Opening a Bottle Stories of Wine, Wines, Vineyards & Winemakers Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:39:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sicily: Italy’s Most Exciting Wine Region Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:39:49 +0000 Drink Them Young, Drink Them Often

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The fine wines from Sicily always seem to present something new to the palate, especially for someone like me, who finds it all too easy to settle into a comfort zone with Italian wine.

For all the excellent wines made in such regions as Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany, I’ve found new sensations to be few and far between up north. These wines do what they do (and they do it very well) but once you’ve covered the basics, finding something new and surprising can become a genuine challenge.

Pullquote "One of Europe's oldest civilizations has a lot of new thinking when it comes to wine."Sicilian wines are thrilling, and its not just me saying that. Across the wine world, people have been taking note — one of Europe’s oldest civilizations has a lot of new thinking when it comes to wine. Rather than rip out their unique, indigenous grapes in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, several winemakers have embraced them, and applied best practices for vinification — some old, some new — to dazzling results.

It takes several years, sometimes decades, to reverse the fortunes of a wine region. In the case of Sicily, I’ve personally witnessed the turnaround, even in the last 10 years.

Olive tree and vineyard, Sicily, italy.

The reputation for Sicilian wine has done a dramatic turn-around in the last decade.

In 2005, I first visited Italy and became enamored with its wines. Upon return, it didn’t take long for my curiosity at the wine shop to venture south. But 10 years ago, a vast majority of the Sicilian wines available where I live were either off balance or simply forgettable. Whether this was a deliberate attempt by winemakers to tap into the popular (but quickly waning) flavor profile of powerhouse Australian Shiraz or not, I’m not sure. The results were mixed.

But it was during this time that a few enterprising winemakers — Azienda Agricola COS, Arianna Occhipinti, and Gulfi to name just a few — were quietly redirecting the trajectory of Sicilian wine. Much of this rebirth centered on grapes that had adapted to Sicily’s unique climate and volcanic soils: Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese, Carricante and Grecanico. Largely free from bureaucratic formulas and unchallenged tradition (Sicily had essentially been a bulk-wine factory for decades) these winemakers were free to tinker with blends and experiment with techniques.

As spring has transitioned into summer, I’ve been deliberately focusing on Sicilian wines. Red or white, they match the season well, with a common thread of acidity that dares you to match unlikely food pairings on a whim. Turkey burgers? Seared tuna? Grilled shrimp? French fries? Seemingly everything I paired with these wines worked well, especially if it involved the grill. Sicilian red wines often have a sour-sweet or bitter-sweet tension that seems to perfectly play off the smoke-and-char elements of grilled foods.

Of the 10 wines I sampled over the last three months, two emerged as upper echelon: the 2014 Azienda Agricola COS Nero di Lupo (★★★★★) and the 2015 Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Rosso (★★★★★).

Azienda Agricola COS wines ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Two of the 11 wines made by Azienda Agricola COS, one of the most daring and unique winemakers in Sicily, if not all of Italy. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

I find the wines of Azienda Agricola COS to be utterly challenging. They crisscross the palate with question marks. What is this? I’ve never had anything like this before. The Nero di Lupo caresses the senses with dark and elusive aromas: blackberries or prunes? Or is that blueberries? I had recollections of wildflowers and smoke, and ultimately, gave up on trying to pin the wine down. For me, it personally killed any association between Nero d’Avola and Aussie Shiraz. Aged in concrete tanks, it races across the palate with little coarseness.

On the other end of the red-wine spectrum is Arianna Occhipinti’s gorgeous SP68 Rosso, a blend of predominantly Frappato (70%) with the remainder in Nero d’Avola. This will certainly end up on our Thanksgiving table later this year. Presenting that classic sour strawberry fruit profile from the Frappato, it quenched with a perfect amount of acidity. But there was also a depth to the wine — likely from the Nero d’Avola — that gave it a compelling complexity. The SP68 Rosso was easily the most refined of these Sicilian wines. It was like a beautiful new song that you put on repeat.

Other superb Sicilian reds worth a shout-out: the 2014 Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Ghiaia Nera” Nerello Mascalese (a complete gastronomy wine with notes recalling cedar), the 2015 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a go-to pizza wine if there ever was one) and the 2015 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria (complex yet refreshing, if a little short on the finish).

On the white and rosé end of the spectrum, surprises continued. Once again, Azienda Agricola COS proved to be a sensory rollercoaster with their bottling of Pithos Bianco. Aged in clay amphora on the skins (which technically makes it an “orange wine”), this Grecanico wine (aka Garganega) is golden in color and completely unusual if you are new to amphora-aged wines. I found it to be funky at first, but ultimately it mellowed into a subtle, shape-shifting profile that reminded me of cherries, watermelons, apricots, lemon tea, roses and wax. That’s a lot of notes, and truthfully, I’m not sure its a wine for everyone; it seemed to be lacking a little zip. But I like a head-scratcher every now and then.

Wines of Tasca d'Almerita Tascante ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

The wines from Tasca d’Almerita are less about surprise and more about cutting a classic Italian flavor profile. A highly reliable winemaker to seek out. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Perhaps a better crowd-pleaser would be the 2014 Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Buonora” Carricante, which nicely balances its acidity with a subtle fruit profile of oranges. We partnered it with bucatini and peas, but it seems more appropriate as a summer sipper in the backyard.

Those were just some of the highlights from these Sicily tastings. Check out my full reviews of all 10 wines below.

2014 Azienda Agricola COS Nero di Lupo

2014 Azienda Agricola COS Nero di Lupo ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleTerre Siciliane IGP, Italy
Grapes: Nero d’Avola (100%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: One of the best wines I have reviewed this year. Extraordinary, unique, complex and a bit elusive. Aromas recall black fruit (especially prune), blueberries, wildflowers and smoked meat, although this last note fades with a little air. Despite its dark color and deep fruit notes, the wine is surprisingly light, with hyperactive acidity which makes it a good gastronomy wine. If I had tasted it blind, I may have guessed it was a French wine due to its inherent balance of sweet and savory, with little bitterness. For a first taste, this wine was wild and compelling. Worthy of a second taste to see how it suits me.

Recommended for: Grilled meats of any kind, or roasted pork loin with lots of herbs, the latter of which was ideal for our purposes.

Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates

Find a Bottle of Azienda Agricola COS Nero di Lupo

2015 Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Rosso

2015 Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Rosso, ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleTerre Siciliane IGT, Italy
Grapes: Frappato (70%), Nero d’Avola (30%)
Alcohol: 13%
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 3/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★★

Tasting notes: One of the best wines we have sampled all year. Imagine if a Cru du Beaujolais and Barbera d’Asti got together and had a baby: it would walk and talk like this wine. Has the pure palate-pleasure and complex aromatics of the former, and the sour cherry notes and brilliant acidity of the latter. Aromas bring to mind sour cherry, ripe strawberry, vanilla bean and leather. The most refined of the Sicilian wines listed here, with zero palate fatigue and a finish that only lasts as long as you can resist another sip.

Recommended for: One of those wines that can get dressed up for a special occasion, or don flip-flops and party on the patio. Highly versatile. As for food pairings, we lucked out and pairing it with a saffron-infused tomato risotto from Blue Apron. Would have been even better with grilled shrimp.

Importer: Louis Dressner Imports

Find a Bottle of Occhipinti SP68 Rosso

2014 Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Ghiaia Nera” Nerello Mascalese

2014 Tascante Ghiaia Nera Nerello MascaleseSicilia DOC, Italy
Grapes: Nerello Mascalese (100%)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 3/4
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: The hallmark of a great “gastronomy wine” is not only its ability to improve with food, but its ability to improve the food as well. Such was the case with this Nerello Mascalese from Tascante. On its own, the wine conveyed aromas of bitter strawberry and cedar, with a palate that was sharp yet supple. What made it memorable was how sweet it became on the palate when paired with chicken meatballs in a Sicilian-style tomato sauce. True to Italian form, it was designed to complement the table rather than shine on its own.

Recommended for: Tangy sauces where sweet vegetables can bring out the wine’s natural acidity and transform the experience into something special. (Translation: spaghetti marinara).

Importer: Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Find a bottle of Tascante “Ghiaia Nera” Nerello Mascalese

2015 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria

2015 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleCerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Italy
Grapes: Nero d’Avola (60%), Frappato (40%)
Alcohol: 13%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★

Tasting notes: An emblematic bottling of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, with aromas bringing to mind sour cherry, an earthy quality like button mushrooms and a little vanilla on the edges. Peppery on the palate, with superb acidity, very light tannin and a silky texture. Even better with a slight chill, making it a great summer wine. Has a long finish that conveys the sour cherry note strongly.

Recommended for: Enhance the mushroom note with a fungi-bell-pepper-sausage pizza, pair it with lasagna, or uncork it to go with grilled shrimp and saffron rice.

Importer: Palm Bay International

Find a Bottle of Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria

2015 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria

2015 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleCerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Italy
Grapes: Nero d’Avola (50%), Frappato (50%)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/4
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: In my notes for this wine, I wrote: “Ahhh, this is so good.” A very pretty, easy-drinking wine where Nero d’Avola’s darkness and Frappato’s lightness walk a tightrope together (although it would seem that Nero d’Avola is more noticeable).

Either way, nicely balanced. Aromas recall violets, medium-ripe cherries, raspberry, vanilla and oak. Moderate acidity, low tannin and a subtle finish. I would recommend drinking this wine young and with a very slight chill.

Importer: Selected Estates of Europe

Recommended for: Seems to have the right complexion for tuna steak.

Find a Bottle of Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria

2015 Marchesi de Gregorio “Polpo Rosso”

2015 Marchesi de Gregorio "Polpo Rosso"Terre Siciliane IGP, Italy
Grapes: Nerello Mascalese (100%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★ 3/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★ 3/4

Tasting notes: In all fairness, this wine might have reviewed a little better if I hadn’t opened it the night after we sampled the SP68 Rosso, which is simply a stellar wine. And it probably would have reviewed a little higher if it presented better on the second night. Aromas bring to mind sour strawberry and a little bit of musk. Has enough acidity to be food friendly, but the fruit wears a little thin after the wine has breathed for an hour. But a decently priced wine, and if you are looking for a wine to take down with a few friends (and little thought), it’ll pleasantly surprise.

Recommended for: Fried tapas such as croquettes, simosas or artichokes; strikes me as a versatile party wine for glug-glug-glugging.

Importer: Indie Wineries

Find a Bottle of Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Bianco

2014 Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Bianco

Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Bianco ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleTerre Siciliane IGP, Italy
Grapes: Grecanico (100%)
Alcohol: 11.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★

Tasting notes: Well, this is a controversial wine. At first, I thought something was wrong with it: the color was so amber, I wondered if it had oxidized (it is just a skin-fermented white wine, aka an “orange wine”). Then, with the first impression, the aromas were so startling, my senses felt scrambled. But upon a second sip, what emerged was utterly beautiful. Damn, I thought. Aromas brought to mind medium-ripe cherry, watermelon, roses and a faint bit of wax. But then on the palate, it shifted gears into apricots, lemon tea and rosehips, with that watermelon note returning on the finish. Most unusual.

Recommended for: Delicious with turkey burgers, roasted potatoes with a curry aioli, or better yet, serve it with dessert and see what happens.

Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates

Find a Bottle of Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Bianco

2014 Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Buonora” Carricante

2014 Tasca d'Almerita Tascante "Buonora" CarricanteSicilia DOC, Italy
Grapes: Carricante (100%)
Alcohol:  12%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/4
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: At first blush, this Carricante seemed tame by Sicilian standards. But after a few sips, I came to realize that it was hitting all the right buttons — and working overtime on quenching the palate with its refreshing acidity. Very light in color. Aromas bring to mind orange peel, almonds and acacia flowers. Sprightly and evenly balanced, this wine represents a solid value for the price.

Recommended for: We partnered this wine with a simple pasta dish of bucatini, peas, prosciutto and herbs, but it would probably fair even better with grilled swordfish or salmon.

Importer: Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Find a bottle of Tascante “Buonora” Carricante

2015 Gulfi Rosà

2015 Gulfi Rosà wine ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleSicilia Rosato DOC, Italy
Grapes: Nero d’Avola (100%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: An excellent rosé, especially because it rides the balance between being complex (if you want) and easy to drink (if that’s all you are after).

Striking raspberry color. Aromas are lightly lemony, and not all that surprising, but on the palate, it really shines with complex fruit — tart top notes of blood orange and grapefruit, bass notes of peach. There are also hints of cinnamon and baking spice in the depths. Pleasant finish.

Recommended for: Given its playfulness and versatility, I’d recommend this wine with tapas. We enjoyed it over a light lunch of tapenade and crackers, and smoked salmon belly.

Importer: Selected Estates of Europe

Find a Bottle of Gulfi Rosà

2015 Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Mozia” Grillo

2015 Tasca d'Almerita Tascante "Mozia" GrilloSicilia, Italy
Grapes: Grillo (100%)
Alcohol: 14%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/4
• Value: ★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: This wine has a pale pewter color, and the aromas suggest a mixture of apples, limes and crabapple blossoms. Light and refreshing, but not overly tart. Pleasant on the palate, but left me searching for a little more to distinguish it.

The name “Mozia” comes from the tiny island near Marsala where the grapes are grown. It’s surrounded by salt flats, and has a unique terroir even by Sicilian standards. Check out this video to see an aerial tour of the island.

Recommended for: Spinach-ricotta stromboli or better yet, a hot batch of calamari. One of those wines that screams for salty flavors.

Importer: Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Find a Bottle of Tasca d’Almerita Tascante “Mozia” Grillo


Note: A few of the wines featured in this story were provided as samples by their importer (Tasca d’Almerita Tascante and Planeta). Learn more about our editorial policy.


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This Chardonnay is All I Need This Summer Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:13:33 +0000 200 Words (Or So) on a Wine I Can't Stop Thinking About

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But I must warn you, it goes by a ridiculously long name: 2014 Clos Du Moulin Aux Moines Auxey-Duressess “Moulin aux Moines” Blanc.

It hardly rolls off the tongue (unless you are French), and the repetition might seem particularly puzzling. Clos du Moulin Aux Moines is the name of the winery (or domaine, in this case). Auxey-Duresses is the village where this wine comes from (located in the Côte de Beaune, right next to Meursault). “Moulin aux Moines” (again?) is the estate vineyard where the grapes come from, and oh yeah, Blanc means its white. This is not to be confused with the 2014 Clos Du Moulin Aux Moines Auxey-Duressess “Moulin aux Moines” Rouge. That’s a Pinot Noir.

Goddamn. Burgundy is exhausting.

This was another wine that Annette Scratch-to-Table introduced to me (the one we had before the Cab Franc I wrote about last week). It was about as crystalline as an oaky Chardonnay can be, with none of that stick-to-the-sides-of-your-mouth, Velcro-like action we are sadly accustom to in this country. It comes from a monopole vineyard that borders the exalted appellation of Meursault, and as a result, it shares some of the same soil traits.

Yet it costs one-fourth the price of Meursault. Get some.

2014 Clos du Moulin Aux Moines Auxey-Duresses “Moulin aux Moines” Blanc

2014 Clos du Moulin Aux Moines Auxey-Duresses "Moulin aux Moines" BlancAuxey-Duresses AOC, France
Grape: Chardonnay (100%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings:  ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Aromas & Structure: ★★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★ 3/4

Tasting notes: Presenting gorgeous aromas that will bring to mind apples, honeysuckle and lemon zest, this elegant and even-handed Chardonnay is a great introduction to the wonderful (and often out-of-reach) world of white Burgundy. On the palate, there was none of the coarseness so many often associate with Chardonnay, and I even detected a bit of greenness, as though the fruit was just barely ripe. Low alcohol and plenty of acidity to make it versatile with a variety of dishes. Supple and very clean finish.

Recommended for: Spring vegetables, gnocchi, and roasted chicken come to mind. But best of all is the indulgent, this-should-not-work-but-it-totally-does pairing of white Burgundy and greasy French fries.

Find a Bottle of Clos du Moulin Aux Moines Auxey-Duresses “Moulin aux Moines” Blanc

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The Secrets of Blending Wine Thu, 15 Jun 2017 22:11:56 +0000 An Interview with Robbie Meyer of Murrieta's Well

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Open a bottle of Napa Cabernet and consider yourself lucky: you can sniff, sip and savor that wine without biting your fingernails on whether 5% Cabernet Franc should have been 7%.

But I can assure you, the vintner who made that wine did.

Over the last year, I’ve visited several wineries where blending grapes is essential, and at each one of them, a large portion of our conversation has focused on how they fine-tune these carefully crafted recipes. But it wasn’t until this April — when I was given the chance to experiment with blending at Chêne Bleu in the South of France — that I realized how extraordinarily difficult wine blending can be. It’s a far cry from whipping together a marinade for tonight’s dinner.

At Chêne Bleu, we were tinkering with Grenache, Syrah and Viognier. It didn’t go well. If the wine had too little Viognier, its presence was obsolete; too much and the aromas went askew. Despite really good juice, most of our blends tasted merely like anonymous Grenache. It was as though at certain percentages, the intriguing notes of each grape simply cancelled each other out. I was at a loss to explain why.

Perhaps that is why so much of my conversation this past weekend with winemaker Robbie Meyer of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard had to do with blending. He was making a stop in Denver to promote his wines, and I was granted a one-on-one interview. On hand were three of his wines. All of them were blends, but none of them were typical.

And so I wanted to know his secrets.

Secret #1: It Starts with Terroir

Winemaker Robbie Meyer of Murrieta's Well. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Winemaker Robbie Meyer of Murrieta’s Well. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Murrieta’s Well is located in the Livermore Valley, an area that is often overlooked because of the Goliath reputations of Napa, Sonoma, Monterrey and Santa Barbara. Those area’s have their signature grapes, but the Livermore Valley hasn’t really established a core grape to hang its hat on. At least not yet.

But this lack of a spotlight affords winemakers plenty of leeway to experiment with blending. Without having to meet the thirsty demands for Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, they can simply do what feels right.

“Because of our more moderate conditions in the Livermore Valley, we have a lot more diversity in the wines we can produce,” Robbie told me. “Especially at our property.”

One of those diverse grapes is Counoise, a red grape from the Rhône Valley. Because of its lack of color, Counoise hardly ever stands alone as a varietal wine. But for blending? Robbie finds it to be a magnificent ingredient, especially in his dry rosé (★★★★ 1/2).

“When I wanted to make a rosé, I was drawn to the Counoise and Grenache. The Counoise provides a beautiful layer of acidity, which I feel is necessary. I wanted to make this as food-friendly as possible.”

It was hot, and we’d just come inside from a 105-degree rooftop party where people were celebrating #NationalRoséDay (a PR stunt that gets writers like me out of our homes). The aromatics on the 2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé are big, presenting swaths of orange peel and roses, with a faint, candy-like edge that was quite appealing. The acidity was razor-sharp, too, clearing the palate easily and inviting a second sip. It’s the kind of wine with two faces: easy and refreshing when that’s all you need; complex and mysterious if you pay attention to it.

Secret #2: You Have to Know What You Are After

Blending of the rosé is fairly straightforward — roughly half and half with some variability from vintage to vintage.

“It’s got to be aromatically beautiful, it’s got to deliver on the palate, 
and its got to be a food wine.” –Robbie Meyer Winemaker at Murrieta’s Well
on his stylistic aims for blendingBut on the 2015 Murrieta’s Well “The Whip” White Wine Blend (★★★★ 1/2) lining up the right components gets more complicated.

“When I’m blending I want to achieve three things,” he told me. “It’s got to be aromatically beautiful, it’s got to deliver on the palate, and its got to be a food wine.”

To achieve that, he’s found the best approach lies in farming each vine as if he’s going to make separate varietal wines. Once harvested, he does just that — making independent varietal wines of Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli and Orange Muscat. This presents an added layer of work for the vintner, as some of these wines will ferment in stainless steel, some will go into new oak, and some will go into neutral oak. Whatever he feels will serve the individual, varietal wine best, he goes for it.

Then, with these finished ingredients, he begins blending, starting with the palate profile he wants best. In the case of “The Whip,” that means starting with Chardonnay and Semillon, which give the wine a roundness and suppleness that he wants. Next, he blends in Sauvignon Blanc because of its acidity, which will bolster the wine’s versatility in food pairings. Finally, small quantities of Viognier and Muscat Canelli contribute an aromatic profile that he finds unique.

“When I put it together, I write things down, but I don’t come at it with percentages already in mind,” Robbie said. “Like (last) year, I didn’t use any Orange Muscat — which I love — because I just didn’t need it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Whip.” It was stunning to see how much the Viognier — which comprises only 7% of the vintage — contributed to the aromas. It’s common notes of pineapple and herbs were significant, as were the grassy notes of Sauvignon Blanc. But it was the slippery yet delicate texture that made me return to it for more.

Secret #3: Vintage Variation is Essential

Finally, I got to sample his Bordeaux blend, the 2013 Murrieta’s Well “The Spur” Red Wine Blend (★★★★ 1/4). Make no mistake, this red wine was all California on the nose, with the plush waves of cherry, vanilla, cola and slate that you often get with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If anything, the aromas seemed more pronounced than most other Bordeaux blends. Yet, for 2013, the leading actor for “The Spur” was Petite Sirah. And that has everything to do with vintage.

“In 2013, the traditional Bordeaux varietals [Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc] were aggressive and grippy on the palate,” Robbie told me. “That’s fine, if you like aggressive and grippy wine, but here, I wanted to have an approachable feel, so that Petite Sirah really helped broaden the palate.”

The estate vineyard at Murrieta's Well in Livermore, California. ©Murrieta's Well / All rights reserved

The estate vineyard at Murrieta’s Well in Livermore, California. ©Murrieta’s Well / All rights reserved

The following year, when conditions were a little more mild, Robbie returned to a formula of having a plurality of Cabernet Sauvignon. So while every year is a different concoction, the house style he aims for is the same.

Interestingly enough, the varietal 2014 Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Franc — which I tried after our tasting — was significantly different. Still intensely aromatic like all of the estate’s wines, the Cabernet Franc’s body was texturally thick; the alcohol more pronounced.

In the end, I find the blends from Murrieta’s Well to be the most intriguing. And while Robbie will continue to aim for wines that are aromatic, palate-pleasing and food-friendly, it will be exciting to see how each wine’s complexion changes from year to year.

But the odds of me going into winemaking? Let’s just say I’ll stick to marinades.


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Good Living with a California Cabernet Franc Wed, 07 Jun 2017 22:34:50 +0000 225 Words (Or So) On a Wine I Nearly Guzzled

The post Good Living with a California Cabernet Franc appeared first on Opening a Bottle.

Like Barbera, Cabernet Franc is more of a mood than a grape for me. If I want Cabernet Franc, we’re having Cabernet Franc — food pairings be damned.

Such was the case a few weeks back. We were dining out with close friends at our favorite local restaurant, Annette Scratch-to-Table. Annette has a killer, focused wine list and the shared plates format that is ideal for a table of four.

As our group ordered dishes that screamed for white wine, I kept zeroing in on a Cabernet Franc from the Central Coast of California. Ultimately, we ordered a white Burgundy, but as that bottle started to “evaporate,” I convinced my friends we needed to order a plate of the beef tongue so we could justify the Cabernet Franc. This is how restaurant bills quickly exceed $200.

The Cabernet Franc was delicious. Made by winemaker Ian Brand of Le P’tit Paysan and La Marea, the wine hails from a remote vineyard near the town of Paicines east of Monterrey. Brand likes to work with vineyards that are heavily influenced by the cool air of the coast, and while this vineyard is a ways inland, it still gets bathed by oceanic influence. The result is a red wine with beautiful aromatic details, and a hint of California plushness on the texture. Mood: satisfied.

2014 I. Brand & Family Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc

I. Brand & Family Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottlePaicines, California
Grapes: Cabernet Franc (100%)
Alcohol: 13.7%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/4
• Value: ★★★★ 3/4

Tasting notes: Here’s a beautiful, brawny, athletic wine that neatly balances dark fruit with aromas of nature. It is the kind of wine you want to enjoy outside surrounded by fresh air — you want to give it justice. Aromas brought to mind currant, raspberry, violets and anise seed. Indicative of a California Cabernet Franc in that its body was robust, but struck me as more gastronomical than most, with a sleek trace of acidity. Oh, and did I describe the nose? Yes, it’s a bouquet you will return to over and over until the bottle is drained. Fat, satisfying finish.

Recommended for: The great outdoors, backyard living, and beef tongue on toast with a side of leek gratin. (Is that specific enough?)

Note: I’m still trying to hunt down a link for this wine so you can buy it online. This link is the best I can do at the moment. I’ll update this post if they send one to me.


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The Wild Beauty of Chêne Bleu Wines Fri, 02 Jun 2017 17:52:13 +0000 Looking for Originality in the South of France

The post The Wild Beauty of Chêne Bleu Wines appeared first on Opening a Bottle.

Squinting into the distance with Grenache vines surrounding me, it appeared that Mont Ventoux — the so-called “Giant of Provence” — was still draped in a thin veil of snow, even in early April. To my right, the Dentelles de Montmirail grinned against a cobalt sky. Bird song filled the air.

It is rare to find such complete natural beauty on display in Europe. You might witness a dramatic mountain, a broad river, or an idyllic forest, but the presence of humankind is always there, tipping the scales toward civilization: a cable car, a barge, a castle.

At Chêne Bleu — a remote winery in the South of France — you are enveloped with nature. It’s not wilderness, but it feels pretty close to Eden.

These vineyards have a terroir unlike any other in France. First of all, they are situated at a climatic crossroads where high-altitude mountain air pierces the warmth of southern France. Underneath the vines lies a complex soil structure, the result of the African tectonic plate heaving against the southern edge of the European plate. The Dentelles de Montmirail are the visual evidence of this phenomenon, looking lik a stony bookshelf above the forest.

Dawn at Chêne Bleu and La Verrière with the northern slope of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the distance. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Dawn at Chêne Bleu and La Verrière with the northern slope of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the distance. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

I was here to make sense of this unique place and its wines. Later in the day, Nicole Rolet — the locomotive engine who drives the estate’s ambitions — would encourage me to take soil samples from their vineyards and test the pH level. She would offer a blending seminar so I could see how Grenache, Syrah and Viognier play together. And along with her winemaker — Jean-Louis Gallucci — she would give me a tour of their gravity-flow winery. And we would sustain ourselves on fresh produce from the estate’s potager garden.

But for the moment, I was doing more important work. I was drinking in the scenery, inhaling the smells of spring, and focusing on the symphony of bird song. From that moment forward, any wine from Chêne Bleu would conjure visions from this peaceful morning.

Impartiality may have been hopelessly lost.

Wine Without Limitations

The small farm where the Chêne Bleu team grows an assortment of produce for the estate's kitchen. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Chêne Bleu’s potager, a garden where the team grows an assortment of produce for the estate’s kitchen. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

I was fumbling for context from the very start. Where are we? Is this technically the Southern Rhône or Provence? (it’s a bit of both). Is your Grenache blend your flagship wine, or your Syrah blend? (They both are). Are you a winery with a luxury inn attached, or a luxury inn with a winery attached? (The former). Can we have something light for dinner? I just got here from Burgundy. (Of course).

But perhaps the most pressing editorial question was about identity. Despite straddling the appellation boundaries of Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Ventoux, Séguret and Gigondas, Chêne Bleu had opted out of all of them. Were they aiming to make wine by their own rules because of creative freedom, or because Chêne Bleu’s terroir demanded it?

“It’s about originality instead of typicity.” –Nicole Rolet “Because of our elevation, we have wild mountain fruit,” Nicole told me over dinner the first night. “It’s not Gigondas, or Côtes du Rhône — instead, it’s about originality instead of typicity.”

Neighboring wine estates were largely downhill and separated by quite some distance, so the property’s remoteness certainly suggested an individual terroir drove their decision. Why force the wine into a box where it didn’t belong?

But there was also a bit of swagger in her tone. She truly felt that they could make a better wine by ignoring the guidelines. “We feel that appellation doesn’t determine good from bad,” she continued. “It is merely about standardizing style.”

Nicole Rolet, the Principal of Chêne Bleu, and a lone olive tree in the Grenache vineyard. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Nicole Rolet, the Principal of Chêne Bleu, and a lone olive tree in the Grenache vineyard. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

The reds would wait until the second day. It was late, I’d come a long way from Beaujolais, and that light dinner I requested was a better match for their Viognier, which they gladly poured. Highly aromatic like all Viognier are, Chêne Bleu’s version plays a little sleight-of-hand trick with its texture. Upfront on the palate, I could have sworn it was viscous and almost sticky, but the finish was so clear and clean, it was actually quite the opposite: dangerously refreshing.

And it begged yet another question: what about your white wines?

Fossils in the Vineyard

A glass of Aliot in the vineyard of its origin. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

A glass of Aliot in the vineyard of its origin. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Wine always tastes better when you are sipping it in the vineyard of its origin. I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that the fresh air, the scenery and the context of the wine’s story all contribute to an enormous bias in the wine’s favor.

Try as I might to be objective, I couldn’t help but write ★★★★★ in my notebook when Nicole presented us with a glass of Chêne Bleu’s Aliot the next morning. We were standing above a broad slope of arid land that was striated with Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne vines of varying age. A little bit of each grape went into the bottle, with Roussanne accounting for the majority.

For me, every button of sensory pleasure that a white wine can push, was pushed with this wine. It was intensely aromatic, but it a way that spoke to the surrounding nature: it recalled oranges, honey and tarragon. It had a changing character as it moved from front to back, with a smooth textural feel that made it glide across the palate. I won’t lie: despite the early hour, it gave me visions of roasted chicken.

So much of the conversation surrounding Southern Rhône wines swirls around the reds, yet I find that my palate is more intrigued with the whites.

A trench upslope from the blocks of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne revealed several rocks with obvious fossils. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

A trench upslope from the blocks of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne revealed several rocks with obvious fossils. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

When someone says they prefer red wines to white wines (a simplistic notion that, yes, even I still sometimes say), I think what they are really saying is “I prefer wines that feel complete.” Unfortunately, so many of the world’s white wines are missing that extra something to make them memorable. You sip it, you enjoy it, but you’ll never be able to remember why it was any different than thousands of other white wines.

Southern Rhône whites — typically a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and/or Clairette in varying percentages — have a roundness and complexity that scream for attention. Their beauty lies not only in their deep orange-fruit flavors, but a crystalline finish that makes them an easy match with a variety of foods.

And yet, only six percent of wine production in the Southern Rhône region is devoted to these white wines. A month after my visit, I still feel that Chêne Bleu’s best wines are their two whites.

Nicole talked extensively about the soil in the vineyard — how, in her opinion, the wines reflected a “mineral cocktail” from the various levels on history in the soil. Just upslope from the blocks of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, there was a break in the hillside. Encouraged by news of fossils, a few of us hunted around, and sure enough, we soon found a near-perfect imprint of a prehistoric mussel. An adjacent rock formed the other part of the puzzle.


“Can I take this home to my kids?” I asked Nicole.

“Of course.”

It is romantic to think that prehistoric seashells in the soil can lend a briny quality to wine (as it is so often said about Chablis). Whether that’s true or not, it probably doesn’t matter. But what I found myself embracing was the role these fossils played in the soil’s narrative. It’s complexity was undeniable, as was the slippery quality of Aliot and the sleight-of-hand from the Viognier.

It wasn’t just the mountain air; something special was going on.

A Rare Harmony with Nature

Over the course of my two-day visit, anything involving wine, food or accommodation seemed possible, yet there was no mistaking how much hard work went into making it possible.

The story of Chêne Bleu begins with Xavier Rolet, a Frenchman who has made a big mark in the world of finance (he is currently the CEO of the London Stock Exchange). In 1993, he came upon a run-down estate in the South of France. The property was so dilapidated and overgrown, that no one had expressed interest in it for 20 years. His first offer was accepted, and he went to work.

The lounge area inside La Verrière. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

The lounge area inside La Verrière. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

“Fixer upper” would be a drastic understatement. The priory was largely in ruins (and filthy, too, with years of sheep manure burying much of the floor). The vineyard had become feral, but he was encouraged by what locals had said — those old vines used to make really nice wine. It would take a decade for the estate to be fully rehabilitated.

“My husband bought this property before we met, actually,” Nicole said at dinner on the first night. Then she chuckled. “I would have talked him out of it.”

The main farmhouse — which they call La Verrière — now offers lavish accommodations, an intimate dining area (served by a full kitchen staff) and a beautiful plunge pool. The impressive gravity-flow winery on the hill behind the farmhouse is sparkling clean and modern. Down the hill and surrounded by vines, one finds an immaculately garden. It is clear to any visitor that none of this would be possible without a great deal of financial resources and even more sweat equity.

Much of what Chêne Bleu has become stems from Nicole’s tireless work. She, too, was in finance, but in 1994 — shortly before marrying Xavier — she took a year off to study winemaking. That hiatus turned into a new career. As I toured the property with her, it quickly became apparent that she drives the estate’s ambition. One moment, there is talk of her Extreme Wine Course, which gives wine professionals a five-day intensive crash course on all-things winemaking. The next moment, she is speaking of symposiums they have hosted at the estate, like the one they devoted to Grenache. To make sure Chêne Bleu gets the most from its terroir, she has brought in two of the world’s most esteemed eonologists as consultants — Zelma Long and Philippe Cambie.

Sunset at Chêne Bleu, with La Verrière in the distance. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

But if one thing surpasses her ambition, it would be her intellectual curiosity with nature. The estate is biodynamic, but beyond that, Nicole seems to find genuine thrills in enabling nature to police the estate. Just downslope from the garden, she shows me where they have utilized the natural drainage of the vineyards to create a mud wallow for the forest’s resident boar population. “It keeps them out of the vines,” she noted.

They have also created an apiary, which Xavier maintains when he retreats to the estate from London. The propolis made by the bees is frequently harvested and sprayed on certain vineyard blocks as a natural protectant against bacteria and viruses.

Of course, nature sometimes throws a few curveballs, like when they quickly discovered that using native yeast from the property wasn’t going to work as a fermentation solution. “The high altitude makes the yeast lazy. It didn’t produce the desired result, so instead we use select natural yeast from the Rhône Valley.”

A family affair: Winemaker Jean-Louis Gallucci and his wife, vineyard manager Bénédicte Gallucci. Bénédicte's brother is estate founder Xavier Rolet. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

A family affair: Winemaker Jean-Louis Gallucci and his wife, vineyard manager Bénédicte Gallucci. Bénédicte’s brother is estate founder Xavier Rolet. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Still, the commitment to letting nature lead the way is tangible when you are among the vines. As their guest, I took full advantage of wandering the rows just so I could photograph the bud break, smell the aromas of grass, and watch for birds.

As the early spring sun was beginning to set, I ran into winemaker Jean-Louis Gallucci by the front door. For Jean-Louis, it must have been just another busy day: juggle a group of writers, collaborate with Zelma Long, barrel-taste the latest vintage. And yet, when I came upon him, it seemed like he was simply making time to enjoy the serenity of evening.

I told him how enamored I was with Chêne Bleu’s natural beauty.

“You should return in a month,” he told me. “In May, we get so many butterflies. Every color imaginable. It is my favorite time of year.”

Tasting Notes and Impressions

Three of the wines from Chêne Bleu. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Three of the wines from Chêne Bleu. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

2007 Chêne Bleu “Héloïse”

Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Viognier
Alcohol: 15%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)

Impressions: From the start, Chêne Bleu has named its signature red wines after the famous couple from the Middle Ages, often referred to as “France’s Romeo and Juliet.” But its overly simplistic to call Héloïse (the one that is a majority Syrah) the more feminine of the two. Of the three different vintages of Héloïse that we sampled, I liked the 2007 best. While the tannins certainly persist after 10 years of aging, they are wonderfully polished, creating a smooth texture that allows the wine’s majority Syrah to shine through with notes of dark plums, blackberry and walnuts.

2007 Chêne Bleu “Abélard”

Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Viognier
Alcohol: 15%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)

Impressions: A counterpart to Héloïse, Abélard is Grenache-centric, and in each of the three vintages we sampled, it packs a wallop. Like the 2007 Héloïse, I liked the 2007 Abélard best as well — perhaps not because of the vintage, but rather because 10 years feels like the optimal maturity of this wine. Aromas reminded me of raspberries, rocky ground after a rainstorm, and even a bit of licorice. Densely concentrated, this wine stands up best on its own.

2013 Chêne Bleu “Aliot”

Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France
Grapes: Roussanne (65%), Grenache Blanc (30%), Marsanne (5%), Viognier (2%)
Alcohol: 14%
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of five)

Impressions: My favorite wine from Chêne Bleu. A beautiful, natural expression of the Southern Rhône with aromas triggering thoughts of oranges, honey and tarragon. Like a prima ballerina on the palate, gliding from front to back smoothly and effortlessly. A remarkable finish. Top notch.

2015 Chêne Bleu “Viognier”

IGP Vaucluse, France
Grapes: Viognier (100%)
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)

Impressions: Viognier is black and white for my palate: it is either stunning, or cloying. It’s rarely anything in between. This one is a stunner. What I found remarkable about it was its shape-shifting. I had the pleasure of a glass on the first night, and another on the second day, and while it was clearly the same wine, each glass spoke to me differently. Aromas brought to mind lemon drop-candy, pineapple, sesame seed and herbs. Plays a few sleight-of-hand tricks with texture. I found that the longer I let it sit on the palate, the better it got. An intense wine.

2016 Chêne Bleu “Le Rosé”

IGP Vaucluse, France
Grapes: Grenache (65%), Syrah (30%), Cinsault (5%)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)

Impressions: A classic Provençal rosé, with a touch of wildness to it. A little closed on the nose at first, it eventually yielded aromas recalling oranges, stone fruit, jasmine and ginseng. A touch of minerality on the finish makes it a delightful summer sipper.

One Final Moment

Chêne Bleu is located in the UNESCO Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve. As Jean-Louis noted, the area is rich with butterflies, boasting more than 1,400 different species. But as you can see in this video clip, its the birds who make their presence known the most. At dawn and dusk in early April, it was a symphony of birdsong.


Note: My visit to Chêne Bleu was part of a press trip coordinated by Wilson Daniels, who imports Chêne Bleu into the United States. Learn more about our editorial policy.


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A Syrah-Carignan for the End of the World Fri, 26 May 2017 20:37:00 +0000 200 (Or So) Words on a Wine I Enjoyed.

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Le Bout du Monde. In French, it means “the end of the world,” and apparently, that’s what winemaker Edouard Lafitte decided to call his winery. The story goes that a visitor used the phrase to describe the remoteness of Lafitte’s estate in Languedoc-Roussillon. But take a sip of his lively, easy-drinking, purple-berried wine called L’échapée belle (“The Great Escape”) and the phrase takes on a whole other meaning: imagine it as 750mL of frivolous pleasure for your last night on earth.

Much of its party-centric profile has to do with carbonic maceration, the winemaking process in which grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide-rich environment, which gives the wine a decidedly fruity feel.

I opened L’échapée belle for a Mother’s Day cookout. My dad and I loved it. My brother hated it (so I drank his). The moms? indifferent.

What made the wine so controversial was the accentuated barnyard funk on the nose, which is probably the result of Brettanomyces, which are common in natural wines. It’s there — along with notes of beautiful black cherries, roses and candied fruit — and it seemed that one’s sensitivity to it determined their assessment.

Now: what role did carbonic maceration have in accentuating the Brett?

Who cares? It’s the last night on earth. Just drink.

2014 Le Bout du Monde “L’échapée belle”

Le Bout du Monde "L'échapée belle" ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleLanguedoc-Roussillon, France (Vin de France)
Grapes: Syrah (60%), Carignan (40%)
Alcohol: 11%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 3/4
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Importer: Jenny & François Selections

Tasting notes: “You’re not going to like hearing this,” my dad said, “but it smells like horse stable.” Yep, this wine has a touch of that “barnyard” funk known as Brett, but before you run away screaming about flaws and sanitation, know that (a) this is a natural wine so its presence isn’t an accident and (b) the undertones of black cherry and candied fruit, and the whispers of roses and watermelon drown out much of the funkiness. Delicate and playful, this is a most unusual wine given that it is made of Syrah and Carignan — who are typically about as playful as Principal Skinner and Super Intendant Chalmers.

Recommended for: Frivolity and merry-making. It’s the kind of wine that will at least get people talking because they will either love it or hate it. One thing is for sure: they have probably never had anything like it.

The post A Syrah-Carignan for the End of the World appeared first on Opening a Bottle.

Two Austrian Wines That Scream for Summer Tue, 23 May 2017 20:58:54 +0000 They're Called Ink and Pink.

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When it comes to summer wines, Austria has got our back. Long live the land of Grüner Veltliner and gorgeous, crystalline Riesling when its 90 degrees outside.

But for many years, wine shops and online retailers in the U.S. have featured only these two grapes from Austria — as though that was all the Weinland Osterreich had to offer our palates.

Pull quote: "Austrian red wines are on the verge of being downright trendy." –Kevin Day, Opening a BottleThat’s beginning to change as lighter red wines become more fashionable in America, and winemakers in Austria grow increasingly more confident in their red grape varietals. As a result, Austrian red wines are on the verge of being downright trendy.

The nation’s signature red grape — Zweigelt — produces wines that are light in body, low in tannin, and just bitter enough to wake up your senses. It might not be the sexiest sounding thing (that’s pronounced ZVEY-gelt) but chill them ever so slightly, and you have a wickedly good summer sipper, usually for less than $20.

The other Austrian red wine to seek out this summer is Saint-Laurent, although it is quite a bit more rare, accounting for only 2% of Austria’s vineyard acreage. Highly aromatic and with a tendency for complexity, you wouldn’t be the first one to mistake it for Pinot Noir.

Better yet: mash them together. The 2015 Judith Beck Ink unites these two grapes in an 80/20 split and its a wonderful wine. Think of a Barbera d’Asti that has shed its autumn jacket, and you get an idea of where this wine will take you. I especially liked the absence of tannins; to me, that’s the one red-wine element that — in heavy doses — has me reaching for white wines and rosés in summer.

Judith Beck took over her family’s estate in Gols in 2004, and her focus has been mostly on red wine grapes, with holdings in Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, Saint-Laurent, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Her vineyards in the Burgenland stretch across incredibly complex soils, where a few shovelfuls of dirt could reveal humus, gravel, loam, limestone or minerals. She farms biodynamically and her winemaking process is about as hands-off as one can be.

I also sampled her one non-red wine imported into the U.S. — a rosé of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch called simply Judith Beck Pink. Pleasant, low in alcohol and ultimately quite refreshing, it was most notable for its red-tea complexion and shocking carnation-melon color. Although, absurd label art aside, Pink is a bit anonymous. Ink is a much more interesting wine.

2015 Judith Beck Ink

2015 Judith Beck Ink. ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleBurgenland, Austria
Grapes: Zweigelt (80%) and Saint-Laurent (20%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 3/4
• Value: ★★★★ 3/4

Tasting notes: A highly acidic but delicious red that reminds me more of Barbera d’Asti than any other red I’ve had from north of the Alps — although the body if quite a bit lighter. Visually, the wine is a beautiful red-violet color, with little signs of viscosity on the glass. Aromas bring to mind sour cherry, plums, geraniums and a touch of green olive. Bracing acidity and a bit of game on the palate, very little tannin. Mineral finish.

Recommended for: Serve slightly chilled for summer, and enjoy on the back patio with anything you want. Can’t help but think this is a great burger wine.

Find a Bottle of Judith Beck Ink

2015 Judith Beck Pink

2015 Judith Beck Pink ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleBurgenland, Austria
Grapes: Blaufränkisch (80%) and Zweigelt (20%)
Alcohol: 12%
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★ 3/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2

Tasting notes: Vivacious carnation-melon color — somewhat orange when held up to the light. Aromas are sharp and a little funky, but overall, not very detailed. Recalls lemons, orange pith and red herbal tea. Pleasantly low in alcohol, which gives it a clean and refreshing finish.

Recommended for: We paired this wine with Katsu-style catfish (a Blue Apron recipe), and it worked fairly well. It seems best suited for parties, however, where all you want to do is sip and speak and not think.

Note: The 2016 vintage is predominantly Zweigelt, so this wine changes from year to year.

Find a Bottle of Judith Beck Pink

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Beautiful Brouilly from Pierre Cotton Mon, 15 May 2017 17:55:10 +0000 200 Words (Or So) on a Wine I Loved

The post Beautiful Brouilly from Pierre Cotton appeared first on Opening a Bottle.

Yes, we’re still on Beaujolais.

After visiting the Cru of Moulin-à-Vent last month, and enjoying a superb bottle of Régnié two weeks ago, I went and fetched another bottle to drink at home. This time, it was a wine I sampled at a private tasting before Thanksgiving last year. As so often happens with me, a single sip or two is not enough to wrap my head around the story of what’s going on with a wine. I’d been meaning to hunt down Pierre Cotton’s Brouilly for a while.

Why? Because unlike a lot of Brouilly, this one has some horsepower. It is complex yet playful, and its characteristics are so amplified, it demands attention. But not in an obnoxious way: it still plays well with different foods: the savoriness of prosciutto, the fat of a creamy pasta, the snap and sweetness of spring peas, a strong cut of fresh mint.

Pierre Cotton is one of several young winemakers taking Beaujolais by storm — literally: he is undaunted by a little lightning. His wines have just a touch of carbonic maceration, which I think lends them a bit of a playful attitude. Only 6,000 bottles of this wine are made, so happy hunting! Use the link below or if you are in the United States, contact Paris Wine Company, who imports them.*

2015 Pierre Cotton Brouilly

2015 Pierre Cotton Brouilly ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleBrouilly AOC (Beaujolais), France
Grapes: Gamay Noir (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavor & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★

Tasting notes: This bottling from Brouilly in the southern end of the Cru Beaujolais is notable for its amplified elements. The aromas on the nose (recalling sweet Rainier cherries and earth with watermelon on the edges) are classic Gamay Noir made with carbonic maceration — just fuller and more intense than usual, with only hints of the “watermelon/bubblegum” character you get with carbonic. There was also a bit of funk that reminded me of Gorgonzola cheese (that’s a first).

The aggressive and energetic acidity might seem like too much for culinary purposes, but — au contraire — I found it to be an exceptional accomplice to our sweet-and-savory pasta dish. The finish goes on for nearly a minute.

Recommended for: We paired this wine with a fettuccini dish covered in peas, mint and prosciutto, but something about the wine’s depth and power suggests it would do wonderfully well with a wide spectrum of dishes. Why not Moroccan? Or a mushroom pizza?

Find a Bottle of Pierre Cotton Brouilly


* Note: This wine was not a sample. I bought it with my own cash.

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Lessons Learned from Visiting Moulin-à-Vent Fri, 12 May 2017 17:19:57 +0000 It Makes a Lot More Sense Now

The post Lessons Learned from Visiting Moulin-à-Vent appeared first on Opening a Bottle.

It all began with a bottle of Brouilly from Château de la Chaize. Or was it a Juliénas from Pascal Granger? Or maybe it was the Moulin-à-Vent named “Couvent des Thorins” from Château du Moulin-à-Vent?

At some point, a few years ago, I hopped on-board the bandwagon and became a BeaujNerd, a CruHead, a Gamayniac. And unless the quality of the region dramatically dips (and there’s no reason to see why it would), I’ll be on board for life. There is something about Cru Beaujolais wines that is so transparently beautiful and easy — to me, they are the friendliest entry point for novices to French fine wine.

So when I first laid eyes on the granite hills of Beaujolais a few weeks ago, I’ll admit that I was giddy. It didn’t matter that the light was failing after an exhausting day of travel: the landscape of steep hills, stubby bush vines and intimate villages tucked into ravines immediately felt familiar.

My group was headed to Château du Moulin-à-Vent, an historic estate that was once the domaine of reference for Beaujolais’ most prestigious Cru. But complacency and neglect throughout the late-20th century led to a steady decline of the estate’s wine. Its purchase in 2009 by the Parinet family has resurrected its reputation in remarkably quick fashion. Their version of Gamay Noir is strong, complex yet still agile, and their recent adventures with Chardonnay in nearby Pouilly-Fuissé look very promising.

I was already quite familiar with their wine, but seeing a winery first-hand will always put its wines in better context. The estate seemed like the perfect starting point to advance my education on Cru Beaujolais.

A Beaujolais Welcome

The windmill of Moulin-à-Vent under a waxing moon at night. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

The windmill of Moulin-à-Vent under a nearly full moon at night. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

But we were late for dinner. As dusk fell, I had to enjoy my first impressions of the Cru’s icons from the passenger window of a speeding car: the oak tree atop Morgon’s Côte du Py, the chapel at the summit of Fleurie’s slopes, and finally, the iconic windmill of Moulin-à-Vent, located just down the road from the estate. Illuminated in lights, the 500-year-old structure was breathtaking.

“When we talk about terroir and Moulin-à-Vent,” Edouard Parinet told me later that night, “all you have to do is ask: why is the windmill here? Wind is the defining factor of Moulin-à-Vent. Because the vines are dried by the wind, and the berries, as a result, are more concentrated.”

Moulin-à-Vent’s pink granite is also a contributor to the appellation’s famous intensity. But such an easy-to-grasp explanation of terroir — “it’s windy” — simply reaffirmed why I love Cru Beaujolais. It’s special ingredients lend themselves to an easy romance.

“Perhaps tomorrow we will go for a drive,” Edouard elaborated. “When you are up above, you can see how Moulin-à-Vent faces the wind. It is very clear.”

Dinner was served in the estate’s adjoining dining room, an intimate parlor of sage green hues and beautiful wood beams. After several days of dining in restaurants, it was wonderful to have a family-style meal, and to relax in someone’s home. It felt like the mood of Beaujolais’ wines. 

As our evening drew to a close around 1am, we took a walk through the Clos de Londres vineyard that reaches out to the windmill behind the estate. In the darkness, we navigated around ankle-twisting depressions and vines to stand beneath the hulking windmill. Immobilized long ago to protect its structural integrity, the windmill is in immaculate condition. And in the morning, we’d see what wind-driven terroir really meant.

Ambition in the Winery

We started the next day with a tour of the winemaking facilities with Edouard and his winemaker, Brice Laffond.

Brice has a youthful appearance but his temperament conveys his experience. He had been reserved throughout much of the previous evening, but in the winery — among stainless steel tanks and oak barrels — he seemed more at home.

It would not be a stretch to call Brice a viticultural prodigy. He conducted his first harvest as a winemaker for a small family estate in Champagne at the age of 18. His arrival at Château du Moulin-à-Vent in 2012 followed stints at Château Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac, Domaine Faiveley in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Spring Mountain Vineyard in Napa. Now 29 years old, he is defining the prime of his career by mastering the nuances of Beaujolais’ most celebrated Cru.

Château du Moulin-à-Vent

Left: Winemaker Brice Laffond inside the winery at Château du Moulin-à-Vent. Right: Jean-Jacques and Edouard Parinet (the father and son team behind Château du Moulin-à-Vent) in front of the refurbished estate. Jean-Jacques’ fondness for Moulin-à-Vent comes from his childhood — it was the wine his father would buy for special occasions. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

“We are trying to make, more and more, the expressions of each vintage,” he told us. To do this, they destem the clusters for the single-vineyard wines, and avoid a technique that for decades has defined Beaujolais: carbonic maceration.

“We are not really fond of carbonic maceration,” Brice continued. “Because the impact of this process is too big in the nose, in the taste of the wine. We are focused on Moulin-à-Vent and the different terroir. If you do carbonic maceration, everything tastes approximately the same.”

Pull quote from Brice Laffond, winemaker Château du Moulin-à-VentEven minus this technique, it quickly became clear how complex Brice’s operation is. Each vintage, he oversees the vinification of five — sometimes six — different Moulin-à-Vent. Three or four of them need to be carefully handled and sorted as single-vineyard wines. His team of 60 people can harvest five hectares in a day, giving them roughly five days to bring in all of the estate’s Gamay Noir clusters. Choosing which plots to harvest in what order requires significant vigilance and attention to detail.

On top of that, there is a collection of Chardonnay wines to make from neighboring Pouilly-Fuissé. They have been making a cuvée of Pouilly-Fuissé for a few vintages now, but the Parinet family’s recent acquisitions of nine different lieu-dit in the area shows a commitment to upping their game, as well as being more than just the domaine of reference for Moulin-à-Vent.

I barrel-tasted the 2016 Chardonnay from four of these vineyards. With their unique characteristics and refreshingly clean profile, they have the potential to be just as interesting as Château du Moulin-à-Vent’s red wines.

But the Pouilly-Fuissé present an interesting wrinkle for the estate. According to French wine law, they cannot use their estate name on the label because it includes a different appellation’s name, leading to the natural question, “is this wine a Moulin-à-Vent or a Pouilly-Fuissé?” Whether they come up with a new brand name or stick with the simplified “CMV” moniker in the long term remains to be seen, but the endeavor is worth keeping an eye on.

“We don’t know yet if we will make a bottling of each lieu-dit, or not,” Brice said, thief in hand. Then he smiled. “It is tempting though.”

A Broader Spectrum

“I want to try something,” Edouard said to our group, a concealed bottle in his hand. Soon, our three glasses were filled with three red wines, and all we were told was that they were from the same vintage. Of course, one of them was from Château du Moulin-à-Vent. I was confident that I knew where this was going.

Château du Moulin-à-Vent, ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Château du Moulin-à-Vent in springtime, ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

On the first wine I wrote down: “bananas,” “light,” “cherry-apricot.” On the palate, it was ethereal yet playful, with meaningful acidity. For the second wine, “forest, autumn and raspberry.” It was a bit funky on the palate, with a distinct savoriness. “Medium weight with a chalky finish,” I added.

The third wine was crystal clear: “elegance, tobacco, black cherry, minerality on the finish.” This, I knew, was from Château du Moulin-à-Vent. I’d had it before and it was recognizable. Compared to the other two, it was more complex and refined, showing greater depth and potential.

“Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent,” I guessed.

Bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte-Rôtie and Château du Moulin-à-Vent wine. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

I guess I was wrong. Turns out the wines were a Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte-Rôtie and Château du Moulin-à-Vent. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

I was wrong. By a mile.

I had convinced myself that he was presenting us a lesson in Beaujolais’ terroir, but in fact, Edouard’s sights were set a little higher. The first wine was a Pinot Noir from Gevrey-Chambertin, which is home to some of Burgundy’s most famous vineyards (and yes, I thought it smelled like bananas. Because it did.). The second wine was even more startling: a Syrah from the esteemed Côte-Rôtie in the Northern Rhône. A second tasting verified that it was lighter than the Moulin-à-Vent, which was the third wine (I shouldn’t get points for that … Any showman is going to put his wine last).

For Edouard, he was demonstrating that the wines of Château du Moulin-à-Vent are complex enough to reside in France’s upper echelons of wine. But for me, the exercise revealed something quite different. Like many wine consumers, I have always pinned Gamay Noir to a narrow swath on the red-wine spectrum: far to the left, under the words “light bodied.” Sure, there were some shades that were clearly darker (namely Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent), but my assumptions continued to label them as light to medium in structure. (It’s funny how a lack of tannin can fool you in this way).

Barrels of Moulin-à-Vent age in the cellar at the château. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Barrels of Moulin-à-Vent age in the cellar at the château. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

In truth, the swath that Gamay Noir occupies on the spectrum is much wider, even overlapping with Syrah, which is widely considered a full-bodied wine.

At the table, this means a great deal. Because of their refreshing acidity and low tannin, the wines from the Cru of Beaujolais are naturally versatile. However, I have always shied away from pairing them with beef or lamb, the traditional stomping grounds of my favorite heavy-hitters: Syrah, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Knowing the exact range that Gamay Noir occupies means knowing the exact range of its pairings as well. It’s broader than we assume.

Completing the Picture

After the blind tasting, we huddled into a Land Rover and went for a drive to see the landscape. In this portion of the Beaujolais hills, the dominate soil type is a crumbly pink granite that is known as gore. Traces of manganese within this soil seem to increase the potency of the Gamay Noir berries, yielding to its brooding flavors and intense aromas. It was early April, and signs of spring were everywhere, but without ample vine foliage, the granitic soil created a peachy palate for the landscape. The hills looked a little like folds of flesh.

“It is uncommon in France to have a vineyard on granite,” Edouard noted as we stepped out onto a ridge and sprawled a map of the appellation on top of an empty stemware box. Rocks were laid on the map’s corners to keep the ferocious wind from blowing it away.

The northern edge of Fleurie. A stream drains off of this slope and separates the appellation from its neighbor, Moulin-à-Vent. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

The northern edge of Fleurie. A stream drains off of this slope and separates the appellation from its neighbor, Moulin-à-Vent. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

To our left, a steep hillside interlaced with vines faced the sun. This was the northern edge of the neighboring appellation of Fleurie. One of the Cru’s biggest surprises is how different the wines of Fleurie are from those of neighboring Moulin-à-Vent. Delicate, floral and feather-light, Fleurie plays the part of soprano to Moulin-à-Vent’s baritone. But all that separates them on a map is a meager stream.

Meanwhile, Moulin-à-Vent is a long, steady slope that catches a hell of a lot of wine. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Meanwhile, Moulin-à-Vent is a long, steady slope that catches a hell of a lot of wind. The windmill is visible on the far right edge of the ridge looking like a conical tower, with the blue-roofed estate just right of center. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

However, there are huge differences in topography. Fleurie’s heights and steep slopes mean significant drainage and diurnal swings in temperature are more at play. Meanwhile, Moulin-à-Vent is a low, gradual slope that juts up from the valley just enough to take the full brunt of the Saône River Valley’s winds. Five-hundred years ago, the wind presented an opportunity, so a handsome windmill was erected. Today, that opportunity is complex wines that give Pinot Noir and Syrah a run for their money.

“I thought we could taste the wines here because it is a nice spot, but…” Edouard looked around for a place where we could be shielded. “Let’s go back and we will taste there.”

Even when it comes to picnics, the wind will always be a factor in Moulin-à-Vent.

Portfolio Tasting

The wines of Château du Moulin-à-Vent

2015 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “Couvent des Thorins”

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)

Impressions: Perhaps the only wine in Château du Moulin-à-Vent’s portfolio that I would describe as “light-hearted” and “fun.” Shows aromas recalling cherries, roses, oak and roasted nuts, yet demonstrates a light, mineral touch on the finish. Great textural quality. Seems to be the bridge that unites Château du Moulin-à-Vent with other Cru Beaujolais, because from here on, things go several degrees bolder.

2014 Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)

Impressions: The first wine in their portfolio that starts to venture into richer, more concentrated territory. You notice it on the nose, right away, as it seems to fill the nasal passages with a surprising intensity. I detected notes that reminded me of black cherries, tobacco, wet earth as well as game. On the palate, the presentation lingers for a long time. Great finish. This wine is a cuvée of several different plots around the appellation.

2014 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “Croix des Vérillats” Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)

Impressions: The first single-vineyard wine we sampled is named after a Redemption Cross that stands in the vineyard. It was erected by locals as atonement for stealing from the church during the French Revolution. Made from 50-year-old vines that are rooted into pure sand, this wine tips the scales more towards savory elements than fruit on the nose, recalling roasted game and wet earth. The complexion of fruit is quite dark, reminding me of currants and blackberries. Definitely more tannic and concentrated on the palate, but firmly in control of its destiny.

Wines at Château du Moulin-à-Vent. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

The lineup at Château du Moulin-à-Vent. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

2014 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “Champ de Cour” Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of five)

Impressions: Sourced from a vineyard comprised of pink granite and clay, “Champ de Cour” is an expressive and gorgeous wine. Highly aromatic: I practically inhaled it I was so smitten. Recalls the aromas of a raspberry patch with hints of violets, and plenty of minerality. Paradoxically deep yet high-toned on the palate, this wine closely mimics Pinot Noir until the finish, which is distinctly Gamay Noir. Quite a bit of acidity. Great food wine.

2014 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “La Rochelle” Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)

Impressions: Hailing from the highest vineyard in their range, “La Rochelle” is a true shape-shifter. I was a bit confused by the aromas, which conveyed raspberries and pâté, as well as iris. But after a few whiffs, its eccentricity steadily grew on me. Seemingly lighter in complexion than “Champ de Cour” or “Croix des Vérillats,” it conveys a bit of roasted walnuts on the finish.

2011 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “Clos de Londres” Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent AOC, France
Grapes: Gamay 100%
Alcohol: 13%
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of five)

Impressions: Sourced from the walled vineyard that stretches out from the château to the windmill, “Clos de Londres” is only made as a single-vineyard wine in exceptional vintages. In other years, it is blended into the cuvée Moulin-à-Vent. Here is the proof that Moulin-à-Vent gets better with age. Deeply perfumed, it closely resembled Pinot Noir. However, it was more embracing and friendly than Pinot Noir tends to be. I detected notes of raspberry, violets and hazelnuts on the nose. Gamay Noir is not particularly tannic, but here, they seem to be fairly pronounced, even with six years of age. Put simply: a beautiful wine.


Note: My visit to Château du Moulin-à-Vent was part of a press-trip by their importer, Wilson Daniels. Learn more about our editorial policy.

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Gamay-zing Régnié from Charly Thévenet Fri, 05 May 2017 21:22:12 +0000 200 Words (Or So) on a Wine I Loved

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There is a reason I keep coming back to the Cru wines of Beaujolais. For one, they’re friggin’ delicious. (They’re “Gamay-zing,” as one friend recently called them). Secondly, they seem like spring’s perfect partner on the red-wine spectrum: light(ish), playful, yet still savory and potent enough to ward off that vernal chill at night.

My personal Beaujolais craze was solidified when I finally got a chance to visit the region a few weeks ago. There will be more on that visit in the coming weeks, but I have to say, the landscape of Beaujolais’ ten Cru villages is captivating. It is an undulating terrain decorated with cute villages and covered with stubby old vines. In the distance: the Alps. For a photographer with an inclination toward wine, it is heaven.

Last week, my wife and I went to our favorite restaurant in Denver and ordered a bottle of Charly Thévenet’s “Grain & Granit,” from the Cru village of Régnié. This whole-cluster fermented Gamay featured a surprisingly firm structure, and an exhilarating bouquet that stopped our conversation a few times. Best of all, it had the modesty to work with four very different dishes. Gamay-zing indeed. Go get some.

2015 Charly Thévenet “Grain & Granit” Régnié

2015 Charly Thévenet "Grain & Granit" Régnié ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleRégnié, France
Grapes: Gamay (100%)
Alcohol: 14%
Ratings  ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavor & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★ 3/4

Tasting notes: A gorgeous, shape-shifting bottle of Bojo that demands respect from gastronomes. It’s blossoming aromas bring to mind bing cherries, violets and a sharp note of anise seed. As it passes over the palate, it maintains its elegance while surprising with its upright structure. Fans of Cru du Beaujolais will recognize this trait; those more familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau (you’re still drinking that?) won’t.

Considering its versatility, I give it my highest rating for food-friendliness. Buy a case and play recipe roulette. It’ll do just fine.

Recommended for: Anything you can re-create from Mercantile’s current menu. We enjoyed this wine equally with such divergent dishes as burrata salad with green strawberries and black garlic, Colorado lamb agnolotti, spring risotto with truffle egg, and braised short rib.

Find a Bottle of Charly Thévenet “Grain & Granit” Régnié

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First-Taste Guide to Pauillac Tue, 02 May 2017 16:10:28 +0000 The Place That Rocket-Launched Cabernet Sauvignon to Worldwide Fame

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Of Bordeaux’s many appellations, Pauillac has the biggest swagger, both in terms of the wine’s character, and the prestige of its estates. It is here — in the vineyards surrounding the largest town of the Médoc — that you will find three of the original five first-growth estates from the 1855 classification: LatourLafite-Rothschild, and Mouton Rothschild.

For many of us, that is a fact that will have no bearing on our wine buying. These estates produce an enormous amount of wine, but despite abundant supply, they still fetch north of $500/bottle for the latest vintages.

So if we can’t afford it, why are these wines relevant? I’m not sure, to be honest.

But I do know this: a recent bottle from a less prestigious estate in Pauillac had this Cabernet Sauvignon skeptic smacking his lips. The wines of Pauillac — minus the big three — are worth knowing.

A magnum of the 2011 Château Pichon-Longueville Pauillac. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

A magnum of the 2011 Château Pichon-Longueville Pauillac. Won as a prize, it is now being cellared for who-knows-how-long. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

3 Reasons to Try Pauillac

  1. You Love Classic Cabernet Sauvignon – You could argue that Cabernet Sauvignon as we know it — with a bit of Merlot blended in for roundness — was perfected in Pauillac. If you are a lover of Cabs, you owe it to yourself to find a bottle.
  2. You Like Manly Wines No matter how hard I try to stay away from assigning a gender to wines, this one certainly warrants it. Perfect pairings for Pauillac include cigars, watching sports and poker games.
  3. Lamb is for Dinner – When it comes to food pairings, Pauillac’s power makes it limited to mostly red meats. Of them, lamb seems to be the ideal partner.

About the Appellation and Its Wines

The lead actor in a bottle of Pauillac will always be Cabernet Sauvignon, with supporting parts played dutifully by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and/or Malbec. Depending on the estate’s holdings, you may find more or less Merlot, or no Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot to speak of. Malbec is increasingly rare, and when used, makes up only a small fraction of the blend.

In many ways, the worldwide fame and popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon can be credited to the 8.8 square miles of Pauillac. Pullquote: ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleToday, most Pauillac is comprised of at least 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. And why not? Because of the maritime climate, gravelly soil and centuries of winemaking pedigree, many of the world’s most praised Cabernet Sauvignon comes from here. In many ways, the worldwide fame and popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon can be credited to the 8.8 square miles of Pauillac.

More so than other Bordeaux appellations — namely Margaux — the vineyard holdings of Pauillac’s estates more closely resemble the New World than the Old World (or, I should say, it is the other way around: the New World took after Pauillac). Here, large contiguous vineyards belong to a single estate, rather than a patchwork of vines divvied up to winemakers in a seemingly chaotic fashion.

L'Intendant wine shop, Bordeaux, France. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Where does one buy a good bottle of Pauillac? If you are in the city of Bordeaux, you head to L’Intendant. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

This is important to know because in Pauillac, the terroir of these contiguous vineyards can define the estate’s style of wine. For the most part, those with vineyards closer to the river can work with grapes that yield a deeper, fuller wine. Those that are further away, could have a lighter touch.

As mentioned earlier, Pauillac has three of Bordeaux’s five classified first-growth estates, but the pedigree from that 1855 classification permeates the entire area. In addition to Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild, there are also two second-growth estates — Château Pichon-Longueville and Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande (which is confusing) — as well as one fourth-growth estate and 12 fifth-growth estates.

But does any of this matter?

Apparently not. According to many Bordeaux insiders, some of Pauillac’s most interesting wine comes from the fifth-growth estates. While that might sound like an equation for snooping out a solid value bottle, it’s not. Fifth-growth estates can be pricey, too.

Which begs the question: after the first-growth estates, why do any of the classifications matter? Why have five tiers (plus several unclassified estates), if the price of the bottle has no correlation to the wine’s status? Better yet, why maintain a system from 1855?

For modern times, Pauillac’s stratification would seem to be merely a historic fact, rather than a helpful guide.

My First Taste

My first taste of Pauillac was from one of these fifth-growth estates: Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste.

Unlike so many of Bordeaux’s estates, the château remains a family-owned and operated enterprise. While researching Pauillac, it was startling to read — over and over again — how many estates are owned by massive corporations, many of which have little or nothing to do with wine. The Borie family, however, have a long history of winemaking in Bordeaux, going back to the establishment of a négociant firm in 1886. In 1978, they took over Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, where François-Xavier Borie and his wife Marie-Hélène Borie have lived ever since. Their daughter, Emeline is involved in communications for the estate, and her youngest brother, Pierre-Antoine, owns and manages a wine shop in Bordeaux.

2007 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac bottle shot. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

2007 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac. When I showed this bottle to a travel companion in France — a young winemaker from Bordeaux — he grinned happily and told me the Borie family’s story. “I’m friends with their son, Pierre-Antoine!” he commented. Who says Bordeaux is all corporations? ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

So opening a bottle of their Pauillac is an increasingly rare act: with each sip, you are taking part in a Bordeaux family’s history.

Bought while in the city of Bordeaux at the famed all-Bordeaux wine shop L’Intendant, my original intent with this bottle of Pauillac was to drink it back at the hotel as an aperitif. Fortunately, it ended up on my dinner table at home instead. And what a relief: I thought it was one of the most compelling, food-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon blends I’ve ever sampled.

Much of this fact has to do with age. At its 10-year mark, the wine’s power had not diminished but its tannins had clearly mellowed, allowing other elements of the wine — such as a distinctive mocha note — to shine. Having considered more than a dozen different Pauillac selections at L’Intendant, it would appear that aiming for an older vintage — that’s still somehow within your budget — is the way to go when shopping for these wines. But that’s a tall order: I bought this bottle for around 50 Euros.

But the rewards of drinking aged Pauillac are many. Consumed within six or seven years of vintage, they have a reputation for being coarse, gruff and aggressive with food. Given time, aggressiveness transforms into confidence.

As someone who decries how dull Cabernet Sauvignon and its respective blends can be, this wine demonstrated that the world’s most popular red wine can still surprise. I just happened to find that surprise in the place that rocket-launched Cabernet Sauvignon to fame.

2007 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac

2007 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste PauillacPauillac AOC, France
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (72%), Merlot (28%)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavor & Structure: ★★★★ 3/4
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★ 3/4

Tasting Notes: An intensely aromatic wine with a great deal of swagger. The nose recalls black currant, coffee and cedar, with faint whiffs bringing to mind roasted meat, which eventually fade. Because of its age, the tannins have begun to integrate nicely into the wine, but the acidity and fruit components certainly have a lot more life to them. Easily could age another 10 years. On the finish, has subtleties that recall prune and mocha. A very nice Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Recommended for: As mentioned earlier, roasted or grilled rack of lamb is an obvious choice for this wine. However, I was surprised to see it handle a spicy cumin-rubbed pork loin so well.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Thu, 27 Apr 2017 19:54:22 +0000 200 (or So) Words on a Wine I Enjoyed

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Thinking of wines by varietal is getting more and more limiting. To think of Pinot Noir as a “light-bodied wine” just isn’t 100% accurate. Pinot Noir is a broad spectrum, and as long as you know what you are getting into, you shouldn’t have to place unfair expectations on it. You wouldn’t listen to Guns N’ Roses and expect it to sound like Yo-Yo Ma, right?

Take for instance, this wine from Gary Farrell. Fierce, agile and concentrated, it hardly seems like the same wine as Gevrey-Chambertin or Spätburgunder. That’s because its not. And because of that, it should be approached (and celebrated) differently. I served it with a steak sandwich— which is usually Tempranillo territory for me — and it was a delicious pairing.

Last summer in Sonoma, I found myself getting hung up on high-alcohol Pinot Noir. It should be under 14%, I kept telling myself.

But perhaps I ought to just look at it differently. Russian River Valley Pinot Noir can’t help it: it’s muscular. But that’s not a flaw. To a wine drinker, it’s a stylistic preference, and I just happen to like them leaner.

But as far as Russian River Valley Pinot Noir goes, this one from Gary Farrell is quite good.

2014 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir

2014 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir. ©Kevin Day / Opening a BottleRussian River Valley AVA, California
Grapes: Pinot Noir (100%)
Alcohol: 14%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/4 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavor & Structure: ★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/4
• Value: ★★★

Tasting Notes: Densely packed with aromas and flavor — Pinot Noir on steroids would be the cliché way to describe it, but this wine’s strength and agility keep it from veering into cliché territory as a wine. Seering aromas recall bing cherry, raspberry, intense clove, gun powder and a faint bit of mushroom. Quite concentrated on the palate, yet despite the power, nothing feels out of whack. Has a long, lingering finish — not unlike Axl Rose’s voice at the end of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

Recommended for: Would be an amazing partner with a grilled rack of lamb covered in rosemary. But my pairing — a steak sandwich with tzatziki — was pretty damn good in its own right.

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Note: This wine was provided by Folsom + Associates as a sample. Learn more about our editorial policy.

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