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Atomic Wine

May 12, 2015

This much energy released in 1/20th of a second

I drove into the town of Socorro in the state of New Mexico (USA) to find a motel room for a night. Most motels and hotels were full.

Fortunately I found a room.

“You’re here for the visit tomorrow, right?” a young lady asked me at the reception.


“Trinity site. It’s only open to the public two days a year. It’s open tomorrow.”

Trinity? Where humans first saw the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion? Where desert sand transformed – instantly – to glass? Where physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer muttered the words from the Bhagavad Gita – ‘I am become death, the destroyer of all worlds’?

“Can you show me where it is on this map?” I asked.


Visitors came from all over the world – and the line of cars headed to Trinity was miles long

On July 16, 1945, a bomb with a plutonium core was raised to the top of a 100-foot steel tower standing on desert sands in what was then the Alamagordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. The site was named Trinity.

At 5.29 am, a 19-kiloton atomic explosion was the first ever produced by humans – ushering in the era of nuclear arms. Observers sat and watched from protected bunkers almost two miles (three kilometers) away. The shock wave broke windows 120 miles away and turned the desert sand into a glass now called Trinitite – formed in temperatures of 14,710 degrees Fahrenheit (8,154 degrees Celsius).


Remote desert beauty

New Mexico, the state that hosted the ever first atomic explosion, was also the state where the first vitis vinifera grapevines were planted in the US to produce wine (in the early 1600’s). There are now almost 50 wineries in New Mexico, producing mostly decent white wines, including Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Muscat.

Does residual radiation from Trinity impact New Mexican grapes? Is there a nuclear tinge to the local wines? Hardly. Many places on earth have more natural radiation than at Trinity. A one-hour visit there exposes a human body to one millirem or less – half of what we receive by flying in a jet across the US.


A powerful truckload

Still, the visit made me wonder about how nuclear events, and nuclear accidents, have impacted the world of wine. According to a 2008 article on the Wine Economist blog, the April 26th, 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Ukraine released a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere that was carried by prevailing winds north and west. Scandinavians soon were on high alert and avoided at all possible foods that may be contaminated by radiation. Because the plume passed partially over France on its westward voyage, there was fear that it might contaminate French vineyards. The Swedish national alcohol monopoly then sought alternative sources of wine to sell – and phoned up a wine negociant in the state of Washington in the USA. Long story short – he bought surplus wine, bottled it, and sold it to Sweden. Suddenly, the European appreciation of American wine expanded. Buyers even flew to Washington to meet this negociant.

And atomic tests result in technology that could help detect wine fraud. Since the first atmospheric tests of nuclear devices began, the atmosphere received huge amounts of radioactive carbon-14. Atmospheric tests ceased in 1980 – the Chinese being the last to explode an atmospheric nuke. The quantity of carbon-14 diminishes over time, diluted by carbon dioxide. By analyzing wines, however, we can tell what the relative ratio is in the alcohol between stable carbon-12 and diminishing radioactive carbon-14. This means we can date the wine through atomic analysis. Does that have an advantage? It can help let people know whether the wines they are buying are fake – produced more recently than the label on the bottle. However, to be worthwhile, any test would have to be reasonably priced.

After pacing the land at Trinity and gaining a new appreciation peace and stability, I visited nearby friends to uncork multiple bottles of New Mexican wine.

IMG_2179Some were extremely good. Yet there’s ample room for improvement. Of nine bottles sampled, only five made the cut as being of reasonable value for price. Of the other four (not listed below), two cost in the mid- to high twenty dollar range, and were less than mediocre in taste.

Wines below were scored for value using the proprietary Vino Value algorithm.*

Wine Retail Price – US Dollars Retail Price – Euros Equivalent Value Score
St. Clair Winery 2013 Malvasia Bianca $13.99 € 12.44 Excellent Value ♫♫
St. Clair Winery 2013 Riesling $13.99 € 12.44 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Voluptuous Moscato $10.99 € 9.78 Good Value ♫
Lescombes 2013 Chenin Blanc $15.99 € 14.23 Good Value ♫
Wines of the San Juan Muscat $12.99 € 11.55 Excellent Value ♫♫

* For more information on this proprietary value scoring algorithm, click here.

Bargain Bordeaux Wine

April 28, 2015

Walking through three centuries of epic history – along the southeast facing entrance to La Citadelle

For a mere eight Euros (or a little below nine US dollars, at the current exchange rate), I recently sampled dozens of wines within an ancient fortress in the southwest of France. In the 17th century King Louis XlV commissioned the military architect Vauban to construct a defense fortification within the city of Blaye (pronounced ‘bl-EYE’). This formed one of twelve strategic works Vauban constructed throughout France. The sprawling ‘La Citadelle’ structure housed a defense garrison poised to fight invaders, or patrol against pirates sailing the turbulent, wide waters of the Gironde estuary.

Today, the massive Citadelle complex includes remnants of an ancient prison and water wells, as well as a functioning vineyard. This recent Printemps des Vins de Blaye – Spring Wines of Blaye – showcased wines from 80 winemakers –vignerons – from a total of 700 who produce wine for the appellation Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux. This 600 hectare (15,000 acre) wine growing region perches north and east of the city of Bordeaux along the banks of the wide, island-dotted, waters of the Gironde.


The definitive sign that spring has hit Bordeaux

Soils here include mostly clay and limestone. Unlike the predominantly gravel soils on the west bank of the Gironde (which favor Cabernet Sauvignon), the more abundant clays along the east bank retain moisture and coolness, favoring the Merlot grape. Red wines in the Blaye appellation are generally based on Merlot blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and sometimes Petit Verdot.


Colors and creation as backdrop to well-crafted wines

IMG_2346DSC_9420DSC_9410IMG_2342This annual event included food halls, musicians, and workshops/exhibits – including a cooper toasting wood staves and shaping wine barrels. Most Blaye wines are extremely good. Some are truly excellent. Most wines from this appellation are a bargain for their price.

IMG_2296IMG_2235IMG_2337 IMG_2245


Defense point for Europe’s largest estuary

Value scores in the table below were generated by the proprietary Vino ValueTM algorithm*, and are for red wines only.

Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Chateau Moulin de Prade 2009 € 5.50 $6.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Mondésir-Gazin 2011 € 14.00 $15.35 Good Value ♫
Château Marquis de Vauban La Cuvée du Roy € 17.00 $18.64 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château le Cône 2010 Monarque € 14.50 $15.90 Good Value ♫
Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2012 € 5.50 $6.03 Good Value ♫
Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2011 € 6.50 $7.13 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château L’Espérance 2010 Cuvée Trois Fréres € 15.00 $16.45 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Millards 2010 € 5.50 $6.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Millards 2010 Cuvée Prestige € 15.00 $16.45 Good Value ♫
Château Nodot 2007 € 6.50 $7.13 Good Value ♫
Château Nodot 2010 € 9.50 $10.42 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Margagnis 2011 € 5.50 $6.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Margagnis 2012 € 6.50 $7.13 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Chaumes 2006 € 8.00 $8.77 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Chaumes L’Impertenente 2014 € 6.80 $7.46 Good Value ♫
Château La Cassagne-Boutet 2011 € 12.00 $13.16 Good Value ♫
Château La Cassagne-Boutet 2012 € 12.00 $13.16 Excellent Value ♫♫
La Cassagne – Les Angeles 2012 € 20.00 $21.93 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château La Brettonnière 2010 Excellence € 9.00 $9.87 Good Value ♫
Château La Brettonnière 2010 Stéphanie Heurlier € 12.50 $13.71 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Tour-Saint-Germaine 2010 € 8.50 $9.32 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Tour-Saint-Germaine 2012 € 15.00 $16.45 Good Value ♫
Château Vieux Planty 2011 Prestige € 5.90 $6.47 Good Value ♫
Château Vieux Planty 2011 Prélude € 7.50 $8.23 Good Value ♫
Domaine du Casssard 2011 € 6.10 $6.69 Good Value ♫
Domaine du Casssard 2013 € 5.50 $6.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Domaine du Cassard Prestige 2012 € 8.20 $8.99 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Crusquet De Lagarcie 2012 € 7.50 $8.23 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Berthenon 2010 Cuvée Henri € 7.50 $8.23 Good Value ♫
Château Berthenon 2012 Cuvée Chloé € 14.50 $15.90 Good Value ♫
Domaine Maison De La Reine 2012 € 6.70 $7.35 Excellent Value ♫♫
Domaine Maison De La Reine 2012 Cuvée Expression € 12.80 $14.04 Good Value ♫
Château Le Chay 2010 € 7.45 $8.17 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Le Chay 2012 € 7.15 $7.84 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Peyreyie 2010 € 5.80 $6.36 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Peyreyie 2011 € 5.90 $6.47 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Jonqueyres 2012 € 16.00 $17.55 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Des Tourtes 2010 € 8.50 $9.32 Good Value ♫
Château Des Tourtes 2012 L’Attribut € 8.20 $8.99 Good Value ♫
Château Les Taillou 2012 € 4.90 $5.37 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Carreyes 2013 € 5.90 $6.47 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Canteloup 2012 € 5.50 $6.03 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Grand Renard 2012 Cuvée Prestige € 6.00 $6.58 Good Value ♫
Château La Levrette 2009 € 14.00 $15.35 Good Value ♫
Château Bellevue-Gazin 2005 – Les Barronets € 7.50 $8.23 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Bel-Air La Royére 2012 L’Espirit € 12.00 $13.16 Excellent Value ♫
Château Bel-Air La Royére 2012 € 22.00 $24.13 Good Value ♫
Château Bois-Vert 2010 Cuvée Prestige € 8.50 $9.32 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Bois-Vert 2009 La Confídence € 14.40 $15.79 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Frédignac 2011 Terroir € 6.80 $7.46 Good Value ♫
Château Frédignac 2012 La Favorite € 8.50 $9.32 Good Value ♫
Château La Motte 2006 € 10.50 $11.52 Good Value ♫
Château La Motte 2012 € 5.75 $6.31 Excellent Value ♫♫
Chateau La Rose Bellevue 2012 Prestige € 8.00 $8.77 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Puynard 2012 € 6.00 $6.58 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Puynard 2011 Le Chéne € 8.00 $8.77 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Lagarde 2011 Excellence € 10.20 $11.19 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’Escadre 2009 Tradition € 6.30 $6.91 Good Value ♫
Château L’Escadre 2008 Major € 15.70 $17.22 Good Value ♫
Château Les Petits Arnauds 2010 Excellence € 7.30 $8.01 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut Colombier 2008 € 13.00 (Magnum) $14.26 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut Colombier 2007 € 8.00 $8.77 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut Colombier 2009 € 11.00 $12.06 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Morange 2009 Le Vin D’Augustin Morange € 9.50 $10.42 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Bertrands 2012 € 6.00 $6.58 Good Value ♫
Château Les Bertrands 2012 Cuvée Prestige € 8.00 $8.77 Excellent Value ♫
Château Les Bertrands 2010 Nectar de Bertrands € 16.00 $17.55 Good Value ♫
Les Vignerons de Tutiac 2012 Selection € 5.75 $6.31 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’haur du Chay 2013 Cuvée Tradition € 7.00 $7.68 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’haur du Chay 2012 € 8.00 $8.77 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut La Valette 2012 € 4.50 $4.94 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut La Valette 2012 Distinction € 6.10 $6.69 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut La Valette 2013 Distinction € 6.30 $6.91 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Larrat 2012 € 5.50 $6.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Larrat 2013 € 6.20 $6.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Larrat 2010 € 7.00 $7.68 Good Value ♫
Château Moulin de Grillet 2010 € 6.70 $7.35 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Moulin de Grillet 2010 Les Aisles € 11.50 $12.61 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’Abbaye 2011 € 5.40 $5.92 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château L’Abbaye 2010 € 5.80 $6.36 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut Canteloup 2012 € 4.70 $5.15 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut Canteloup 2012 Cuvée Prestige € 6.70 $7.35 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Pierrères 2012 € 10.60 $11.63 Excellent Value ♫♫
* [This algorithm combines subjective and objective data – including scores from tastings (often multiple), prices per bottle, and others factors that may include distribution, availability, and aging potential. Value scores are relative for wines from the same region. Tastings are not blind. This listing will not include wines that fail to meet a minimum threshold value for scoring. ‘Superlative ♫♫♫’ is the highest scoring, ‘Excellent ♫♫’ the second highest, and ‘Good ♫’ is the next highest. This new system was developed and refined in early 2015.]
VINO GRAPES (1)-page-001
In the coming weeks my book Vino Voices will be published as a paperback (as well as in the current electronic ebook form). This site will keep you updated. The new cover is shown above.

Heartland Wine

April 14, 2015

For Easter, friends invited me egg hunting at Jowler Creek vineyard in the state of Missouri. My sprinting friends found 14 eggs between them, including coupons for free wine. (I wrote a post about the Jowler Creek entrepreneurs years ago, which included photos and interview excerpts from my book Vino Voices). The couple who run the vineyard and winery host events most weeks during the year – tastings, outdoor movies, live concerts, and more.


Heartland topography and architecture – ample and clean

After egg hunting, we sipped white wines on the porch. White wines from the states of Missouri and Kansas – agricultural heartland of the USA – often include hybrid grapes such as Vignoles (also grown widely in New York’s Finger Lakes region) and Traminette (a hybrid developed in the state of Illinois in 1965 that includes Gewürtztraminer).

These wines range between sticky sweet to crisp and acidic. The overall price range is attractive for purchasing bottles for a summer barbecue, or for sharing with cheese and sausage on a porch in spring.


Chateau Jowler

I used my wine scoring algorithm to rate several widely available Missouri whites. Of six scored below, we tasted ten, and four did not make the cut. Three of those that did are from Stone Hill vineyard, also written about in the book Vino Voices.


Vineyard at Stone Hill – primed for machine harvesting


 Vino Value Scoring –

Wine Retail Price – US Dollars Retail Price – Euros Equivalent Value Score
Jowler Creek Vignoles 2014 $15.99 € 14.71 Good Value ♫
Jowler Creek Critter Cuvée $12.99 € 11.95 Excellent Value ♫♫
Jowler Creek Muskrato de Missouri 2013 $15.99 € 14.71 Good Value ♫
Stone Hill Vignoles 2010 $11.49 € 10.57 Good Value ♫
Stone Hill Vidal Blanc 2013 $7.99 € 7.35 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Stone Hill Traminette 2013 $11.49 € 10.57 Superlative Value ♫♫♫

[This algorithm combines subjective and objective data – including scores from tastings (often multiple), prices per bottle, and others factors that include availability. Value scoring is relative for wines from the same region. ‘Superlative ♫♫♫’ is the highest scoring, ‘Excellent ♫♫’ the second highest, and ‘Good ♫’ next.]


Jowler Creek spread of wines



Easter Accomplices Barb and Andrew

While Stone Hill Winery was originally established in 1847 (and re-established after Prohibition), Jowler Creek is relatively new. Both put in constant effort to spread the word that heartland vineyards produce decent wine at affordable prices.



New York Wine

March 31, 2015
View from Walkway Over the Hudson River southward

View from the ‘Walkway Over the Hudson River’ – looking South

In upstate New York I visited Kevin Hall, proprietor of South Side Wine and Spirits in the city of Poughkeepsie. He generously poured servings of Monte Da Ravasqueira 2013 Rosé from the Alentejano region of Portugal, which includes 32 percent Syrah, and 68 percent Touriga Nacional (also called by some the ‘Merlot of Portugal’).

Kevin is knowledgeable about wine he sells, and not afraid to speak his mind.


Kevin Hall at the Office

“I like it,” he said about the wine we shared. “Portuguese Rosé is a little tougher to sell than Rosé from Provence. It’s a little different. You could almost do it with pasta, to cut through that sugar. This Rosé has enough fruit in it that it could hold up to a light pasta.”

We told of cooking lamb for dinner, and asked what wine he suggested.


Home of Good Wine and Great Food Pairing Advice

“I would do Pinot Noir. Lamb is so rich, earthy, you want to kind of bring it down a little bit. I wouldn’t do big and sappy. Wouldn’t have to go too expensive, but you want a higher end Pinot. Try A to Z. It’s got nice fruit, but it’s flat, and I don’t mean that in a bad way because that means it’s not overly zealous, not big and cherry. You get some red fruit, but you’re not getting a California big spicy wine. That’s the Yuppies dream – the A to Z. It’s not assuming, not big and bold. Easy to drink.

“New York wine? There are 3,000 wineries in the Finger Lakes region, 27 wineries on Long Island, and about 25 wineries in the Hudson River Valley. I listen to Kevin Zraly [author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course] and like him a lot. He’s got a good personality, he knows his wine, but is not presumptuous about it. He has a very good palate, but he’s not the guy sitting there saying no that’s not how it is. Good down to earth guy with a sense of humor.

Guarding the Store

Guarding the Store

“I’m still not at the level where I can identify what grapes are in a wine. I don’t know how they can do that. Merlot now, if you get them from the right region, they taste like Cabs. You used to be able to go to a Malbec and say, it’s raspberry. Now it could be raspberry, could be blueberry. Could be light acidity, or heavy. You used to be able to say Merlot is cherry, plum, or raisin. Now there’s a little bit of blackberry, blueberry, black fruit. How do you know the grapes unless you know the terroir? I don’t think you’re tasting a lot of blueberry in French Merlot.”

I chose five easily available bottles of New York Riesling, four from the Finger Lakes, one from the Hudson River Region, and one with grapes sourced from throughout New York state. I then scored them for value – using an algorithm that combines multiple taste tests, price per bottle, and others factors that include availability. Value scoring is relative for wines from the same region.

‘Superlative ♫♫♫’ is the highest scoring, ‘Excellent ♫♫’ the second highest, and ‘Good ♫’ next. The results are below, and values are relative to comparable wines from the same regions. Mid-price New York Rieslings grow better by the year, though have room for improvement.

Wine Retail Price – US Dollars Retail Price – Euros Equivalent Value Score
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2013 Riesling (Finger Lakes) $14.99 € 13.79 Good Value ♫
Salmon Run 2013 Riesling (Finger Lakes) $11.99 € 11.03 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Ravines 2013 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes) $17.99 € 16.55 Good Value ♫
Glenora 2012 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes) $13.99 € 12.87 Good Value ♫
Brotherhood 2013 Riesling (Hudson River Region) $10.99 € 10.11 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Whitecliff Vineyards 2012 Riesling (New York State) $15.99 € 14.71 Excellent Value ♫♫

New Wine Scoring System – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

March 11, 2015

Thinking about Bordeaux, in Bordeaux

During a recent weekend in Bordeaux, I was leveled by flu – knocked out on a Friday night and bedridden for days. When my mind came around I was soaked by a curiosity. What if I harvested techniques learned from decades of technical and management experience to create a fresh wine scoring system – based not on taste, but on overall value. I sat up in bed and considered combining techniques of weighted scoring and linear interpolation with a dab of conditional formatting.

Ill and unable to leave the apartment, I sat and belted out lines of code, scribbled and solved algebraic formulae, then assembled a spreadsheet. It includes a new mathematical algorithm that considers subjective and objective data – including tasting scores taken at different times, average retail prices, aging potential, even efficiency of distribution systems.

Weighted, linear, and vine rows

Weighted, linear, and formatted…like rows of vines

For decades when I lived and worked overseas I created and modified a similar system to help decide where to move to and live between contracts. The method involves plugging in variables, assigning weighted scores, and generating a list of optimal locations. Again and again, this system indicated in advance locations where I eventually moved – including California and Bordeaux – and for which I am forever grateful. In other words, the system worked.

So I modified the system to optimize (in the mathematical sense of the word) wine values, in relation to similar wines from the same region.


Unusually good pinot noir comes from this twisted, wooded valley

After tweaking this system for wine, I was still ill and my taste buds were frazzled. Rather than apply the results to Bordeaux wines, I waited until I returned to the United States. Here, I purchased several bottles of pinot noir from California’s Anderson Valley.

This northern California valley is underlain by clay and gravel, and the geology – within the San Andreas Fault Zone – is a complex layering of northwest-southeast running deposits that include a central streak of alluvial fan and fluvial deposits flanked by sandstone and shale deposits. Both pinot noir and gewürtztraminer have become signature varietals of Anderson Valley. The reason I chose Anderson pinots for this first scoring is that this distinct little patch of geography (16 miles by 5 miles of deeply wooded, hilly terrain) produces distinct pinots.


Deceptive wine country

I tried the new system with friends and family members, then re-tweaked the algorithm so that the better the taste, the less influence price impacted the overall score.

Still – was I dancing in the dark? I needed independent verification that this was the right track. To calibrate the system I retrieved dozens of publicly available price/score data from the past six months, then used regression techniques to generate linear and quadratic equations relating all variables (yes, sounds geeky). I then wrote code to verify my original scores were within acceptable limits, based on this analysis of existing data. This separate check for different vintages of Anderson Valley pinots showed my system was not out of whack – and wines I considered of value were within a decent value range compared to other regional pinots.


What awaits after passing through the wooded Anderson Valley

I then applied my original algorithm. The results for five pinots are below. You’ll notice that each listed wine is categorized as having a value that is ‘superlative,’ ‘excellent,’ or ‘great.’ In other words, you can’t go wrong here. Wines considered not of value (with an overall weighted score of less than 81 percent) have not been included. At this point I’m not revealing tasting scores, weighting values, or total scores – just wine names, vintages, representative retail prices (in California), and overall comparative values. ‘Superlative’ is the best score, followed by ‘Excellent,’ followed by ‘Great.’

Wine Retail Price – US Dollars Value Score
Handley Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2010 $25.99 Excellent Value
Cakebread Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2013 $39.99 Superlative Value
Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2011 $39.99 Excellent Value
Vin Verray Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2012 $28.99 Great Value
Chime Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2011 $25.69 Great Value


The Handley 2010 is fruit forward, with licorice and charcoal.


Cakebread 2013 is deliciously smooth, filled with berries.

IMG_1926The Goldeneye 2011 is also smooth, with cherries and licorice. Goes amazingly well with goat cheese.


The Vin Ver’ray is rich, with the taste of berries marching out after several minutes in the glass.


The Chime 2011 improved in the glass after 20 minutes – with cherries, a hint of mint, and aniseed.

Over time this system will be re-calibrated, re-verified, and refined. Which wines to apply it to next? I’m open to suggestions. Meanwhile, stay tuned.

Riviera Gold

February 10, 2015

Thanks for tuning in again! Vino Voices has been ‘out of service’ awhile.


Villefranche-sur-Mer in the foreground, separated from Cap Ferrat by the Mediterranean

The reason?

I just spent a month at language ‘boot camp’ at L’Institute de Francais in Villefranche-sur-Mer, ten minutes from Nice. From 9.00 am to 5.00 pm fifty of us immersed in five separate intensive French language courses, in a location with gorgeous hillside vistas of Cap Ferrat promontory poking into the Mediterranean Sea (classmate Niel informed us how the Rolling Stones once resided there). Our brains smoked from the course intensity – losing concentration during class was not an option.


Look what happens with classmates after a few bottles of riviera wine…

The experience was exhausting, but excellent. The instruction was superlative, the food delicious, the students diverse and motivated, and the camaraderie enormous. Fellow students included a British financial consultant who wants to understand French clients, a European manager of the International Monetary Fund, a Florida professional guitarist who now lives in Congo managing malaria prevention projects, the Dutch owner of a riviera boat inspection company, and a Californian who piloted a drone to create a documentary about Africa’s Serengeti. And many, many more colorful characters.


The Angel’s Share

We sampled local wines. The real pro on specific wines along the French Riviera region is fellow blogger Chrissie – whose Riviera Grapevine blog covers both France and Italy. The default wine in this region is rosé (which kept us company many evenings) but we branched out to try others.

One evening we took the bus to Nice for a sampling at La Part des Anges (‘The Angel’s Share’), where we ate cold meats – charcuterie – and cheeses, and sampled five diverse wines. Three were local, one came from near Bergerac to the west, and another came from the northeast, above the Burgundy region. What the wines share in common is all are produced organically or biodynamically. They are also excellent quality, good value wines.


Enjoyable way to practice French


A good start to an evening

We sampled reds before whites, because whites matched cheeses we ate last. (Unlike English and German, many French words don’t end in a hard consonant; this helps provide the language with its musical rhythm. That mindset is reflected in how the French also prefer ending their meals with sweet food, rather than savory – hence cheese before dessert, unlike in England. And Americans who eat cheese before a meal? Some consider us barbarians…. :) .)

The first red was Les Grimaudes from the Costieres de Nimes – the southernmost portion of the Rhone Valley. This region has produced wine since ancient Greek civilization thrived. The local low-lying limestone soil includes large pebbles, drains easily, and is low in fertility – forcing vine roots to plunge deep, resulting in more complex wine. This heavy biodynamic wine is a Grenache and Syrah blend – smooth and distinct (15 Euros per bottle).


The lineup – from left to right – three reds and two whites

The second red was a 2012 Domaine Hauvette Le Roucas. This more oaky, flavorful blend includes Grenache, Syrah, and also Cabernet Sauvignon – providing a tannic edge and greater kick than the first red. This Grenache predominant (60 percent) wine comes from a small producer south of Avignon, and is produced organically (not biodynamically). It costs 25 Euros a bottle.

The third red was a 2011 L’Ancestral, produced by Chateau Lestignac. This one hundred percent Cabernet Franc comes from the Perigord region near the city of Bergerac – a long way from Nice. The wine is smooth, though lacking the distinction of the second red. It’s produced by a young couple – Camille and Mathias Marquet – who have been making wine since 2008, and are looking to make ‘wine with a personality.’ This is an impressive red for new winemakers. The wine is ‘certified organic,’ and was the most elegant of all reds we sampled. The cost per bottle is 25 Euros.





For the whites, we first tried a 2013 Cuvée du Pressoir Romain, a blend of the Rolle grape (known as Vermentino in Italy) – produced on local slopes (opposite the slopes to the famed Bellett grape), ten kilometers north of Nice. This is blended with Ugni Blanc (also known as Trebbiano). This is a fresh, light white. Each bottle costs 19.90 Euros.

Finally, we tasted a 100 percent Chardonnay from Domaine de la Tournelle, located northeast of the Burgunday region – far north – on the border of France and Switzerland. This domaine produces both organic and biodynamic wines. This wine – Terre de Gryphées – is hand harvested and aged for at least two years in oak barrels. The taste was less zesty and crisp than the first white, but smooth and enjoyable. The price – 20 Euros a bottle.

The lessons from this tasting? First, drinking red before white is no sin. Enjoy wine any way you like. Second, be creative about choosing a tasting theme (here, all wines were organic or biodynamic French). Third, a winemaker’s age does not necessarily correlate with the quality of what they produce. And as always, diversity keeps people alert – in taste, geography, and modes of production.

Time and wine on the French Riviera were priceless…mais de parler français couramment? C’est un autre histoire.

It’s Nice in Nice

January 6, 2015

IMG_1041I am busy with intensive language school while taking some time off work, so you will have to standby for a longer post later about the French Riviera. These photos were taken this Sunday in Villefranche-sur-Mer, ten minutes from Nice.

My blogging friend Chrissie from The Riviera Grapevine (now on a well deserved holiday in Australia) has told of the virtues of the bellet grape in this region during the past year…so perhaps I’ll switch from the ample rose to bellet within the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the ‘chilly’ winter weather means wearing a sweater at night. Pas mal, as they say here. Not bad.

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