Barnyard Burgundy under $20

Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, 2012

Region: Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne, France

Grape: 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Gamay

Price: $18

Last Friday was date night. I mean actual date night, at a non-divey restaurant, with hovering waiters, several menus, a large wine list and fancy lighting. It had been a while since an actual date night but it was nice to seat back and enjoy a great meal with a nice bottle of wine. It makes you feel like a grown-up, you know what I mean?

Well, I felt like a grown-up who was lost and bewildered when I looked at the wine list. It was big, with a lot of unknowns, hard to make a choice. Luckily, my eye fell on the name of a producer I knew and liked, Vincent Dureuil-Janthial. I tried a few of his whites a year or so ago and I was impressed. His wines come from the village of Rully, in the Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte de Beaune and north of the Mâconnais. Passetoutgrain is a weird appellation in the sense that it is not geography-based, like almost all Burgundy appellations, but rather variety based. Passetoutgrain wines mix Gamay (up to two thirds) and Pinot Noir (at least one third). Passetoutgrain is supposed to be a cheaper, less refined alternative to Pinot Noir burgundies but I trusted the producer and I was curious.

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Eye: light ruby

Nose: Clean, low to medium intensity. Red fruits (cherry) and flowers

Palate: Dry, medium to high acidity, medium body, all about the red fruits (raspberry and tart cherry). Underlying faint smoky notes, giving the wine a sort of huskiness. Medium finish.

Food pairings: Chicken, veal, pork, white meat in general

Overall opinion: Must love tartness. I think it’s closer to a traditional Bourgogne Red than to a Passetoutgrain. There is fruitiness yes, but it remains restrained, the Gamay playfulness is not really on display here. It is a well-made wine by a good producer at a very affordable price for a Burgundy. I liked the underlying, faint smokiness which gives it a barnyard style that I found enjoyable.

Grade: 7/10

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And we’re back

All right, I know, I’ve been slacking on this blog lately. I have some good excuses; I also have some bad ones. On the good excuses side, well, I got a new job that is significantly more challenging and time consuming than the last one. I also moved into a new place, which meant well, moving, home improvement, getting situated in a new (and awesome) neighborhood. And I have been travelling quite a bit, hitting Paris, Chicago, New-York, Wisconsin and Chicago again. My life has been busier lately, which is a good thing. As for the bad excuses, well, it’s just the one actually, I’m a generally very lazy person, so there.

But, I’m now starting to get back on my feet work-wise, apartment-wise, time-wise and wine-wise. Steps have been taken. Namely, I have registered for the WSET Level 3 courses, I’m starting next February. That means I have to step up my tasting game. Also, there are holiday parties, with wines to select, match and drink. Tis the season to get rosy cheeks.

Back in the saddle then, with a classic 2 wines evening. Let me see if I still know how to write a blog post,…

And Co, The Supernatural 2010, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – ($20)

100% Sauvignon Blanc, the funky grape variety that is New Zealand’s main white grape

20141213_203111A very nice medium gold color. Low to medium intensity on the nose with bunches of tropical fruits, mostly passion fruit. A little bit of grassy notes too. The wine has a medium body with low to medium acidity. Tropical fruits galore (the label promises passion fruit, and it’s not lying). I also got some apricot and some pretty strong gooseberry aromas (the latter being completely absent from the nose).

Overall a good crisp Sauvignon Blanc, not necessarily on the funky side but more fruity and playful. Also the bottle looks cool and opens with a beer opener, that’s novelty.

Domaine de Baron’Arques, 2010, Limoux, France – ($35)

Blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec and Merlot

domaine-de-baron-arques-limouxWell, this wine too is a novelty. Limoux in Southern France, is an appellation primarily known for sparkling wine, the Blanquette de Limoux. It turns out that there is also a small Limoux Rouge appellation that produces red wine. This particular bottle is produced by the Rothschild family, of Bordeaux fame, and it’s interesting as a case study because it blends the Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) with the Rhone grapes (Grenache, Syrah) and the southwest grape (Malbec).

It’s a deep ruby wine, red fruits and black pepper on the nose and palate. To me it was mostly reminiscent of a Bordeaux wine with a hint of Rhone spice. I felt like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah dominated the blend.

As I said, it’s a novelty wine, more interesting for the idea of it than for the quality. It’s not bad by any standards but I don’t think it’s worth the price.

It’s good to get back on the saddle. Hopefully I will  manage to have a more consistent posting schedule, we shall see !

Judgment Day in Paris

What does being a wine nerd mean? Actually, what does being a nerd mean? If we define nerdery, then we can define wine nerdery as being simply the fact of presenting nerdlike attitudes to the subject of wine. The key word in the last sentence is “subject”, a nerd needs a subject to obsess about. Nerdery, at least the way I understand it, is different than passion. Passion is a strong desire, an overwhelming attraction for something whereas nerdery is a consuming desire to learn and know everything about a subject. I goes beyond liking something, there needs to be a thirst (see what I did here) for knowledge and lore, no matter obscure.

And there is a wine lore, undeniably. Actually, there are several wine lores; one could approach the subject matter through geography (the producing regions), science (the fermentation process), botany (grape varieties), law (bottling and labelling regulations)… There is a lot to know, there is a lot to learn, there is a lot to bore your friends with.

Personally, I like history, and there is a history lore of wine. Of course, mostly it consists of trends, underlying tendencies and slow processes rather than seminal events. There are however such events that helped shape the wine world. Once such event, known as the Judgment of Paris seems a good topic to bore you with today.

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

First of all, let’s mention the pun aspect. The judgment of Paris is the seminal event that caused the Trojan War, with the Trojan prince Paris finding in favor of Aphrodite against her fellow goddesses. In the wine world, it refers to a blind tasting event, held in Paris, on May 24th 1976, that pitted French wines around their US counterparts.

Eleven judges, nine from France, one from the UK and one American, blind tasted ten red wines and 10 white wines. The reds were all Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blends, pitting top Bordeaux against top Napa Valley wines. The whites were all Chardonnays, this time pitting Burgundy against the Napa Valley. Remember, the year was 1976, so if you think French people are snobbish about non-French wines now, imagine how it must have been back then. Also, the grades given by the non-French judges were not counted, so the rankings are purely French-based.

tasting

Why did that tasting become a seminal, world changing event then? Well, because the US wines won. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars dominated the red competition and Chateau Montelena won the white wine contest. Just to be thorough and drool a bit here were the line ups for each contest (ranked by result with their final score).

Red wines

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley (127.5)

Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (126)

Château Haut-Brion 1970 (125.5)

Château Montrose 1970 (122)

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ’Mountain Range’ (Montebello) 1971, Santa Cruz Mts. (105.5)

Château Leoville-Las-Cases 1971 (97)

Mayacamas 1971, Napa Valley/Mayacamas Mts. (89.5)

Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley (87.5)

Heitz Cellars ’Martha’s Vineyard’ 1970, Napa Valley/St. Helena (84.5)

Freemark Abbey 1969, Napa Valley/Rutherford (78)

White wines

Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley/Calistoga (132)

Meursault-Charmes 1973, Roulot (126.5)

Chalone Vineyards 1974, Monterey County/Soledad (121)

Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley/Spring Mountain (104)

Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973, Joseph Drouhin (101)

Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley/Rutherford (100)

Batard-Montrachet 1973, Ramonet-Prudhon (94)

Puligny-Montrachet 1972, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive (89)

Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley/Mt. Veeder (88)

David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mts. (42)

Of course this constituted a big surprise, there were controversy, protests, endless discussions about what it really meant. In the end, it did not matter, the result was that American wines were put on the map and I believe it’s a good thing. There is a movie about the event, it’s called Bottleshock and I plan to watch it soon. The question is rather, why did I decide to write about this now?

montelena

Well, it just so happens that last week, I was lucky enough to share a bottle of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay with some friends. It wasn’t the 1973 vintage of course, it was a 2011, which in a way is good because, like the vintage used in the competition, it was 3 years old when drank. It is a fantastic wine, crisp, with aromas ranging from tropical fruits to citrus while still sampling some peach along the way, great balance and acidity. One of the best wines I had all year. The price also doesn’t hurt, you can find it for around $50 which for a “star” wine is a bargain. For instance another wine from the contest, the Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles from Leflaive, will cost you around $200 for a bottle of 2011. I’d rather have the Montelena, thank you! It’s not often you can sample a wine that actually made history, or even just a wine that is famous. Price tends to be prohibitive for these bottles, and it is okay, it makes them even more special. An affordable, historic, great wine is something to celebrate though. This nerd will continue looking for wine knowledge, especially if it’s that tasty.

Wile E Coyote, the Road Runner and wine

Meep-Meep!

Road Runner is the most philosophical cartoon in the history of cartoons and philosophy both. The character you root for says a lot about your outlook on life. When I was a kid watching Looney Tunes on Sunday evenings, I was rooting for the Road-Runner. Hey, he was the good guy; after all, the coyote was trying to eat him. Will E Coyote was definitely the villain, menacing, predatory, and hungry for road runner roast. It seemed very clear cut to me, especially since the road runner ended up winning all the time. It’s a cartoon, if you win; you must be the hero, right?

That's an actual Road Runner bird

That’s an actual Road Runner bird

Now, I realized that, in my ripe old age, I root for the coyote. He’s trying so hard! He’s using guile, smarts, technology, and cunning to reach his goal, usually with very little regards for physics or personal safety. He’s doing his best, and he’s redefining the word failure each and every time. On the other hand, the road runner is kind of a dick to the coyote, mocking him, teasing him (did you know that in French, the trademark “Meep-Meep” is translated to “Bip-Bip”?) and ultimately “winning”. The road runner doesn’t try hard, it doesn’t even try at all, it just does what its nature dictates: he runs, on the road. It’s so good at running on that road that it can just coast on that talent, when Wile E has to think outside the ACME box, Road Runner can just rely on its gifts. How is that fair?

I think that’s why my allegiance switched to poor Wile E. As a (nominal) adult, I have to work hard for the things I want; I have to put in effort with no guarantee of reward. Granted, I’m not going to crash at the bottom of a canyon with an anvil following a few seconds behind me, but failure is a possibility. I cannot be the Road Runner, to whom everything comes easy. Life is unfair, no matter how hard you try, you can’t always get what you want and some people are just naturally gifted. That’s the message of the Road Runner. When you think about it, it’s pretty bleak, as Weird Al said : “Right now I’d like to show you one of my favorite cartoons. It’s a sad, depressing story about a pathetic coyote who spends every waking moment of his life in the futile pursuit of a sadistic roadrunner who MOCKS him and LAUGHS at him as he’s repeatedly CRUSHED and MAIMED! Hope you ENJOY IT!!!”

Wile E

Wine is unfair too. Some vineyards are blessed with climate, soil, drainage and exposition, so much that whatever the winemaker does, he can do no wrong, or at least, his level of effort can stand to be minimal. Other plots need constant care, anything less than perfect word by the winemaker results in catastrophe (see: canyon, boulder, anvil). Once again, how is that fair? It’s nature and nurture all over again. Let’s take two wines of similar quality; they can hide completely different stories, from painstaking efforts to overcome bad conditions all the way to cruising easily on a blessed situation and of course, everything in between.

Sometimes I think about that when tasting wine, I wonder if what I’m drinking is a Road Runner wine or of a Wile E. Coyote wine. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, but I have a soft spot in my cold and calculating Burgundian heart for people who try too hard. Also, to this day, I still think that combining roller skates and a jet pack is a great idea.

It’s not just for Pinot anymore !

Minimus, Natural? No7, 2013

Region: Applegate Valley, Oregon, USA

Grape: Syrah

Price: 26$

When you say Oregon wine you think Pinot Noir, and so do I. I mean, I spent a long weekend sampling Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir and enjoying myself immensely. That’s why I was surprised when a waiter recommended an Oregon Syrah to go with our dinner. Syrah? Really? The Rhone Valley staple variety grows in the middle of Pinot Noir country? Apparently so, the Southern part of the state, especially away from the ocean, tends to be dryer and more suited to Syrah. Ok then, Syrah from Oregon it is.

Interesting fact, the Minimus winery wines are labelled as “experiments”. For instance, the No1 is called “43 days” and was an attempt at extend the length of time for skin contact when producing a Sauvignon Blanc. No2 is called “Copigmentation” and uses white grape skins during the fermentation of red grapes (Tempranillo). The Number 7 experiment that I tasted is called “Natural?” and is of course a natural wine.

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Eye: Deep purple

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Blackberry, olives and bit of spice

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, long velvety finish. Lots of fruit (blackberry) with some underlying pepper and herbs (rosemary)

OK, you can make tasty Syrah in Oregon. It was really good, smooth, balanced with a lot of fruit. I definitely enjoyed it beyond the simple novelty of trying a Syrah from Oregon.

Food pairings: It’s a fairly straight up Syrah, so the traditional pairings will work well, bold foods, meats, anything cooked with herbs…

Overall opinion: Hard to find, only 48 cases were produced but if you can find it, go for it. It’s not too expensive and the quality is great

Grade: 8.5/10

Willamette Valley Wine Tour

After the city, and a quick presentation of the region, let’s do a quick overview of the three wineries we visited in the Willamette Valley.

First up was Rex Hill, just outside of Newberg. I have to say, it was the winery that impressed me the least. It’s a lovely building, an old hazelnut drying house, and they have a nice terrace and an aroma display that I thought was a very nice touch: you could sample a few different common wine aromas, a nice idea.

The aroma wheel

The aroma wheel

 

The issue was that the wines didn’t really make an impression. We tried a few of their pinot noirs and Chardonnays but the Pinots especially where underwhelming, too harsh for my taste. It was our first stop and I was worried. Fortunately, things improved quite a bit when we got to the next winery.

Winters Hills, deep into the Red Hills of Dundee did a lot to alleviate my worries, all the wines were very quaffable : Pinot Grigio (of which I’m usually not a fan), Pinot Blanc (not something you see often), rose from Pinot Noir (very interesting). All of these were more than decent and are great summer wines if you can get them. The rose in particular was bright and fruity with a bit of smoke, I highly recommend it.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

 

Then we moved on to the Pinot Noirs. First up the basic Pinot Noir 2009, a solid, affordable ($15) offering, then the Cuvee du Vigneron 2009, fuller, more complex and serious, with ageing potential, and finally, the 2008 Reserve, smooth with aromas that go way beyond the basic red berries. We’re talking cedarwood, cola, spices… Great wine, definitely could age more.

The tour concluded at the lovely Stoller Estate. Definitely the most impressive building of the three. The view is fantastic, and the building is brand new, built to be sustainable and ecofriendly (solar panels, natural materials…). The tasting room opens up to a great view of the Dundee Hills, it’s spacious, airy, and it looks damn cool.

View from the tasting room

View from the tasting room

The wines themselves were decent, nothing to write home about, but very solid if uninspiring to me. This place gave out a pretentious vibe to me, like trying too hard, and maybe that prevented me from enjoying myself, I don’t know, I’ll give Stoller an incomplete!

There it is, the three parts tale of my Oregon trip. Let’s week we will resume our regular programming of wine reviews, enjoy the weekend!

 

Meet the Willamette Valley

After exploring Portland and its wonders, it was time to make our way to the Willamette Valley for some wine tasting action. Conveniently, wine country is about 20 minutes outside of Portland, it made the whole thing a short trip. The Willamette Valley AVA is the biggest and most famous of Oregon’s wine growing region. It follows the Willamette Valley and is sheltered by two mountain ranges, the Coastal Range to the West and the Cascade Range to the East. This situation shelters the region and provides mild winters, cool and cloudy summers and damp autumns, sounds like good Pinot Noir Country.

The AVA is pretty big, as I mentioned, and there are even a few sub-appellations. Our wine tour actually took us to two of these smaller AVAs: Chehalem Mountains, centered on the town of Newberg which is really the heart of the Willamette wine country, and Dundee Hills, famous for its red soils and admittedly the top ranked sub-appellation.

The red Hills from the bottom

The red Hills from the bottom

Winemaking in Oregon is a recent development. The first modern attempts were made in the late sixties by rogue UC Davis students and they didn’t realize the potential for Pinot Noir until the mid-seventies. Once it happened though, it happened fast with the number of vineyards growing exponentially. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that exploitations tend to be on the smaller side, just like in the other Pinot Noir paradise, Burgundy.

Another Oregon-Burgundy connection is the Drouhin family, from Beaune, who decided to buy a vineyard in the Dundee Hills (we actually passed the vineyard during the trip). The legend says that it was the performance of Oregon Pinots in the 1979 Paris Wine Olympics (where an Oregon Pinot took second place) that prompted the interest of the Drouhins in the region. Whatever the cause was, the result is that they are there now, and that their wines are top notch.

The Red Hills from the top

The Red Hills from the top

That’s it for the region, next week I’ll finally talk about the wines and the three stops we made during our tour. A lot of wine was tasted and a lovely picnic was had on those famous Red Hills.