighted their low yields, the effects of Botrytis rot on the grapes and the arduous hand-harvesting procedure that spans for weeks to months; each step essential to the final product. Our 5-course lunch was paired with Doisy wines, with vintages dating back to 1970. It was fascinating to experience how well the sweet wines paired with each course.

Château d’Yquem, SauternesThe iconic Château d’Yquem is considered to produce the finest dessert wine in the world. During this rare opportunity to tour the property, we learned about the laborious process of making this exceptional wine. Sauternes is produced by grapes which have been attacked by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, also known as Noble Rot, that partially raisinates the grapes. Château Doisy-Védrines, Barsac, SauternesA unique combination of weather is required in order for noble rot to take form (cool misty mornings followed by warm dry afternoons) otherwise grey rot will develop, spoiling the grapes. Hand harvested one grape at a time over multiple passes through the vineyard (up to 14 for d’Yquem), the production of this wine is not only painstaking, but also a gamble with nature, as some years, when the conditions are not ideal, no wine is produced. The wines are reflectively expensive. Château d’Yquem, SauternesHowever a good Sauternes is an experience like no other for the senses. This nectar is deep gold in colour, lusciously sweet yet zesty and fresh, with rich tropical and earthy aromas and flavours that linger in your mouth for a very long time.

Barrel Tasting In Burgundy

Côte de Beaune, Burgundy
To fully appreciate the diversity of the terroir of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy one must see it with the naked eye. To feel the soils under your feet, and to appreciate the varying degrees of sun exposure along the Côte, I highly recommend a vineyard walk or run as an excellent way to further understand the intricacies of these famous slopes.

Then there’s the romantic and picturesque town of Beaune. Start one’s day at one of the many town squares with a perfectly crafted pain au chocolat and a café or two, as you witness the town wake up. Breakfast is followed by strolling through the narrow cobblestone roads, picking fresh cheeses, baguettes and local produce for your afternoon picnic, and eventually settling into a cozy chair outside one of the many wine bars to taste wines by the glass as you watch the Beaune world go by. Beaune, FranceIn the evening, descend into one of the dozens of ‘cellar’ restaurants that could double as barrel rooms to undoubtedly enjoy fine wines and gourmet food from the region: foie gras, escargots, coq au vin and boeuf bourgignon cooked a la bourgignonne in Burgundian wine.

Maison Louis Jadot:

Louis Jadot, BurgundyVisiting Louis Jadot was a fantastic experience. We received a very warm and intimate welcome from one of the prominent producers of this region. Jadot has the power of the qi. The winery is in the shape of an octagon, at the heart of which a small platform is perched six feet off the ground under a domed skylight. During long harvest days this is the spot where workers come to re-energize.

Louis Jadot produces an astounding 125 wines, of which we were fortunate to taste 19 from some of the top sites such as Puligny Montrachet, Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet, Gevrey-Chambertain. In their damp and cool expansive cellars, it was an excellent exercise recognizing the sometimes subtle nuances of these appellations.

Domaine Comte Senard:

Domaine Comte Senard, BurgundyThere is no better welcome to a Domaine than that from a Grand Cru Chardonnay-eating Golden Retriever. Domaine Comte Senard, located in Aloxe-Corton, is set high up on the Côte with its Grand Cru sites enclosed by an ancient stone clos. They produce the only red Grande Cru in the Côte de Beaune. Comte Senard owns the oldest cellars in Burgundy which they discovered during an expansion, and in their good fortune unearthed intact bottles from the region – what a coup.

Alex Gambal:

Alex Gambal Visit in BeauneIn contrast, we capped off our Domaine tours with a visit with Alex Gambal, a modern day Texan making modern wines in Burgundy. Who would have thought this was possible? With the Napoleonic Code of land inheritance, farmers rule this region. Alex Gambal has gracefully managed to penetrate the traditional political landscape. He shared some of his tales of trials and tribulations of doing business here where verbal contracts are only as good as the Texan pony he rode in on.

In Awe of Alsace

Alsace, France

The route arriving in Alsace by way of Champagne takes you over the famed Vosges Mountain range to a lush valley, more Germanic than French, where Riesling reins supreme. The Alsatian valley is a long and narrow one, dotted with historical villages, each with a steeple peaking through the red-tiled roofs and brightly coloured buildings of yellow, turquoise and red all decorated with bougainvillea spilling from every window sill.

Alsace is renowned for its production of single noble grape varieties vinified to preserve the freshness and purity of the fruit and the minerality of the soils, packaged in elegant flûted bottles. Typically dry to off-dry, there are also two other classifications of Alsatian wines depending upon the ripeness of the grape: the sweeter styles of Vendange Tardive (Late Harvest) and the botrytis-affected Selection de Grains Nobles. The top examples of Alsatian wines have the ability to age for decades. Organic and biodynamic vinification and minimal intervention winemaking is the status quo for this region.

Alsace by iPhoneClos St Landelin, René Muré
This is a family-driven winery as we were welcomed into the tasting room by René Muré, the 11th generation of the business. Both children, Thomas and Véronique work at the winery and in the vineyards as well. The nurturing and care given by the family to the vines, which surround the domaine, is evident in the glass. Common among many Alsatian winemakers, René Muré produces the full range of varietals and styles of the region.

Alsace, France - Domaine OstertagDomaine André Ostertag
The front gates of the modest Ostertag Domaine open to a tranquil backyard lined with well-tended, biodynamically farmed vines. André classifies his wines into 3 categories, according to the expression of the unique terroirs: ‘Vins de Fruit’ wines emphasize the purity of the fruit, ‘Vins de Pierre’ expresses the soils and ‘Vin de Temps’ includes the wines that have the greatest longevity. The captivating labelling is another personal touch to the wines, as each bottle is adorned with the original artwork of André’s wife. André’s gentle nature revealed itself during a stroll trough his pet project: a small plot of vines that he planted in a yin yang formation above his cellar. It must be said that all 3 styles embody the passion, intensity and austerity of the winemaker himself.

Alsace, France - Domaine WeinbachDomaine Weinbach
Colette Faller et ses filles

The wines produced by this family are of outstanding quality as each exhibits the power, character and elegance of the women behind the Domaine. The winery and family home are one, located in the middle of the walled Grand Cru Clos des Capucins. Greeted at the door by the family monarch, Colette Faller, we tasted 19 unique wines with the sophisticated Catherine at their dining room table while her mother prepared the morning breakfast in the adjacent kitchen. Where else in the world would you taste top flight Rieslings to the smells and crackle of bacon? Each wine was exquisite.

Alsace, France - Anne Trimbach of Maison TrimbachMaison Trimbach
Maison Trimbach is a big player from the region, as evidenced by the company with whom we shared the extensive tasting: top buyers from around the world. Led by the young and graceful Anne Trimbach, who commanded the room with ease and charm, we tasted the range of the Trimbach portfolio including back vintage examples of their prestige and collection wines. The wines, especially the Cuvée Frédéric Emile and the domaine’s top wine, Clos Sainte Hune, are benchmark examples of Alsatian Rieslings. We wrapped up our day with a tour through the winery which houses both traditional and modern equipment and the rustic family cellars.

Alsatian wines, with their purity, power and broad food pairing abilities, are enough to draw any wine enthusiast to the region. However it is the charm of the villages and the openness of the people with their emphasis on family that will make every visitor a fan, leaving wanting more.

My Week In France

Honeymoon In France… in Vancouver.

What to do when you can’t jet off to France every other month? Seek France out in a hotel or community centre near you.

Last week I stopped into two local tasting events. The first, an industry tasting of Bordeaux reds and whites at the Roundhouse called Bordeaux Under One Roof. The second, the Rhône Valley at the Four Seasons Hotel at an event called Warm Winter Rhône – a benefit for the Children’s Hospital.

Great thing about my “afternoon in Bordeaux”: all wines presented were under $30. Beat that. Pretty decent value. It was a quiet room of just nine local agencies which made it easy to meet and greet and move around.

Before the tasting got started, it was optional to slip into the theatre adjacent to the tasting room and listen to an hour on Bordeaux from Montrealer and Bordeaux expert Nick Hamilton. It was a basic 101 on the region, terroir, grapes and wines, but served as very informative if you knew zero to very little.

Bordeaux wines are the true art of blending.
– Nick Hamilton

A Few Bordeaux Picks:

  • Red: Chateau Mayne-Vieil 2005, $27.99 – rich, full body, lovely tannins, balanced and drinkable now / Merlot, Cab Franc
  • White: Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc, $16.99 – Holy New Zealand! Very typical flare of a Sauvy B from NZ – citrus, grapefruit, fresh, zesty, yum – from France.
  • Best deal of the day: Chateau Loupiac Gaudiet 2003, $17.99 (375ml) – sweet gem you could sip on all afternoon!

Across town and two days later, my “evening in the Rhône Valley” was splendid. This night was a benefit for the Children’s Hospital, so wonderful to see a packed room with eager note-takers and the “occasional” no-spitters… always entertaining. It was an easy room to try most wines, and that I did, along with my very-happy-to-taste-at-anytime-fellow-wine-enthusiast Tracey. Definitely found it easier to taste with one other person along for the ride, rather than a solo trek or a +1 +1 +1 etc. You can block out some crowds and get down to the task at hand with a second nose and set of taste buds.

Treats From The Rhône:

  • Le Compagnie Rhodanienne 206 Les Combelles, $13.49 – easy drinking, light tannins and body with a nice balance – perfect entry into Rhône wine.
  • Chapoutier 2005 Muscat Beaumes de Venise – other than the small twang of *slight* high alcohol at 15.5%, really, really lovely.
  • Perrin Les Christins 2007 Vacqueyras, $26.99 – their marketing says it better than I: “rock-solid”.

My WSET Fine Vintage Favourites

Hubbard Photography @ VinoCamp CheeseCamp 2009What better time to start writing about wine then when you’ve just finished tasting roughly 18 wines a day over 6 glorious days?

Having recently completed Level 3 of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) with James Cluer at Fine Vintage, I have to give my props to the wine in this Top 20 Wine List that we were fortunate enough to taste while studying. Listed in no particular order and according to my own personal preference, with price point estimates (BC, Canada) and a few notes I managed to scribble between the drooling, Ooo-ing and Ah-ing. A few of these, let it be known, I simply could not merely taste; some just slipped right down!

WHITES:

1. Domaine Weinbach, Riesling Schlossberg, Alsace Grand Cru 2005 $70 – crisp and beautiful – spend the dough on this one, it will not disappoint.
2. Vinvent Girardin, Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts Burgundy 2006 $99 – oh-so-much-goodness. Melts in your mouth. Drink now.
3. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée 1995 $200 – Heavenly way to start the morning.
4. Zilliken Riesling Auslese Mosel (‘Auslese’ = German Late Harvest = sweet = FAB) 1995 $58
5. Muenchberg Grand Cru Alsace Riesling 2004 $104
6. Nicolas Joly Savennières Les Clos Sacrés (Les Vieux Clos) 2006 $47 – Bio-Dynamic
7. Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux 2003 $65 for the HALF L.
8. Château Dereszla Tokaji 2003 $30
9. Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Alsace 2004 $58
10. Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 1999 $26 – Great value!

REDS:

1. Alentejo Incognito 2003 $67
2. Torres Salmos Priorat 2005 $35
3. Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2004 $114
4. Smith Woodhouse Tawny Port 1986 $65
5. Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin 2002 $110
6. Château Beauséjour 1er Cru Saint Emilion 1998 $70
7. Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 $125 (All 13 grapes!)
8. Guigal Saint Joseph 2004 $110
9. Felton Road Pinot Noir $110
10. Luce, IGT Super Tuscan, Montalcino 2005 $100

I’d be happy to expand on the what and who on any of the above. And if you are thinking of taking a wine course or two, and happen to live in Western Canada or Northwest US, you have to seek out James Cluer’s classes – you’ll be learning from the best, tasting great wines and receiving an awesome and supportive energy.

Paris, je t’aime a cinq heures

PJ and I were so jet-lagged and wonky in our first few days in Paris from the journey, and more accurately, from the 5-day wedding extravaganza in Newfoundland just prior to, that we were wide awake at the oddest and darkest times. One morning at 5am we took to the streets and explored the city at dawn, alone. If I had to pick one favourite moment, tough to do, but this 2.5 hour lovely walk would rank high. We were the only 2 people in the world strolling the grounds of the Louvre that morning. It was magical.
Honeymoon In France

We told our French friend Fred about our morning and he sent me this: