Every two weeks I email out a notice about my wine blog – Vino Voices. This goes to a list of friends and wine lovers which grows slowly over years.
I also write short online articles for Forbes. My readership of those posts is greater than those who read this blog. Yet I decided to continue writing this independent blog – separate from Forbes.
Why? Because you followers have read me through the years. I want to provide you with fresh material that is informative and useful. Although this takes time, it’s satisfying. I appreciate your readership. Bottom line: thanks for following this blog through the years.
This week: Langhe and Napa…
Piemonte, or Piedmont in English, means “foot of the mountain” when translated from Italian. It is the second largest of 20 separate regions that make up the country of Italy. This parcel of land with close to 5 million people sits in the northwest of the country – inland from the Mediterranean and south of the Italian Alps.
The Piemonte region is further subdivided into 8 provinces. One in the southwest corner is named Cuneo. Within Cuneo is a region known as Langhe. This, translated, means “the tongue,” perhaps a reference to a spit of geological outpouring, a wash of ancient soils.
In 2014 a total of five regions, including much of the vineyards of the Langhe-Monferrato region, were designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. This increased the number of such sites within Italy to 50 – a greater number than for any other country.
The Langhe is home to famed wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape – Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as from another red grape – Barbera, and the sweet bubbling Moscato d’Asti made from the white Moscato grape.
This land bubbles with hills, each dotted with ancient castles. The region has a reputation for astounding food: hazelnuts grow close to vines, wild boars that provide cinghiale meat roam hillsides, and cheeses and breads here are outlandishly tasty.
Within the Langhe different towns sit on their own hilltops. These include locales we visited: Barolo, La Morra, and Montforte d’Alba.
Last week I visited with friends. While driving, one asked me to compare the Langhe region to the Napa wine region in California in the U.S. I am no great fan of Napa, thinking their wines generally overpriced and overoaked. However I do consider Napa an attractive location. Considering its reputation in the world, I deliberated the question and found some general comparisons.
There’s a sizable difference in size between these two regions. The Langhe includes some 3,300+ acres under vine, whereas Napa has some 45,000+ acres under vine.
Just as Napa is one American Viticultural Area (AVA) with 16 sub-AVAs, the Langhe includes its own divisions – but these are more complex, and accord to grape types produced as well as the quality of resultant wines (the governmental designation of the highest quality wines – DOCG, or Denomanazione di Controllata et Garantita – is applied generously, and deservedly, to the Langhe). Both Napa and the Langhe are vine lands interposed with what were once villages with smaller populations – Oakville and Yountville in Napa, for example, and La Morra and Barolo in the Langhe. But whereas Napa is generally a linear, broad bottomed valley accessed via two semi-parallel roads, the Langhe is topographically more complex – with multiple hills circled by swirling valleys accessed via dipping, switchbacked roads.
Villages in Napa and the Langhe were traditionally farming communities, bonded to neighbors through trade. But to protect themselves from sword wielding invaders, each castled hilltop in the Langhe retained agricultural independence in case of attack or siege.
Both locales include hot, hilly terrain influenced by cool maritime influences – the Pacific Ocean to the west of Napa, and the Mediterranean south of the Langhe. Both have soils that were once ocean floors – lifted to dry land some 150 million years ago in Napa, and 30 million years ago in the Langhe. Whereas Napa is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, the Langhe has its famed Nebbiolo grape – both of which produce tannic bold wines that command stiff prices due to limited production and cachet.
The food is legendary in both places. In Napa the tradition evolved more recently when increased wealth provided visitors who could pay steeper prices, luring in Michelin quality chefs. The Langhe has a longer and more traditional culinary history filled with natural bounty – truffles, rich cheeses, hazelnuts and soft breads beyond description.
Our time there was scant. The only tasting of Barolo we had time to enjoy was at 10.30 am. I happily obliged, as did my colleagues (except the driver) and none of us spit out what we drank. When in a gold mine, enjoy the gold, as we did by swirling and comparing the Barolos we liked best. The surprise – and it was large – was the cost, which appears to have diminished since I last visited almost a decade ago: now 21 to 35 Euros buys a bottle of extremely decent wine, a bargain from a collective group of producers based out of locales such as La Morra (which produces one third of all Barolo wines).
I first visited Barolo eight years ago and was given a vertical tasting of some amazing wines by a local winemaker. Since then I’ve had an affinity for this land. Do I have a preference between Napa and the Langhe? Good question. In order to decide, perhaps it would be best to visit both locales again to drink wines and eat local foods. Twist my arm.
Welcome to Summertime…
July 4th kicked off mid-summer in the US, while Bastille Day – July 14th – will soon do the same here in France.
First – my other wine/food blog posts for ForbesLife can be accessed by clicking here.
Second – last week I visited, with friends Les Kellen and Clarissa Schaefer, the cities of Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Monte Carlo along the French Riviera for the eye-opening art exhibit of neighbor, friend, and artist Thierry Bisch. Thierry was commissioned by Prince Albert II of Monaco to paint 20 images of endangered wildlife from throughout the world. The Prince’s Foundation invited us to Monte Carlo to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of its efforts, during which it has funded 370 projects throughout the world (including Solar Impulse and actions to help save the Mediterranean Blue Fin Tuna).
While on the riviera, friends and I tasted several wonderful Provencal rosé wines.
After returning home to Bordeaux, I compared four local rosés against those from the Côtes d’Azur. Together with wine aficionado, wine judge, restaurateur, wine store owner, vineyard proprietor and entrepreneur Les Kellen – we sat in the sun on this 4th of July Monday and uncorked lunchtime bottles before plates of smoked trout, smoked tuna, oysters from the Bay of Arachon and chunks of bread ripped apart from a baguette.
Two of the rosé wines were exclusively Malbec, and all wines included 13% alcohol.
Here’s the scoop:
2014 Château La Rose Bellevue (75% Merlot, 25% Cab Sauv, 5% Cab Franc)
This wine from 20-year-old vines provides easy summertime drinking, and has more fruit and flowers than minerals. The acidity pairs well with smoked tuna and seafood. Relax and enjoy this – poolside if possible – on a July or August afternoon, or while having pre-dinner drinks with great friends, excellent food, and casual conversation. This balanced and polished wine comes from a producer consistent with quality.
Don’t laugh, but there’s a surprising and beautiful taste of crunchy buttered toast here with a hint of citrus. The wine is zesty, tense and well crafted. It’s not as seductive or seaside mellow as a Provencal rosé because it’s fiery. Forget about lazy afternoon drinking with this puppy: pop the cork when you’re revving up for action like a power evening after Bastille Day celebrations.
This is from east of Bordeaux – in the country of Cahors with typically chalky, tannic wines. “From Cahors, but in the style of a claret,” Les said after tasting this dark pink rosé. The wine has decent, balanced acidity – just right for knocking back while eating a plate of fresh oysters. This is beefier than Bordeaux rosés, but has a smooth and longer than expected finish. Beware ladies – there’s attractive wildness to this elixir you may find compelling.
Full in the mouth, this rosé includes doses of citrus that provide balanced acidity. “In the style of Provence,” Les declared, while swirling a glass above a plate of seafood. This well-balanced beauty is also well priced. Within my Bordeaux hometown, it has become a reliable staple.
Comparing Bordeaux and Cahors rosés to those from Provence – here are conclusions:
These summer wines may lack precision and finesse of Provencal rosés: their acidity is more dominant and the fruits jumpier. But for price versus quality, the value is excellent (they also match well with seafood).
La Rose Bellevue and de la Grave are classic rosés, well-balanced with slightly tart (de la Grave has punchier fruit, while Bellevue has a cleaner taste of citrus).
Matching Provence against Bordeaux and Cahors rosés is like comparing a Vermeer painting to a Jackson Pollock, or a gothic flying buttress to a Romanesque vaulted arch, or the temperate Mediterranean climate to more moody Atlantic afternoons. The terroir – where wine reflects location – differs.
How the grapes of Provence grow and acquire eventual taste depends less on topography (mountains and valleys) than on climate – which is steadier in the Mediterranean. Similarly, grapes in flatland Bordeaux are jolted by jabs and spikes of temperature – hazy mornings followed by full throttle sunny afternoons. After tasting multiple bottles of rosé and taking a jaunt across France I learned that – regarding the fingerprint of terroir (and how these wines consequently taste) climate trumps topography.
Again, my latest posts on ForbeLife are here.
For years I’ve written a blog tangentially related to wine with ramblings, explorations, tastings, and books read. This came out occasionally at first, then every two weeks. After I created an online publishing company (Roundwood Press) and started another blog, weekly posts alternated between the two.
I wrote and photographed and never understood the magic is of attracting readers to a blog. Comments were few (thanks, however, to sister Patricia), book sales negligible, and subscriptions often just not happening.
It’s been a labor of love, though it consumes time. I read each post dozens of times to iron out the flow of words, scrutinize sentences to make sure each has its place, and check that context makes sense.
As years rolled I wondered – shall I continue? Other bloggers bragged about having 10,000 subscribers within a year. What? I’d be delighted to have a few percent of that number.
A year ago an opportunity arrived to contribute to ForbesLife – an online lifestyle publication. I said – could you wait until I return from Pakistan to earn some funds? They said – sure.
So I went.
After seven rewarding and productive months with some wonderful people in Pakistan, it was time to move on. So is the way of life. I bid farewell, returned home to France, and told Forbes – I’m in.
Here’s the deal.
I’ll continue writing Vino Voices blog posts, though they will likely be shorter, and include links to pieces on Forbes (which will relate to wine, travel, food, and lifestyle).
The benefits include access to gazillions of images and videos, enjoying increased readership, and having similar latitude to choose which posts to write – each about the same length as what I have been writing.
My latest posts published on ForbesLife (two this week and one last week) are the following. I do hope you click and check them out.
- Bordeaux Winemaker Artist Teams With Prince Of Monaco To Save Wildlife
- How To Visit A Wine Bar In Saint Émilion
- Bordeaux Wine Festival Launches Soon
An ally of my sister (who, through his popular finance blog, was able to increase traffic to my own Roundwood Press site) named Jim Collins just published his own online book titled: The Simple Path To Wealth: Your Road Map To Financial Independence And A Rich, Free Life. (Cover illustration by sister Trisha Ray.)
Check it out. The basic philosophy is: save more than you spend, invest wisely, and enjoy life. It works for him; there’s no reason why the method can’t work for you.
The longest day of the year was June 21st.
In 1982, the French Director of Music and Dance, Maurice Fleuret, wanted to get more people involved with music, so created an event in Paris called La Fête de la Musique. It has since spread to each town in France. Music is played in the evening, paid for by cities and towns, and people listen for free.
The little city of Blaye where I live has some 5,000 residents. Yet even here there were seven separate stages set up around the city where some 25 sets of musicians will play tunes while folks of all ages come outside and enjoy life.
THAT was a celebration of life, community, and art. And the wines did flow…It was a remember that life is brief, cooperation and community are paramount, and making time for gatherings is important.
La Cite du Vin is Bordeaux’s new Wine Disneyland. For the past eight years Bordeaux’s mayor (and aspiring presidential candidate) Alain Juppé has been pushing to clean up the city, improve traffic flow, and turn Bordeaux into an international destination. He is succeeding, and this new City of Wine is like a museum that’s fun – with movies, music, and interactive facilities designed to help people learn about and appreciate wine, not only in Bordeaux and France, but throughout the world.
Here are some photos. I recommend you visit this locale, and perhaps our beautiful Bordeaux city someday. The wine bar and restaurant are well worth visiting and there are beautiful views from where they are on the 7th and 8th floors.
Winemaker recipe book – the final recipes are still coming in. I’ll keep you informed.
Thanks for tuning in these past years to read. I hope you continue…
The last time I wrote about Turkey was five years ago in a piece titled Turkish Wine. Many of us were privileged guests of a high school friend – Ferit Sahenk – who hosted more than a hundred of us for an unforgettable week in Istanbul and Bodrum.
It’s time to mention Turkish wine again – as well as zesty Turkish food.
In response to my request for a recipe for the upcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion, Nurcan Bariş – of Urla Wines on the Karaburun Peninsula of Turkey – wrote the following:
Sorry for my late answer and thank you for your great offer.
I presented your email to the Vice-Chairman of the Urla Winery, Mr. Bület Akgerman, and he prepared this delicious recipe for you. He loves cooking and also is Bailliage Regional d’Izmir/Chaine des Rotisseurs.
Turns out the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is a gastronomic organization located in 80 countries, but rooted in the Middle Ages. In the year 1248, King Louis IX of France ordered professional guilds be established to train apprentices and tradesman. One guild was for ayeurs – goose roasters. This evolved to include those who prepared meats and other game. Members called themselves rôtisseurs, created a code of arms, and took savvy pride as edgy developers of kitchen arts, wielding mastery over the transformation of raw meats into stylin’ meals. This tradition lasted four centuries.
In 1793 the French Revolution brought with it the guillotine, and the end of the guild system. Yet a pair of history-loving gastronomes resurrected this in 1950. Membership of the Chaîne today involves encouraging people to love and appreciate food, wine, and the bliss of life – wherever they live. Sounds like a dinner party. That message, and the organization, have spread wings around the globe.
No wonder Turks are all over it – their cuisine developed under the varied influences of the Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and the Ottoman empire. They have to stay open-minded about cooking techniques because history constantly alters and enhances their cuisine.
I cooked this recipe days ago (along with the cheesy pastry balls shown in my last blog), then cracked open a bottle of Château Tayac Bordeaux bubbly to see how the meal fared. Not bad. The coco, lemon, and curry light up taste buds. The key to enriching flavors is to saturate all spices and stock over low heat for hours.
The next day I served it to a French woman. THAT is a rapid, surefire way to test your cooking. She ate without wincing, devoured a second helping, and only asked whatever happened to the accompanying rice – which I had forgotten to prepare. No harm. The dish was still a tasty hit. Begin cooking hours ahead of meal time, then settle down with a glass or two of wine during the two and a half hour slow cooking window frame.
From Bülent Ackgerman, Vice Chairman of Urla Winery, Izmir, Turkey
Preparation Time and Quantity –
35 minutes to prepare, 2½ hours to cook. Serves 4 people.
Ingredients and Amounts
Canned coconut milk – 14 fluid ounces (400 milliliters)
Green chilies – 5
Red chilies (dried) – 2
Cinnamon stick – ½
Fresh ginger (grated) – 2 teaspoons (3½ grams)
Garlic cloves – 2
Fresh curry leaf stalks (optional) – 4
Turmeric (ground) – 1 teaspoon (2½ grams)
Chili powder – ⅓ teaspoon (⅔ grams)
Curry powder – 1 teaspoon (2⅔ grams)
Tomatoes – 2
Fish or chicken stock – 9 fluid ounces (250 milliliters)
Snapper fillets – 1¾ pounds (800 grams)
Spring onions – 2
Juice from 2 limes
- Seed and chop green and red chilies.
- Finely chop garlic cloves.
- Seed, then finely chop tomatoes.
- Grate ginger.
- Diagonally slice green onions.
- Cube snapper fillets.
- Put coconut milk, green and red chilies, cinnamon stick, ginger, garlic, curry leaves (if using), turmeric, chili powder, curry powder, tomato chunks, onions, lime juice, and stock in a slow cooker, or heavy dish such as a Dutch oven.
- Cook on low heat in slow cooker for 2 hours, or until flavors have developed. (Or cook at 220 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) in a regular oven in a heavy dish/Dutch oven.)
- Add fish and cook for another 30 minutes, or until fish is cooked through and flakes when tested with a fork.
Serve with rice, and garnish with the remaining spring onion. For wine, try a crisp, chilled white (ideally a Turkish wine made with the grapes Narince and Emir).
I made this during a weekend in France when all stores were closed. Substitution turned pivotal. I substituted bell peppers for chili peppers, then added chili powder for spice. I used lemons instead of limes, sliced a regular onion rather than spring onions, and chopped cod instead of snapper.
It all worked. No harm being a little creative.
What’s Next –
Today we visited the sparkling new, visually impressive, La Cité de Vin (‘City of Wine’) in Bordeaux city, with its high tech sensory and visual exhibits – all intended to teach about wine. We watched some animation, drank a few glasses, and peeked at the city from the impressive restaurant on high. Wow!
Will inform you about it soon.
I recently left an overseas job early. Turns out to have been a wise choice – the situation was turning unscrupulous.
Next, I flew back to my (relatively) new home in France – and to friends – to readjust, reacquaint with honest allies, and re-plot the Trajectory of Life.
Looking out the airline window before landing near agricultural fields surrounding Bordeaux, the weather looked optimal.
Within days of landing I had the fortune to attend, for the second year, Les Printemps des Vins de Blaye – The Winemakers’ Springtime in Blaye – within the local Citadelle fortress.
For 8 Euros you get glass, map, list of booth locations of 80 winemakers, and free access to sample all the wines you like from the Côtes de Blaye – Bordeaux wine region.
A little Bubbly helped start the day…
Next – the wines.
Many of the ‘usual suspects’ were there…
In between tastes, there was ample room to step outside for fresh air and a beautiful skyline…
Below is my value wine scoring for a few selected Blaye wines – created using the Vino Value algorithm.*
The more musical notes (♫), the better the overall value.
Even if you live far away and will not purchase these wines, there are other benefits to inspecting these value scores:
- Check out the prices. This is Bordeaux. Yet many wines costs between 5 and 10 Euros ($6 and $11) per bottle. Who on earth led you to believe that most Bordeaux wines are expensive? Not true. These are some amazing values here, as there are in most wine regions on the planet, if you take time to look.
- The ‘internal engine’ of the algorithm is hidden – for each wine I provide subjective scores based on taste, then mathematically combine these with prices to generate overall value scores. Looking at these scores shows that often wine values have no necessary correlation with price. There are ample good wines out there at a reasonable cost, and many duds which are too expensive. This makes searching for good value an adventure – let your taste guide you, not the reviews of others.
- Often (not always) winemakers have three or four wines in a series, and their ‘Top Cuvée’ may cost 30 to 100 percent higher than their ‘Second Best’ (because of the added cost of purchasing new oak barrels, and the required additional storage for longer aging). Yet often the taste of the most expensive wine is only slightly better than that on the second tier. Meaning? Often purchasing a bottle ranked second best is of better value than buying number 1.
|Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Printemps des Vignerons de Blaye 2016|
|Winery||Wine||Retail Price – Euros||Retail Price – US dollars equivalent||Value Score|
|Château Siffle Merle||AOC Crémant de Bordeaux Blanc Brut||€ 9.00||$10.08||Good Value ♫|
|Vignobles Bourdillas||2009 Chateau Jussas||€ 5.50||$6.16||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Vignobles Bourdillas||2012 Chateau Jussas||€ 5.40||$6.05||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Vignobles Bourdillas||2015 La Rose des 4 Freres (Rosé)||€ 5.10||$5.71||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Les Jonqueyres||2014 if des Jonqueres (Vin Biologique)||€ 8.00||$8.96||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Vignobles Bayle-Carreau||2012 Chateau Pardaillan||€ 7.10||$7.95||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Nodot||2014 Cuvee Tradition||€ 8.50||$9.52||Good Value ♫|
|Château Nodot||2010 Cuvee Prestige||€ 11.00||$12.32||Good Value ♫|
|Château Bel-Air La Royere||2012 Grand Vin||€ 22.00||$24.64||Good Value ♫|
|Château Bellevue Gazin||2005 Les Baronnets||€ 7.50||$8.40||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Bellevue Gazin||2005 Premieres Côtes de Blaye||€ 13.00||$14.56||Good Value ♫|
|Château La Rose Bellevue||2014 Le Secret||€ 18.50||$20.72||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Les Bertrands||2010 Nectar des Bertrands||€ 16.00||$17.92||Good Value ♫|
|Château La Cassagne Boutet||2015 – Les Puts (Rosé)||€ 5.00||$5.60||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château La Cassagne Boutet||2012 – Les Angeles||€ 20.00||$22.40||Good Value ♫|
|Château Lagarde||2014 Rouge Excellence||€ 10.00||$11.20||Good Value ♫|
|Château Canteloupe||2014 Eleve en Futs de Chene||€ 8.00||$8.96||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Des Tourtes||2015 Cuvee Classique (Blanc)||€ 5.30||$5.94||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Les Margagnis||2011 Grand Vin||€ 6.50||$7.28||Good Value ♫|
|Château Les Margagnis||2012 Grand Vin||€ 6.00||$6.72||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Petit Arnauds||Grande Reserve 2012||€ 7.50||$8.40||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château L’Esperance||2015 Bordeaux (Rosé)||€ 7.00||$7.84||Good Value ♫|
|Château L’Esperance||2010 Cuvée Trois Freres||€ 15.00||$16.80||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
* For more information on this proprietary wine value scoring algorithm, click here.
Weeks after Les Printemps we attended Portes Ouvertes – Open Doors – in the neighboring wine appellation of Côtes de Bourg – during which dozens of winemakers over several square kilometers opened doors to thirsty visitors. Tasting was free. This time I simply sipped and enjoyed, rather than take notes or rank wines. The only reason I mention this is a photograph taken many years ago (see second photo, below) shows how Bourg was once differentiated as being for lovers, whereas now love is apparently out – and spiciness in the wine is in.
Ah, a region of Love –
Finally – A Recipe
More than 100 winemakers (or winery owner) from more than 17 countries contributed recipes to my forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion.
These include such classics as –
Paella-risotto-chateaubriand-lamb rump-chocolate cake-mushroom omelette-seafood extravaganzas-lasagna-pot pies-candied figs-salads-veal schnitzels-focaccia-ceviche-baked yogurt-sashimi-foie gras-wild game (kangaroo, boar, guinea fowl)-apple tart-salmon mousse-wine flavored ice cream-glazed pork belly-rib eye steaks-balsamic asparagus-fondue-Chardonnay chicken-fresh pasta.
Thanks to all of you. Your generosity and inventiveness are greatly appreciated.
Below is a recipe contribution from a winemaker and winery owner Anne-Marye Piguet-Chouet (and her grandmother Michèle). Anne-Marye and her husband run Piguet-Chouet & Leurs Fils Vignerons. This is classic recipe from Burgundy, France.
Gougères are round, cheesy, puff pastry aperitifs.
I took some photos years ago while visiting Burgundy. My friend Robin and I took a cooking class at The Cook’s Atelier in the city of Beaune, where we also made gougères.
‘Les Gougères Bourguignonnes’ – Burgundian Cheese Pastries
From Anne-Marye Piguet-Chouet (and Grandmother Michèle)
of Piguet-Chouet & Leurs Fils Vignerons,
Preparation Time and Quantity –
25 minutes to prepare, 25 minutes to cook. Serves 6 people.
Ingredients and Amounts
Water – 1 cup (250 milliliters)
Butter – ½ cup, or 4½ ounces (125 grams)
Flour – 2½ cups (250 grams)
Eggs – 5
Salt – ⅘ teaspoon (5 grams)
Comté cheese* – 1½ cups , or 5¼ ounces (150 grams)
Nutmeg, cayenne pepper, – to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 320 to 340 degrees Fahrenheit (160 to 170 degrees Celsius).
- Grate cheese.
- In a saucepan, place water, salt, spices, and butter and bring to medium heat.
- Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low.
- Add flour and stir vigorously (using a wooden spoon).
- Keep over very low heat for 4 to 5 minutes until paste dries enough so that dough no longer sticks to walls of saucepan. Do not let dough dry out completely.
- Let cool, then add eggs one by one, adding grated cheese between each egg. Stir until the mass becomes one smooth paste.
- Make dough balls with spoons (or squeeze dough through a pastry bag). Space these balls on a baking sheet. Cook in pre-heated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the dough inflates and is brown.
Above all – DO NOT OPEN oven while they are cooking!
Serve hot, preferably, with champagne or a white Burgundy wine.
Anne-Marye writes –
“Enjoy your meal! This Gougères recipe is a specialty of Burgundy.”
Weeks ago in Bordeaux city I met a friend to share wines. It’s oddly refreshing that the best wine bars in this renowned city of wine are simple restaurants that lack ornaments or distraction.
Last summer I took a road trip with Julien Pouplet to the Loire Valley. (Julien was interviewed several times in the Russell Crowe narrated documentary about French red wine – titled Red Obsession. That was when he still looked Bohemian and before his wife told him to get a haircut.)
Julien appreciates good wine, and has the rare ability to sniff out wonderful values.
This time, re-united in Bordeaux city, we first visited Le Flacon (The Vial), where the scent of fresh home cooking is strong as you enter.
The proprietors are Gilles Davasse and his wife Valerie, from Toulouse. They opened this wine bar and restaurant three years ago. The atmosphere is casual and simple, though the wine list is elaborate.
We started the evening with Loire Valley wines, then moved onto Burgundies, and finally to a Rhone Valley wine as we careened on foot to different wine bars.
We began with a Domaine de Belliviere – Les Rosiers (which was recently selected by Decanter Magazine as one of the Loire Valley’s top wines). It comes from the northern Loire, from the small appellation in Le Mans (think fast cars). This taste was a hit of fruit – apricots, tangerines, and lemon – which provided a beautiful kick-start to the evening.
We next visited the wine bar L’Univerre (The Universe) – which has a stellar reputation in the city.
“This is the best wine list in France,” Julien said.
Because the en primeur tastings were starting in Bordeaux that week, visitors were pouring in from throughout the world. “We’re lucky to get a table tonight,” he mentioned.
We started with a white Burgundy (these are all made from Chardonnay) – a 2011 Roulot Bourgogne Blanc. Because the grapes are from the famed Meursault appellation and the flavors are so intense (fresh, chewy, apples and nuts) this was actually a bargain for the quality – at 35 Euros a bottle.
Our second bottle was a red Burgundy – a 2010 Claude Dugut. Like most red Burgundies, it includes 100 percent Pinot Noir.
“This guy is a true wizard,” Julien said.
This was easy on the nose, with a complex and intense dose of a black cherries in the mouth. After one sip, Julien’s prose heated up.
“Rustic and refined at the same time. Powerful but elegant. Not made to please people. But when it pleases you – it’s a XXX definition of XXX.”
I had to edit that. It refers to a specific religion’s definition of their god. I’m not being politically correct here. Just cautious. After all, this is just a wine blog.
But the wine reminded me of a Beaujolais.
“Rounder,” said Julien. “Not as rustic as a Beaujolais.”
Our third bottle was another red Burgundy – a 2011 Nuits St. Georges. It had the peppery taste of a Chilean Carmenere wine and was a show stopping non-filtered black oasis of flavor. At only 12.5 percent alcohol, it shows that power can come without high alcohol content.
“It’s a Stradivarius,” said Julien. That was setting the bar high.
Still, I did shake my head in amazement. So amazing that I stood to wander the restaurant and insist other guests try it. Fortunately I calmed down and realized the alcohol was getting to me.
After two sips of this power – we talked about meeting up on Easter Island to share bottles of amazing Pinot Noir. We then realized it was probably good we weren’t conversing with anyone else.
Our next stop was Le Wine Bar (I do hope you don’t need a translation).
As soon as we sat, a plate of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese arrived. After that came a Chateau de Saint Cosme 2008 Gigondas AOC, from the southern Rhone Valley. South of Burgundy runs the Rhone Valley, and within the Rhone, Gigondas is an appellation that includes no white wines. The reds here are typical Rhone valley wines in that they include Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre grapes (what the Australians call a ‘GSM’ blend). Gigondas can also include 10 percent other Rhone varietals. Often these Gigondas wines are known for ‘power, not finesse.’
This was like a sexually advanced wine, a licorice all-spice wonder, an awesome combination of blackberries and cherries.
Julien’s taste lexicon now kicked into full gear, while I began praising the wine to a pair of English tourists.
“We’re back in the Middle Ages,” Julien said. “Though even so, this wine is still a bit young. This is definitely not a bottle to show to your mother-in-law.”
Like I said – power, not finesse.
After that series of taste blasts in the beautiful ‘little Paris’ of Bordeaux city, it was time to walk home. Satisfied and happy.
If you do visit the wine country of Bordeaux, remember that some of the best wine tastes are affordably priced in some excellent, non-pretentious restaurants in this city, and most everywhere is accessible on foot or via tram.
We next cross the Atlantic to the USA – to northern California’s wine country.
A friend of my sister’s, Richard Sheppard, recently sent me a book he wrote titled Impressions of Wine Country.
This is a visual feast about the wine world of northern California, particularly in the valleys of Sonoma and Napa. Richard leads the reader across the Golden Gate bridge, describing its inauguration in 1937, and enters a modern world of wineries – including that of Francis Ford Coppola, Dutcher Crossing, and Toad Hollow. Many journeys take place by bicycle, and Richard’s insight into how to extend life is fabulous.
“I subscribe to the idea that good friends, good food, and good wine have a lot to do with longevity.”
The book travels through seasons – from ‘ZinFests’ in February, to a farmers’ market in May, to tasting Chateau Montelena Chardonnay in June, to cheese tasting in July. There’s a night harvest in August and wine blending in October. Each month includes a road trip, stories, tales of wine making and tasting, and beautiful watercolors that illustrate the colorful open spaces of California’s northern wine country.
It’s a good book and guide to this wine region.
Finally, after deciding to make changes, I’ve returned to France for a few weeks. Or months. I look forward to sharing wine insight and news here, and hope you keep tuning in. It looks as though I may contribute wine writing to Forbes – and will let you know.
The Salon des Vignerons Indépendents is a three-day event held each year on the outskirts of Bordeaux city. Similar events are held in Paris and Lyon. Visiting any provides not only an education in wine, but in culture, geography, and – unexpectedly – the bonds of family.
This year it was held on the first days of this month – April. About 300 French winemakers/producers attended, each occupying a booth in the spacious Parc de Exhibitions, and each eager to sell their wares directly to consumers.
There are as many as 10,000 members of this organization in France, who use the association as a vehicle to maintain autonomy from larger cooperatives. Members have to make and bottle wine themselves from their own vineyards. The organization is based in Paris, and hosts events to draw winemakers together.
After taking a tram to the outskirts of the city, getting lost, and asking curious bikers at the Aquitaine Tattoo Festival how to correct course, I spent an afternoon at the salon, sipping wines from all over France, and speaking with congenial, inquisitive, entrepreneurial individuals.
The tastes were full and varied: a 100 percent Pinot Meunier bubbly from Champagne, samples of pure Viognier and Syrah from the Rhone Valley, smooth Burgundian Chardonnay, crisp Gewürtztraminer and Riesling from Alsace, full Vermentino from Saint Chinian in the Languedoc, round Merlot from Cadillac, and tannic Gaillac from north of Toulouse. And that was just before lunch.
The diversity of cultures, geography, cuisines, and demeanors from within the boundaries of France is eye-opening. Within this salon gathered individuals who often live only dozens of kilometers from neighboring regions where the climate, topography, lifestyle, food, and wine differ remarkably. The beauty of this event is that it highlights the lack of homogeneity, and constant surprises, related to wines produced in France.
Men, women, and children pushed trolleys filled with purchased wine down hallways, ate lunch sandwiches at their stalls (I found a plate of charcuterie, followed by espresso, at an indoor café), and by mid-afternoon the halls bustled with throngs eager for a thrilling taste, a pleasurable buzz, a decent deal.
After writing about VinExpo in Bordeaux last year, I was criticized for publishing only photos of lovely women on my blog. Where were the handsome men, one female winemaker asked me. This time I include photos of male winemakers (though the number of women winemakers I met was still large, and all were bright and impressive).
There is only so much wine that can be tasted, so I chose to wander to booths that represented vastly different types of wines. Some I would recommend include:
Domaine Rozel (Rhone Valley) – Perle de Viognier 2015 – Euros 9.5
Domaine Deleuze-Rochetin (Rhone Valley) – Saba 2014 (100 % Syrah) – Euros 6.50
Domaine de La Croix Saint Eulalie – (Saint Chinian) Cuvee Jade – Euros 16.50
Champagne Trudon – Emblématis – Brut – Euros 15.20
Domaine de Grangeneuve (Rhone Valley) – Terre d’Epices 2013 – Euros 13.50
And also –
- Domaine des Pradels-Quartironi (Saint Chinian, Languedoc) – Cuvee Haut Coup de Foudres Rouge 2013 – Euros 8.50
- Domaines Bunan (Bandol) – Château La Rouvière Rosè 2015 – Euros 17.00
- Champagne Françoise Bedel – Origin’elle (80% Pinot Meneuire) – Euros 27.00
- Chateau Saint Michel / Domaine Manigley (Burgundy) – Rully ‘La Crée’ 2014 (100% Chardonnay) – Euros 16.00
- Earl Mann (Alsace) – Vielles Vignes Riesling 2014 – Euros 14.60
One beauty of Bordeaux city is the ease (after you park your vehicle) of getting around – by foot, tram, or bus, and the variety of city niches close to each other that are still not crammed or crowded: ancient squares, awe-inspiring cathedrals, modern stores, a lengthy waterfront, parks, a zoo, and ample museums and exhibition halls. After hours at this event I hopped (stumbled?) onto a sleek tram and zoomed back to dinner in the city.
Next – onto Paris…
My trip was to the US embassy to have some papers signed. However, friends from Château La Rose Bellevue invited me to an afternoon set of wine tastings within the sumptuous 5 star Peninsula Hotel near the Arc de Triomphe. This was hosted by Nicolas Rebut of Lac Wine Consulting.
Who could refuse?
Again, more winemakers from throughout France gathered.
One wine wizard encountered was Félix Devavalaere of Burgundian Domaine des Rois Mages (‘Three Kings’). Keep an eye on this vigneron who now produces tasty, affordable, Grand Cru Burgundy whites (his mother has already established her reputation in the Burgundy region).
Other wines of mention include –
Vins de Bugey – Cerdon. Sparkling rosé from near the Jura mountains made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes.
Xavier Monnot Puligny-Montrachet from Burgundy. A serious treat.
Josmeyer Gewürtztraminer from Alsace.
Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé from Gitton (a friendly, multi-lingual father/daughter combination – Pascal and Chanel).
The Secret (100 percent Merlot) from Château La Rose Bellevue in Bordeaux. I’ve been drinking The Secret for years with pleasure.
Burgundy’s Domaine Coffinet-Duvernay 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet.
Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond Côte Rôtie, as well as 100 percent Syrah.
Domaine Gavoty – Provence rosé, including that made from 100 percent rolle (or Vermentino).
Domaine l’Amauve Côtes de Rhône.
I was invited to the winemakers’ after-event dinner party at the restaurant Neva Cuisine. Unable to locate a metro station, I spent a pleasant half hour walking through back alleys to get there. Here, wine from unconsumed bottles from the event flowed as courses were served.
Again, I expected to be dismayed by Paris during this visit – thinking it would now be too large a city to feel comfortable in after living in the countryside; thinking that the individual character of neighborhoods would have been subsumed into a more homogenous culture of shopping and convenience. But, no. Paris still beguiles, charms, and surprises. On a sunny spring afternoon when you have free time and no schedule? The possibilities are endless. This is a universe as much as a city. And when winemakers from throughout France funnel in, they expand the mindset and taste of this universe – so that it keeps looking outward, rather than in.
Once again – thanks to the tastings, vignerons of France: a la votre santé.