Blind-tasting challenge #2

Here are my tasting notes for a second blind-tasted wine. This time a white, selected, opened, chilled and hidden by a trusty assistant (she had a couple glasses too).

Appearance :

Clarity : clear

Intensity : medium

Colour : lemon

Other Observations : with legs

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Nose :

Condition : clean

Intensity: medium +

Aroma Characteristics : citrus (lemon), white flowers, oak notes (smoke),

Development : Developing

Palate :

Sweetness : dry

Acidity : medium +

Alcohol : medium

Body : medium +

Flavour intensity : medium +

Flavour characteristic : citrus (lemon), oak (smoke, toast), green fruit (green apple)

Finish : medium –

Conclusions :

Quality level : good

Level of readiness : can drink now, potential for ageing

Identity : Chardonnay, oaked, from a moderate to warm climate. I ventured a guess of Australia. I thought about California but I was missing the usual peanut notes.

Price category : mid-priced

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The wine : Au Contraire, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, 2013

Once again, I didn’t disgrace myself too badly. I did misfire on the region : Sonoma California instead of Australia, but I got the variety, the climate and the wine making technique. Encouraging. Also this is a good value wine for $20 or less, very well integrated oak, nice roundness. Have a trusty assistant get you a bottle.

Flowers go with truffle, Rully Village AOC

Rully AOC, Vincent Dureuil-Janthial 2011

Region: Rully, Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France

Grape: 100% Chardonnay

Price: around 25 euros / 35 dollars

rully

I made a first visit to my favorite wine spot in Paris with a few family members for a quiet evening of wine and cheese. We started off with this wine, following the advice of the bar’s owner. It’s from the Cote Chalonnaise, a sub-region of Burgundy between the Cote de Beaune and the Mâconnais. It produces both red and white wines and has five Village-level appellations including Bouzeron, which produces Aligoté and Rully where the wine we had was made. Besides the village level appellation, Rully also has 23 “Premier Cru” climates, mostly in white. As far as the Cote Chalonnaise goes, Rully has a pretty good reputation. The white wines especially are well reviewed and can sometimes be compared to Cote de Beaune products. The village is also known for its 14th century castle that you can visit while going on a wine tasting tour of the region.

Château_de_Rully_(71)_-_1

Eye: medium lemon, light green hints

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Lemon and honeysuckle, lots of other flowers I can’t identify

Palate: dry, medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium finish.

Lemon notes hit first before moving on to lots of floral aromas. I can detect honeysuckle but there are a lot of other white flowers and plants in the mix. It’s actually pretty standard for Rully wines that usually give out a lot of “fleurs de haie” (hedge flowers) notes. I’m terrible with flowers because first I can’t recognize a lot of them, and second, I only know the French word. Tipical “fleurs de haie” for Rully would be aubépine (hawthorn) or acacia.

The wine feels very round without being “fat” like some Cote de Beaune wines, it’s a very smooth, well-made product with a body on the fuller side of medium and a decent finish.

Food pairings: Great wine for light dinner fare like cheese and cold cut plates. We had it with a plate of cheese and some truffle ham. The truffle ham was to die for.

Overall opinion: Great wine, good ambassador to another supposedly lesser part of Burgundy, a more floral style that’s an interesting change of pace. Definitely a good quality product for a Village level wine. This particular producer has an excellent reputation and produces a couple premier crus in Rully and other Cote Chalonnaise AOCs, I’ll try to find some because if they are step up from his Village wine then they will definitely be enjoyable.

Wine Music : Chablis and Meursault

 I want to finish 2013 by beginning a new series of posts about wine pairings. This time I don’t want to pair wine with food but rather with music. I feel like wine and music go well together as they are two matters that can be studied both technically and emotionally. Simply put, I want to match some wines with songs that they make me think of. I’ll do two or three wines per post and ideally a post once a week or every two weeks. I’m sure this has been done before that’s why I haven’t researched anything so that my pairings are truly my own. Let’s start with Chablis and Meursault

Chablis: Love will tear us apart, Joy Division, 1980

I have to say it was the first wine/song pairing that came to mind when I started thinking about this project. This song always makes me shiver and despair. Everything sounds bleak, stripped down to parts, inescapable and cold, so cold. The cool, strict, crisp and acidic character of Chablis immediately comes to mind. Chablis is not here to coddle you, he’ll tell it like it is, no lies, no sugarcoating, and no frills. The stony, resigned tone of Ian Curtis’ voice even matches the flinty character of Chablis.

Meursault: Let’s stay together, Al Green, 1972

When tasting, it’s easier to distinguish the character of one wine by using another wine to highlight some features by contrast. After cold, unforgiving Chablis I moved on to welcoming, round, full Meursault. The buttery character of Meursault wraps itself around you, telling you that everything will be fine; you’re in good hands, comforted, warm. A love song with a full, warm comforting song like this Al Green classic sounds like a good match to me.

What do you think ? Can you find a better match for those wines ? Any wines I should do next ?

And with that, I think it’s time to wish you good luck in your New Year’s Eve preparations, may your cooking go well and may the wine pairings be ever in your favor ! See you next year !

Welcome home, Pouilly-Fuissé Vignes Romanes

Pouilly-Fuissé Vignes Romanes Bouchard Père & Fils 2009

Region: Pouilly-Fuisse AOC, Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

Grape: 100% Chardonnay

Price: around $20 (well 15 euros)

As my welcome home present after flying back to Paris from Boston on Saturday my mom cooked a simple dinner with some scallops and a bottle of Puilly-Fuissé. Pouilly-Fuissé is the flagship AOC of the Mâconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy. The Mâconnais produces red and white wines under the appellations Mâcon AOC and only white wines under 41 Mâcon-Villages AOC (produced each within a specific area). There are also 5 specific AOCs within the region that all produce white wines: Saint-Véran, Vité-Clessé, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Fuissé (the last three used to be grouped under a single Pouilly AOC appellation.

The “Vignes Romanes” moniker describes older vineyard parcels used for the best wines produced by Bouchard, one of the most famous Burgundy producers, in a way this wine is from the flagship AOC of Mâconnais, from the flagship vineyards of a flagship producer. We can hope for a good quality product.

pouilly fuisse Bouchard

Eye: medium lemon

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Lemon and toasted bread notes

Palate: dry, high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, lengthy finish

The citrus notes, mainly lemon, hit first with some floral notes on top (I mostly get linden) before transitioning into classic yeasty flavors like toasted bread or even brioche, the final is long with notes of bitter almond and hazelnut. The wine is very smooth and transition smoothly from one range of aromas to the next. Acidity is high but does not impair the various aromas.

Food pairings: Great seafood wine, also good with creamy cheeses (fresh goat cheese in particular)

Overall opinion: It’s a wine I kinda grew up with, a stable at family gatherings and a good example of a higher range wine from Mâconnais, a region that usually takes a backseat to Cotes de Beaune but that can deliver some good value for money bottles.

Unsung Burgundy grapes

Burgundy is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay territory (one third and two thirds respectively) and almost all the appellations produce wines that are 100% Chardonnay or Pinot. There are however two less know varieties cultivated in the region.

The first is Aligoté, a white grape used to make dry white wines. Those wines have their own AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté and are usually made from less valued tracts of land in the Cote d’Or, the Mâconnais or the Cote Chalonnaise. The Bourgogne Aligoté AOC actually allows for up to 15% of Chardonnay. There is also a more restricted appellation near the village of Bouzeron, this Bouzeron AOC allows for smaller yields than the regional AOC.

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Wines made from Aligoté have high acidity with green apple and lemon flavors and some floral elements. They are made to be drunk young, and they are often used to make the traditional Burgundian aperitif kir by mixing it with Crème de Cassis. I have a weird affinity with Aligoté since it was often the wine of choice for my family’s Sunday evening gatherings. It’s a minor grape that produces unremarkable wines but it makes for good aperitif fare.

kir

Even though it was banned by Philip the Bold in 1395, Gamay is grown in Burgundy today, especially in the southernmost region, the Cote Chalonnaise, close to Beaujolais where Gamay is actually the main variety. The main Burgundy appellation that allows the use of Gamay grapes; it’s Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains AOC (sometimes written Passe-Tout-Grains). It’s basically a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes; the name actually translates as “allows all grapes”.

passetoutgrains

Bourgogne Passetoutgrains must contain more than 30% Pinot Noir, more than 15% Gamay and less than 15% combined of other grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris). It’s another wine released and meant to be drunk young. It can be red or rose and is usually light and fruity. To me, this is a great picnic wine for instance.

So, two minor varieties used to make minor wines but both can be enjoyed in the right setting,

Chardonnay in Burgundy : Polar opposites and everything between

Pinot may be the historic grape of Burgundy but Chardonnay is the modern calling card of the region. It’s by far the most planted grape in the region and it also is its calling card, especially in foreign markets. Chardonnay represents 70% of the wine production in the region.

Chardonnay_Moldova

Chardonnay is a versatile grape in the way that it can thrive under diverse climates, soils and weather conditions but, before all, because it lends itself very well to a variety of wine-making techniques and styles. In fact, the grape itself is pretty neutral; it gets character from the soils, climates and work of the winemaker. This dependence on growing conditions makes it well suited to Burgundy and its thousand terroirs.

In some ways, Chardonnay is the anti-Pinot Noir, it’s pretty easy to grow and it doesn’t need the constant care and attention Pinot craves. The fact that the variety can grow under a wide range of climates doesn’t hurt, and neither does the multitude of clones of the grapes that can be used to emphasize certain traits. Basically, Chardonnay can take whatever form the terroir and winemaker combine to give it.

To make things a little simpler, let me just give you the two extreme styles of Chardonnay you can find in Burgundy

–          The bone-dry, mineral wines from Chablis, in the northern part of the region are a good example of a “less is more” approach to wine-making. In their purest expression, these wines have no oak in them, no barrel fermentation, no frills, just Chardonnay. A common description of these wines is “flinty” which gives an idea of the mineral character they can have. Chablis usually are very clear in color, with high acidity. Some higher end Chablis Grand Crus are different, they have been oaked and are rounder, but the basic Chablis fits the previous description.

–          The rounder, fatter wines of the Cote de Beaune that usually grow in oak barrels and undertake a secondary fermentation process, usually by leaving residual yeast called lees in contact with the wine (“sur lies” in French). These techniques result in richer flavors such as butter, honey or hazelnut (or even Marzipan). There are eight Grand Crus vineyards in the Cote de Beaune that make white wines. The famous Grand Crus are the Montrachets: Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Criots-Batard-Montrachet, and the Cortons :  Corton and Corton-Charlemagne

corton charlemagne

A look at the prices for one of these eight vineyards can make me cry like a baby. I had a Corton-Charlemagne 4 years ago and I still think about it sometimes. Sometimes I wish I had run away with it to live our love in a quiet place, far from the world,…

Em, anyway ! Now that you have the two ends of the scale, you can populate it with everything in between. Depending on the terroir and the wine-making approach you can end up with a variety of outcomes for your Chardonnays, everything between bone-dry and extremely round and full.

My winners from Wine Riot Boston

As promised, here are my four favorite wines from Wine Riot Boston. There is a little bit of everything, I tried to track the prices for each so that you can get an idea of the kind of wines there were at the event.

Douglas Green Rib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

A blend of Shiraz and Pinotage (a South African variety known for its smoky flavor) that would be great with any red meat. Spice notes from the Shiraz, smoke notes from the Pinotage and a retail price around $11 make for a great value wine.

Rib Shack

Henkell Trocken Sekt, Germany

A German sparkling wine, Sekt means sparkling wine and Trocken means dry. A very good and fruitier alternative to Champagne for under $10. It was available at the “Bubbly Bar” along with Cava, Prosecco, Cremant and of course Champagne.

henkell trocken

90 + Cellars Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, Tuscany, Italy

This wine merchant has an interesting concept. They buy wine from premium wineries around the world, bottle and label them and sell them under their name, without naming the original winery. You trade knowing the actual wine maker for an arguably better price. Their Tuscan Red in any case is like drinking velvet. A bottle retails for $29 instead of $65 at the original winery.

Lot 90

Columbia Crest Grand Estate Chardonnay, Washington State, USA

A nice, clean, refreshing unoaked Chardonnay at $12. Not much to say about it except that it was one of the first wines I tried all night and I still remembered it as being good at the end, it must count for something !

GE Chardonnay

In other news, I took my Intermediate wine exam yesterday, it was a lot harder than I expected. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. I still think I’ll get a passing grade but I need to step it up.