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Black Wine of Cahors

October 13, 2015
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Window view from Restaurant Bellevue, town of Puy l’Evêque

Three hours east of Bordeaux and an hour and a half north of Toulouse, the sine-shaped River Lot snakes through the hills of Cahors wine country.

Red wine from the Cahors appellation must include 70 percent Malbec (known locally as Côt) and 30 percent Tannat or Merlot, or a blend of both. No Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc are allowed.

That’s a hefty dose of deep black tannins. Which means – producing tamed and balanced wines is a challenge here.

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Medieval country scene, from a window in Clos Triguedina

In the year 1137, fifteen-year old Eleanor of Aquitaine (which was the wealthiest province of what is now known as France), married the King of France. At this time the Medoc region of Bordeaux (which now produces the famed ‘First Growth’ wines) was an uncultivated swamp, devoid of vines. The wine for Eleanor’s wedding in Bordeaux City came, instead, from further east – the region known as Cahors. This wine had a reputation for being dark and hardy and having a long life. When rot killed great swathes of Malbec vines in 1956, the region of Cahors did not rip out the grape vines as did many other regions in France (and Bordeaux) but continued to plant them during succeeding years.

I recently visited Cahors with Stella Kim, a South Korean wine sommelier now based in Singapore. Taking her away from the more branded wines of Medoc and Saint Emilion seemed to be a good way to get her to appreciate a lesser known, yet attractive, wine region that produces good quality and good value French wines.

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Architecture based on defense and religion

We visited three wine châteaux in a day, and enjoyed more bottles during our meals. We ate lunch at Hotel Bellevue overlooking the Lot River in the town of Puy l’Evêque. For dinner we drove a half hour to Le Gindreau restaurant (one Michelin star) in the location of Saint Médard – hidden in the countryside. The best bottles were smooth and balanced, though hardy. Those of lesser quality were tannic yet bland.

Note that one wine we tasted (and which I bought several bottles of) is named Probus – after the Roman emperor who decreed that local wine could be grown again after an earlier prohibition was imposed by the empire leadership. [My other posts about Romans and French wine include Long Road through Languedoc, and Wine Bottles and Battles].

Fortunately, we found a few beauties in the region. After some long tasting sessions, followed by bottles of Belgian ale, we even managed to snooze a few hours before returning to Bordeaux.

And the Cahors region? Beautiful.

My scoring for wines we tasted are below, using the Vino Value™ algorithm. *

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Cahors
Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Château Lamartine Cahors 2012 € 7.50 $8.40 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Lamartine Cahors Cuvée Particulière 2012 € 11.00 $12.32 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Lamartine Cahors Expression 2012 € 23.00 $25.76 Good Value ♫
Château Lamartine Cahors Expression 2011 € 24.00 $26.88 Good Value ♫
Château Carrigou Cahors 2010 € 9.50 $10.64 Good Value ♫
Château du Cèdre Cahors Héritage 2012 € 7.50 $8.40 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château du Cèdre Cahors Extra Libre Vin Natural 2014 € 14.50 $16.24 Excellent Value ♫  ♫
Château du Cèdre Cahors Organic Wine 2012 € 14.50 $16.24 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château du Cèdre Le Cèdre 2012 € 33.50 $37.52 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château du Cèdre GC 2012 € 74.00 $82.88 Good Value ♫
Château Clos Triguedina Cahors 2010 € 17.35 $19.43 Good Value ♫
Château Clos Triguedina Probus 2007 € 33.00 $36.96 Excellent Value ♫♫


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Harvest Buzz in Wine Country

September 29, 2015

This post includes four topics –

  1. Harvest! And Recipe
  2. New Videos
  3. New Paperback
  4. How the Wine Scoring Algorithm Works


There is a unique harvest tradition in a small region of Bordeaux. While visiting Château Mercier last week I enjoyed lunch with the Chéty family and grape pickers – including fresh baguettes, tomato salad, meatloaf, beans, roast chicken breasts, cheeses, apple tarts, and bottles of premium 2010 wine. Afterwards, as per tradition, we celebrated the ‘products of the season’ by eating chestnuts (in this case, boiled with fennel seeds, fig leaves, and salt) and drinking glasses of fresh, pink fermenting wine juice (only days old).

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Boiled chestnuts and fresh fermented grape juice

After the lunchtime onslaught of taste vibrations and rich wine, sampling chestnuts and pink vino felt decadent. Yet this was affordable decadence, which is a true lesson about quality. The event took place in an atmosphere of camaraderie (during harvest near the village of Plassac) and resonated with mutual respect for agriculture, community, family business, and taste – all reminders of how the best qualities in life often lie off the beaten trail.


Below is the recipe from Château Mercier – which is probably more suited for Europe than much of the US, considering it includes gathering fresh chestnuts and figs.

Harvest Festival Chestnuts – from Martine Chéty of Château Mercier. 

Comments –

Martine writes:

“Some of these local chestnut trees are two meters in diameter and hundreds of years old. The town of Saint Trojan has 500 trees, which prevented famine during past times. During winter evenings, it was a pleasure for our children to sit by the fireplace and roast chestnuts in a pan. But here is a recipe for boiled chestnuts, which we taste with sweet wine that is just beginning to ferment.”

Preparation Time and Quantity –

15 minutes to prepare, 45 minutes to cook. Serves 6 people.

Ingredients and Amounts –

Fresh chestnuts – 2 pounds (1 kg)

Fennel flowers – a handful, or two teaspoons of fennel seeds

Fig leaves – 4

Coarse salt – 2 teaspoons (10 grams)

Recipe –

1. Cut a hole in each chestnut, then place into a saucepan.

2. Cover the chestnuts with water.

3.  Add all other ingredients.

4. Boil for 45 minutes.


New Videos – 

Here are some videos I recently prepared – one includes drone shots for a Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine chateau, and the other includes a winemaker friend excited about the upcoming harvest.

Drone Château Pindefleurs 


Interview of a Bordeaux Winemaker – Jérôme Eymas of Château La Rose Bellevue, in the appellation Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux 


That same interview in French 


New Paperback – 

My book Vino Voices will be re-issued this week – this time stripped of all photographs, reduced in size, and issued as a paperback. It’s a quick read with more than fifty characters telling, in their own words, the surprising but sometimes challenging attractions of working with wine.

I’ll be happy to send free copies to the first five people who contact me with a mailing address.

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No longer just an ebook or a coffee table book

How the Vino Value Wine Scoring Algorithm Works – 

Earlier this year I spent months developing a new wine value scoring algorithm frequently used on this site. A few readers told me how they had printed off the scores before marching to their local wine store. The scoring table shown shows only results, not the process.

In case you’re wondering whether there really is a method to this scoring, here’s a summary of the process in a few points.

Point One – Quality is Not Completely Subjective

In doing blind wine tastings with friends (some who never drink wine, others who love it) I noticed how everyone generally puts wines into a few categories – bad, excellent, and okay. In other words, having years of wine tasting experience may help a person appreciate subtleties in taste, but most humans have a relatively uniform appreciation of quality. After tasting eight wines, most people will rank them as best, worst, and in a middle range along a scale that is roughly the same. Not exactly, sometimes not even too similar, but statistically – with a large amount of people – close. In other words, humans’ ability to discern and rank quality is relatively universal. Sure, we’re all different and tastes are generally subjective – but along a linear scale, there are warthogs and princesses, and most humans can tell the difference.

Point Two – The Correlation Between Quality and Price is VERY Loose, at Best

If you graph the quality of wine (taking ‘quality’ as points from well reputed sources, such as Parker’s Wine Advocate, or the Wine Spectator Magazine) against the price (taken from these same reputable sources) you come up with a graph that looks like buckshot pellets sprayed against a barn door with a blunderbuss. You expect to see some resemblance to a straight line, or at least a coherent curve, but – No. You think that as price increases, quality similarly increases? Or, you think that as quality increases, prices similarly increase? Wrong.

Find out yourself. Boot up an Excel spreadsheet, buy a copy of the Wine Spectator, plug in the numbers, churn out a graph. The points will look more like the Milky Way galaxy than like a line of lights along a runway.

Point Three – Value Relates to Quality and Price

People out there score wines. And they list prices. And they are not combining the two in some intelligent manner that examines all wines in a region, looks at the quality, looks at the price, and says – Bingo – in relation to each other, these wines can be ranked as good value, excellent value, or superlative value.

So now I’m doing it.

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Point Four – It’s Not Simple

Generating an algorithm to value-score wines was not easy, though the premise is easy. The relationship between price and quality is not linear, because at some point the quality of wine is good enough that our concerns about price lower. Yet few examine this methodically. That’s why wine producers and sellers are able to sell wines at prices that hardly correlate to quality (remember – buckshot and the barn door).

Point Five – How It Works

No, I’m not giving away proprietary details. But the images below should trigger an appreciation that there really is more to these Vino Value™ scoring tables than four simple columns.

Wines are ranked according to quality and price. These variables are then combined, but weighted and modified based on the premise from Point Four above (concerns about price diminish with an increase in quality, though in a non-linear way). The weighing factors also depend on which wine region we’re in.

Here is what you might see on a typical post:

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Here is the (slightly redacted) behind-the-scenes table that you don’t see:

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The point is – quite a bit of thought and methodical calibration goes into this value scoring of wines.


Coming soon – the black wine of Cahors…






Battle Wines from Castillon

September 15, 2015
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One of several little castles in the region

In 1953, residents in southern France voted to change their town’s name from Castillon-sur-Dordogne (‘Little Castle-on-the-Dordogne River’) to Castillon-la-Bataille, or ‘Little-Castle-of-the-Battle.’  This wasn’t just some plucky whim to add drama to their heritage. Exactly five hundred years earlier, their hometown had hosted a battle with pedigree – the final fight of the 100 Years War. During this tournament of maim and kill, England’s eighty-year-old Earl of Shrewsbury was pinned down by his slain horse and bludgeoned to death by an axe-wielding French soldier. This ended not just a battle, but the protracted war.


Elisabeth and Eric at Château La Rose Poncet

The more I learn about the ‘100 Years War’ between France and England, the more the name appears to have been invented by an enthusiastic, though erroneous, teacher trying to simplify history for impatient, bored students. First, this ‘war’ lasted not 100 years, but 116 years. Second, it was not a war but a series of battles and skirmishes, only loosely connected in purpose. Third, this ‘war’ was preceded and succeeded by ample other conflicts between France and England. Slapping this moniker on is like a historian considering US conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as being part of ‘The 65 Year War’ between the US and, well, Asia.


The grounds of La Rose Poncet – ready for harvest

A big surprise about this battle? It was residents of Bordeaux themselves – the ‘Bordelais’ – who requested that Henry VI of England send in troops to rescue them from the French. Truly. Bordeaux, and a sizable chunk of the land mass we now call France, had then been under English reign for hundreds of years. The residents of Bordeaux were more interested in maintaining their flourishing, prosperous, wine trade with England and sunning themselves in the Aquitaine sun than having estranged neighbors gallop in uninvited to hoist an alien flag over their home territory.

The weekend before last, alerted by another American wine blog writer living in Bordeaux named Alex Rychlewski, I visited ‘Portes Ouvertes’ in the wine region known as ‘Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux.’ This region sits on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, bordering the more famed (and expensive) Saint Emilion wine region to the west.

Château Pitray - home to the same family for 6 centuries

Château Pitray – home to generations of the same family for six centuries

For two days, the owners of seventeen wine châteaux threw open doors, uncorked bottles, and poured out streams of their prized products. I managed to GPS navigate through forests and over hills, wending a route to track down ten châteaux (ranging from stately castles to garages).

The first château I visited was the 12 hectare (30 acre) Belgian owned Château Goubau. After I parked, Bea Goubau-Goossens trekked off into vines to implore her husband Stéphane to dismount his tractor and come pour wine for the early bird visitor – me – all bright-eyed and enthused for a morning tasting – degustacion – at 10.15 am (well I did have the afternoon already planned out). After dismounting his tractor, Stéphane appeared as well dressed as though on his way to a wedding – minus the jacket. Their wines? Their top red wines are peppery, with a beautiful balance between tannins and fruit.


Gentle hills and quiet living

This was an excellent start to the journey – where good quality wine results from careful vine keeping and thoughtful investments in appropriate technology. Fermentation takes place in horizontal steel tanks where a rotating arm (along the eye-level axis) accomplishes the same as a ‘pump over’ or ‘push down’ to keep floating grape skins in constant contact with juice. Why this method? Because it is gentle on the grapes, Stéphane said. The non-traumatic consideration toward grapes is a factor he constantly keeps in mind to produce quality wines. Considering Stéphane has an MBA from Harvard and ten years winemaking experience, I was not surprised to find him well-organized, methodical, and determined to produce the best. The couple moved here in the year 2005 to a site with a stunning vista of lower woodlands, because “we had a passion,” Stéphane admits. When I departed, having invested in a few bottles of their wine, Bea reminded me how the wine “goes particularly well with food.”

Very true.

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Lunch time picnic spread near the vines

At the next château – far more rickety – the owner’s friends had set up an ancient film projector inside. They wooed me in, glass in hand, to a dank stone cellar to watch a black-and-white newsreel of skirted London ladies parading around the 1966 World Trade Fair.


Newsreel showtime in a cellar

This was followed by a quick snippet about communist elections in bygone France. The relation to wine? None. Yet it was intriguing, especially for a community steeped in a history that revolves around England and power. I tipped my glass, bid adieu, and motored on.

Next? Lunch in a garden (which was excellent), where the owner’s young son insisted that I halt mid-way through a plate of roasted duck to attend his magic show in the garage. Which, of course, it would have been impolite to refuse. This day was getting more intriguing by the minute.

At Château La Rose Poncet, proprietors Elisabeth and Eric shared their stories about grunts and grief and eventual gratitude at their making wine for over 15 years. They take particular pride in their ‘Mon anGe’ wine (which is a play on names of their children), a prize-winning 100 percent Merlot. The wine was well made and their dedication to the vines was obvious.


At Château Lapeyronie, we sampled a delightful 100 percent Carménère – a definite unexpected and beautiful highlight of this foray into Castillon.

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Life is good

Our final stop was at Château Fontbaude – which involved sitting at a table in the shade of trees with Christian, one of the owners, to sample his 100 percent Merlot from an 80-year-old plot. This was a peaceful way to end the day.

And the wine from this region – in general?

Growers tell how their vineyards share identical or similar geology to neighboring Saint Emilion. The red wines are primarily made from Merlot (several of them 100 percent) and Cabernet Franc (or Malbec), while Cabernet Sauvignon is little used. Whether oaked in barrels or not, many wines are mouth-puckeringly tannic, which may relate to the purity of the limestone substrate. The dichotomy here – including pitfalls and advantages – is that small growers often disregard investing time or expense in improving production techniques, while those winemakers who do so often produce excellent wines at reasonable costs.

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Unexpected surprise – 100 percent Carménère

Of the many wines we tasted, the following deserve ranking as good, excellent, and superlative values for price (which, as my friend Annabelle explained in French, is: ‘bon rapport, qualité prix’) using the proprietary Vino Value algorithm. *


Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Red Wines –

Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux

Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US Dollars Equivalent Value Score
Château Goubau ‘La Source’ 2012 € 12.50 $14.00 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Goubau 2011 € 17.00 $19.04 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée La Dame’ 2013 € 5.00 $5.60 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée La Fleur’ 2012 € 8.00 $8.96 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de Laussac (A.N. Robin) 2012 € 12.50 $14.00 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée Sacha’ 2012 € 19.50 $21.84 Excellent Value ♫♫
[Château de Laussac ‘Les Valentines’ 2012 (Saint Émilion Grand Cru) ] € 15.00 $16.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Font du Jeu (Lapeyronie) 2012 € 7.00 $7.84 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Lapeyronie 2012 € 9.00 $10.08 Good Value ♫
Château Lapeyronie 2012 (no sulfites) € 15.00 $16.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Lapeyronie Carménère (100%) 2012 € 15.00 $16.80 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Franc La Fleur 2011 € 10.00 $11.20 Good Value ♫
Château La Rose Poncet 2010 € 6.00 $6.72 Good Value ♫
Château La Rose Poncet ‘Vent d’Ange’ 2011 € 6.00 $6.72 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Rose Poncet 2011 € 8.00 $8.96 Good Value ♫
Château La Rose Poncet ‘Mon anGe’ 2011 € 20.00 $22.40 Good Value ♫
Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin 2012 € 6.00 $6.72 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin ‘Vignobles Lydoire’ 2012 € 7.50 $8.40 Good Value ♫
Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin ‘Cé Ma Cuvée’ 2011 € 14.00 $15.68 Good Value ♫
Château de Belcier 2010 € 10.40 $11.65 Good Value ♫
Château de Belcier ‘Le Pins de Belcier’ € 14.40 $16.13 Good Value ♫
Clos Vedelago Merlot 2012 € 11.00 $12.32 Good Value ♫
Château Fontbaude ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2012 € 10.00 $11.20 Good Value ♫
Château Fontbaude ‘L’Ame de Fontbaude’ 2011 € 16.00 $17.92 Good Value

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


Drone Footage from Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux 

We leave beautiful Castillon now and return to the northeast (an hour-long drive) to home territory. I recently prepared this short video – including ample drone footage – for friends Jérôme and Valérie Eymas who own and manage Château La Rose Bellevue (Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux wine appellation). The music ‘Le Bon Vin’ was generously provided free of copyright by the French musician/poet duo Philippe Lemoine and Hervé Tirefort (more information about them is on the YouTube site). And thanks to Les and Clarissa from Villa Saint Simon, Blaye, for introducing me to these winemakers.

Valérie wrote this about the video (which she directed) on her Facebook site:

DSC_0029Tom, Jérôme and I have worked on a little video this summer (Tom has done all the job!!!). Us, we put in all our talent, in lifting up our glass of wine several time under the bite of the sun & the 40°C (104°F) burning of the heat… We chose to illustrate this video with a French song & music made by Hervé Tirefort and Philippe Lemoine. Those who know us will find in the lyrics (sorry but it’s in French) our philosophy of Epicure. Life is short and we must not miss all the good things that Mother Nature offers to us. We turn our grapes in our winery into a nectar, another day we adore tasting a nice dish of fried porcini mushrooms that we picked ourselves early in the bushes, as well as a fruit tart that we’ve made with fruits that we’ve picked in our grandmother’s garden… Isn’t it the Good Life ???

Indeed, it is.

Wake Up, Bordeaux

September 1, 2015

Several weeks ago on a Saturday morning two members of the National Police visited the wine store of a friend. Both men had removed identification numbers from their uniforms. Their mannerisms were blunt and intimidating. They demanded to see all legal documentation regarding ownership of the wine store. My friend immediately complied, and presented these documents.

An unsuspecting location to begin a revolution

Strangely, one officer took out a personal cell phone and began, methodically, to photograph each document.

When the store owner heard this story later that morning, he promptly walked to the local station and demanded an explanation. Officers removing identification numbers? Police photographing proprietary legal documents with personal cameras? This all very odd.

So began the saga of what could be called the local wine store wars, in which a proprietor of one store (in a city to be unnamed) apparently courted local police officers – with off-duty afternoons spent sharing bottles together – before requesting that they harass the proprietor of a newly opened wine store in town. Which they did. And which, having now been informed of the wanton illegality of their actions, these officers are wishing to forget.


Beautiful Bordeaux city

This is a neighborhood story. It took place in France. Yet it could have taken place in Italy, Argentina, or the United States. The difference of how it plays out depends on how strongly the civil servants of a country adhere to their legal systems. It is one thing to have laws, but an entirely different matter to ensure those laws are enforced.

It is likely that the wheels of justice will prevail, the perpetrators reprimanded, and the matter soon forgotten or transformed to a lesson about the folly of haste.

What is more intriguing is that the officers appear to have been instruments of another individual’s motive to kill competition. 

Perhaps none of these individuals heard of the phrase, spoken frequently by ex-US President John F. Kennedy, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’


Fluid Bordeaux

This phrase was not invented by Kennedy, but adopted after he heard it spoken at a regional Chamber of Commerce meeting in New England. It means – economically – that when businesses better themselves financially, their actions often increase opportunities for neighbors to do alike. If a successful business draws more visitors and customers to a location, many other regional businesses are often better poised to increase their own sales.

Using a baton to squash competition also relates to the famed 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines – which is still considered valid. That year, at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III who was poised to host the world’s fair (‘Exposition Universelle’) in Paris, scouts visited Bordeaux to discern which wines were of the best quality, in order that they could be obtained and displayed to visitors in Paris.

Their selection of wines created a Bordeaux classification system – now more than a century and a half old – that is still utilized and considered by many as both practical and realistic.

Many merchants, wine producers, and critics never challenge the validity of this archaic system, contrary to the fact that common sense and ground realities indicate otherwise. Some other châteaux adjacent to these famed ‘first growth’ wines now produce wines that match or exceed the quality of wines listed in this ancient classification system. The unspoken belief is that this 1855 classification system should be considered valid because of its historical repute. This notion is quaint, but outdated.


Bordeaux region – a blend of modern and ancient thinking

Since the time of that classification, two world wars have been fought, the atom split, the airplane invented, the computer created, slaves emancipated, golf clubs teed off on the moon, and the horse and buggy replaced by the automobile. The world of agriculture was also reshaped in the past 170 years, including land management practices, technological innovations, pesticides, herbicides, management competency, climate alterations, quality control, and the economic impact of multiple external variables – including the invention of sophisticated processing equipment, the deployment of air cargo and container ships, and the viability of ‘flying winemakers’ – able to provide precise advice based on experience gained from working in dozens of countries.

If one wine store attracts more visitors to a location, all wine stores in the region can profit from the associated escalation of business. The notion that competition should be fended off by rigidly clinging to the status quo is, simply, outdated.


Flowers planted more recently than 1855


Ratatouille and Eggplant for Harvest Season

August 17, 2015
Summer fare - cucumbers, watermelon, and rosé - will soon be gone....

Summer fare – cucumbers, watermelon, and rosé – will soon be on fewer tables…

This web log is about wine, but this week we include two recipes. Why? Because recipes keep pouring in after my request for them for a forthcoming book – Winemaker’s Cooking Companion.

Isabelle Chéty of Château Mercier informed me of her mother – Martine’s – trove of vineyard recipes on their website recipe page (including – harvest cod, ribeye steak cooked over vine shoots, and Côtes de Bourg ratatouille), while winemaker Thomas Marchand contributed his great-great-grandmother’s recipe for pan-fried foie gras with basmati rice – originally from the wine region of Cahors.

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Harvest season approaches – with outdoor dinners…

As an American I’m woefully ignorant about the sport – but at the wine store ‘La Cave de la Citadelle’ in Blaye was recently introduced to renowned Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee and his wife Helen. They were visiting the region, and kindly offered to put me in touch with Australian winemaker friends who can provide some more valued recipes.

This week includes two recipes appropriate for the upcoming harvest (yes, it’s still a few weeks away): fried eggplant (aubergine), and ratatouille. Both come from Martine Chéty, who lives with her winemaker family in the beautiful rolling hills of Bourg, about 20 minutes away from Blaye (or 10 minutes, if you drive like her daughter Isabelle).

Preparing ingredients for ratatouille

Slicing and dicing for ratatouille…next step? Pour yourself a glass of wine

I plan to cook all recipes that will included in the upcoming book – so managed to rally up a pan of ratatouille yesterday evening. My effort was far from splendid. After sautéing onions, I neglected to turn down heat after adding peppers and garlic. The result? A bit of burnage…a cardinal sin of cookery. Still, the final product was decent, though a bit mushy – likely because I winced at the sight of bare veggies in a pan, and – panicked – threw in a glass of water. Not a brilliant move. No harm….live and learn.

Martine Chéty may have prepared this recipe years ago, because she recommends enjoying the ratatouille with a glass of Château Mercier Cuvée Traditional 1995. Good luck rustling up a bottle of that liquid gold. Instead I drank their Cuvée Prestige 2010 (even scoring that bottle required having an inside track). But a decent bottle of red – Bordeaux or some Cabernet or Merlot (or preferably a blend of both) – will do fine.

These recipes comes from the 13th generation of a family that has lived on the same land, and has produced wine, since the year 1697. That’s more than a century before explorers Lewis and Clark hiked and canoed across the American continent while shooting buffalo and fishing wild salmon to eat. It’s the same year Saint Paul’s Cathedral was consecrated in London, the same year the first steam engine was patented, and the year Peter the Great broke Russia’s isolation by touring western Europe.

One hour on the heat

One hour on the heat


Côtes de Bourg Ratatouille – from Martine Chéty of Château Mercier. 

Comments –

Martine writes:

“August makes a cornucopia in the garden, cheerfully offering all vegetables, which I don’t want to lose. The children eat their provisions, and the rest I cook for a monstrous ratatouille which I put in jars, which, during the course of winter will bring us comforting flavors and good memories…My husband Philippe and I enjoy breaking eggs on this ratatouille when it is in the skillet.”

Preparation Time and Quantity –

45 minutes to prepare, 1 hour to cook. Serves 6 people.

Ingredients and Amounts –

Tomatoes (medium) – about 10

Eggplants (large) – 2

Zucchini (or ‘courgettes’) – 4

Onions (medium) – 3

Bell peppers (large) – 2

Garlic cloves – 2

Parsley, Thyme – generous sprinkles

Sage leaves – 3

Salt, Pepper – sprinkle

Sugar – 2 teaspoons

Olive oil – enough to just cover the pan bottom

Recipe –

1. Prepare the veggies – chop the onions and garlic, slice the peppers into long pieces a half-inch (1 cm) wide. Peel and chop the zucchini and eggplant into small chunks. Put aside.

2. Peel the tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water for 30 seconds, removing, then putting them into ice water to cool them before peeling (put three or four into the boiling water at a time). Then seed the tomatoes by slicing each in half along its ‘equator line’ and then scooping out the seeds with a spoon. Now chop them into chunks. Put aside.

3. Sauté onions in olive oil until they are lightly browned.

4. Reduce heat. Add sliced peppers and chopped garlic. Cook for 10 minutes.

5. Add zucchini and eggplant.

6. After 5 minutes add chopped tomatoes.

7. Add salt, pepper, parsley thyme, and sage.

8. Add sugar. Stir.

9. Cook for an hour over medium heat, stirring occasionally, and adding spices/salt/pepper as needed from tasting.

This ratatouille goes well with white meats, and with a decent bottle of red Bordeaux wine, or a Merlot.

Turn down the heat and fill up the glass

Turn down the heat and fill up your glass

Fried Eggplant (Aubergine) – from Martine Chéty of Château Mercier. 

Comments –

Martine writes:

“Eggplants (aubergines) are also known as ‘cèpes du pauvre’ (poor person’s mushrooms) because some years mushrooms are scarce or expensive. This dish replaces them with a taste that is strangely reminiscent. As we say at home, ‘When there are no thrushes, we eat blackbirds.’ “

Preparation Time and Quantity –

30 minutes to prepare, 5 minutes to cook. Serves 4 people.

Ingredients and Amounts –

Eggplants (aubergines) (medium) – 3

Garlic cloves – 3

Parsley – a few sprigs

Salt, Pepper – sprinkle of each

Sugar – 1 teaspoon

Recipe –

1. Prepare the veggies – peel the eggplants and then slice along axis into strips about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. Put strips in oven with medium heat for 5 minutes to dry them. Remove, then cut into large cubes.

2. Chop parsley until it is very fine. Crush or chop garlic.

3. Cover a pan bottom with olive oil. Add the eggplant chunks and fry on medium heat until tender.

4. Add garlic and parsley.

5. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and sugar.

6. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring gently.

This goes well with all meat dishes and a decent red wine, such as Bordeaux, or a Merlot/Cabernet blend.

 Bon Appétit!


The next Vino Voices post will include some high-speed drone footage above vines, as well as between vines…

Cooling Down in Alsace

August 4, 2015







Vineyards in Alsace wine country, and villages such as Ribeauville, Kientzheim, and Kayserberg

The beauty of Alsace is impressive. Strasbourg city includes soaring medieval architecture, and countryside villages are worth exploring by foot. The best wines here are also worth seeking out.

Alsace is the smallest of 22 regions that comprise continental France. Because of its location (bordering Switzerland and Germany), and history (sometimes part of France, sometimes belonging to Germany) the architecture and food appear more Tyrolean or Teutonic than French.

Before 50 BC, the Romans invaded this region and established it as a wine production center. Wise choice. They recognized the value of the sunshine and soil – the terroir – and the economy still thrives on wine production and export.


This region never lacks color…


…or readily available wine

I recently spent three days in Alace with my sister and her husband where we tasted about fifty wines. Red wines are often tasted before whites here in order to end on a sweet, strong note. The seven principal grapes include six whites: Riesling, Muscat, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner; and one red: Pinot Noir. Only the first four are used to make Grand Cru wines – although there are exceptions to that rule. Pinot Gris is usually sweeter than Riesling, while Sylvaner – which is apparently somewhat ‘in fashion’ now – is an acidic, somewhat indistinct grape.

There’s a huge difference between low quality and high quality wines here. We generally found Riesling and Pinot Noir to provide the best wines, though some late harvest Muscat and Pinot Gris wines are also excellent.

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image1 (1)The AOC designation of Alsace wines is similar to that of Burgundy – where slope, aspect, and location of soils are considered critical (from a historical perspective) to ensuring quality of grapes produced. Generally, ‘tradition’ wines are from grapes grown on the plains, ‘terroir’ wines from grapes grown on lower slopes, and ‘grand cru’ wines from grapes grown on the steeper, higher, choicest slopes.

Which are dry wines, and which sweet? Some producers, including Edmond Rentz, include a graphic on the back label of bottles that indicate sweetness or dryness. But it’s not always easy to tell in advance.

“The problem with Alsace,” said Anne-Caroline from Domaine Albert Mann, “is that you rarely know which are sweet, and which are dry wines.”


Alsace vineyards at the base of the Vosges Mountains

Alsace is visually impressive – with rolling hills, thick woods, hilltop fortresses, and small towns of medieval origin in neighboring valleys (such as Ribeauville, Kientzheim, Kayserberg, and Wettolsheim).

Below is a scoring of selected wines we tasted from three producers (scoring was made using the proprietary Vino Value algorithm * ). Some of the ‘superlative’ valued wines are higher priced because their quality is exceptional for this region.

Vino Value Scoring of Selected Wines – Alsace
Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Edmond Rentz (Zellenberg)
Muscat – 2013 € 7.20 $7.85 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – 2013 € 6.70 $7.30 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – ‘Les Alouettes’ 2012 – 2013 € 9.20 $10.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – ‘Les Comtes’ 2012 € 8.30 $9.05 Good Value ♫
Riesling – Schoenenbourg Grand Cru 2013 € 10.90 $11.88 Good Value ♫
Pinot Gris – 2014 € 7.50 $8.18 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – Froehn Grand Crus 2012 € 11.90 $12.97 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer- Burg, Le Bourg 2013 € 10.10 $11.01 Good Value ♫
Pinot Gris – Sélection Grainse Nobles 1998 € 49.35 $53.79 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Domaine Albert Mann (Wettolsheim)
Pinot Noir – Clos de la Faille ® 2012 € 32.00 $34.88 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Pinot Noir – Grand P ® 2012 € 43.00 $46.87 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Noir – Les Saintes Claires ® 2013 € 50.00 $54.50 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – Cuvée Albert 2014 € 19.00 $20.71 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Riesling – Schlossberg 2013 € 39.00 $42.51 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – 2014 € 13.00 $14.17 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – Furstentum 2011 € 24.00 $26.16 Good Value ♫
Riesling – Schlossberg Grand Cru L’Epicentre 2013 € 90.00 $98.10 Good Value ♫
Gustave Lorentz (Bergheim)
Cremant – D’Alsace Brut (méthode traditionelle) € 10.25 $11.17 Good Value ♫
Muscat – Cuvée Particulière 2013/2014 € 10.85 $11.83 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – Grand Cru Altenberg ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2009 € 22.75 $24.80 Good Value ♫
Pinot Noir – Elevé en Fût de Chêne 2010 € 15.60 $17.00 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer – Cuvée Particulière 2011/2012 € 13.50 $14.72 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer – Vendanges Tardives 2008 € 33.20 $36.19 Excellent Value ♫♫

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

Bordeaux is On Fire

July 21, 2015

Though not really on fire, the Bordeaux region of France is hot. Very hot. There have been successive heat waves during past weeks (the most recent saw temperatures of 41 celsius, or 106 Fahrenheit). These leave us sunburned, thirsty, and reclining on patios during windy evenings sipping glasses of wine to cool down.


Midnight cooling down at a sidewalk wine bar

One result of this blast of sunshine is that grape vines are now leafy and full. So far, the weather has been good. Throw in a few rain showers to slake thirsty vines, and 2015 could be a stellar year for wine. The heat may shorten the growing season: harvest could begin in the first, rather than the traditional third, week of September.

Irrigating grapevines here is illegal. Vines have to push lower to seek sparse moisture. This becomes difficult when soils are dry and hard, as they are now. Evening drizzles have been insufficient to keep vines happy.

Fortunately, the forecast says heavy thunder showers are on the way.

Last week I visited winemaker Thomas Marchand at Château l’Espérance in Blaye. This modern facility is located on the right bank of the Gironde River. They produce white, rosé, and red wines with phenomenal quality for the price. Below is footage I shot of the château with a Phantom 2 drone. We would have shot more, but after the drone careened off a wall and snapped a propeller, we decided to call it a day. (Thanks for letting us use your music, Nico Vlahavas.)

Forget the Critics

Our friend Julien Pouplet (featured in the Russell Crowe narrated documentary Red Obsession) now works in Blaye for a new wine store named La Cave. He has been a wine consultant in the cities of Bordeaux, Saint Emilion, and Blaye. Julien has the rare ability to sample French wine and discern the vintage and region of origin. I recently presented three ‘mystery bottles’ over the course of days and he correctly guessed the vintage and origin of a 1996 St. Julien (Medoc) Bordeaux, a 1998 Saint Emilion Bordeaux (he knew the slope it came from), and a 2014 one-hundred percent Syrah from the Rhone Valley.

In the video below Julien explains how he does it, and he shares other wisdom.

Bourg Hospitality

Last week I also visited friends at Château Mercier, which has been in the Chety family since 1698. (We took drone footage there weeks ago.)

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Inside Château Mercier

Lunch, Isabelle Chety assured me, would be usual fare. For eight people we uncorked five bottles of wine, delved into a scrumptious salad hand-picked from the garden that morning, then dined on entrecôte steak rubbed with garlic and red wine-infused salt.

Isabelle and Charlotte at Château Mercier

Isabelle and Charlotte at Château Mercier

Afterwards we sampled six types of cheese before eating three different desserts. And finally?  Coffee.


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Original 1698 document granting land title to Château Mercier

What’s Next?

The small, densely populated region of France known as the Alsace borders Germany and Switzerland. It produces delicious white wines such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. If you want to learn more (including which wines match curry dinners), tune into future posting from Vino Expressions…



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