Archive | Chenin Blanc RSS feed for this section

Sparkling WHAT you say? Vouvray?

17 Dec

Vignoble des Augustins NV Brut Sparkling Vouvray; Loire Valley, France. 12%ABV; Priced online @ $17, sourced from Garagiste @ $14/bottle.

Color is straw with warm highlights. Nose of baking bread, hint of vanilla. In the mouth, delightful mixture of white fleshy pear and yeast, with excellent acidity and froth. After tasting and re-corking, the carbonation held beautifully for a second day. Would I have known this was a Vouvray? Doubtful. Did I enjoy it more because it was a chenin blanc grape? Absolutely, and a delightful presentation of the grape. Sublime. Terrific quality-to-price ratio (value!); I wish I’d purchased more to share with friends.

Sparkling Vouvray

à votre santé!

 

 

Francophiled, or Drink What You Like

5 Oct

I recently attended a blind A/B tasting. That means we (the tasting panel) were given four pairs of wines poured from concealed bottles, were given no information on them, and we had to compare each pair of wines against one another. The common thread was that one set was presented by a famed importer of classic old world French wines from the Loire Valley, while the other set was provided by a small, youthful winery from Santa Barbara, California. What made this most interesting was that it was a pair of brothers, born five years apart, who both work in the wine industry, pitting their wines against one another. It was a fascinating evening and enlightening tasting.

Unfortunately,  this tasting came after a month of too little wine and too much work. Stupidly, I arrived fresh from taking my daughter horseback riding- parched and on an empty stomach- which somewhat threw me off my “A” game.

I took my wine notes, choosing many of the regions and grapes correctly. But I did something I’ve never done before. Our hosts asked us to tell them which wine we’d rather drink. So after tasting both wines in a pair, I quickly made a tiny heart-shaped notation indicating which of the wines I immediately preferred, knowing nothing more than my initial nose & sip. Normally I’m in critical mode, thinking about everything BUT which wine I might prefer to drink. My energy is spent deciding what the region, grape, style, and vintage might be, before possible food pairings. This time, I spent less concern on those criteria and just let my mouth decide.

So, what did I learn, you ask?

I learned that even an old dog can learn new tricks. As an outspoken Francophile (for the newbies, in the wine world that means I prefer old-world French wines) this tasting forced me to remove my size twelve boot from my mouth (Zut alors!) and replace it with a flip- flop, Duuuude!

In not one, but in EVERY single instance, I had chosen the Santa Barbara wine. The Loire Sauvignon Blanc had more grapefruit upfront while the Santa Barbara felt muted and ergo drank with greater balance. With the chenin blanc, it was the slight petrol on the French wine’s nose that made me prefer the other wine. With the pinot noir, it was that the French wine was actually a red sancerre. With the Cabernet Franc, it was the slightly deeper color and depth of palate that made me think it was aged longer in the barrel (it was) and was tastier on its own, while the French Chinon was a tiny bit sharper (more acidic) on the palate and ultimately would pair better with food, but fooled me into thinking it was Californian.

IMG_1564

All night long, I kept thinking there was a wine switcheroo– that the Californian wine was actually the French and so forth. I was slightly amused, and yet irritated at myself for getting it wrong, not coming to the tasting with my “A” game, drinking the wine more than just tasting it, and enjoying the process of tasting and just having fun, instead of taking it so seriously- which is, after all, really the best way to do a tasting, right?

So instead of coming away with a set of killer tasting notes, I had a blast. I really enjoyed eight wines, and based upon minutiae, I selected four that I’d rather drink – and in every single case thought I’d chosen the old world French wines of my youth. Instead, I found myself having selected the Santa Barbara competitor time and time again. That, my friends, was the switcheroo.

IMG_1565

Towards the end of the evening, I found myself chatting with a lovely couple across the tasting table. The wife admitted to me apologetically, “I know nothing about wine,” and I kept reminding her that the historic wine rules are no longer valid or in force. “As long as you know what you like, that’s what matters,” I preached. For this evening, I can do nothing but take my own advice. As an avowed Francophile, I am tipping my hat. For at least this one night, I am now California Dreamin’.

IMG_1566

Knowing what you like means I have the best of both worlds. I can drink what I like from the new world, and I can also buy, hold, and drink what I hold so dear: those old world French wines.

My thanks to James Parisi and Xavier Wines for hosting this event. And both my thanks and respect to brothers Lyle Railsback from Kermit Lynch and Eric Railsback from Lieu Dit Winery for the astounding evening of great wines that I seriously enjoyed.

Know this, gents: I’m a true fan of all of your work and will continue to enjoy all your brands, drinking both what I like at the moment, and what I have loved my whole life.

À votre santé!

Trois Belles Dames Françaises! (Three Lovely French Ladies)

8 Sep

Les Hauts du Tertre 2004 Margaux, Bordeaux, France. 13%ABV, $45/bottle from Xavier Wine Company.

Color is opaque garnet with purple edging, the nose offers cassis, black plum, menthol, rose bush, and stone.  On the palate, cassis and a touch of black cherry are met with forest floor, notes of eucalyptus, saddle leather, mocha, cedar plank and wet stone on the luxuriously supple and medium finish. The tannins are quite reserved and after decanting for half an hour, this Margaux drank so easily I found it difficult to put down the glass. I was impressed by this nicely-aged bottle, a second label of the fifth growth classification of Chateau du Tertre, and paired it with mild cheese, pasta and a spicy tomato sauce, and sockeye salmon but it would also pair well with red meat. I truly enjoyed it so much just by itself!

 

Tertre

 

 

Jacques Puffeney’s Cuvée Sacha Arbois 2012. ABV 13%, $34/bottle from Crush Wine Company.

Made in a classic Jura style (this is not your mother’s chardonnay), this blend of savagnin and chardonnay features sherry-like oxidation for an intense and very dry white wine. A deep straw color with a nutty almond nose that could be mis-interpreted as being off, one sip quickly proves otherwise to the savvy taster. Features the flavors of dried pear, lemon zest, saline, black walnut, and limestone. This wine, slightly tart and acidic, is best for an advanced palate and begs for fresh fish or shellfish but delights with anything that likes a dry counterpart- mild cheese, salad, cooked vegetables, tapas, etc. After a week of rationing this beauty, I finished the bottle with some grilled peaches. I’m so glad to have managed to snag a few of Puffeney’s remaining bottles, but they disappear oh-so-quickly from my cellar!

 

Cuvee Sacha

 

 

Château de Valmer Vouvray 2012, Loire Valley, France. 11.5%, ⓊP; $16/Bottle from Mayfair Wine & Liquor.

Pale straw with green tinge, the nose offers citrus blend, wildflowers and honeysuckle. In the mouth, fleshy white fruit including red pear, gala apple and quince, a solid sense of minerality, with an off-dry finish. One of the few wines my wife will drink an entire glass of, Vouvray is a wine I buy in late spring and again in late summer when I want a sweet wine that isn’t sweet, that is delightful in the afternoon sun  when the bottle is chilled and that opens up her aromatics after warming to pair perfectly with a summer salads, vegetable medly, fish or white meal entrées. Delightful from opening to empty, I don’t know why I drink so few bottles of this (perhaps the wine is too much a crowd pleaser?) but at this price, I really should have a case in the cellar when I know I like Chenin Blanc but I adore Vouvray and the Loire Valley’s more aromatic, fruitier, slightly sweeter appellation.

Vouvray

 

à votre santé!

Seeking the ‘right’ White Wine

9 Mar
  • An entertainment industry associate reached out to me with a straightforward, basic wine question. She wrote:

    “I love your Jvb Uncorked! I’m learning more about wines. Can you tell me what’s the best white wine that is semi- sweet, but not too dry either? Something in the middle.” -WB

  • I responded:

    “Thanks for enjoying my blog! For white wine, there’s a huge amount out there.
    For future reference, some questions for you to help narrow the field might be:
    -Any specific grapes you prefer?
    -Any region or country of origin you prefer?
    -Have you found some grapes or wines that you know you don’t like?
    -Any price point/range to stay within?

    What fun we could have walking through a wine store and discussing pros and cons of various grapes and wines. Since that wasn’t possible, we’ll have to try it with simple response and a few web links.

    Obviously, I can be much more accurate if you have any specific answers to the above questions. I’ll happily take a stab without that information, but if you have any thoughts in response to that I’ll try again. Here you go:

    1) The white that first comes to mind in terms of your descriptors is one I keep on hand all the time for my wife Annette: a dry riesling, which is inexpensive, easy to drink on its own and pairs with just about anything. Her favorite brands are Clean Slate and Relax, both are German wines from Mosel and are easy, semi-sweet wines that are $9-11/bottle where I buy them.

    2) Next, a Loire Valley wine from France I’d suggest considering that matches your description is Vouvray (the grape is chenin blanc) and has the same flexibility as the dry riesling (having a touch of sweet and nice acidity to balance in the mouth). My favorite,  called Domaine de Vaufuget, is usually around $10/bottle and also easy to find.

    3) Now, this is too dry, but I think you might enjoy knowing about it. My personal favorite white wine to cellar and serve for special meals is sauvignon blanc over $30/bottle, so I don’t drink it often though I keep several bottle on hand and buy it direct from the California manufacturer: Modus Operandi’s Sauvignon Blanc. (Have I ever mentioned the delicious Napa cabernet sauvignon that had the essence of chocolate-covered strawberries on the finish?) This is from that same, amazing winemaker!) This sauv blanc reminds me of a great white bordeaux blend with the finest of California and New Zealand grapes. I raved about it here back in July.

    4) On the “high” end of the white wine spectrum, there are two wines I look to: White Bordeaux blends and White Burgundies. These can start in the under-$20 and head upwards from there, with some of my favorites being $60 and up (often limited to very small quantities!) They are subtle and complex, offering incredible structure in their delicacy.

    These are great wines to try, they usually have a lot of citrus, pear and apple but are not very sweet. Entry-level white burdgundies might include Laforet Chardonnay by Drouhin, or Les Charmes by Macon-Lugny. Both are in the $11-13/bottle range, a great entry to white burgundy. These are chardnnays that don’t have a lot of butter or oak, but are on the crisp side and are good by themselves or wonderful with vegetarian fare and fish dishes.

    The next grape in this category is called Aligote, which would be something nice to try if you like one of the less expensive white burgundies -that link will give you ten examples at one of NYC’s bigger stores, with prices from $11-28.

    5. For white bordeaux, there are two easy, entry-level white blends (just about every Bordeaux is a blend, so you get the best characteristics of several grapes, such as sauvingnon blanc, semillon, and the sweet muscadelle grape- to create a very flexible white table wine. Lamothe de Haux and Mouton Cadet Blanc are two white bordeaux in the $10-$12 range that are great entry level Bordeaux whites I trust very well. If you are ever looking for a higher end white Bordeaux for a special meal, there are great, subtle, well-structured wines like Chateau Corbonnieux , Blanc de Lynch-Bages, and Smith-Haut Lafitte, which are my three favorite white bordeaux wines hands-down, and I’d be remiss in not mentioning them.

    6. While it doesn’t have much sweetness, I’d be remiss to not even mention Pinot Grigio, which is Italy’s biggest export and the USA’s biggest wine import. Pinot Grigios are usually crisp and dry, and are very popular to drink at cocktail parties. Not much sweetness as I mentioned before, but worth tasting and considering if you like the grape in general and should consider it when you are pairing. The easiest to find Pinos (just about everywhere) are the Santa Margharita, about $20, Ruffino Lumina (about $13) and from California is Woodbridge Pinot Grigio that is a little more sweet and about $9/bottle.

    wine_store

    While it would be much more fun to peruse the aisles of a fine wine store together, pulling out several bottles for WB to review and choose from, I hoped my suggestions would be welcome and helpful in her selection of thoughts about what to buy.

    I got an note back with thanks from WB:

    “Jim, this excellent information! I tend to go towards a riesling most of the time and I’ve tried Pinot Grigio but felt it was a little dry. I’ll have to try the California one you suggested. This info is really great and I thank you for sharing.”

    You’re quite welcome, WB! I’m always happy to be of service, and thanks for reaching out!

    If you have a question or topic you’d like me to address, you can DM me at JvbUnCorked on Twitter, or email me privately at jvbuncorked@gmail.com.

    à votre santé!

The Chenin Blanc grape, by way of South Africa

14 Jul

I wanted to share with you July 12’s NY Times great article by Eric Asimov in the Food & Wine section entitled,

Chenin Blancs That Aren’t What They Used to Be

It’s a well written wine article that articulates the high and lows in the wine culture. For most wine drinkers, classic wines are desirable but hard to find, available in small quantity, costly, and may be required to cellar for maximum appreciation. One of the great joys of the modern age, while prices for classic chateaux have skyrocketed to the uber-elite, is that the entire world is now game for planting vines and some areas are being incredibly successful in vinoculture. Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, and others- all are now real contenders in the world of wine, the same way that the USA climbed into recognition at the end of the 20th century along with France, Italy, and Germany.

Here’s the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/dining/reviews/south-african-chenin-blancs-arent-what-they-used-to-be-wines-of-the-times.html?_r=1&ref=dining&pagewanted=all

Asimov bemoans the current crop of wines he tasted from 2009 and 2010 (South Africa’s season was NOT like Bordeaux!), but the end of the article is a listing of suggested wines they liked in the blind tasting, with 9 mini-reviews in the under $20/bottle range, and one bottle at $31- within the range of the average wine drinker.

So while it may not be a banner time for the finest in South Africa’s wines, this is an excellent resource for wine drinkers to consider the material Asimov provides, see what is available from your local vendors, and try something outside your norm- I had only heard of the Badenhorst, now I really want to taste it!  Chenin Blanc is an excellent summer wine grape and is fun to share with friends and family alike.

What have YOU tried this summer that’s outside your norm?

à votre santé!

Choosing Wine for the The Out of Town Dinner Party

16 Jun

High Cotton

On a recent business trip, I attended an evening dinner party at a lovely Charleston, SC restaurant called High Cotton. I was asked to choose wine for the group of 12, which was an even mixed group of varying ages from 30-50’s, men and women.

High Cotton has two wine menus, one Reserve (on the expensive side, starting at a hundred bucks and going into the thousands), and one ‘standard’ in front of the food menu. This restaurant utilizes local providers for a very high end approach to southern cuisine, with plenty to choose from at reasonable prices.

http://www.mavericksouthernkitchens.com/highcotton/charleston/menus/

I listened to what people were discussing while viewing the menu. Some people decided quickly, others discussed options and reviewed the daily specials. I quickly scanned the reserve wine and standard wine lists. At this restaurant, wines are even more diverse than the food, which runs from vegetarian options to fish, fowl and beast in many different forms.

Had cost been no concern, I could have used the reserve wine list and started with either Montrachet or Meursault, and then slowly pained over the Burgundy red list as there are many very nice wines in this collection, but highly expensive wines are also highly specific. While I had a very appropriate wine budget from the host, I wanted wines that were slightly less specific for this group to make better overall pairings, so I quickly decided to stay with the regular list and finally selected two wines using the criteria below.

My goals: I wanted a white for the salads, appetizers, soups, and fish entrees. I looked for a semi-dry white with minerality that had no more than a hint of sweetness, featuring forward & crisp acidity but little oak or wood which might preclude it from pairing with shellfish, the salad with peach and the cold peach soup that was a daily special.

For the other wine, I wanted a medium-bodied red with some age (or a young red with excellent structure and balance) that could stand up to match the savory appetizers and heavier meats, but that could also be enjoyed on its own if someone just wanted to enjoy a glass of red. A Bordeaux blend seemed obvious after reviewing the California, Spanish, Australian and South American options.

My selections were both French wines. I quickly mentioned each to the server, who smiled and agreed they would work well with the varying dishes on the menu.

White: Vouvray Domaine Huet France, 2010 ($56). I like the Chenin Blanc grape for the task.

I know the Loire valley and Vouvray well, but had not tasted this vineyard since the 1990’s. Pale straw color and a lovely floral and honeysuckle nose. First taste was clean, delicious with bright fruit- apple, pear, quince, and a touch of citrus which led into the lengthy finish. Nice and dry, balanced and delicious. I was thoroughly impressed by this bottle, and after I tasted it I looked it up quickly to see it ranked a 92/100 from Wine Spectator -score! The most important showing was when I watched my dining partners taste this wine with the salads, cold fruit and warm daily special soups, fish, and other dishes- and the results were entirely positive.

Red: Pomerol, Gombaude Guillot Bordeaux, France, 2000 ($88)

This was the only French wine on their non-reserve that had some age to it, and I knew that 2000 was a great year for the right bank, though I’ve been told not to touch right bank wines until they are 15, I felt this was a safe bet as opposed to some wines I did not know that posed greater risk in comparison. I made a mental note of a back-up wine I liked, and watched closely as it was decanted at the table. The color was a bright ruby with a slight browning on the edge, more than I’d expect for a 12 year old vintage. The nose was red fruit and flora. Cassis and red plum show as the dominant fruit, secondary notes of cherry, clay, cedar and spice box together with a touch of spicy pepper and gravel at the back. Medium finish, medium body overall, and soft tannins. The Pomerol terroir of clay and its velvety quality show nicely. When I did my quick look at the ratings I was surprised to see this wine had ratings in the mid-80’s. I disagreed with this perspective, and felt that this wine offered more- perhaps it was the age, the success in the pairing, but regardless this wine was a delicious choice.

Ordered for the table were pork belly w/ pickled watermelon, buttermilk fried oysters, and a charcuterie plate (which was phenomenal, including a house terrine, a fois gras, and a rabbit terrine). Our group ordered widely across the menu, including both hot and cold seasonal soups, salads in addition to the  shared savory appetizers for the table. For main courses everything from fish to rabbit to chicken to steaks were ordered.

The table of 12 raved at both wines and the pairings with their meals. I was fully satisfied I had done my job, and we enjoyed bottles of each for the courses we poured through over several hours including shared desserts.

So other than my wine reviews, what do we take home from this dinner party?

1) Don’t be embarrassed to check your selections with the sommelier or qualified server. They know the food and have tasted it and have seen clients respond to food and wine before. They will know which dishes and wines are crowd-pleasers, and what to suggest to pair with the house favorites.

2) A good pairing improves the quality of both the wine and the food.

3) Know what you like. Heck, even if you don’t have an educated palate or strong understanding of wine, do share what you normally like so someone can help you if you are staring at a menu with things you don’t know.

à votre santé!

From JvB’s Cellar (Bin #1): Thanksgiving Wines (11-23-10)

23 Nov

I started writing about wine on facebook, after several people inquired what wine to serve at Thanksgiving.

I published my first wine-focused ‘note’ with the intent of spreading the word. After more than a year of being pestered to start a wine blog, I’m finally taking the plunge- and I have my 60+ entires of historic wine notes to include.

So…welcome to The Cellar! For ‘historic’ notes, I’ll include the header From JvB’s Cellar and include the date so you can quickly decide to read, browse, or ignore any of the submissions you might recall, or wish to re-visit. Please let me know with your comments if it’s working out for you- as an established writer I want the writer-reader relationship to be beneficial, and I’m trying to figure out how to make a blog worth your time. Fair enough?

—————Thanksgiving Wines  (originally posted 11-23-10) ——————

This has been requested by a half-dozen different people, so I’m making it a note.

Here’s my $0.02 on Thanksgiving wine, and I’ll try to stay on the inexpensive side of wines, 9-15/bottle, for large groups like this. At Thanksgiving I tend to serve several wines: A main white, a second white (Reisling for the reluctant drinker), a gentle red, and a serious red.

1) I always serve a dry white (either a Bordeaux like Lamothe de Haux ’09, Chateneuf Herzog, or a white Burgundy like the Latour Macon-Lugny Les Genievres, each @ $10/bottle). It helps get people to the table, great to drink while cooking or chatting, and a good dinner wine for people who don’t (or can’t) drink red, want something to clear their palate, don’t really like to drink wine much but want a glass at the table, or similar reasons.

2) I also always have a bottle of a dry Reisling on hand. Some people can’t digest the tannins of reds and the whites are often too mineral-tasting or too dry without food, and a demi-dry white or a dry Reisling is my secret weapon. At about $9/bottle, I have found my wife and mom both love bottles like Mosel Germany’s Clean Slate ’08 and Relax ’07, which are unpretentious, tasty, and fun to drink without being too sweet, while being a decent food complement for those non-wine drinkers who just want a little something in their glass to enjoy. They are often screw-cap, which makes them easy to serve & save.

3) For reds, in the last three years I have turned from my traditional “too-heavy” cabernets to the balanced and more appropriate Pino Noir for Thanksgiving red. I serve either the Joseph Drouhim Nourgogne Pinot “Laforet” ’07, the Chamarre’ Grande Reserve Pinot Noir ’07, or Louis Latour Pinot Noir Bourgogne, all in the $9-$12 bottle range. If I have guests who are Californian wine drinkers, the Ramsay North Coast ’08 Pinot, which is big and bold, is a great choice around $14/bottle.

4. Lastly, I always keep a serious red on hand, just in case I have a serious red drinker. It also is great as the meal progresses or if you have a red meat course or a flavor that is looking for a big wine to complement it. On the low end of the price scale, I adore Los Vascos ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon which is a Rothschild (Lafite) grape grown in Chile, and is an outstanding value at 9/bottle. There are also always a lot of great Bordeaux out there in the 10-15 range, Chateau de Costis, Chateau du Pin, Chateau Greysac (Medoc) ’06, Chateau Lascaux ’05, all solid choices. If I want to step that up a notch, there are some excellent choices in the 18-25/bottle range, such as Lafite Reserve Speciale (Medoc) ’06, Chateneuf-du-Pape and Margaux which will largely vary on the vintner and year depending on where you buy wine.

Happy Holidays!

%d bloggers like this: