So many puns, so little time

For the first time since starting this blog, I regret having decided to write in English. I like writing in English, I think it suits my style of writing and the way I think, but with today’s subject, it would have been a treat to write in French! See, I have a dirty secret, an addiction I can’t resist. I cannot stay away from a bad pun. It’s a disease, I can’t help it. Today I wanted to talk about Chenin, and this word is very close to the French word “chemin” (path, trail), tha possibilities where endless. But I write in English so you have managed to escape from “Tous les Chenins menent a Rome” or “Le petit Chenin qui sent la noisette” or even “Chacun sa route, chacun son Chenin”. God that would have been so great!

Chenin Blanc grapes

Chenin Blanc grapes

When it is not used for bad puns, Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety that, like many varieties, is originally from France but is now planted in many countries. The main characteristic of the variety is its high acidity. Because, or rather thanks to this acidity, Chenin Blanc can be a very versatile grape. It is actually versatile in two ways; first of all, it can grow in a wide variety of climates, from the cool Loire Valley in France to warmer climates like Australia. The climate and the soils will make for significant differences between Chenins from different regions.

The second aspect of this grape versatility is that it lends itself to a lot of different styles. Its high acidity can be used to enhance certain blends, but even in varietal wines the range of possibility is wide. Chenin can produce dry wines, off-dry wines and even sweet wines. It can be made into sparkling wine too. It lends itself well to noble rot, the use of lees or malolactic fermentations.  The same goes with use of wood. Chenin responds well to oak or even other woods but can also be made in a clean unoaked style. You can pretty much do whatever you want with Chenin in terms of styles and winemaking techniques. It should also be noted that this variety has a very long ageing potential, mostly due to, once again, its high acidity.  

Sparkling Vouvray

Sparkling Vouvray

Common aromas and flavors of Chenin depend on the style. Dry Chenins exhibit notes of reine-claude (greengage), pear, apple and honey. Off-dry or sweet styles can remind of peaches, marzipan or quince. And finally, Chenins from warmer climate have a lot more tropical fruit to them, like guava or pineapple.

The main region of production is the Central Loire Valley in France, a cool long river valley that flows into the Atlantic. Even within this region you can find a lot of different styles. The most famous AOC is Vouvray, near the city of Tours where Chenin Blanc is made into dry and sparkling wines during cool years and into off-dry or sweet wines in warmer years. Other Loire Valley AOCs for Chenin Blanc include Anjou (regional AOC), Montlouis (next to Vouvray), Savennieres (mostly dry), Coteaux du Layon (sweet).

Vines in Vouvray

Vines in Vouvray

The second home of Chenin Blanc is South Africa. There is twice as much Chenin Blanc planted in South Africa as there is in France; it is actually the most planted grape in South Africa where it is called Steen. South African Steen tends to favor an off-dry style with more tropical flavors than French Chenins. The main production area is Stellenbosch near the Cape.

So, to recap : versatile in climate and style, high acidity, Loire Valley and South Africa, good for making bad puns in French. Yep, we have Chenin Blanc covered!

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Antidepressant in wine form, Chasse-Spleen 2003

Château Chasse-Spleen 2003

Region: Moulis en Medoc, Left-bank, Bordeaux, France

Grape: Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blend with Merlot and Petit Verdot

Price: around $55

chateau-chasse-spleen-374997

I need to go back in time a little since this bottle has a bit of a history, both old and recent. A few years ago, when I was still living in Paris, one of my good friends was sad. Actually she was depressed, quite intensely so. It is not easy helping depressed people; at least it isn’t easy for me, as I never know what to say. That’s why I decided not to say anything but do something instead. Now, in French, Chasse-Spleen means “chasing away sadness” or “chasing away melancholia”. According to legend, the name was coined by Lord Byron or Baudelaire, there are competing stories. In any case, I thought a couple bottles of this wine would be a good gift for my friend. If they couldn’t chase the sadness away, at least it would make her smile. So I went ahead, gave her this gift. She did smile, and I did keep a bottle for myself to remember that I can be a good friend sometimes.

Fast forward a few years to last weekend, I still have my bottle of Chasse-Spleen with me, now in Boston. Another friend, a person close to me will leave Boston next week. Saying goodbye sucks, and, as was the case before, I don’t know what to say. So, to send up my friend in style and chase away the sadness of a goodbye, I opened the Chasse-Spleen and shared it with her. It seemed appropriate.

Eye: deep garnet

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, hints of freshness (mint)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, full body, smooth tannins, long finish (black cherry)

2003 was a heat wave year in France and wines from this year usually show it. This one is no exception, there are a lot of cooked fruits aromas: blackberry, cherry and plum mostly. The wine still has high acidity and the tannins give it a bit of structure amid all the fruit. There are hints of oak, I got tobacco or mocha and I also found a hint of something refreshing like white mint. The finish is long with lingering aromas of ripe black cherries.

Food pairings: The wine was shared over cheese which was not a bad idea. Traditional Bordeaux pairing with lamb might be a good option too.

Overall opinion: I might be hard press to give a fair assessment of this wine given the emotional baggage coming with it. I was always going to like it, but I still believe it was a solid Bordeaux from a very warm year. Another good lesson for my study of Cabernet.

A (fun) study in white

Last night’s dinner turned into an impromptu tasting session. This might be the favorite sentence I ever wrote. Unplanned wine tasting session on a Thursday night, it’s called winning. My temporary roommate cooked a chicken with lemon and white wine while a friend and I provided the actual wine.  A couple of other friends were here to provide conversation. Teamwork, it’s always about teamwork.

Wine selection was heavily skewed towards white wines. We started off with a Ritual 2011, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca valley in Chile. Very well made, a little oaky without it being too much, citrus and tropical fruit and a nice acidity along with a long finish.

Ritual-2011-Sauvignon-Blanc

We followed up with a Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester, the Petit 2013 from Stellenbosch in South Africa. I already tried a South African Steen a while ago and enjoyed it very much and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful green apple, pear and quince without too much acidity, very refreshing.

petit

Next up was another Chenin Blanc, this time from Columbia Valley in Washington State, a 2011 L’Ecole No 41. A different take on Chenin Blanc than the previous wine, with more emphasis on tropical fruit. It was somewhat closer to what a Chenin from the Loire Valley (the traditional home of the variety) would taste like.

swc-2012-lecole-no41-chenin-blanc-mainLg

Finally we finished the evening with a O Rei de Campoverde, an Albarino from Rias Baixas in the Galicia province of Spain (just north of Portugal). It was a first from me, I do not know much about this grape and it was definitely surprising. Lots of citrus (grapefruit mostly) and some mineral character. Need to investigate further!

orei

Anyway, all in all, a superb evening of white wines, singing, great food, new and old friends. I also like the fact that wine took us from Chile to South Africa, back to the West Coast of the US and then to Spain for less than $100 and without leaving my apartment in Boston. By the way, the jet lag was minimal, even with all the “traveling” that we did, hardly a headache was felt this morning.

Safe travels and a happy weekend to everyone.

Cicadas and olives, Penley Estate Coonawarra

Penley Estate, Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Region: Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $20

Penley

All right, first bottle of my Cabernet-Sauvignon learning experiment. I decided to start with an Australian version because I heard of the Coonawarra wines during my WSET level 2 classes and the name stuck for some reason. It’s one of the most known new world terroirs with its principal feature being the distinctive “red soils” more specifically it is called terra rossa and is a special type of clay/limestone soil, it is more common in regions with a Mediterranean climate. Coonawarra produces almost exclusively Cabernet-Sauvignon wines, coincidentally; the climate is often compared to the Bordeaux climate, due to the proximity of the sea, making Cabernet an easy choice of grape

Coonawarra red soil

Coonawarra red soil

Eye: deep ruby

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, olives

Palate: Dry, medium – acidity, full body, solid chewy tannins, long finish.

Ok, so Australian Cabernet, very structured, lots of fruit and tannins, long finish and also a really earthy quality that is the thing that really stuck with me. Olive notes on the nose and on the palate contribute to that but the very body of the wine feels chewy and solid. I didn’t get much spice notes as some other reviews mentioned but the red fruit was vibrant and combined with the earthiness, it left a much satisfying and long finish. For some reason, tasting this wine made me think of the Mediterranean. It might be just the olive notes, but I could close my eyes and feel like I was in Southern France listening to cicadas under an olive tree.

Food pairings: Great steak wine. I had it with home cooked steaks and mashed potatoes prepared by my temporary roommate.

Overall opinion: Great wine for the price, as I said earlier, my main takeaway is the earthiness of this wine. I wonder if it is an isolated case or a characteristic of Australian Cabs. I any case my study of Cabernet-Sauvignon is off to a good start.

Weekend wine lineup

Another week done, another weekend coming up. This one is a little special because I will be spending my Saturday afternoon at the Boston Wine Expo. Hopefully there will be wines that stand out there and that will provide me with some blog posts material.

Coincidentally, I just received my wine study schedule in the form of these lovely bottles. Three Cabernets from various countries to try and get a better understanding of the grape and an Australian Shiraz because I like Shiraz and it’s cold in Boston.

My weekend lineup

My weekend lineup

That should keep me busy for a while and make sure the weekend goes smoothly. Not that there was any doubt about that. Have a great weekend everybody !

Wine Trivia : Picture round

Looks like nobody found the answer to last week’s question about the wine that is often given for Valentine’s Day due to its having a big heart on the label. It was Chateau Calon-Ségur, a troisième cru wine from the St-Estèphe region of Bordeaux.

Calon Segur

Now for this week, let’s do a picture round! What is the following painting, and how is it related to wine?

paris

Devotion : Why is the wine gone ?

Time for another Monthly Wine Writing challenge ! This month, the theme, chosen by last month’s winner, the lovely SAHMmelier is : Devotion

I have to say I struggled with this one and it ended up being a little more introspective than I thought. I hope you can still enjoy it. Here it is, my wine devotion story : Why is the wine gone?

MWWC

I hate that word. I do not understand it, thus I have to hate it. Love I get, at least I think I do. I mean I read about it in books, that makes me an expert, right? I get it, I understand it. Love is giving and receiving, an exchange, something that makes two people more than the sum of their parts. Love is good, love is right, love works.

Devotion is unhealthy, at least in the relationship acceptance of the word. If you take it in the religious sense, then yes, I get it. Faith, sacrifice, devotion, giving yourself up for a higher purpose, it’s the essence of religion.

Hopelessly devoted to you. Sure… She ends up getting him in the movie, he’s the one that she wants (ooh,ooh,ooh, honey) and, at the end, they go together (Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong). I guess it was not as hopeless as she thought after all. Hopelessly devoted. Right…

Devotion level : not so hopeless

Devotion level : not so hopeless

Fake bitterness and mandatory snarkyness aside, devotion is a tough subject for me. I’m a reasonably selfish and self-centered person. I love my family, I love my friends, I love wine, but I am not devoted to them. My sole purpose in life is not to be a lover, a brother, a son, a friend; it is to be all those things at once while remaining an actual person, a functioning individual with a sense of identity.

And that is where the connection to wine comes in. I love wine, I study it, I devote (ah ah) a sizable amount of my free time to it, but it does not consume me. It is actually the other way around, I consume wine, literally. In a way, I like to think that wine is devoted to me. After all, once I drink it, it ceases to exists, except as a memory in my mind or, possibly, as a post on my blog. Wine I drank has literally given itself to me, soul and body.

This is particularly true for rare, older wines. Each time you drink one bottle of a rare vintage, the world ends up one bottle closer to the extinction of this particular wine. It reminds me of one of the most fantastic tastings I ever did. It was 3 years ago, at my college alumni wine club. All wines at this event were top-shelf Burgundies, and we finished the evening with a Corton-Charlemagne from 1981.

corton charlemagne

It was superb. I remember being actually moved by this wine. I remember pear on my tongue, filling my entire mouth. It was beautiful. And then it was over, and the bottle was gone, one step closer to going the way of the dinosaurs. I remember being sad once my glass was empty. Something beautiful was gone and yes, they can make some more, but it will not be quite the same.

Heraclitus said “You do not step twice into the same river.” And that is true about wine; you cannot have the same wine twice. Like a child when his pet dies I felt loss and above all lack of comprehension. Why? Why is the wine gone? That wine gave itself to me, all the flavors, all the smells, all the years spent in the bottle just gone in five or six wonderful sips.

I know it will sound silly, but I will go to my grave saying that this bottle of Corton-Charlemagne was devoted to me. And you can’t tell me otherwise.