Rose and whites, it’s summer after all

Now that I am back to a more regular posting and drinking schedule, my weekend tasting nights have picked up again. As the picture below will show, life was good. Here is the lineup from that evening.

soiree rose

Philippe Tessier, Cheverny 2013

I am not normally a rose fan but I had a good feeling about that Loire Valley offering. Cheverny is an appellation that produces red, white and rose wines. The rose is made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes. It had a nice salmon color with some almost orange tinges. Red fruit notes with a bit of underlying spice, a very refreshing combination, perfect for summer, BBQ, appetizers… It is also quite cheap, you can find it for $10 or so. Stock up before summer ends!

Cheverny tessier

Arianna Occhipinti, Tami Grillo 2010

Ah, Arianna… I like many of her or her uncle’s wines, Tami is her affordable, varietal wine line. Grillo is mostly known for being used in Marsala but is beginning to be used as a varietal. Things got interesting because Grillo is supposed to be fresh, simple, meant to be drank young, but we actually drank a bottle of 2010, the wine had aged and it was not a bad thing. A lot of oxidation notes gave it a unique character, it should have gone terribly wrong, but it didn’t. Now I need to get a bottle of a more recent vintage to try it the way it’s supposed to be drank. This one is also pretty cheap, around $15 I believe

Tami Grillo

Badenhorst Family Vines, Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2013

Finally, the most classic South African Chenin Blanc ever. Clean, crisp, acidic, a very good example of what Springbok Chenin Blanc is supposed to be with lots of citrus notes and white peach. A very solid selection, especially for the price: $15

Copy of Secateurs Chenin 2009

And for the swing and a miss of the night, we had that bottle of Fume Blanc 2011 from Grgich Estate. It was by far the most expensive and acclaimed bottle of the evening, it was supposed to rock, and it was corked.

The sad part is that you could still get the awesome aromas behind the cork taste, but, I guess it was finally not to be. Well, the other wines provided plenty of material and a lot of enjoyment. The evening was a success.

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Wine Music : Vouvray

I think it is overdue for a new Wine Music post, and since I did a couple of recent posts on Chenin Blanc in general and Vouvray, in particular, I think I might as well complete my work and provide an appropriate musical match.

Let’s see, a song for Chenin Blanc has to be refreshing, to reflect the trademark acidity. It also needs to be at least a little sweet, to show that Chenin Blanc can be made in an off-dry style. I started my research with those guidelines in mind, and then, I found that there is an actual French band called Chenin Blanc,… The trouble is, well, it’s kind of a white supremacist, skinhead, hardcore punk band. You know people with shaven heads, bombers and baseball bats who like beer, fighting and not much else. I’m being quite literal here, their main song is called “Fight and Get drunk”. I guess they chose the band name because of the “Blanc” rather than the “Chenin” part.

I think pretty much everything about this band disqualifies them from being a good match. Now, I actually like punk music, I’m a big fan of the Clash, but I don’t think any wine can be expressed through a racist song. I don’t think I’ve seen a wine with a political agenda yet. So, back to searching for a Vouvray song then!

So, refreshing, sweet, spring-like… I think I have it! The song that goes with Vouvray is… Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

The sweetness is there, I’m a sucker for artists that express feelings through simple words. Metaphors are nice and all, but poetry is more touching when it feels real. The song is also refreshing, its part delivery of the lines, part melody and part pure gleeful singing of the chorus. Also, the name is Bubble Toes and Vouvray can be made as a bubbly, and yes, I’m aware I might be grasping at straws here.

Now, you may not agree with my choice, but I can tell you with certainty that it is still a better choice than a song, than any song, from the Chenin Blanc band…

Greengages, it’s a Vouvray thing: Marc Bredif Vouvray AOC

Marc Bredif Vouvray Classic 2012

Region: Vouvray AOC, Loire Valley, France

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around $20

vouvray classic

Sometimes, things work out. Last Friday just a few hours after I had written a post on Chenin Blanc, I went to have dinner with some friends. As I took a look at the wine list, my eyes got caught on a bottle of Vouvray, probably the most famous Chenin Blanc AOC in France. I thought this was 1) a sign, and 2) a pretty damn good occasion to illustrate what I had just written about. Also, the bottle was pretty cheap for a restaurant, around $30 I believe. In short order, the bottle was ordered, opened and laid to rest in an ice bucket.

As I started to give some Chenin Blanc background to my (American) friends, I realized something. It would be difficult explaining Chenin Blanc without mentioning greengages given the fact that this is often the main aroma of the variety. I have never seen greengages in US grocery stores, even though they are pretty common in France. They’re a small, green variety of plum (called reine-claudes in French) so I had to give that bit of information. It was more useful than I thought since the wine turned out to be very greengagy indeed.

So, they look like this...

So, they look like this…

Eye: pale gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, stone fruits (greengages), citrus and flowers

Palate: Off-dry, high acidity, medium body, long finish (grapefruit)

Considering I drank this wine the evening after I wrote my Chenin post, I kind of went for a mental checklist while tasting it. Style? Off-dry. Acidity? Very high, mouthwatering even. Greengage aromas? Yes sir! On the nose, and on the palate both. It is a refreshing, medium body wine that checks off pretty much all characteristics of a Vouvray. The final is pretty long too and there are notes of grapefruit and white flowers to complement the greengage.

Food pairings: I had it with fried chicken. Given the high acidity of the wine any fatty dish would make for a good pairing. I think creamy cheese for instance would be a nice match.

Overall opinion: Good example of a classic off-dry Vouvray with a vibrant acidity for a reasonable price. I’d strongly recommend it if you want to get a good idea of what a French Chenin Blanc should taste like (or if you’re curious about the greengages thing)

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!

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.

Changing the apero game : Saumur Chenin Blanc

Reserve des Vignerons, Saumur AOC, 2011

Region: Saumur AOC, Loire Valley, France

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around 6 euros / $8

Saumur

Is there something Frencher than the apero? How can you even translate it into English? It’s basically a pre-meal, meal. Sort of pre-gaming a meal with a few glasses of wine and some light fare (olives, lunchmeats, crackers,…)

I had kind of an impromptu dinner at my uncle’s last night, and of course we started things off with an apero. Now, traditional apero wine in my family is Bourgogne Aligoté so I was extremely surprised when my uncle brought out a different apero wine! Shock, stupor, confusion, and all that range of emotions I usually experience when trying to understand women and that I didn’t expect to feel at the sacrosanct apero time.

But anyway, new wine for the apero, from the Loire Valley, more specifically the Saumur AOC (centered on the town of the same name). Wines from that region are predominantly made with Chenin Blanc or Cabernet Franc. A distinctive feature of the region, other than the influence of the Loire River of course, are the chalky soils made of tuffeau, a white stone that is often house to build houses in the region.

Here's a example of tuffeau architecture

Here’s a example of tuffeau architecture

Eye: Pale lemon

Nose: Clean, medium plus nose. Pear and yellow apple with hints of honeysuckle. There definitely are some smoky, flinty undertones.

Palate: Dry, medium minus acidity, medium body, medium finish.

Citrus aromas that transition to yellow apple with honeysuckle and the smoky, flinty undertone from the nose is still there and kind of supports the wine all the way into the finish

Food pairings: Great for the apero of course! It would be nice with cheese, especially goat cheese and it would work with seafood too.

Overall opinion: Check the price. Yup, it’s a below $10 bottle of wine. And it’s very enjoyable; I’ve had pricier wines that I enjoyed less. It’s not extremely sophisticated but neither is it too simple. The smoky notes are a nice distinctive feature that helps the wine stand out. For a wine that price I think it’s a bargain. I wasn’t even mad at my uncle for breaking tradition.

The wine & food pairing challenge

A colleague of mine (at my normal, pay the bills job) recently learned that I was taking wine tasting classes and asked me for wine recommendations. I decided to make a game out of it and told her to send me a list of dishes and I would come up with a wine for each entry. The idea was to limit myself to wines I’ve tasted recently (and for some of them, wrote about). Here are the results. I’ll try to get feedback on how it worked out. What do you think? Also, feel free to give me some more dishes to match, it’s one area I’m trying to get better !

Veal MarsalaCostamolino Vermentino di Sargegna, Sardinia, Italy

Eggplant parmesan (red sauce) : Vignole Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

Chicken Broccoli Ziti (white sauce) : Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Riesling, Barossa Valley, Australia

Baked/broiled Salmon (with veggies)Raats Family Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Roasted Chicken : Nicky Pinot Noir, Hahn winery, Central Coast, California

Baked TurkeyPine Ridge Dijon Clones Chardonnay, Carneros, California

Curried/Thai Chicken : Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier, Napa Valley, California

Beef Stew : Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz

Steak & mashed potatoesRib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

Lamb chops : St Supery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California