Friday, September 30, 2005

Course on Italian wines at Incanto: Wines from the North

The second session of the Italian wines course, organized by Incanto, was about the wines of Northern Italy, more specifically from the regions of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Alto Adige. For me, this class was very interesting and enjoyable as it gave me the opportunity to taste wines made from Garganega, Tocai Friuliano, Picolit , Refosco, and Lagrein, for the first time.

Veneto is an ancient wine growing region, which is now Italy's largest producer of wine. It is believed that grapes have been cultivated around Verona since the Bronze Age. North of the city, vineyards stretch from the town of Soave to the beautiful shores of Lake Garda. These gentle hills enjoy a mild climate thanks to the temperate influence of the lake. This is where Valpolicella is produced, a red blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Air-dried Corvina grapes are also used to make the renowned Amarone della Valpolicella, a highly concentrated and powerful wine. Soave, made from the native varietal Garganega, is the local white wine and the most popular of all Italian dry whites. Although its most common version, usually produced by big firm or cooperatives, is rather bland, quality-focused estates are now crafting wines of distinct character thanks to a more discriminating selection of vines and vinification of single vineyards.

From the Veneto region, we tasted this delicious Suave Classico Superiore:

The 2003 Gini Soave Classico Superiore La Frosca showed a bright straw color. The nose was aromatic with notes of grapefruit and honey. On the palate, it was supple, slightly smoky and oaky, with a fat mouthfeel.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy's eastern most territory, bordering Austria, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea. Thanks to the exchange of air currents between the Alps and the Adriatic, the climate of this area is quite favorable to the culture of vines. With the introduction of improved vineyard techniques and modern winemaking processes, this dynamic region is now renowned for making a new style of white wines, as well as impressive reds. Lying in the hills along Italy's eastern border, Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli are the two most prominent appellations of the region. The dominant native white grape is Tocai Friuliano, but other international varietals are also used, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Grigio and Riesling. The red varietals are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Nero and Refosco. Refosco is actually the Mondeuse grape, a varietal that originated in the Alpine region of Savoie.

From the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, we tasted:

2004 Volpe Pasini Tocai Friulano Zuc di Volpe: the nose displayed citrus aromas with a faint petroleum note. On the palate, it was fizzy, light-bodied with a fresh and mineral finish. This would be a great wine to serve with appetizers or during a light summer lunch.

2002 Venica & Venica Tre Vignis: this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Picolit grape, a varietal used in Grappa and producing a local dessert wine. Showing a deep golden color, the wine had a nose of white flower, citrus and ripe peach. On the palate, it was full-bodied with a multi-layered complexity on the finish.

2002 Volpe Pasini Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Zuc di Volpe: the wine had a deep red color and a mild berry nose. It was structured on the palate with a firm backbone. The finish was well-balanced and elegant, with flavors somewhat reminiscent of a Cabernet Franc.

Alto Adige, which is also known as Südtyrol, enjoys a privileged position, culturally and climatically. It is the southern tip of Austria's Tyrol and Italy's most northernly wine region. It became an Italian territory only in 1919, when Austria ceded Südtirol to Italy, and German is still the most spoken language. A majority of the vineyards, often steep and terraced, lie along the Adige river and the Isarco Valley. Winters are cold and snowy and spring frosts are always a risk for the vines, but the wide temperature fluctuations between day and night are favorable to the white varietals imported from Germany and Austria. Red grapes like the native Schiava and Lagrein, as well as the more international Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Nero, grow in the region's warmest sites.

From the Alto Adige region, we tasted:

2003 Cantina Produttori Valle Isarco Pinot Grigio Valle Isarco Alto Adige: the wine had a bright color, a mild nose with citrus, yellow peach, and honey aromas. On the palate, it was dry, mineral and very lively. A well crafted Pinot Grigio.

2003 Tiefenbrunner Castel Turmhof Lagrein: this red wine had a deep garnet color with a fruity and peppery nose. On the palate, it was smooth with some lively acidity, but spicy, like a lighter version of a Rhone Valley Syrah.

The next class will be about the wines of Tuscany.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Travelers' Tales and Adventures in Wine

The other day, I was not feeling well, so I stayed all day in bed, reading Adventures in Wine: True Stories of Vineyards and Vintages Around the World. I really recommend this book, a great collection of wine stories, sometimes witty, sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, but always warm-hearted.

In Etymology of a wine lover, we learn how the author, Jan Morris, became a wine lover during one special Australian Summer day, with a glass of white wine, a simple paté, some cheese and an apple.

We learn how to order the proper wine in Italian restaurants in Italy in Fiasco, thanks to David Darlington, and How to Conquer a Wine List, thanks to Kit Snedaker.

“What was the best wine you ever tasted, the one you will always remember?&rdquo asks Gerald Asher in Remembrance of Wines Past. For him, it was an unknown vino rosso, in a simple Lake Maggiore inn, ruby bright, sweetly exotic, lively, with a long glossy finish.

A Tale of Two Meals by Kermit Lynch, in which an American merchant turns the tables on a French chef, is just hilarious.

And what about sharing the stress of Drinking an 1806 Château Lafite with Robert Daley?

But you can always concur with Richard Sterling that Sometimes a Man Just Needs a Drink.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Merlot tasting: L'Ecole No 41 is a winner!

“If anyone orders Merlot, I am leaving.” is a famous quote from a famous Pinot Noir lover, but does Merlot deserve this critical assessment? As a reality check, I had a recent tasting of ten different Merlots at a friend's place, five from California, three from Washington State, one from Chile, and one from Italy.

That evening, I found most of the California Merlots to be fruit bombs with a high degree of alcohol, and powerful flavors of stewed fruit and sweet oak. They were also the wines that most people preferred, completely overshadowing the other Merlots, especially the ones from Chile and Italy. This reminded me of the Low-Cut Dress Syndrome that Matt Kramer describes in his book Making Sense of Wine, referring to the fact that in parties, men would always be drawn to women with low-cut dress.
“You're tasting, say, two dozens or more red wines at one sitting. No matter how conscious you are of trying to give each wine its due, you will be always drawn to the wine with the deepest color and the most open, accessible, attractive "nose" , or scent.[...] This is the low-cut dress syndrome. The darkest, biggest, richest, good wines with the greatest accessibility always score highest. Always. They are the low-cut dress wines.”

The wines that I preferred that evening came from L'Ecole Nº 41. This Washington State winery is located in an old schoolhouse, in historic Frenchtown. This is a small community just west of Walla Walla, and founded by French-Canadian immigrants in the early 1800s. The winery's winemaking philosophy is to produce well-balanced wines, good acidity, firm but not over-powering tannins, complementary oak extraction, and vibrant, expressive aromas and fruit flavors. The 1999 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley had an attractive nose full of berry flavors. On the palate, it was dense but smooth, complex and well-balanced. It was an extremely enjoyable wine, and also very food-friendly. Its little brother, the 2000 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley, was richer and sweeter than the 1999 but maybe not as smooth. Overall, I think that I had a slight preference for the 1999.

Here are the wines that we tasted:
1999 Mietz Merlot Sonoma County
2001 Richardson Merlot Sangiacomo Vineyard Los Carneros
2001 Ledson Merlot Sonoma Valley
1999 Merryvale Reserve Merlot
1995 Hanna Merlot Alexander Valley
2002 Sineann Merlot Hillside Vineyard Columbia Valley
2000 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley
1999 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley
2002 Casa Lapostolle Merlot Cuvée Alexandre
2003 Ermacora Merlot

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Course on Italian wines at Incanto: Italian sparkling wines

I heard about the wine course on Italian wines organized by Incanto from a friend, and thought that this would be a good opportunity for me to learn more about - and taste - Italian wines. For a long time, my experience with Italian wines was limited to that bottle of light Chianti ordered in pizzerias. But the times have changed and Italy is now experiencing a wine renaissance. From Alto Adige to Sicilia, the country produces more and more high quality wines of unique character, many from indigenous grapes that do not grow elsewhere.

Incanto is a friendly Italian restaurant in San Francisco's Noe Valley district with a wine list comprised entirely of Italian wines. The 6 weeks course is designed and run by Incanto's Wine Director, Edward Ruiz. Our first class occurred last Saturday and was dedicated to sparkling wines.

After an informative general introduction on Italian wines, we discussed and tasted four sparkling wines, two from the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC and two from the Franciacorta DOCG.

Wines from the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC are made with at least 85% of Prosecco, a variety that has been cultivated in the Valdobbiadene cool pre-alpine hills for two centuries. Valdobbiadene produces the best quality Prosecco, and, because of its reasonable price and freshness, is one of Italy's most popular sparkling wine.

The first wine that we tasted was the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Drusian. Showing a light color and citrus aromas on the nose, the wine was dry and crisp, with tingling bubbles on the palate. The finish was fresh with slightly bitter aromas. It was a very pleasant wine and should be an excellent aperitif.

The second Prosecco was very different. The Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Cartizze Bisol comes from the Cru Cartizze, a small, hilly, and stony place, with a constant humidity, and where the Prosecco grapes ripen slowly. The wine had a deeper color than the first one. It exhibited an aromatic floral nose and sweet ripe fruit on the palate. I found it rather dense and rich for a Prosecco, although I think that I preferred the fresher and crisper style of the first one. Because of its sweetness, it should be a good wine to have with pastries or cookies, maybe some almond biscotti...

I never had any wines from Franciacorta before, and I was eager to taste the two following wines. In the past, this region was mostly making still wines but it recently gained some international reputation with the production of sparkling wines made with the Méthode Champenoise. The appellation's authorized varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero.

The first Franciacorta was the Franciacorta Cuvee Brut Bellavista. The wine had a golden color and a fresh nose of green apple. On the palate, it was nutty, yeasty, full of fine bubbles with a finish that I found elegant, lightly bitter and toasty. I really liked this wine that could easily pass for a Champagne.

We ended the tasting with the Franciacorta Prima Cuvee Brut Monte Rossa. The wine had a deep golden color, pear aromas on the nose, with a note of petroleum. On the palate, it was smoky and dense with a persistent finish, although at the end, I still preferred the elegance and refinement of the Bellavista.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Dine out and support Katrina relief efforts

On October 5, 2005 the National Restaurant Association and restaurants across the country will band together in a "Dine for America" day, a national fundraising effort to support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. For participating restaurants in your area visit

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

2002 Savennières Cuvée des Genêts Domaine Laureau

This is a Savennières that I drank recently. I really liked it and also found it reasonably priced.

Savennières is a small but distinctive appellation of the Loire Valley. The wines, made from Chenin Blanc, are highly concentrated and age-worthy. Although sweet in the past, they are mostly made dry now.

Chenin Blanc is a widely under-estimated variety with, according to Jancis Robinson, only 9,000 ha planted in its birthplace the Loire, 22,000 in South Africa, 500 in Australia, 200 in New Zealand, 3,600 in Argentina and 8,000 ha in the United States.

Damien Laureau is a promising young winemaker who has taken over 6 hectares of vines from his uncle who was heading into retirement. He recently enjoyed some well deserved recognition with his exceptional Savennières cuvées from the 2002 vintage. The Cuvée des Genêts is made from its youngest vines (20-40 year old), growing on schist and quartz. It is a 100% Chenin Blanc wine, 90% aged in tank and 10% in wood for 18 months.

A Savennières can be austere in its youth but the 2002 Savennières Cuvée des Genêts Domaine Laureau is ready to drink now. The color is bright golden. The nose is mineral and lively. On the palate, it offers a crisp and dense mouthfeel with green apple aromas, followed by a fresh honeyed finish. This delicious wine works wonderfully with Greek taramosalata.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Oregon Chardonnay: saved by a new clone?

No, this is not another attack of the clones from a Star Wars sequel! The story - an article from Decanter's Norm Roby in the September edition of the magazine - is about establishing Oregon's reputation as a producer of premium Chardonnay thanks to new plantings of Dijon clones. Difficult to ripen, Chardonnay was not doing well in Oregon, and consequently, Pinot Gris quickly became the state's preferred white varietal. But the problem was not the grape or the terroir, just the clones, as it is explained on the Chehalem Winery's website:

Chardonnay is in the midst of a makeover in Oregon. The key to putting Oregon chardonnay in the same league as great French chardonnays is clones. For years Oregon has grown clones of chardonnay selected for warmer climates, that need longer ripening and acid retention-the opposite of what cool climates need-to only moderate success.[...] Over the last two decades strong cooperation between Burgundians and Oregonians, led by Raymond Bernard and David Adelsheim, respectively, resulted in a number of clones being brought into Oregon State University's clonal importation program. From the clones evaluated and sent through disease testing, the favorites are known by their ID numbers 75, 76, 95 and 96 and have now been propagated into hundreds of acres which have been planted throughout the valley. Enough tonnage has been harvested since the mid 90s to validate our initial impressions of broad flavors, richness and earlier ripening.”

After reading the article, I felt the need to make my own opinion, so yesterday, I bought and tasted a couple of 100% dijon clone Oregon Chardonnays. I chose one from Chehalem Winery and the other one from Ponzi Vineyards.

Chehalem belongs to a group of Northern Willamette Valley wineries committed to redefining cool-climate Chardonnay using the Dijon clones in order to produce wines of natural balance, complexity and elegance, combined with vivid acidity. According to the winemaker, the Dijon clones mature earlier, with fully ripe, soft, exotic fruit flavors and a structure that should make jaded ABC palates go back..

We tried their 2004 Chardonnay called INOX™, which is 100% Dijon clones, entirely tank fermented, without malolactic fermentation or lees contact. INOX™ takes its name from the abbreviation of the French word for stainless steel, inoxidable. The wine was conveniently sealed with a screw cap. It had a pale straw color and an aromatic nose with floral notes, citrus, and tropical fruits. On the palate, it was crisp and surprisingly slightly fizzy, with some grapefruit flavors on the finish. I found the wine original and definitively defining a unique style of Oregon Chardonnay.

The other wine was the 2002 Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay Willamette Valley. The winemaker's notes specify that the fruit was whole cluster pressed and the juice moved to French oak barrels (20% new) and fermented in barrel. Malolactic fermentation was spontaneous and 100%. Lees were stirred once a week for six months. After 18 months of barrel age the wine was moved with air to tank for blending then bottled by gravity. The wine had a deeper golden color with a mild nose of sweet white peach. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with butterscotch flavors and a fat mouthfeel. I found the wine pleasant but much more classic in terms of Chardonnay style.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Taste of the Santa Cruz Mountains (update)

The wine tasting event that we were preparing last June just happened last Saturday. From the original selection of Santa Cruz Mountains wines, we removed the 2000 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains and added one more Chardonnay and three red wines.

The Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area (AVA) encompasses the Santa Cruz Mountain range, from Half Moon Bay in the north, to Mount Madonna in the south. The east and west boundaries are defined by elevation, extending down to 800 feet in the east and 400 feet in the west. Vineyards are generally small and low-yielding. Thanks to the marine influence, the mountain terrain, and distinctive soils, they can produce wines with full and intense flavors.

Wine has been produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains since the 1800s. The region was once known as the Chaîne d'Or (golden chain) for its high-quality fruit, but few of the original wineries survived Prohibition. Now, the region is home to nearly 50 wineries, mostly small and low-key.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the usual cool-climate varietals, shine in this often foggy, mountainous terrain but other grapes also excel, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah.

We started our tasting with a Chardonnay from Beauregard Vineyards. This is a small winery located in Bonny Doon with a brand new tasting room on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. The winery is focusing on producing small batches of extremely high-quality wines, most of which are grown, made, and bottled entirely in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Trout Gulch Vineyard is one of the vineyards it sources its wine from. It is located within 4 miles of the Monterey Bay coastline at an altitude of 720 feet above sea level, and enjoys warm temperate days, cooling coastal nights, and a long growing season. The 2003 Beauregard Chardonnay Trout Gulch Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains was truly delicious and was one of the group's favorite. It had a bright straw-yellow color and a pleasant fragrant nose. On the palate, it had a lively acidity with some notes of caramel, minerals and no obvious oak aromas. The finish was well balanced with a lot of freshness and vivacity.

Our second white wine was a Chardonnay from Mount Eden Vineyards. This small winery focuses on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate Chardonnay comes from a low-yielding vineyard located above the fog level at 2,000 feet and about 15 miles from the ocean. The proximity of the ocean keeps the daytime temperature low and allows dry-farming. This wine is considered by many connoisseurs to be one of the longest-lived white wines produced in California. The 2002 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains had a deep golden color, with an aromatic nose of tropical fruits and notes of honey. The palate was smooth, medium to full-bodied, with additional butterscotch flavors. The finish was pleasant, fresh and not too oaky.

After the whites, we moved to a Pinot Noir from Varner Wine. It is a garage-sized winery owned by two brothers, Bob and Jim Varner. They believe that the best wine comes from winemakers who grow their own grapes and they are entirely devoted to handmade, Santa Cruz appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2002 Varner Pinot Noir Hidden Block Santa Cruz Mountains had a medium garnet color. The nose had mild cassis and raspberry aromas, followed by more complex earthy flavors on the palate.

The next wine was a Syrah produced by David Bruce Winery, a Pinot Noir specialist and one of the first winery established in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the early 60's. The 2001 David Bruce Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains was the winner of an earlier Syrah tasting, and that evening, it was also one of the group's favorite red wine. The nose was very fruity and attractive. The palate was well-balanced with a rich, smooth mouthfeel and an elegant finish.

The following wine was a Cabernet Franc from Cooper Garrod Vineyards. The winery is a 28-acre estate specializing in the Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Viognier varietals. The Cabernet Franc vines date back to the original stock brought to the Chaîne d'Or region by French settler and grape expert Pierre C. Pourroy around the turn of the century. Cuttings from the old Pourroy property were planted in 1995 in west-facing slopes at the western edge of the Cooper Garrod property. The 2001 Cooper Garrod Cabernet Franc Francville Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains exhibited blackberry aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied, with sweet ripe fruit flavors, oaky aromas and firm tannins.

The next wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery's Lone Oak Vineyard. It is a south and west-facing vineyard in the northeast corner of the property, planted in 1991. The vineyard is named after a 100-year old California Live Oak, which dominates the vineyard and provides commanding views of Santa Clara valley. The 1999 Cooper Garrod Cabernet Sauvignon Lone Oak Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains was unfortunately not very inspiring. The wine had a mild nose, and on the palate, it did not have enough fruit to counterbalance its acidity. Consequently, the finish was also weak and mostly acidic.

Our next wine was a 1999 Cinnabar Mercury Rising. Cinnabar is a purple-red derivative of mercury that was believed to miraculously transform ordinary metals into silver and gold. Tom Mudd of Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery believes that he can capture the magic of alchemy in his handcrafted wines. The estate is located on the eastern rim of the Santa Cruz Mountains above the town of Saratoga. Mercury Rising is the name of Cinnabar's proprietary Bordeaux-style red wine. In 1999, sources in Napa Valley, Monterey County, Paso Robles, and Santa Clara Valley contributed Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot to the blend. To create a wine of great depth and complexity, lots were fermented separately and then blended. The wine had a dark color, forward fruit on the nose, a dense and full-bodied palate, followed by a well-balanced finish.

We finished the tasting with the 2001 Storrs Zinfandel Rusty Ridge Santa Clara Valley. Storrs Winery is a small winery dedicated to Santa Cruz Mountains wines, mostly Chardonnay and Zinfandel. The grapes for this cool climate Zinfandel were grown in two very old, gnarly vined vineyards on the foothills of the Santa Clara Valley. The wine had a deep garnet color. The nose exhibited strawberry and vanillin aromas. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with spices and sweet fruit flavors. Tannins were still present on the finish. This excellent wine was, at the end, the one that the group preferred.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Buy wine and support Katrina relief efforts

The wine community is also responding to Hurricane Katrina. Paso Robles wineries and wine growers announced that they are raising money for hurricane relief. For example Tablas Creek Vineyard will donate 5% of its proceeds from any wine ordered between now and September 19th to the American Red Cross.

In San Jose, on September 10th, The Grapevine will host a special wine tasting and silent auction to raise money for the hurricane victims.

Otherwise, for direct donations, I like the Save the Children organization. They have an emergency program to assist children and their families who have lost their homes and their communities.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

WBW13: Like Banyuls For Chocolate

This is my first participation to Wine Blogging Wednesday. I thought the theme proposed by Clotilde was a terrific idea. I already made Trish Deseine's delicious Nathalie's Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake, and so I was familiar with the Melt-in-your-mouth Chocolate Cake that Clotilde proposed in her blog.

It is not easy to choose a wine that works well with dark chocolate because chocolate has strong bittersweet aromas that can easily overwhelm most of the wines. But I knew right away that I wanted to try a Banyuls, a wine that I had never tasted before, and which is supposed to be a classic match with chocolate. I was lucky to find a 1988 Banyuls Grand Cru at K&L Wine Merchants that looked very promising.

Banyuls represents the southernmost wine appellation in France, just at the border of Spain. It is made of vertiginous, terraced, low-yield vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The soil is mainly schist through which the roots of the vines filter to find water. Irrigation channels are designed to handle the flow of water mostly during the winter months.

The climate is hot and dry during summer with heavy rains during winter. The Tramontane, a northwesterly wind blowing at speeds reaching 40 mph or more, keeps the air very dry and prevents fungal diseases in the vineyard. Grenache Noir is the king varietal under these difficult growing conditions.

In the Middle Ages, the small town of Banyuls was a center for the Knights Templar. They organized the vineyard, built terraces, drystone walls, and irrigation channels. They also started making wine according to the vinification method of Arnau de Villanova, a Catalan doctor, who invented the principle of fortification with a neutral wine alcohol in order to stop the fermentation and stabilise the wines. With this method, part of the natural sugar of the grape was preserved without modifying the aromas. In order to produce a longer-lived and more subtantial wine, the alcohol can be added on the grape skins, so that a percentage of alcohol is absorbed by the skins.

Another characteristic of Banyuls wines is their aging process: barrels are often left under the winery roof, or even outside, in glass demijohn, to subject the wine to both the summer and winter extremes of temperature. Consequently, the wine acquires a distinctive rancio taste of oxidized fruits.

My Banyuls was produced by the Cave de l"Etoile. Founded in 1921, it is the oldest Cooperative of the area and is specialized in making old Banyuls. It was a Grand Cru, which means that the wine had a minimum of 75% of Grenache Noir, and had been aged for 30 months.

My daughter and I made the cake in the morning for the evening dinner to give it some time to rest. I found the recipe very easy and fun to do with children.

I served the cake with a coffee custard sauce and the 1988 Banyuls Grand Cru Cave de L'Etoile Cuvée Reservée. The dessert was delicious and the wine was fantastic. The wine had a deep amber color and an attractive raisiny nose. On the palate, it was smooth and rich. The mouthfeel was sensuous with aromas of macerated red fruits, bitter chocolate, moka and sherry, leading to a long lingering finish. The wine was strong enough to withstand the intensity of the cake and its flavors were in perfect harmony with the chocolate. What a wonderful time we had! Looking forward to hearing about WBW14!

Great books to learn more about Banyuls:
Rosemary George, the wines of the South of France : From Banyuls to Bellet
Jancis Robinson, the Oxford Companion to Wine

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wine Tasting: the red wines of Burgundy

When our friends came back from their summer vacation, during which they visited Beaune and nearby wineries, we decided to choose the theme Burgundy for our August wine tasting. That evening, we had six different red wines from Burgundy's Côte d'Or that we tasted blind. The tasting ended with one clear winner, two wines in the second place and the remaining three sharing the third place.

The Burgundy wine region

Les Hospices de Beaune.

The Côte d'Or is home to some of the most sought-after wines in the world, and the most expensive too. It is a 50 km long escarpment that lies along an important geological fault. The best vineyards are located in a narrow strip between a wooden plateau to the west, where bushes of blackcurrant grow and where the climate is harsher, and the fertile valley floor to the east, humid and prone to late frosts. The soil is rich in calcium from defunct shellfish. The weather is continental, with a wide annual temperature difference. Spring and fall rains, as well as late frost, can become big problems for the vignerons of this region.

The Côte d'Or is divided into two main subregions: The Côte de Nuits, which starts south of Dijon with the village of Marsannay, and is renowned for its rich and powerful red wines, and the Côte de Beaune, which starts at the village of Ladoix-Serigny, just north of Beaune, and extends south to the Côte Chalonnaise, and is famous for its great white wines as well as its elegant red wines.

Wines from the Côte d'Or are rarely blended. They are made mostly from Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites. The Pinot Noir grape is quite tolerant to cold but it needs the morning sun in order to ripen before the autumn rains and cold weather. Therefore, east-facing vineyards are generally producing the best wines.

The wines we tasted

Our first wine was a generic Bourgogne, the 2002 Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. According to Vincent Mongeard, owner and winemaker, the 2002 vintage produced "very distinguished wines with beautifully nuanced and complex flavors, even at the generic level". The wine had a bright red color. The nose was not big but fruity with notes of strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, it was young and juicy, with a good balance between fruit and acidity. Overall, the wine was not very complex but very food-friendly. It was ranked third place.

The second wine was from Vosne-Romanée, a modest little village of the Côte de Nuits, but home to six Grand Crus. "There are no common wines in Vosne" says an 18th Century adage. The Clos des Réas is the only Premier Cru monopoly in Vosne-Romanée. The vineyard measures 2.13 hectares and has belonged to the Gros family since 1860. The 2002 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Clos des Réas Domaine Michel Gros showed an attractive bright red color but reactions to its smell were mixed. Most of the people found it unpleasantly musty and some could not go beyond it. Other appreciated the rich flavors of the wine on the palate and its persistent finish. The wine was ranked third place.

With the next wine we moved to Santenay in the Côte de Beaune, an appellation that produces some of the greatest values in Burgundy. The Clos de Tavannes is an east-facing vineyard of 2.09 hectares, surrounded by a stone wall on three side. The 1996 Santenay Premier Cru Clos de Tavannes Domaine de la Pousse d'Or displayed a dark, slightly cloudy color. The nose was classic Pinot Noir with cherry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it was earthy and smoky with a pleasant well-balanced after-taste. It was my favorite wine of the evening and finished first place.

With the next wine, we were back in the Côte de Nuits, with the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, which is the largest and the northernmost of the best communes of Côte de Nuits.
The 1998 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Champeaux Vincent Girardin displayed a dark, slightly cloudy color. The nose had sweet raspberry aromas with some notes of chocolate. On the palate, it was earthy with some young tannins and some acidity, followed by a medium finish. For some guests, the wine had some great potential. It was ranked second.

Our next wine was a Côte-de-Nuits-Villages, an appellation that generally produces good value wines. The 2002 Côte-de-Nuits-Villages Maison Bertrand Ambroise had a red color, a fruity nose with some notes of caramel and a fleshy palate with more burnt sugar aromas. I found this wine easy to drink and well balanced. It was ranked third.

The last wine was a Corton, a Grand Cru appellation of the Côte de Beaune. The Domaine Louis Latour acquired the winery of Corton-Grancey in 1891 and produces this wine only in years when the Pinot Noir grapes reach perfect maturity. The 1990 Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru Domaine Louis Latour displayed a light brick/orange color revealing a wine of a certain age. The wine got mixed reviews. One guest thought that it was past its time while others enjoyed its rich and silky texture, aromas of berries and sugar cane and its lingering finish. The wine finished in second position.

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