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.

20141220_201936

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

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.

MWWC10 : Values, tradition and the value of change

It’s a new month, it’s a new Wine Writing Challenge! As always, the theme was chose by the last winner, The Sybarite, and his choice was “Values”. I’m looking forward to reading what people will come up with, in the meantime, here is my entry. I hope you will excuse the very academic title, just a shout out to high school French students now taking their philosophy baccalaureat exam.

MWWC

Values, tradition, and the value of change

“Values” is a tricky word, so many possible meanings… When in doubt, I like to start with a quote; it helps settle the issue at hand and give perspective. I think something important about values was formulated by an early 21st century philosopher, Seth McFarlane: “It seems today that all we see is violence in movies and sex on TV. But where are those good old-fashioned values on which we used to rely?” A good question if I ever heard one.

“Good old-fashioned values”– that sounds like something I can work with. Let’s just go through other possibilities: San Francisco values (too political), Addams Family values (too black and white), Risk-adjusted business value (too from my day job). You know what, I’ll stick with the “good old fashioned values.”

And it’s not because that expression contains the name of a great cocktail; I actually have things to say about the idea of good old-fashioned values in wine. Added bonus: this angle allows me to channel and use what is pretty much my only advantage against the other writers in the competition, the fact that I’m French. It’s kind of a dumb thing to leverage, but we must all focus on our strengths, right?

Mad Men old fashioned

It’s old fashioned

There is something in the French psyche that can drive me insane when I think about it too much: it’s the rampant, pervasive and maddening conservatism. To foreigners, a common French trope is the constant striking and demonstrating in the streets. This trope holds true, but what people don’t realize is that strikers do not ask for more, they just protest change and reform. There is entitlement here, but I think there is also a fear and rejection of change and evolution. Let’s continue to do things this way because that is the way we always did them.

French winemakers and French wine can have a tendency to hold on tight to those good old-fashioned values. I am not saying it’s a bad thing; I just have a problem when people do things a certain way just because it’s tradition without even considering potentially better ways.

To be fair, this reliance on tradition is more prevalent in Burgundy and Bordeaux, the two classical wine growing regions.  Bordeaux wine still relies on a classification of Grand Crus dating back from 1855, with only one Chateau changing ranks (Mouton Rothschild moving from second to first in 1973). As for Burgundy, most of the terroirs were classified by monks in the Middle-Ages. As you can see, there is a premium on tradition here.

And to an extent, it makes sense, because tradition really is part of the brand. When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux, you pay not only for the wine but also for the name, the tradition, the aura of Bordeaux. That’s why things tend to move slowly there. And I’m not just talking about wine-making techniques; even marketing, sales channels and labels tend to emphasize tradition and old-fashionedness.

chateau-chasse-spleen-374997

It says Chateau and it shows a chateau

Bordeaux labels will depict the Chateau, and Burgundy labels will aim for an old-timey feel with cursive letters, family crest or even faux-parchment labels. Once again, those characteristics are part of what you pay for. They’re the cultural trappings of the wine. In a way, it’s akin to buying Apple products: you’re paying for more than just a phone or a computer, there’s a mystique you buy in, some turtleneck clad values you display to the world while making a purchase.

Old-timey much ?

Old-timey much ?

Maybe I’m overthinking this? You’re right, I’m totally overthinking this. Anyway, traditional winemaking values are being challenged in France, but you’ll have to explore less iconic regions to see it. It’s not very surprising: Bordeaux and Burgundy rely on their traditional, high value image, and they are shackled by restrictive and strict labelling laws. When you move down in the hierarchy of appellations, you have more freedom and you can have some fun.

Take the Loire Valley for example. It’s definitely an old region of France, and one with strong ties to French history, but its wine industry doesn’t overly play the old-fashioned card. In a way that wine region is less scrutinized than Bordeaux, and so producers can try things out, stretch boundaries and get away with it. Here’s one of my favorite wine labels.

SO2

Notice the difference?

Can you imagine a Burgundy producer going with something like that? That would shatter a painfully constructed image and go exactly against their commercial and advertising policy. The good old-fashioned values are part of wine culture, especially the French wine culture, and for the most part it’s a good thing. My problem is, sometimes those values can get in the way of fun.

And I like having fun. I mean, given the choice between having fun, being bored and feeling miserable, I will probably pick having fun 99% of the time. When I tell people I’m into wine, I sometimes feel that their minds race to words that start with an “s,” like snobby, stuffy or serious. Wine should be fun; you should be able to like a wine because the bottle looks cool, you don’t need to know the ancestry of a wine producer over the last twelve generations to enjoy his wine. The heritage, the values are part of what makes a wine, but if they are the only thing it has to offer, then, well, that does not sound appealing. I don’t like tradition for the sake of tradition but I don’t like change for the sake of change either.

I know I might sound like a hypocrite because I do write a blog dedicated to learning as much as I can about wine, about the winemaking, the varieties, the producers…. And I love doing so; it’s a significant and happy part of my life. I just don’t want it to come at the expense of enjoying wine for what it is, a fun way to get a few friends together. Here are my wine values, I don’t know if they are “old-fashioned,” I’m not sure if they are “good,” they are probably not “good old-fashioned,” but they’re mine. Now I just need to find a way to get a few more of that skull and bones bottle !

A cheese and wine habit

I have a confession to make, a dark secret, a deep flaw, an unspeakable weakness in my otherwise pristine character. I cannot resist cheese. As far as I remember, I was never able to control myself around a piece of cheese. During the month I spent in Paris around the holidays, I’m pretty sure 75% of my meals were cheese and bread with sometimes a bit of lunch meat thrown in for good measure.

And, well, I did it again… Last weekend in New York City I wandered into a dark place, a place of addiction and despair, a place of cheese. This is my story, may God have mercy on my soul and may it serve as a warning to you. Don’t let your children get hooked up on camembert.

So yeah, cheese. Cheese and wine actually, I found a bistro that offers a few cheese and wine flights designed to go together, and, since I have a problem, I had not one, but two such flights : six cheeses, six wines. It made for a beautiful way to start the day.

Flight number 1:

cheese flight 1

Delice de Bourgogne with Ca’Furlan Prosecco (Veneto, Italy)

The pear and orange aromas of the wine compliment the creamy, dairy-like flavors of the cheese. The pairing makes it lighter, crisper, it cleans the palate and supports the cheese

Robbiola due latti with Three Saints Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California)

The cheese is very creamy and the wine very oaky. It works out well, without the oakiness the wine wouldn’t be able to keep up with the strong flavor. Both wine and cheese have a nutty taste that makes for a really nice finish.

Pont-L’Eveque with Louis Jadot Santenay (Burgundy, France)

Pont-L’Eveque is an intense, funky cheese from Normandy, kinda like the weird cousin of camembert. The Santenay as enough acidity to hold its own and cut through the funkiness, the aromas of tart red berries from the wine give a necessary dose of freshness to your taste buds

Flight Number 2:

cheese flight 2

Pecorino with Hugel Riesling (Alsace, France) :

Both wine and cheese have a salty, mineral side that blend together and create something even better.

Brillat-Savarin with Olivier Leflaire Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France)

Brillat-Savarin is the creamiest cheese ever. The simple chardonnay with good acidity is a good match, it’s actually a very classic match between creamy cheese and acidic wine to cut some of that fat from the cheese

Epoisses with Chateau Haut-Selve, Graves (Bordeaux, France)

Ah, Epoisses,… Stinky, almost liquid, delicious Epoisses. A cheese that you are allowed to eat with a spoon… Here paired with a very fruity Bordeaux it’s the cheese that provides acidity and the wine that is rounder. Another great pairing.

After all that cheese and wine I stepped back into the sunny streets of NYC. So, I have a little bit of an addiction, but I can stop whenever I want! The only thing is that, well, I really don’t want to.

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.

Wine Rescue Ranger, Pommard Les Epenots

Les Caves du Palais, Pommard 1er Cru, Les Epenots 1999

Region: Pommard AOC, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France

Grape: 100% Pinot Noir

Price: around 90 euros / $120 for this vintage

Yup, this was my Monday night

Yup, this was my Monday night

We have a problem in my family, a problem which, I think, is fairly common among wine lovers. We buy wine, a lot of it, a lot of every day wine and some special bottles that we swear we’ll keep for a special occasion. Of course, many occasions, more or less special arise, and we do not open the bottles, and we keep buying new wines. And of course, after a few years, our special wines are way past their optimal opening time. You open a bottle and the wine is dead. No mouth to mouth will bring it back to life. I happened to me a few times while I was in Paris and it’s pretty sad…

So, in order to save a bottle or two, on a Monday night, with no special occasion in sight, I went down to the cellar and decided to find a special bottle nearing or possibly just past its peak, and see what it had to say for itself. I found one, a Pommard 1er Cru from 1999. Pommard is in the Côte de Beaune but is known for its red wines. Pommard wines have the reputation of being the “manliest” of Burgundy reds with intense tannins. It seemed like a good idea to see if this manly wine stood the test of time.

Eye: pale ruby

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, raspberry, strawberry, wet leaves and ferns with woody notes

Palate: Dry, high acidity, medium + body, very structured and present tannins, long finish.

Red fruits aromas with raspberry first and strawberry and fraise des bois close behind. Then the typical Burgundy red sous-bois flavors hit. I call them Fall flavors as they automatically make me think of this season: wet leaves, fern, mushroom,… There were also a lot of woody flavors, tobacco mostly came to mind. The body and intensity were a little disappointing at first, which made me worry that I had found a DOA wine again, but the wine woke up after an hour or so and the aromas nicely expanded. The Pommard trademark tannins were there, definitely more so than on other burgundies and along with the long finish they made this wine something special.

Food pairings: I had it by itself but I think it would be a great cheese wine

Overall opinion: I’m glad I saved it, and I’m glad I gave it time to open up and give its best (the cellar might be a little cold). It was a great wine with complexity and structure that helped it last 25 years. A very special bottle in my opinion.

Wine Trivia : Burgundian History X

It’s time for the results of the previous trivia question:

If we exclude Burgundy from the equation, what is the smallest AOC in France?

What is this AOC? Which region does it belong to? What’s the main / only variety used there? Within which other AOC is it enclaved?

All answers were found by the Drunken Cyclist, congratulations! The smallest AOC outside of Burgundy is indeed Chateau-Grillet, enclaved within Condrieu and using the same variety, Viognier in the Northern Rhone region.

The new question should be easy of you have read some previous entries from my blog. What grape variety was banned by the Dukes of Burgundy because it was “disloyal”? Subsidiary questions: which wine tasting knightly order was founded in Burgundy? Which castle is their basis of operations?