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Wild Cooking Realization, Great Summer Recipe, and New Book

July 7, 2015

Here’s a no-brainer no one talks about.

If you want to learn to cook, where do you go? Cooking school? Restaurants? Cookbooks? Television chefs?

Sure. But you can do better.

If you want to cook flavors with the power to ignite passions, bond friendships, swing emotions, even fire up romance – you need to find Masters of Taste.

Who are they? What people (many since the age of four years) have developed taste buds that can differentiate between multiple olfactory stimuli – taste sensations – to know what triggers delight in those who taste?

Think about it.

This is just a warm up...

This is just a warm up…

...not near main course yet...

…not near main course yet…

What people dedicate their lives to taste? I don’t mean chefs who begin cooking school at age seventeen. I don’t mean television cooks who spent their first careers as stock brokers or engineering professors. I mean people who dunk their taste buds in the lifelong pursuit – the gustatory pleasure – of differentiating between ten thousand shades of taste.

Who?

Talented wine makers.

Find an incredible wine maker, and most times you also find a cook with taste buds attuned to subtlety, complexity, creative possibilities, and the desire to please others as they eat and drink.

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Family Eymas on a sunny Sunday afternoon…

The other day, Les and Clarissa from Villa St. Simon in Blaye and I shared lunch provided by friends and proprietors of Château La Rose Bellevue – Jérôme and Valérie Eymas. We sat in the shade of a sprawling tree and drank Chablis and tucked into bowls of Valérie’s gazpacho soup. While tasting this amazing summer delight, I realized that it’s time to write another book. We did a little brainstorming for the title: The Winemaker’s Cooking Companion. 

This book will include recipes from winemakers, wine producers, and others from the world of wine.

We’ll start off with this family recipe from Valérie, taster and assistant producer of dozens of vintages. This recipe is well suited to the hot days of summer.

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Zucchini / Cucumber Gazpacho Soup

Zucchini/Cucumber Gazpacho Soup from Château La Rose Bellevue

Ingredients and Amounts…

Zucchini – 2 normal, 2 round

Table salt – 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams)

Water – 1 and 1/4 cup (300 ml)

Cucumber (large) – 1

Rocket salad leaves – 1/2 bag [3 ounces(80 grams)]

Garlic cloves – 2

Coconut milk – 1 cup (200 ml)

Fish sauce, or nuoc mam – 2 tablespoons (30 ml)

Dashi Bonite dried fish powder – 1 sachet

Lime juice – from one lime

White pepper – 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams)

Coriander leave

Recipe…

1. Peel, de-seed, and chop up four zucchini.

2. Boil them for twenty minutes in the butter and water, together with two pressed cloves of garlic and the salt.

3. Take off heat and let cool.

4. Peel, de-seed, and chop up one large cucumber. Add this to the boiled zucchini mixture.

5. Add the rocket salad leaves, coconut milk, fish sauce, Dashi powder (Valérie uses Dashino-Moto Bonito Flavored Seasoning – made by Shimaya), lime juice, and white pepper. Mix well.

6. Put in a blender. Whirl until the consistency is creamy. Add coriander leave on top for decoration (or you can replace with mint).

7. Let cool in the freezer, then serve cold.

We enjoyed a Grand cru Chablis with this, although Valérie suggests a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc would be more acidic, and better.

(My own effort with this recipe included too much garlic, so I reduced the quantity to two cloves.)

The Grand Cru Chablis with a screwcap....

The Grand Cru Chablis with a screwcap….

Bon appétit…

 

Beauty and Surprises at VinExpo 2015

June 23, 2015

My first ever visit to VinExpo (2015 in the city of Bordeaux) was an eye-opener. It was a massive yet well-organized event with easy accessibility, plenty of restaurants, and impressive information booths. Forty-five thousand visitors from 120 countries attended, as did more than 2,300 exhibitors. (Thanks Jemma Lopez and Valérie Eymas for organizing tickets).

The event includes far more than wine. Some unexpected surprises included the following.

1. Ukrainian wine made from the Albariño grape – (typical grape from the Galicia region of Spain). Crisp and delicious after 12 months in oak. Affordable? Very much. Nice job Yuri, Andriy, and Eugene from Kámyanka Global Wine.

2. Provence Rosé packaged and sold by…..Swedes (Bodvar). Delicious. Thanks for the introduction Linn.

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Linn Gustafsson of Bodvar, Sweden

3. I was reminded how good Burgundy wine is like music by the Beatles: it’s without peer, and seduces not through power or repetition but by being fresh, light, and original. Thanks Aurore (and introduction from Valérie) for sharing amazing tastes from Domaines Devillard (including Château de Chamirey, Domaine de la Ferté, and Domaine des Perdrix).

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Aurore Monot-Devillard from Bourgogne

4. French vodka. No kidding. Viche Pitia makes vodka using an 18th century Russian recipe. The option that includes caraway may have you substituting vodka for wine as an aperitif in the future. Thanks Pierre and Suzanna.

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Suzanna Aiskhanova serving up the best

5. Aerosol cocktails. Flavored with carrot, olive, beetroot, basil, thyme, and cucumber, these alcoholic spritzers (‘Garden Party’) may well liven up the New York cocktail scene. Merci Charlotte.

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Charlotte Guezenec of Distillerie G.E. Massenez

IMG_36946. Whiskies from the Isle of Man, and from Japan. Unfortunately I never returned, as promised, Julie and Lynn of Lombard Brands…my loss. I thought the Isle of Man was well-known for the Manx Mountain Marathon, not for producing whisky. But – nice job you do.

I also learned how in 1918 Matsataka Taketsuru became the first Japanese citizen to enroll at the University of Glasgow to study Scottish whisky making. A decade later, with his Scottish bride, he founded Nikka Whisky in Japan. This amazing man was well ahead of his time.

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From Scotland to Japan to France…

7. Poetry and tears from Italy. Sommelier Federica Biasi introduced us to winemakers from the Marche and Abruzzo regions of Italy. Marche is one of twenty regions that comprise Italy, located southeast of Tuscany along the Adriatic Sea. Here we also tasted wine made from two grapes – white and red – I never heard of before.

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Federica introduces us to grapes we knew nothing about

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Ulisse (left) and Andrea from Velenosi

The first wine the men from Velenosi Wines shared was made from the grape Pecorino. I had never heard of this grape, but did recall that Italians call cheese made from sheep’s milk ‘pecorino.’ Andre Bianco, export manager for Velenosi, told two stories of how this grape may have been named: either because sheep like to nibble this grape, or because small bunches resemble a sheep’s head.

Pecorino grapes produce white wines with naturally high alcohol content (14 or 14.5 percent) that have a zesty, fresh, mineral and citrus taste. To obtain the Italian DOCG classification these grapes must grow between 400 and 600 meters above sea level. This is ideal terrain not only for growing Pecorino, but as Andreas explained – it’s also ideal terrain for living – on mountain slopes that face the sea.

In addition to stories, Italy’s poetic language permeates the life of these wine producers. The motto of Velenosi is: Il vino è un’arte capace de far sognare (‘Wine is an art that makes us dream’).

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Map showing the location of the Marche region

The second grape that Andre and his co-worker Ulisse Patalocchi introduced us to was the red Lacrima. The word ‘lacrima’ means ‘tear’ in Italian. Being a good storyteller, Andrea explained how the skin of this grape is thin, and can easily break when it is mature, producing a ‘tear’ of juice. Lacrima grows in the southern region of Marche, close to the city of Ancona, and is classified in Italy as DOC.

“It is white wine masked as red,” Andrea explained. “It’s a crossover grape,” Ulisse added, “Because the wine smells white. People who love Pinot Noir usually also love Lacrima.”

The Lacrima they served was aged one year in oak barrels, with grapes late harvested to boost their concentration, thereby producing a rounder, more complex taste.

Only 150 hectares (about 370 acres) of Lacrima exist. The taste of the wine is unique enough that many well-known restaurants in northern California serve bottles of Lacrima. I also enjoyed their blend of 80 percent Lacrima and 20 percent visciole wild cherry syrup, added to produce secondary fermentation (in ancient times, sugar from wild cherries helped preserve wines). And when this liqueur is mixed with sparkling wine? Meraviglioso! (Wonderful).

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Valentina Di Camillo of Tenuta I Fauri Wines

Satisfied with tasting and stories, we moved to the nearby booth of Tenuta I Fauri. Here, a brother and sister team from the Di Camillo family produce Pecorino and Montepulciano wines within the Abruzzo region, south of Marche.

Tenuta I Fauri were among the first winemakers in the region to produce Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine without oak, to better highlight the taste of the grape. Their Pecorino is also clean and crisp and very affordable.

Again, there is Italian poetry in the way their company brochure describes daily work:

“…con un occhio sulle vasche de cimento in fermentazione e con un orecchio ai tuoni…”

(“…with an eye on the cement tanks during fermentation and with an ear to the thunder…”)

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Team of Le Cordon Bleu graduates

Pecorino and Lacrima…..two lesser known Italian wines worth seeking out. Thanks to the Italian, French, and Brazilian sommeliers Federica, Tristan, and Dg Veiga for the introduction!

 

 

 

Easy in the Loire Valley

June 9, 2015
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Julien Pouplet tastes some amazing biodynamic Clos Cristal Cabernet Franc wine

“When trustworthy people give you a tip about wine, the least you can do is give it a try.”

Julien Pouplet – wine consultant, Blaye/Bordeaux

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Evening in the city of Saumur, on the Loire River

“All the great vineyards are places in which life is pleasant, and where the art of living flourishes.”

Jean-Philippe Delmas, from “The Magic of the 45th Parallel” – by Olivier Bernard & Thierry Dussard

The Loire is the longest river in France, meandering westward more than 620 miles while draining a fifth of the nation’s land before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. I recently spent two days visiting selected vineyards in the Loire Valley with Julien Pouplet (Julien is known for rolling his eyes while being interviewed for the Russell Crowe narrated documentary – Red Obsession, about Bordeaux wines).

Highlights of this trip included tasting stunning yet affordable biodynamic wines, and learning the hard way how regional wine producers are often more focused on the quality of their product than on the details of business.

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Notice the menacing guard dog (bottom left) here at Le Rocher des Violettes

We stayed inland near the cities of Saumur, Chinon, and Tours, tasting wines from the Saumur and Touraine sub-regions of the Loire Valley, avoiding the coastal dominance of white Muscadet wine. The primary inland white grape here is Chenin Blanc, while the dominant red is Cabernet Franc. Well crafted wines here are often low in alcohol (11 to 13.5 percent) with subtleties in tastes and aromas that are unusually inspiring.

Subsoils of the Touraine include chalk limestones with flinty soils. And within the Touraine, Chinon wines – including magical bottles from such wine makers as Philippe Alliet – grow on soils produced by tuffeau. This regional chalky limestone started forming 100 million years ago (when the region lay deep under churning seas) from the dead cells of Bryozoa, minute organisms grouped in floating colonies.

While driving throughout the region you can see cliffs of tuffeau – some hollowed and transformed to dwellings (with neat window panes and doors facing the outside world), while others are cool, constant temperature, subterranean storehouses for wine.

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Biodynamically flourishing

The pace of the Loire Valley is slow, matching the almost indiscernible movement of the wide river that defines the land. Many wines here are meticulously hand-crafted by artisan farmers with sensibilities toward detail, patience, and attention to local terroir that are reminiscent of small producers in Burgundy, located further east.

Marked individuality among different vineyards is not unusual. The biodynamic Clos Cristal has three kilometers of walls with circular holes punched through them, each running parallel to vines. These were constructed in the early 1900’s. Vines growing north of these walls are trained to pass horizontally through separate holes, emerging to face south. There, fruit is exposed not only to direct sunlight, but to the warmth re-radiated from the walls. This concentrates heat, providing greater ripeness to the fruit.

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Vigneron Marc Gensollen shows Julien the walls of Clos Cristal

Making appointments with Loire Valley vignerons is not always easy, but after meeting and sampling wines (sometimes for more than an hour), we often found many vignerons reluctant to sell their sparse and treasured bottles. Many had already been promised to known buyers. At Domaine Philippe Alliet, for example, we managed (with no small amount of bargaining acumen on Julien’s part) to buy six bottles of 2013 Chenin Blanc from the mere three barrels produced that year. Personal contacts cultivated over time, of course, is key to obtaining these wines.

However, not all wine makers are difficult to reach, and many keep regular hours (Clos Cristal, for example, is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 2.00 to 6.00 pm).

As for accommodation? Rather than staying in any stately chateau, we found an AirBNB home in the town of Saumur. The back garden included a historical monument – the largest dolmen (dolmen de bagneux) in France. Constructed 5000 years ago with capstones weighing 109 tons, this was an impressive feat of pre-literate engineering. Back in those days, the locals apparently used mushrooms (evident from images thrown as shadows on dolmen walls) rather than wine, to changed their mindset.

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Ancient chateau (without wine) at Villandry

Dolmen de Bagneux in Saumur - inside which we sipped local Saumur wine

5,000 year old Dolmen de Bagneux in Saumur – inside which we sipped local Saumur wines

The value of these Loire valley wines?

In this regard there were two unexpected surprises. The first is that there is a relatively high overall value for some sparkling and biodynamic wines produced in the region. The second is that adventurous vignerons utilizing red grapes not usually used in the region may be better off concentrating on the locally favored Cabernet Franc.

Below is a scoring of several wines we sampled, made using the recently developed and proprietary Vino Value algorithm. *

Vino Value – Loire Valley – Value Scoring of Wines
Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
François Chidaine – Appellation Montlouis-sur-Mer
François Chidaine Brut Nature (sparkling) € 12.80 $14.50 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
François Chidaine Vouvray Pétillant (sparkling) 2011 € 12.80 $14.50 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
François Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles 2013 (white) € 15.50 $17.50 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Les hloisilles 2013 (white) € 17.00 $19.25 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Les Bournais 2013 (white) € 20.90 $23.67 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Choisilles 2011 (white) € 20.00 $20.65 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Montlouis Moelleux 2010 (white) € 20.90 $23.67 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Vouvray Moelleux 2010 (white) € 20.20 $22.87 Excellent Value ♫♫
François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon 2014 € 7.70 $8.72 Good Value ♫
François Chidaine Tourraine (Côt, Cabernet France, Pineau d’Aunis) 2014 € 7.70 $8.72 Good Value ♫
Clos Cristal – Champigny des Hospices de Samaur
Clos Cristal Saumur Champigny Récolte 2013 € 14.00 $15.85 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Clos Cristal Saumur Champigny Récolte 2012 € 14.00 $15.85 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Clos Cristal Saumur Champigny Boutifolle 2011 € 18.00 $20.00 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Domaine Philippe Alliet
Rosé 2014 (Cabernet Franc) € 6.00 $6.79 Excellent Value ♫♫
Cabernet Franc 2014 € 11.00 $12.46 Good Value ♫
Cabernet Franc 2013 € 15.00 $16.99 Excellent Value ♫♫
Cabernet Franc 2013 – Mid Level € 17.00 $19.25 Excellent Value ♫♫
Cabernet Franc 2013 Cuvée € 20.00 $22.65 Excellent Value ♫♫
Chenin Blanc 2013 € 15.00 $16.99 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Le Rocher des Violettes (Montlouis-sur-Loire)
Pétillant 2013 (sparkling) € 14.60 $16.53 Excellent Value ♫♫
Chardonnay 2014 € 9.30 $10.53 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Touche Mitaine 2014 € 15.10 $17.10 Excellent Value ♫♫
La Négrette 2013 (white) € 19.30 $21.86 Excellent Value ♫♫
Les Borderies 2014 (white) € 17.40 $19.70 Excellent Value ♫♫
Moellen 2014 (sweet) € 29.95 $33.92 Good Value ♫
Antoine Sanzay
Saumur Champigny ‘Les Poyeux’ 2014 (red) € 20.00 $22.65 Excellent Value ♫♫
Saumur Champigny ‘Les Poyeux’ 2013 in barrel (red) € 20.00 $22.65 Excellent Value ♫♫
Saumur Champigny 2013 (white) € 19.50 $22.08 Excellent Value ♫♫

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

Château Mercier

June 9, 2015

Below is some drone footage taken at Château Mercier, Côtes de Bourg – Bordeaux. The Chety family have run this vineyard since the late 1600s, and produce wines of excellent value.

Many of us appreciated an impromptu midnight invitation last Christmas evening to visit the Chety family’s private cellar. We sat on crates on a stone floor and sampled bottles from as far back as 1985 – listening to music provided by Nico (who also provided music for the drone footage).  Magnifique!

Merci, Château Mercier…

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Christmas Cellar Time

 

 

Open Doors in Bourg – Affordable Bordeaux

May 26, 2015

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“So what is a great wine?…I would say that it is one that has everything but nothing to excess….a great wine leaves one spellbound and dazed…”

Olivier Bernard – ‘The Magic of the 45th Parallel’

For two days in May, more than 50 winemakers threw open the doors to their châteaux in the Bourg-sur-Gironde (Bourg) region of southwest France. The Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg appellation bills itself as the ‘spicy side of Bordeaux.’ All wine tastings were free. Producers ranged from garage winemakers to established vignerons in ancient stone chateaux with designer-lit barrel rooms. The little city of Bourg (population of a few thousand) sits 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of the city of Bordeaux, before the waterfront confluence where two mighty rivers – the Dordogne and Garonne – merge to form the Gironde estuary.

[Special thanks to Nico Vlahavas for providing permission to use his music, and who reserves all rights.]

Built by Romans and later reinforced by the English, various heads of state and royals have historically visited Bourg while they moved along Bordeaux’s right bank (east of the Gironde). This is intrinsically slow and leisurely wine country, dotted with small villages wrapped by vineyards.

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Unwrapping bottled pleasure

Like the adjacent wine appellation Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux, the Côtes de Bourg wine appellation is largely unknown on the international scene (though known throughout much of France). In the 13th century Bordeaux’s left bank Médoc was a swampland, while the right bank region – including Blaye, Bourg, and St. Emillion – produced well-recognized wines. Still, this general ignorance about this region is also quite wonderful. We appreciate fewer visitors to this rich and expansive wine country; having local, well-established chateaux that lack bustle or hype is one bonus of living here.

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Voila! Porte ouvert

Here the quality for price ratio is galloping ahead. Today, 85 percent of Bourg wines are sold within France. The prices are reasonable (of dozens I tasted, the most expensive cost less than 24 Euros a bottle). Most of the 400 producers here are typically ‘mom-and-pop’ family operations with vineyards of less than 10 hectares (25 acres) in size.

Visiting any single chateau for just a tasting instead of a tour still involves getting to know the vigneron and not being in a rush. Then there is lunch. Ah, lunch. We ate outside Château Mercier on Saturday (which served wines from 23 different years, below a French sign which simply read – ‘help yourself’), and at Château Gros Moulin on Sunday. These meals included salads, entrecôte (steak), canard (duck), foie gras, and rivers of Sauvignon Blanc based white wines, rosés, and sumptuous reds (the number of hectares dedicated to white wines is less than one percent of the total Bourg vineyard area).

[Special thanks are due to Villa St. Simon and La Galerie in Blaye for organizing lunches, and for introducing me to both vigneron Thomas Marchand and musician Nico.]

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Chateaux de La Graves

A typical blend here will include 67 percent Merlot, 18 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Malbec, and 5 percent Petit Verdot. Whites typically include 41 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 23 percent Colombard, 23 percent Semillon, 8 percent Muscadelle, and 5 percent Sauvignon Gris. The reason for being called the ‘spicy side of Bordeaux’ is because the percentage of Malbec grown here exceeds that within any other Bordeaux appellation, and that percentage is growing. We also tasted some rocking 100 percent Malbec rosés in this region.

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Chateau Mercier’s wines from 23 different years – help yourself

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Balancing nature and technology

The local vignerons have ample other gatherings to attract visitors. On June 27 there is the ‘Spicy Rallye des Côtes de Bourg’ which involves signing up a car load of participants and cruising between wine châteaux on a treasure hunt of sorts. On July 14th (Bastille Day) there is also the Spicy Bike ‘N Trail event (click to watch their lively video). The value of the wine here is outstanding. Below are value scores I compiled for several Bourg wines, based on the proprietary Vino Value algorithm. *

Vino Value – Côte de Bourg – Value Scoring of Wines (all red unless noted otherwise)
Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US Dollars Equivalent Value Score
Chateau L’Hospital Eleve 2005 – AOC Cotes de Bourg € 15.00 $16.47 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Du Luc 2010 € 7.00 $7.68 Good Value ♫
Château Le Clos du Notaire 2010 € 8.50 $9.33 Good Value ♫
Château Lemoine Leudonat 2010 € 4.65 $5.10 Good Value ♫
Château la Tuiliere 2009 € 12.20 $13.39 Good Value ♫
Château Haut-Bajac 2011 Cuvée Tradition € 5.80 $6.37 Good Value ♫
Château Haut-Bajac 2012 Cuvée Prestige € 8.50 $9.33 Good Value ♫
Château de Lidonne Côtes de Bourg 2009 – Le Malbec € 10.50 $11.53 Good Value ♫
Château de Lidonne Côtes de Bourg 2010 € 7.50 $8.23 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château de Lidonne Côtes de Bourg 2009 – Le Cabernet Sauvignon € 9.50 $10.43 Good Value ♫
Château La Tertre Camillac 2012 € 6.50 $7.14 Good Value ♫
Château de la Grave Caractere 2012 € 9.50 $10.43 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de la Grave Nectar 2012 € 14.00 $15.37 Good Value ♫
Château de la Grave Caractere 2011 € 9.50 $10.43 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Mercier 2009 (unoaked) € 9.00 $9.88 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut-Guiraud 2012 € 6.90 $7.57 Good Value ♫
Château Haut-Guirard Péché du Roy 2013 € 13.40 $14.71 Good Value ♫
Château Haut-Guirard Péché du Roy 2012 € 13.40 $14.71 Good Value ♫
Château L’Esperance Côtes de Bourg 2014 (white) € 6.50 $7.14 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’Esperance Côtes de Bourg 2012 € 10.50 $11.53 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château L’Esperance Côtes de Bourg 2011 € 10.50 $11.53 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Vieux Nodeau 2014 Rosé € 5.00 $5.49 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Vieux Nodeau 2014 White (Sauvignon Gris) € 9.00 $9.88 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Vieux Nodeau 2012 Tradition € 6.00 $6.59 Good Value ♫
Château Vieux Nodeau 2012 Cuvee € 11.00 $12.08 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Gros Moulin 2012 Per Vitem ad Vitam € 14.00 $15.37 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Gros Moulin 2012 Heritage 1757 € 20.00 $21.96 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Falfas 2104 Les Demoiselles Rosé € 9.50 $10.43 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Falfas 2011 € 13.50 $14.82 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Falfas 2009 Le Chevalier € 23.50 $25.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Falfas 2010 Le Chevalier € 23.50 $25.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Tayac 2002 € 15.00 $16.47 Good Value ♫
Domaine de Cots 2009 € 14.50 $15.92 Good Value ♫
Château Relais de la Poste 2010 € 8.70 $9.55 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Croix Davids 2012 € 15.00 $16.47 Good Value ♫
Château Belair Coubet 2010 € 10.15 $11.14 Good Value ♫
Château Rousselle 2010 € 18.00 $19.76 Superlative Value ♫♫♫

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

We’re looking forward to your visit to the region sometime soon….

Coming Next: Storming the Loire Valley

Atomic Wine

May 12, 2015
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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.

“Visit?”

“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.

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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).

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]
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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.
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